It had existed for millions of years and it would continue existing for an even longer time. It looked old and abandoned, but even so it had never been claimed by pirates, scientist or space traveling races. Something told everyone coming near it to stay off. It was as if a silent warning beacon flashed out into space, warding off everyone by merely being ... silent.
It rotated around a lonely moon, which had never seen life on its surface. Like the station it was dead.
The station as such looked beautiful, in a way. Constructed completely of a bluish quartz-like metal alloy it consisted of a long, vertical middle section with odd bulges here and there, and a ring curving around it, only to three quarters complete. One side was open, giving the impression the station held out welcoming arms. The large ring was segmented into three smaller ones.
No one knew who had constructed the strange relic in space -- and no one had ever felt it should be explored.
* * *
Cybertron was an old planet, millions of years old. It had served as a factory planet at first, then, after the rebellion of the factory slaves, had been declared home of the Transformers. They had coexisted peacefully among each other, warriors and workers, rebuilding the planet after the destruction it had suffered through the rebellion, but soon there was a new war at hand, a war that still lasted. This war had taken its toll, destroying Cybertron again, and Unicron's attack had left it even more injured than ever before.
Now the Autobots were working on rebuilding the planet once more, though it had turned out to be quite an amount of hard work. Through the millennia of war and the single goal of surviving from day to day, Cybertron had become a partially alien planet to its own inhabitants. There were maps of the planet of course, but through the rebuilding process and the hazards of war, large blank spots dotted the maps. Parts of Cybertron just weren't explored or not even accessible any more. Even in the Golden Age not everything had been mapped out, due to the fact that the Quintessons had destroyed a lot of archives before they had left for good.
Optimus Prime had his task set out for him. His goal was to map Cybertron again, find those small groups of Autobots who were hiding in the depths of the planet, those who were still fighting somewhere against Decepticons, who were equally hiding. There was a lot to Cybertron that was mysterious and strange, but Prime didn't want to leave it this way. There were already teams out there, trying to find traces of long lost Autobots, hidden entrance ways and more. He was getting in reports about new finds and sad news about yet another abandoned grave.
Then there was the fact that even though the planet was launching into another Golden Age, only a few resistance force fighters were emerging from hiding. Optimus had tried to contact Aleeta One and her group of female Autobots, but to no avail so far. Either they were so deep in hiding that they had not yet heard about the change or .... he didn't want to even consider the second option.
Midnight and his Sentinels had joined the Autobots in their effort. Midnight had volunteered for that task, mainly because the Sentinels, as the former Quintesson guards, had a unique knowledge of the planet. They knew about passageways that weren't on any map, which helped to explore formerly unknown cavernous rooms full of old things and new knowledge. Some Sentinels even had maps in their memory programs that came from the Quintesson era.
Right now Midnight was in the large conference room adjoining Optimus' office, looking at a map of the lower levels of Cybertron's interior maze of tunnels, corridors and passageways. He and Optimus were
piecing together map after map from what the exploration teams told them, and right now he had come upon a location he wasn't so sure about. He had dug up the map in one of the oldest archives on Cybertron, an archive he had stumbled upon by pure chance. It didn't necessarily mean that it was a correct map, but it was a map nevertheless.
"Which team is closest to this entrance way?" he asked.
Optimus looked up from the computer screen he had been studying and frowned a bit. "Team Nine was there, but since the conference was about to start we needed no disturbances. I told them to move ahead to the next point and start anew. Why?"
Midnight tapped his index finger on a particular spot, which was nothing but a few hastily scribbled looking notes in an alien language. "There is an old entrance way close to the conference center and it leads straight down to the lowest levels of the Inner Maze."
"What? Where did you find this map?"
"In a file that was titled as destroyed, but apparently wasn't. Looks like the Quintessons missed this one."
Before leaving Cybertron in a hasty retreat from the rebellious slaves, the Quintessons had erased everything about themselves and the history of the planet from all data banks. The only means of remembering history then had been the tales of older robots. The fledgling civilization of Cybertron had tried to restore their archives, but all had been lost. Nothing of their darker past as slaves had remained and with the last of the old ones, who still remembered, dying or dead, this part had been forgotten. It had taken millions of years and a short circuit to send Rodimus into the Matrix to explore the past and learn of their creators.
"If my knowledge of the ancient languages isn't all too rusty this reads 'Point Zero'," Midnight added.
Optimus rose from his chair and walked over, looking at the map. Yes, there was a way running straight down to another blank spot and it originated from not too far outside the conference center. He didn't know the language and his translation program made nothing but a garbled mess out the symbols. He knew that the original language of the Sentinels was very complicated and in no way paralleled the Autobots'. It was a kind of mystery as to why the core programming of each Sentinel held this program and why the Autobots' own translation program couldn't work it out.
"What is Point Zero?" he asked.
Midnight shrugged. "Beats me. I could hop over to Alean and have a look at the library there. We might have some notes on it."
Prime nodded. He knew that the archives on Alean where the most complete on Cybertronian history, mainly because the Quintessons had never believed it possible that their bodyguards and executioners would survive the rebellion. But they had. Maybe not in numbers that were of any immediate threat, but they had. The Sentinels had taken their knowledge to Alean and stored it there, away from all wars.
"Good idea. With the conference still running I doubt I'll have this afternoon off," Optimus agreed, a slight note of amusement in his voice.
The Sentinel leader chuckled. "Rodimus is filling in nicely for you. Why bother with the whole dry conference anyway? You are just hosting this gig, not running it."
"He does help me a lot, but there are things Rodimus can't do, like impersonate me. Some people just don't see there is no difference between talking with me or him," Optimus explained with a shrug. "And yes, we are the hosts, but as a host you also have to show up from time to time. Anyway, Rodimus already has enough on his hands."
"Only too true," Midnight agreed. "I'll see where I can find Steve and then we're off to Alean. Shouldn't take too long." He rose from his chair and left the room.
Optimus looked at the map again. Point Zero. What was Point Zero?
* * *
"Yes," was the brief answer from deep inside her mind. The voice was slightly too high and raspy, but it also relayed a certain tone of begging, but only very slightly. Most of the tone was demand.
Dycran frowned and rubbed her nose. She hated it when he got demanding. "Cybertron is pretty far away from Halicon, my friend," she answered, keeping her voice cool and professional. "And I hate long distance space travel."
"There is a warp gate not far from here and your ship can make it."
The Host frowned. "Why?"
"I have my reasons," came the short answer.
She was silent for a long time, her silence echoed by the being inside of her. "What reasons?" she finally asked.
"Personal reasons," the entity ground out.
"Okay, then, since you are dependent on me, I want to know what kind of personal reasons you are talking about."
She felt him moving inside the confined space inside of her, trying to once again, and not very subtly, break out of the shield she had put around him.
"They are personal," he finally hissed in frustration.
She sighed, opting for another approach. "Okay, let's say I get you to Cybertron, what do you want to do then? Take over the planet? If so, forget it, buddy, I'm not letting you out of that shield any time soon!"
There was a short silence, then he said in a voice that relayed all the anger he felt, as well as a but of longing, "I want a body."
Dycran raised an eyebrow. "You want to possess one again? Listen, we had a long talk about this and I'm not gonna be part of any take-over scheme you're brewing in that fractured mind of yours!"
She felt the last comment hit home and wished for a second she hadn't said that. It was true that the entity's mind was in a rather bad shape, but that didn't mean he was a lunatic; though now and then Dycran had the strong feeling that he was on the best way to turn into one. He was used to getting his will, if necessary enforced by threats and violence, but she wasn't' easily scared. Especially when all he could do was attack her verbally.
"No!" he snapped and irritation took over. "I want an empty shell; one to carry my consciousness."
Dycran's frown deepened. This was something new in the endless list of 'I'm demanding....' from her guest. He had tried everything on her, from threatening, actual take-over attempts, screaming and raging, to just sitting sullenly inside his assigned 'quarters'. Most of the time she reacted with shutting him out completely, severing every connection she allowed him with her senses. It brought him around in 99% of all cases. She had already found out that he was terribly afraid to be left completely alone, without any sensation at all but feeling his own presence. If she had had the nerve to do so, she would have kicked him out long ago, but two things were against her. One, he was dangerous, even as an ectoplasmic entity. She couldn't just release him upon the unsuspecting world of Halicon. Two, she needed him as much as he apparently needed her, though neither of the two had ever confessed to it.
Alyssa Dycran was a former member of Host Inc., an organization that trained individuals to host another being for some time, maybe years. There were several worlds whose natives were unable to move great distances, like to another planet, or vocalize their thoughts for everyone to hear without using another's body. They were customers and Host Inc. aimed to help them, its members voluntarily surrendering control of their bodies to serve the guests. The Hosts were also trained to shield and protect their guests, bodyguarding them, as well as shielding themselves from prying attempts of their visitors.
Dycran had nearly died on one of those missions and this had shown her that it was time to quit. She had been with the company for ages and she wanted a life of her own. Host Inc. had agreed and since then she had been on Halicon, recovering, vacationing, enjoying a planet that was still fresh and innocent. And during her vacation she had met a lost and frightened entity, an entity called Starscream. If she had had a choice she'd have evaded the joining, but somehow they had been attracted to each other. She was feeling lonely, realizing that she was truly missing another's mind inside her own. Starscream had been desperate and hurt, not caring what body it was he had merged with, though he had never dreamed of getting a humanoid one.
And Starscream didn't like it; well, not really. He still had his difficulties with being inside a form of life he had despised as a robot, as a Decepticon. Dycran had had her times of trouble with him and still had.
Her guest -- she couldn't get herself to think of him as a symbiont; he was more of a parasite if let loose -- took her silence as disapproval, maybe even second thought. "I'm thankful for what you have done, Dycran," he said, his voice softening. She was surprised by the change, but kept being wary. "I owe you a lot. I owe you my healing."
That much was true. Starscream had been badly hurt by his experience prior to merging with her. His mind had been under constant stress throughout the possession of a Seeker named Braintrust, and when they had met, he had been vulnerable and frightened of her empathic mind, her easy acceptance. Dycran knew that it was difficult for a ghost, which he was, to accept that another mind could really welcome him, especially after several difficult possessions. And most of the time she hadn't felt so welcoming.
She shook her head. "Remember that you can only possess a body? You will never be able to insert your ectoplasmic body in a memory cube and live a normal life! This is futile! You are no longer a program, Starscream, you are dead!"
A wave of anger and rage swamped over her from inside the shield area and she clenched her teeth, forcefully refraining from simply returning the favor. Maybe he didn't know it, but Starscream was in a very vulnerable position inside her body. She was in control....
"And I will live again!" he screamed. "I will get a body!"
"For what?" she yelled back, stunning him a bit.
There was a second of silence. "Just to live," finally was the mute answer. "I want to have a body that is mine, which I don't have to share."
Dycran felt him curl together into a tight, miserable ball. She sympathized with him, she really did, but he also had an attitude that made prolonged sympathy an impossible feat. Now she had to make a decision that might just backfire on her. Finally she gave a loud sigh.
"All right, you get your wish. We'll go to Cybertron." Starscream sent a wave of cheer through her. "But," she added, "we do it my way."
"And which way do you propose?" he asked with a suspicious tone in his voice.
Dycran simply smiled. "Wait and see."
* * *
Rodimus Prime's face as a polite, more or less neutral mask. A faint smile, which wasn't at all real because smiling was not like he felt like now, played around his lips. In front of him stood a rather thin, tall and brightly dressed individual, whose mouth was moving faster than his brain could supply words for him to speak. His name was Andra Par, a delegate from the planet of Ryms, which was one of the less important planets in a loose alliance of about seven worlds. But the way Par behaved, he was the president of the whole alliance.
".... which lets me suspect my assistant got lost throughout the check-in!"
Rodimus still smiled as he leaned slightly forward. "I thought you had said you arrived without your aid, Mr. Par," he said.
Par looked a bit flustered. "I never said such a thing! She was with me on the flight and she must have gotten lost! This place is so huge that she could be anywhere, lost and alone!"
"We have searched the immediate area of the complex and found no trace," Rodimus reminded him.
"Then you must have missed something!" Par shouted. "For you giant robots we small humanoids are easy to overlook."
"I assure you...."
"Assure me nothing! If you don't find Mia'Nei I'll write up a formal complaint to your superior!"
Rodimus' smile widened. "You do just that, Ambassador, but it will change nothing. Your aid checked in, she received her keys to her room, which means she actually entered the building, she even signed the receipt, and then she walked out of the complex again."
"If you have such lax security....!" Par began.
Rodimus was close to losing his cool, but he knew that shouting would gain him nothing.
"I want your assurance that you will pursue this matter personally!" Par demanded.
The Autobots' second-in-command sighed silently. "I already have a team out there...."
"Personally!" Par repeated, his normally pale face getting even more colorful.
Rodimus nodded in an attempt to get this whole matter out of his office. "All right, all right, personally."
Par quieted down a bit and smiled. "Thank you, Rodimus Prime." With that he turned and stalked out of the office.
Rodimus leaned back and shook his head. What mess had he gotten himself into?
"Hi," someone suddenly said.
The Autobot second looked up and discovered a grey-and-blue female robot, who was smiling softly.
"Hard day?" Silhouette asked as she walked into his office.
"I hope you have good news about one miracle or other," he muttered as a greeting. "Preferably about a Rymanian woman you found somewhere."
Sil frowned a bit and sat down on the edge of the table. "Ambassador Par, right?" When he nodded, she sighed. "He still says that he suddenly knows he arrived with an aid and she then got lost here?"
"Convenient how his memory works. What do you think?"
"I'm not really sure," Rodimus answered truthfully. "First he checks in without an aid and has no problems with that. He even goes through the first conference without her. Then, all of a sudden, he says she's missing, though he can't remember if he checked in with or without her. Now he's threatening us with everything he got because we 'lost' his aid." He shook his head. "This is crazy! Why didn't he miss her right from the beginning? I mean, she signed in, after him from the date on the receipt, and she got her set of keys, a map, a time table, everything. She went into her room, then left it again."
Silhouette cocked her head. "And no trace of her?"
"No one saw her."
"Can't we find her any other way?"
He shook his head. "No. It's like a needle in a haystack." Rodimus sighed. "I just love it."
Silhouette nodded in sympathy. Then Rodimus looked at her. "Well, what can I do for you?"
A predatory smile crossed her face. "Oh, a lot, but most of that is out of the question right now," she teased.
Rodimus coughed. "Uh, right."
Since the two of them had finally managed to clear things between them, Rodimus had thought hard about the relationship he had started with the female Dinobot. They were not very much further in their relationship than before, but now he had the chance to take one step after another without fearing he was crossing a line.
Sil leaned forward. "Problems?" she asked softly, her blue optics glowing.
"Ah, no," he managed.
Her fingers traced his Autobot symbol.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything?" another female voice said.
Rodimus drew away from Silhouette as if he had been hit by lightning. His optics fixed on a seven feet tall, exo-suit clad woman with long blue hair. "Shanygn!"
"Hey, if you two had put up a 'Don't disturb' sign ..." Shanygn said with a broad grin.
Rodimus looked at Sil, who was giggling slightly. Good thing robots couldn't blush. "It's not what you think!"
"Of course not," Shanygn laughed. [Ease up, Roddy!]
He glared at her. "Anything I can help any of you with?" he then asked.
"I was just dropping in to see if you might want to take a break and head out for a ride around the country side," his partner explained. [But I see you already are thoroughly ... engaged]
The glare turned outright nasty. [I'm not ....engaged in anything!]
[So you say] was the answer. Shanygn smiled.
"I thought you and Chip had a research project going," Rodimus said, trying to steer the conversation into safer waters.
"We're at a point where we need to take a break anyway," she explained.
"You better go out and relax," Silhouette told Rodimus and touched his arm. "I've an appointment anyway. First Aid said something about a test he wanted to run." She left the room and Rodimus found himself staring after her. He pulled himself together and turned to Shanygn, who gave him an innocent smile.
[Good choice] her voice said in his mind.
[Will you stop it?]
[What did I say?]
"Let's drive," he decided.
Both of them were about to leave when the intercom beeped again. Rodimus gave a mutter of what sounded like a curse and answered it.
"Rodimus, I need you to check something," Optimus Prime said, his voice holding a strange tone Rodimus couldn't identify.
"There is some kind of old entrance way to the Maze near the conference complex and I want you to take a look at it." He transmitted the coordinates and Rodimus saw that it was really very close.
"What's so special about this one?" he wanted to know.
"Nothing yet, my friend, but it could be quite interesting to see what's hidden behind it," Optimus answered, apparently not ready to explain further.
"Okay, I'll have a look around." With that he terminated the line and looked at Shanygn.
She shrugged and smiled. "What better opportunity than that?"
Both of them left the building.
* * *
Alyssa Dycran had only briefly looked around the room she had been assigned and then walked over to the window. Her view was that of a long stretch of narrow and flat buildings.
"We are on the South continent," Starscream said and she felt anticipation pass through her. "If I remember correctly we find a passage into the lower levels of Cybertron not far from this complex."
She straightened her dress and nodded. "All right. Let's do it."
She left her room again, walking down the corridor with a brisk pace, her whole demeanor businesslike. To everyone looking at her she would radiate the persona of Mia'Nei, aid to one of the delegates. This was her cover and she planned to uphold it as long as possible.
* * *
On the planet Earth, Adam 'Spike' Witwicky nervously paced the waiting room. He stopped, looked at the clock above the door, then checked it with his own watch, and resumed pacing again. Five hours! For a freak second he wished he was on Cybertron and assisting Rodimus Prime with the conference. He was much better at being Ambassador than waiting. The door opened and he whirled around, but when he saw who entered, his face fell a bit.
"Oh, don't be so overly ecstatic to see me," the teen said with a grin and shut the door with a hard kick. He was holding coffee cups in his hands, offering one to Spike.
"Thanks, Danny," Spike sighed and took it, sipping slightly at the hot liquid. It was rather good, he had to confess.
"Nothing yet, huh?" Daniel Witwicky asked and slumped down in one of the many the chairs. The waiting room was completely empty at this time of the night.
Spike shook his head and looked through the window, showing him nothing but the lit parking lot of the hospital. Then he looked back at his son. It was amazing how the boy had changed throughout the last year or so. After his separation from Arcee, Spike had not thought that Daniel would really bounce back that fast. He had been quite attached to the female Autobot. But Daniel had recovered, with a lot of help and a lot of love from his parents, and equal help from another female Autobot called Silhouette. She hadn't so much as talked to Daniel, simply listened to him. They shared a common fate. Daniel had been unhappy about suddenly being 'only human' again, and Silhouette had to cope with being a robot instead of a humanoid. The Interfaced humans, mainly Jill McKennan and Mike de la Croix, had lent a hand and ear as well, talking with Daniel about his dreams and desires, explaining Interfacing to him. And Daniel had healed. Spike couldn't tell anyone how happy he was about this.
And then Carly had told him she was pregnant. It had been a bit of a shock at first, then incredible joy. Even though their first child had just turned sixteen, Spike had no doubt about it: he wanted a second child. Daniel had reacted first with surprise, then with reluctance to the news. But now he was as tense as his father, waiting for the doctors to tell them that labors had really begun.
Carly had been having trouble for the last few days and late last night the labors had started in earnest. To the doctors' dismay they had also subsided again and they had to put Carly on medication to help her with labors. Dr. Catherine McPherson, Carly's gynecologist, had promised Spike to tell him immediately when he could come in. He wanted to be there when his daughter was born.
"How long does it usually take?" Daniel wanted to know.
Spike chuckled. "That's something you can't predict, son. In your case we were in the hospital for fourteen hours until you decided to come on out. And it was over in a few minutes."
"Oh." Daniel frowned. "Then what are you so nervous about?"
Spike raised an eyebrow. Yes, what was he so nervous about. Carly had gone through all of this before, as he had. He had been there when Danny had been born and it had been the same procedure of waiting.
"I hate waiting," he finally confessed. "I'd rather be battling stacks of papers ..."
"....or Decepticons," Daniel added with a grin.
Spike mirrored that grin. "Or that, rather than sitting here and doing nothing at all!"
Another hour dragged by.
The door opened again in the early hours of morning and the nurse entering found a sleeping teen and a rather tired looking grown-up.
"Ambassador Witwicky?" she asked softly, trying not to wake the younger man.
Spike rose from his chair. "Yes?" he asked anxiously.
She smiled. All fathers were the same, no matter whether it was their first child or their second. "Dr. McPherson told me to...."
She didn't come any further because Spike grabbed her by her shoulders. "Which room?" he demanded.
"OP 4," she answered with a smile.
Daniel woke with a yawn and immediately took in the situation, following his father to the indicated room. Spike was already dressing up in the hospital issue gowns. A nurse held the younger man back as his father entered and shook her head. Daniel sighed deeply. More waiting.
* * *
Wild Card went through the warp gate and exited close to Cybertron, using a method he had discovered only recently: leaving a warp tunnel wherever he wanted to. He had never been aware of these abilities until he had Interfaced. And even then he had been reluctant to try out what this Interface meant. Foremost he had been very much afraid to hurt Jeff Winters, the human who had Interfaced with him, but Jeff had soon explained to him that Interfacing didn't hurt at all. He was simply claiming a space inside Wild Card that was already there. Transformations didn't affect him because he was flowing naturally with every movement Wild Card made and only when Jeff materialized outside did he actually take on his old form. It was so alien and so new to Wild Card that it sometimes frightened him.
Then there was the fact that he was, in many eyes, still a Seeker. Midnight had accepted him into the ranks of the Sentinels, but this didn't necessarily mean everyone trusted him. Dagger was one of the most vociferous of those who looked at him with suspicion and it had made Wild Card's stay on Earth hard. Then there was also the fact that Midnight had wanted him and his Interface Jeff Winters to learn about their new bond, their abilities, their future. So they had come to Alean, home of the Sentinels for so long, it was practically their rightful planet. He had taken part in the training program with reluctance, but had soon seen that he needed it.
Jeff was quite happy as an Interface partner. It meant giving in sometimes, as well as standing up against other things. They had had their share of quarrels, fights and discussion, but this, he had been told, was only normal. They needed to adjust to each other and since their bond was very intense and very close, coming near the 100% bond of Steve and Midnight, they needed the training even more.
Wild Card let Jeff fly him toward Cybertron, giving his human friend another go at the rather complicated manual controls. There was nothing like flying in an Interfaced state, but doing it all manually gave Jeff a better insight.
"All right, what now?" the former Colonel asked.
"I guess we should check in with Midnight," Wild Card answered, "then see what's cooking down there. I'd also like to have a look around. I haven't been to Cybertron in ....ages."
Jeff nodded in understanding. He knew his partner's history, as well as the history of the Sentinel race.
About half an hour after the exit from the warp tunnel they landed outside the South port and Wild Card transformed. Jeff chose not to Interface and materialized beside him, dressed in a jumpsuit and armor. As they walked toward the conference complex where Midnight had to be, Wild Card saw Rodimus and Shanygn exit the building.
"Hey!" Shanygn called, a bright smile crossing her features. "I didn't expect the two of you to pop in! How are you guys?"
Jeff chuckled. "Fine, considering Skywolf gave us the drill forward and backward, and then once again for good measure."
Shanygn grinned. "Yeah, he's quite an instructor when it comes to Interfacing."
"Is Midnight inside?" Wild Card asked.
Rodimus shook his head. "No. He went back to Alean to look up some stuff. I guess you just missed him."
"Him and his Gating," Jeff grumbled.
"I heard similar stories about you guys," Shanygn smiled.
"We are not Gating," Winters protested.
"Yeah, but pretty close to something like it."
"And where are you off to?" Wild Card changed topics.
"Well, first of all we're checking out an access way Optimus found close to this place. I don't know why, but I have a hunch there's something important going on in these little meetings he and Midnight have regularly," the Autobots' second explained. "And then we're looking for a missing person. Looks like one of the delegates' aids wandered off and got lost." He shrugged.
Wild Card looked genuinely interested in what Rodimus had told him. "Old access ways?" he asked. "Mind if I tag along? I mean," he added as if in an apology, "I wanted to have a tour around here anyway and being in your company makes me less suspicious."
Rodimus smiled. "No problem. And I don't think anybody would see you as being suspicious, Wild Card. You are a Sentinel."
The Sentinel looked seriously at him. "But I haven't been one for long enough, Rodimus."
"Nonsense!" Shanygn cut in. "You are a Sentinel, that's it. No more stuff about pasts and things. If we were so fixed on past things we'd never have gotten that far. Look at Midnight..."
Wild Card sighed. It was an old argument and he still was too insecure in the ranks of those he had fought not too long ago to really let go of his fears. He was playing it as it came and even if Jeff insisted of him loosing up a little about the subject, he remained very guarded around other Sentinels.
"Now," Rodimus interrupted his train of thought, "how about we get moving? If you guys want to remain here, discussing this and that...."
Shanygn gave him a mock glare. "Lead the way," she then said, making a flourishing gesture.
Rodimus grimaced. Then the little team set off toward the coordinates Optimus Prime had given them.
* * *
"This is the right way?" Dycran asked, sounding dubious.
She sent a wave of doubt his way.
"It has to be," he insisted.
She shrugged and walked on, passing intersections, closed doors, strange looking computer terminals built into the wall and more. Everything down here was rather dusty and the light was murky. Grease dotted the floor, sometimes flowing into large pools. Dycran was already covered in dust and grease and her journey was being hindered by the slippery ground. She felt like she badly needed a shower. Her hair was sticking in her face and she was breathing hard from the dry and rather oppressive air inside the tunnel. Dust settled inside her mouth every time she breathed and it made her irritated, but she still walked on.
Suddenly they had to stop. Starscream gave a groan of frustration and Dycran felt anger rise inside of her, anger transmitted by him.
"Calm down," she said. "It's just a collapsed tunnel!"
"Just a collapsed tunnel?" he echoed in a screech she had grown familiar with. "It's a dead end, pure and simple!"
Their way was blocked. Part of the ceiling had caved in, taking most of what was located above with it, forming an impenetrable barrier. Even if she had the necessary equipment, they'd take days to dig through.
"I saw another tunnel leading off behind us," she added. "Let's try that one."
Starscream gave a muttered affirmative, thoroughly frustrated by this turn of events. He settled back inside his Host's body again, trying to find some useful information about this part of the Maze running through Cybertron's interior. Once he had known his way around here, but now he was mostly relying on good guesses and dim knowledge. He had known about the access way, which was leading down to another tunnel, which was in turn meeting up with one of the transport tubes. Using a tube he would have gotten to the repair shack easily. Now this wasn't so easy anymore.
Nothing was easy anymore.
Until a few years ago he had been a powerful warrior in an uniquely strong and quick shell. He had been on the way rising from the position of second-in-command to Decepticon leader. It had been his goal, his single aim in life. And this he had reached after the battle against the Autobots on Earth, when he had dumped Megatron into space. But his victory had been shot lived -- he had lived shortly. Bitterly he remembered those seconds when the stranger arrived, the stranger who had turned out to be Megatron in a new body. The presumed-dead Decepticon leader had blasted him to bits without hesitation.
Starscream felt another wave of rage rise inside of him, though he knew it was a rage he kept alive by artificial means. He no longer had the undying desire to kill Galvatron, Megatron's new name. He wanted to live! By whatever means! Everything else had shrunk down to unimportant size on his list of important things. He had learned that lesson after getting beat by not only Galvatron but also Unicron, who had not only used him, but who had also outfitted him with such a useless new body that it had decayed as if it had been infected with cosmic rust.
Well, now he was inside a humanoid, who had not only accepted him as a passenger, but who also helped him fulfill a desire: life! And Starscream no longer had the means to truly help his host. Dycran had been right when she had called his memory fractured, though it hurt to confess this and he would never do it openly. Throughout the possession of Braintrust he had been merged with the dragon Seeker by force. The same force had separated the two minds, destroying Braintrust's completely and tearing apart what had been left of Starscream. He had crawled away from this fight, weak, vulnerable, wounded, meeting a mind that promised shelter, though it wasn't a mind to control easily or-- yes, he had to confess this as well -- at all. The Decepticon had given up on understanding his Host's mind at all. He was too busy trying to keep what was left of his mind together. He had lost too much of his past already, important knowledge, private memories, he didn't want to loose himself as well.
Dycran was walking down the corridor she had indicated to him. It was even darker in here than in the other tunnel and dust and debris was littering the floor. Starscream did a quick calculation as to where they were heading and was relieved when he came up with a trajectory that would deliver them near the tube's station if all went well.
All didn't go well.
Dycran suddenly stepped into nothingness. She gave a gasp of surprise as the floor sagged and she fell. Starscream felt panic inside her and took over.
He reached for a hold, any hold, in the shaft they were rushing down, fingers brushing over smooth surface as they rushed down, accelerating by the second. There was no way to stop! The surface had no edges, no handles, no holds!
There was a short, violent pain, and then everything went dark.
* * *
Since the destruction of their home planet Quintessa, the Quintessons had roamed space in their ships, apparently reluctant to settle down somewhere else. Their race was scattered among the myriad of planets, each clan or individual scheming and planning on their own. Some had lost all interest in the Transformers and the planet that had once been their own, Cybertron. Many had set out for a search of a new home, leaving the known galaxy behind in an attempt to get as much distance as possible between themselves and the warring factions of their creations. Others, though, had no such goals. They wanted the planet they had built back. They also wanted revenge for the humiliation they had suffered by the hands of their former servants. But their number was small and the armies they commanded were not strong enough to overthrow either faction of Cybertronians.
The Autobots had the Matrix as a weapon. A very potent weapon and also an unknown factor in any war. None of the Quintessons could even begin to theorize as to what it could perform. It had destroyed the mightiest weapon ever known, Unicron, and it had healed a virus infection of the deadliest kind and more. Through it the Autobots had learned about who the Quintessons were and what their apparent role in the past had been.
The Decepticons were a fighting force to be reckoned with. First the Quintessons had underestimated them, mainly because of their obviously deranged leader Galvatron, but the madness had proven to be a dangerous factor. Now that he had been restored to his former self, the Decepticons were becoming an even greater threat. They not only fought the Autobots, but also the Quintessons where they found them. The new Galvatron saw a danger in them that was even greater than all Autobots together.
And then there were the Sentinels.
The Quintesson sitting alone in the command room of the lonely ship twitched his tentacles and gave a low hissing sound. His five faces rotated and then stopped.
The Sentinels had sided with the Autobots, though the renegades, the Seekers, had not. The Quintesson didn't know how to judge their former bodyguards. They were dangerous, they were deadly and they were so very different from any Autobot or Decepticon that they proved to be an even greater unknown factor than the Matrix. And since they had discovered Interfacing, their danger had doubled. Humanoids were hard to judge because of their random behavior, something the robotic life forms had learned to copy.
Their leader, Midnight, was a rogue factor as well, mainly because he belonged to the Sleepers. The Quintessons had known why they had not awakened the Sleepers, but the Seeker known as Braintrust had done it nevertheless. Midnight had Interfaced, which was of no surprise, and with the former Sentinel leader, Thon Roque, dead, he had taken over.
We should never have activated the programs, the Quintessons thought darkly.
At the time they had been like a gift to the striving race of soon-to-be merchants. The Sentinel programs and design had already existed and hadn't needed any kind of additional training or intensive programming. The Quintessons had simply ordered Vector Sigma to activate the production programming and the mega computer had presented them with the finished product, a superior robot model that could easily squash rebellious servants. No one had ever even imagined that the whole thing would ever backfire.
Suddenly the alarm in the command chamber went off. The Quintesson turned to the view screen and activated it with a flick of a switch. Something scrolled over the screen, then it went completely blank.
For a brief second the alien creature sat as though frozen on his chair, then his tentacles quivered ever so slightly. If he could have paled, the Quintesson would have done so.
* * *
Midnight's arrival on Alean went by almost unnoticed. Most of the Sentinels who had joined his little team throughout the millennia had temporarily moved to Cybertron to assist in the ongoing explorations. As Sentinels they had a rather unique knowledge of the former factory planet and Optimus Prime was thankful for the help. Several Sentinels were on Earth, some had remained here. Skywolf was one of those remaining on Alean, mainly to keep an eye on Wild Card, and train him and his Interface Jeff Winters. It wasn't that Midnight didn't trust Wild Card; he did. They were friends and Wild Card had saved his life more than once, even when he had belonged to the Sentinels' enemies, the Seekers. But Wild Card was also a freshly Interfaced robot and both he and his Interface had no idea what this really meant. Skywolf had volunteered to watch out for them.
Steve materialized beside his partner and they strode down the corridor leading deeper into the underground city of the Sentinels. "Eerie," Steve muttered.
Midnight nodded. He knew what his partner meant. It was so quiet and lonely down here that you could almost believe you were alone. They arrived in the main lab area, which also housed the elevator going deeper down into the archives.
The black Sentinel leader smiled as he discovered Winterhawk. "Hello, Hawk. Where's Skywolf?"
"In his lab. Say, you didn't meet with Wild Card?"
"Uh, no. Didn't see him, why?"
Winterhawk shrugged. "He wanted to go to Cybertron and see if he could help. Looks like you missed him."
Midnight nodded. "Looks like it." He strode into Skywolf's lab.
The Sentinel medic looked up from his work and a smile flickered over his features. "Welcome to Ghost City," he greeted his friend, his voice relaying amusement.
Mid laughed. "Thanks."
"What brings you here? I thought you and Optimus were coordinating the explorations?"
The other Sentinel nodded. "We are, but we also stumbled upon something strange. Do you know something called 'Point Zero'."
Skywolf frowned. "No, not that I can recall. Why?"
Midnight called up the stored map from within his circuits. "There's a tunnel running down nearly uninterrupted from the surface of Cybertron through the Maze into a chamber marked as Point Zero. No one on Cybertron knows about it so far and the language on the map is something from out of our past." Something flashed over Midnight's visor. "It's not Cybertronian, Skywolf, it's us; our original language."
Skywolf stared at the map. Like every Sentinel he could read the writing, but like every Sentinel he had also stopped using the language soon after he had been 'born'. The Sentinel product line had had to learn the universal language of the slaves and the Quintessons.
"But we are Cybertronian, in a way," he muttered. "We were constructed by the Quintessons, just like the Autobots and Decepticons. We only held another position and were given powers none of them ever copied."
Midnight nodded slowly. "And that never puzzled you?" he asked quietly.
Their optics met and Skywolf seemed to get onto the same train of thoughts. Steve, who had been quietly standing beside them, entered the conversation.
"We know you share the same core programming," he said. "In a way, you are all related to each other, with just one difference: the relationship between Decepticons and Autobots is much closer than that to a Sentinel or Seeker."
Skywolf sat down in one of the chairs. "So you want to research Point Zero, right?"
Midnight nodded. "It is important, I think. I don't know why." He shook his head. "It's like ... I know what it is, I just can't remember it!"
"That's why we need to have a look at the archives," Steve added. "If it isn't in there, maybe we can find references."
Skywolf had to agree, looking at the blank spot again. As the oldest Sentinel still alive he had the same nagging feeling as Midnight had described: he somehow had the feeling he knew this place.
Midnight and Steve walked over to the elevator down to the lower levels of Alean. The door of the elevator closed behind them and then they were on their way.
* * *
It was over so quickly that the previous hours of waiting seemed like an eternity. Carly lay in a hospital bed, looking tired and worn, but very happy. Spike sat at her side, looking equally tired, but twice as happy. A small bundle of life lay in his wife's arms.
"How do you feel... Daddy?" she asked with a lot of amusement in her voice.
"I should ask you that, darling," Spike replied softly and kissed her forehead. "How are you two?"
"I'm fine and so is your daughter."
Spike looked at the sleeping baby, feeling proud and protective in one. Daniel ventured carefully closer. He had it with waiting for nurses to come and tell him where to go and what not to do.
"Hi, Mom," he said gingerly.
"Hi, Danny. Come and see your new sister. Melissa, this is your big brother, Daniel." Carly smiled at the two.
Daniel grinned at the sleepily moving baby. Big brother didn't sound too bad at all.
* * *
The small team consisting of one Autobot, a Sentinel, and two humanoids walked between two large, though rather flat, structures formerly housing shuttle repair bays. The way they had come had led them directly into the old warehouse district, ten kilometers away from the conference center, where the old shuttles had been stored. In the past this district had been mainly for the storage of consumer goods of the near-by port. Later, in the war, it had served as a repair bay. Now it was nothing but a forgotten place marked by the fighting. Somewhere in this warehouse district was the entrance Optimus Prime had discovered on the map. Rodimus had driven all the way to the district, with Wild Card following him in jet mode. Now they had transformed again, Rodimus' eyes scanning for the coordinates of the entrance. He found it after some minutes.
"Over there," he told his team mates and pointed toward one of the old warehouses several hundred feet away. It was a building marked TZ-11.
It was a rather shabby looking hangar bay, formerly used to repair intercity shuttles. Now it was nothing but a run-down piece of empty metal walls bearing all the sights of an old battle place.
"Let's take a look around," Rodimus decided.
They approached the warehouse and soon stood in front of the gigantic, open doors. Inside, the warehouse looked even shabbier. Debris lay scattered around on the floor, grease and dust staining the walls and windows. Rodimus scanned the area for a door or tunnel.
"It's gotta be somewhere around here," he muttered.
Shanygn grimaced. "What a dump," she commented. "Are you sure it's really here?"
"Following what Optimus said, yes," her partner replied.
Jeff walked slowly into the warehouse, kicking at some twisted metal thing. "Any idea how it looks?" he asked, looking around.
The human raised both eyebrows. "Oh, good."
They walked deeper into the former repair bay, careful not to step onto the debris lying around or to fall over it. Wild Card stopped after they had entered the repair bay half way. He was scanning the ground.
The Autobots' second came over. "What?"
"Someone's been here," the Sentinel replied. He pointed at the ground. "Footsteps."
True to his words there were human sized foot steps visible in a particular dusty spot. In addition to that he could see scratch marks. Someone had moved some of this debris aside.
"How old do you guess they are?" he asked.
"Not older than a day. Most likely. Maybe even younger." Wild Card looked a bit confused. "Why would a human come here?"
Rodimus frowned. "I don't know. I just know that we're missing an aid to a delegate and if she came here ... " He moved some more debris aside. "Trap door," he breathed as he saw the faint outlines of a door in the ground.
"I don't think she's sight seeing," Shanygn commented dryly. "If it was her, that is."
Rodimus nodded and lifted the trap door. It was easy to open, he noticed with surprise. The hydraulics were still working properly and it would have been no great feat for a humanoid with average strength to lift it.
Below them lay a black hole.
Shanygn peered into the hole and activated the infrared sight of her helmet. She was clad in her full exo-suit. "Not very deep," she said. "There's a steel rung ladder running down left of you."
Rodimus activated his own infrared and saw the mentioned ladder. He briefly wondered whether he should call anyone and let the others know where they were going, then decided against it. Until tomorrow he had no obligations and searching for a missing delegate couldn't be that dangerous. And, he reminded himself, Optimus had told them to look for this entrance way. He hadn't said anything about not entering it. A brief smile flickered over his face. And he had back-up.
"Let's see what's down there," he decided and began to climb down.
* * *
Starscream was the first to regain consciousness. He blinked, trying to banish the bright lights dancing in front of his eyes. Pain lanced through the body he shared and he groaned, wishing he had a way to disconnect the pain receptors like he would have been able to in a robot body. But this wasn't a robot and so he had to live with it. A quick exploration told him that Dycran was unconscious, but on the verge of coming around as well. He carefully stretched out his ectoplasmic body inside the humanoid one, encountering no shields at all, and gained control over most of the motor functions. This wasn't easy. The humanoid body was a complicated net of neural pathways and could in no way be compared to the circuits of a robotic life form. For a second he wondered what would have happened if he had ever managed to break out of his confined quarters inside her and take control. He would have failed miserably, he realized, because he had no idea ho to work this body properly.
Starscream staggered to his feet, feeling more messages of pain reach Dycran's brain. They had fallen down quite a distance and she had hit the ground hard enough to hurt her. Her body was more robust than any human body he had ever seen, but she was still hurt. How bad he couldn't tell. He was too inexperienced in flesh body matters. Starscream looked around, his movements jerky and wavering. Above him was a broad shaft, maybe a former anti-grav elevator from the looks of it. Dycran had stepped into it and they had fallen. This would also explain the smooth surface. Now they were in an oval room, bare of any decorations, with a door leading away from here. The room was brightly lit and looked like no one had been here for a long time. Starscream tried to remember whether he had ever known about this elevator or the room. He came up empty.
A slight shift inside of him told him that Dycran was coming around. She was massively confused and disoriented. He allowed her consciousness to return up to the same level he was currently holding and she woke up.
"What happened?" she asked, sounding puzzled and slightly slurred.
"We fell down a dysfunctional elevator shaft, as far as I can see it," Starscream explained, turning his head to give her an impression of where they were.
"Elevator? Great. Any idea where we are?"
Dycran was silent for a second. "No?" she then echoed.
Starscream sighed softly, feeling deeply embarrassed by the fact that his old knowledge was no longer there. "The tunnel we entered should have intersected with another tunnel not far after the cave-in," he explained. "Since we took another route I ... " he seemed to clench ectoplasmic teeth together, "lost my way. And when you stepped into the shaft ... I don't know where we are, Dycran."
She sighed again. "So what now?" she asked.
He looked at the elevator. "We can't go back the same way we came, so we might as well try and figure out another way."
She nodded. "All right, lead the way." She took over control again and he let her, his mind already working on where they were, trying to dig up some tidbit of information he could use.
Dycran walked slowly down the corridor, aware of the pain in her body. She had all her hands full not to show her weakness. A quick check of her body had shown her that she needed a medic soon. Starscream knew too little about her to tell that she had internal injuries and broken ribs. With a bit of control and by using lessons she had been taught about body pain control she had adjusted to that, but it still hurt.
* * *
In another part of Cybertron, an exploration team consisting of two Autobots and one Sentinel finally managed to clear the entrance way of what their maps told them was an old storage hangar.
"My coating will be dusty for days!" Sunstreaker muttered unhappily and tried to brush some of the dirt clinging to his formerly bright yellow skin off -- without much success.
Hound chuckled. "C'mon, Streaker! It's only half as bad as you make it sound. Take a shower when you're back and you're as good as new!"
Sunstreaker gave him an outraged look. "Good as new? Hound, you have no idea what it means to have these microscopic particles scratching your skin! It's a mess even weeks afterwards! I will never be the same again!"
Knight tried to suppress a chuckle, which didn't go too well and earned her a nasty look from Sunstreaker.
Hound shook his head and turned back to his task of overriding the old lock. They had found the entrance by a lot of luck and some maps Knight had supplied. The female Sentinel knew her way around the surface of Cybertron very well and she had some interesting maps inside her memory banks, which she had supplied to their team.
The doors opened with a creaking sound and Hound was confronted by murky darkness. He switched on a powerful lamp and let the beam of light wander through the room. Everything looked abandoned, though not as abandoned as he'd have expected it to be. Someone had been here lately.
"Sunstreaker, Knight, look at this!" he called as he walked through the room, his light beam hitting a particularly interesting piece of left-behind equipment. It was a weapon.
Sunstreaker came over and studied the weapon, an odd expression crossing his features. He gingerly took it from the desk it lay on. "Is it what I think it is?" he asked softly.
Hound nodded, pointing at the Autobot symbol on the gun's barrel. The gun was delicately shaped, much lighter in weight than what the both of them carried, but with nearly equal fire power.
Knight gave the weapon a curious look. "What is it?" she then asked.
"It belongs to a female Autobot," Hound said tonelessly.
"Oh." Knight knew that except for Arcee, there was no female Autobot around. Well, if you didn't count Silhouette, but she didn't really fall into the category. All female Autobots were hiding and had only surfaced once. Optimus Prime had tried to reach them after the battle on Nebulos and the following victory over the Decepticon forces. Cybertron was going into a new Golden Age. But they had had no luck so far.
Hound let his beam wander through the room again and discovered several blaster marks on the walls and ceiling.
"They were here some time ago," he muttered, "but it looks like they had to abandon base because of an attack. Those marks look like Decepticon blaster burns." He shook his head sadly.
"But where did they go?" Sunstreaker wanted to know.
"Wish I knew." Hound searched for a computer or anything that could hold data files. If the Decepticons had not raided the base they might have some luck and find something.
But nothing had been left behind, except for dust and debris. He sighed softly and looked at the weapon again, which Sunstreaker was still carrying.
"Let's report back to Optimus and Midnight. Maybe they know where to go from this point on."
With that he switched off the lamp and the two Autobots and one Sentinel left the abandoned base.
* * *
Midnight didn't notice the passing of time as he went through the data files of the Sentinel library. Steve had retired some time ago, but his robot partner went on in his search for this one room inside Cybertron called Point Zero. It was a tiring search, even for a robot, but he could be very persistent. The computer of the library had not been able to get him anything with the name Point Zero, but he had narrowed down the search to the ancient past of Cybertron. This room originated from the early era of the Quintessons and the factory they had constructed.
He hit a file with some old information while doing a second run through the history archives and his visor flashed in triumph as he saw that it concerned the early construction of Cybertron. The Autobots had no files about their planet's origin whatsoever. At least no complete ones and none that were original. All they had were tales from other Cybertronians.
As the computer began to polish up the file into a readable copy, Midnight leaned back and let his mind wander. He wasn't old enough himself to remember the ancient past. He had been resurrected by Braintrust and his memory consisted of only a few centuries, mainly artificially enhanced. He had since then learned enough about his own race's past to see the very difference between them and the Cybertronians. It was a difference that could never be bridged, but he would try everything to integrate the Sentinels back into the population of Cybertron. They were victims of the Quintessons like everyone else. With a sigh he waited for the program to finish its task and was rewarded with a 'ready' message seconds later.
Midnight leaned forward again and began to go over the file. It was a very thorough file, dating back to the very first days in the construction of Cybertron. Suddenly he straightened.
"Great ... Cybertron...," he whispered.
This couldn't be ....
With trembling fingers he copied the file.
Several levels above the library Steven Parker was rudely jerked out of his sleep. He blinked in confusion. <<Midnight?>> he asked sleepily. <<What's up, partner?>>
<<We have to get back to Cybertron. Now!>>
Steve got out of his bed, yawning, and dressed. <<What is going on, Mid?>>
<<Later>> was the brisk answer.
Steve was confused, but he hurried out of the living quarters and arrived in the lab area at about the same time Midnight came up with the elevator. There was a strange expression on his face and he seemed to radiate even more blackness than usual. Skywolf, who was still in his lab, gave his friend a questioning look.
"We need to go back right away," the Sentinel leader said. "I think I found something that will not only explain Point Zero, but a lot more."
Skywolf frowned. "What is it?"
Midnight gave the medic a copy of the file he had copied himself. "It's all down in the archives, old friend, and if this is true, it will change a lot."
With that he strode out of the lab. Steve sighed and shrugged. He hated it when Midnight was like this. He concentrated and phased back into him.
"Mind telling me what exactly it is you found?" he asked as he Interfaced partially. Midnight had already transformed and was shooting away from Alean at top speed, preparing to Gate in a few seconds.
Instead of a vocal answer, Midnight gave his partner a chance to Interface with his mind. Interfacing usually never got down to an all personal level, but it was possible for a trained humanoid partner to enter his robot partner's mind either completely or only partially. Midnight had opened up partially and Steve was confronted with what had been in the file. His eyes widened and he gave a gasp of surprise.
"Is it true?" he whispered.
And then Midnight gated.
* * *
Wild Card looked around and felt a sense of familiarity rise inside of him. As an airborne Sentinel he didn't know all the ways of the Inner Maze. Few really did, even when they were ground Sentinels. But this was different. Somewhere deep inside of him was a silent knowledge, a knowledge that he had been here before.
They came to an abrupt stop.
"Oh, great!" Rodimus groaned.
The tunnel had caved in, taking most of the ceiling and everything above with it. It was a very effective blockade.
Wild Card scanned the cave-in, then shook his head. "No one came through here. No new ruptures."
"Look at the floor," Shanygn commented. "The steps double back. I guess whoever came here decided to go back."
"But not back outside," Wild Card contradicted. "Only one set of steps leads down here. Whoever it was, he doubled back and must have gone down another corridor."
Rodimus had to agree. "Can you follow the steps?" he asked the golden-brown Sentinel.
Wild Card nodded.
The small group tracked back and soon arrived at a tunnel leading off to the left of them. They had passed it along their way down.
"Down here?" Shanygn asked.
"Down here," Wild Card confirmed.
The blue-haired woman sighed. "What bit me to come with you guys?"
Rodimus smiled. "Adventurous streak?"
"Who? Me?" She snorted.
Jeff eyed the tunnel with suspicion. "Why is this one so dark when the one we're standing in is lit?"
Rodimus shrugged. "Cybertron is no longer in its former prime shape. A lot of corridors, tunnels and passage ways collapsed over the millennia and several power circuits have been disconnected. The Inner Maze of Cybertron hasn't been visited in centuries and only a small part is still known to our kind, Jeff. One part leads to the chamber of Vector Sigma."
Shanygn nodded. "And it's really a maze down there," she agreed.
Shanygn and Chip had been down to the Vector Sigma Chamber only once, accompanied by Optimus Prime. The Autobot leader had not been very willing to lead them there. There was a deep, fundamental respect buried inside of him, telling him not to disturb the mega computer or his old mentor, Alpha Trion, who had merged with Vector Sigma. Shanygn hadn't asked much of Optimus, just that they'd be allowed to take a look around. She knew that asking him to reactivate Vector Sigma would be too much of a request. Maybe later, maybe after they could finally present their research to the Autobots. Right now they had too few facts to make a complete report and she hated nothing more than to throw around half-theories. But what they had was fascinating enough.
"So, where does this tunnel lead?" Jeff wanted to know.
"Good question," Rodimus answered. "Let's find out."
He stepped into the darkness, his infrared vision only partially able to give him a clue as to where they were. Jeff phased back into his partner while Shanygn, with no other choice anyway, remained where she was -- at Rodimus' side. She had closed her helmet and secured it, getting all her suit's systems up and ready in case something unforeseen happened.
And something did happen.
One minute there was a floor in front of them, clearly visible for the infrared aided eye, then they stepped into nothingness. Shanygn gave a brief gasp, then her instincts took over and she fired her thrusters. Wild Card, as an airborne robot, did the same, the thrusters in his feet giving him the chance to control his descent. Rodimus had no such help and he rushed down the tube like a rocket. Wild Card made a split second decision. He transformed in the tight quarters with some difficulty, then rushed after him. Shanygn followed him in turn.
Wild Card managed to pick up enough speed to get close to Rodimus and then fired a harpoon-like arrow that shot past him. The Autobots' second-in-command grabbed the steel rope attached to the arrow and Wild Card's reverse thrusters kicked in. Rodimus felt a violent tug as his descent was slowed by main force and his muscle cables protested the strain. Finally he hung still, supported by Wild Card, who was hovering in the straight shaft.
"We gotta go down," the Sentinel said in a strained voice. "I can't get you up."
Rodimus nodded, seeing Shanygn approach them from above. She passed the jet and nodded at Rodimus as he gave her a questioning look. Wild Card gently lowered himself and his cargo down the vertical tunnel. It was a long descent and Rodimus thought he could feel the strain this put upon the Sentinel. Wild Card had not been built as a carrier vessel. His main assets were speed and maneuverability, making him a very light construction.
Finally he saw something below him. It looked like a floor. Shanygn went ahead and took a look.
"All fine, as it seems," she then reported. "Come on down."
Rodimus had some safe ground below his feet seconds later and Wild Card transformed with a sigh of relief.
"Thanks," Rodimus told the Sentinel and Wild Card appeared a bit embarrassed. Then the Autobot looked around. "Hm," he muttered.
"Looks like we came down an elevator shaft," Shanygn muttered, looking up the tunnel leading straight back to the corridor they had arrived through. "Must be broken or something, and from the looks of it, for a long time."
Rodimus had studied the room, which looked no different than any other underground chamber on Cybertron. He had no idea where they were.
"Oh, goody," his Interface partner muttered without a single note of joy in her voice. "What now?"
"Let's take a look around," Rodimus decided. "Since we're already here we can explore this part."
Wild Card looked a bit uneasy.
"What is it?" the Autobot wanted to know.
"I'm not sure. Did you notice how deep we went down?"
"Pretty deep, why?"
Wild Card's visor flashed. "I think we're already way inside the Inner Maze."
"Impossible!" Rodimus contradicted. "I'm not really one hundred percent sure, but we can't be deeper than the level Vector Sigma is located on. And he is located in the very heart of Cybertron!"
Wild Card looked around again. "Maybe I'm just experiencing a malfunction," he muttered. "Let's take a look around." He walked over to the door and to their surprise it opened automatically.
Rodimus and Shanygn followed, the Autobots' second deep in thought, consulting his internal map and distance measurement circuits. Vector Sigma was directly inside the Inner Maze, in the heart of Cybertron. They couldn't have gone down that deep, could they?
* * *
-- Seal breach imminent --
-- Activating Lock One --
-- Seal breach imminent --
-- Request assistance --
* * *
Starscream was speechless. It was a rare event, but right now there was no way he could put into words what he was seeing. Dycran didn't feel this handicap. Through her own eyes, but from a back seat position, she studied the room before her.
"Oh, man," she whispered, walking toward the incredible structure before them. Starscream didn't resist.
They had come through an ever declining corridor to this room, passing closed door upon closed door. Neither Starscream, nor Dycran had had any idea how to break the locks, so neither of them had bothered to do so. Starscream had been rather silent throughout their journey deeper into the ancient Maze, because that was exactly where he thought they were. Finally they had arrived in this room, the only place with an open door and the only place accessible. And what this room held was ... incredible.
"Have you ever seen something like this before?" Dycran asked as she took a closer look at the structure.
Mainly it consisted of two rings, one lying on the bottom, one attached to the ceiling. The rings as such were made apparently of some metal alloy, consisting of three separate rings each. The outer one was always the broadest one, covered with inscriptions, then came a completely black one, then a nearly translucent one that seemed to bend the light in the room around it, partially reflecting it in soft colors. There was no apparent control panel anywhere. The room was completely bare except for the rings.
Starscream was still silent.
"Hey, you still there?" Dycran asked.
"Yes," he answered hesitantly and she thought she heard fear in his voice. "We have to get out of here."
"Huh?" Dycran shook her head. "What's wrong with you? What is this structure? Do you know it?"
"No, I don't," came the slow answer, "but we need to get out of here!" Panic swung in his voice and she felt the entity inside her tremble with suppressed fear.
"There is nothing to be afraid of, Starscream," Dycran tried to calm him. "This is just some ancient structure. Maybe it's just for decoration."
"It isn't! I can't say why, but we have to get out of here. NOW!" His voice had taken on a screech she had heard before.
Dycran looked at the structure again and tried to see a reason why her Guest was afraid. It appeared like he was reacting by instinct, but had no clue as to why his instinct told him to go. There was nothing threatening here, just a bare room with two mysterious rings. What was the deal? She completed her way around the bottom ring and looked up into the upper one. Nothing special, really. Inside her, Starscream was working himself into an even deeper panic. He was close to trying to force her out of here. Dycran sighed and turned back to the only way in and out of this room.
"All right, calm down, we're going."
Starscream gave off a burst of nervous energy, giving her an adrenaline surge.
"Stop that," she growled, trying to calm herself, trembling slightly under the strain from inside. Her battered body protested the treatment her guest gave her.
Suddenly there was a low rumble running through the room. It seemed to come from both above and below her, coursing through her body like a shock wave. Dycran turned around again and her jaw dropped open. The floor ring had started to move. The inner ring turned smoothly, sliding into a new position with an audible 'click', like an overgrown combination lock.
The rumbling hum that penetrated the room grew in intensity, coursing along every nerve ending in Dycran's body. Then the inner ring moved yet again, this time taking the middle ring with it. Both slid into a new position and again she heard a 'click'. Now the ceiling ring began to move, but instead of sliding the inner rings, the whole structure began to detach itself from the ceiling!
Starscream gave in to a full fledged panic attack that seemed to come from the very inner being of his self, an ancient instinct, a program he had never known he had. He gave a high screech and Dycran was stumbling backwards as he tried to take over control. But the woman had not become a Host by letting her guests overpower her. She violently shoved him back out of her mind.
"Calm down!" she called forcefully. "What is it with you?"
"We have to get out of here or we'll die!" Starscream cried in panic. "Now!"
The ceiling ring had lowered itself halfway and suddenly the bottom one rose to meet its counterpart. Dycran was most fascinated by the display, but by now she was also feeling a strange sense of dread. Maybe Starscream was right. Then again, maybe she was acting out his emotions, which tried to penetrate her. She turned back to the door and stopped in horror.
The door was gone.
Where it had been was nothing but a smooth surface, the same surface as everywhere in the room.
"What the ...?" she began.
The rings met and the hum ceased. For a brief second nothing happened, then a bright light appeared inside the two rings, flowing through the cracks between the two, but not coming out of the top or bottom part, which would have been logical because these were the open holes. And then the two rings flew apart, each one going back to its old position. The light that had built up inside was released into the room, washing over the only two occupants like a wave of pure energy.
Dycran threw up her arms to protect her eyes and Starscream screamed in panic. There was a brief experience of getting sucked into a cold vacuum, every molecule of their shared body exploding, then there was only blackness.
* * *
-- Seal breached --
-- Output above acceptable parameter --
-- Activating retrieval --
-- Transmitting cancellation code --
-- Priority one --
-- Override procedure without success --
-- Prepare for transmission --
-- Request assistance --
* * *
Silhouette was deep in thought as she walked through the complex, unaware that she was walking right toward Optimus Prime's office. Only when she nearly ran into the much larger robot as he was about to leave his office did she recognize where she was.
"Hi," she greeted him, immediately noting the slightly disturbed look in his optics.
Silhouette had become very good at reading the Autobot leader throughout her few months of life as an Autobot. And since they had joined their minds for a brief time to work through the emotional garbage they had carried with themselves from the event son Mernan, she had an even closer connection him, emotion-wise, than anyone. Right now he was radiating worry all over the place, though from the outside he looked perfectly calm and composed, the facade he had worn for millions of yeas without ever being able to let it slip. The fault of perfection.
"What's wrong?" she asked, a sense of immediate dread rising inside of her.
"Nothing -- yet." Optimus Prime looked at the slight figure. "Have you come to see me?"
"Yes. No. Well, not consciously anyway." Silhouette shook her head. "It's just that, since this morning, I can't shake this feeling that something is about to happen. Maybe it is already happening."
Their optics met and Sil saw her own worries, which only now surfaced completely, reflected in those other blue eyes.
"You can feel it as well, then?" Optimus asked, though it was more of a statement than a question.
"In a way." She walked with him down the corridor. "What is it?"
"I'm not sure, Sil. I'm really not sure."
It wasn't a lie, she heard, simply the inability to comprehend the emotions and instincts suddenly screaming at him. She felt the same and she didn't know why. Silhouette shuddered slightly, suddenly feeling some kind of very low, barely audible tone course through the air. She stopped and listened hard. She was used to hearing things other Autobots didn't hear, mainly because her model was based on an animal transformation and this brought with it not only rather sharp instincts and lightning responses, but also the heightened senses at home with the predator she represented.
"Sil?" Optimus asked.
She turned to look at him. Apparently he had not heard it. "Nothing," she muttered.
But deep inside her something told her it hadn't been nothing. She had felt something; something coming from inside the very planet and it had bypassed the Autobot leader completely. It had been like a very low musical note, beautiful and alien, disappearing as fast as it had come.
Snarl gave a low rumble of displeasure and shook his head. Slag hissed slightly, his head swiveling on the look-out for something he had heard, but couldn't really see. Swoop, who was circling gracefully above the other Dinobots, screeched in confusion and lost some height, catching himself as he fell. He transformed and landed on shaky legs.
"Me Swoop no like!" he protested.
"Me Slag have headache!" his fellow Dinobot complained.
Sludge rubbed his head against a bulk of metal as if he could get of the annoyance this way.
Grimlock turned his head and looked into the distance, which showed nothing but more of the many buildings on Cybertron's surface. The disturbing sound, which had been so low it had apparently been only audible for the animal Transformers because none of the others around them had reacted, was gone. But to Grimlock it felt like it was still around them, reverberating off every building. It made him feel sick, as if it was enveloping him in a soft drumming, pounding on his motion sensors.
As he watched the horizon he saw Optimus Prime drive by, aiming for the South port. Then Silhouette appeared, looking as disturbed as the others. She was in her raptor mode, her eyes darting nervously toward her brothers.
"You heard it as well?" she asked softly.
"Yes," was all Grimlock answered, for once not drawing on a vocabulary he normally used.
Sil shuddered. "What was it?"
The Dinobot leader had no answer to this. It had been far away, below them, but it had also hit home within them, touching a part that made him want to explore the new sound and run away from it in one. He was reminded of the one time the primitive Cybertronians had followed a call to an unknown world. This time it wasn't a call; it was a mere ... warning?
"Me not know," he told her softly, laying one massive hand on her shoulders.
Silhouette felt a sense of protection, that he wouldn't allow the strange phenomenon to harm her. Then he turned and walked back to the others. The female Dinobot remained a second longer, then followed him.
* * *
On the planet Charr Raven flinched violently and nearly lost her balance. She tumbled and someone grabbed her, stabilizing her. Through the suddenly again subsiding confusion in her mind she became aware that she was still in the same corridor she had been mere seconds ago, with Cyclonus holding her by her arms.
"Raven?" he asked, deeply worried.
"I ..." she tried to answer. "I'm fine," she then gasped.
"I'm not sure." She touched her Decepticon symbol under which lay hidden the insignia she had worn all her life. It seemed to burn slightly, though the sensation was subsiding as fast as the confusion she had felt.
The worry Cyclonus felt was reflected in his eyes as she looked up. He didn't understand what had happened to her and that was frightening him more than seeing her getting blasted by an enemy that he could see.
"Maybe the Constructicons should check you out," he said softly, not letting go of her.
"No. I'm perfectly all right. I'm a healer, remember?" She gave him a smile.
His worried look didn't subside and he gently pushed her into a room, away from the corridor. "What happened?" he asked.
Her smile disappeared. "I told you the truth: I'm not sure. It felt ... like a signal. Something only I could hear. It touched my core programming."
Cyclonus was once again reminded of her difference, her alien origin. She wasn't a Cybertronian by birth, but he had never felt so estranged from her until this very moment.
"I'm fine, Cyc," she said softly.
Cyclonus smiled in return, though he didn't look convinced. "Don't call me Cyc," he admonished her.
* * *
It was a lonely place, completely unfitting and too depressing for her liking, but there had been no other way at the time. Her eyes roamed over the abandoned fields and buildings, wishing she had had another choice, but at the time she hadn't.
"They say that another Golden Age is returning," she said, her voice soft and sad. "We are not ready to believe it. Too many fights are still going on, but we are trying to reach the others." She sighed softly. "It might take some time to confirm every rumor and gossip, and surface from our hiding place."
Her eyes were drawn to the marker again and grew even more sad.
"But when we return, we will carry the news of your fate to him. I wish I wouldn't have to do it, my friend, I really do." She shook her head. "I sometimes catch myself wondering if I could have done anything to prevent it, but every time I see you again, charging forward. And then I hear the others tell me it was fate. Was it really?"
There was no answer and the marker stood as silent as before. It wasn't a beautiful one and she thought that they could have done better, but at the time there had been nothing else to do. It didn't fit, but it had to.
"We're moving again, my friend. I know this will takes us further away from our friends, but we're still too vulnerable and I hate to admit it, but I don't trust any rumors anymore. This might be my final chance to talk to you." A small smile crossed her lips. "Till all are one."
With that Beta transformed and shot away from the grave.
* * *
Midnight streaked toward Cybertron like a black lightning bolt. He had exited the Gate he had created as close to the planet as he dared, accelerating even more to reach his aim. He could have Gated right onto the planet, but since he had gone into the Gate at nearly full speed, it might have had rather bad consequences if he sped out again at the same speed. He couldn't slow down in a Gate, so it had been completely out of question. He had sent a message ahead to Optimus Prime and the Autobot leader was there to meet him outside the complex housing his part-time office and also the room they had done their research in. By Midnight's request Chip Chase was also present.
"Where is Rodimus?" the Sentinel asked after he had transformed. He had asked for the Autobots' second to be present as well.
"He went out to check the entrance way we discovered," Optimus answered. "And he wanted to look for a missing person. I tried to reach him, but there was no answer. Tracks is already on the way to the coordinates of the entrance way." There was a bit of worry shining through the Autobot leader's voice. "We think he might have gone into the tunnel and if he is deep enough inside Cybertron, radio communication is blocked."
Midnight nodded. "I hope it's only that."
They walked down a corridor toward Prime's office. As they closed the door, Optimus looked at his counterpart.
"Do you want anyone else to be present?"
Midnight shook his head. "No. This has to stay between us. At least now. You decide when and if to tell the others after hearing about it."
The infinitely black Sentinel looked deeply disturbed and, somehow, this disturbed Optimus as well. Chip sat down in a human sized chair and looked up at the Sentinel.
"And why am I in on this one?" he asked.
"Because of your and Shanygn's research." Midnight's green visor flashed slightly.
"Ah," was all Chip answered, not the wiser.
Optimus settled down behind his desk as well. "Okay, now .... what is it you found and that you can only tell me?"
* * *
The chamber that housed Vector Sigma was silent and empty. The large, golden globe known as Vector Sigma himself sat on the floor, looking as if it was just a dysfunctional shell. But looks could deceive. Under the honeycombed exterior skin lay a very active mind. Two minds, as a matter of fact. One was the ancient Autobot known as Alpha Trion to the rest of the population, the other was the immense mass of power and thought called Vector Sigma. Alpha Trion floated through the mind of his host, ever learning, ever wondering, never ceasing to be amazed by what knowledge was stored inside this being.
Suddenly a wave of energy washed over him. He stopped and looked around, searching for the origin of the strange surge, but didn't find it.
"What happened?" he asked his host.
Vector Sigma's voice seemed to be inside and outside of him as he answered. "The code has been triggered, activated and transmitted."
"How?" Alpha Trion asked. "Who did it?"
The old Autobot was baffled for a moment, then he seemed to loose a shade of color. "You mean it reactivated itself?"
With that the eons old being moved on around him, leaving Alpha Trion to his own pondering.
Seen from the outside, nothing had changed. The globe still sat on the floor, still silent, still like dead. But inside the energies moved a faster pace as if they had received new information.
* * *
-- Code signature sent --
- -Logging in --
-- Code has been verified --
-- Starting retrieval --
-- Retrieval in progress --
* * *
Tracks drove through the old warehouse district, his scanners looking for Rodimus Prime. On his driver's seat sat a man in his mid-thirties with long, dark hair that was bound into a pony tail. He was wearing a black leather jacket and brown leather gloves, as well as jeans and boots. There was an amused glint his dark brown eyes.
"My very first visit to Cybertron and I get to see the beauty sights," Raoul Symone chuckled and leaned back. "How long did you plan for this tour, Tracks, my man?"
Tracks sighed. Raoul was an old friend, who had helped the Autobots more than once. He was also a refreshing character to be around and Tracks could say he truly liked the human, but sometimes the slightly sarcastic behavior got on his nerves.
"I didn't plan this, Raoul, and I'm sorry to spoil your fun, but Rodimus Prime is missing."
"Hey, keep your shorts on, man, I wasn't complaining," Raoul tried to calm his robot friend. "I know it's important. Why couldn't your friend Rodimus pick a nicer spot to get lost?"
Tracks rounded another corner and then stood in front of the warehouse that was right on the coordinates Optimus Prime had given him.
"Here we are."
Raoul got out and grimaced. "What a mess."
"It's one of the oldest places here on Cybertron," Tracks explained. "These warehouses and also the space port you arrived at were the first functional parts of Cybertron at the dawn of the first Golden Age. It also suffered most heavily from the war because we Autobots used the warehouses as storage places and repair bays. The Decepticons chose them as their prime target."
"Thanks for the history lesson, Tracks, my main machine. Now that we're here, what do we do?"
"Optimus said to take a look around, but not to venture into any tunnel, corridor or access way. If we can't find any trace of Rodimus and the others we'll go back."
"Okay, roger that." Raoul scanned the warehouse. "And here I am, without my camera." He grinned. "I hope you sell postcards of this place."
Tracks grimaced as he watched his human friend walk into the old warehouse, then followed.
* * *
The small party of four arrived at yet another locked door and Rodimus gave a frustrated growl. He slammed his fist against the metal and it gave a hollow sound.
"What is this?" he asked. "Why is everything locked?"
"And why aren't the radios working?" Wild Card added.
They had tried to call for help several times, but to no avail. Shanygn had volunteered to fly back into the elevator shaft, but Rodimus had said no. It was a long way and Shanygn had confessed that she didn't know if her energy reserves would last. Her exo-suit's thrusters were limited to a certain distance of flight. She had already used half of her remaining fuel when she had broken her fall. To that added the fact that she had been up and around a bit before she had decided to accompany Rodimus on his little expedition, so she had not much fuel left.
Wild Card examined the door. "Looks like all the others," he sighed. "No control panel, no cracks or seams, just an outline. What the hell is this down here?"
Rodimus shook his head. "We must be way inside the Inner Maze. No one has any maps of this place, well, maybe Alpha Trion had some. He led Optimus to the Vector Sigma Chamber one. He knew his way around."
"Lemme guess, he never wrote any down, right?" Shanygn said with a humorless smile.
Rodimus nodded. "Exactly." He leaned against the wall and looked first left, then right. The corridor seemed to be without end.
Suddenly they heard a distant hum. Rodimus straightened and looked to his right. Wild Card seemed equally attentive all of a sudden and they exchanged a glance. Rodimus transformed without a second's hesitation and Shanygn held on to his door, standing on the side step as he rushed down the corridor, ignoring every door. Wild Card followed in his jet mode.
The hum stopped as fast as it had come and there was nothing but silence greeting them as they sped into the room at the end of the corridor.
Shanygn gave a short hiss as she looked at the structure in the room. "Look at that!"
Rodimus transformed and gaped at the two rings. A memory rushed back to meet him. Several years ago, when he had still been Autobot leader, he had stood in a room looking nearly like this one, only that the walls had been covered with hieroglyphic writing and there had been no ring around the slightly reddish circle on the ground. These rings held no energy circle. Beneath them was just empty floor. The other room had not been so deep inside Cybertron and he had ordered it to be sealed shut until they could study it further. The room had held a kind of gate into other worlds, maybe other dimensions as well, and Rodimus had decided that it was too dangerous to temper with. It was a relic from the Quintesson era and as such it proved to be three times as dangerous.
Now he stood in yet another such a chamber, though it was vastly different concerning some points. There was no writing on the walls, no pictures, no nothing. The walls were just blank. And they seemed to be made of some kind of quartz, not metal. Rodimus inspected them, touching the smooth surface. He thought he could see symbols flowing just beneath the surface, but every time he concentrated on catching one the symbols, it seemed to dissolve into nothingness. He shivered as he felt something course through him, like a flash of energy exiting from the wall. Then he turned to look at the rings. Wild Card was already there, studying the strange structure.
"Any idea what it might be?" he asked the Sentinel.
"No, though somehow I think I've seen it before." Wild Card shook his head. "But I can't remember where or when. It's like the Inner Maze. Sentinels have never come this far down into Cybertron, but we heard about the Maze more than once." He sighed as the past came back to meet him. "As an air Sentinel I was stationed above, but somehow I think I know this place."
Rodimus looked a bit surprised, then joined the other robot at the ring. Shanygn had hopped onto the construction, which had a height of about seven feet.
"There's nothing inside," she told the others. "What is it here for?"
Rodimus held her back as she wanted to jump inside. "Don't," he said in a voice that drew a bewildered look from her. "I saw something like this, just without the rings and with walls covered in writing, and it turned out to be a gateway."
"A gateway?" Shanygn looked at the rings again. "Wow!"
Wild Card shook his head. "I don't think this is a gateway. I know what gateway you are talking about. It's a chamber the Quints constructed to send their criminals into other dimensions, right?"
"We Sentinels know them. There is only one on Cybertron and two of us were the ones to guard it. We also guarded the criminals. This isn't such a gateway." Wild Card looked at Shanygn. "But I'd still advise you to stay out of the ring."
"Okay, right, no problem." She hopped down again and then looked up at the other ring. "What about the inscriptions on the ring itself? Any idea?"
Wild Card looked deep in thought. "It's like the ancient language we used for centuries," he then said, "but this looks like a garbled mess. It makes no sense. Like .... well, just scratchings on rock."
Rodimus touched the broad outer ring and felt another jolt of energy pass through him. It made his skin crawl and for a second he thought he could feel the place where the Matrix had been burn with energy he had only felt coming from the Matrix itself.
[Roddy?] Shanygn whispered inside his mind. There was a worried look in her dark blue eyes.
"I think we should try and get back the way we've come," Rodimus said, pulling his hand away from the ring as if it had burned him. "Optimus has to know about this room." He looked at Shanygn. "If I provide you with some of my energon, do you think you can make it to the top?"
Shanygn gaped at him. "Your energon? Are you nuts?"
"No. But we need to get out of here. There is no other way. Do you see a door here? There was only one tunnel, only this way. The room is a dead end and the elevator shaft is the only means out of here."
Wild Card smiled a bit. "How about another way? I fly Shanygn as far up as I can get with my limited reserves, then she can go the rest of the way."
"Much better idea," Jeff agreed from inside his partner.
Shanygn looked doubtful, but nodded. "Could work."
"Yes, but what about you?" Rodimus asked Wild Card. "If you run out of fuel, you'll crash."
Wild Card grinned. "Then catch me."
The other robot grimaced. "Very funny."
But the plan was much better, really, then donating energon to Shanygn.
"All right," Rodimus decided. "Let's do it."
They left the chamber again and through this missed how the ring on the floor slid into another position.
* * *
The planet's name was Crea and is was located away from all the busy space routes. As a young planet it didn't yet house a civilization and it would take several millennia for any of the many creatures native to this planet to develop the rudimentary intelligence necessary to make the step from animal to humanoid. With its wild prairies, the high mountains and the endless forests Crea represented an untouched natural resource no longer found anywhere in the colonized or more developed worlds. But no space faring race had ever claimed the planet as their colony and it wasn't known to many races. The Autobots had files about it, but their probes had simply charted the planet, never considered it to be a world to settle on. The Nebulans had a few notes about it, rather confused notes, but their own problems on their world had kept them from traveling out into space. But someone had visited the world long ago and had left his mark.
A ring stood upright in the middle of an otherwise barren ground. The ring consisted of five separate rings, most of them covered by inscription. It was an unusual sight, not only because it spelled 'artificial' all over, but also because it stood upright without any visible supports.
A horse-like robot stood not far away from the structure, regarding it through red glowing optics. A small lizard with wings sat between his ears, nervously clutching the curled horns rising out of the head of the horse's head to his left and right for support. A low musical hum seemed to come from the ring, penetrating everything.
One of the five rings moved slightly and locked into the new position with a 'click' that seemed to be audible for miles. Then the hum subsided and finally vanished completely.
"Boss?" Bat inquired with a quivering voice.
Nightmare snorted and turned away from the ring structure. "Something is happening out there, Bat," he rumbled. "I just wish I knew what it was and what it will bring."
Bat gave an unhappy squeak. "It was the third wossname that moved, y'know."
"I saw it."
"You know what the third wossname is connected to."
"Yes, I do." Nightmare picked up some speed as he crossed the plains. "Oh, yes, I do," he muttered.
* * *
-- Signature stabilized --
-- Terminal positions affirmed --
* * *
Optimus Prime stared at Midnight as if the Sentinel had just grown a second head out of nowhere.
Chip held the same incredible expression as the Autobot leader. "Could you run this by me again?" he asked, his voice slightly rough. "I don't believe it!"
Midnight smiled grimly. "Neither did I."
Optimus Prime shook his head. "Why did we never find anything on this?" he asked.
The Sentinel settled back against the wall, folding his arms in front of his chest. "Because the Quints destroyed every file about their era before they fled, but they forgot one thing: us. I think they believed that your ancestors would destroy is in a surge of hatred against the Quintessons. Some of us were slaughtered by slaves, true, but a lot escaped, and they carried the files with them. We pieced them back together and downloaded them into our library. I never thought about going that far back into the past when I tried to learn about my own past."
"This changes a lot," Prime said softly.
"A whole lot," Midnight agreed.
"And it fits right in with what Shan and I found in the archives about the Matrix," Chip added, drawing the robots' attention to himself.
It was time to reveal stuff they had wanted to run by Vector Sigma first, but no chance of that now, he thought grimly.
"Shanygn's idea and theory was that the Matrix had to be a sentient or near-sentient energy creature, held in shape by the construction around it, the handles and the shell," Chip explained. "We pieced together everything from old encounters, events and what had happened recently. The Matrix is a very potent device, but it also seems to be able to separate between Autobots, Decepticons and Sentinels. It serves the Autobots, aids them and protects them. The Decepticons were never able to handle it and for the Sentinels it is painful, like a weapon, when releasing its energy."
Midnight nodded in agreement. He was constantly aware of the Matrix, even in the passive state it was now in. The dormant energy was like a headache for humans: annoying. But he had learned to cope with it, to ignore it, and while Interfaced with Steve he had an additional shield against the radiation coming out of it.
"Well, we also went to Alean in our quest for more data and to our surprise we found extensive files about the Matrix there as well." Chip rubbed his nose. "There were hints about the Matrix being older than the Quintessons themselves, originating from a time before they built Cybertron, but then we discovered that the files didn't talk about the Matrix. They meant Vector Sigma."
"Which is the same Midnight found," Optimus said calmly, though he didn't feel that calm inside.
"Yes. Rodimus said that Vector Sigma usually awakes with the words 'Before Cybertron was, I was'. It's a puzzle why he would say it because from your archives Vector Sigma is the computer that gave you all life. He should have been constructed after the planet itself, serving as its core program, but he wasn't!"
"The planet was built around it," Midnight said, picking up what he had explained before. "The Quintessons built Cybertron around a device they had, well, stolen from someone else." His visor glowed softly. "It's like I said: they are not the last in the chain of command. They are not the ones at the top. Someone is above them, someone who created Vector Sigma. There is nothing about those others in any archive. Whoever they are, wherever they came from and wherever they went, it's a mystery. All we know is that the Quints got Vector Sigma from them and that they used him to fill in a gap in the market: slave robots."
Optimus Prime rubbed his forehead with one hand. "This is too much," he whispered. "All this time we thought the Quintessons were our creators, now you say that they are not?"
"Not directly. If Vector Sigma gave you life, he had to take the blueprints from somewhere, Optimus," the Sentinel said softly. "They had to be stored inside of him. I don't know about the robot forms, but I know that the personality matrix of each Cybertronian was not a product of Quintesson technology. They only produced mindless servants, which developed random features known as 'individuality', but Vector Sigma was there first, giving them life. Maybe he implanted the rebellious streak, maybe he just gave every robot ever produced the chance to decide what his future would be. I really don't know!" He threw his hands up and shook his head. "All I know is that you all didn't come from a Quintesson scientist's brainstorm. They merely produced the bodies for the personal memory cubes Vector Sigma had inside of him."
Chip frowned a bit. "What about the Sentinels?" he asked suddenly. "You are so very different from Autobots or Decepticons."
Midnight was silent for a minute, then answered slowly. "I found some notes about us as well. We .... we weren't programmed by Vector Sigma. No Sentinel is connected to the mega computer like you are. True, we were constructed on Cybertron because we share the same core program, the same thing that made Sentinels, Decepticons and Autobots vulnerable to the virus," Optimus nodded, remembering that part only too well, "but our programming came from the same source Vector Sigma came from, just like our armament. The Quints apparently found our ... uh, files, and went all ecstatic. We only share the same core because we were born on Cybertron, but we are not Cybertronians. And from what I found there are other product lines as well, equally not Quintesson ideas, but also never born on Cybertron."
Optimus was hard pressed to work through all of this. "What about the Matrix' origin?" he then asked.
"Looks like the Quintessons cloned Vector Sigma, or attempted to clone him," Chip explained. "Both the Matrix and Vector Sigma look alike and if I'm correct, there is nothing but pure energy inside that shell that you think is a mega computer. The Matrix is a ... uh ... child of Vector Sigma, that is why it is also a key to him. The Matrix has a lot of powers stored inside it, just like Vector Sigma, which helped to polish up Cybertron. It transformed the planet, though it didn't brush away all problems. Remember how the Matrix changed Hot Rod? It transformed him because he held a new role in the ranks of the Autobots, but he was still the same underneath! Now compare it to Cybertron. The planet apparently back on its way into another Golden Age, but underneath that shell the old problems remain!"
Optimus rose from his chair and paced the room. These revelations shattered a lot of believes.... And the only one who could truly tell him if this was true was Alpha Trion, who had merged with Vector Sigma so long ago.
"And, Optimus," Midnight added. "I went over the translation of this chamber again. It's not 'Point Zero'. The real meaning of the words is 'Origin'....."
"We need to find Rodimus," Optimus decided with a slightly rough voice and strode out of the room.
* * *
Several levels below Rodimus watched as Wild Card slowly lifted off, then gained speed and flew into the elevator shaft. Shanygn sat perched on his back, holding on to the cockpit. Her wings were still in a locked position, but she was warming up her thrusters to react instantly when Wild Card gave her the signal. The two disappeared from sight and Rodimus was left alone in the empty, dirty corridor.
"Well, let's hope this works," he muttered, then settled back against one wall.
A low, almost musical hum penetrated the corridor again and he flinched as the same feeling of energy burning inside him returned, this time without him touching anything. He looked around and saw how one of the many doors suddenly slid open. Rodimus gaped at the door, then walked carefully over, ready to beat a hasty retreat in case something jumped out toward him. But nothing like this happened.
A low whine, quickly rising to a screech, came out of the elevator shaft, then Wild Card fell unceremoniously down, landing hard. He stayed down for a few seconds, then rose carefully, groaning slightly. Rodimus left the door and helped the Sentinel to get stable on his feet.
"Shanygn is on her way," Wild Card reported. "She'll make it."
"Finally some good news." Rodimus smiled slightly. "And speaking of good news, one of the doors opened."
Wild Card looked over to the open door and his visor flashed slightly. "How?" he asked.
"I don't know. There was this low hum again and then it opened." Rodimus walked over to the door again and Wild Card followed.
"What's inside?" the Sentinel asked.
"Beats me. Why don't we take a look around until Shanygn can get some help down here?" Rodimus stepped carefully into the room.
"Oh, boy!" Wild Card whispered.
"I don't believe it...." Rodimus stared at what he saw in the room. "This the chamber of Vector Sigma! But ... but .... we can't be in the heart of Cybertron!"
"If my computing abilities are not completely off line," Wild Card said softly, "then we are not. The heart of Cybertron is a several hundred meters further down the corridor. It's the room with the strange rings in it."
Both exchanged incredulous looks.
"This is ... unbelievable," Rodimus said again, looking around the slightly conic chamber.
Vector Sigma sat on his pedestal, glowing only ever so slightly. Rodimus had never been here, but Optimus had and he had told his second-in-command a few things once. There were cable tunnels running from the pedestal toward the walls, covered by bluish colored steel. More tunnels ran up the wall, again covered by blue steel plates. Looking at the mega computer gave Rodimus a chill. This device had given every single Cybertronian life. It was like ... a father. Maybe.
"What now?" Wild Card asked tonelessly.
"I'm not sure. We should wait for Optimus ..."
The hum echoed through them again and Rodimus gave a short gasp of pain as the empty place inside his chest, the former place of the Matrix, flared with white-hot energy. The world seemed to dim around him for a brief moment, then he felt someone stabilizing him.
"Rodimus?" Wild Card asked in worry. "What is wrong?"
"I don't know..."
The musical hum returned, this time stronger. Rodimus screamed in agony and his knees gave way. Wild Card caught him, but was unable to help. He didn't understand what was going on. And then the mega computer, the bright golden globe, seemed to come to life. The glow around it intensified and it began to rise from the pedestal. Wild Card had no idea what to do. His first thought was to grab his gun, but he couldn't shoot Vector Sigma!
A bright light shot out from the sphere and it bathed the two robots in an eerie glow. Wild Card felt like he was torn apart, then reassembled in a completely random way. He sensed Jeff inside of him collapse under the stress, surrendering to unconsciousness, then he as well was swallowed by darkness.
* * *
The ring structure on Crea moved yet another of its inner rings into a new position, locking it in. Nightmare had returned as if called by a voice only he could hear. Bat sat between his horns again, chittering nervously.
"The fourth ring, boss," he whispered. "Do you think it will happen?"
"No," Nightmare answered with a very decisive voice.
"How'd you know?"
"I would feel it if it was to happen." Nightmare rounded the structure and scanned for any further changes. There were none. "The third ring has moved back into its old position."
Bat eyed the structure as well. "Wossname? Transmission failure?"
Nightmare nodded. "Looks like it. Whatever went into the tunnel, it was lost. It was a one-sided transmission and the receiver was not strong enough. Looks like it simply drew on the terminals all over the universe to try and stabilize the transfer."
"Oi!" Bat exclaimed sadly. "Dead?"
"I don't know. Let's just hope that, if it really is dead, it was a quick death."
With that Nightmare walked away.
"Oi, oi, oi," Bat muttered sadly.
* * *
-- Disconnect terminal gates --
-- Terminal gates disconnected --
-- Retrieval in progress --
-- Danger! Losing pattern --
-- Energon levels rising --
-- Unknown factor! Danger! Losing pattern --
* * *
Optimus Prime had driven over to the coordinates he had given Rodimus to check out at top speed, leaving the conference and all the suddenly petty appearing squabbles for Ultra Magnus to handle. The city commander had reacted with some surprise to Optimus' order to take over, but he had not asked more questions than necessary. Chip was sitting in the driver's cabin of the truck, silently going through what Midnight had told them and what he and Shanygn had found out. A lot of things suddenly made sense. Midnight was a black streak in the sky as he, too, followed.
"Shanygn!" the black Sentinel exclaimed as he saw a rather dusty and grease covered figure stumble out of the warehouse they had been aiming at.
The woman in the exo-suit opened her helmet and revealed a sweat-covered face, which showed a relieved smile. "Am I glad to see you guys!" she breathed.
"Where's Rodimus?" Optimus demanded as he transformed.
"Still down there. Prime, you won't believe what we found!" Shanygn exclaimed. "This tunnel leads right into the Inner Maze and to a room that holds the most unusual structure I've ever seen!" She briefly described the two rings.
"Origin," Midnight whispered.
"You know it?"
"I'm ... not sure. But it somehow fits into everything else we found out so far."
Optimus turned to Shanygn again. "We have to get Rodimus out of there first. Then we can discuss this matter further and send a research team down there."
"Wild Card and Jeff are down there as well," Shanygn told the others.
Midnight looked a bit surprised, but only nodded.
Suddenly Optimus gave a groan of pain and his hand clamped over his chest where the Matrix was hidden. Shanygn reacted the same way, only she grabbed her head, collapsing to her knees. Matrix energy flared from inside the Autobot leader, hitting the unsuspecting Sentinel by surprise. Midnight felt a searing pain as the energy washed over him, cutting through the defenses he had erected throughout his life like a knife through butter. Steve didn't even have the time to scream, he simply fell unconscious, and with him the last defense against the radiation fell. He screamed in pain as the deadly power of the Matrix attacked him, tearing him apart. Midnight's visor flashed with pain and his mind was a sudden mess of pictures flashing by and some nagging knowledge that tried to rise to the surface. Then everything was blurred in an agonizing light and he lost consciousness for several seconds.
As suddenly as the pain had come, it disappeared again. Optimus shook his head, confused by the violent reaction of the Matrix, then discovered Midnight, who lay on the ground, twitching slightly. His skin was not broken, but from the way his visor flickered now and then he had been in excruciating pain.
"Oh, no!" Optimus breathed. "Midnight?" he asked, worry and guilt washing over him. He had always known that the Matrix was a deadly weapon against Sentinels, but he had never thought of ever using it against their new allies. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "I don't know what happened...."
"I'm ... fine," the Sentinel coughed and tried to get up. It failed miserably and the larger Autobot gave him a helping hand. "Mostly," he added. "Wasn't your fault."
"What was that all about?" Chip asked.
"I don't know. The Matrix has never done that before," Prime answered.
Shanygn climbed to her feet. "Roddy," she said tonelessly. "He ... he's experiencing something like this."
"And you felt it?" Chip asked in confusion. "I thought you two weren't that close, Interface-wise."
She nodded. "I always thought so as well. I never felt anything before ... "
"Vector Sigma!" Optimus suddenly exclaimed.
"We have to get to Vector Sigma!" the Autobot leader insisted.
"What about Rodimus and Wild Card?" Chip wanted to know.
"They are with Vector Sigma!" Optimus Prime transformed and opened one door, somehow managing to look impatient in his car mode.
Chip shrugged at Shanygn and the two of them hopped in. Midnight, feeling rather weak and confused through the Matrix energy attack, simply climbed onto the tail of the truck, holding on to the driver's cabin. Prime had left the trailer in subspace. Then he rolled off, gaining speed.
* * *
"Welcome, Rodimus Prime."
Rodimus looked around in confusion. Where was he? What had happened? Around him was nothing but soft colors and empty seeming space. Now and then a flash of light crossed the distant horizon.
"Who...?" he began.
A figure began to materialize and out of nowhere came solid ground. Rodimus felt it very real beneath his feet. Then his optics widened as he recognized who the figure standing before him was.
He had heard about the ancient robot through stories, but he had never really met him, just an earlier version back at the time window, but that didn't count. Alpha Trion smiled a bit, the mustache lifting with the smile.
"Where am I?" he asked. "What happened?"
"You are inside Vector Sigma."
"Come with me, Rodimus Prime," Alpha Trion went on and stretched out one hand in an invitation.
"Where are the others?" Rodimus demanded, his first wave of awe about his surroundings and the ancient Autobot passing quickly. Hot Rod would have surrendered to the order of the older Autobot, who was a first generation model of his race, but Rodimus Prime had a much more mature personality, changed by personal loss and gain throughout the last years. He wasn't above awe and wonder, but the safety of his friends took priority over curiosity.
"Wild Card and his human partner are safe, Rodimus Prime. They can't enter Vector Sigma. It is forbidden for them, because it would be Wild Card's death." Alpha Trion begged him again to follow.
"What are you talking about?" Rodimus asked, remaining where he was.
"He is a Sentinel. Come with me, Rodimus, I will explain."
The Autobots' second-in-command hesitated one more moment, then surrendered to his inner curiosity, walking after Alpha Trion.
"Where are you taking me?" he wanted to know. "What am I doing inside Vector Sigma anyway? I thought only the key and the Matrix could activate the mega computer."
Alpha Trion smiled slightly. "Correct."
"Then how ...?"
"Vector Sigma recognizes and accepts you as a Matrix Bearer, Rodimus Prime. You have certain .... privileges. Vector Sigma has read your energy pattern and has identified you as one of the few truly chosen ones."
"Chosen one? You mean because I was Autobot leader once?"
"Yes. The Matrix chose you after Optimus Prime died. In former times the Matrix was only passed from one Autobot to another until it was finally given to me. Holding the Matrix first meant nothing special, only that you were its guardian," Alpha Trion explained as they walked on. "I kept it safe for many years until I met a young robot named Orion Pax, who was destined to become Optimus Prime."
Rodimus nodded, knowing this little piece of history.
"The Matrix fit into him like it had always belonged there," Alpha Trion went on, sounding pleased. "Finally there was a true bearer for it. When Optimus Prime died, he passed the Matrix on, and he knew that you were destined to become Rodimus Prime. The Matrix had chosen you and Optimus had known it since you two met for the very first time."
Rodimus stopped, mouth agape. "What?!"
He was suddenly flung through a whirlwind of light and sound. When he could see again he stood on a planet he knew only too well. Xon, a metal world like Cybertron, but not like Cybertron in many aspects. It didn't feel like home. Hot Rod, Arcee, Ultra Magnus, Blurr, Springer and Kup had been on Xon, fighting Decepticons, when Hot Rod had first met Optimus Prime. In those days he had been the hot head and wild card some still attached to Rodimus Prime in the early years of his job as Autobot leader.
The day he met Optimus Prime, Decepticons had found his hiding place, attacking him, and he had been heavily out-numbered, making a run for safety, when someone shot the two pursuers, disabling them enough for him to escape.
Hot Rod transformed and looked at the one who had saved his hide. The other one was larger than he was, colored in deep red, blue and silvery white. While he had no apparent mouth, his eyes were expressive enough to make up for that handicap; a handicap for those who wanted to read his facial expression. He was impressing sight, Hot Rod had to confess, but impressing sights had never been something to intimidate him. He leveled his gun at the newcomer.
"Who are you?"
That the guy had shot the Decepticons meant nothing. That he wore an Autobot symbol was equally no reason to trust him immediately.
The other robot gave him a slight smile, visible in his blue optics. "Do you always threaten someone who rescues you from a pair of Decepticons?" he asked, his voice relaying the same amusement he showed in his eyes.
"Only until I know whom I'm dealing with," Hot Rod countered. Kup might call him hot headed, but he knew how to survive.
"My name is Optimus Prime. And you are ...?"
Hot Rod knew his mouth was hanging open and that his weapon was falling to his side. Optimus Prime? The almost legendary Autobot leader? And he had nearly shot him? Then his suspicion kicked in and he aimed at the other robot again.
"Yeah, who says so?" he demanded. It wouldn't be the first time that the Decepticons tried to trick them.
Optimus cocked his head, still looking a bit amused. "I do. But you don't trust me, do you?"
"Nope. At least not without some proof first."
The Autobot leader, if it really was him, Hot Rod tried to remind himself, nodded. "All right. I'll prove it to you."
He held up his hands, indicating he wasn't going to shoot, then touched his chest plate. The chest plate swung open, revealing something every Autobot alive knew through the many tales attached to it, maybe even by instinct.
"The Matrix," Hot Rod gasped. The blue light of the Autobot Matrix of leadership touched him and he felt strange. The feeling lasted only for a second, no longer, but it was enough for Hot Rod to know that he was really facing Optimus Prime.
"Ah...." he stuttered, then pulled himself together. "The name's Hot Rod." He tried to get his composure back. "I'm ... I'm sorry."
Optimus Prime smiled even more, though there was a strange look in his optics.
The picture of the past disappeared again and Rodimus felt his optics readjust to the pastel world of Vector Sigma. Alpha Trion was still at his side.
"Come, Rodimus Prime. You have a lot to learn."
* * *
-- Receiving --
-- Receiving --
-- Receiving --
-- Transmission complete --
-- Shutting down --
* * *
The chamber that housed Vector Sigma was located at the end of a complicated layout of airducts and tunnels, most of them mirroring their age. Chip and Shanygn had been that far before and they had also seen the dome-like construction that looked like a larger copy of the mega computer itself. The door to the inside opened and Optimus, Midnight, Shanygn and Chip walked in.
"Wild Card! Midnight exclaimed.
On the floor lay the motionless, sprawled forms of both Wild Card and Rodimus Prime. Vector Sigma hovered several feet above its pedestal, but it wasn't in its usual position it took when activated.
Midnight ran over to his friend. A bolt of pure energy lashed out from the golden globe, hitting Midnight full in the chest. The Sentinel was flung against the far wall, his skin tearing under the incredible power output, yellow fluids gushing out.
"No!" Optimus protested, aghast at the computer's reaction. Vector Sigma had never shown any feelings toward one faction of Cybertronians or other. "Stop this! You are killing him!"
And indeed the yellow light ceased. Midnight slumped to the ground, a puddle of yellow blood forming below him. Shanygn stopped dead in her tracks, halfway between the unconscious Rodimus and Optimus Prime.
"Optimus Prime," a hollow voice echoed through the room.
"What is the meaning of this?" Prime demanded, anger rising inside of him. "What have you done to my friends? Why did you attack Midnight?"
"Your friends are safe," Vector Sigma answered with Alpha Trion's voice. "As for the Sentinel, he was about to interfere."
Optimus edged over to Midnight, who had stopped the flow of his 'blood', the yellow fluid coming out of his vein-like tubes, by hardening his skin. But the skin had lost some color, appearing a sick gray instead of the rich black color it usually had, and Optimus remembered that the Matrix had done its share of weakening him.
"How are you?" he asked softly as he knelt down beside the Sentinel leader.
"Been better," Midnight answered. He didn't even try to get up. "I couldn't feel it, not a single warning, even though this was Matrix energy," he said with confusion. "I can feel the Matrix inside you, but I couldn't feel Vector Sigma."
"How is Steve?"
"Completely out. It's better this way."
Optimus nodded and straightened again. "Alpha Trion, what is the meaning of this."
"Come to me and I will show you."
Shanygn's head whipped around. "Don't do it, Optimus. It could be a trick!"
"I do not lie," Alpha Trion said calmly. "I am sorry about Vector Sigma's reaction to your Sentinel friend. It was not intended to hurt anyone."
"Oh, yeah, and you want me to believe that, right?"
Shanygn had become defensive. Someone had hurt Rodimus and through their not yet fully understood Interface link. She felt threatened by the mega computer, which was apparently out to destroy all that were not wanted.
"You and Rodimus Prime share a link," Alpha Trion said as if he had known this all along. "You feel threatened. Don't. He is in no danger at all."
Shanygn didn't trust him. "So you say," she hissed, her temper flaring. "But it's not what your actions say."
"I will come, Alpha Trion," Optimus Prime decided.
"Prime!" the woman protested.
"Stay with Rodimus," Optimus ordered. With that he walked over to the hovering globe and reached out to touch it with one hand. Before he could make contact, Vector Sigma glowed brightly and Optimus Prime collapsed.
Shanygn refrained from running to him by sheer force of will. Her eyes were pinned on the motionless form of her partner, Rodimus Prime. Then she made a decision, reaching out for him with her mind, attempting to establish their silent link.
* * *
He felt disoriented and in pain, a pain spreading through every molecule of his ectoplasmic body. He couldn't move and he couldn't scream, only lay there, motionless, as if paralyzed, waiting for the pain to stop. His mind reached for the other presence he knew had to be within him.
But all he encountered was emptiness. Frightening, all-encompassing emptiness.
* * *
Rodimus felt like watching a movie, the same feeling he had had when he had entered the Matrix and had seen the past with his own eyes. He was still standing on the solid ground he was sure was nothing but an illusion, but the pastel colors had faded to be replaced by a uniform grayness.
A picture appeared before him, showing what he identified as the basic structure of Cybertron. Lots of parts were still missing and from he way it looked, the factory was not yet working.
"This is our home," Alpha Trion's voice said and he flinched as he discovered the old Autobot standing not far away from him.
The picture changed and he saw drones working to complete the massive planet. There were some humanoid shaped robots among them, but they all looked alike and their movements were clearly automated. Between the workers hovered the Quintesson enforcers and the corkscrew space ships hung overhead in space, as if protecting the planet.
"But it is not our origin," Alpha Trion went on. "The Quintessons are our creators in many ways, but not concerning our personalities. They used Vector Sigma to give their creations, the body shells, life."
The picture changed yet again and gave a clear view into the room that would soon be known as Vector Sigma's chamber. It was not closed off as it was now and the golden globe was hovering in a special contraption. There was some kind of conveyor belt below him and slaves were handling what Rodimus identified as the memory and personality cubes of Cybertronians. Vector Sigma was apparently not waiting until a robot was constructed; he simply spewed out the personality cubes for later insertion.
"The origin of Vector Sigma is lost to all, even himself, but no Quintesson built him, that much is proven. They stole his completed form from another race known as Creators to those who were marked by them. The Creators left their mark on many worlds, but they never showed their face. We know of robots constructed by them, a different race from the civilization on Cybertron, but we don't know who they were."
"Another race of robots?" Rodimus echoed.
"Yes," Alpha Trion answered. "They were the prototypes for the Sentinel robots. They are alike in many ways but one: they are not from Cybertron and existed before any of us ever was born. Their fate is lost to us. We believe that, except for a few, none have survived. The survivors have blended in with our society."
A symbol appeared in front of Rodimus, a strange array of lines and circles, which parted into many different symbols, each one holding its own meaning. One of them looked like a Sentinel insignia, though it held a few minor differences compared to the one Midnight wore. Another one was the Seeker symbol, which was, or so Rodimus had always believed, a variation of the Sentinels'. And then he recognized the insignia he had seen on the very first Autobot, who had confronted him when he had journeyed into the Matrix. It was very much different from the Autobot symbol of today.
"It is believed that the Quintessons were nothing but allies or even servants of this other race, and that they broke away completely from them, taking Vector Sigma with them in their attempt to gain an existence under their own laws. They built Cybertron around the sphere, which they believed was nothing but a computer, but he never became the heart of the planet. The old Quintessons still feared the Creators, but they also copied their technology, constructing what you saw in the room behind the Vector Sigma Chamber. It is the true heart of Cybertron."
"The rings?" Rodimus asked, thoroughly confused.
"What are those rings? What is their function?"
"They are dangerous, my young friend. Never activate them. It is not yet time."
"But what are they?"
Alpha Trion ignored him. "In an attempt to also copy Vector Sigma and multiply their output of robots, the Quintessons created the Matrix. Though it was a nearly exact copy of the original it never worked for them."
A picture of the blue globe that was the Matrix filled the room and Rodimus thought he could feel its energy course through him, touching him deep down inside. The picture was replaced by an upheaval of slaves, brutally forced down by those that would later be known as Sentinels and Seekers. Rodimus winced as he saw the ranks of slaves fall under the deadly power of those who were now allies.
"And then the rebellion started," Alpha Trion continued. "The Sentinels were created. Unlike the slave products, the Sentinels differed in ability and power, representing a unique new factor. They were the first to hold the power to transform and they were not marked by the Quintessons as either consumer good or war material. Vector Sigma gave them their insignia, branding them as he had been told by the information of the Sentinel data files. The Quintessons had no idea of transformation procedures or how to construct the deadly weapon the Sentinels later used against us. So, like Vector Sigma, the Sentinels were not their creations. They used stolen data again, leaving Vector Sigma to create them completely, giving them life. They were pleased with the product and used it, never knowing where they had come from."
"So we didn't invent the art of transformation?" Rodimus asked, slightly baffled.
Alpha Trion gave him an apologizing smile. "No, we didn't. The Matrix had to lie to you, Rodimus Prime, to protect you from knowledge that was, at that date, too dangerous. It was waiting for the Sentinels to come back, and their return was imminent."
"You knew about it?" the Autobots' second-in-command exclaimed.
"Vector Sigma knew of your fate, young one. He knew of the day that Sentinels and Autobots would meet again, and he knew that you were important for this day." Alpha Trion's ancient eyes reflected an even older, much more ancient knowledge. "You were destined to meet. All the factors were working to this meeting."
Rodimus gasped and staggered away from the other Autobot. "No!" he whispered. "That can't be true! You mean we went through all this, the deaths and the battles ... and you knew it?!"
"Vector Sigma knew, though he is not omniscient. Much has happened at random and influenced the course of events. He knew of the new Golden Age and he had to do everything to make it happen." Alpha Trion looked sympathetic. "We knew you and Midnight would meet one day. You are of a kind, in a way, you understand and trust each other, even though you can't confess to it. Your fate has been similar, as has been your history, in a way."
Rodimus was silent for some time, going through every incident of the past years, painfully reliving what had happened. And Vector Sigma had known this all along? He felt betrayed, cheated .... mislead. And what did Alpha Trion mean that he and Midnight had had a similar fate and history? The Sentinel was vastly different in so many ways ....
"You mean," he tried to clarify things, "you two knew that Optimus would die?"
"Yes, and more. He had to die for you to be born, Rodimus Prime. Thon Roque, the Sentinel leader, had to die for Midnight to be accepted into the ranks of those who had tried to kill him at first, to become leader, though he never wanted it. You might have met Midnight as Hot Rod, but the outcome would not have been the same." Alpha Trion gave a lopsided smile. "And you also needed to grow to your final form and the place you were born to take. It was destiny for you and Shanygn to meet. She was destined to become a replacement for the Matrix for you to develop further, just like it was Optimus Prime's destiny to meet the woman later known as Silhouette."
This was too much! Rodimus' thoughts were reeling around what he had been told.
"If Vector Sigma created the Sentinels and if the Matrix is a part of Vector Sigma," the younger Autobot said, his outside radiating a calm he had learned to project throughout his years as Rodimus Prime, "why is the energy radiation deadly for them?"
"It wasn't deadly right from the start, my young friend," Alpha Trion explained. "When the rebellion of the slave products began, one of the 'consumer goods', an Autobot, stole the Matrix, believing it to be a weapon. It wasn't and the Quintessons hunted him to get back what was their own. Though they killed him, he passed the Matrix on. Through the years the Matrix changed, became different from its original structure, turning more and more into a new creature, completely unlike the original it had come from. It was ... tarnished .... by the hatred we felt for the Sentinels, which represented the Quintesson era and all its pain and despair. It also chose those that would lead the Autobots and the Autobots accepted this choice without question. Through the change it became a weapon against the Sentinels and the rebels used it to the full after they discovered it. The Quintessons saw their last line of defense fall under an unbeatable fire power and fled. The remaining Sentinels were either destroyed or driven off, spreading out all over the universe. Only few, those known as Sleepers, were left behind. All but one of the Sleepers were found by the uprising slaves and destroyed." Alpha Trion looked sadly at his younger counterpart. "It was a dark chapter in our history. We killed because of what we thought the Sentinels represented, not because of what they really were. Your friend Midnight is the only surviving member of the Sleepers. And you are the last in the line of Cybertronians born under the mark of the Matrix, Rodimus Prime. With the return of the Sentinels, a new era has begun."
"Why did you never reveal this before?" Rodimus demanded. "It could have saved so much pain, for so many!"
"I could not, my young friend, even though I wanted. I would have changed the course of history."
Rodimus felt an unreasonable anger rise inside of him. "So what do you want us to do now?"
"The time to act has not yet come. I revealed the knowledge to you because it was time to do so, but you still have a long way to go, fortify your place in the universe, until you can venture forth and learn more." Alpha Trion looked into the distance.
"What about those Creators? What about those we all came from?"
"No one knows where they are or if they are still out there. They race is older, much older, than ours. Maybe they have disappeared between the stars, maybe they are still there." Alpha Trion turned back to him. "Or maybe they have already died and become nothing but dust among the stars. But this is none of your concern, Rodimus Prime. The healing of our kind takes priority to everything else. Many of us are still scattered on this planet that is our home."
A shape seemed to drift through the grayness around him and Rodimus recognized Optimus Prime. "Optimus!" he exclaimed. "What ...?!"
The Autobot leader smiled briefly. "Stay calm. I came here voluntarily." He gave his old mentor Alpha Trion a sharp look.
The older robot smiled in an apology. "There was no other way. Vector Sigma decided it was time."
Optimus Prime didn't look very pleased. "I heard the story you told. Now answer me one question, Alpha Trion, and I want a straight answer, not some evasion. What are the rings in the chamber behind Vector Sigma?"
There was a long silence and Rodimus saw how the grayness turned into pastel colors again. Finally Alpha Trion answered.
"It's are a relic. Don't venture there, Optimus Prime or no one can say where it will take you."
"They it really is a transporter?" Rodimus asked, trying to confirm his suspicions.
"In a way. The Creators left them on different worlds, assigning a guardian for each one of them. I don't know how many there are. The rings in the chamber behind Vector Sigma are stolen property, a center piece of the transport system. The Quintessons experimented with them. Remember the portal into other worlds, Rodimus Prime, or the time window. The Quintessons tried to understand the technology, but it was so much superior to theirs that they could only copy it. The copies developed random features and were mostly locked away or destroyed. The rings, though, are the original piece. I warn you again of their use!"
"I accept this warning," Optimus Prime nodded.
"Then it is now time for you to go," Alpha Trion decided, his form already fading. "You know what you have to know." And he disappeared.
Rodimus felt like he was flung through an energy field, then there was a brief moment of oblivion, quickly followed by an insistent voice inside his mind.
[Roddy! Damnit, I know you're in there!]
[Shan?] he asked, a bit confused.
[It's me all right. How are you?]
His optics finally locked on to the familiar form of the blue-haired woman and he smiled. "I've had better days, but I think I'll live."
"You better," she grumbled.
He got to his feet and discovered Optimus Prime, who was helping Wild Card to his feet. The Sentinel wasn't all that stable. Then he quickly went over to Midnight, who looked like he had been through a major fight. Chip was standing beside the fallen Sentinel and had apparently tried to help him with some repairs. Still, Midnight needed professional help and Steve probably, too. Wild Card gave a groan, not because he was in pain, but because of what he saw.
"Let's go," Optimus Prime decided and Rodimus nodded in agreement.
Optimus transformed and they carried the badly leaking Midnight into the trailer, then Rodimus and Wild Card transformed as well. Chip hopped into the driver's compartment of the truck while Shanygn chose to get in with Rodimus. She had been unusually silent in the last few minutes.
[Are you all right?] Rodimus asked worriedly. He hoped she had not been affected by his ... absence.
[Fine, fine] she answered, sounding distracted.
Rodimus chose not to prod further. First they had to get out of here and Midnight to a medic. Then they could puzzle about everything else. He followed Optimus through the airducts and tunnels, Wild Card in tow.
* * *
Skywolf looked at Kyle Scott, who had just checked on Steve, then turned back to his work. And it was a heap of work. Midnight had made it to the sickbay half conscious and had been able to phase Steve out of him, then he had lost consciousness, the stress of the last hours taking its toll. Steve had been equally unconscious, but he was in Kyle's capable hands. Now it was up to Skywolf to help his young friend and leader. He had first banished both Optimus Prime and Rodimus from sickbay after they had been checked by First Aid. He didn't want any Matrix energy, even in confined form or as a residue, around his badly injured friend. He needed a clean environment. Optimus had nodded in understanding, his eyes hooded with guilt. Skywolf had wanted to say something to him, but the Autobot leader had been out of the sickbay too fast.
"Anything I can assist with?" First Aid asked with his soft voice, interrupting his train of thought.
"Yes. We need to clean and then close the open wounds," Skywolf answered and gave the Protectobot a thankful smile. "The skin has to be mended. Then I have to get his self-repair system up on full. He lost a whole lot of his skin fluids and the stuff nourishes the artificial skin."
First Aid nodded. He knew that if the level of fluids in the skin sank below a certain point there was the imminent danger of infection. "What about Wild Card and Jeff?" he wanted to know as they set to work.
"Wild Card is still a bit shaky, but otherwise he's completely okay. Jeff needs some sleep and rest. When Wild Card was hit by the energy Vector Sigma released he went on overload, but he wasn't damaged as much as Midnight."
First Aid cleaned away some of the dried fluids and quickly sealed the wound as it started to bleed again. He knew that Midnight had been hit by the Matrix energy and then by Vector Sigma's blast, who must have responded to his presence even more violently than to Wild Card's.
"Steve's in shock and I guess he and Midnight will come around simultaneously," Skywolf went on. "That's the problem with 100% Interfaces: they are synchronized to a degree no one of us can understand, staying individuals nevertheless. I guess Steve went through everything Midnight did."
The Protectobot nodded and glanced over to where Dr. Kyle Scott was currently writing down notes about his human patient.
"Will he heal completely?" he finally asked.
Skywolf looked up, regarding First Aid silently for some time. Then he sighed softly. "I hope so. Matrix energy is a deadly weapon and Midnight was exposed to its radiation twice. Of all of us he's always been the one to react the most sensitive to it. I never found out why. His skin absorbed a part of it, as well as Steve, who acted as a buffer or shield as long as he was conscious, but enough still reached Midnight himself and the result .... He can take a lot, but this was more than he ever had to take on."
Or maybe coming very close, the Sentinel medic thought. There had been a time when the Sentinels themselves had inflicted nearly lethal wounds on the Midnight, who had then been, technically at least, a Seeker. They had acted out of a mistaken protection for a human named Captain Steven Parker, and had nearly killed both of them. Skywolf shuddered when he thought back to the moment Thon Roque had carried in the badly injured form of Midnight, giving the assembled Sentinels a silent look, then turning the young robot over to Skywolf. Most of Midnight's outer skin had been torn at that time, his 'blood' all but depleted and his energon level at a minimum. There had been even worse wounds beneath the skin, blaster holes and deep cuts. The medic had fought for Midnight's life, even though Midnight had been only too willing to die. Looking back at it now, Skywolf believed that only the possibility that his death might kill Steve as well had brought Midnight back.
'He's strong,' Thon Roque had said in a quiet moment soon after the long and precarious operation. 'He's a survivor and he's the future.'
Looking back at this moment now, Skywolf wondered if his leader had then known that he would die soon and that Midnight would take over. Maybe. But maybe he had only voiced his wishes, his hopes, that the others would accept the young, so very different robot.
Skywolf tore himself out of the past and resumed his work. Yes, Midnight had been the future of the Sentinels, guiding them steadily back to their past and their origin, allying them with those who had feared them for so long. It had taken the combined effort of Rodimus Prime and the Sentinel leader to get their two races to see past what history told them. It had been a success.
"He'll make it," he said softly. He has to.
* * *
He was alone.
He couldn't be alone!
She had to be here!
Starscream searched frantically through the emptiness around him, trying to spot a spark of the consciousness that was Dycran. Ignoring the pain he shifted and moved, trying to stretch his feelers through his Host, but she wasn't there.
"Dycran?" he demanded, suddenly aware that he was no longer trapped by the shields she had erected around his quarters. "Dycran?!"
There was no answer.
* * *
Raven felt anxious, though she had no idea what about or why. Transformed in her bird mode she flew through the lead colored sky of Charr, trying to sort through the strange emotions that had welled up inside of her in the last few days. It had started with the sound she had heard and her involuntary reaction to it. Like music it had echoed through her, a beautiful and enchanting melody, touching her deeper than anything else ever had. Then there had been the slight burning feeling, as if her original symbol was edging itself into her metal skin .... She couldn't talk about it to anyone. No Decepticon would understand it, not even Cyclonus, who had been watching her with a worried frown on his face the last few days; or Soundwave, for that matter. She was different and would always remain so.
Her mind flashed back to Crea, the planet she and Soundwave had explored some time ago. It seemed to hold some answers to her questions, especially when she thought about the symbol on Nightmare's shoulder, a symbol she had found inside the deepest recesses of her core memory after some searching. Nightmare was one of the Gatemasters, those near-mythical beings whose order it was to guard the legendary doorways of the Creators. Accessing her core program she had found that her symbol matched his in many ways. He had been marked by those who had created her.
She circled through the sky, thinking furiously. She had to go to Crea and find Nightmare. She had to know about her race, if her creators still lived and walked among them. She had to know about herself..... He knew more than he had told and she would make him talk.
Raven landed and looked up into the sky. She wondered once more if any of her old race was still out there and if yes, had they heard the sound as well? She had left them so long ago, never looking back. It was her past, which she despised. But if they had heard the sound and came from wherever they had gone, she would most likely meet them. Not something to look forward to.
With a sigh she shook her wings, dislodging some particles of dirt. She had to wait and see what the future brought.
<< Raven >>
The emotionless voice jolted her out of her thoughts.
<< Yes >> she answered warily, slightly annoyed that Soundwave was using their link, something she had revealed to him not too long ago, like this.
<< Galvatron commands your presence >>
She felt even more annoyed, but confirmed she had received the order. << What's going on, Soundwave? >> she then wanted to know.
There was a short silence, as if Soundwave wasn't sure what to say, then he answered, << We are returning to Crea >>
<< But ....! >> she began to protest, then shut up. She didn't have to tell Soundwave what this meant. They had purposefully not told Galvatron, not anyone, about their meeting with Nightmare or that he was the Assassin called Static, long thought dead. Briefly she wondered if Galvatron had found out about this, then shook her head. How could he? Neither Soundwave, nor his cassettes or herself had said a thing.
<< Galvatron believes that the talents of the Constructions can turn the deadly energon on Crea into a usable form >>
<< Oh >>
She flung herself into the air again and flew back to the headquarters of the Decepticons on this lonely and lifeless planet.
* * *
Shanygn sat outside the complex and watched the space ships lift off, returning the delegates to their home worlds. As the last of it disappeared she was aware of someone approaching her. It was Rodimus.
"Everyone safely on the way?" she asked with a smile.
"Yep. Even Mr. Par. Looks like he's one confused Rymanian now. He got a call from his superior that his aid Mia'Nei was found in a hospital on Ryms, suffering from amnesia through a car crash." Rodimus shrugged.
Shanygn frowned. "If that is true, who checked in instead of her?"
"That's a mystery we haven't solved yet, Shan." He sat down beside her. "But we're at it, though we might never know."
They sat there for some time in complete silence, then, finally, Rodimus turned to look at his friend. "Is something bugging you?" he asked softly.
Shanygn had been evading him in the last few days and he wanted to know why. Okay, so he had been buried with work again, but even then he would have found some time to talk with her. Only she hadn't come forward to talk.
Shanygn gave him a surprised look. "Huh? No, no, everything's fine."
Rodimus regarded her critically. [Liar] he told her flatly, using their silent form of communication, something he had gotten so used to, it was like a second nature now.
She flinched and gave him an angry glare, which subsided gradually under his inquiring gaze. [I heard it all] she finally said.
[Heard what all?] he wanted to know.
[What this Alpha Trion character told you]
[What? How? You weren't even with me .. or were you?] Realization dawned inside him. [Shan! You didn't!]
She glared at him again. [What did you expect me to do, huh? You get attacked by this golden globe and look like dead, only that you aren't dead because I think I could really feel it! Maybe not as strongly as Jill or Mike or Kyle, but I would! I was afraid, yes! I was afraid to lose you, damnit! That's why I attempted to reach you!]
Rodimus was too surprised to answer at first. He had never thought about it this way. He had never even considered the fact that Shanygn would ever get involved when he died. He had always assumed that ... well, since he was no Sentinel and she was no true Interface, that she would not feel his passing.
[So you looked for me] he finally said softly. [And what happened then?]
[I couldn't find you, not really, but I could feel your presence. And then I heard this guy, Alpha Trion, explain to you that this was all destined to happen, just that he never cared to tell anyone!] She looked at him with anger radiating from her whole body. [Do you know what I had to go through all my life because I was a cripple? Do you know how hard I had to fight to be accepted as an intelligent being by my own kind? I never knew what would happen to me until I met the Sentinels, and even then I never really felt I belonged. They accepted me, yes! We became friends, but I was always an outsider of a kind, unable to truly Interface with any of them!]
[What about F/X?] Rodimus asked softly, something he had wanted to know about for a long time. Not out of jealousy, but because it might shed some more light on his partner.
Shanygn sighed. [Fox is a nice guy, understanding and warm, even if you don't see it through his brash exterior. We were able to join, but that's different from Interfacing. Joining is rather superficial.] She shook her head. [Both of us knew it wasn't the real thing. I felt so angry and lost at the time.... If I had known about what would happen, that I would meet you and Interface, it would have made everything much more bearable!]
Rodimus put a careful hand on her armored shoulder, feeling her tremble with rage. Shanygn had never really talked about her life prior to their first meeting on Alean, neither had she ever surrendered anything about her planet of origin. From time to time Rodimus felt he should ask her, get her to talk, but then again he reminded himself that this was prying and that she would open up when she was ready.
[I know what you feel, Shan] he told her softly. [Don't you think I didn't feel it as well? Nothing was ever easy for me, not after I received the Matrix. I fought to get acknowledged, but I didn't. I saw Optimus Prime return and then die again! I suffered the others' good advice and reprimands because I thought that one day it might get better, but it never did. Then I met Midnight and you, Optimus Prime returned..... And I met Silhouette...] A fine smile played over his lips and Shanygn gave a choked laugh as well, her lips curling into a smile.
[You like her, don't you?]
[Yes] he confessed something he wasn't ready to really say to anyone else.
[That's good] Shanygn turned to look over the empty landing field again.
[I hope you don't mind] Rodimus said in a sudden flash of realization of what this might mean for her.
Shanygn gave him a mock glare. [Rodimus Prime, you are overreacting. I'm neither jealous nor angry at Silhouette. Both of us, you and me, share something very special. Sil and you are about to share something special as well, but she can never hold my position, nor can or do I want hers] She patted his knee. [So relax. Both your females are on peaceful terms]
[Both of what?] he exclaimed.
He felt a bit of relief course through him. Then he turned serious again. [I'm sorry you had to listen to all of this about the past and how Vector Sigma knew it all]
She shook her head. [Don't be. It's just that when I heard it I felt so angry, that I had wasted my life somehow. I think I realize now that all of this had to happen so that we could meet]
Rodimus nodded, agreeing whole-heartedly. Just like Shanygn had had to fight for her right to be acknowledged as an individual, he had had to fight for a similar acceptance. Both of them had won.
"How's Midnight?" he asked out aloud. Since they didn't let him near the sickbay he had no way of knowing.
Rodimus grimaced. "This shouldn't have happened." Optimus feels guilty as hell about it.
"But it has and no one can change it." Shanygn gave him an understanding look. "Have you talked with Optimus about it?" she wanted to know.
Rodimus sighed. "I wish I'd had the time. The conference was over, Ultra Magnus wanted to brief me on all kinds of things .... You know how it gets. I guess Earth is a much quieter place right now." He shook his head. " I really need to talk with him about everything, not just the Matrix incident."
"Are you going to tell the others?"
He rubbed his forehead. "I wish I could give you a definite yes or no, Shan. It's all gotten so very complicated all of a sudden.... We all need time to comprehend it all."
The chamber behind Vector Sigma, the one containing the rings, had been sealed off by Optimus' orders. Skywolf and Wild Card had done it, both Sentinels more than aware of what it was they were sealing. The medic had apparently been informed by Midnight shortly before the Sentinel leader had departed from Alean, and like everyone else who knew what was going on, he had agreed to keep quiet for now.
Shanygn rose and stretched slightly. "You do that. I'll grab a bite to eat, then hit the bed. I'm tired!"
"Good night," Rodimus called after her and she laughed.
When Shanygn had disappeared inside the complex housing the now empty quarters of the delegates, Rodimus Prime leaned back and sighed deeply. He felt tired himself and ready for a long sleep in a recharge chamber, but there were tons of things still to do. His mind was awhirl with what he had heard from Alpha Trion. It shed a completely new light on everything, especially on Vector Sigma and the Sentinels. He needed some time to go through it all, maybe discuss, no, definitely discuss it with Optimus Prime, then find out how they would from now on continue.
He was on the top of Rodimus' list of Things Still To Do. He had to talk to him, especially about the Matrix incident. With a soft groan he rose and walked toward the building where Prime's office was.
* * *
The ring on Crea had quieted down, its parts sliding back into its old position. Power flowed from the structure and Nightmare felt it, even though he was far away from the place it stood on. He wondered briefly what had activated the transmission and what had gone through the doorway. And where had it gone to? There had been no definite coordinates on the gate he guarded and so he had been unable to pinpoint the destination. He wished he still had contact to others, to ask whether they knew what was going on.
But he hadn't.
With a snort he trotted down the hill and then picked up speed, crossing the wide plains rapidly.
* * *
Optimus Prime read the report from sickbay and felt incredible guilt rise up inside of him again. The logical side of his mind told him that there had been nothing he could have done to prevent the attack on Midnight. But his not so logical side insisted he could have done something ... anything. If Midnight died through this....
Then there was a report from exploration team seven, Sunstreaker, Hound and Knight. They had stumbled upon an abandoned base camp from the group of female Autobots, who had disappeared so quickly after their first meeting after millions of years that Optimus still felt as if it had never happened. Sunstreaker had included a picture of the weapon they had found and Optimus Prime recognized it immediately. Aleeta One's gun. Dread rose inside of him, bringing with it the strange feeling of foreboding knowledge he had experienced the last few weeks. He wished he had some proof, any proof, even the slightest sighting of a female, but they had disappeared from the surface of Cybertron.
"Hi. Am I interrupting anything?"
Optimus looked up and discovered Rodimus standing in the doorway. The young robot looked apprehensive, but there was also a determined light in his optics.
"No, come in." He put down the reports.
Rodimus glanced at the print-out. "Midnight?" he asked quietly.
"How is he?"
The Autobot leader was reminded that even Rodimus was not allowed into the medical ward because he had residue Matrix energy all over him.
"Holding on," he answered softly. "First Aid and Skywolf did everything they could to stabilize him. Steve is still unconscious."
Rodimus nodded. "It's not your fault," he then said into the silence.
Optimus shot him a surprised look. Am I that easy to read? he wondered. Probably where my second-in-command is concerned.
"The Matrix and then Vector Sigma nearly killed him," he said as if to himself. "If he dies ...."
"You don't believe that the Sentinels will want revenge? Optimus, that's nonsense!" Rodimus exclaimed.
"I don't know what to believe. Too many of my old beliefs have been shattered in the last 24 hours, Rodimus. Too much has suddenly changed. I'm not even sure whether to reveal this or not!" The Autobot leader paced through his office.
"You haven't told the others then?" Rodimus asked to be completely certain.
"No. I'm still too confused myself. I asked Wild Card to keep silent about all this as well until I had a chance to talk to .... Midnight."
Which brought them back to the situation down in sickbay. "He'll make it," Rodimus insisted.
Optimus nodded slowly. "Most likely, but scars will remain, inside. How can he ever trust me again?"
Rodimus smiled softly. "He trusted us when it came the time to reveal themselves. Midnight has gone through worse things and has not lost his trust in our alliance."
Optimus nodded slowly. "Yes, but that was different."
"No, I don't think so. The Sentinels have risked their lives many times for us and each and every one of them is aware of the danger we represent for them, especially the Matrix." Rodimus looked at the older Autobot. "Midnight was aware of the danger he put himself in when allying himself with us. Always."
The Autobot leader rubbed his optics. "Yes, probably. Anything else happening out there?"
"No, not really." Rodimus frowned a bit. "Sunstreaker told me he discovered an abandoned camp from the female Autobots."
"He also said he found a weapon, as well as signs of heavy fighting."
Optimus nodded again and handed the report over to his second-in-command. Rodimus read it and a grim line formed around his lips as he came to the same conclusion as Optimus Prime.
"Still no word out of them, right?" he asked neutraly, already knowing the answer he would receive.
"Nothing," was the soft answer.
Rodimus frowned a bit, regarding his leader with a critical eye. "Is there something you know that I don't?" he then asked bluntly.
Was it his imagination or had Optimus just flinched a bit?
"You know that I was the first of a new line of Autobots created by Alpha Trion," Optimus then said nearly inaudibly.
"Aleeta One came next. Alpha Trion took the body of Ariel and turned her into the leader of the female Autobots, Aleeta. We both share the same ..... construction blueprints, if you want to see it like this. We are, in a way, one."
Rodimus nodded again. He knew that this meant more than just sharing the same program. Optimus and Aleeta were close and he was sure that his older friend missed her every day.
"I don't know how to put it, Rodimus, but .... a few of Cybertron's weeks ago I felt something.... like losing a part of me."
"No," Rodimus breathed softly.
Optimus regarded him solemnly. "I think Aleeta One is dead."
The words hung in the air between them and Rodimus could only imagine how much pain they were inflicting.
"Are you sure?" he finally asked.
"I can never be sure, my friend. Not until the day I either see her or her grave." A mixture of hope and dread swung in Optimus' voice. "Until then," he went on, forcefully banishing the emotions from his voice, "we'll have to work on turning Cybertron into what it was so long ago. And we have to decide on how much to tell the others of what we have learned."
Rodimus nodded, accepting the change of topic.
"I want to wait for Midnight's recovery," Optimus said calmly. "I also think that you have to return to Earth to handle matters there."
Rodimus grimaced. "You had to remind me, right?"
Optimus chuckled. "And take Silhouette with you. She's been asking for a transport back. Apparently she wants to visit Spike's new family member."
"Sure. No problem." Before Rodimus left the office, he added, "Call me if something comes up."
The Autobot leader nodded solemnly, then the door closed behind his second-in-command. When he was alone, Optimus Prime rose slowly out of his chair and walked over to the window. He stared at the reflection he saw, his mind flashing back to a time where there had been no worries for him, no pain, no war, no loss. A time when he had been more like Hot Rod than Rodimus would ever know, when he had been care free.
"I miss you," he whispered softly. "Till all are one....."
From somewhere he thought he heard her laugh softly.
* * *
In the once again silent chamber of Vector Sigma the sphere sat on its pedestal, glowing softly. Inside the mega computer, Alpha Trion looked into the infinity stretching out before him. Vector Sigma was nothing but a being of pure energy, like the Matrix, and had never had any circuits. Until he had merged with it, he had not known this himself.
"It was a mistake," he said to no one in particular.
Vector Sigma shifted around him, the pastel colors swirling. "It could not be helped," he answered.
Alpha Trion shook his head. "You nearly killed the Sentinel leader, Vector Sigma. It was a mistake. It could have ruined everything."
The entity sighed. "I acknowledge my mistake." Colors swirled, then cleared again. "I never considered him to be so sensitive to my powers. A lot has changed throughout the last eons."
"It truly has," the first-generation Autobot agreed. "The Sentinels have changed, we have changed and with our change we tarnished the Matrix, but I hope we have not separated from each other too much."
"The Sentinel will heal and he will not seek revenge," Vector Sigma said.
"That is not his way, I agree." Alpha Trion was silent for a moment, looking a bit distant. "What about the one entering the doorway."
"Everything has happened the way it should," the mega computer replied.
"Not completely." The Autobot remembered the death of one of his creations. He had not seen this coming. It had happened all of a sudden and he could not have helped it anyway. "There was a random factor involved. The humanoid."
Vector Sigma was silent for a moment, then shifted again. "Random factors always appear," he then rumbled ominously.
Alpha Trion looked a bit annoyed, trying to calculate how much damage the random factor had done. There was no telling, though. All of a sudden the future developed down another path.
"The doorway has been locked again," he finally said aloud. "And the Autobots sealed the chamber."
"But it is not the only doorway and the Autobots are no the only ones now aware of them." Vector Sigma flashed a picture and Alpha Trion nodded as he saw it. "If necessary, the terminal has to be shut down."
With that, Vector Sigma moved on again, leaving Alpha Trion to ponder the possibilities. Too much had changed through the appearance of the humanoid, something no one had ever foreseen. It should have been impossible for Starscream to possess her. They had to wait and see what it brought.
* * *
"Are you up and about?"
Midnight looked up from his study of reports he had been given by Optimus Prime via electronic data transfer and smiled at Aurora.
"Come on in," he invited her and the golden-white Sentinel walked into his room.
"How are you?" she wanted to know, giving him a critical once-over.
"Fine, really," he answered.
"And working again, I see." She sat down on his desk. "I saw Steve outside. He said he and Optimus Prime had a long talk and that the two of you needed to get together."
Midnight nodded. Skywolf had not yet allowed any of the two Autobots who had been marked by the Matrix to meet with him. The medic was too worried about any ill effects on his younger friend. Midnight had to confess he was feeling a bit apprehensive as well, but there was no way around a personal meeting. He had scheduled this meeting for tomorrow afternoon, on Earth. Rodimus was already on Earth and Midnight had planned on going back there anyway, to get some distance between himself and Vector Sigma. He didn't know why, but he felt threatened by the mega computer. Not because he had injured him; no, mainly because of what the sphere contained, the knowledge, the past. He had to get away from here for some time and think.
"Anything I can do for you?" he asked.
Aurora tilted her head. "How about telling me what's going on?" she suggested. "Wild Card's behaving all innocent concerning what happened down there in this secret chamber, Rodimus is on Earth and cannot be reached, Skywolf has his mouth clamped shut and Optimus was never known to reveal anything. So...?"
"Sorry, but right now, at this point, I can't say anything," Midnight apologized.
The female Sentinel grimaced. "That bad?"
She hopped off the desk again. "All right, be secretive if you have to be. I just hope you, all of you, will fill us in someday." There was no accusation in her voice, and no complaining either. She simply accepted his decision.
As the door closed after her, Midnight leaned back and sighed softly. Yes, when to tell his troops? And when to tell the Autobots? This was too much to really work through in a few hours. It changed too much all of a sudden and even though the Autobots had adjusted to sudden news in the past, this revelation was nothing compared to the one that the Quintessons were their apparent creators.
He rose from his chair and left his office. Steve met him outside, raising one eyebrow.
"Ready to fly?" he asked simply.
"Let's do it."
"Are you sure you don't want to take a shuttle?" the human inquired critically.
"Steve!" Midnight complained. "I'm fine again!"
"Sure, sure, all right, I was just suggesting something. Geez!" Steve shook his head with a grin, then phased into his friend. Seconds later the black jet disappeared in the infinitely black space, preparing to Gate.
* * *
Starscream rose like a glittering cloud of gold out of his Host and concentrated on his ectoplasmic body, willing it to flow into shape. It took a while until all his senses went on line and he could take a look at where he was.
He was in a vast hall, made completely out of bluish black quartz-like material, shining softly and spreading the only light. The floor looked polished, without the least bit of dust on it. There were inscriptions on some walls, but they seemed to shift and reshape themselves whenever Starscream tried to take a closer look. He felt a strange tingling running up and down his back and turned around. He looked directly at one immense ring. It was attached to the quartz-wall behind him, several times as
large as the rings he had seen in the chamber on Cybertron. It consisted of ten or more separate rings, each made of a different material, only some covered by inscriptions, which were edged into the material.
And then he saw her.
He had never really seen his host from the outside and only now had a first look at the humanoid woman. She was taller than the average human, but then she wasn't from Earth. Her skin looked like silvery bluish metal, not like human skin. Long, white hair fell over her body, and he had no idea if this indicated her age. She lay sprawled on the floor, half on her stomach, her hair covering her face.
Carefully he approached her. "Dycran?"
His voice seemed to echo through the vast hall and he shivered. Dycran didn't move and a stab of fear ran through him. He touched her, surprised when he could feel something beneath his ghostly fingers. He turned her on her back.
Dycran's eyes were closed and she didn't move. Her face was shaped like that of a human, but there was an odd tattoo on her forehead, something looking like a star. He had no idea what it meant. He equally had no idea on how old she might be. Her face was free of wrinkles that indicated aging, but from his experience with her mind he couldn't believe that she was really all that young.
"Dycran!" he said forcefully, but again got no reaction. "No ...." he whispered in desperation.
Desperation? Why was he so desperate about a possibly dead humanoid? He despised those weak forms .... but Alyssa Dycran was also the only humanoid who had ever been that close, and she was equally the only being present here. He didn't want to be alone!
"Alyssa!" he tried to rouse her, raking his fractured mind for anything on how to determine if she was really dead.
He felt for one and couldn't find it.
Equally not present.
"Noooooooooooooo!!!" he protested and his voice boomed in the hall. "You can't leave me here alone! You just can't!" he screeched.
But she didn't answer. Dycran remained dead, killed by the alien mechanism that had brought him here.
"Where are you?" he screamed. "Why did you bring us here? Why did you do this?"
Only silence greeted him after the echoes had died down. The walls shed their soft glow, enveloping him and the dead humanoid like a blanket.
"I swear, you will pay for this!" he promised in dark whisper. "Dearly."