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The day was peaceful and food was plenty. He bent over the kill and began to feed, pleased with the fact that he had been able to find his prey so swiftly this time. This kill meant another week without worrying about an empty stomach. Tearing apart the dead body of the animal he chewed on the piece of meat, holding his head high enough to seek out potential thieves. There were plenty of scavenger bold enough to try and take a kill from a predator like him. Today none was in sight -- yet.
And then he felt it. It was like a soft breeze, touching him gently on its way over the plains. But this breeze wasn't physical. It didn't move the high grass all around him, or the leaves in the trees not far away from his position. It was more in the spiritual region, touching only the sensitive, touching only those who had been marked. He stopped chewing and turned his head, mindless of the blood dripping from his chin. Stretching his long, sinewy neck a bit more he listened. Yes, there it was again, stronger this time.
Abandoning the kill and ignoring the tiny voice of his predator side, telling him that the animal wouldn't be there anymore when he came back, he slithered through the tall grass, which reached up to his chest. His dark green body was massive, but he moved with a silence and the stealth none would have attributed to him. His wings were hugging his body tightly, so they wouldn't get in the way. He left the grass field after some time and came to a wide plain, a river shimmering in the distance. He raised his head again, listening hard, then unfolded his wings and launched himself into the cloudy morning sky. He didn't give the animals fleeing from his threatening form more than a glance. Even though his body demanded more nourishment he had different things to worry about now.
And then he arrived. It was a field of more tall growing grass, but here the grass was bluish green instead of all green. He cocked his head and strained all his senses. Yes, it was happening. With a hiss that showed his discontent he began a routine he had not ran over a million years. His eyes dimmed slightly and his body grew more rigid, his mind traveling deep into a program he had not used so long he wasn't even sure it was still running without glitching now and then. He should have checked and upgraded it from time to time, but with the Creators gone and forgotten, his own kind nearly extinguished and the Cybertronian race ignorant of their existence, he had not bothered. A big mistake, he now saw.
Numbers and letters scrolled past his inner eyes, now and then turning into unreadable gibberish as he was confronted with the problem he had already expected: age-related program failures, mainly coming from the transmitter. But most of the information he needed came across just fine, though he could have wished for better news.
The centerway on Cybertron had been activated and from the looks of it not too long ago. He snarled in displeasure. Great! Somebody had found it, had fooled around, and the activation had transferred something to Ralyk. Just great! What the transfer had been about was more gibberish and he shut down the program with disgust. Maybe the Cybertronians were no longer that ignorant of their past.
Something rustled close by and the grass moved. He turned, eyes narrowing into golden-yellow slits, his lips turning into a dangerous snarl. There wasn't a single sound coming from his snout and his body went completely still.
"Spook?" a voice whispered.
He growled, drawing back his head as if to strike. "Yes," he answered with a hiss.
A bipedal creatures exited the grass, looking at him. It was smaller than him, with a much weaker muscled body and an arrow-shaped head. A mane of orange brown hair cascaded down the grey neck.
"Relax," the smaller creature said. "You got a call?"
Spook snarled again. "Yes." He didn't like the smaller one, mainly because she always spelled trouble.
"Trouble?"
"Yes." His voice grew annoyed.
The smaller being snorted. "You will handle it?"
He growled and the other one flinched.
"Come on, relax. I'm a friend."
Spook hissed again, this time putting a warning into the hiss.  "Your friendship shifts with the tide." He flexed his claws.
The grey creature moved back a bit. "Okay, okay, I'm going. Uh, by the way, the warriors have heard it too, I think -- just in case this might interest you." With that it disappeared.
Spook didn't relax until he was sure the other one wasn't there any more. Then gave a frustrated rumble. The warriors, he thought in dismay.
Well, he had no other choice. It was his job to find out what this transfer was all about. If something had arrived on Ralyk in working order he had to know. Ralyk was too old to handle hostile intruders and except for him there was no one of the original security forces left. The Gatekeepers were no choice for this, they had their own problems to handle, and with Cybertron possessing the only doorway without a Gatekeeper there was really no other choice. He had to know if Ralyk was in danger r not, even if the old relic would probably be a dead end for anything going there -- literally.
He sighed and launched himself into the air again. He beat his wings until he had sufficient height, then did something he had equally not done in millions of years. He ignited his thrusters and transformed part of his body, gaining height quickly and soon leaving the world he had spent such a long time on behind -- and Gated.

* * *

-- Scanning --
-- Patterns stored --
-- Proceeding --

* * *

"Crea again?" Optimus Prime frowned slightly and went over the report from the latest reconnaissance mission to the Charr system.
It wasn't the only report that had come in lately, but by far the most interesting one. The Decepticons were moving again, back to a planet they had visited once before. For Galvatron to find it necessary to go back to Crea there had to be something interesting there.
There were stacks of paper to be viewed, read, approved and signed waiting back in Optimus Prime's office, but he had taken a stroll around the command center on the South continent of Cybertron to see how everything was coming along. He had decided to stay here, close to the entrance leading down to the chamber of Vector Sigma and some yet to be determined structure in the center of Cybertron they had discovered. The chamber with the ring structure, which he had been told was a doorway, had been sealed weeks ago, but he intended to get it analyzed in time. Alpha Trion had warned him to use the rings because it was uncertain where the doorway would take them. Prime respected the warning, but he didn't plan on staying out of the chamber forever. After what Vector Sigma had revealed he wanted to know more about the past, and the mysterious structure was a way to the past.
Bluestreak nodded. "Looks like they found something there they like. What do you want us to do, Prime?"
The Autobot leader frowned. If something was on Crea that was so interesting to Galvatron, then they had to see what it was. Since the Decepticon leader had snapped back from being a raving madman to a personality that bordered close to what Megatron had been, Optimus was keeping a close eye on the Decepticons again. They had kept quiet for a long time now, except for the odd energon raid here or there. Nothing major had happened. What was Galvatron up to? Or was he simply biding his time, trying to get the Autobots to feel secure and then hit them? Optimus didn't know and since Galvatron had become a random factor, he was now twice as dangerous as before.
"Silhouette and Labyrinth were on Crea at the time the Decepticons scouted the planet," Optimus said out aloud. "Get them here, and also get me in contact with Rodimus. With everything on Earth running its normal course I think he can use a break."
Bluestreak grinned. "Will do, Prime." With that he left the Autobot leader alone in the secondary office close to the command center.
Optimus took a file he had carried with him from the office and inserted it into the computer. Looks like I really can't let go of my work, he mused silently, a wry smile flashing through his optics.
A chart appeared, showing a flat line that spiked several times, then went down again. It was an energy surge, recorded by accident around the time Rodimus and Wild Card, and with them the two humanoids Jeff Winters and Shanygn, had been down in the corridor to the sealed chamber, looking for a way out. They had been able to determine the time by several reports, one even of Grimlock and the other Dinobots. Optimus remembered that he wanted to talk to the Dinobot leader today and was expecting him. Luckily his schedule was no longer as tightly packed as it had been mere days ago and he could spare some necessary time for some talks he had wanted to have right after the Vector Sigma events.
Rodimus had been debriefed about the events down in the tunnel before he had left for Earth and Optimus had made some notes about what his young second-in-command had told him. Especially about the strange hum he had heard and the feeling of Matrix energy burning through him. Like Shanygn had suspected, when Rodimus had been assaulted by the energy, Optimus had been affected as well. It had been the time Midnight had felt the lethal energy as well, lethal for him. He had nearly died through the energy surge, something Optimus had yet to get over. Alpha Trion had, in a way, apologized for it, but Optimus Prime couldn't forgive him. Somehow, this action had taken the pedestal he had put Alpha Trion on away. Forever. As his creator, Alpha Trion had held a very special place, but since he had merged with Vector Sigma, a lot had changed. And Optimus Prime had changed as well. Somehow he felt like his whole world had collapsed around him or as if someone had punched him real hard, getting him back to a reality that was harsher than he had ever dared to imagine. For Vector Sigma, the Sentinels were enemies to a certain degree. The hatred of generations of Autobots had tainted the mega computer as well as the Matrix, turning the rather benevolent energy into a malevolent, lethal weapon against the Sentinels, once enemies of every Cybertronian. Optimus would never be able to forgive either Alpha Trion or Vector Sigma that he had intentionally attacked the Sentinel leader and nearly killed him.
'He was about to interfere' was no reason in Prime's opinion to kill someone! Especially since Wild Card, who had entered the chamber before any other Sentinel, had not been attacked with the same ferocity.
"Optimus Prime wanted to talk to me Grimlock," a deep voice said and jerked Optimus out of his thoughts.
The massive form of the Dinobot leader stood in the doorway, his blue visor glinting in the artificial light. He was not in his dino mode, something which Prime had noted he rarely took on anymore when he wasn't in battle. He had no idea why. Banishing his dark thoughts about Vector Sigma and Alpha Trion he nodded.
"Yes, Grimlock, come in." Optimus gestured for him to close the door and Grimlock complied.
The Dinobot leader looked at the reports on Prime's desk in the command center and seemed to frown. "You still work too much, Optimus Prime," he stated.
Optimus chuckled, a part of him noticing with curiosity that Grimlock's speech pattern had subtly changed in the last years.
"Maybe. Now to why I called you, Grimlock. I want to know what you experienced when Vector Sigma was activated."
Grimlock tilted his head a bit. "Not Vector Sigma who made strange sound," he then said calmly.
"Not Vector Sigma?" Prime echoed, frowning a bit. "What was it then."
Grimlock sighed. "Me not sure," he then answered. "Strange sound, coming from deep inside Cybertron. Gave Dinobots headache. Silhouette felt as well."
So all Dinobots, with no single exception, had felt it. That Silhouette had felt it as well showed that it had nothing to do with age or programming. Silhouette was slightly different from the other Dinobots, which started with the fact that she was a female and ended with the likewise fact that her mind was that of a former humanoid.
Grimlock touched his head. "Very short sound, very deep. No one could hear but Dinobots. Like music, maybe."
"Music." Optimus thoughtfully rubbed his chin, looking at the chart again. "Did you store the time you experienced the sound, Grimlock?"
To his surprise, the Dinobot leader nodded. Optimus gave him the chart.
"Does the time fit?"
"It fits," Grimlock answered, his voice holding a strange tone, sounding clearer in those two words than throughout the previous minutes. He gave back the chart. "What is happening, Optimus?"
"I'm not sure, Grimlock, but I want to find out."
"Tell Grimlock if he can help. Dinobots not like sound. We all help find source." A bemused expression crossed his face. "Except sister. She on Earth with Rodimus."
Optimus nearly burst into a chuckle when he heard the way Grimlock said it. "I will call you, thanks, Grimlock," he told the Dinobot with a straight voice.
Grimlock left the office and Optimus leaned back into his chair, only now giving in to a chuckle. Well, he should have guessed that Grimlock knew about Rodimus and Sil, especially since he had been on Earth lately. Considering that the Dinobot had also done everything to discourage any Autobot showing interest in Silhouette, making only one exception in the form of Rodimus, it should not have come as so much a surprise.
Still smiling Optimus got his thoughts back on the chart and stored it again, taking the next report in the file, equally about the power surge. He was nearly through reading it when there was a tentative knock on the door. He looked up and felt a mixture of different feelings course through him. One of them was dread. The dread didn't come from the appearance of his visitor, who was like a black hole moving into the room, swallowing the light around himself, sucking it in as if he needed it to exist. His slim figure produced a nearly menacing feeling, though from his size and overall built he would have lost any bet who of the two robots now in the command room would win.
"Can I talk to you?" Midnight said calmly.
Optimus nodded. "Of course. I thought you were on Alean, Midnight."
"I was. I checked some things and thought I should come back. Optimus, we need to talk."
Prime's eyes were drawn to the yellow vein-like tubes crossing through some parts of the artificial skin covering Midnight's body. One of the tubes showed grey scarring and Optimus knew exactly where this scarring had come from.
"About what?" he asked neutraly.
Midnight spread his hands. "Oh, please, Optimus! Don't you think I noticed that you walk around me as if I were a raw egg?" he asked, using a colloquial term from Earth. No wonder considering his Interface partner was human. "Throughout the whole meeting on Earth you evaded me or we exchanged superfluous words! Hell, I want to clear this between us before you flow over with guilt and I get a nervous breakdown!"
Not very diplomatic, but Midnight had never been the one to beat around the bush. Optimus tried to get his emotions back under control. He had been the one who had hurt, nearly killed, the Sentinel and all the scars the young robot had been left with, inside and out, were his fault. It was a miracle he hadn't died and Optimus had expected the Sentinels to change their attitude toward the Autobots because of this accident. Rodimus had told him in no uncertain terms that this would not be the case and he had been right.
"Optimus," the black robot continued calmly, "I've been through worse and I survived. If I were a person to hold grudges because of things that couldn't be controlled or where done because of false perceptions, I'd not be here today. I know that this was not your fault. You didn't do this intentionally, it was an accident!"
"An accident that should never have happened," Optimus stated flatly.
"Maybe not, but it did. I survived, it's over for now. Some Sentinels have always been very sensitive to the Matrix, me especially. I don't know why, I don't really want to know why, but I live with it. It's a fact of life for me and Steve and I are a pretty good team shutting out the radiation." He leaned forward. "Optimus, this self-recrimination has to stop! We have already enough problems on our hands without the Autobot leader wallowing in guilt."
Optimus smiled in amusement. "Rodimus said you'd react this way," he told the other one.
"He knows me too well," Midnight grumbled slightly, but with an equal smile flashing over the green visor. "Okay, listen, Optimus, we can't handle this as if it never happened. It did, it hurt people, it left its marks."
Optimus winced and looked at the scars again. Midnight followed his optics.
"It's neither painful, nor is it a bother," he added as if he read the Autobot's thoughts. "We have to go on from here, all right? We can't stay and think 'what if...?'. It's no use!"
The Autobot leader nodded slowly. "All right. I just want you to know that I'm sorry for what Vector Sigma did."
Midnight nodded. "You are apologizing for a being that thought it had a reason. It's not that I can say I understand it, but, well...." he shrugged and smiled. Then he leaned forward again and glanced at the report. "You are at the energy flux thing again?"
Optimus accepted the change of topic and nodded, giving Midnight the report. The Sentinel leader read over it and made a thoughtful noise.
"Interesting. Any idea what form of energy it was?"
"No." Optimus shook his head. "We can't identify it, but it originated from the chamber behind Vector Sigma. And I intend to find out what it was."
"Count me in on that."

* * *

Nightmare's optics were pinned on the five individuals in the valley taking samples of raw energon and running tests with it. All of them were colored in a mustard greenish yellow and dark purple, looking like they belonged to a team used to working together. He had no idea who they were, but their transformation mode implied they were workers. Two had already dug a deep hole into the ground, constructing a machine he had no idea what it was for. He only knew that they were sampling the blue energon veins running deep under the valley's ground. And he had recognized them as Decepticons. Their insignia were brightly visible.
With them were several more Decepticons, two of which he recognized. A female called Raven and an old friend, Soundwave.
"They came back, oi, oi, oi," Bat muttered unhappily.
Nightmare nodded slowly. Yes, they had come back, something which he had expected to happen. The news that the energon he was seeking was deadly and could only be converted by a complicated method, and then wouldn't produce enough energon cubes to be really effective, would not hold Megatron. Galvatron, he corrected himself. Megatron had ceased to officially exist.
The Decepticon ship had shown up several Crea hours ago, landing not far from the Deareehm Mountains where Nightmare hat met Raven and Soundwave for the first time. Bat had seen them land and had informed him immediately of the arrival of more of his former kind.
"What now, boss?" the little lizard wanted to know.
"I'm not sure, Bat," he answered hesitantly. "If they stay here, no problem, but as our luck has been going lately they will move."
Bat moaned softly.
"And if they do," Nightmare continued darkly, "so do we. First priority now is to protect the doorway."
"You would really fight them?" Bat asked.
"Yes."
"Oi."
Nightmare turned and walked carefully away, making sure he wouldn't be seen. If it came down to fighting, he was prepared to defend the doorway and, if all else failed, destroy it. It was what he had been ordered to do so long ago.

* * *

He had explored the station for three days now. At least three days concerning the cycles on this station. Starscream had discovered that the station was going through some kind of routine that began again and again and consisted mainly of shutting down parts and firing up the next one. It also rotated slightly, turning to and from the far away sun of the alien, unknown system he was in.
The station as such was more or less empty. There was no living soul on board, and only one dead one, Starscream thought darkly as he drifted back along the corridor leading out of the giant, black hall that contained the equally gigantic ring. And the body of Alyssa Dycran. Rage coursed through him again. The gate, or whatever it was, had killed his host body and with it the only creature that might prove to be some kind of distraction from the fact that he was alone. He hated to be alone. He craved for some company, any company, even human one. But no one was here, except for him.
The whole alien structure seemed to be made of a metal alloy looking like bluish black quartz. The walls were smooth and shining softly, shedding the only light when the station's routine told it to shut down some parts. Starscream had yet to find the main control or a control room. He had no idea where he was. None at all. One of the major changes for him had been the fact that he could no longer pass through objects, which was an obstacle where rooms and corridors were concerned. If the station shut down a part, everything was dead and no door would open. He wasn't really physical here, but he was no longer a ghost either.
As the Decepticon ghost returned to the vast hall something struck him right away. Dycran's body was gone. He rushed over to the spot in front of the giant rings, staring at the empty place. That couldn't be! He had left the dead humanoid here three cycles ago and he had been sure she was dead! She couldn't be alive!
"Where are you?" he yelled and turned in a circle. "Show yourself!"
But no one answered and nothing happened. As always there was only the silent station, the soft blue light and the gigantic ring.
Starscream gave a scream of rage and anger. Someone had taken his host's body and disposed of it! He would not tolerate this! His ectoplasmic body flaring with angry energy he walked out of the hall again, continuing his search, driven by an inner fury he had never felt like this before.

* * *

-- Replication unsuccessful --
-- Switching to alternative design --
-- Processing --

* * *

The moment he exited the Gate he knew something had gone wrong. Spook looked around the emptiness of space, frowning slightly, his optics roaming the surrounding space for a trace of what he had thought to find here.
Cybertron was gone.
But these were the old coordinates! Cursing softly he ignited his thruster, floating around and searching. He was low on energy and he reminded himself once again that he should have finished the kill. At least this way he would have an acceptable energy level now after the Gating.
His heightened senses found an exhaust trail and he groaned. They had moved the planet! Whose dumb idea had that been?
Spook activated his scanners and locked onto the exhaust trail, which was several years old, but still visible for him. He extended his wings and followed the trail like a bloodhound.

* * *

On Earth Rodimus Prime was just returning from a visit to the city when Blaster called him.
"There's a message comin' in from the main man on Cybertron," the communications expert told him in his usual cheerful voice.
"I'll get it in my office," Rodimus affirmed and transformed as he entered Autobot City.
The message was short, but held a slightly worrying note. Crea? Why would the Decepticons return to the lonely planet? Rodimus frowned and set a call out for Silhouette, who was on the premises. Labyrinth might be harder to get, since he had returned to Nebulos for his research, but he nevertheless sent a message off.
Silhouette entered the office several minutes later, dusting herself off. She looked like she had fallen into barrel of flour. Rodimus suppressed a chuckle.
"Don't even ask," she grumbled as he closed the door and approached.
"What happened to you?" he wanted to know nevertheless.
The female Dinobot sighed. "Brothers," she then said. "Swoop discovered that it is great fun to play crop duster." She grimaced. "And since he can still see his targets while they are inside an artificial snowstorm he won the game. He only hit me because my beeper went off....."
Rodimus laughed and earned a nasty look from her while Sil ineffectively tried to get rid of the dust coating.
"What's up?" she then wanted to know.
"The Decepticons are back on Crea," the Autobots' second told her and Sil immediately stopped her cleaning.
"What?"
He nodded seriously. "Prime got a report in and it looks like there is something very interesting for the Decepticons on that planet." He gave her a curious look.
Silhouette suddenly appeared slightly indecisive, which strengthened Rodimus' suspicions that something had happened on Crea which she had not decided to tell. He had had those suspicions since she and Labyrinth had returned from the planet. Sil had given a short report about a relatively harmless encounter with the Decepticons, namely Raven and Soundwave, which had only been so harmless because all three had been stuck in a canyon after an earthquake and had had to depend on each other for survival. All throughout her debriefing Rodimus had felt she had hidden something, but he had never challenged her about it. He trusted Sil to report potential dangers for the Autobots.
"Oh," she finally muttered.
"Do you have an idea what it might be?" he asked neutraly.
"Me? Why? No, I don't think so."
Rodimus frowned. Labyrinth had told them about some findings, that Crea had not been as uninhabited throughout the millennia as they had always thought, and that there was a lethal kind of energon there, which could not be used as supplies. But what else was there?
"Sil, what are you hiding?" he asked bluntly.
She flinched a bit, then shook her head. "I made a promise," she said softly.
He took her arms and forced her to look at him. "To whom? Sil, this might be important! There has to be a good reason as to why Galvatron is moving back to a planet that should hold no interest for him!"
Her blue optics flashed with uncertainty.
"Sil!"
She tore herself out of his grasp and paced the room. "Maybe it's the energon," she then said, trying not to answer his question. "Maybe he thinks he can refine it into a usable form."
Rodimus' frown deepened even more. Maybe. Galvatron would try anything to get energon supplies. It was a reason, true, but she had still not answered his question.
"What happened on Crea, Sil?" he asked calmly.
She turned back to him, her eyes burning with an inner fire. "I made a promise, Rodimus, I can't break it!"
"To whom?" he demanded.
She shook her head.
"The Decepticons?"
"No."
The Autobots' second rubbed his head. "Damnit, Sil, if this corrupts our mission...."
"What mission?"
"Prime wants you and Labyrinth and me to go to Crea to take a look at things. I also put together a small team that will accompany us there...."
Silhouette looked outright shocked for a second, then got her composure back. He approached her, gently laying his hands on her shoulders.
"I respect that you made a promise," he told her gently, forcing himself to stay calm, "but can you guarantee me that this won't endanger us?"
She fought an inner battle, then sighed. "Not really, no."
"The one you made the promise to," he prodded carefully, "might he be the reason why Galvatron came to Crea again?"
Sil frowned. "No. Not if ...."
"Not if what."
She sighed explosively. "Not if Soundwave and Raven didn't break their own promise."
"What?!" Rodimus nearly shouted.
Sil flinched a bit, averting her eyes.
"What the hell happened on this planet?" he now demanded, ready to shake her until she spilled the story.
If Soundwave and Raven had promised the same thing to whoever Silhouette had met there, then this had to be something big. Why would two Decepticons not tell their own leader about this meeting? What was it about this mysterious stranger?
"I can't!" she shouted back, moving away from him. "I made a promise!"
"And I won't lead a team to Crea if I don't get all the facts!" he ground out, refraining from shouting back. It would lead to nothing. "This might be dangerous."
"The only danger is coming from the Decepticons there, Roddy, please be believe me. He said he's neutral and I believe it. He won't attack!"
Rodimus shook his head, feeling like giving a frustrated yell. "What if he lied?"
"He didn't."
"What makes you so sure?"
Silhouette hesitated. "I .... I just know he told the truth."
"Sil, please ....."
She shook slightly, indecision written all over her face.
"Don't make me order you to tell me," he added.
Silhouette gave a frustrated groan, her mind awhirl. What could she say without breaking a promise? "His name is Nightmare," she finally said, her voice laced with still lingering indecision as to what she had done now. "He's neither Autobot, nor Decepticon, and all he wants s to be left alone."
Rodimus mulled that over. It didn't sound like it was the whole truth; something was still missing. "Why would Soundwave promise not to tell Galvatron about this neutral party?" he then asked.
Silhouette rubbed her head with both hands. "Roddy...." she begged.
"Why, Sil?" he repeated, this time much sharper. This was going beyond mere friendship. Whatever his relationship with her was, had become lately, she was still a member of the Autobots and he was her leader in Prime's absence. He had to know!
"Soundwave knew him," she finally said, pacing through the office. "From the past. He said he'd agree to the status quo, that Nightmare is neutral."
"Why?"
"What do you want me to tell you?" she exploded.
"The truth!" he shot back.
"Hell, I can't! I made a promise!"
"Who is this Nightmare?" Rodimus demanded.
"Not the enemy!" she yelled. "If the Decepticons returned to Crea then it is because of the energon source there! Maybe Galvatron thinks he can use it, maybe he found a way to make it usable for our kind! I don't know, Rodimus! All I know is that Nightmare is not the topic here! He's not a Decepticon and he is not the enemy!"
He noticed that she had unsheathed her talons and her eyes were glowing with the intensity of the outburst. Silhouette had a temper, he knew, and she normally never let it slip while among the other Autobots. In a game with her brothers she used it to fight back against the much larger Dinobots, but in robot mode she was always calm. Mostly, that was, he thought with a faint smile.
"All right," Rodimus said with forced calm after some time. "All right, I accept this. If this Nightmare turns out to be more than just neutral and sides with the Decepticons ...."
"He won't," she interrupted him, talons still out.
Rodimus nodded, approaching her again. "Sil, you have to understand...." he began.
She glared at him. "I made a promise and I honor those promises, Rodimus Prime," she told him coolly and he stopped in his tracks. "I subjected to your position, but don't you ever do that again!" With that she turned on her heel and left the office.
When the door closed after her, Rodimus leaned back against the window and gave a low groan. I wish I had had another choice, Sil, he thought with regret. But I can't respect a promise to an unknown robot on an unknown world when the Decepticons are up and about on this planet. It's my job to be careful!
He thumped his fist against the wall and then straightened. He had a lot to prepare for the flight to Crea and hopefully this would take his mind off things.

*

Silhouette was furious with anger. She had never felt like this before. How could he have dared to make her break her promise? True, she had been able to successfully hold back on some information, but she had nevertheless revealed some facts. She felt cheated by him, terrible disappointed and very hurt. Promises given by her people were honored and held high. If someone gave a promise and broke it, it meant personal shame and dishonor for the whole family. Since she couldn't apply the term family to her parents by birth anymore, she saw this dishonor now falling onto the Dinobots, as her brothers, and Carly Witwicky and First Aid as her 'parents'. They had created her body, her robot body. Traditional thoughts were still deeply etched into her thinking and behavior, and it was hard for her to go against them.
But she was no longer humanoid.
Transforming into her raptor mode she decided to leave Autobot City until the shuttle to Cybertron took off. She had to get her mind straight about this. A part of her was still humanoid, from a planet she had forgotten everything about of, and then there was her robot side, which she was still learning about and which presented her surprises every day. Right now she was in a dilemma that was harder to solve than her nightmares from a not long ago.
She sighed deeply.

* * *

Raven used the currents of wind to glide through the cloudy afternoon sky. Some snow covered the ground, but it was already melting away in this part of the valley. She was aiming for the Deareehm Mountains, the place she had met Nightmare the first time. The further she flew away from the Decepticons on Crea, the more she worried about someone taking her long reconnaissance mission as more as it really was. Cyclonus had only nodded when she had told him she'd take a look around and try to find larger veins of blue energon. Soundwave had looked at her, silently, calmly, then turned away. He had not even contacted her by mind.
She scanned the ground, trusting in her instincts to guide her to the one who would be able to answer all her questions, she hoped. Or at least part of them. She also wanted to tell him the truth about why Galvatron was here. Suddenly she spotted a small lizard with wings, gliding on the currents as she was. It was Nightmare's companion, Bat. He glided up to her level, then slightly tilted his wings and rushed down. She took it as an invitation and followed.
Bat guided her through the mountains toward another valley, where he landed on a bare tree. She chose not to stay in bird mode and transformed, touching down, her feet sinking slightly into the snow on the ground. There was still ice below the snow.
"Why did you return?" a dark voice asked and she turned, discovering the dark blue and black horse-like robot stepping away from a cluster of rocks. His red eyes were burning from within.
Bat glided over to his partner and landed on his usual place between his curling horns.
"Galvatron wanted to see for himself whether the energon can't be used," she answered calmly, though his scrutinizing look unnerved her.
"He doesn't know about me?"
"Soundwave and I made a promise," she reminded him, a bit of anger creeping into her voice. "We didn't break it."
Nightmare snorted and came closer. "I believe you. If he were looking for me this planet would be crawling with Decepticons." His ears twitched. "But still..... there are enough of his forces here to make my life quite hard." His red eyes locked onto her again.
"What is your life here?" she asked. "Why are you here? If you were hiding you'd have disappeared right after we had discovered you."
Nightmare looked at her, then sighed. "You are too curious for your own good."
Raven touched her Decepticon symbol, then removed it with one quick pull, revealing her other insignia.
Bat gave a startled exclamation. Nightmare's eyes flashed as he saw the intricate pattern on her chest. "I suspected you were different," he then said softly, "but I didn't know you were one of the Ancients."
She nodded. "And you were marked by those who created me. You are a Gatekeeper, correct?"
Their optics met. "Come with me, Raven,"  Nightmare then said slowly. "I think we have a lot to talk about."

* * *

SkyLynx shuttled Rodimus Prime and his team to Cybertron on the fastest possible route. To his immediate pride and joy he beat his own record by two minutes, something none of the others seemed to appreciate, though it didn't bother him as he settled down for a refuel.
Optimus Prime noticed right at the beginning of the briefing that something was not exactly on the best of terms between Rodimus and Silhouette. The way she avoided him showed that only too clearly. While the rest of the team went out to prepare for the continuing flight to Crea, Optimus held his young second back.
"Rodimus, what's going on?" he asked bluntly.
"Going on?" Rodimus echoed.
"I know it's rather personal and I won't ask further if you don't want me to know, but what in the name of Primus happened between you and Sil?"
Rodimus flinched a bit, then sighed. "My position as second-in-command got between us," he then said, grimacing a bit. "You read the report about what she and Labyrinth found on Crea?"
Optimus nodded. "Signs that someone had been there long ago. Or are we talking about the two Decepticons?"
"Both." Rodimus leaned against the conference table. "She didn't only find two Decepticons, but apparently another robot as well. She claims he's neutral, taking no side at all. Apparently he helped the three to get out of the canyon after the quake."
Prime's optics narrowed. "She never said anything about this."
"You see the problem?" Rodimus sighed. "Sil gave that guy a promise not to tell anyone about his existence and I used my position to get her to at least a point where she told me that his name is Nightmare and that he is neutral."
Optimus began to understand. "You asked her to break her promise and she did," he clarified.
Rodimus winced. "Not really, no. She is still hiding things, but she swore that this Nightmare means no harm and won't take sides, even if push comes to shove." He shook his head.
The Autobot leader looked sympathetic. "Burden of a leader," he then said with a slight smile as Rodimus sighed deeply again.
"Tell me another one. But it was never so hard, Optimus. I never had to order someone to break a promise."
It was true that in the few years as Autobot he had never had to order anyone to do anything that went against a promise given to someone else. Rodimus Prime had tried to be understanding of personal problems, to help solve those problems, and if it didn't work, find another way. Sil's situation was something completely new and unexpected, especially of her, and he was troubled by what he had done to her.
Optimus nodded. "Yes, but there is always a first time and you were correct to do it, Rodimus. If there is a dangerous situation on Crea we have to know all about it."
"I don't think that taking Sil along will make it any better," the young second muttered.
"Agreed, but she has a unique knowledge of this planet and its inhabitant, Nightmare. You might need this knowledge."
"I know, I know." Rodimus sighed deeply again. "Anything on when Labyrinth will join us?"
"No. Brainstorm said he'd relay the message, but first he has to find Labyrinth. Apparently he has gone into the old city of the Hive, doing research." Optimus smiled again. "He'll be with you as fast as possible. Until then we have his research on the planet and we also have reports on where the Decepticons have landed. Rodimus, I don't want an engagement of your team with them in any fights," the Autobot leader said seriously. "Just get me a report on what exactly they are doing."
"What about Nightmare?"
Optimus frowned. "If he shows up, get what you can on him. If he doesn't show up, don't search for him. We might have enough problems with the Decepticons on Crea."
"All right," Rodimus agreed and looked out of the window through which he could see the South port where their shuttle was readied.
Their departure would be in two standard hours, enough time to get ready for this, not enough time to maybe talk to Sil again.
"Leave her alone for now," Optimus said as if he had read his thoughts.
"Huh?"
"I said give her some space, Rodimus. She's angry, but this will soon be over. Trust me."
Rodimus sighed. "Yeah, I guess so." He straightened. "I'll go over Lab's reports again." With that he left the conference room.
Optimus looked after him with a bemused expression crossing his features. He knew that it had been hard for his second-in-command to order Silhouette, whom he felt rather close to, to tell him about Nightmare, but Optimus also knew that she would get past her momentary anger. He remembered only too vividly when Aleeta had been mad at him for similar reasons. She had yelled at him, then stormed out of the room, but she had been unable to stay angry once reason had set in. Being leader meant making decisions even though you knew it would anger others, maybe even alienate them if they wanted to hold a grudge. He had experienced similar reactions throughout his time as Autobot leader and he knew he would always anger one or another with what he had to do. It was a fact of life.

*

Outside the conference room, Shanygn followed Silhouette until they were standing alone in the entrance hall.
"Sil!" she called and approached the Dinobot.
Silhouette stopped and looked down on the much smaller humanoid in her red and grey exo-suit. Whenever Shanygn was also wearing her helmet it was hard to tell if the animalistic being approaching you was a  small Cybertronian or just an exo-suit clad human. There had been more than one occasion when an Autobot, who hadn't known about her up until now, had mistaken her for one of his own. Shanygn had once said she found it flattering, but she'd still prefer to be recognized as a humanoid.
"What the heck happened between you and Roddy?" the blue-haired woman asked bluntly.
Silhouette winced a bit, then shook her head. "Nothing."
"I know that nothing happened," Shanygn replied with a wry grin, "I want to know why nothing happened."
Sil's optics narrowed and she felt torn between a witty come-back as to what Shanygn had implied with her words, and being dismissive. She decided she wasn't in the mood for bantering. "It's personal."
"Oh, right. And I'm just his Interface partner, correct? Listen, Sil, he's been starting to shield massively since we left Earth and I hate nothing more than static noise in my mind!" Her hands were on her hips and she glared at Silhouette. "Do you know how it feels to mentally go up against a wall? It's frustrating and creates major headaches! And I get very cranky whenever I have a headache! Adding to a mental wall is Roddy's refusal to even give me a hint as to what happened, so I had to go and find out myself." The glare of the blue eyes turned rather nasty. "This is no small disagreement, right? It's massive."
Silhouette looked through the empty entrance hall, then shrugged self-consciously. "We had a disagreement over certain .... aspects of out ... relationship."
"So?" Shanygn raised an eyebrow. "Happens in every relationship once in a while."
"He ordered me to break a promise!" the female Dinobot hissed, anger creeping into her voice.
Shanygn was silent for a second, contemplating his. "Then he had a reason, Sil," she finally told the her. "Roddy is not a prying person. If he were, he'd have bugged me about my past until I'd blasted him with a fusion cannon. He respects privacy as much as he can and for him to order you to break this promise you made, it has to be major."
Silhouette shook her head. "He said it was important for the safety of the mission to Crea, but it isn't!"
"How so? How can you decide this?"
Sil stopped, frowning. "Because I was directly involved in the events which I made a promise about not to relate to anyone. I can judge it."
Shanygn shook her head again. "You don't understand the position he's in, Sil. Rodimus is responsible for every Autobot on the team -- including my humble self -- and he has the right to be informed of what he might find there. We know already that there are Decepticons on Crea, but what else will pop up is everybody's guess. If you know something that might later prove to be important, maybe even vital for the mission, then you have to report it!"
Silhouette hissed in frustration. "You don't understand it either! I was taught that promises made are to be honored! To break a promise without the one you made it to being present and agreeing to it.... you are worse than a traitor! You are dishonorable, and your family will carry this burden and shame as you do! I made this promise! I have to honor it!"
The humanoid sighed softly, already knowing that her next words would most likely separate them even further. "I understand, I really do. Tradition and background culture are hard to ignore. My own family regarded me as beyond their notice, a cripple and a handicap for them. I had a hard time to accept that the Sentinels and their Interfaces treated me like anyone else. The things your family tells you and what you learn throughout your live will always be in your mind." She pinched her nose, as if she felt a headache coming up, then looked at Silhouette again. "But there is something you have to remind yourself of: you are no longer humanoid. You are an Autobot. You belong to a team now that needs you to be honest with them. Yes, promises should be honored, but not if it means letting the others run blindly into a major wall with sharp shooters on top! Rodimus is in command, he decides whether a piece of information is relevant or not! Do you think he wouldn't keep his mouth shut about whatever you reveal to him about those events on Crea? He's just worrying about the safety of the team here, not about some .... whatever it is you're hiding."
Sil snarled. "Neither of you understands!" she finally hissed and then strode away.
Shanygn watched her leave with a sad expression crossing her face. "Oh, but I do understand," she finally muttered. "It's not easy being two things in one, Silhouette, but you have to decide what you want to be." She shook her head and went back to the briefing room, hoping that this quarrel between Rodimus and Sil would not affect the mission.

* * *

Scrapper shook his head as he looked at the read-out screen. "Not good," he muttered.
Hook could only agree. They had nearly filled three hundred energon cubes and then processed them through a machine they had constructed in the last five days and which should, in theory, cleanse the blue energon of the lethal ingredient. But it had not worked to their, and Galvatron's, satisfaction. The energon cubes had not even been enough to fill one cube with red, nourishing energon.
Bonecrusher gave a frustrated snarl and began to work on the machine again, aided by Long Haul and Mixmaster. Galvatron stood beside Scrapper, his arms crossed in front of his chest, a scowl on his face.
"What is the problem?" he asked.
Scrapper turned, once again slightly confused by the rather mild reaction of the Decepticon leader to this new failure. Even though he still had Galvatron's body, the mind was more that of Megatron than it had ever been.
"The energon is too tainted with the blue component, which is the lethal ingredient in this mixture," he explained. "The moment we extract the component, the nourishing factor of the energon vanishes as well. The remains are edible, but to fill one cube we need more than three hundred of the refined cubes." The Constructicon looked doubtful. "It's a long process without presentable results."
Galvatron frowned. "Keep at it, Scrapper," he ordered. "If this vein runs dry, move on."
Scrapper nodded. "Maybe the energon somewhere else on the planet is better suited for our needs."
"Buzzsaw, Laserbeak, Ratbat and Raven are already scouting for other deposits," Galvatron informed him and looked over to where Soundwave was apparently doing nothing but standing like rooted to the spot. But the communications expert was in constant contact with his three cassettes.
Scrapper and Hook nodded, then turned back to their work.
Galvatron walked over to Soundwave, looking briefly over to his second-in-command, Cyclonus, who was scanning the surroundings.
"What is the word from your spies?" the Decepticon leader asked.
"Ratbat has discovered a large energon deposit, but it reads the same as this vein," Soundwave answered in his monotonous voice. "Buzzsaw and Laserbeak report the same."
"What about Raven?"
Soundwave looked at his leader. "Nothing new yet," he then answered.
Galvatron scrutinized the other robot, somehow unsure what to make of this answer. Raven was a member of the Decepticons he had yet be really sure about. He didn't know her and her reasons for joining the his forces were dubious. He knew she and Cyclonus were close, and even though he had had his doubts how a female presence would influence his warriors, she had fit in quite well. Some of his warriors were not on the best of terms with her, mainly because she was such a strange character, but then a lot of the Decepticons had enmities among themselves as well.
That she was a healer gained her points, just like the fact that she was a terrific spy, able to hide out and disguise herself with holograms when necessary. But then there was her origin, which was something she never talked about. Soundwave had researched the insignia she wore under her Decepticon symbol and had come up empty. There had never been a sighting of a race with her insignia. Cyclonus knew no more than his leader, and Galvatron was sure that his lieutenant wasn't hiding anything. Cyclonus had a rather intense relationship with Raven
Raven had been to Crea before, he knew, and like Soundwave she had been debriefed and had reported the strange, though lethal, blue energon. Soundwave had analyzed the energon in detail and told his leader that it wasn't usable for the Decepticons. Galvatron had accepted this at first, but after some thought about the debriefing and the feeling that something had happened on Crea he didn't know about, he had started this expedition. Soundwave had not lied, he knew, at least not directly. Maybe he had not told him everything, but he had told no lie. The same went for Raven. Something was here that neither of the two had mentioned, and he planned to find out what it was. The expedition was only a cover for a more intense search for something that didn't belong to this planet. That was where the Sweeps came in. They were scanning for anything abnormal.
The Decepticon leader left Soundwave alone and walked over to Cyclonus. "Anything from Scourge or the Sweeps?" he asked.
"One of them reported in a kind of force field made up out of blue energon west of here," his lieutenant answered.
A glint appeared in Galvatron's red optics. "A force field of blue energon? Interesting. I think this calls for a closer investigation. Cyclonus, you are with me."
With that Galvatron took off, closely followed by Cyclonus.
Soundwave watched them go. He could call Raven and tell her about the departure of the Decepticon leader. Yes, he could do that, but he wouldn't. He had made a promise, which he hadn't broken, and if Raven had decided to risk going off on her own, then he would respect it.

* * *

Starscream stood in a room which he had not seen before. The station had yet again switched off part of itself, and he had been in a corridor of a part that had been turned on instead. A door had opened as if activated by his presence. The room behind the door was shaped like an oval, very high and made of the same dark quartz material as the rest of the station. There were strange cylinders stacked up to the ceiling, all closed, all having several glass-like cable leading toward one central construction looking like a golden globe. Starscream drifted carefully closer. The globe reminded him strongly of Vector Sigma, though it was much smaller and the honey-combed surface was not glowing. Thinly cut grooves were arranged into a strange pattern on the southern hemisphere of the globe and the cables ended in the south pole. He stretched out one hand and touched it.
"Ow!"
With a cry of pain he stepped back, his hand burning as if he had touched corrosive acid. The light in the room shifted subtly.
-- Scanning new pattern -- a soft voice suddenly said and a light shot from no apparent source in the ceiling, enveloping him.
"What?" Starscream tried to move away from the light, but found he couldn't move. "Where are you? Who is there?" he demanded.
-- Pattern recognized -- the voice said. -- Initiating file 5/G --
"I am Starscream!" the Decepticon ghost screamed. "I demand ..."
The light changed color and he gasped as something tore into him. He didn't feel any pain, just a sense of getting stretched.....
-- Proceeding --
And then came the pain. He cried as his ectoplasmic body was torn apart molecule by molecule. He couldn't move away from the light and there was only the soft, gentle voice around him.
-- Replication in process --
-- Chamber activated --
And then there was only nothing.

* * *

They had landed several kilometers away from the Decepticon base. Rodimus had sent out two teams to keep an eye on the Decepticon movement, then had gone over the scans they had made while in orbit. It had been a quick orbit, mainly because there had been the danger that they could be spotted.
"They are moving slowly," Hound said as he entered the shuttle. "Mirage reports that Galvatron and Cyclonus have taken off from their current base camp and are flying toward the mountain range we saw when we came in."
Rodimus nodded, frowning a bit. "What about the others?"
"The Constructicons are staying put, but the Sweeps and with them Scourge are doing some kind of search pattern. Beats me what they are looking for since the cassettes are out as well. What do you want to do? Should Cliffjumper and Mirage go after the two?"
Rodimus shook his head. "No, I'll take a closer look at what they are up to myself." He rose from his chair, giving Hound a grin. "I need to stretch my legs anyway."
Hound looked doubtful. "Someone should accompany you, Rodimus. It's dangerous."
"Yo, big guy, what about me?" Shanygn asked while checking her armor. She had dressed up in her exo-suit just before they had landed and, much to Rodimus' initial surprise, had apparently upgraded her defense system.
"No offense, Shanygn, but I doubt you can hold off more than one Decepticon," Hound told her with a placating smile.
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "That's one more than if I don't accompany him." She slammed her helmet shut.
Hound exchanged a startled look with Rodimus, who only shrugged, grinning. Hound was one of those Autobots who looked at humans and saw fragile creatures that needed to be protected. That Shanygn was an experienced warrior and had more at her disposal than the average human was something that he still had to cope with.
"I will come with him as well," a cool voice said and the two Autobots discovered Silhouette, who had just entered the shuttle.
"Well, then that's settled," Rodimus said with a smile and left, Silhouette and Shanygn in tow. He didn't even want to know why she had volunteered, since her attitude had not changed one bit. She was still keeping her distance from him, exchanging no more words than absolutely necessary.
Outside Rodimus affirmed the coordinates from what Hound had told him, then transformed. Silhouette did the same, without a single word, and they left. She effortlessly kept pace with his car mode, her velociraptor mode quite fast. Shanygn followed them in her airborne mode, wisely keeping her mouth shut about the whole team-up.

Hound shook his head as he watched them go. He didn't like it that Rodimus was venturing out alone, but he was reminded that this was apparently a treat of leaders. Optimus Prime was no better when it came to missions. He sighed and returned back tot he command center of the shuttle.

* * *

Spook found Cybertron after the third dead end he had followed the exhaust trail to. They had moved the planet so often that it now was in a part of space he had never suspected it to be. What had gotten into them? Well, no matter where it was, he had found it and now the tricky part of his mission was about to begin. He had to get to the control chamber without getting seen by the many Cybertronians on the former factory planet. He had no idea how good their security systems now worked and whether they were scanning the area where the entrance to the chamber was. He had to risk it.
Gating for a last time, he landed right on the planet's surface, though he hit the metal with a bit too much force than necessary. Shaking his head he looked around. He was in a warehouse area, which looked rather shabby and marred by the war he knew had lasted for a long time on this planet. Spook had never followed who had won or what it had been about. His sources had only once told him that there was a civil war, but since he had other matters that were much more important, he had never questioned his contact further. That had been a long time ago.
Spook searched for the hatchway into the corridor and found it after some time. Inspecting it he found out that someone had opened it several times lately. Slithering into the corridor he saw more traces of intruders and when he discovered that the disguise mechanism of the side tunnel had been breached, it was proven that the control chamber had been found. With a sigh he entered the side tunnel.

*

The intruder alert went off and jerked Blaster out of a game of Monopoly with Eject and Goldbug.
"Whoa!" he exclaimed. "Somebody broke into the tunnel!" He swiveled his chair and hit a switch to get a connection to Optimus Prime. "Optimus, we got a major burglary going on in the sealed off sector."
"I'm on my way," the Autobot leader responded immediately.
Blaster confirmed, then shut off the alarm. "Wonder who fell in this time," he mused out aloud.

*

Optimus drove over to the entrance to the underground chamber, closely followed by Midnight, whom he had not been able to convince to stay away. Steve was coming along as well, though it was sometimes hard to determine whether the Interface was present or not. He could only be sure that the human was along for the rise because he had seen him phase into his robot partner. The process of a real Interface amazed Prime every time he saw it. It was so completely different to the Headmasters process, which he personally would never have approved off, had he known.
"If I stay out of the tunnel because I'm afraid it might happen again, then I can deactivate myself right away," the Sentinel leader had told him. "I will come along, Optimus. Whoever breached the seal might be dangerous. You might need some back-up."
Now they were walking along the tunnel leading to the intersection with the only way down into the secret chamber. Midnight scanned the ground and frowned.
"See those tracks?" he said and pointed at the smears on the ground.
Optimus nodded. It looked like some large, serpentine body had come past here. He wondered who the intruder really was. South continent security had not detected anyone coming through.
"Any ideas?" he asked.
"None so far," Midnight answered with a shrug. "Let's hope it's not hostile."
Optimus smiled wryly. "With our luck lately?" he remarked.
Midnight grinned wryly. "Only too true."
"Thanks for painting such a joyful picture," Steve muttered and Midnight chuckled.
They stopped at the now visible hole in the ground, which had until a few days ago been hidden by a remarkably sophisticated hologram. Perceptor had worked for days to shut it off. The Technobots, who been assigned to first take a look at the elevator shaft and then seal off the chamber, had repaired the elevator so it now functioned again and Optimus had no trouble getting down. Midnight would not have had any trouble even with a dysfunctional elevator. He could always fly down.
When they arrived on the ground floor, Midnight pulled his gun. "No need being careless," he said dryly.
Optimus could only agree. They carefully moved down the corridor and checked the door locks of the strange doors which even Perceptor had been unable to crack the code from. They remained closed and no one could say what was hidden behind them. All the locks were still intact and the smears were leading to the one room Optimus had hoped they wouldn't lead to.
"Our intruder is going straight for the sealed chamber," Midnight sighed and checked his weapon. "I guess we're in for a bit of trouble."
Optimus looked grim. "Hopefully not. Let's go."

* * *

-- Reconstruction complete --
-- Energizing chamber --
-- Merging --
-- Merging --

* * *

Raven had followed Nightmare for some time, gliding above him, always accompanied by the small lizard known as Bat. Now they had arrived at the end of a valley and what she saw nearly gave her an energy surge.
"A doorway," she breathed and stared at the giant structure in awe. She turned to Nightmare. "Then you are a Gatekeeper! How long has it been here?"
"Nearly since the birth of this world," Nightmare answered calmly.
Raven transformed and carefully approached the structure. "It's so incredible," she whispered. "So beautiful...."
Suddenly a deep bass sound rippled through her and she cringed away from it.
"What ....?"
"I suspected something like this," Nightmare said and transformed as well. A smile played over his lips.
Bat landed on his shoulder. "She's a wossname?" he chirped.
"Yes."
Raven turned to him again. "What does this mean?"
"Do you know the meaning of your insignia?" Nightmare asked in return and pointed at the symbol on her chest.
She touched it, brushing her finger tips over her mark. "I .... my role was that of a medic and a spy."
"That's not an answer. Do you know what this indicated means?"
She looked hesitant. "I only know that it didn't make me one of the warriors, for which I was despised and which is the reason I left my kind!" Anger flooded her when she remembered her days among her kind.
"You know that this means I'm a Gatekeeper," Nightmare told her and touched his own symbol. "You have seen the one of the warrior, maybe even the one of those entrusted with security." She nodded. "And then there is you." Nightmare smiled a bit at her suddenly ashamed expression. "Raven, you are nothing you need to be ashamed off," he said gently. "You are one of the most important factors in the doorway system."
The black female robot stared at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Not many of you were created and not many survived the first few years because the constant strain they were under broke them, destroyed the sensitive circuits necessary for their task. When it became obvious that there was a design flaw in the system, the Creators stopped the line and sought alternatives. Not many were acceptable. You, Raven, are one of the few Keys still alive and functional."
"Key?" she echoed, stunned.
Bat chuckled and his faceted eyes glittered in amusement. "Surprise!"
"You have circuitry and programs inside of you that can control a doorway, open it, align it to the wanted coordinates," Nightmare explained. "We Gatekeepers are only guardians. I can't align a doorway. I know some coordinates, but I could never turn the rings!"
"A Key," she whispered, shocked. "Why did I never know about it?"
"Because the design was discontinued. Those who were already created were activated, but their knowledge of what they really were was kept dormant. You were assigned new roles."
"Damn wossname," Bat added. He flapped his wings. "Artificially induced amnesia. Oi!"
Raven stared at the doorway, then at him. Her mind flashed back to her 'new role' she had been assigned. A spy, a healer, an outcast. Only because someone decided that she didn't need to know who she really was, what she was.
"And now?" she whispered. "What now?"
Nightmare sighed. "I have to ask you to remain silent about what you have seen and heard. No one can be allowed to know about the existence of the doorways, or that a Key is still alive."
She walked toward the doorway again and this time the deep bass tone was like a welcome music. It touched parts she had never thought she possessed. It was like an old friend.
"Galvatron is here," she then said. "I didn't lead him here, neither did Soundwave, but he might find this doorway."
Nightmare nodded, looking even more serious than before. "Then I will have to follow my orders given for that specific situation." She looked questioningly at him. "I will destroy it," he added calmly.
"But ...."
"Raven, it is my job as a Gatekeeper, it is what I am here for. The doorways are not to be used by anyone. It is what I have been ordered to do."
She only nodded, her eyes drawn to the doorway again, feeling a foreboding, dreaded knowledge rise inside her.

* * *
 
Rodimus put down the binoculars and looked at his silent companion. Silhouette had not said any more than necessary throughout the last hour and it was getting ridiculous, but still Rodimus felt a certain stubbornness himself. If she had decided to pout, so be it. As long as she performed her duty it was perfectly all right with him. Shanygn had kept her quiet so far, telepathically speaking, and it surprised him. Normally she was the first to talk to him when she noticed major screw-ups.
"Any idea where this leads?" he asked.
"No. The mountain range behind us is called Deareehm Mountains. That's where we were trapped throughout the earthquake. I've never been further away." She looked past him down into the narrow valley. "I know we exited the tunnels beneath the mountains into this valley. Then Lab joined me and you arrived."
Rodimus merely nodded. "Galvatron and Cyclonus are heading straight toward the end of this valley. Let's follow them."
Shanygn nodded in agreement. "I dunno what they are up to, but I bet this is serious."
It puzzled Rodimus as well as to what the two Decepticons were up to. From the looks of it they weren't searching for anything because Galvatron was flying a straight line toward a specific point at the end of the valley, or maybe beyond. It was possible that one of the cassette spies had discovered something interesting, though. Well, only one way to find out.
He transformed and headed down the narrow path, Silhouette and Shanygn following him.

* * *

Spook looked around the empty chamber, empty except for the unguarded doorway, one of the few centerways ever constructed by the Creators, and the only one ever successfully stolen. He wished they had allowed their warriors to follow the thieves and get the centerway back, but they had told them to stay put. Spook had no idea whether this had all been some part of a bigger plan or just some strange notion of his masters. Former masters, he reminded himself. They had set their first creations free, instructing them nevertheless as to what their mission was. Many had defied them and were now dead. Spook was one of the few left to remember the ancient past, one of those who had taken their mission seriously. And one who had survived.
He touched one particular part of the smooth wall and it glowed briefly, then slid back to reveal an intricately carved piece of quartz. The memory bank access. He went over the latest report and frowned. There was no entry as of lately, but it couldn't have happened all by itself! This was impossible! The doorways were controlled by many factors, one of the primary one being Ralyk, the ancient station of the Creators. Then there were the centerways, like this one on Cybertron, which had individual controls, but which were crude compared to Ralyk. Setting those controls all by oneself was an act of suicide because aligning a doorway needed not only talent, but knowledge. Few had this knowledge, and thinking about them, Spook couldn't call up a name of a living one. And there were the Keys, which belonged to the finer tuned activation mechanisms. No Key had activated the rings here and neither had anyone tempered with the controls. Ralyk itself was dead .... But then how ...?
The half-serpent called up more data and finally sighed in frustration. There was no other way, he had to connect personally to the old system. With a few touches to the mirror-like surface of the controls he opened the panel that would allow him to connect to the half-sentient mind of the centerway. It was another feature the Creators had installed, one which he had never truly understood. He knew it was vitally important to create sentiency in some control units, but doorways? Doorways should be controlled by outsiders, not a sentient intelligence within. It was too dangerous. Well, the Creators' minds had always worked on a different level.
-- Identification -- the soft voice of the control whispered.
-- Complete -- it added after a slight hesitation.
Spook sighed again. This system had not been used in a long time and he suspected that is was barely functioning on the most basic level.
<< Display latest activation >> he commanded. << Source, destination, period >>
-- Searching --
-- Activation file erased --
<< What? >> he hissed.
-- Erasure code transmitted and verified -- was the answer.
<< Who sent the activation code? >>
-- Vector Sigma --
Spook felt like hit in the head. Vector Sigma? Since when had the mega computer access to the doorways? Those Quintesson vermin hadn't actually connected the two, had they? Not even they would be so foolish as to ... But a short check confirmed his darkest suspicions. They had. They had actually connected a fully sentient being to a doorway piece and it had learned! Damn their worthless hides! The Creators should have perched them from the face of the universe! Pompous, worthless, thieving squids!
Still cursing he disconnected himself from the control unit, curling into a tight ball, contemplating what to do now. Vector Sigma was connected to a centerway; for how long, Spook had no idea, but he guessed it had been like this for ages, which would have given the mega computer a lot of time to work its way through the system, discovering things it should not have found in a million years. And if he had found those facts, how much had it revealed to its creations? Or were they already controlling the computer? The possibility existed.
He rumbled unhappily.
If the Creators had let the warriors retrieve the stolen device and punish the Quints it might not have come to this. The Cybertronians would not have been created the way they were now, sentient and individual -- trouble. They would be mere servants, nothing else. But the Quintessons had continued to blunder around, meddle with things they should have left alone and they had paid for it. Too late, in Spook's opinion. The damage had already been done. He frowned. Then again, why was he assuming that this had not been the Creators' plan? Maybe there had been the plan to let Vector Sigma unleash his hatchling programs; maybe the Quintessons had been supposed to steal the mega computer because the Creators had seen no other way; maybe..... The Creators had always moved in mysterious ways of which this action had been only one. There had also been the theft of Vector Sigma, which they had let happen equally without punishment.
Spook hissed softly.
They had always loved experiments. He and his kind were their experiments as well, the first in line of a race of sentient mechanical beings. He knew that the Creators had wanted to start a second line, improved and with a new design; developed out of what they had learned from their first-borne. The doorways had been experiments and they had worked, just like the robot race the Creators had tried out. Maybe they had wanted to try a new variation of the old design, done not by them but their ....pets. But why let the Quints steal such important valuables then? The risk involved made him feel dizzy.
He was jerked out of his thoughts by the sound of approaching footsteps and whirled around, suddenly faced by two bipedal robots. They were clearly Cybertronian by origin, though also clearly not of the same design. One was marked as a slave product of the Quintessons. Spook reminded himself that the meaning of the insignia had changed into one of liberation. Autobots, he realized. He was facing an Autobot. The other one was ... he snarled slightly. A Sentinel! The result of a product line the Creators had never finished and which had been equally stolen by the Quintessons, though they had not known they were stealing the Sentinel program as well. They should never have been activated. They were too damn dangerous!
"Who are you?" the Autobot asked calmly.
Spook turned fully, his long snake-like tail, rolling slightly around him, the tip of it hidden behind his massive upper body. He also uncurled his wings, preparing for a strike.
"My name is not important," he simply answered.
"Oh, I think it is," the black Sentinel noted coolly. "You just broke into a sealed chamber and it looks like you're trying to temper with something that you shouldn't." He gestured toward the open wall panel.
Spook snarled again. "The only ones who ... tempered with it were you," he then hissed. "Who activated the doorway?"
The two robots exchanged a puzzled look.
"No one activated any doorway," the Autobot then answered. "We never knew there were any controls to use it in here. We thought it might be controlled by Vector Sigma."
Spook hesitated a second. Vector Sigma again!
"Who are you? How did you get here?" the Sentinel then demanded again.
Spook regarded him silently for a second, then decided it was time to act. He released a blast of energy toward the two Cybertronians, scattering them in their attempt to get behind some cover.

* * *

He was somewhat aware of his surroundings, but he could not quite get himself to move from where he was. He felt like he was stuck in a swamp. And everything had suddenly changed. His perception of things had been altered and his body no longer felt like ... his own.
He moved his fingers and they complied. He turned his head, which also didn't represent a problem. He couldn't see quite well, as if it was too dark and his infrared sight didn't work. It was also impossible to sit up.
Starscream was too confused to be enraged by this. He tried to clear his mind, to think back as to what had happened, but this was even more difficult than moving.
'Relax,' a soft voice whispered.
'Dycran?' he asked, even more confused now.
'Just relax,' the voice of Dycran said gently and he was reminded of their first meeting. 'Nothing will hurt you.'
'What is going on here?' he demanded. 'What is happening to me?'
'Don't fight it, Starscream,' was the answer and he felt as if something touched him, gently, caring.
He drifted off into nothingness again.

* * *

Galvatron landed outside the valley they had just crossed. This was the spot the Sweep had reported the force field to be and scanning the area he found a rather strong energon vein running toward one specific point. He followed the traces to its source and stopped dead in his tracks.
Only a few meters ahead of him, completely out in the open and undisguised by trees or grass, rose a large structure straight up from the ground. It was a gigantic ring, balanced on one side. There were no supports to keep it in its upright position and no forcefields to steady it. Inscriptions covered the ring, representing a language Galvatron had never seen before. The structure in itself consisted of five different rings, some made of glass or completely black material, some inscribed, some painted. The energon was flowing into a strong and large deposit just below the ring.
Galvatron, with Cyclonus in tow, approached the structure, curiosity sparking in his optics.
"What is it?" Cyclonus whispered in awe.
The structure was much larger than any of them, the diameter about three times their height.
"Something that might be of more interest than the blue energon," the Decepticon leader remarked. "And it also stands right on top of a larger deposit. Interesting."
"And dangerous," a new voice said and the two Decepticons whirled around.
Facing them was a four-legged robot colored in dark blue and black. An artificial mane moved slightly in the soft breeze and curled horns rose above the eyes. Sharp bits and pieces stuck out of the body, looking like some kind of armor had been attached to the skin. Cyclonus raised his weapon, then stopped as he saw the Decepticon symbol on the right shoulder of the horse. Then his optics were drawn to the etched symbol on the other flank and went wide with recognition. Raven.... She had a similar one on her chest.....
"Who are you?" Galvatron demanded.
"My name is Nightmare," the newcomer introduced himself.
"I have never seen you, but you are of the Decepticon forces," the Decepticon leader went on, gesturing at the insignia.
"Was," Nightmare corrected.
Galvatron's optics narrowed dangerously. "Was?" he repeated. "No Decepticon deserts his kind!"
"I didn't desert my kind," Nightmare clarified. "I am not a Decepticon."
Cyclonus still stared at the other symbol, then snapped out of his thoughts. "What did you mean this ring is dangerous?" he then wanted to know sharply.
"Just what it implies. You better leave now."
"Or what?" Galvatron hissed. "What faction do you belong to?" he then added, pointing at the strange insignia.
"Or I'll have to force you to leave," Nightmare stated quietly. "This ring is under my guard." His red eyes flashed slightly. "And I belong to no faction you know, Decepticon."
"My name is Galvatron!" Galvatron declared. "Mighty leader of all Decepticons!"
Nightmare snorted. "Then lead them away from here. This is not your planet."
Galvatron stepped closer to the horse-like robot. "But it will soon be, traitor!" he snarled, raising his gun. "And with it all the energon!"
"The energon is deadly, Galvatron," Nightmare explained. "You cannot use it for nourishment or for your weapons. It's a useless task to try and filter the lethal components out of the energon veins." His ears flicked slightly and he added, as if in an after-thought, "And I'm not a traitor."
Galvatron's eyes flashed a bright red. "You wear the symbol of the Decepticons, but you defy me. You are a traitor to your kind!"
Nightmare rumbled slightly. "Leave."
Cyclonus aimed at him as well. "I think you have not heard the mighty Galvatron," he said with a deadly calm in his voice. "He commands you."
"I no longer follow the orders of any Decepticon leader, neither Megatron, nor your Galvatron," Nightmare stated flatly.
Cyclonus looked a bit surprised and glanced at his leader. Galvatron's eyes narrowed.
"You know Megatron," he said, "but Megatron doesn't know you."
"You are not Megatron."
Galvatron's mouth curled into a cruel smile. "So you know more of me than I thought, Nightmare." He leaned slightly forward. "Who or what are you?"
Nightmare moved back a bit, his dinosaur like tail flicking back and forth. His optics were fixed on Galvatron as if he tried to read the Decepticon leader's thoughts.
"I am dead," he then said, "like Megatron. Both of us are buried and should not be revived."
A blast from Galvatron's cannon ripped into the ground between Nightmare's front hooves. The black horse looked at his attacker without moving an inch.
"And this only strengthens my suspicion that you are not Megatron."
"Megatron is a part of me," Galvatron snarled. "He is the past, Galvatron is the future. And which part of you is the past and which the future?"
"Leave," Nightmare simply repeated, moving calmly toward the ring structure.
"Or you will make us leave?" Cyclonus mocked. "You are only one and you are facing the mightiest of all Decepticons."
"You are repeating yourself."
Galvatron gave an angry growl, his weapon now aiming at the rings. His blast graced the outer ring, but didn't even chip the paint off.
Nightmare hissed and his shoulder armor rotated a bit, revealing two weapons.
"No!" a female voice suddenly cried and a black flash shot between the two parties. Raven transformed and turned to Galvatron. "You can't shoot him!" he called.
"Raven!" Cyclonus hissed, his gun wavering slightly.
"Oh?" Galvatron said. "Why? Because he's one of your kind?"
Cyclonus flashed his leader a glance. So Galvatron had made the same connection between Nightmare's second symbol. They both looked very much alike, though they were not identical. But they were clearly made by the same rave, though Nightmare's was etched into his outer skin, while Raven's was only painted on.
Raven wavered a bit, her yellow eyes flashing. "You know?"
"I'm not blind, Raven," the Decepticon leader stated with a bit of amusement in his voice. "And I'm no fool either. The relationship is obvious, though he is of Decepticon heritage and you joined our ranks later, for whatever reason." His voice held a nasty tone.
Raven looked briefly over to Cyclonus, who looked indecisive. "You can't shoot him."
"So?" A nasty smile crossed his lips. "Then watch me."
"No!" she protested again. "If he dies the doorway will be without a guardian. It could affect everything!"
"Doorway?" Galvatron looked at the ring with renewed curiosity.
Nightmare hissed softly and then finally transformed.
Galvatron's optics widened suddenly and his weapon fell to his side. "Static?!"
Cyclonus didn't quite follow. He didn't know the robot form of the renegade Decepticon and he had no idea who Static was, but to Galvatron it apparently meant a lot.
"The name is Nightmare," the robot said calmly. "Static is dead."
The Decepticon leader stared at the robot, which he knew from his past, from Megatron's past.
"Who is Static?" Cyclonus asked.
"An Assassin," Galvatron stated in a nearly completely flat voice.
"All Assassins died at the beginning of the war," Cyclonus said, confused. "None survived."
"Looks like one did." Galvatron looked at his, Megatron's, former friend. "And he defected from the ranks of the Decepticon warriors."
"I died, Galvatron," Nightmare said coolly. "And I came back in a new body, a new chance to live and a new mission."
"And you will die again," Galvatron snarled suddenly.
He raised his weapon and aimed at Nightmare, who moved back toward the ring. Galvatron's finger curled around the trigger. Raven gave a screech and stepped between the former Decepticon and the Decepticon leader, arms outstretched.
"No!" she cried.
But the blast was already searing toward them. It hit her right into the stomach area, tearing through circuitry and muscle cables, throwing her violently back against the one she had tried to save.
"No!" Cyclonus echoed the protest, his red optics flashing in pain as he saw his partner fall down under the fire of their leader.
Nightmare caught the collapsing body, lowering her to the ground. As Galvatron aimed again, unpertubed by the fact that he had hit a friend, Nightmare made a decision.
He began to fight back.

*

Rodimus stopped abruptly when he heard the sounds of blaster fire. Silhouette's head came up sharply and her eyes narrowed.
"Decepticons," she breathed.
Shanygn gave a hearty curse.
They approached the site of the fire and discovered the reason for it.
"What the ....?" Rodimus began.
"Will you look at that!" Shanygn exclaimed and her eyes widened as she saw the giant ring structure. "That looks like a copy of the thing inside Cybertron!"
Silhouette hissed. "Nightmare!"
Rodimus optics fell on a dark blue and black robot, wearing a Decepticon symbol -- and a second insignia as well.
"He's a Decepticon?" Rodimus asked sharply.
"No!" Silhouette retorted just as sharply.
"Guys ...." Shanygn tried.
"Then why, pray tell me, is he wearing their symbol?"
She snorted. "He was one, okay, but he no longer is!"
"GUYS!" the female humanoid hissed. Both of the Autobots looked at her. "Would you mind fighting some other time? I think it does appear that there's a very tiny possibility that we may very well have in all likelihood a little problem on our hands!" Shanygn went on angrily.
Rodimus looked confused at her, his mind trying to work through the last sentence.
"If this thing down there," Shanygn continued unpertubed, "is the same you guys have on Cybertron we should not let it fall into Galvatron's hands, don't'cha agree?"
Rodimus nodded slowly, looking at the structure. "It looks a bit smaller and not so massive," he mused out aloud, "but it's definitely part of the same system."
"And if it is connected to the other ring...." Silhouette followed his train of thought.
They looked at each other.
A yell of protest echoed over the plains and the two witnessed how Galvatron shot down Raven, then taking aim at Nightmare.
"What is going on here?" Rodimus whispered in horror.
Silhouette shook her head, completely speechless. She had no idea what drove the fighters down there to do what they were doing just now.
Something passed overhead and they discovered Scourge and a few Sweeps. Shanygn groaned as matters just got worse for them.
"Damn!" Rodimus cursed and went for cover as they attacked.
Silhouette transformed and reached for her gun, firing at the Sweep closest to her. Some of the other Sweeps went in for a few shots at Nightmare, while Scourge tackled Rodimus Prime. Shanygn set off a call for help, then found herself a Sweep and began to fire at him.

* * *

Midnight lost some blasts toward the intruder and had then jumped for cover behind the ring structure.
"What the hell is this thing?" he hissed.
The intruder fired at them again, most of the shots bouncing off the ring they were hiding behind. From the overall built the thing looked like a mythological dragon, missing a few odds and ends here and there, not at all looking like Braintrust, though. It had a wedge-shaped head with a beak-like snout. Four horns curled up over the eyebrows, completely at random as it seemed, and two pointed ears stuck out at each side of the head. The long neck led down to two muscular, taloned front legs, which joined at he shoulder joint into two wings. The rest of the creature was a massive body leading into a long tail, which was curled oddly here and there, supporting it. It was colored in a deep green on the back with a few yellow stripes around the stomach area.
"I wish I knew," Optimus muttered and glanced over the cover. Another blast let him duck again.
Suddenly the ring was vibrating softly, emitting a low humming noise, and they jumped away from it. The intruder gave a triumphant snarl, showing long sharp fangs, and fired again.
"Midnight!" Optimus called as a warning, then tackled his friend.
The blast intended for the Sentinel hit Optimus Prime into the side and he went down with a groan of pain, falling to his knees.
"Optimus!" Midnight exclaimed, then whirled and aimed at the intruder.
The creature moved quickly for such a large being, the blast hitting the wall behind him. Midnight's visor flared and he completed the Interface instinctively, dodging several shots aimed at him, his movements lightning fast, enhanced and unparalleled. The intruder's eyes flashed in surprise as the Sentinel jumped him, slamming him against the wall.
Midnight brought his fist down onto the wedge shaped head. The intruder buried his left claw in the Sentinel's side, ripping his skin open, but anger drove Midnight on. Steve was compensating automatically for the injured parts, cutting off the pain circuits and rerouting power. The intruder's tail crashed into Midnight's back and the Sentinel leader hissed, momentarily stunned. Another claw grabbed him, trying to dislodge him. Steve did the only thing he could: he briefly took over and fought back. The intruder was too surprised to react and Midnight, his head clear again, blasted him.
Moving back from his attacker, the partly serpent-like creature hissed in puzzlement. "Who are you?"
Midnight, hands clenched into fists, visor glowing brightly, stared at him. He didn't even glance at his blood-covered side. His skin had hardened again, stopping the blood flow. "Who are you? What are you doing here? And why the hell did you attack us?"
There was a moment of silence, then the intruder nodded. "All right. My name is Spook and I came here because this centerway was activated. It's my job to follow unauthorized activations." His optics narrowed. "I know you are a Sentinel by design, but I never knew they were programmed with such reflexes."
Midnight thought he heard a bit of jealousy in Spook's voice, but he didn't ponder it any further. "The name's Midnight, and there's a lot we were not programmed to do." He frowned. "How do you know about Sentinels?"
Spook chuckled, uncurling one wing that had been under his body when Midnight had slammed him against the wall, inspecting it. There was a faint crack in the material.
"I know more about you than you think, Midnight. I'm just surprised that your kind and the Autobots are working together." He pointed at Optimus Prime, who was slowly regaining his strength, his side still steaming from the blast.
"What are you doing here?" Midnight wanted to know.
"My job." Spook slithered closer and the Sentinel leader lifted his gun.
Spook smiled slightly, revealing his sharp fangs. Then he narrowed his optics, looking closely at Midnight. "You are a Sleeper," he stated with mild surprise. "You were all destroyed."
"As you see, that's not correct. What are you doing here?"
The intruder looked at Optimus Prime again, who had managed to lever himself into a standing position.
"You two didn't open the gate," he then said, as if talking to himself. "None of you did." He frowned slightly. "And none of the Keys exist."
"What in the name of Primus are you talking about?" Midnight demanded.
Spook only gave him a cursory glance.
<< This guy has blown a fuse >> Steve stated, shaking his head while getting the repairs inside his partner done.
Spook whirled around, his lips revealing his sharp fangs again. "What?" he hissed.
Midnight stared at him in puzzlement.
"This energy flare ...." The intruder scrutinized the Sentinel. "This can't be ....!" he breathed. "You were never designed to do that!"
Midnight's patience found an abrupt end and he slammed the other robot against the wall. Spook growled, one claw raised to strike, his tail likewise ready.
"Who the hell are you really?" Midnight demanded. "What do you know about us?"
<< You don't know my kind, Sentinel >> Spook answered, apparently restraining himself from striking back by sheer force of will.
Midnight stared at him, mouth agape, then he got his act together, pushing Spook hard against the wall. "But you know a lot about me, too much for my liking...." he hissed.
<< Don't even think about threatening me, Sentinel >> was the snarled answer.
<< Mid, watch out! >>
Midnight ducked and the tail's sharp point missed him. Spook gave a satisfied grunt.
<< You are Interfaced >> he said, still using the silent form of communication normally only used by the Interfaced partners. It unnerved Midnight more than he wanted to confess and it was also a breach of privacy. << Fascinating. I never believed it when they said it was possible >>
"WHO?" Midnight yelled.
Spook's golden-yellow eyes flashed slightly. He looked over to the ring, then back at the enraged Sentinel.
<< That would be telling >>
"Stop this!" Midnight commanded. "You are violating ..."
<< Violating? >> Spook sneered. << Oh, I don't think so. You haven't seen my violating you yet! >>
And then something seemed to slam into Midnight's mind. Steve gave a gasp of surprise, but his reaction time was shorter than the intruder must have guessed. Spook hissed, his searching mind trying to get deeper into the memory circuits of his opponent, trying to peel back the layers of strong shields around the core programs. Midnight's visor flared with green fire as he threw up more shields to prevent Spook from getting further. Steve had fallen in some kind of trance-like state, all his energy and power concentrated on only this one task: keeping Spook out.
<< Your pathetic shields won't stop me, Sentinel >> the serpent whispered with a smile.
<< Oh, yeah? >> Steve returned forcefully and slammed up another shield, this time right into Spook's face.
Spook gave a startled grunt of pain and had to retreat as the human Interface began to call up the heavy artillery, actually attacking him.
"Strong," he muttered, partially surprised. "Intriguing." He moved back a bit, regarding the black Sentinel. "If you have discovered this chamber," he then said, his voice suddenly soft, "then Vector Sigma has also revealed your past."
"He did," Optimus ground out, holding on to the wall for support. "What do you know about it?"
Spook smiled. "Things I can't tell you, Autobot. I didn't come here to fight."
Midnight snorted and Spook shot him a silencing glare, but the Sentinel merely stared back defiantly. The green fire inside his visor was still glowing brightly. Steve had all hands full to keep Midnight to giving in to his anger.
<< Temper, temper >>
Steve pushed him out violently and Spook rocked back with a surprised expression on his dragon face. This blow had been stronger than the one before.
"I came here because one of the centerways, those rings, were activated without authorization. I had to see what activated them." He moved over to open part of the wall and touched a specific point. The wall panel slid back, sealing the controls.
"Well?" Midnight asked coldly, shaking with rage.
Spook shook his head. "You didn't do it and that is what I needed to confirm."
"Alpha Trion mentioned that those rings are doorways," Optimus said calmly.
The intruder looked a bit surprised. "Oh, so you were told." He smiled a bit. "Well, that is correct. But they are not for you to use." He slithered away from the wall. "You don't happen to miss someone? Someone who was last seen down here?" His tone was almost conversational.
Midnight was reminded of the missing aid the Rymanian delegate Andra Par, but he didn't answer Spook.
Spook shrugged. "Suit yourself."
"Where do you think you're going?" Midnight asked and aimed at the half-snake moving toward the exit.
The intruder chuckled. "Don't try to keep me here, Sentinel. You'd regret it."
"Don't threaten me, snake-face," Midnight hissed.
"Oh, I'm not threatening you, my young friend." Spook lifted his tail and a blast struck Optimus Prime full into the chest.
"Bastard!" Midnight yelled, torn between helping Optimus and following the intruder.
In the end he stayed where he was, cursing softly as he did some first aid repair on the destroyed circuitry. Optimus Prime groaned as Midnight helped him up.
"Where did he go?" he gasped.
"Who cares?" the Sentinel ground out, trying to patch his friend so far back together that he could get out of here under his own steam.
Optimus was too tired and feeling too much pain to discuss this matter further. Foremost on his list of things to do was getting up and then out of here. Midnight got him to his feet and the two robots left the chamber.

* * *

Raven was in excruciating pain, her midsection burning, sparking now and then. Part of her liquid tubes were torn and bleeding off the vital fluids. She closed them quickly, rerouting her repair programs to do the job. Then she tried to get up. It was nearly impossible to do so.
Around her a battle was taking place. Galvatron and Cyclonus were battling not only Nightmare, but also two Autobots. When had they arrived? She must have blacked out longer than she had thought.
Galvatron's plasma cannon suddenly caught the Autobot Rodimus Prime as he went for cover, shattering his left knee. He gave a cry of pain and collapsed close to the ring structure, right out in the open. But instead of finishing off his enemy, Galvatron turned to Nightmare, who was trying to hold Cyclonus off. One shot caught his shoulder and the Gatekeeper was thrown back.
"No," Raven whispered.
She couldn't let Galvatron kill him. Nightmare was too important. He was the representation of her past, of the brighter side of her past. She couldn't let Galvatron destroy him and the doorway!
Raven didn't know much about her other function, something Nightmare had tried to show her, lead her back to. She simply followed her instincts as she shut down programs she wouldn't be able to use for this task and somehow activated those that had always been inside of her. She extended her claws and stretched out one hand, touching the outer ring of the doorway, her claws sinking into the grooves, fitting into the openings like a key into its keyhole. And that was exactly what she was.
Something like an electrical jolt raised through her and a deep, almost musical hum echoed across the plains.
A tremor went through the ground and  the construction that loomed over her gave a faint creak. Raven thought she saw it sway a little. Another strange hum came from the gate and then she saw the second ring of the gateway beginning to move.
Very, very slowly.
The humming increased and then the doorway itself moved. It didn't tilt over or roll away, it lifted off! Like in slow motion the ring rose about ten yards into the air, then it tilted sideways, so that it looked like it was laying on a cushion of air. The second ring was still turning and finally stopped with a loud snap.
Raven didn't see anymore. She simply gave in to the demands of her tortured body. She shut down.

*

The humming increased again.
By now it was drowning out all other noises and all of a sudden, there was an explosion of multi-colored light. Rodimus, his eyes narrowed in the glare, witnessed as a brilliant light, like a tiny sun, appeared in the ring. It had been a stupid move on his part to try and get closer to the structure and Galvatron had blasted him straight away. Silhouette and Shanygn had split up and were fighting their own fights, so no help there. To his immediate surprise, Galvatron had not finished him.
Suddenly the light exploded outwards, vanishing abruptly. For a second, there was stark silence, then something rushed towards him like a large tidal wave. From his position at the foot of the gate Rodimus saw something funneling away from the rings, reaching towards him. Just as it looked like it was going to touch the shocked Autobot, the bubbling and sizzling funnel collapsed back the way it came from.
The Decepticons had stopped fighting by now. Rodimus tried to ignore the searing pain in his leg, crawling away from the rings, but it was a slow process. He shut off his pain circuits as best as he could, but it still hurt.
"What is going on here?" Galvatron demanded.
Nightmare, standing close to the roaring gateway, looked at him, then at Raven. A sad expression crossed his face. "I wish I wouldn't have to do this," he said softly, then fired at the center of the glaring, sizzling ring.
First nothing happened, then a screech ripped through the air. To Rodimus it sounded like a dying animal, dying in great pain. An earthquake hit next. It was the strongest and most sudden quake Rodimus had ever felt, wiping everyone off their feet. Galvatron was the only one left standing and his red optics flashed with an inner fire.
"Static!" he yelled.
Nightmare turned to look at him. "Static is dead," he said flatly, then moved back into the light streaming from the sizzling rings, disappearing.
There was a high squeal and something small shot past the fighters, equally entering the bright light.
The gateway tilted dangerously now, visibly no longer controlled by whatever had controlled it before, sinking back to the ground. One part sagged suddenly forward and a crack appeared in the structure. Something like a rumble passed through the ground again and shook up the Autobots and Decepticons around the doorway. Another crack ran through the outer ring and the structure crashed down on the ground. Part of it tilted toward Rodimus, who raised one arm to protect himself, though he knew it was a fruitless gesture.
Something grabbed him from behind and he felt a short pain in his left shoulder, then he was violently pulled back as the gateway crashed completely. Part of it nearly buried his foot under itself. Another quake racked the ground and a flash of blue lightning shot from the ground.
"Oh, no!" Rodimus groaned, his mind a muddled mess, but alert enough to recognize the danger.
The ring had struck the large deposit of blue energon beneath it and was now somehow setting off a chain reaction. More lightning bolts flashed through the air, the ground bucking wildly.
"Decepticons!" Galvatron commanded, barely able to hold his balance. "Retreat!"
The Decepticon team took off, Cyclonus carrying the unconscious form of Raven, leaving the wounded Autobot behind.
"Let's get out of here!"
Rodimus turned and discovered Silhouette behind him, balancing on her hindlegs, still in her raptor mode. Her teeth had left holes in his shoulder, but that was the least of his worries. The alternative would have been being squashed by the rings. Now she transformed and took a hold of him.
"We have to get out of here!" she hissed.
Rodimus tried to help her carry his weight, but his leg was completely useless. Silhouette displayed an incredible strength as she hoisted him up and dragged him away from the sizzling and flashing energon. They had moved several feet when the whole deposit exploded. Sil and Rodimus were thrown violently to the ground and shards of glowing energon were raining down on them. Sil hissed in pain as some shards touched her. Then it was over.
For a few seconds Rodimus didn't dare to move, then he levered himself up, looking over to the site of the explosion. A deep crater had replaced the place where the ring had been, and it was smoking slightly.
"Whew!" Shanygn breathed as she landed beside the two Autobots. "What a mess!"
"Thanks," Rodimus breathed, trying to ignore his throbbing leg.
Silhouette smiled briefly, then looked around. "We have to get out of here," she said.
"Good idea," he agreed, then gesturing at his shattered knee joint and torn left leg. "But there might be a minor problem."
"Maybe not with the cavalry finally getting here," she said wryly and pointed at a cloud of dust moving toward them.
Rodimus nodded, his eyes drawn over to the remainders of the ring structure. Silhouette stayed beside him, stabilizing him a bit.
"Rodimus," she said softly.
"Yes?" He turned to look at her.
Silhouette was just about to say something when Hound and Sideswipe stopped beside them, transforming. They were closely followed by the others. The Dinobot glanced at Rodimus again, but didn't say a word anymore.
"What happened here?" Hound exclaimed, taking in the rather bedraggled look of Prime's second.
"Later, Hound," Rodimus told his friend, then turned to Sideswipe and Cliffjumper. "Secure the remains of the rings," he ordered. "I want them brought to the ship and stored in the cargo hold. Is Mirage still watching the Decepticons?"
Hound nodded.
"All right, leave him there in case they try something."
Silhouette and Hound helped him to his feet, though he couldn't put any weight on the shattered knee joint. Then Hound transformed and carried his team leader back.

* * *

-- Lock opened --
-- Key accepted --
-- Retrieving --
.......
-- Terminal destruction noted --
-- Rerouting power output --
-- Retrieving --
.......
-- Received --
-- Shutting down --

* * *

Starscream heard a deep, resounding boom echo through the station and it brought his sensors back on full with a snap. His optics focused on a smooth, black ceiling and he sat up, feeling strange.
Another boom let him flinch and then a tremor coursed through the station. Something was happening.
He hopped down from the stretcher-like construction and stopped dead in his tracks. His optics fixed on his hands.
Metal.
Not ectoplasm.
They were real.
And they were colored in silver and a dark, rich blue. He saw some red interlaced as well, but the blue was predominant. He turned them, reflecting the blue light the room was bathed in, then he looked down his body.
Metal as well.
"Great Cybertron!" he whispered, stunned.
He had a body. A real body! It felt like a body and he knew he wasn't possessing anyone. Possession felt different, not so smooth and natural ..... not so perfectly all right and normal.
A new boom and an even stronger tremor snapped him out of his state of awe. He ran out of the room, noting how perfectly well the body responded to his commands, how it felt like it had always been his.
The sound had been coming from the hall the gigantic ring structure was in and he felt dread rise inside of him. What was coming through this gate? And if something came really through, would it be alive enough to pose a threat. The entrance to the black hall loomed up in front of him and he slowed down, taking a weapon his new body was armed with, carefully stepping into the room.
The giant rings had moved from their old position and inside them was a bright orange glow. It was like a reflective surface, rippling and sizzling, then exploding partly outward. Something flew out of the light, landing on the ground with a hard thud. The funnel of light collapsed backward and then disappeared. There was a second of absolute quiet, then the rings moved slowly and accompanied by much rumbling noises back to their old position.
Starscream stared at the structure. Had this happened when he and Dycran had arrived here as well? He banished those musings and carefully approached the motionless figure on the ground. Actually there were tow figures; one large, metallic bipedal robot, lying with his face down on the floor. The other a rather small and clearly organic creature, which was moving cautiously, shaking its wedge-shaped head as if trying to clear it. Then it looked up and discovered him.
The winged lizard gave a high screech and hopped onto the robot, spreading his wings in a gesture apparently meant to defend it.
"Get away from us, you big wossname!" it told Starscream defiantly, the faceted eyes glowing.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"Up yours!" was the response.
"You came through this ... gate," he tried again, weapon still in hand. "Where from? Can you go back?"
"Shove it up your wossname!" the lizard snarled angrily.
Starscream scanned the robot, which showed severe burn and blaster marks, then discovered the two symbols. A Decepticon? And what did the other marking mean?
The other Decepticon moved slowly and the small lizard gave off chittering noises. Starscream moved back as the stranger staggered to his feet, clearly heavily disoriented. Then he discovered that he was not alone.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice weak and raspy. Then his red optics flashed, fixing on a spot on Starscream's left shoulder.
Starscream frowned. "What are you staring at?" he demanded, pointing his gun at the other robot.
The winged lizard gave a startled hiss and hopped up and down on the stranger's shoulder. "It's a wossname! New sign! Boss, he's ..."
"Yes, Bat," the dark colored robot cut him off. "You are one of us," he said to Starscream. "Though from the looks of it I guess ..." he broke off, a startled expression crossing his features. "It's still functional?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Starscream shouted. "Who are you? How did you get here?"
The other one looked at the weapon pointed at him, spreading his hands in a gesture that he wasn't about to attack him. "My name is Nightmare.....and this little guy here is Bat." He indicated at the winged lizard, who stuck out his chest in pride.
"Yep," he said.
Nightmare's eyes scanned Starscream's body. "I don't believe it! It's still working!"
Before Starscream could yell again, Nightmare held up both hands.
"I guess we have to start from the beginning...."

* * *

First Aid applied the finishing touches to his repair work and Optimus nodded at him, then got off the repair stretcher. He was already feeling like his old self again. First Aid had remarked that the blast to his side and chest had stunned the circuitry, not destroyed it. A few parts had fused under the strain, but the damage had been minor enough.
In search of Midnight he entered the conference room and found him sitting in one of the chairs in front of a terminal, hacking away on the keyboard. Steve was present as well, sitting on the broad window sill and watching his partner with an unreadable expression. The human looked tired and a bit on the pale side, but else he was perfectly okay. Optimus had no idea how Interfacing affected the metabolism of a humanoid and whether Steven Parker had to sleep as regularly as any other human or not. When Optimus Prime entered Steve looked up and gave him a brief smile. Prime approached Midnight and sat down in one of the many chairs.
"What are you doing?" he asked conversationally.
"Trying to find this .... thing in the data banks," Midnight answered, his voice reflecting a lot of barely suppressed anger.
Optimus nodded in understanding. "No luck?" he then added.
"No." The Sentinel thumped the keyboard, which gave a protesting squeal, then leaned back in his chair.
"What happened down there?" Optimus calmly wanted to know.
"He entered my mind, that is what happened!" Midnight retorted in rage. "He accessed the one connection between me and Steve and used it! He tried to scan me!"
The Autobot leader was confused. He knew that a bond between a Sentinel and a humanoid partner was only between them and that no one could hear them while they were using this ... wavelength for a better word.
"He knew exactly what to look for and he let me know it!" Midnight went on, exploding from his chair and pacing the room. "He also noticed Steve inside me and said we should never have been able to do it. Optimus, this guy knew more about Sentinels than I want to confess!"
"Did any of you two notice he was also wearing a carved in insignia?" Steve said calmly, portraying much more self-control than his more temperamental partner.
"Yes," Optimus nodded. "It looks like out of the same row of symbols yours are taken from." He looked pointedly at Midnight's own insignia.
"So what? He is not a Sentinel! I would know him!" The young leader leaned against the wall and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "What was he doing down there? What is his connection to those doorways?"
"I don't know," Prime confessed. "I only know what he said. He thought we were responsible for some activation. Remember the hum some of us heard?"
Midnight nodded.
"Notice the almost identical hum when the rings suddenly moved.
Another nod.
"Something was down there before Rodimus and Wild Card entered the chamber. It activated the rings, which projected the musical hum, then they were deactivated again," Optimus Prime theorized. "Spook said he was notified of an unauthorized activation of the doorway. He also said it is his job."
"I don't think it's his job to snoop around in other people's brains!" Midnight retorted angrily.
"We don't really know what he was checking," Optimus said gently, understanding that the younger robot was upset. "We might never know. He seemed to be quite well-informed about who we are and what we can and can't do with the doorway. I sent the Technobots, Perceptor and Skywolf down there to take a closer look around the chamber."
Midnight snorted, a glint in his optics. "What about Alpha Trion's warning and your promise?"
Prime smiled a bit. "I said I'd accept the warning about not using the rings. I never promised to stay out of the chamber."
The Sentinel gave a small chuckle, then sighed silently. "I wish I knew what he was doing down there and where he came from."
"I believe we will find out in time," Optimus said calmly. "We have started to learn about our past in a way I would not have believed in and we're piecing a puzzle back together that was shattered millions of years ago. It might take some time, but we will find the truth."
Midnight nodded slowly and switched off the computer. "Until then all we can do is collect all the parts of the larger picture, right?" He shook his head. "I hate puzzles."
"Me too, Midnight," Prime laughed. "Me too."

* * *

Galvatron sat alone in the throne room on Charr. None of his Decepticons dared to come close to their leader, who stared darkly at the wall, hands steepled beneath his chin. His thoughts were on the events on Crea.
Static.
He remembered this name. He also remembered the robot form to go with it. Megatron had known Static and they had been close friends. Static had been one of the few Decepticons of the old war days he had trusted without question; one of the first of the Assassins to be created he was also the leader of the small Assassin team. His loss and that of his elite team had weighed heavily on the small band of warriors, but Megatron had not given them enough time to ponder the heavy losses from the last fight. He had driven them on.
Megatron was still making up a large part of Galvatron and he had all the memories left. Static was part of them as well. Now he had found his dead friend again and discovered that he had apparently defected from the Decepticon ranks. He had taken a new name, had been given a completely new transformation mode and had hidden on Crea, guarding.... whatever it was.
Galvatron snarled at no one in particular and got up from his throne, pacing the length of the room.
The Autobots had taken every piece of the ring structure with them when they had left Crea and all the Decepticons could do was guess. Whatever it had been, no one knew exactly. Except maybe for Raven. The thought of the female made him snarl angrily again. She was currently in the medical bay, injured and depleted of a lot of her energon. Galvatron had first decided to deny her the badly needed repairs and energon until she would tell him what she knew, but had then decided against it. It might kill her and the dead couldn't talk. He would make her talk, one way or another, even if he had to shoot her up again in the process! Cyclonus might not  ..... approve of it, but he knew that his lieutenant was loyal to him and the Decepticon cause, and he wouldn't let any emotions get in the way.
And then there was Soundwave. The Decepticon leader slumped back into his chair. He wondered if his communications expert knew as much about Nightmare as Raven had apparently known. Both of them had been on Crea. If so ... what did this imply? Raven was no true Decepticon, but Soundwave was. Hiding the existence of Static from his own leader .... it was like treason; something he would never have expected of his trusted warrior. True, Static and Soundwave had been close friends as well and had respected each other for their unique abilities, but would that be enough for Soundwave to hide the truth from everyone else?
Galvatron scowled at nothing in particular. He had a lot of questions that needed answering and since Raven was still in the medical ward, he'd start with Soundwave.

* * *

The Autobot ship was back on its way to Cybertron, with Hound and Sideswipe handling the piloting and navigation while the others either sorted through the rubble they had taken on board or were taking a rest. Shanygn was with her partner, doing some emergency repair on his knee joint. Rodimus watched her with a mixture of interest and surprise. She had learned a lot about his initial workings throughout the last years.
"Don't stare at me like I'm a novum," she told him when she looked up and found his optics fixed on her.
"I'm not staring," he protested. "I'm just surprised you know so much about repairing Cybertronians."
She waved the welder at him. "Since you have the frightening tendency to jump into the line of fire and get nearly scrapped, I thought it might be a good idea to catch up on my repair talents."
"I have no such tendencies whatsoever," he grumbled. "Give me one example...."
Shanygn stopped in her work again and raised an eyebrow. "Oh? You want a list?"
Rodimus made a face and she laughed, going back to work. He still watched her, but his mind was wandering now. His team had collected every shard of the exploded ring structure and they were currently trying to piece them back together as far as possible, attaching numbers and references so that when they would unload the remains they'd have less work to do. A lot of the rings had been incinerated by the energon explosion and what had been left was missing large chunks in between.
Finally Shanygn straightened and brushed some hair out of her face. "All right, that's as far as I can help you. At least now you don't have to worry about your leg falling off." She grinned.
"Thanks," he laughed, keeping his leg propped up. He couldn't walk on it anyway, which meant he had to sit here for the rest of the flight. The pain was gone after he had had the time to meticulously shut down every pain circuit leading there.
Shanygn stowed away the repair kit and then sat down beside him, looking up with a thoughtful expression in her eyes. "What do you think happened on Crea?" she finally asked. "I mean, this guy, Nightmare, he was wearing a Decepticon symbol, but Galvatron was intent on blasting him off the planet. And this female Decepticon, Raven, she was clearly trying to save him."
He sighed. "I wish I knew. I want to enter his name into the computer archives. Galvatron called him Static and Nightmare answered that Static is dead. I wonder if that might tell us what happened down there."
"How about asking Sil?" she suggested, holding her breath.
Rodimus' eyes flashed slightly. "I don't think that would be a good idea." His voice was devoid of all emotion and Shanygn hesitated a bit, then played another card.
[I talked to her]
He looked down, an unreadable expression on his face.
[She told me you ordered her to break a promise]
[I never ordered her to break it!] he told her sharply. [Not directly, anyway. If I had, I wouldn't be so surprised by all that had happened! She told me what she could, but she kept on hiding facts! I can't accept this, Shan! She endangered the whole mission!]
Shanygn nodded. Not knowing what they were up against had cost them. Rodimus had been hurt, the rings had been destroyed and the only person who might have been able to shed some light on the mysterious doorways was gone. If they had known more about Nightmare, that he had been a Decepticon, or still was one, it might have ended differently.
[Silhouette is still humanoid, Roddy] she then reminded him. [She can't lose that within a year of being an Autobot]
[I'm not asking her to lose herself and become a different person] he sighed in defeat, shaking his head. [Her humanoid mind makes her different in a way that I have come to appreciate greatly. I wouldn't want her to change. I just want her to trust me enough to see that I didn't order her to break her promise because of some minor motif!]
[I think she understands that now]
[Now is not good enough!] he retorted sharply, then shook his head. [What if something had gone seriously wrong?]
[Well, I wouldn't call a shattered knee a minor thing] Shanygn remarked.
[I'm not talking about me, I'm talking about the others] Rodimus threw up his hands.
[What do you want to do now?] Shanygn asked.
[I wish I knew. I think what happened alienated us from each other] A depressed note entered his voice.
Shanygn looked up and discovered a shadowy form coming into the room, which was next to the cargo room where the ring's remains were.
[Maybe not] she remarked and got up, smiling a bit.
Rodimus looked up as well and saw Silhouette standing in the doorway, looking hesitant.
[Talk to her, Roddy] Shanygn whispered in his head, then she was out of the room.
"Hi," the Dinobot said slowly. "Mind if I come in?" She tried not to look at his leg.
"Yeah, sure, why not." Rodimus smiled at her, finding it easier than he had initially thought.
She approached him carefully, like walking on raw eggs. Silhouette sat down on a box and stared at her hands. "Rodimus, I want to apologize for everything I said and did, or didn't say and didn't do. I was wrong, but I couldn't see it. I was too much acting by what I was taught as a child." She held up a hand as he wanted to interrupt. "I know what you want to say and you are right. I can't go against what was my life before I became Silhouette, but I can try and work it into my new life. I haven't really tried it before. I always thought I could lead two lives, my old one and my new one, but now I found out it is impossible." She sighed softly. "The promise I made ..... I realize that not telling you everything endangered everyone. I apologize again. I want you to believe me when I say that it won't happen again."
Rodimus' features had softened a bit. "I believe you, Sil," he said. "And I think I've to apologize  for many things as well..."
"No," she interrupted him. "You were right at the time, I was wrong. I simply couldn't see it because I was so stuck in my own world of what was right and what was wrong.... ." She rose from the box, looking indecisive. "I hope you can still trust me."
"Of course I can." When she walked away, Rodimus called, "Sil, wait!", trying to get up, which wasn't very successful. His leg didn't react to his impulses. But she was already out of the room.
With a frustrated groan Rodimus sank back onto his chair. This would need some more time and a lot more talking.

* * *

Raven lay on the med bay table and let Scrapper work on her system. She knew she would be able to repair herself in time, without the Constructicon's assistance, but he had been ordered to do it by Galvatron. Scrapper had dimmed her pain receptors and she was only peripherally aware of what he was doing. Her mind was on other things.
Crea had shown her her true destiny. She now knew what role she played and what powers she had. The brief activation of the doorway had set free a bunch of knowledge about what Keys were and what they could accomplish which she still had to work through. It was also a turning point for her because now she was no longer sure she could be who she was. She wasn't a Decepticon, but she was also no longer what she had been in the past: no one. She was a Key, maybe the last Key still functional if Nightmare was right, and she could activate and align doorways. She could be either an asset or a danger to Galvatron, and she knew she would never use her powers to open a doorway for him. She had a responsibility, had been entrusted with great powers by the Creators, and she would never abuse them.
Nightmare was gone now. She didn't know where he had gone to because she couldn't remember what coordinates she had programmed the gate with. She had instinctively tried to safe him. Raven sighed softly. Her past life was over and she didn't know what the future held. Galvatron might be out for revenge and would only have her repaired so he could destroy her again. If he wanted to really kill, she would fight back and then leave. It would mean leaving Cyclonus again, who had come closer to her in the last years than any other being ever had.
Scrapper straightened and removed the energon feed. "Don't strain the circuits," he advised and closed her stomach plate.
She sat up cautiously, running a self-check. Scrapper had done marvelous work for someone who had no real knowledge of her circuitry and was learning by working on her. The Constructicons were famous for their repair skills and she knew that given the chance to examine her inner workings they would get a complete design spec done in no time.
"Thanks," she said calmly and slid from the table.
Scrapper nodded and cleaned his hands. She left the repair bay and discovered Cyclonus standing outside. She stopped. The Decepticon lieutenant's red eyes glowed ominously as he regarded her, his face blank of any emotion. She knew he felt betrayed by her actions, but she didn't regret them. She had never known what would happen if someone put her into a position where she had to choose between her past and her present. Now she knew. She had sided with her past.
Raven steeled herself. She knew that Galvatron would want to see her sooner or later. Cyclonus optics wandered over her now once again healed body, finally coming to rest on her uncovered insignia, the one of her past.
"Why?" he asked calmly, though his voice was too calm.
She hesitated briefly, then answered his silent gaze. "You made me chose between preserving my past and destroying the future. I had no other choice."
He moved away from the wall, approaching her. "Galvatron wants to see you." A foreboding tone laced his voice and a sad expression appeared in his eyes. "Raven, I ...."
She shook her head, interrupting him from saying anything he might regret saying out aloud later. "It had to come to this sooner or late, Cyc. I'm not a Decepticon by birth. My role cannot be changed." She touched his arm. "I am sorry if I hurt you."
Their optics met, then she walked past, aiming toward the throne room. She held her head high and her shoulders squared. Cyclonus watched her, unsure what would greet her there, but intent of being with her. He followed silently.

* * *

Several days after the destruction of the ring structure on Crea the Autobots were not any further than before. A team of scientists was studying the debris brought back from Crea, trying to determine what the ring had been made of. There were several known metals worked into the ring, such as minute quantities of gold and quicksilver, but also one unknown component, and this was puzzling them to no end. Perceptor was spending hours in a row locked up in his lab, doing tests and more on small parts of the debris. He only surfaced when he needed some more information or wanted to check on the others' progress.
Rodimus Prime had launched a research into the past of a robot, most likely a Decepticon, named Static and Midnight was busy with his own obsession: Spook.
Optimus Prime shuddered when he thought back to the strange robot, of which he wasn't even sure that it was a Transformer or not. Somehow there had been no indication that he could rearrange his body into another shape. The Autobot leader wondered what the appearance of the strange robot meant. He had known about Autobots and Sentinels, about Cybertron and the mysterious gateway, and Optimus had the impression that the creature was much older than him. Much, much older.
Walking into the command center he found several reports about the research of the chamber and the debris of the rings, but there was no further development, no new knowledge. It was frustrating, but also challenging.
"Optimus, I think you should see this," Rodimus said, walking into the room with a data disk in his hands.
"See what?"
His young second pushed the disk into the slot of a terminal and punched some keys. "I think I know who this Static character is," Rodimus explained, then called up his findings and stepped back from the screen. He made an inviting gesture for Optimus to read the display.
Prime couldn't believe what he saw. "Assassin!" he hissed, almost enraged.
He remembered the Assassins, a special group of Decepticons, an elite fighting force. They had specialized in hit-and-runs, killing off the most important Autobots, attempting to assassinate Optimus Prime more than once. They had never succeeded, though one of them had come quite close. Most of them had been killed off in a battle Prime had had planned thoroughly and which had been solely aimed at the extermination of those Assassins. None had survived. At least he had believed that until now. It was not a part of Autobot history Optimus liked to remember. While they first had only fought the Decepticons to defend themselves, the battle at Thorkas Eight had been a trap for the Assassins, followed by the ruthless extermination of their kind. Of course, the Decepticons would not have done anything other than the same had the Assassins been Autobots, but somehow it had gone against all Prime believed in.
"You got it," Rodimus said darkly. "Looks like Static was the Assassin leader, the best there was, and also the first Assassin to be created. All files about the Assassins are very vague, but I found some things that point directly to the fact that Nightmare was or still is Static."
"They were all killed millions of years ago," Optimus muttered. "I made sure of that. All bodies were accounted for."
Rodimus gave his friend a sharp look. He didn't know about any Assassins because he was too young and what he had read in the old files only gave him a rough idea of what they had been. Optimus' reaction was in stark contrast to his normally so controlled self.
"Looks like someone overlooked him," he remarked carefully.
Prime kept on staring at the file on the screen. "I dimly remember Static," he finally said. "He looked different, not like Nightmare."
"So it could be another Static?"
"No. Decepticons don't take on names of their dead and fallen."
"Then someone took his dead shell and reconstructed it." Rodimus looked confused. "But why?"
Someone knocked tentatively on the door. The two Autobots turned and discovered Silhouette.
"I ... heard about your research," she said, "and ... I think I can help out a bit."
Rodimus gave her an encouraging nod. He had stopped assaulting her with questions, giving her some space, hoping she might one day come to him all by herself. Apparently today was the day.
"Static was an Assassin, just like the file says, and he was killed in battle. When we met he revealed a bit about his past. Someone rescued his body shell, but he never said who. His body was reconstructed and he let his identity die with his old body."
Optimus looked at her with a thoughtful expression. "He didn't say who rescued him?"
She shook her head.
The Autobot leader turned to his second-in-command. "What about his insignia?"
"Another point that puzzles me," Rodimus answered. "Nightmare's looks like the one Steve gave me a drawing of, slightly altered in some places, but still very much like it. And it shows an incredible likeness to that of the Sentinels and Seekers. Spook and Nightmare both have a symbol that comes from the same group."
"Vector Sigma told us that the Sentinels' design specs weren't out of his data base. He used specs designed by someone else, most likely by those the Quintessons stole the mega computer from."
Rodimus nodded thoughtfully. "So this Spook character is related to the Sentinels in a way, though I wouldn't tell that to Midnight," he added wryly. "He isn't in the best of moods concerning your ... encounter with this new player in the game."
Optimus reflected the smile. "I can feel with him," he remarked. "And if Static's, I mean Nightmare's, insignia shows the same likeness then I think it's safe to assume that whoever reconstructed him also constructed those doorways."
"He guards them," Silhouette said softly.
"And he destroyed the one he guarded," Rodimus muttered. "To keep it out of Galvatron's hands." He shook his head. "Drastic measure."
"Drastic situation," Optimus said, regarding Silhouette curiously. "I think you should write down what you know about Static and Nightmare, Silhouette," he told her. "We don't know where the doorway took him and whether he ever comes back or not, but I want to find the connection between all those factors. This is important. I don't intend to play passive in this game any longer. Too much has happened because we stayed so passive and sat back and looked what we were hit with next. It has to stop!"
Silhouette glanced quickly at Rodimus, then nodded. "I'll ... get it to you as fast as possible," she said and left the room.
Optimus turned to his second. "Well, at least we now have a rough idea of who is who," he remarked.
"Yeah, and to every answer or to every good guess we find twice as much questions." He closed the file and took out the disk. "Spook, Nightmare and the Sentinels share a common background, though the Sentinels are only secondary players as it seems." Rodimus leaned back against the computer. "And if I'm not completely mistaken then this female Decepticon, Raven, has something to do with it as well. She's not Cybertronian. If we can find out what those doorways are all about I think we might be a great step further."
Optimus nodded. "I don't believe we can expect much help from Raven, but Midnight promised to give us every ounce of help he has. Perceptor thinks that if he can download the ancient Sentinel language into our system, then combine it with our language and the few old Quintesson transcriptions, we might just have a basis fro translating the runes on the structure."
"Maybe if we ask Alpha Trion ...." Rodimus began.
"No!" the Autobot leader snapped, startling Rodimus. Optimus brushed his hand over his optics. "No, I won't ask him," he continued in a calmer voice. "Vector Sigma lied to us about many things and I'm not sure he told us all the truth there is about our past. Alpha Trion is merely a new voice for the mega computer and though I admired him as my creator .... I have to confess that he no longer has my complete confidence and trust."
Rodimus stared at him for a second, then nodded, understanding rising inside of him.
"He has lied once too often," Optimus added in a whisper.
"So we're on our own."
Optimus snorted softly. "Weren't we always?"

* * *

Spook had returned to the place he called home, settling down in his favorite spot overlooking the plains. He had killed another of the deer-like creatures that moved on the plains, feeding on it while he pondered what to do now. Vector Sigma was linked to an unguarded doorway; the Autobots had allied themselves with the surviving Sentinels; the Sentinels had a Sleeper as their leader; something had traveled through the centerway on Cybertron and no one had apparently activated it. It looked like the impulse for activation had come from Ralyk.
Ralyk.
Spook didn't get it. The station had been deserted for millions of years, running on automatic. It had been this way since the Creators had suddenly decided to leave, giving no reason as to why, simply assigning different tasks to their creations. They had disappeared without a trace then, leaving only their newly born race behind, as well as the doorway system and Ralyk.
What now? he thought darkly as he crunched the last bone between his sharp teeth, feeling his energon level rise again. He was only one, the last of the security forces left, and it wasn't his job to dig deeper into matters. He had to watch out for the gates and check on their transfers. Since none of the doorways had operated since the Creators had left he had never had such a case before. Going to Ralyk was out of the question. The station was far away from any galaxy, located in a lonely part of the universe. Going there might requite more energon than he could ever find. Using a doorway was equally out of the question to visit the station. Even if he could enter the chamber inside Cybertron again, he had no idea how to set the doorway. He would need a Key for that or the access code for the operational controls. He had neither.
The half-serpent uncurled from his position and stretched. Maybe he should simply wait, something he was accustomed to. He should watch the Cybertronians, wait and see what they did. Then he could decide what to do. Their alliance with the Sentinels was as unpredicted as it was interesting and since the Sentinels were descendants of his own race, it interested him even more. Their leader was a Sleeper, one of the most dangerous, but also one of the most endangered of their kind. Truly amazing that he had survived at all for such a long time.
Spook moved toward a sunny spot, stretched his wings, and settled back with a blissful sigh. Well, right now all he could do was leave the pondering to his logical side while his animal side enjoyed the day. Something would come up soon enough.

* * *

"No, this can't be right!"
Nightmare looked at something that Starscream suspected was a control panel, though it wasn't like any control panel he had ever seen before. It was a chunk of quartz, shaped like a cube and standing in the middle of a rather small room, covered with shallow grooves. Nightmare had touched several spots on the quartz and suddenly a small holographic sphere had sprung up. Inside the sphere was a glowing, orange point and several green points. They were moving slowly.
Bat peered down from the Gatekeeper's shoulder and made an 'oi-oi' sound.
"What is it?" Starscream wanted to know.
Nightmare had begun to explain a lot to him, beginning with who he was, where he had come from and where they now where. It had been a bit hard for Starscream to comprehend this all, but something inside of him had told him that Nightmare was telling the truth.
"This is wrong," Nightmare repeated. "I called up the station log and it says ... it says that the station was abandoned seven million years ago."
"So? It's in pretty good shape for such an old station."
Nightmare shook his head in dismay. "Ralyk has a maintenance program, so that's no wonder, but seven million years aren't correct!" He stared at Starscream. "She sent me into the past!" he finally breathed.
"What?!"
The other robot slumped against the console cube. "I told you that I used the doorway I was guarding to escape from Galvatron and that it was destroyed in the process."
Starscream nodded.
"The doorway was activated by a Key, those robots born by the Creators to align doorways. I don't know what she had aligned it to, but I had to escape. It looks like she sent me into the past." There was a solemn look in his red optics. "We're in a time when the war on Cybertron had just begun, when neither Autobots nor Decepticons had discovered Earth. If these readings are correct, then Optimus Prime has just been born."
A small hope flared up inside the newly born Starscream. "You mean I could return to my home?"
Nightmare shook his head. "No."
"What do you mean 'no'?" he demanded, temper flaring.
"First of all: you can't go back because you are already there, Starscream. That is, another you is there, and meeting yourself is not recommended. Second, to get from Ralyk to Cybertron you'd need a miracle -- or a Key. The only way on and off this station is through the doorway and we have no idea how to operate it, Starscream. Both of us are stuck here unless we find a way out."
The Decepticon shook his head. "I don't believe that! I will find a way!" With that he left the control room, storming through the corridors. He would find a way .... whatever it would be! He had to get back to Cybertron!
Nightmare watched him go and then turned back to the computer. It was correct. They were several million years away from their point of origin.
Bat sighed softly and hopped onto the cube of quartz. "Quite a temper, hasn't he, oi?"
Nightmare chuckled. "Remember that I was the same in the beginning?"
The little lizard snorted. "Worse," he then answered.
"Oh, thank you, Bat." The Gatekeeper shut down the computer. "The only thing about this whole situation that puzzles me, is the fact
 that he and the humanoid woman were caught in a centerway, which was apparently activated from here. If Ralyk as such brought him here, into the past, I wonder what it means."
Bat nodded. "Oi. And what about the woman? What happened to her?"
Nightmare frowned deeply. "I wish I knew." Ralyk never let potential go by. If the station removed her body from the hall, then it had put it somewhere. "Maybe if we can access the log we find out what is really going on here."
Bat hopped onto his shoulder as he left the room and walked down the corridor. Nightmare took a moment to call up an old file about Ralyk's layout, then strode purposefully down the blue-lit corridor. He'd find out what this was all about, even if it would take him all the time to get back into his present!