"They have discovered the chamber."
The eerie, cold voice echoed through the silent room, which was occupied by four individuals, who looked completely alike, right down to their writhing, green tentacles. Their race was commonly known as Quintessons, once highly respected traders, who had then lost their factory planet when the 'merchandise' had developed a conscience and emotions, taking over and throwing their slave masters off the planet now known as Cybertron. Since then the Quintessons had traveled through space in their ships, trying to find a way to take revenge, though most of it had failed right away. As of lately, revenge had dwindled down to a mere thought to be stored somewhere. Something more important had come up.
"We have to stop them from examining it," one of the others said, his five faces rotating until the face plate locked it with a slight 'click'.
"They are too strong," another one said.
The first of the group seemed to scowl, though it was hard to tell from the motionless features of the snarling face.
"If we cut off their heads, they will be in chaos long enough for us to act," the last of the four Quintessons said calmly.
The other three looked at him.
"We have tried that before," the first Quintesson said dismissively. "It failed."
"We tried it in a time when the Autobots were still ruled by only one leader. Now they have two," the speaker explained. "If one of them falls, the other will take over. But if both of them are killed..... The resulting chaos would give us time enough to attack and claim back what is ours."
The second Quintesson rotated his face plate to a new face again. "Your plan sounds intriguing, but taking out both leaders will be nearly impossible. Remember they are now allied with the Sentinels. With the alliance came changes and even if we manage to remove both, one could easily be found by what the Sentinels call Interfaces."
The others nodded.
"Then the Interface has to be removed as well."
The speaker seemed to smile. "It has to be done one after another. We spread chaos by removing the first leader and then, later, hit the second. We can easily remove the Interface as well."
The three Quintessons seemed to consider his plan. Finally they nodded.
"Who will do the job?" the third asked.
"A human. I have contacted someone who is out for revenge on the Autobots and
found a willing accomplice." The speaker let his face plate rotate to the Face of Death. "He has resources at his hands and he will be successful. The Autobots will fall into chaos, which will give us time to retrieve the structure."
"Or destroy it," another Deathface added coldly.
"Yes," the other two Quintessons agreed.
* * *
The attack came fast and completely unexpected. Optimus Prime, transformed into his vehicle mode, was driving along a rather lonely highway, aiming for an Airforce test site in Nevada. In the last two years the Autobots and humans had worked together, experimenting with several new machines and devices, mainly tested in this particular site. Since he was on Earth and finally blessedly unoccupied with matters concerning his own troops, he had decided to take a look. The commander of the base had had no objections to his arrival and so he had left Autobot City as soon as possible. Of course, Optimus could have chosen to fly to the base, but he felt he needed some exercise. He wanted to roll.
Halfway between the last town and the Airforce base it happened. Something hit him with the force of a missile, inflicting not only a few seconds of utter confusion, but also an amount of pain. Then something bright exploded and his visual went completely blind. Optimus veered hard to the left and crashed against something he didn't see. His radar was equally damaged. Trying to transform he was confronted by the next problem. He was stuck! He heard steps, light steps, which meant the attackers couldn't be Decepticons.
Humans? But why?
He heard some garbled words, which made him aware of his equally impaired audio sensor. Transformation still didn't work. He was completely helpless. With a last attempt he tried to send a signal, but it didn't go out.
The voices seemed to be all around him, shouting, sounding hectic, but controlled. And then everything around him flared in white-hot pain, followed by numbing nothingness.
* * *
Cybertron had been moved from its original position a lot of times, the last time many years ago. Now it was in a more or less close position to the solar system, though it was still better to take a warp gate to Earth than to try and fly there. Cybertron was undergoing major changes, which began with the Autobots trying to explore what of the former factory planet was still as it was drawn on the few existing maps and what had been changed. The many teams running around on and below the surface were coordinated by several commanders, which in return reported to their leader. Rodimus Prime had this, in his opinion, unwanted job of reviewing what the exploration teams had found. With Optimus on Earth, he had taken over his job on Cybertron.
I knew why he said he wanted to go to Earth for some time, the young second thought sourly. This drives you crazy!
Of course, the explorations had brought up many interesting finds, but only few could be looked at more closely. One of those fascinating finds was the ring chamber behind Vector Sigma. Right now it was studied by the Technobots, who had come up with a few interesting facts, but were mainly going from one dead end to the next. Then there was the destroyed ring structure the Autobots had taken with them from Crea. This one had proven more revealing concerning facts than the much larger one down in the chamber. Perceptor and his team were working around the clock, mainly piecing the remains back together and trying to translate the runes etched onto the quartz-like surface. Every little success was transmitted to the group of Technobots and they tried to find the same runes and inscriptions on the ring they studied. It was painfully slow work, but it showed success. Scattershot was certain that they'd have a translation done in the next few months. Most of the runes showed an eerie likeness to the old Sentinel language and the ancient Cybertronian, which Perceptor had dug up in the archives.
Rodimus set down the latest reports and closed the file with the attempted translations. It made no sense so far, but he knew everyone was doing his or her best. It was more than he could have hoped for. They needed to know what they were facing down there, what it was that had sat there for millions of years without anyone ever knowing about it. The rings were doorways, that much Vector Sigma had revealed, but where to he had not said. Optimus Prime had decided to respect the warning the mega computer had uttered, but he was not contempt with just sealing off the chamber and never looking at the doorway again. Especially not since the mysterious robot named Spook had popped up. Spook had mentioned that something had activated and gone through the doorway, which he had called a centerway. He had not said what it had been. Rodimus knew that Optimus no longer trusted Vector Sigma or Alpha Trion and that he thought the two of them were still hiding facts from them. His young second could only agree. Things were getting more mysterious, confusing and stranger every day.
Rodimus looked at the chronometer and sighed. Almost time to meet with Ultra Magnus and Smokescreen to discuss repairs on the damaged Southwest sectors. Well, he hoped this would be done quickly. He also wanted to go by med lab to check on Shanygn.
A few minutes later he strode into the med bay and looked around. It was almost empty, except for First Aid and his only patient. Shanygn sat on the examination table, clad in her skin-tight, dark blue exo-skeleton. She smiled at her Interface partner as he entered. The first thing Rodimus noticed about her, except her slightly pale skin, was the short hair. Shanygn had always been mighty proud of her long hair, but now it was barely long enough to reach her shoulders. He wondered what had made her cut it off.
"Hi, Roddy, how are you?"
He grinned. "I was about to ask you that, Shan."
"She is as healthy as they come," First Aid answered. "But I'd like to run a few more tests with the new skeleton."
Rodimus nodded. Shanygn was paralyzed from the neck down and needed an exo-skeleton to move. The skeleton replaced her damaged or non-existent synapses, also stimulating the muscle tissue so her muscles wouldn't degenerate. When they had met on Alean, Shanygn had worn a self-created skeleton and suit which covered her whole body and consisted of millions of sensors and hair thin wires, touching her skin and stimulating her muscles to move. Throughout the last years, Skywolf and First Aid had helped her reconstruct the skeleton after her own drawings and specs, also implanting some experimental contacts and sensors in her body. At first it had been a feat of patience to get her body to accept the neural network implanted inside of her, but a two week stay in a regeneration tank had done wonders. The exo-skeleton had been downsized in the sensor department, but upgraded in function. Now half her skeleton was actually inside of her, giving her a greater security in case her exo-skeleton broke down -- for what reasons ever. It also meant she could replace the skin-tight body suit with a much more open version, though Shanygn had been reluctant to do it. She had worn this complete cover for all her life and she was insecure as to what her body would look like half naked!
Rodimus had been a bit worried when Shanygn had gone into the tank. She had told him once before that former implants had failed because her body was not really accepting them and she had great difficulties working with the implanted version. She couldn't get the same implants Daniel had, because his accident had 'only' severed some spinal nerves. Shanygn was missing parts of her nervous system and other parts were simply degenerated. She could breathe and talk and eat, all her internal organs were working just fine, but her muscles had no connection to any nervous system and just didn't react to impulses.
Now, after two weeks, Shanygn looked just fine, though a bit tired. She had been unconscious, more or less sleeping in her tank, but now and then he had felt her presence in his mind and it had calmed him. Rodimus didn't know what would happen if he ever lost his Interface partner. She replaced the missing Matrix, filling a black and aching space. Getting this space ripped open again might just be too much.
"I also discovered a new, fascinating development lately," First Aid went on. "Shanygn has stopped aging, Rodimus."
"What?!" he exclaimed. "But...."
"It's not too surprising, considering that she's Interfaced with you."
"Yes, but ... it's not a typical Interface!" he protested.
Shanygn grinned. "We are not your typical partners either. You are an Autobot, I'm unable to Interface the regular way, so?"
"You approached the Interface process from a different direction," Skywolf said, walking out of the adjoining lab into the med bay. "In a normal Interface the human partner stops aging first, then he and the robotic partner begin developing their abilities. You developed your abilities first. You can transmit pictures telepathically, and Shanygn can home in on your position and Gate. She also replaces the Matrix for you, which was her first function. Now she stopped aging, something every Interface partner does." He shrugged. "It's normal."
Shanygn gave Rodimus a wry smile. "Looks like you won't get rid of me anytime soon, eh?"
"I'd never thought of doing anything like that!" he immediately told her.
Her smile widened. [I know, Roddy] her soft voice echoed in his mind.
"I think we can call it a day," First Aid said and Skywolf nodded in agreement. "Just take it easy, no exo-suit, no running around, no exertion whatsoever," he advised his human patient.
Shanygn gave him a smart salute. "Yes, sir!"
"Get out!" Skywolf grumbled and both of them left the lab.
Rodimus watched her walk, seeing no difference of difficulties in her movements.
[Stop staring!] she told him and he felt embarrassment rise inside of him.
[Sorry, wasn't intended]
She chuckled. [I'm fine, really. Don't worry so much about me! You have enough worries on your own]
[Let me worry about things I want to worry about] he answered with some amusement in his voice.
[Get outta here and to your briefing!] she told him not unkindly. [I promised Jeff to go over some reports with him]
[Just remember First Aid's advice....]
[Shoo] was all she answered as she disappeared into a room.
Rodimus Prime transformed into his vehicle mode. Leaving the building housing the med bay and aiming at the South Port main complex Rodimus suddenly felt a strange twist inside of him. It was a very faint feeling, something he couldn't define yet. As he entered the main complex, housing not only the South Port communications and command centers, but also several levels of research facilities, labs and the conference center, he was already expected by Ultra Magnus. Rodimus transformed. The very second the last of his parts slid into their assigned positions in robot mode, something hit him with the force of a sledge hammer. He gave a gasp of surprise and everything went white around him as if he was being blinded. Then came the pain. Rodimus didn't even have time to cry as the world blacked out around him.
Shanygn, who had just greeted Jeff and answered his questions about her health, stood bolt upright, startling the dark-haired man beside her. Jeff Winters' grey eyes held a puzzle expression.
"Shanygn?" he asked.
"Roddy!" she breathed. "Something has happened!"
Wild Card, who was entering the room nearly collided with the blue-haired woman as she ran out of the room.
"Uh, what happened?" he asked.
Jeff looked at his partner and shrugged. "We were just starting to go over one of the reports and suddenly she reacted as if hit by lightning, saying 'Roddy. Something has happened.'"
Wild Card looked down the corridor Shanygn had taken at high speed, then back at his human Interface. "Then something has happened," he said with a slight feeling of dread.
Winters was already off his chair and running out of the room. "So let's find out what it is!" he called and Wild Card followed him.
* * *
A lonely figure sat on the rim overlooking a deep canyon, though not as deep as the canyon on the planet she was now thinking about. A gust of wind rushed by, carrying with it dust and sand, which settled around her like snow. Raven didn't mind the sand. She was used to it from the planet she had spent such a long time on. Her mind was far away, reflecting her past, the present and her possible future. Whenever she thought about this possible future she came up with a blank. She didn't know what to do. For the first time she knew who she was, but, unlike she had thought in the past, it didn't present her with a solution to her problem. She had always been different, even among her own kind, which had degraded her because she was apparently just a weak link in a chain of warriors. Then she had met the Decepticon Cyclonus and she had felt a deep and intense bond forming between them. She had followed him to this lonely planet, Charr, to become a Decepticon. But that wasn't her. Some of the other Decepticons were suspicious of her because she was not one of them, not even of their kind, the Cybertronians. She knew she had not been born on Cybertron. Neither of her race had been. It made her an outcast again, though Galvatron seemed to have accepted her.
And then she and Soundwave had traveled to Crea. Raven knew she would never be able to be the same again. Crea had opened her eyes to what she was. She had seen her true self and had come to know her function. She was a Key. She could activate and align doorways. And she was the last of the Keys still alive and functional. Nightmare had explained so much to her, most of which she could understand only now. She had traveled deep into herself, called up programs she had never known were of any use to her ever, and she had learned.
With the knowledge also came the realization that she would be unable to continue her present life, though resuming her past life was also out of the question. If Nightmare were still around ... Raven knew she would have gone to him. The Gatekeeper was a second-generation product of the Creators, a Decepticon who had been reconstructed to serve them. And this service had made him destroy the doorway he had guarded, to keep it safe from Galvatron. Raven barely remembered what had happened in those moment on Crea. She faintly thought she saw herself activate the doorway, felt the power of the ancient structure as it yielded to her as a Key, then she had lost consciousness. Her actions had cost the Decepticons the knowledge of the doorway and Nightmare had escaped just before the ring structure had self-destructed.
Galvatron had not been very happy.
Raven had had to face him and she still felt his anger permeate her very self. He had been furious, but more controlled than his former version, before the accident on Mernan. The former Galvatron would have killed her instantly. The present Galvatron had not. She had suffered through the interrogation, feeling a little shame rise inside of her, but only because her actions might fall back on her partner, Cyclonus. The Decepticon lieutenant had been unusually quiet throughout the last days and they had not seen much of each other. Usually Raven was with him, sitting transformed in her bird mode on his shoulder, but she had refrained from doing this. She didn't know how to handle her situation, her life, herself anymore! Everything was so complicated all of a sudden and the only one she could have possibly turned to was gone! She had no idea where she had aligned the doorway to. She had simply done it.
Raven knew that the Autobots had taken the remains of the doorway with them to Cybertron and a small part inside of her insisted she'd go there. Maybe she, as a Key, could find out where the doorway had sent Nightmare. Maybe it had some kind of memory unit.
She sighed deeply.
Suddenly she heard steps and someone sat down beside her. It was Cyclonus. The second-in-command simply sat there, silent, unmoving. Raven had no idea what to say to him. She knew that nothing between them could ever be how it had been and she also knew that she had to go, to leave him, soon. Most of the other Decepticons regarded her as a traitor or a threat, if they hadn't thought that of her before already, and except maybe for Scrapper and Hook, no one really talked to her anymore. She had also made the first step by leaving the Decepticon base and spending her time outside, battling the elements as she had always done on the planet where she had met Cyclonus. To the outside, both of them had never displayed any kind of emotions toward each other. That had been reserved for private moments.
"I have to go," she finally said, her voice low.
She refrained from using their stabilized mind-link. She didn't want him to feel more than what she intended him to.
"Where?" was the neutral question.
"I don't know. A lot has changed. I'm no longer uncertain as to what I am. I know it now." She turned her head and looked at him. "I'm not a Decepticon and I could never be one. I'm of a race older than yours, older than the Autobots, older than any Cybertronian ever constructed. I have a role to play and I need to find my way."
His red optics glowed. Raven recognized barely suppressed anger, an anger not directed at he, but at everything in general.
"What did he say to you?" he asked.
Raven knew whom he meant. Nightmare.
"Nothing. He told me who I am, that is all, Cyc. He showed me that I'm not what I always thought I was: an accidental activation." She looked intensely at him. "I have to find out what all of this means."
He regarded her silently for a long time. "Leaving now will only strengthen everyone's belief that you are a traitor."
She smiled sadly. "None of your kind ever really trusted me and you know it. Only our relationship kept me from more serious encounters. And please don't tell me you never got into a verbal fight where you had to defend me!"
The expression on his face told her she had hit right on target.
"Cyclonus, as close as we are and as much as I enjoyed finally having a partner, I can't stay here. Please understand! Everything will be much easier for everyone when I'm gone."
She rose from her sitting position, dislodging much of the sand that had settled on her.
"Where will you go?" he asked.
"I don't know," Raven answered truthfully. She smiled at him. "Thank you for everything." With that she transformed and flew away, disappearing in the lead colored sky of Charr.
Cyclonus watched her small, black form disappear. He should hate her for her actions on Charr. He didn't. He should hate Galvatron for nearly killing her when she had intervened. He didn't do that either. He should despise every single one of his fellow Decepticons for their behavior toward the female. He felt nothing at all.
He turned and left, and only deep inside was a small aching spark of sadness.
* * *
The high security prison facility was one of the best in this country. There had never been a successful escape or any trouble with the inmates, who were watched around the clock and guarded by not only human wardens with dogs, but also by a security system that was leading in the world-wide competition.
One of the inmates had never spent any thought on breaking out of the large complex. It would have resulted in nothing but trouble and him on the run. He was contempt in here, with his men outside relaying everything important to him through various means and channels. The other inmates either kept away or tried to win his trust by working for him. Victor Draft didn't feel any different inside the prison than outside. He had his position, his men and his money. Being confined to this one spot was something he could ignore. One thing he might miss from time to time was the female company.
Right now he was in his cell, reading a letter sent to him. The letter, as all, had been opened and viewed by the wardens, but they'd never find anything suspicious in the phrases. Michelle was the best when it came to using the code. A smile spread over Draft's face. Everything was going as planned.
* * *
Rodimus sat in one of the chairs of the small conference room, trying to ignore the bustle going on around him. Ultra Magnus was on the line with Kup, who was in Metroplex on Earth, while Smokescreen handled a call to Alean. Midnight had called in nearly simultaneously when Rodimus had blacked out. The blackout had been brief and he had come around the moment Ultra Magnus had carried him into the room. Rodimus had told him he was feeling okay, though there was this strange feeling inside of him. He didn't need a medic. Shanygn had arrived a few minutes ago, looking worried, an expression that had not changed the slightest bit in the time she was now here. She had not tried to contact him mentally and simply stood by his side, being a silent support.
Analyzing what he had felt, Rodimus was not sure if his first guess had been correct that it had been a backlash from the Matrix. Why should something like that happen? Even though Optimus and he had a not yet explained connection through the very fact that both of them had been Autobot leader and both were chosen by the Matrix, this didn't mean he felt everything done to Optimus Prime and vice versa. True, through his change from Hot Rod into Rodimus Prime, once again inflicted by carrying the Matrix for a few hours, he had become more sensitive to it, but backlashes were rare. He had experienced pain when Braintrust had ripped the Matrix out of Optimus and Optimus had felt it when Rodimus had been attacked by Vector Sigma, but both times it had never resulted in a blackout! But if it hadn't been the Matrix, what had it been?
He looked down at Shanygn, who had been the receiving end of this attack as well. She looked okay and Rodimus felt relieved that she had not suffered anything permanent. It was an aspect of their Interface he greatly disliked. Shanygn was receptive, unwillingly, for strong emotions broadcast by her robot partner. She could only shut him out if she had a few seconds warning, but this had happened too fast.
"How do you feel?" he asked nevertheless.
"Confused," he confessed. His optics roamed the room, which was still busy and he was glad no one asked him any questions, giving him the space to collect his thoughts. "I'm not sure it's the Matrix."
"But it felt like it, right?"
He looked into her blue eyes and nodded. "Kup is trying to locate Optimus Prime to check on him. He went out to meet with some officials on an Airforce base in Nevada."
Someone approached him and Rodimus recognized Wild Card. The former Seeker had been on Cybertron for a few weeks now, helping out with his knowledge about the secret passageways the Sentinels had used throughout their era under the Quintessons.
"Midnight says he's coming back from Alean," the golden brown Sentinel reported. "He only called to check on some things he wanted Perceptor to send to him, but when he heard about the strange backlash he said he'd be here soon."
Rodimus nodded. "Any word on Optimus?"
"No. Kup is still trying to reach him."
Ultra Magnus joined them, a worried frown on his face. "I got a short message from the Airforce base. Major Mitchell said Optimus Prime hasn't arrived yet, though he was expected this morning. He's sending out someone to check the highway."
Rodimus nodded and a small spark of fear ignited inside of him. "Any Decepticon activity?" he asked.
"Not a peep out of them," Wild Card answered. "Since the events on Crea everything's been quiet."
"Tell Kup to give me anything he hears on this," the Autobots' second ordered and rose from his chair, still feeling the vague pain he had been hit with. "I'll be in my office. And I want a shuttle ready to lift off in case I need to go to Earth."
Ultra Magnus didn't ask what Rodimus was planning; he simply nodded.
Rodimus turned to Shanygn. [We need to talk] he told her softly.
She only nodded and followed him out of the room.
* * *
Ralyk was not dead. At least not in the sense of the word. The station went through a regular program of maintenance and regeneration, shutting down one part to regenerate and activating another to use as a substitute as long as the other part was dormant. Ralyk was also not controlled by a main computer. At least not by any conventional device that might be called a computer. The station was aware to a degree, able to sense space ships approaching its position and reacting accordingly. It was also aware of the three life forms currently about in its maze of rooms and corridors. It recognized two of them by their marks and the other one was its own creation. Ralyk had been alone and running its regular schedules for millions of years. This had given the half-sentient central system enough time to get to know itself better, ponder its current situation and react accordingly to it. When the strangers had arrived some time ago, one of them only a former shadow of his self, the other dying, it had made a decision that had been based on two factors: its creators' experimental nature which had rubbed off on the central core, and the old programs stored deep inside of it.
It had been millions of years ago when Ralyk had last seen life created in its honeycombed interior chambers, and it somehow missed the exhilarating feeling of birthing yet another new life. Because Ralyk was the origin of all life. Its memory circuits were full of files for different designs and a few of those files that had never been used. Until recently.
Ralyk had taken the dead body of the humanoid being and had carried it away. It knew that the other life form had been angered through it, but Ralyk had plans. It had to follow something that had been activated through the arrival of the two, and so it did. It had scanned and tried to replicate the dead creature, whose memories and personality it had store in one of the many empty files. But Ralyk had failed. It had seen the limit set to it. It couldn't recreate organic life. Caught dead on, it had pondered what to do. There was no program telling it what to do now. That was when the experimental streak of the Creators had struck and it had made a decision, based on what the memories of the organic being relayed.
Dycran felt different than before, but she was acutely aware that this was only for her best. Her mind, wide open and receptive, met that of the half-sentient station, which was called Ralyk, and she understood. She guided the computer throughout the new creation process and was finally pleased with the outcome.
-- Transfer -- the soft voice said.
She relaxed and felt herself drift.
-- Complete --
And with it Dycran truly died. She followed her body, which had finally been disposed off, and let her old life fade away. She took her memories along, and to a certain degree her abilities, but everything else was gone.
Sphere was finally truly born.
* * *
On Earth all hell had broken lose. Kup was nowhere and everywhere at once, checking this, ordering a tighter search, hovering at Blaster's communications console or pacing the command center. F/X watched the old warrior's worried face grow even more worried as more and more negative reports came in. No one could find any trace of Optimus Prime, though the highway and any possible other road was searched thoroughly for the slightest clue as to where the Autobot leader might have vanished to.
"This is impossible!" Kup grumbled as he looked at the latest messages. "There has to be a trace!"
F/X glanced at the map that showed which areas had been searched already. There weren't many blank spots left and none of them were anywhere near the highway to the Airforce base. Sighing softly to himself, the Sentinel leaned back and watched the others. He hadn't much to do anyway and air support wasn't needed right now.
"Well?" a soft voice asked and he discovered Aurora. The female Sentinel looked very worried.
"Nothing," he answered just as softly.
"This is crazy," she muttered. "Who could kidnap an Autobot of that size and manage to hide every trace? I don't believe that Optimus went with them without a fight!"
F/X nodded. He didn't believe it either. There had to be something! But to find that 'something' was a difficult task.
* * *
"So, what now, Dutch?"
Dutch, a man in his late forties and always dressed in brown combination of a jacket and trousers with a white shirt, looked at the slightly smoking wreck of the Autobot truck. Everything had gone like clockwork. The Autobot had not expected an attack and driven right onto the specially prepared pads, which had immediately released a stun ray. Trying to escape, the Autobot had run right into the path of two of the custom made missiles, which had disabled his radar, visual and audio, also effectively severing those circuits needed for transformation. Dutch and his men had worked quickly and towed the truck off the road and onto one of the vehicles, which had also been especially made for this task. Within minutes everything had been done and the vehicle had carried the Autobot off to a scrap yard which, in Dutch's opinion, was the best place to hide a damaged truck in. The yard was located between two rather small towns and in no danger of becoming the target of a thorough search. Everyone coming here was either a kid from the towns or someone in need of some spare parts. All insignia had been removed and he had made sure that the damaged inflicted upon the Autobot leader would keep him out of commission for good. He wasn't dead, which had not been necessary, and his boss had explicitly told him not to kill him unless ordered to. They might just need him yet.
"We'll wait for the Autobots to stop their search and then move to phase two," Dutch said, cleaning his hands. "Just like the boss told us."
The other men nodded and looked at the damaged truck again. Even with the two large holes in the front and the red paint and the insignia effectively removed, there was something impressing about him. They dispersed, going back to their cars and returning to their motel, waiting for the boss to call phase two a go.
Dutch stayed a while longer, simply watching the wreck. The boss had planned this one well, just like the last hit against the Autobots, which would have been a success if not for an unforeseen event. Victor Draft had been imprisoned because they had had this unforeseen event and the boss would not leave something out in the open again. And this time they had the advantage of having allies who knew a lot about Transformers. If not for their knowledge, the job of taking out Optimus Prime would have not gone so smoothly. It was difficult to take out a robot that size, but they had known where to hit and how hard. And they had been supplied with the necessary parts to construct the missiles and stun rays.
A smile crossed the red-haired man's features. This time they'd have the Autobots by their necks and they'd squeeze everything they wanted out of them. With phase two soon on the way, there would be nothing those robots could do against it.
* * *
Raven didn't know why, but she was drawn to Cybertron. Her instincts, which had once been only there for her survival, suddenly told her new things. They seemed to home in on something on the planet of the Cybertronians and she followed their guidance. Getting through the security system was hard work, but she managed after several tries. She had to spend a lot of her energon on projecting a dense hologram around her small form and this left her weak and in need of recharge. She hid in one of the many abandoned buildings, shutting down most of her circuits.
* * *
Sphere liked what she saw. Ralyk had taken great care to construct a robot body that suited her formerly organic one. Silvery bluish metal made up her body, here and there highlighted in a soft green. Artificial white hair cascaded down her back and her green optics shone brightly in her oval face. There was even the tattoo that had marked her as a Host on her forehead, though it was shaped slightly different than he original. She tried out her transformation and was greeted by a large, winged horse-like creature. Transforming back into her robot mode, Sphere left the room that had housed her body for the last weeks.
<< Where are the others? >> she asked the half-sentient being that ran Ralyk.
-- Starscream has returned to the centerway. Nightmare will join him there soon -- was the soft answer.
Sphere had gotten to know Ralyk quite well throughout her stay in the memory banks of the ancient station and she knew the role that had been assigned to her by the station. She accepted that she no longer had an organic body. Somehow, everything in her life had lead to this. The moment Starscream had joined her -- it hadn't been a possession -- she had realized that she was no longer Alyssa Dycran, professional Host. The joined body of the ghost of a robot and the mind of a human had been Sphere. Now she had a robot body and her mind was that of an organic, so both factors were still combined, though on a different level. She was still Sphere and she knew what she had to do.
Entering the large, black-walled hall she saw no one inside. Her scanners roamed the room, but before she could make a complete scan, something hard was shoved into her back.
"Don't move," a well-known voice hissed. "And don't even think about your gun."
Sphere briefly thought about doing just that, then decided to try out her new body. With a quick spin the surprised her would-be attacker and the gun went flying out of his hand. She added a kick for good measure, but the silver and dark blue robot fought back. He grabbed her ankle and used her momentum to get her flat on her back.
Have to work on this, she thought sourly.
Her attacker used his second gun to point it at her, but he didn't shoot.
"I give up, Starscream," she said and a smile crossed her face.
Starscream had changed. First of all, he had a real body, which looked rather nice, she thought. He was colored in a combination of silver, dark blue and a bit of red, and everything about his design hinted toward an aerial transformation.
"Dycran?" he whispered and his gun, pointed at her midsection, wavered.
"Yes," she answered. "Can I get up now?"
"But ... you're dead!" His voice rose a bit.
"So were you. Ralyk took my mind and gave me a new body, as well as a new role. And my name is Sphere now."
Starscream still stared at her. He remembered what the soft voice had told him when he had joined with the Host Alyssa Dycran. 'And we are ... Sphere.'
Sphere got up and he didn't try to stop her. He was still too surprised.
"Ah, I see Ralyk has struck again," another voice said with some amusement.
Nightmare walked toward them, Bat on his shoulder. "Welcome, Sphere."
"Thank you," she replied.
His eyes fell on her insignia. "And I see we have been supplied with a way off this station," Nightmare added.
"What do you mean?" Starscream demanded,
The Gatekeeper pointed at the rune-like insignia on Sphere's chest. "Sphere has been marked as a Key, those robots able to open and align doorways. The only question is, can she do it?"
Both looked at the recently born female.
"I don't know," Sphere answered truthfully.
* * *
Optimus Prime was aware to a certain degree. He knew he existed, but all his sensors were cut down to a minimum. He didn't know where he was or what condition he was in. He could only guess from what he couldn't see or hear or feel, and it frightened him. And even more frightened him that he couldn't feel the soft presence of the Matrix. He strained his senses to catch anything through the remaining minimum of his former input. He heard steps and he felt someone climbing around on him, but that was about it. Something slammed into him and he experienced a short pain, then there was nothing again. Desperately he tried to call out, to activate any means of communication, but nothing had any success. He was shut off from everything.
* * *
"Did ya see her? She looked right inta ma face and smiled!"
The dark-haired man chuckled. "Yeah, right. Desperation seeking a vent, Doug!"
Doug Clifton grimaced at the younger man. "What do ya know of ladies, eh? Ya too set on ya job anyway!"
Nicholas Cavanaugh only smiled. "Someone has to be," he chuckled.
He brought the old car to a stop and got out. Doug followed and both men walked along the stacks of old cars, car parts and undefined cubes of metal.
"What ya think ta find here anyway, kid?" Doug asked, rubbing his unshaved face. "Ya dream car?"
"No and you know it. Every since this drunken sicko drove his eighteen wheeler into my truck I've been looking for a replacement."
"Onna scrap yard? Kid, grow up! Everthin' that's here is scrap, hence the name! You wanna reconstruct one o' those things? You're outta ya mind!"
"Doug, shut up and help me look. Maybe one of those old things has a sound enough basis structure to work with."
Nicholas Cavanaugh was a driver most of the time. He drove everything that had wheels, but the only thing that had ever brought money was trucking. So he had scraped together every penny and bought an old truck, but that was history now after the drunk, without an insurance to top it, had scrapped his machine. That had been two weeks ago and he was desperately trying to find anything that remotely promised to roll. Repairing broken parts had never been a problem. Nicholas knew his stuff, which Doug always attested to every skeptic customer, when it came to repairs. Nicholas didn't know how he did it, but you only had to explain something to him once, whatever complicated mechanism it was, and he understood. He simply knew where each part went and memorized its functions. Doug was the one who had given him a steady paycheck for working in his garage, a second job Nicholas took from time to time when money was at an end again. There was nothing Nicholas couldn't repair and improvising came naturally when parts he needed weren't there.
Suddenly his eyes fell on a rather mangled looking truck, which looked like something had hit it fast and hard, tearing apart the engine cover and blowing the front right tire. The trailer was still attached and looked no worse for wear, though someone seemed to have sand-dusted off the paint of the whole thing.
"Looks good," Nicholas muttered as he checked the structural damage. "Basis is not affected and the missing and destroyed parts could be replaced easily."
Doug chewed on his ever-present cigar. "Whole load o' work, kid," he muttered around the cold stump.
"Much less than putting together what's left of the old truck," Nicholas told him.
"How'd ya wanna get it out o' here, eh? The tow-truck might not make it."
"I'm not. I guess if Zach's okay with it, I'll work here. I did it before and Zach's always happy to have some company." Nicholas shrugged.
His older friend did the same. "Suits me."
Nicholas smiled and looked at the truck again. Yes, he could reconstruct it, no problem at all.
* * *
"Everything okay?" Shanygn asked when Rodimus didn't utter a word as they entered his office.
The young second looked at her and she saw pain his blue optics. It couldn't be physical pain because from what she felt he was okay again. The backlash energy had not done any permanent damage.
"No," he said, leaning back against his desk. "Shan, I want to ask you something."
"You'll get the rings, I'll find a church," she quipped.
It had the hoped for result. Rodimus smiled a bit. "Seriously," he said.
She shrugged. "Okay. Shoot."
"I know you can home in on me and Gate by drawing on my energy," he began slowly. "You can also contact me, just like I can contact you."
Shanygn raised an eyebrow, not yet completely sure what he was aiming at.
"And you felt when I was hit by the energy backlash, right?"
"Ye-es," she answered slowly.
"Could you home in on Matrix energy?" Rodimus asked.
Shanygn frowned. She had never thought about it. She wasn't telepathic, merely able to use dormant empathic abilities and the link to Rodimus provided by the empty space the Matrix had left to Interface with him. That she was the receiving end of emotional bursts was a small price to pay for what the Interface had gained them both. She knew what Matrix energy felt like, but she had never even thought about what her partner was planning.
"I don't know," she answered truthfully. "It might be. But to really concentrate on it I have to go into trance. It's easy to home in on you because I know you and your pattern. Optimus is a completely different matter. I'm also not the most receptive for Matrix energy and you know it."
"I can't ask Midnight to do it," Rodimus objected. "It hurts him to come in contact with Matrix energy."
"I know, Roddy, I know. We should talk with Skywolf about it. He knows more about our Interface and our abilities than anyone. He might have an idea how to enhance what I already feel through you." She frowned. "Which gets me to another point. I feel it through you. You're the conduit."
"But I only receive the backlash because I was once a Matrix bearer," Rodimus objected. "At least that's the theory."
"Meaning you might have to be part of the search team."
He sighed. "Meaning going under as well. I can't do that. With Optimus missing I've automatically taken over. I can't just lie back and sleep."
Shanygn chuckled. "It's hardly sleeping, but you're right. Tell you what, I'll go and talk to Skywolf, you see to it that nobody gets prematurely all panicky. Maybe they come up with a trace of Optimus soon."
A dark shadow of foreboding knowledge crossed Rodimus' features. "I hope you are right," he said softly. "I'm leaving for Earth with the shuttle."
* * *
Diana Michelle MacKenzie smiled as she read the report she had gotten in from the team she had sent out to capture and immobilize the Autobot leader. Everything had gone as planned and the Autobot was now safely hidden in an old scrap yard. Dutch and his men were hiding as well and she believed that by the end of this week they would be able to go to phase two. Victor would be pleased and kept satisfied in his high security prison cell.
She sat back on the soft couch and sipped at her drink. Unlike Draft she had not been sent to prison, but had received a rather mild sentence. Three years on probation. That was mainly thanks to her superior acting qualities, as she had convinced the judge and jury that she had been the unwilling accomplice of the evil Victor Draft, that she had been forced to betray the Autobot and help Draft with his plans.
Fools, she thought with a smile.
The time after the sentence had given her room enough to prepare her own plans of revenge against the Autobots. She wasn't dumb and neither was she only a puppet Victor Draft could use for his pleasure. She had her own mind, her training and resources.
And now was pay-back time.
Victor Draft, who loved to call her by her second name and not 'Diana' as she preferred, thought that all this had been his idea, his brainchild, but he was dead wrong with it. Diana had formed and manipulated him throughout the years, beginning even before the fateful decision to go up against the Autobots. Had he listened to her he would not be in prison right now. Well, bad for him. It gave her enough room to act.
Phase one was complete, with the Autobot leader out of the way. Phase two meant getting Rodimus Prime. Her smile grew as she remembered how she had met the former leader, and how she had coerced him into thinking that she was on his side. With him equally out of the way, their employers would have what they wanted. She would take their money and her own revenge at the Autobots for destroying her life.
She looked up and discovered Jack, another one of Draft's former employee's who had come away more or less in one piece from the whole trial. He had spent two years in prison.
"The Autobots have removed many of their ground forces. Looks like they are giving up."
She nodded. "Prepare everything for phase two. We will start the very second they are completely gone."
Jack nodded and disappeared again.
Diana rose from her chair and placed the glass she had been holding on the table. Phase two. It wouldn't go as Victor Draft had ordered her to do it. She wasn't some stupid pleasure girl, she had ambitions herself; ambitions that had failed once to deliver a crippling blow against those meddling robots. But this time she wouldn't fail. This time she had the advantage of their allies, of whom she had a good guess who they were. She had met them once, face to face, and she despised them just as those meddling robots. They were paying good money, but it didn't mean that she had to like them because of it.
"Well, Rodimus Prime, I think we have a lot to talk about before you are taken out of commission," she said with a cruel and cold smile. "Permanently."
* * *
Nicholas straightened from his work with a groan, trying to work the kinks out of his back.
"Not bad, son," a scratchy voice said and he turned.
Zach Armstrong, the owner of the scrap yard, stood behind him, nodding approvingly. He was dressed in the shaggiest looking overall Cavanaugh had ever seen. There wasn't a place that wasn't either drenched in machine oil, Diesel fuel or something else. Armstrong hadn't shaved for weeks and his salt-and-pepper beard, combined with his mussed hair, gave him the impression of a street person. Zach encouraged people, especially strangers he didn't trust or like, to think of him as a deaf old bugger, but he was sharp as a blade and very quick on the up-take. Zach's age wasn't known and he never celebrated any birthdays. Every town or city has a person like Zach. Everyone knows who they are, but no one remembers any time when they hadn't been there or where they went when they weren't ... well, where they usually were. Armstrong was also a man who knew a talent when he saw it and had told Nicholas that he could go everywhere if he just got out of this town. Well, Nicholas had tried, but it had ended with his truck getting run over by an eighteen wheeler.
"I knew you could do it," he added and then grinned. He left Nicholas to his work and walked back to his one-story house, limping slightly.
Nicholas smiled and went back to work. This hadn't been easy. Not at all. He didn't know who had built the truck, but it was more than what met the eye. The engine was the most sophisticated piece of work he had ever seen and it had taken him some time just to understand the basics of what he was facing. And with understanding came the realization that this was no normal truck. There was too much computer technology and strange stuff involved. Well, Nicholas had always been told he was a bright kid, and he had used his technical genius to the hilt and rigged together what he could.
He stopped. What the..... Removing some kind of cover he was faced with a softly glowing, bluish ball. It looked like a piece of brightly lit jewelry! He reached out and touched it.
The next thing he knew he was lying flat on his back in front of the truck. His body felt like hit by a great electrical charge, but he wasn't hurting, only slightly dizzy. Nicholas climbed back to his feet and walked carefully over to the truck again. The blue glowing thing was still there and seemed to pulsate slightly.
"What the hell is this?" he muttered.
* * *
"It's time," Diana MacKenzie said and smiled. "Initiate phase two."
Dutch nodded and then gestured at Jack to follow him.
Diana stretched and walked out on the balcony overlooking the garden. Dusk was settling in and the moon was already visible. She took out her handy and dialed a number.
"Everything ready?" she asked when the connection was made, then smiled when the answer was positive.
This was working even better and much faster than expected. She'd have her revenge after all and no one could stop her.
* * *
Days passed and formed into a week. Rodimus Prime had not left Earth for one second and was organizing the search for Optimus Prime, as well as trying to do his job on Cybertron as best as possible. Though Ultra Magnus and Smokescreen were doing a good job back on their home planet, they were also always coming back to him for confirmation of one thing or other. Rodimus could call himself lucky to catch an hour of recharge, but he knew he was putting himself into this amount of work himself, turning himself into a nexus point. Others were able to take over many of the jobs and would only have to report back once or twice, but he didn't want to give the search for Optimus out of his hands. This was too important. There had not yet been a single peep out of Prime or anyone who could have kidnapped him.
"It's the Cons!" Kup snarled in their latest meeting.
"Then why haven't any demands come in yet? Why hasn't Galvatron called to gloat about it, to lure us into a trap and get the rest of us as well?" Rodimus asked tiredly. "There was also no Decepticon activity reported anywhere near Earth."
"Same goes about the Seekers," Midnight added. "They haven't shown up since Braintrust was destroyed and I doubt Tornado would even think about undertaking such an endeavor."
"How do you know?" Springer asked.
"He's logical and calm, not a raving psychotic like Braintrust." Midnight's visor glowed softly. "I know him."
"I still think we should send out someone to get an idea what the Decepticreeps are up to," Kup told his leader.
Rodimus sighed and nodded, though he thought that if Optimus was in the Decepticons' hands, they would know. "All right, Kup, do it."
A pleased expression crossed Kup's face.
"What if the Cons didn't kidnap Optimus?" Rodimus then asked. "What other options do we have? Any other suspects?"
"The Quints?" Springer suggested.
"Possible. They never involved themselves directly into events. So if they are behind it they must have used someone else to do it." Rodimus frowned. "And on Earth this means humans. If we have to look into any enemy we have on Earth, we have a long list." He looked at the Autobots and Sentinels in the room. "But we have to take it into account. Springer, Blaster, get a list together and check out who is in any position to go through with it. If you have to, involve everyone you can get. I know the list is long."
"Will do, Rodimus."
"As for everyone else, continue. Kup, keep me informed about everything you hear."
Kup nodded. Rodimus rose from his chair and left the room, walking back to his office. Shanygn was on her way to Earth after a prolonged stay on Cybertron, with Skywolf checking her through if she could somehow circumvent Rodimus as a conduit and find a way to locate a dense cluster of Matrix energy. So far everything had been greeted with a negative answer. It was another possible dead end, though this was not definite yet. Rodimus simply feared it would soon be definite. With Shanygn coming here, he was afraid it was a dead end.
He closed the door after entering his office, one he shared with Optimus because most of the time each one was working separate, one on Cybertron, one on Earth. His answering machine was blinking and he switched it on. He read over the list of calls and rearranged it to which ones were important and which weren't. On the top of his list was a call from the Airforce base. He called back immediately.
"Rodimus Prime," the uniformed man appearing on the screen greeted him. "My name is Major Thomas Mitchell, commander of Airforce Base Delta."
Rodimus nodded at him. "Major. You called?"
"Yes. We received an anonymous call from someone we couldn't locate because the call was too brief. The caller said he knows we are looking for a missing Autobot," Mitchell smiled wryly and Rodimus knew why. No one could have overlooked their efforts in the last week. "He also said he wanted to talk to no one but you, Rodimus Prime. He gave us coordinates to relay to you." Mitchell sent a string of numbers. "That's all."
Rodimus looked at the coordinates. They were outside the area they had searched. "All right, thank you, Major."
"Just be careful," Mitchell added, then terminated the link.
Rodimus stared at the coordinates again. It could be a trap. It could be a lead. But he could only be sure what it was if he went there.
* * *
Optimus Prime felt some awareness return, ever so slowly and ever so unsatisfactory. His self-repair systems were drawing heavily on his energon supplies and he knew he wouldn't last long enough if he didn't get fuel from somewhere soon. So he had shut down every repair system as far as he could, concentrating only on getting a communications link up and running, which was hard enough. Throughout this he became also aware of someone being around him. Someone was apparently working on him. He tried to repair his vocal unit, but it was a useless task. The connections had been severed quite thoroughly, and he saw that he wouldn't be able to repair them on his own. This was bad.
And then he felt a flare of Matrix energy, quickly followed by the image of someone, a human, most likely the one who had repaired him so far. It was a young man, maybe in his late twenties, with dark hair, a sun tanned face and lively grey eyes. The image faded and the next sensation was that of someone removing the Matrix. He screamed in protest, but his scream went unheard.
* * *
"Not on your own, you won't!" Kup protested immediately after he had heard about the call.
"I didn't say that, Kup," Rodimus explained calmly, feeling another wave of tiredness sweep over him. He needed to recharge or he'd keel over from an energon low soon. "Shanygn has just arrived from Cybertron and is coming with me."
The security chief frowned deeply.
"She's perfectly able to handle an attack," Rodimus added, slightly piqued by Kup's critical look. "And as a humanoid she can hide more easily."
"I didn't say anything, lad."
Rodimus rubbed his optics, feeling another wave of tiredness.
"We'll be leaving in two hours," he told Kup. "No one will follow us, is that clear?"
The old warrior nodded.
"I'll be in my office in case something happens that needs my attention."
Kup watched him leave. "I'll make sure there is nothing that needs your attention, my boy," he muttered as he was alone in the empty room. "You need a rest, badly."
* * *
Doug rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"Well, what do you think it is?" Nicholas asked and looked nervously around. No one was here to see them and normally everyone ignored Doug's old and battered looking RV anyway.
"Dunno, kid. Looks mighty important."
The glowing sphere was lying on the table inside the RV, partly wrapped in a dirty, oil-stained cloth. Nicholas had been able to yank it out of the place it had stuck in after putting on a pair of gloves. He had not felt any electricity again.
"Maybe that truck is some kind of experiment. Ya know, government an' all. The Airforce base isn't far from here." He chewed on his cigar stump.
"So? Then why dump the wreck on our yard?" Nicholas wanted to know.
"Why ya askin' me? Maybe they wanna hide it."
Nicholas looked at the sphere again and then covered it with the cloth. Maybe Doug was right. The truck was mighty special, he had found out that by himself already. No one built a truck with so much tech stuff in it. But what should he do now? This machine represented his chance to get out of here once more.
"Well, I'll sleep about it," he muttered and stuffed the covered device back into his knapsack. "See you in the morning."
"I ain't workin' tomorrow, kid, so ya can tinker on that machine all ya want," Doug said with a grin.
Nicholas waved good-bye and walked to the only inn for miles around. He had a room there, which had been left to him for only part of the normal charge the inn keepers got off tourists, which were few, or truckers, which were more. He climbed the stairs and dug out his keys. Dumping the sphere on the table, he undressed and took a shower. His thoughts were whirling around what this thing was, but he couldn't come up with any explanation for the life of it.
* * *
Shanygn knocked softly on Rodimus Prime's office door and when no one answered, simply stepped in. She found the current Autobot leader sitting in his chair, working on something. He looked up and Shanygn was struck by how drained he looked. She knew that since Optimus Prime's disappearance a lot was resting on his shoulders and that this situation was even worse than if Optimus were dead. Then they'd have certainty.
[Roddy?] she asked softly.
He smiled at her. [We are not leaving until in two hours] he answered, easily using their mind-link.
[Which should give you the chance to recharge] She shook her head. [Can't leave you alone for a few days, can I? Now unwind and get some recharge!]
Rodimus shut down the computer with a wry smile. [You'd make someone a great mother one day] he said.
Shanygn grimaced. [I already have that job! I don't need a second one! Now, shoo, go, or I'll get physical!]
He chuckled and disappeared into his private room.
Shanygn simply shook her head. Who needs kids with someone like him as an Interface partner?
* * *
Nicholas had been up early, even before sunrise, and had driven over to the scrap yard on his old motor bike. The strange device was inside the knapsack on his back and he thought he felt its cold blue glow even through several layers of clothing. He hadn't slept well at night, his thoughts going around what this thing could be. He had found no answer and decided to get over to the scrap yard instead of trying to catch some more sleep.
Parking his bike close to the entrance for Zach to see he was already here, he walked the rest of the way. The few lamps lighting up the still dark yard were not enough to work by, but they had enough light to see the truck. It was still missing the paint and Nicholas was planning to color it in either black or silver, with some cool airbrush picture maybe. But right now he was more concerned about other things, like the strange device. He approached the truck and touched the smooth, paintless metal skin. What was it about this truck? The tons of tech stuff, the damage, which looked like someone had fired a missile at it, and now the device.
Nicholas took the blue glowing sphere out of the knapsack and looked at it. It was a beautiful thing and might be worth a lot of money, just like the whole truck. Whom did it belong to? And what function did the device have in the whole system of the truck? Only one way to find out: insert it into the one place he had taken it from.
The moment it was in its old place again, it began to pulsate softly for a second, then quieted down again. Nicholas frowned. Nothing else happened. Maybe he should try out the truck as such. Maybe it would only work when the engine was running..... He climbed up into the driver's cabin and ignited the engine. The truck came to life with a soft purr, which was so unlike the normal roar of an engine, that it startled him. It was the first time he tried out the engine and for a second he feared he had done something wrong. But since the engine sound didn't change he guessed this had to be correct.
Nicholas put in a gear and slowly let the truck roll forward. It rolled quite nicely and the new front tire was doing great as well so far. He felt the weight of the trailer as the truck began to tow it away. With a smile he began to increase his speed. Very nice! he cheered and then steered his new truck out onto the road. It was time for a field test!
* * *
Dutch checked the stun ray the umpteenth time and was presented with the same results as always. Everything was working perfectly. He didn't doubt for a second that they'd manage to pull off phase two just as easily as phase one. They had been able to capture the Autobot leader, so the second-in-command should prove no difficulty at all. He had been in their hands once before but then Draft had been too reckless. Now they knew what they were facing.
"I got a signal from our look-out post," Jack reported as he approached. "He's coming."
"I still think she should simply scrap 'em," Jack muttered. "Too dangerous to keep him around. Remember last time?"
Dutch nodded. "Yeah."
He didn't like it either. The Autobot leader was out cold, but keeping the second-in-command around and in a state where he could be trouble was foolish. But Ms MacKenzie wanted it this way and so they did it.
"Get ready," he told his friend and Jack moved into position.
* * *
Optimus Prime became aware again. He was moving, rolling, feeling a road under his tires. Someone was driving him, he realized, and he felt the Matrix with him again. It gave him some hope, though he was still effectively blind. His audio sensors told him a few more things than before, but communication was still hampered. But a lot of his damage had been repaired and whoever it had been who had repaired him, Optimus was thankful for it. This way he could concentrate on getting at least his vocal unit back on line.
* * *
Rodimus approached the meeting point with care. Shanygn sat in the cabin of the slightly futuristic truck and tensely watched the landscape around them. There was nothing but empty desert land around them and it made her more nervous than a dense forest of trees.
"Anything?" she asked.
"Nothing on the scanners. You'll better get out now before I arrive at the meeting point."
"You just be careful," Shanygn said seriously and then got out. She was clad in her exo-suit, ready to intervene in case of a trap.
"I always am," he replied and then drove on.
"Yeah, right," she muttered and watched him go. She was so worried that her stomach was a tight fist of ice. Something wasn't right here and with Optimus Prime already either kidnapped or lost, they couldn't risk Rodimus faring the same.
Dutch watched the familiar truck rolling down the dusty road toward the meeting point. Only a few more hundred meters and he'd be right on target. He lifted the bazooka-like construction and aimed. The crosshairs of the target mechanism flowed together and a ready signal flashed up. Dutch's finger curled around the trigger.
The Autobot reached the target spot.
The missile raced away, right at the bright red and flaming yellow colored truck, striking him where Dutch guessed the engine was located. Jack simultaneously activated the stun mechanism hidden beneath the road. A bright, blinding light flashed up. The Autobot truck veered off as expected, but, unlike the first victim, he managed to get out of the stun ray area. But Jack reacted expertly, firing a second missile that pierced the metal skin and wrecked the vital transformation circuits.
"Move!" Dutch ordered his men.
Four men swarmed toward the smoking truck, which was lying half on its side. The special vehicle to carry him off was already moving in.
"Yo, Dutch!" someone called and he turned, discovering a sandy haired, muscle packed man walking toward him. A small van was parked not far away.
"What's up, Pete? Trouble?"
"Not any more," Pete answered with a toothy grin. "Got a guest for you." He pointed at the van and slid the cargo doors open.
Dutch discovered an about seven feet tall figure, which looked robotic, but somehow was too small to be a real Transformer, he thought.
"Found her spying around. Knocked her out cold."
Pete moved the head around and opened the visor of the helmet. True to his word it was a woman. Dutch frowned deeply.
"Body armor," he muttered. "Must be with the Autobot. Tie her up and carry her along. We have to get out of here now and back to the base. Let the boss decide what to do."
Pete nodded and closed the van's door again, then hopped into the driver's seat and started the engine. The others were already done with loading the damaged Autobot onto the special truck and were slowly moving away. Dutch allowed himself a satisfied grin. This was too good to be true.
* * *
"The human has been successful."
The other Quintessons could only agree.
"Tell the Sharkticons to get ready," one of them ordered their lieutenant, a one-faced Quintesson Enforcer.
The creature moved away toward the command consoles.
"We will have to strike quickly," one of the three other Quintessons said. "They will soon try to establish a working order."
* * *
Shanygn woke with a groan. Her head was hurting, as was the rest of her body. There didn't seem to be a place that wasn't bruised or battered. She opened her eyes and looked straight at a grey wall. Blinking, she tried to sit up and was greeted by the room spinning wildly around her. She grabbed the edge of the bed she sat on and breathed deeply. After some time she felt better, though the headache remained. And then she realized that she didn't wear her exo-suit. Panic spread through her. She still had her exo-skeleton, but the protective suit was gone. What had happened? She dimly remembered the second of horror when Rodimus had been attacked and when he had been rendered helpless. His pain had hit her like a tidal wave, but Shanygn had grown better at whipping up a shield in a barely a second and so she had been able to deflect the violent emotion more or less. It still had left her shocked. Then there had been something heavy crashing into her, which had resulted in a quick and absolute blackness.
She looked around the room. It was a bare room, only furnished with a table, two chairs and the bed she lay on. On the other side of the room was another bed, equally occupied. The occupant lay with his back to her. All she saw was the featureless, grey overall. Shanygn carefully got off the bed and walked over to the other person. Whoever it was, he was moving slowly, moaning a bit. And then he turned, opening his eyes. Shanygn stopped, suspicious. The man sat up, a confused look in his bright blue eyes. He was in his mid-twenties, maybe, and had brown hair with a reddish touch to it. For a fleeting second Shanygn thought he was quite cute. Then her suspicious streak cut in and she stepped back as he rose from his sitting position.
All of a sudden his blue eyes widened. He stared at his hands, then down his body.
"No!" he breathed. "Not again!"
The shocked expression in his eyes was so real that Shanygn felt compassion for him, even though she had no idea what this was about. Then he looked at her.
"Shanygn?" he asked, carefully, cautiously.
"Who are you?" she demanded, though deep inside of her was a nagging knowledge. That voice was so familiar!
"I ..." he gulped. "It's me."
"Rodimus?" Shanygn felt like she needed to sit down; desperately! "What is going on here? You're human!"
"I know," he whispered, raking his hands through his hair. "It happened once before but that was when ..." His eyes widened again. "Victor Draft!"
"Victor Draft, a crime boss. He .... he once captured Springer, Arcee, Ultra Magnus and me and ... turned us into humans." He looked at his hands again and then walked over to the one, little mirror on the wall and studied his face. "Not the same as last time," he muttered, dimly remembering his human looks from that time. His face was shaped slightly different, much sharper, and his hair was more brownish than red.
"Last time the process was cruder," a female voice suddenly said and the two whirled around.
Without them noticing it, part of the wall had slid back, revealing a wide corridor outside. There was still a strong wall of either glass or transparent plastic between the prisoners and the woman. Rodimus' face twisted in anger.
"You!" he hissed.
Shanygn looked a bit confused. The woman was maybe in her thirties, blonde and dressed in an expensive dress. Rodimus remembered her with shorter hair, but everything else was the same.
"I'm flattered you still recognize me, Rodimus Prime."
"Who is that?" Shanygn asked.
"Diana MacKenzie. Victor Draft's accomplice from last time."
Diana smiled coldly. "Accomplice," she echoed. "Not a nice word."
"You aren't a nice person," Rodimus snarled, his hands clenched into fists. "What do you want? Why have you done this?"
"Oh, I want nothing specific, just a little revenge for what you have done to me and Victor; mainly to me, though." A smile crossed her lips again. "And since my first plan didn't work, I had to devise another. Luckily I found some willing customers to finance this." She looked directly at Rodimus and her smile turned a few degrees colder. "And I thought that since you didn't get to enjoy your stay as a human last time, I could help out."
"What happened to Optimus?" Rodimus hissed.
"He's not here, and he didn't get the honor your received." She chuckled.
Rodimus made a step toward her, then stopped, aware that it wouldn't do him any good. "Where is he?" he asked again.
"He isn't dead -- yet," Diana answered. "Like you he has a few more moments to live. Enjoy it. Payback's a bitch." She turned to go.
"Who are you working for?" he yelled after her.
"Now, that would be telling," she laughed and then the wall slid back into place.
Rodimus gave a frustrated hiss and thumped his hand against the wall. It hurt, but he didn't even feel it. "How could I be so stupid!" he groaned.
"Oh, that's a question I ask myself every time you get yourself into trouble," Shanygn answered calmly, looking more composed than her partner.
Rodimus turned to her, his blue eyes burning with anger. She smiled softly at him.
"Keep calm," she said. "We need to get out of here and for that we should have a cool head."
"How do you want to get out of here?" he snarled.
She frowned, ignoring his temper. "Well, that's something I've to think about, but I believe there is a way."
He slumped down on the bed, looking tired and frustrated. Human again! He had thought that with the destruction of the machine which had filtered their very essence out of their bodies, forming a first undefined, later very human blob, this nightmare would be the past. He had been wrong.
Someone sat down beside him, laying a hand on his arm. He looked up and into Shanygn's reassuring face.
"How about you tell me all that happened when this Victor Draft character turned you human the first time?" she suggested.
He sighed and leaned back, recalling the events from years ago. Shanygn listened intently while a part of her mind was working on a solution to their current problem.
* * *
Diana MacKenzie smiled widely. This was so perfect! Walking around the dead husk of the Autobot, still transformed into his vehicle mode, she felt triumph rise inside of her. She had accomplished more in the last two weeks than in those few days years ago. Nothing could stop her now. She'd have her revenge and her customers would have their wish. They could now do what they wanted with all the other Autobots, who would most likely be already completely panicky without their leaders. She'd enjoy seeing Rodimus Prime writhe beneath her control, then he'd follow the path of all life to a very certain end. Maybe she could salvage his robot body for some means. She also remembered that she needed to get Dutch to check on the badly damaged Autobot leader. She wanted him permanently out of commission right after his second-in-command was gone as well.
With that in mind she left the large room with the empty Autobot shell.
* * *
Kup was going round in circles, at least in his mind. There hadn't been a word out of Rodimus Prime in hours and he was not only a slightly bit worried. He was worried as hell! There was no reaction from either Shanygn or Rodimus, and Kup had sent out teams to look for them.
"First Optimus, now Roddy," Springer muttered and stared at the screen, which showed a map of the area where all three had now disappeared in. "What is happening out there?"
"I wish I knew," Kup growled. "I told the young hot head not to go out alone!"
"Shanygn was with him," Midnight reminded him calmly. He was like a nexus point of serenity in a chaotic world. Everyone was running around like a frightened chicken, trying to find something to do that would bring results.
"Shanygn is human," Kup reminded him.
"So?" There was a glint in Midnight's green visor that suggested Kup better think hard about his answer.
And Kup did. Arguing with an Interfaced Sentinel about the fighting power and abilities of a human, especially one who was experienced in battles against Seekers, was not a wise decision.
"I just think that if he had taken two or three others with him," the security chief muttered, "he might have stood a chance against whatever hit him."
"First of all," Midnight answered with a smile, "the contact wanted to meet Rodimus alone. Every additional car, airplane or other vehicle would have scared him off, Second, Shanygn has enough fire power in that suit to blow away a Seeker. Third and last: whoever hit them, they already took out Optimus Prime. Do you think they might not have been able to take out two more Autobots with whatever it was they threw at them?"
Kup sighed. It was only too true, but he hated it anyway. Right now they were without a leader and both on Cybertron and on Earth a slow fear was spreading. With the disappearance of Optimus Prime the Matrix had disappeared as well. Rodimus Prime, the logical choice for a new leader in Prime's absence, was gone too. There were a bunch of seconds and lieutenants, but no one had yet ventured forth to take over the troops and organize more than just a rudimentary search. Well, at least until Midnight had arrived. The black Sentinel spread an aura of calm that had brought with it some control over the chaos in the command center. Though Ultra Magnus was more or less the next choice for a commanding officer, Midnight fell into this category as well, even if he was a Sentinel. Kup couldn't describe it, but somehow he felt it was a good choice.
"You guys don't have a way to contact Shanygn, right?"
"No. The Interface bond is between two partners, not more." Midnight looked apologetic, then he let his gaze travel through the room. "I'd like to call in an emergency conference. The Autobots are headless right now and this is a very vulnerable position. You have to do something about this slowly spreading panic."
"We are," Kup told him. "We are looking for Optimus and Rodimus."
The Sentinel shook his head. "No, that's not what I mean. Looking for them is all nice and well, but you are without leaders and if something comes up now, who makes the decisions? Who will command?"
Kup looked indecisive.
"You see my point?" Midnight added. "Cut off a head, you have to grow a new one. Fast. I don't believe in coincidence, Kup. Someone planned this, quite thoroughly I think, and whatever is behind this, it involves more than just a simple kidnapping. If someone strikes against you now, you will be a pretty disorganized bunch unless someone writes up a new command structure."
"He's right," Ultra Magnus said and joined them. "Every Autobot will turn to one or the other without knowing who is the right commander to address. We need someone to coordinate our forces on Earth and on Cybertron."
"I'll notify everyone we need," Kup said and nodded. "Ten minutes."
Midnight nodded as well. "Good."
* * *
"Hi, Olli," Nicholas answered as he refilled the fuel tank of the truck.
"New baby, I see," Oliver West said with a wide smile. "Nice. Needs some paint though."
"Yeah, it does. I'm still doing some test driving with it, but I guess it's okay."
Nicholas counted some money and gave it to his friend. West nodded and tapped his head as a good-bye. Nicholas climbed into the truck again. Driving the vehicle was fun and very easy; easier than expected. Steering was not as heavy as with a normal truck and the engine ate much less fuel. He had only refueled because there had not been much in the tank to begin with.
As he drove down the road back to the town a row of lights suddenly sprang into life on the dashboard. Nicholas wondered if he had touched anything by accident. No, he hadn't, he thought. Maybe driving over the rather rough road had shaken some parts loose...
"Who is there?"
Nicholas hit the brakes and the truck came to such an abrupt stop that he was nearly thrown through the windshield. Eyes wide he looked around.
"What?" he stuttered.
"Who are you?" the voice returned. It was definitely male, deep and held a curious inquiring note. "I know you are there."
"Who is this?" Nicholas whispered, ready to bolt out of the truck any second now. "Where are you?"
"Right with you," was the answer and the voice won in strength. "I am the truck you are driving."
Nicholas gave a surprised cry and jumped out of the driver's cabin. "What kind of sick joke is this?"
"My name is Optimus Prime. I'm an Autobot, not a truck. And this is no joke."
Nicholas did a double take. Autobot? He knew the Autobots, had had his encounters with them on a rather distant note. And he had seen them from time to time, especially lately around his home town ... as if they were looking for something......
"No joke?" he whispered. "You are ... an Autobot? A robot?"
Somehow Nicholas thought he could hear a smile. "But ... what are you doing here? I mean, you were on a scrap yard!"
The Autobot, Optimus Prime, sighed. "That is a long story ...."
* * *
Shanygn watched Rodimus sleep. He looked relaxed and peaceful, but also too pale. He had nearly fallen asleep throughout his explanation about what had happened years ago. Whatever had happened to him, it had taken a lot out of him, weakening his human form and demanding him to rest. She shook her head. Transferring a robot's essence into a synthetic body! This was crazy and she'd never thought it possible. But it was. Rodimus was the living result. Whose sick mind had had the idea for this invention? And what was this MacKenzie woman trying to gain? She wanted revenge, okay, so much was sure. She felt cheated of her victory, but if Rodimus had followed the whole trial correctly then she had not been imprisoned because she had claimed to be an innocent victim herself.
Innocent, right! She's about as innocent as Braintrust!
And she was out to kill her prisoners. Following what she had explained, Optimus had not been turned human and was currently hidden somewhere, more or less out cold. Shanygn wondered what they had done with Roddy's body.
She sat up straight, slightly disturbing her sleeping partner, who turned restlessly, then settled down again. They had to keep his body shell somewhere and since Rodimus was not inside it, they wouldn't have some high security around it either! Yes! It might just work if she could only concentrate hard enough.
Shanygn touched Rodimus' shoulder. "Roddy?" she said softly, shaking him slightly.
Rodimus opened his eyes and blinked. "Shan?" he muttered, then yawned.
"Wake up, handsome, I think I have an idea how to get out of here!"
Suddenly he was wide awake. Sitting up he stared at her. "What?"
She grinned. "Remember that I can home in on you and Gate?"
"Well?" she said.
Rodimus rubbed his eyes. "You want to home in on me, okay. But I am here, Shan, what's the point?"
"Yes, sure you are here, but you are also outside! Your body shell is outside, Roddy!"
His mouth opened, then closed again. "That's a crazy idea!" he sputtered. "You said you're homing in on my pattern. You would always home in on me because I am here!"
"Wrong!" she triumphed. "Your pattern has been split, you see! You are human, but you are also still a robot, though your consciousness has been transferred into a synthetic body!"
Rodimus shook his head, doubtful. "And you really think this could work."
"I can't be sure, okay, yes, but I can at least try!"
"All right," he said after some time. "Just be careful."
Shanygn frowned, then a worried look crossed her features. "Same goes for you. If this MacKenzie person finds me gone, you might be in deep trouble."
He smiled wryly. "I already am."
"Oh, and something else: you know I'm draining you a bit while Gating. I'm not sure which part of you will be affected ...."
He nodded, understanding. "I'll just remain on my bed in case I'm getting dizzy," he told her.
"That's the idea, bright-eyes," she said with a smile.
"Good luck," he muttered.
Shanygn nodded and closed her eyes, her mind starting a search for a pattern that was like the one she was feeling close to her. She found it after some time, starting to home in on it. The pattern was weak, but definitely Rodimus Prime. Tapping into a power source she knew wasn't her own she initiated the Gating process.
* * *
The Quintesson ship came out of hyperspace several hours away from Cybertron. One of the hangar doors opened and dozens of small gliders were flushed out. They all swarmed toward the as-to-yet unsuspecting planet, all armed and all controlled by a Sharkticon warrior. The Sharkticons knew what they had to do: distract the Autobots long enough for a small team of Quintesson Enforcers to break through the defensive shields and enter the target area. It was the largest Quintesson attack fleet ever sent against the Autobots, but there was no other way to insure a true success, even with the leaders gone and confusion spreading through the society of their former slaves.
* * *
"Kup, Ultra Magnus, we got a major problem!"
Blaster's insistent voice echoed through the small room the discussion between not only the Autobots but also the Sentinels was taking place.
"What is it, Blaster?" Ultra Magnus asked.
"Cybertron's perimeter warning has located about sixty small objects coming closer; fast! Identification says it's a Quintesson attack fleet. Sharkticons."
The robots on Earth exchanged glances. Midnight's visor flashed. "I think we now know what this is all about," he said quietly. "Blaster, how many forces can you send out?"
"Not much. Most of the Autobots on Cybertron are currently doing exploration work."
Midnight nodded as if he had suspected this answer. "Get the defenses up and wait for us," he said and rose from his chair.
"Us?" Ultra Magnus asked.
"I'm taking the Sentinels from Earth back to Cybertron. Wild Card and I think we can get them there through a Gate. It's the only way."
Kup nodded. He had no difficulty accepting Midnight's decision. The Sentinel had a good sense when it came to battles. Ultra Magnus nodded as well.
"Do it," he said.
When Midnight had left to gather his team, Kup turned to the others. "What are they up to, damnit? Why are they trying to attack directly? They have no chance!"
"Maybe they think they have," Hound muttered. "Or they have grown some mad streak we haven't known about yet."
"Everything's possible with the Quints," Springer agreed.
* * *
"Oh, man," Nicholas muttered as he sat with his back against the front of the truck, watching the silent landscape through his sunglasses. "This is heavy stuff."
Okay, so he had a truck, which was in reality an Autobot; the Autobot leader, to be correct. He had been attacked, nearly killed, was in a rather bad shape so he couldn't transform, and to top it all, he was blind. Nicholas shook his head and raked his fingers through his hair. Optimus couldn't contact his friends and those who had attacked him had either not known he was still alive or they had planned to do something with him later; which meant Nicholas now owned a hot truck.
Hot truck, yeah right. This truck was hot all right.
"Could you repair my visual and communications circuits?" Optimus now asked.
"Possible. I don't know much about computer electronics; all I did was repair what I could identify and organize a new tire. You still need a paint job, though."
Optimus chuckled. "That is the least of my problems. Where am I?"
"About 45 miles south of Springwater. 23 miles west of the Airforce test site you mentioned."
The Autobot seemed to think a bit, then he asked, "Could you get me to this Airforce base?"
Nicholas frowned. It was no problem at all, but he wasn't sure this was such a good idea. "Maybe I should simply contact your friends and tell them to pick you up."
"No. Whoever did this will most certainly come back. I need to be gone by then. I'm almost ... well, more or less completely, helpless. I can't transform, my visual is down and my audio won't get me far." He sounded grim.
"All right," Nicholas muttered and rose from the ground, dusting off his pants. Then he climbed into the driver's cabin and started the engine.
"By the way," Optimus Prime said as they rolled back onto the deserted road. "What's your name?"
"Nicholas Cavanaugh," Nicholas answered. "At your service," he added with a grin.
Optimus chuckled. "Thank you, Nicholas."
* * *
Galvatron thoughtfully looked at the latest report he had gotten in from his spies. Laserbeak had reported a Quintesson mothership attacking Cybertron, specifically the South Port main complex, with a large fleet of Sharkticon warriors. What they thought to gain from such a futile run against the Autobots' defenses, he didn't know. He'd wait for the outcome, which was pretty clear to him right now. Then Ratbat had returned several minutes ago and had reported that Raven had gone to Cybertron, something which puzzled Galvatron even more than the Quintessons' attack on the former factory planet.
He had known about Raven's decision to leave maybe even before she had known it herself. She had shown all the signs, and after the 'interview' about what the hell she had thought she had been doing on Crea, she had turned her back on everyone, even Cyclonus. Galvatron had been proven right in his suspicions, and he had also been correct about Cyclonus' decision not to follow her. As close as the two had come, he was still a Decepticon and loyal to only one: Galvatron. But what did the female think she would find on Cybertron? Would she ally herself with the Autobots? He didn't judge her like this. She had only joined the Decepticons because of Cyclonus; otherwise she would have ignored them.
Well, he wouldn't do anything right now. He'd sit back and watch, simply watch, and see who was where and what would happen next.
* * *
The room was brightly lit. Metal chairs and one tray table stood in one corner. The floor was covered with white tiles, which, added to the egg-shell colored walls, gave the whole room a sterile and hospital-like look. Rodimus Prime was tied to a chair, facing the door. He had been walked from his cell to this room only a few minutes ago, two heavily armed men guarding him. He hadn't even tried to escape. He knew it would most likely end with him getting shot.
A man entered the room. He was tall, with a slim figure, his hair short and graying. He was dressed in a lab coat. A pair of glasses adorned his face and blue, cold eyes examined Rodimus.
"Rodimus Prime, I presume," he said in a falsely friendly and slightly accented voice.
"Who are you?" Rodimus asked.
"How rude of me." A predatory smile appeared on the thin lips. "My name if Erick. Dr. Carl Erick."
"What do you want?"
The smile broadened a bit. "Not much, really. Ms MacKenzie just would like to know where your friend disappeared to."
"Ah, stubborn are we? Well, that is why Ms MacKenzie asked me to lead this interview." He raised an eyebrow. "You have two choices, Autobot: tell me what I want to know, or take the hard way out. Very simple."
Rodimus stared defiantly at him. They had come to the cell two hours after Shan had Gated and had simply stared at the suddenly single occupant. Then the two men had disappeared, only to return with MacKenzie, who had looked pleasant, but her eyes had flashed her anger. Since Rodimus had clamped his mouth shut, she had walked away again. The men had not and, after she had been gone, had opened the cell and dragged him out.
"I have no idea where she went," he snarled.
"Maybe." Erick's cold eyes fixed on him. "But then again, maybe you do. We'll find out."
He walked over to the tray table and uncovered it. There were an array of syringes and some surgical instruments there. Rodimus face became a defiant mask, his lips growing into a thin line.
"We have something that might give you some nice dreams if you work with us, Rodimus Prime," Erick said and held up the syringe filled with a clear liquid.
Rodimus snorted. "You won't get a word out of me, buddy, since I don't know where my friend is."
"Tsk-tsk-tsk," Erick made and walked to him.
Drugs! Rodimus' mind told him. He's giving me drugs!
He felt the needle pierce his skin and he thought he could feel the drug enter his system. Could a regular drug work on a synthoid body? Could it work on a robot mind? Well, he wasn't really a robot anymore, right? Everything about him was organic now.
"We have to wait for about three minutes," Erick said. "Then the drug will take effect."
His eyes never left the pale face of the human Autobot, who returned his stare with a cold glare of defiance.
* * *
Shanygn felt like she had been hit with a broad side. She stumbled out of the Gate and felt something hard under her fingers, hard and cool. Metal. Opening her eyes she nearly gave a cheer of triumph. She had found him!
In front of her stood the vehicle mode of Rodimus Prime -- in a rather bad shape, she now saw. There was a hole the size of a tire in his left flank and his hood had been blown clear off by whatever had hit him. She saw some circuits here or there.
"Gee," she muttered, glad he wasn't in his body. This had to be painful!
And then she saw the machine. With a sick feeling she realized that this had to be the machine Rodimus had talked about. There was a cylinder-shaped, transparent chamber which was connected to a control panel. Something looking like clamps on cables hung below the ceiling, just above the wrecked truck.
"Bastards," she growled. She knew that Rodimus felt extremely unwell in his human body and she'd personally punch that bitch into hell if she ever got a chance to do it!
But first things first. She had to get out of here. Without her exo-suit she had only one option: running. Shanygn forcefully ignored the machine and walked over to the large doors, which had to lead outside from the looks of it. This room was as large as an airplane hangar and they had had to get Rodimus in here somehow. The doors looked just perfect.
And to her great relief, they were a way outside.
* * *
Midnight and Wild Card shot out of the Gate like two mad streaks, closely followed by every airborne Sentinel who had been on Earth. They immediately split into two teams and, without asking one single question, entered the fight around Cybertron.
And it was hell.
Midnight was reminded of the fight against the drones in the Mernan system. It had been equally chaotic. The attack gliders were nothing more than disks with a steering wheel, which were guided by a Sharkticon warrior. They were quick and maneuverable enough to perform sudden turns and twists, and the Sharkticons were not without battle experience themselves. Midnight knew enough about Sharkticons to judge their capabilities and intelligence. They weren't that intelligent, but they made that up with single-mindedness. As long as they were either superior in numbers or under the command of a leader who could fire them up properly, they were an enemy to be reckoned with.
"Whoa!" Steve muttered as they dodged a blow, trailing three Sharkticons, which had proven to be quite persistent.
Parker was more or less taking part in the battle, but his main task was to coordinate their teams and to check on Cybertron's defenses.
"They blew the first perimeter right off," he told his friend. "Funny thing is, only a few have yet tried to breach the planetary ground defenses. They are keeping the battle up here."
Midnight had noticed that as well. Suddenly a group of about ten Sharkticons veered off and made a dash for Cybertron's surface. Dagger saw them and, with two Aerialbots, gave chase. Half of the Sharkticons were blown right out of the sky and fell to the surface as glowing debris. The rest fired what they had at the South Port command center.
"What is they want here!?" Jeff Winters hissed over the intercom as Wild Card dodged and turned and rolled through the dog-fight. The two of them had become a superb team.
"Beats me," Steve answered.
"Why the South Port? What's there that another command center might not have."
"The doorway!" Steve and Midnight exclaimed nearly simultaneously.
"This is a decoy!" Wild Card breathed as he came up beside Midnight, looking a bit burned, but no worse for wear.
"Autobots, Sentinels, this is Midnight! Keep your positions and hold them back. They are trying to shield an invasion force!"
"Gotcha!" Silverbolt confirmed.
"Wild Card, you're with me; we're going in!"
The two jets streaked toward the surface, aiming directly at the no longer hidden entrance to the doorway chamber.
"Two of the Sentinels have detached themselves from the battle."
"They are heading toward the planet's surface."
"Stop them. They must not interfere."
* * *
Raven heard the shots and blasts and her circuits went back on line. Her internal chronometer told her she had been here for some time, which put her into a dangerous position. The longer she stayed, the likelier was the chance she was discovered. Checking her energon supply she found she had recharged about half way.
Another blast, this time closer, let her look around. She was still in her bird mode and hidden high up between the beams stabilizing the ceiling of the old warehouse. The sounds were that of a battle and judging them she came to the conclusion that the battle was somewhere either in the atmosphere of Cybertron or close to its surface.
Someone entered the warehouse. She froze. It was a Quintesson Enforcer, accompanied by three Sharkticons. The Enforcer walked straight toward a door outlined in the ground and the Sharkticons opened it. Raven watched them curiously and a tiny voice inside of her told her that wherever they were going, this was exactly where she had to go as well. The second they had disappeared in the hole in the ground, she flew to the open trapdoor and followed.
* * *
Rodimus didn't know how long he had been questioned about his Interface partner and her whereabouts. The voices were droning on, demanding information he couldn't possibly give.
I don't know, his mind screamed and his mouth formed the words.
But the voices didn't believe him. He felt another shot of the truth serum running through his veins and from one second to the next he imagined falling into a fathomless hole.
"Where is your lady friend?" one of the voices asked. It was a cold voice, bare of emotion.
She's with me! She looked for me!
"She is not with you. She was not in the cell."
I'm not in a cell.
"Where is she now?"
I don't know. I really don't know. She said she'd be with me!
More questions followed, but the voices faded more and more. It was like somebody was pulling him away from where he was. Blackness enveloped him and the voices disappeared.
"He doesn't know a thing!" Dr. Erick, who had been injecting Rodimus with the truth serum, looked frustrated. "I tried everything on him, but he doesn't know where she is!"
Diana MacKenzie regarded the unconscious form of the human Autobot dispassionately. Somehow she knew that what Rodimus Prime had answered to her questions was the truth, at least for him. But it still didn't tell her where this woman was!
"Get him back to the cell," she ordered and turned around, leaving the interrogation chamber.
Even if the woman escaped, there was no way for her to reach the Autobots in time. Her customers had already paid her and she'd leave in a few hours. Dutch was on his way to the scrap yard to finish off Optimus Prime, who was now without any use for her. She had his second-in-command in case something unforeseen happened. He'd make a pretty good hostage and was easier to handle than a truck.
* * *
Nicholas had taken another route than before, not taking any chances by driving through his hometown again. If someone was truly after the Autobot, then they'd start looking around town first after discovering the truck was gone. The road to the Airforce base was running parallel to this one, but he knew it would never meet it. He would have to take the next exit to get on the highway or he'd eventually end up in Las Vegas.
Optimus Prime had been quiet throughout the whole drive and it gave Nicholas time to think. This was like a dream, he decided. You find a wreck and think it's the chance of your lifetime, now it turns out to be an Autobot. Good going, Nick. You spent your time for nothing! He squelched those thoughts. This Autobot was the leader of the whole bunch and someone had apparently tried to take him out. This was no nothing; this was something big!
He checked a road sign. Next exit, okay. And then about ten more minutes to the front entrance of the Airforce test site.
A car popped up in his rearview mirrors and he frowned as it came closer, fast. The plates were not from Nevada he saw, and it had darkened windows. The car veered out of the lane and began to pass him. As the driver pulled up beside him, Nicholas was looking right into a gun barrel held by the passenger.
"Stop the truck!" the man shouted.
There was a brief second of panic flashing through Nicholas' mind, then he did just the opposite.
"I hope your shock absorbers are top!" he cried and steered the truck right off the road into the hard desert sand.
Optimus Prime gave an exclamation of surprise. "What's going on?"
"Looks like the bad guys are not happy!" Nicholas shouted, trying to maintain control of the wildly swerving vehicle.
"Where are we going?"
Nicholas was once again reminded that Optimus was completely blind. "With any luck, and we need a lot of it, right toward the Airforce test site!"
He was bounced around in the cabin, but the easy handling of the truck made the driving a bit better. A shot could be heard and something struck the truck with a 'ping'.
"Oh, hell!" Nicholas cursed. "Time for some fancy driving."
He slammed in another gear and stepped on the gas. Optimus Prime lurched forward, bouncing wildly over the desert ground, the trailer swerving and endangering the car following him. It had to slow down and tried to pass him on the other side. Nicholas grinned madly and steered Optimus to the right.
"See what you make of this!"
Optimus Prime wasn't completely aware of what was happening. He knew that someone was following them and that Nicholas was trying to get them to the dubious safety of the Airforce test site. Being blind was a bother, but being also unable to transform and help his new friend was hell. He felt the shots hitting him, but they didn't do much damage. He had to trust Nicholas to get him to safety. The human was his only chance.
* * *
The blast shook up the black Sentinel and Steve clenched his teeth. "Darn!" he cursed. "Wild Card, get your tail down there!" he told the other Sentinel. "We'll deal with those pests!"
Wild Card gave a affirmative and left Midnight to tackle with the Sharkticons attacking them. Their persistence was more proof than ever that they were covering something. He went down toward the warehouse, which was well-known to him now and which held only a few better memories.
Jeff sensed his apprehension. He felt a bit of the same apprehension rise inside of him, remembering how Vector Sigma had attacked them both. It had been only half as bad as the attack on Midnight, who had nearly died then, but it had been painful.
Wild Card transformed and hesitated for a second, then walked stiffly into the warehouse.
"Someone's here again," Jeff muttered in dismay. "Oh, man....."
Wild Card only nodded. He sent a short message to Midnight to tell him of the breached entrance. When the alarm had been set off there had been no one to answer it, with the attack and all. Everybody was scrambling around like mad to get forces up and fighting.
"Let's go," Wild Card muttered and materialized his gun.
* * *
Rodimus was swimming in a grey nothingness. He didn't know where he was or what he was doing here, or for that matter how he had come here and who exactly he was. His mind supplied him with pictures, but they weren't much help. His thoughts were too muddled to make sense of anything. His head started to hurt. It was this sensation that told him he wasn't dreaming. You couldn't hurt in a dream, could you? And why was his head hurting anyway? With a moan he tried to move. The pain doubled and he gasped a little bit. As the pain subsided again, he tried opening his eyes.
His vision was blurred and he was barely able to keep his eyelids from closing again. He didn't like what he saw, though it wasn't much. It was a grey, undefined place, scary as hell. Shadows hovered in faraway corners, and the walls and the floor moved. He closed his eyes again, fear spreading inside of him. Where was he? What had happened to him? He thought he remembered who he was, but then, why did his head hurt so much? This couldn't be!
His awareness dimmed slowly, though he fought against the oppressing blackness that seemed ready to swallow him. He didn't want to return to the blackness, he was afraid of it. But in the end he lost the fight, sliding back, unable to keep himself conscious any longer.
* * *
Diana MacKenzie was speechless for a second. "What?!" she then hissed.
"He's gone, boss," Dutch repeated unhappily. "The old fool from the scrap yard said some trucker towed the truck out of here to use it as replacement parts or something like it. Dunno. The old guy's nearly deaf and blind, so he couldn't even say who it is. My men are hunting for someone more helpful right now."
She thumped her desk. "Find that Autobot!" she ordered coldly, her voice laced with anger. "And destroy it!"
"What about that trucker?"
"I don't care!" she said. "I want the Autobot destroyed -- utterly."
MacKenzie leaned back into her leather chair and glared at the now dead phone. How could someone be so foolish? How could one single being be so infinitely dumb? And then there was the strange disappearance of the alien woman. Diana didn't doubt for a minute that the woman, with her dark blue hair and very light blue skin was an alien. What her role was, she wasn't sure. She only knew that this person had managed to escape from a high security cell and there were no signs of tempering with the locks or such stuff. She was simply gone. The questioning of the now human Autobot had led to nothing. Either he was pretty good in handling drugs, which she doubted, or he simply didn't know, which she doubted as well. But if he had told the truth, what did it mean? He had said she was with him, but he had been in the cell!
It was too late now and all she could do was hope that the Autobot leader Optimus Prime was in no condition to make himself heard to the trucker, and that the trucker would take him apart thoroughly. But she had not come so far by hoping.
With a mask-like expression on her face she rose from her chair. Time to remove the evidence before something else happened.
* * *
Shanygn didn't quite know where she was, just that there was more desert around her than she wanted to see and that she had jogged for some time now. Her body wasn't used to prolonged exercise without her exo-suit, but she managed better than expected. She felt dirty and grains of sand seemed to be lodged everywhere. The wind blew dust around and it settled on her, combining with the sweat and forming a layer of itchy grit on her. She wanted nothing more than a shower! But that thought was squelched by the more urgent wish to find someone who could help her! She didn't know how far she was from the point of their kidnapping. If only she had a map of the area! If only this wasn't Earth, she added dryly. Her knowledge of the planet was limited to a few facts, and she knew only the area around Metroplex by heart because she had ventured out there quite often. Everything else was just ... the planet.
Another car passed her, showering her with more dust and she cursed lowly. It hadn't been the first car and she knew it wouldn't be the last. No one had stopped to help her and she doubted anybody would.
About half an hour later she was proven otherwise. A truck stopped beside her and she looked at the bearded individual leaning out of the passenger's door.
"Ya lookin' for a lift, lady?" the man asked.
"Yes." She frowned at them. "What's the next city?"
Sounds good. Shanygn thought she dimly remembered a city with this name on a map she had seen before they had left. Las Vegas was a bit outside the area the Autobots had searched. She climbed into the truck and ineffectively tried to dust herself off a bit.
"Car broke down?" the driver asked sympathetically.
No, I was kidnapped by a woman who turned my Autobot Interface partner human. "No, not really."
"Ah, I understand. Had a fight with your boy-friend, eh?" He grinned.
That must happen to him quite often, she thought sourly. "In a way," she muttered. "I need a phone. Just get me to a phone and I'll be fine."
He looked at her, then nodded. Shanygn wondered what he saw. She was dressed in a skin-tight overall, which was highlighted with silver, her exo-skeleton, and she was dusty from head to tow. The dust managed to hide her unnatural skin color and blue hair was not so uncommon. Carly had once told her that Earth women loved to dye their hair.
The truck rolled down the road and she stared fixedly ahead, her mind busy with trying to find a life sign from Rodimus. She had felt him now and then on her lonely flight from their kidnappers, but his presence was like a muddled mess, all confused. She didn't know what to make of it. It was so strange that it frightened her more than a sensation of pain would have had. She only hoped he was okay; really okay.
* * *
Rodimus woke a second time, this time from the strong feeling of coldness and a massive headache. He shivered, opening his eyes and staring into the semi-darkness all around him. He saw a vague shape that soon materialized into a chair and a table.
He was in a cell, he remembered. And with the memory of where he was, came the memory of what had happened and the explanation why he felt so miserable. He was human and someone had injected him with drugs, a truth serum, to be correct.
Diana MacKenzie was the next image that popped up in his mind and anger rose inside of him. If he ever got his hands on her.....
And what had happened to Shanygn? How much had he told MacKenzie about her and what she had done. He had no idea. He couldn't recall what had happened throughout this ... inquisition. He just didn't know. With a groan he tried to sit up. The world performed a merry dance and he felt bile rise in his throat. This was so unusual, he was so completely unprepared for this! Well, who was prepared to be turned into a human from second to the next? Last time hadn't been that bad, he remembered. Sure, he had been shot and the pain had shocked him. He had even fallen unconscious, but he had managed. But this time it was worse. The drug made his responses slow down and his head was hurting like blazes. He was unable to think clearly.
Rodimus let himself sink back against the cool wall of his prison cell, trying to banish the pain. He had to think about how he could get out of here. There was no guarantee that Shanygn had made it. Even if she had gotten away from MacKenzie, how would she get into contact with the others? He didn't have any idea where they were and if this house was in the middle of nowhere, Shanygn might not have a chance. They had taken her exo-suit!
He closed his eyes, feeling nausea worm its way into his thoughts. He was tired, in pain and hungry. Could it get any worse?
The sound of the cell unlocking let him jerk alert. He had nodded off. The two men who had brought him to this Dr. Erick came in and wordlessly grabbed him, pulling him off the bed. Rodimus struggled a bit, but he was too weak to manage more than to make their hold on his arms uncomfortably tight. He gave up and simply concentrated on walking, which was trial enough.
With more relief than surprise he noted that they didn't go back to the lab, but went down another corridor and finally ended up in a hangar-like hall. His eyes widened as he saw his robot body shell standing there, badly damaged and mangled. And he saw the machine, the machine that had done this to him.
Diana MacKenzie walked up to him and smiled. "It's time for us to say good-bye, Rodimus Prime," she said sweetly. "I hope you can forgive me that our farewell will be so abrupt." Her finger traced his jawline and he clenched his mouth shut. Hatred coursed through him like liquid fire.
She nodded at the two men and before Rodimus could react something heavy crashed onto his neck. He went to his knees and then to the ground, only peripherally aware that someone was dragging his limp body somewhere. He wasn't completely out, but blackness threatened and he was unable to fight it. He heard voices, which had no real meaning to him, and he seemed to walk away from them, down an endless, black tunnel.
And then everything went dark.
Diana MacKenzie looked down at the unconscious man - Autobot, she reminded herself. He was cute and with a bit more time she might have managed to get him interested in her, but she wasn't one to play risky. She had dealt with the situation appropriately.
"Move it!" she told the two men and they hurried out of the hangar.
With a last look at the machine, which she had constructed with a lot of money she turned. She had earned enough to build ten of them if she wanted.
The door locked behind her and she smiled. The end.
* * *
Nicholas stared ahead through the windshield, eyes fixed on the small dot that was the gate to the test range of the Airforce. Only a few more miles and he'd be safe! More shots pinged off the Autobot truck and he winced again. He knew that they wouldn't be able to do much damage and he was driving like mad, swerving from left to right, to make it impossible for them to get a direct shot at him, the driver.
The gate of the test range loomed up before him and he discovered two armed guards, who now stepped out of their guard house. One of them began to wave at him, then gesture wildly as Nicholas made no move to stop his berserk drive. All that was on his mind was to get onto the compound; nothing else mattered.
The guard raised his weapon.
Nicholas looked into the rearview mirror, noting that the other car had fallen back. "Yes!" he triumphed.
Something smashed into the windshield and simultaneously into the body of the truck. With horror Nicholas realized that they were shooting with nothing less than lasers! Of course! The army had upgraded to more effective weapons to stop heavy vehicles and most of their guards had laser.
He stepped on the brakes.
The truck's wheels made a full stop, but the heavy trailer pushed him forward and with a yell Nicholas threw up his arms as he slid directly through the gate. There was a loud crash and he felt a terrible jolt as the trailer separated from the tow machine. With a sickening crunch it keeled over and the truck came to a stop, dust clouding Nicholas' sight. The moment he had a clear view he looked directly at two very angry Marines, aiming their guns at him.
"Optimus Prime?" he asked.
There was no answer.
"This is no time to play! We got trouble!" he hissed.
Still no answer.
"Get out of there, mister!" one of the Marines shouted and Nicholas raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. No use getting into more trouble than he already had.
"Now would be a good time to say something," he said through clenched teeth as he climbed carefully out of the driver's cabin.
But Optimus Prime remained silent.
Busted something, Nicholas realized with horror as he saw the damage the laser blasts had done.
"It's not what you think it is!" he told the two Marines.
"Tell that to the Major," the second one snarled.
"Gladly!" Nicholas answered. "And be careful with the truck, okay?"
A cloud of dust came quickly closer and materialized into an army jeep with two more armed Marines.
"Take that clown to the base," one of the guards said. "And then get someone to remove this wreck."
Nicholas wanted to protest, but he was roughly shoved toward the jeep. "Yeah, yeah," he grumbled. "Take it easy."
* * *
The Quintesson Enforcer and his Sharkticons had arrived at their destination. The doorway chamber lay open before him. There was various equipment scattered everywhere, showing that the Autobots had, as the Quintessons had feared, begun to look at the relic much closer than they should for their own good. Since every Autobot had been needed to fight off the largest Sharkticon fleet the Enforcer could remember ever attacking Cybertron, this room was empty.
He turned to his Sharkticons and nodded. The three robots moved toward the ring structure and began rigging it with the detonation caps they had brought along. They couldn't simply carry the structure out of here, so the decision had been to utterly destroy it.
Suddenly something small and black streaked into the room and sharp claws scratched over the metal surface of the Enforcer's head. He gave an annoyed and surprised hiss. The small object turned and then transformed into a female robot. The Sharkticons gave a nervous mutter as they, just like the Enforcer, saw the insignia.
The female raised a slender gun and aimed at the Enforcer. "Leave this chamber or die," she said coldly.
The Enforcer had no doubt that she would fulfill her promise, but he had his orders, as had the Sharkticons. They exchanged only a brief glance among each other, then attacked. The Enforcer sought shelter behind a device the Autobots had brought down here for their studies.
* * *
The phone was ringing.
And it kept on ringing.
He tried to ignore it, but the ringing just didn't stop. With a groan he rolled over and cracked one eye open, seeking out the display of his alarm clock.
He had gone to bed only an hour ago! He groaned again, closed the eye and reached blindly for the phone, which was still ringing.
"Yeah?" he asked groggily into the receiver, not caring who it was.
"Spike? That you?"
"Who else?" he mumbled, not yet awake enough to attach a name to the slightly distant sounding voice. "Y'know what time it is?"
"How should I know," was the angry answer. "I have no watch!"
"It's the middle o' the night an' I had a strainin' day," he said with a sleepy voice, not even pretending to smother the huge yawn that threatened to crack his jaw.
"Spike, it's Shanygn! Wake up, damnit! I need your help!"
Spike's brain finally cleared enough to get the message and he sat bolt upright. There were only a few people who had his secret, private number, something he cherished.
"Shan!" he nearly screamed into the receiver.
Carly, lying next to him, made a questioning noise and turned to him. "What's up?" she mumbled sleepily.
"It's Shanygn!" Spike hissed.
Carly was suddenly just as wide awake.
"Where are you?" the ambassador asked Shanygn.
"Somewhere in Las Vegas, some hotel called Luxor," was the tired answer.
"Vegas? How did you get to Vegas?"
"Spike, I don't care, really! I'm tired, I'm dirty, my head is ready to explode and my partner has been turned human by a lunatic psycho with an attitude! All I care about is getting someone to pick me up and send a team to rescue Roddy!"
Spike blinked, some words registering more than others. "Rodimus is human?" he echoed.
"Spike!" Shanygn nearly screamed into the phone, clearly annoyed now.
Spike pulled himself together. "I'll call Metroplex," he promised. "Just stay where you are."
"I didn't plan on going anywhere," was the acid reply. Shanygn sighed and added, "Sorry about that, Spike. I just don't feel well."
Spike nodded. "I'm used to be being yelled at, Shan, no problem. Get yourself a drink and wait for help."
She hung up and Spike turned to his wife, who was wide awake now as well. "I think the night's over," he said with a dry grin.
She nodded. "Shanygn's in Vegas?"
"Yeah, and from what she said Rodimus has been turned into a human...." Spike was already dialing a special code on a handy that looked no different from any other portable phone, but was more sophisticated and linked to Metroplex. He and Carly had moved out of their quarters inside Metroplex and found a house not far away, halfway between the city and Metroplex. Optimus Prime had made sure Spike could contact Autobot City immediately if something important came up, and Spike knew there was nothing more important than this call right now.
* * *
Major Tom Mitchell was a tall, muscular man with short, blond hair and a sun tanned skin. To Nicholas he looked like the younger brother of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dressed in his brown fatigues he towered over the hapless young trucker. Nicholas had just told his story and Mitchell regarded him with a mixture of disbelief and disgust.
"This wreck is supposed to be Optimus Prime?" he tried to clarify things.
"I told you he was pretty shot up and is not back to normal. Someone also removed the paint job and all!" Nicholas repeated.
"So why didn't he tell anyone?" Mitchell asked.
Nicholas sighed deeply. "Whatever hit him, it damaged the transformation circuits, blinded him and loosened some stuff all over the place. He couldn't talk when I first found him and only regained some measure of communication later on. Your men shot at him!"
"You were breaking into a restricted area, Mr. Cavanaugh."
"I was chased by a car and the guy had a gun!" Nicholas protested.
"My men didn't see a car."
"Damnit, Major! Get someone to take a closer look at the truck and they'll tell you that I don't make this up! He needs help and fast!"
Mitchell regarded him emotionlessly. "I already have some men checking it."
"There is some kind of strange sphere embedded in the truck's engine room," Nicholas explained. "That should be proof enough. It's not what you normally find there!"
The Major kept on looking at him. Suddenly the door opened and a uniformed aid entered, giving Mitchell a piece of paper. As the Major read over it, his eyebrows rose. He looked up and straight at Cavanaugh.
"It is Optimus Prime," he said.
"I told you so for the last hour!" Nicholas hissed with restrained fury. "Now call the Autobots and get some help!"
Mitchell allowed himself a small smile. "I think that might be a good idea." He turned to the guard who had been standing motionlessly in the interrogation room throughout the last hour. "Sergeant, get Mr. Cavanaugh something to eat and drink."
The sergeant saluted and walked out of the room.
"I don't want something to drink, I want to see how Optimus Prime is," Nicholas told the other man.
"As you wish." Mitchell walked out of the room and Nicholas hurried to follow.
They went down a corridor into a large hall which was occupied by two army helicopters and the Autobot truck. Nicholas saw several men and women in lab coats swarm around him, trying to do whatever they had been ordered to do.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked Mitchell. "What are you doing?"
"Trying to give your friend as much help as possible," Mitchell explained.
Nicholas approached the truck. "Optimus?" he asked. "Can you hear me?"
"Just fine," was the answer and Nicholas noted with a wince that he sounded rather scratchy.
"I thought you'd bought it just then," he told the Autobot leader.
"I thought so as well."
"Major Mitchell said your friends get a call," Nicholas added.
"Thank you for your help, Nicholas."
Nicholas shrugged, though he knew that the Autobot couldn't see it, blind as he was. "No problem. Do it all the time." He grinned. "Just don't list my name in the local Emergency Call Book For Autobots In Need, okay."
Optimus chuckled. "Deal."
* * *
"What?!" the question was more of a high screech than asked in a normal tone.
"I said I don't know," Sphere repeated calmly.
"How can't you know?" Starscream demanded. "You said you are a Key!"
"So?" she replied, crossing her arms in front of her chest. "My insignia says I'm a Key, but it doesn't come with instructions on how to use my powers! I don't have a manual!"
Starscream's optics flared with anger. "Then try out something!"
"Try out something?" she echoed. "Yeah, right! Do you even know how those doorways work?"
"No, but I bet you could know if you finally got those circuits working!" he hissed.
Sphere glared at him. "Don't get bossy on me, Screamer!" she told him. "I said I don't know and that's it!"
"This blasted station can't just have marked you as a Key and then forgot to put the program in!" Starscream raged. "This is impossible!"
"Well, maybe to you, but even if I have the correct equipment, without any idea on how to align the rings you can't operate a doorway!" she shot back.
"If you are nothing but useless then we might just get back to finding out what opened that doorway in the first place and dumped us here!" Starscream snarled.
Sphere's optics flared with the insult. "Watch you tongue!" she growled.
"Or what?" he taunted.
"Or I'll find a way to open that doorway just yet and send you through to wherever it goes! In very small parts!"
"Well, it could only be better than here!" Starscream replied furiously.
"Hah!" Sphere snorted.
Nightmare watched the exchange of insults and angry snarls with amusement. It wasn't the first fight between the two and it surely wouldn't be the last. Somehow both Sphere and Starscream seemed to find an immense pleasure in insulting each other like hell and then going back to being just more or less friends, with the odd glare here or there.
"She'll kill him one day," Bat muttered with a glint in his faceted eyes. "Slowly and painfully."
"Heh," Nightmare made and watched this fight take a new turn until Starscream gave an exasperated snort and turned on his heels, leaving.
"Men!" Sphere said to no one in particular and returned to her study of the doorway. It was something she had been doing without taking a break, except for the fights with Starscream when he barged in to demand a progress report, but she still had no results.
"Exactly," Nightmare answered and smiled at her.
"Who does he think he is?" she demanded as she stormed to the doorway.
Self-proclaimed leader of this slightly desperate three-robot-one-Bat-team? Nightmare thought for himself. "He just wants to get back," he told her calmly.
"Yes, right, and so do I, though in this body I doubt I ever get a job again!" she snarled, but the anger was gone already. "Why can't I just have a key to my Key program?"
"Well, I'm no expert, Sphere. I only know a few things. Raven, the other Key I told you about, didn't have knowledge either, but she managed to get us here."
"Into the past," she added wryly.
He nodded. "She apparently had no idea," he admitted, "but it saved mine and Bat's lives."
"That was a different situation. Here we have time to study the doorway and I don't intend to experiment on it with your lives! He's so stubborn!" She shook her head again.
Nightmare grinned secretly and let her alone with her work.
"Think she likes him?" Bat asked as they walked down the corridor.
"Oh, she does. She was his Host for some time and she knows him," Nightmare chuckled. "Just like he likes her."
"More to it?" the winged lizard wanted to know.
Nightmare grinned and walked into the room Starscream had chosen as his command center lately. It contained one of the access cubes to what could pass as the central computer on Ralyk. As the Gatekeeper entered, the newly born robot looked up.
"No," Nightmare forestalled the question. "No result yet."
The former Decepticon sighed. "I know," he muttered. "This is frustrating!"
"It is, but if you hurry Sphere she might make a mistake and who knows where the doorway will get us?"
Starscream muttered something Nightmare couldn't hear.
"Any results with trying to unlock those files you found?" Nightmare tried to change the subject.
"No," was the testy answer.
"Uh-huh, right." Nightmare sighed. "Want some help?"
Starscream first seemed to want to deny he needed any help at all, then he simply nodded. They set to work
* * *
Shanygn sat near the hotel's reception, a glass of water in one hand. She felt dirty and tired, but her anger kept her going. The hotel's manager had at first stared at her, since she looked like she had just crawled out of a sand hole. She had only asked for a phone and then called Spike. The manager had heard her mention the Autobots and she had explained to him that she was involved with them. Though the man was doubtful, he had at least got her something to drink and let her stay.
She looked up and discovered Raoul walking toward her. He was wearing his usual leather jacket, but he had his ID pinned to it.
"Thank god!" she breathed, relieved to finally see someone.
"Tracks is waiting outside," Raoul said, looking at her with a mixture of curiosity and mild amusement.
"Don't say a word or your head arrives before you do," she growled and rose from the chair. "I have a headache the size of the Mernan asteroid belt and I don't react well to getting clobbered, locked up and threatened!"
Raoul raised his hands. "Whew, calm down. I'm not the enemy," he chuckled.
They left the hotel and walked toward the dark blue Pontiac with the flaming red sign on the hood.
"Hello, Shanygn," Tracks greeted her.
"Hi," she said tiredly. "Tracks, punch me through to whoever is in command of Metroplex. We need to get Roddy out of there!"
"Right away," Tracks answered and the communications console went on line. Seconds later Shanygn had Ultra Magnus on the phone.
* * *
Nicholas watched the arrival of the Autobots and sat back, giving everyone room. He was tired, but not physically, only emotionally. This had been quite straining. Mitchell had organized him some coffee and a sandwich and he had opted to stay in the hangar. He wanted to know how this ended. About one hour after they had called the Autobots, a large, white aircraft appeared. It opened and four Autobots got out, walking over to Mitchell, who greeted them. Then they set to work on Optimus Prime, who was able to give them a short explanation. He still couldn't transform and was then towed into the aircraft, which was a Transformer himself called Skyfire. Nicholas was fascinated by seeing the robots up so close and personal, and he felt no ill anger toward them that they ignored the human sitting in the corner and drinking coffee. When the aircraft had taken off and some kind of quiet had settled, Nicholas turned to the Major.
"Could you spare someone to get me back to Springwater?" he asked.
Mitchell turned and seemed a bit surprised that Nicholas was still around. "Sure. Wait here. I'll get Sergeant Lucas to drive you there."
Nicholas nodded. "Thanks."
* * *
And close to him.
Rodimus was barely aware of where he was. He only felt the sudden heat around him and smelled fired. But his body was like a lead weight and his brain was unable to get back to full consciousness. He knew he was in danger, but the signal to run and get to safety didn't get much response except for a twitch of his hands.
* * *
Shanygn felt only a bit better after a shower and some aspirins. Tracks had dropped her at what Raoul called 'his place', a small apartment in a town about 40 miles out of Las Vegas. Ultra Magnus had promised to pick her up before launching an assault on the place she had been able to escape from. She knew they had to hurry. She felt an imminent dread, a sense of danger to her Interface partner. If Diana MacKenzie took the easy way out, she'd get rid of all the evidence, which included the human Rodimus.
"Better?" Raoul asked and placed a steaming cup of coffee in front of her.
"Not much, but thanks anyway." She sighed, drumming her fingers on the table top. "Where are they?"
"Calm down, Shanygn, they are hurrying! They know just as well in what danger Rodimus is."
She nodded and sighed. "It's just that I feel so helpless," she muttered.
As if to her desperate thoughts she heard engine noises from outside. Shanygn jumped up and ran to the window. Outside the building stood not only Tracks, transformed into his robot mode, but also Springer. The green triple-changer smiled at her.
"Need a lift?"
"Yes!" she exclaimed and raced down the stairs.
Springer transformed into helicopter mode and the second she was inside the cockpit, he took off.
"What's the situation?" she asked tensely.
"A team consisting of Silhouette and the Protectobots is on the way already," Springer reported, streaking through the sky like a mad bullet. "We located the house you described and the local police is also coming to our assistance."
Shanygn leaned back and rubbed her temples. Her headache was increasing by and by, and the aspirin was no use at all.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Roddy's in danger," she muttered. "I don't know what it is, but I can feel it."
"Is it true that he was turned human again?"
Shanygn remembered that Springer had been a victim of this process once as well, just like Arcee and Ultra Magnus.
"Yes," she sighed. "Though I don't know how and why this woman did it."
Springer cursed softly. "MacKenzie. That is Victor Draft's accomplice."
"Roddy said as much."
The target area came into view and Shanygn leaned forward. There was the complex she remembered, a mansion-like main building and a large, fenced-off area around it. The hangar she had found Rodimus robot body shell was attached to the main house. And she saw the column of smoke coming from the hangar.
"Roddy!" she gasped and her headache increased a ten-fold. She felt like blacking out.
She was dimly aware of Springer calling her, but her mind was focused on the pain.
And the smoke.
"He's inside!" she breathed. "You have to get him out of there!"
Springer dropped toward the ground like a stone. He didn't understand Interfacing as much as he'd like to, but he knew that Shanygn could feel strong emotions from Rodimus. He was already on the radio to tell the Protectobots about the danger the Autobots' second was in.
Shanygn closed her eyes, her shields finally coming up one by one and drowning out the waves of pain and fear.
Hold on, Roddy, she thought, afraid to contact him by their mind-link in case of a backwash of emotions. She didn't even know if she was able to do it while he was human.
The second Springer touched down she was out of the cockpit, running toward the burning hangar.
* * *
First Aid shook his head. Optimus Prime was in the worst shape he had ever seen him in. Visual, audio, vocal unit nearly scrapped, extensive damage done by the lasers to the chest structure, not to speak of the fact that the transformation circuits needed some serious attention. Someone had done some very good emergency repair work, though, First Aid noted. At least Optimus had been able to send the trailer into subspace.
"...... and the Quintessons are currently throwing everything they have against us," Hound finished his report. "Midnight and the Sentinels, as well as every airborne Autobot we have on Cybertron, are busy defending the South Port. As far as I understood Midnight's last, slightly hectic transmission, the Quints sent an invasion force down to the doorway chamber."
"I should have known," Optimus said softly. "They built the planet around this doorway and they would one day hear that we found it. Keep me posted on the battle."
First Aid attached a few control monitors to his patient as Hound acknowledged.
"What about Rodimus?" Optimus then asked, worry creeping into his voice.
"We have a rescue team already on the way. From what Tracks and Raoul told us, Shanygn is in a rather bad shape emotionally speaking ...." Hound trailed off. "She also said Rodimus was turned human through the machine we thought we had destroyed."
Optimus was silent. After his resurrection he had spent some time going through the past he had missed, reading about what had happened. He had also stumbled upon this specific event. It boggled the mind that a robot's consciousness could be transferred into a shapeless blob of synthetic material, which then shaped itself into a human body.
"Thank you, Hound," he said distantly.
"I'll keep you updated," Hound said and then left.
First Aid now set to work while his only patient so far was silently letting him do whatever was necessary.
* * *
Wild Card didn't mind the narrow tunnel, he simply raced through it at high speed, his wings scraping the walls. If those Quintessons reached the chamber..... Suddenly he heard blaster fire. With a smooth transformation he settled down and drew his gun. He felt Jeff phase in completely, ready for whatever would happen next. A stray shot chipped away from metal of the door's frame and he ducked down. Peering around the corner of the entrance he was greeted with a surprising sight.
One Sharkticon was lying on the floor, a large shot wound in his barrel chest. He wasn't moving. The other two were firing wildly at a slim, black female robot, who was hiding behind some monitors the Technobots had carried down here. The Quintesson Enforcer was cowering behind another piece of machinery. Wild Card made a split second decision, targeting the Sharkticon nearest to him. He didn't know who the black female was, but since she was blasting Quintessons she was currently on his side.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend, or something like this, he thought wryly as he entered the fight by nearly blowing the arm off his target.
Raven didn't know the other robot, but he was on her side as it seemed and that was enough for her. She concentrated on the enemy again.
* * *
The battle over Cybertron was slowly turning to the Autobots' side, but only slowly. Midnight evaded another blast from the Sharkticon gliders. A Quintesson ship had appeared throughout the last few turns and dodges, and it was equally taking part in the fight now. It's blasts were mainly aimed at Sentinels. Midnight had deployed Voodoo and F/X to keep the ship busy, and told Dagger to get some good shots at it. They were already suffering heavily, with about one third of their forces out cold.
Steve yanked him around and something fiery hot just missed him. The human Interface cursed softly. Midnight counted his forces and came up with two more than he had expected. He briefly wondered how Wild Card was doing, then banished that distracting thought as Steve steered him toward a new cluster of enemies. The two partners changed tasks and Midnight took over the flying part while Steve shot at everything that wasn't either a Sentinel or Autobot.
* * *
Silhouette stared at the burning hangar and her mind gave her only one option: get in there and rescue Rodimus Prime. Inferno, Hot Spot and Blades were already hard at work trying to contain the fire, but the roaring flames were too much for them to handle quickly. The Protectobots were coordinating the fire control, but it was going way too slow.
"Oh, no!" someone moaned.
She looked down and discovered Shanygn. The woman looked a bit worse for wear and her face was a tight mask, mirroring strain and emotions Sil deciphered as pain and absolute terror. They weren't Shanygn's feelings.... Rodimus! The Dinobot acted.
Transforming into her raptor mode she ran into the burning building, mindless of either the cries of protest from the other Autobots or the fiery heat suddenly leaping up all around her. All she had eyes for was a specific person. She had to find Rodimus!
The very first thing she saw was the badly damaged truck, Rodimus Prime's vehicle mode. Beside the truck, she then discovered, lay a human, moving faintly, coughing. She quickly approached the human and transformed. Before they had set out on this rescue mission she had been briefed quite thoroughly on the situation and so she knew that Rodimus essence had been transferred into a synthoid body. It was a concept she didn't quite understand, but she had not asked any stupid questions then, deciding to confront the situation when it came up. Now it had come up. The logical conclusion was that this unconscious human was Roddy.
Somewhere something crashed down and more flames sprung up everywhere. She looked around and saw that the way she had come in was now completely blocked by flames. This might not be dangerous for her, though she wasn't sure, but she knew that even if she took that way back, Rodimus much frailer body might not withstand the heat. She gently picked him up and scanned for another way out. Her eyes fell on the robot shell. An idea formed in her mind.
* * *
Diana MacKenzie was surprised that the Autobots were already on their way to her mansion. Well, so be it. They wouldn't catch her.
* * *
Groove gave a cry of surprise as part of the burning hangar wall exploded outwards, showering him and Streetwise with glowing shards. The explosion was quickly followed by a dark, large shape shooting out of the newly created hole. Blades, who had been showing the burning building with water, helping Inferno in controlling the flames, gave a sharp gasp.
The dark shape was indeed a well-known truck. And it was immediately clear that it was in a bad shape. It lurched forward once more, but not driven by its own engine. Someone was pushing it!
"Sil!" Springer exclaimed as he saw the raptor Dinobot.
Silhouette was in her robot mode, pushing the vehicle shape of Rodimus with all her power, which was enough to get him out of the hangar. Her skin was partly burned black, but it had to superficial. Metal didn't catch fire. Dinobots are really strong, Springer mused. I wouldn't want to tackle with her!
Groove and Streetwise ran toward the damaged Autobot and helped Sil tow him away from the burning building. The hangar was in bright flames now and it was only a matter of minutes until it would collapse completely.
"Get Rodimus out!" Sil breathed and jerked open one door.
Shanygn was already at their side and carefully pulled the still unconscious human out of the truck's driver's cabin. She bit her lips as she saw the blood on the back of his head and the burns all over his exposed hands and arms. She didn't know how much smoke he had inhaled and he had to get to a hospital as fast as possible.
Blades had apparently read her mind. He transformed and opened his door. "Get him inside. We'll be in Metroplex in no time."
Silhouette watched how they loaded the human in the torn and burned overall inside. She didn't know what to make of this, not at all. It was too confusing. Rodimus was human....
Shanygn hopped into the helicopter as well. She knew she couldn't do much now, except make sure that the robot body shell was quickly delivered to First Aid for repairs as well. And that would be Skyfire's job.
* * *
Starscream sat back and stared darkly at the cube of bluish black, quartz-like material. He had tried everything -- everything! -- to get the damn computer of this station to give him the information he wanted. And he only wanted something small; nothing big, nothing major. He wanted to go home! To do that he had to find out how the giant doorway worked, and Sphere was no help at all.
A Key, hah!
A tiny voice reminded him that Sphere had just been born and that she had no experience with this body or its programs. And the tiny voice got through. Tiredly he rubbed his optics. He knew Sphere was doing her best and that he wasn't helping by bossing her, bitching around and snarling whenever they met, but it was like a natural reaction. He couldn't help it! She fought back with the same vehemence and ... it was fun! He enjoyed those fights -- and she did as well, as far as he could judge that from the glint in her eyes every time they were at it.
Well, Starscream mused, he was just as useless helping to get them off the station as Sphere was. Angrily he kicked the quartz cube. It had a quite unexpected result. A low hum echoed around him and then dozens of tiny dots popped up in the whole room.
Starscream jumped from his chair and stared openmouthed at the dots. Most of them were green, one was blue, three orange, and about four or five were red. There were grey dots of varying size as well, some of them were close to the colored dots.
It's a map! he realized. A three dimensional map!
"What happened here?" a dark voice demanded.
Starscream turned and discovered Nightmare, who had entered the room. "I don't know," he said. "I ... kicked the console and this appeared."
"Kicked the console?" Nightmare echoed in disbelief, then smiled in amusement. "Very scientific, Starscream."
The Decepticon glared at him. "It's a map, right?"
Nightmare studied the dots. "Yes. I recognize one of these dots." He walked into the map and pointed at a green one. "That is the Crea system, my former home."
Starscream studied the chart and frowned at one particular cluster of grey dots with one bright orange one not very far away from them. "That's the system closest to Cybertron," he said absent-mindedly. "And this orange dot is in the place Cybertron was before Megatron moved it...."
The two robots looked at each other.
"If this is a map and if these points mean what I think they do, then we have a map of the doorway system," Nightmare said slowly. "Green might mean functioning ones, judging from the sheer number of them compared to the other colors."
"And red means destroyed ones," Starscream added, deep in thought. "But what is orange?"
Nightmare shrugged. He looked at the blue dot. It was far outside any of the grey dots indicating planets and star systems. This had to be Ralyk. But his eyes were drawn to the orange dots. What did they mean?
"And why is Cybertron shown in his old system?" Starscream went on, his mind slipping into a state of scientific fascination.
"We're in the past," Nightmare reminded him. "Crea was still existing then as well," he pointed at the green dot, "so it is green, not red."
"So it's useless!"
Nightmare shook his head. "No. It's a map and it's pretty useful. We now know where doorways are located."
Starscream studied the map again. "But how do we get there?" he then asked the all-important question.
* * *
Dr. Kyle Scott closed the door of the emergency medical ward and looked at the robot and humanoid. Shanygn looked like she hadn't slept in weeks and she was in bad need of some rest; Silhouette tried not to look worried, but she clearly was.
"He's sleeping now," he said. "I took blood samples and found a very potent drug in his system. It's commonly used by the negative elements of society as a truth serum. Very vicious, very effective. It can be used as a hallucinogen as well. That's where you most likely got headaches from, Shan," he told the Interface. "Rodimus was projecting strongly, I suspect, and you had no shields against that attack."
She nodded slowly. "What about his injuries?" she asked softly.
"He has second degree burns on his hands, arms and neck, as well as scratches and bruises. The wound on the back of his head looked worse than it was, but it needed stitching." Kyle rubbed his head. "All in all I'd say that if her gets some rest, he'll be fine. No broken bones, no infections so far, and I will make sure he will not get any."
Silhouette nodded. "When can he get back into his body?" she asked levely.
"Well, that is a good question," Kyle confessed. "Perceptor is already hard at work on constructing one of those machines and First Aid has to repair Rodimus' body. Sil, I'm really not sure. It depends on a lot of factors."
"And you should get some sleep," Kyle added and looked at the blue-haired woman. "You can't do a thing," he continued as she wanted to object. "He is asleep and so should you be."
"All right," she muttered.
Silhouette watched her leave. The medic looked at her.
"And what do you think you can do here?" her asked her, not unkindly.
"I ...I..." She sighed. "Isn't there anything we can do now?"
"Silhouette, Rodimus is human and he has to be treated like one. Humans can't heal as quickly as robots; I can't repair him."
"I know that!" she snapped. "I was humanoid once as well." She felt her temper run up against a frail wall. She was on the edge and it wouldn't take much to make her go over it now.
"And I know that." Kyle smiled softly at her, not taking any offense at all. "I just want to say that you can't help him by standing around."
Sil looked at the closed door of the medical ward, her hands, talons unsheathed, flexing, then nodded and slowly walked away. Kyle rubbed the bridge of his nose. Well, at least no one had tried to get him into a fight. He hadn't been sure about Silhouette. She was as temperamental as she could be the most caring person in the world. He knew she was very worried about her partner and that she was confused as to what to do now, how to behave, and generally what to expect. No one knew that and it would be even worse for the others and especially Optimus Prime. Kyle sighed and looked up as someone else came in. He was about to reproach the robot when discovered it was Skywolf.
The Sentinel medic looked questioningly at the closed doors of intensive care. "Well?" he asked then.
"Seen from the medical point of view," Kyle said tiredly, "he's recovering and with a bit of luck everything should be okay in about a week or so. He might have to go into a tank to heal the wounds completely should Perceptor finish his work before Rodimus heals."
Skywolf nodded. "How is he taking it?"
"He hasn't really woken so far, Wolf. He simply fell asleep after I was done. I guess the whole situation will unfold to him when he can think clearly again." There was a worried note in the medic's voice.
Skywolf nodded. "I'm afraid so."
"If you were human I'd ask you if you care for a cup of coffee," Kyle smiled at his larger friend.
The Sentinel smiled as well and suddenly Jill materialized. "Then take me as a substitute," she told him and the two humanoids left the medical ward.
Skywolf's optics traveled back to the intensive care station. Rodimus would experience problems, if he were any judge of it. His mind was trapped in an alien body. Silhouette had had problems when her humanoid mind had been transferred into a robot body.
"Let's hope Perceptor gets this machine working soon," he muttered to no one specific.
* * *
Optimus Prime transformed and tested his joints. Everything worked perfectly and his self-check told him the same. His visual was back, as well as complete audio and vocal. He turned to First Aid.
"Good work, thank you."
First Aid's blue visor glinted with a smile. "Well, at least I got one patient out of my hair." He gestured at the vehicle form in the next room.
"Rodimus!" Optimus breathed as he walked into the second room. "Oh, no. How bad is it?"
"I couldn't get a thorough look yet, but it's not as bad as it looks. You were much worse off when you arrived." The medic sighed. "The bigger problem will be getting his essence back into his robot body. The machine that accomplished it was destroyed and Perceptor is rebuilding it from scrap now. It will take some time and we don't know if it will work as it should."
"I understand," Optimus said slowly, regarding the wrecked front of Rodimus' vehicle form. "Inform me about any progress."
With that he left the med bay and walked down the corridor to the command center. There was still a battle going on back at Cybertron.
* * *
"How do you feel?"
"Lousy." Rodimus grinned wryly. "They drew enough blood to feed a family of vampires and pumped me full of medications afterwards." He raised the hand with the IV. "And now they've hooked my up to that. What else can you wish for -- except for my old body?"
Shanygn smiled slightly, trying to project some cheer, but she heard a dark note of desperation creep into her Interface partner's voice as he said it. He had woken about ten Earth standard hours after they had rescued him from the burning hangar.
"If that's all," she answered with a laugh, trying not to show how much she suffered with him.
"It's not funny, Shan!" he growled. "This still hurts like hell!" He held up his bandaged hands.
Shanygn sobered. "I know, Roddy," she said softly and compassionately.
"Uh, you feel it?" he asked carefully.
She smiled as she saw his expression shift into discomfort. He was very easy to read as a human. "No."
She wouldn't tell him about the headache, which had only stopped when Kyle had started his treatment on Rodimus. No use agitating him now; he already felt guilty about projecting strong emotions back on her anyway.
Rodimus sighed and leaned back in his bed, staring at the ceiling. "This is so .... so...."
"Embarrassing? Awful? Crazy? Cruel? All of the above?"
He grimaced. "I guess. How is Perceptor coming along with the machine?"
"Slowly, but steadily." Shanygn regarded him thoughtfully, noting all the little cuts and bruises, the pale skin and the tiredness etched into her friend's face.
Rodimus was still too pale for her liking and the injuries stood out brightly because of it. His hands were wrapped tightly and grabbing anything was difficult for him. From what she received of emotions from him, he was pretty frustrated and angry, mainly at himself.
"I feel like a needle pad," he complained. "When can I get out of this bed?"
"The moment you promise me not to exert yourself and stay out of trouble," Kyle Scott told him as he walked up to the two.
"I promise, I promise!" Rodimus readily told him.
Kyle frowned. "Why is it I don't believe you?" he muttered, but smiled nevertheless. "Okay. Shanygn, you keep an eye on him."
"No problem-o," he replied and Rodimus grimaced.
Just great, he thought.
* * *
Wild Card's last blast severed the already severely damaged Sharkticon in several parts and it dropped to the ground. He immediately turned to the only remaining enemy: the Quintesson Enforcer. The Enforcer, tentacles twitching wildly, lost a few shots his way, then made a run for the door. The black female managed to burn a hole into his shoulder just before he disappeared. Wild Card turned to face her, unsure what to do now. He held his weapon ready, waiting for the female to make a move.
"You are one of the Sentinels," she said.
"Yes. My name is Wild Card. Who are you?"
"My name is Raven," the other robot replied calmly and put down her weapon. "And I don't want to fight you. I didn't come here to battle anyone of you."
Wild Card hesitated. He looked at the insignia of the female and frowned.
<< It looks like the one Steve drew >> Jeff whispered in surprise. << She belongs to the same race Spook came from and which marked Nightmare! >>
"Why don't you come along and we talk?" Wild Card invited her, putting his gun away as well.
Raven looked at him, her yellow eyes unnerving him slightly. She reminded him a bit of Midnight. He had the same eerie aura, though his was even creepier.
"No one will hurt you," he added, spreading his hands.
The female seemed to consider this, then nodded. "I will come with you."
* * *
Midnight gave a gasp of pain as the blast from the Quintesson ship singed his tail. The battle had been going on for too long and he was tiring now. The Sharkticon gliders were down to a mere three dozen and Autobot and Sentinel losses had decreased, but the mothership was still there.
"F/X, Voodoo, cover me!" he ordered. "It's time to blow this oversized corkscrew out of orbit!" he ordered.
The two other Sentinels rogered that and the trio streaked toward the ship. Midnight channeled all his power into one guided shot. It blew through the aft section of the Quintesson ship. Several rogue shots went toward the three jets, but none came even close.
And suddenly the mothership withdrew. Some of the Sharkticon gliders tried to get back to its closing hangar doors, but the Autobots remorselessly blew them apart. Midnight saw another, different looking glider enter the front hangar area, then the Quintesson ship gained speed.
"Stop firing!" he ordered everyone. "No need to pursue them. We better tend to our own injuries."
And we better find out what happened to Wild Card, he thought.
* * *
Silhouette approached the lonely figure in the empty room, which was normally used by the humans working in Metroplex to get a few quite minutes. Now everything was deserted except for the young man in the featureless overall. She sat down on the floor to balance the size problem.
The man looked up and she really saw Rodimus Prime's human face for the first time. He had striking blue eyes, framed by reddish brown hair, in a now rather pale, narrow face. He looked a bit haggard. He was about Spike's size, she thought, slim and, for her still present human tastes, handsome.
"Hi," she said, unsure of how to approach him. This situation made her quite uncomfortable.
"Hi," he replied, sounding not very cheery. "Anything the matter?"
"No, I just thought you might want some company." She shrugged, ready to leave if he told her he wanted to be alone, though that was something she thought he shouldn't be.
Rodimus raked a hand through his brown hair, but didn't say anything. Sil watched him with fascination. This wasn't really him, a part of her mind told him, but another part said otherwise. His whole mind, his memories and personality, was here, just in a different body. A human body.
"Are you okay?" Sil wanted to know after some time. She knew it was a stupid question and was immediately proven so.
"Okay?" he exploded and jumped from the chair and paced the room. "I'm not okay, Sil! I'm human, for crying out loud! I don't call that okay!"
She watched him, saw how tense he was. This was getting to him and she thought she understood it. Sil had been humanoid once and had woken from a nightmare to find herself in a robot body. It had taken her subconsciousness some time to accept what her conscious mind had thought it was handling just fine.
"Maybe," she said softly. "But you can't change it for now."
"Don't tell me I've to live with it!" he snarled and his blue eyes turned cold. "Because I don't want to live with it! This isn't me!"
She tilted her head. "It is. Your whole mind was transferred, as far as Ultra Magnus told me, and this makes this body you."
He glared at her and she answered the rage with calm. Somehow she suddenly felt on safe grounds. She knew the emotions, had battled them herself and won.
He slumped against the wall, running a tired hand over his eyes. "Sorry," he mumbled.
Silhouette drew her knees to her chest and rested her chin on her arms. "It's okay, Rodimus. I understand better than you think."
He began to pace again. "This is so frustrating, you know. The last time my 'human' existence lasted for only a few hours and Perceptor was able to get me back in no time at all. Now .... this body hurts and I can't stop the pain, except when I take this awful medication. I'm fed up with drugs!"
"You are doing fine, just relax. Perceptor and First Aid are working like mad. Your robot body is already fixed and the machine's construction is proceeding," Sil told him.
He sighed deeply.
She smiled. "Well, isn't that ironic? I'm a humanoid mind in a robot body and you're a robot mind in a human body."
Rodimus grinned wryly. "Don't get me wrong, but I'd rather take your place. I'm more comfortable the robot way."
Sil smiled lopsidedly. "Oh? Well, bad luck because I don't want to switch places. By the way, Optimus asked to talk to you. Looks like there have been some rather interesting events happening on Cybertron...."
Rodimus got up from his chair. "All right," he sighed. "No way around that, right?"
"Right. Want a lift?"
Rodimus shot her a nasty look. "No thank you!" he said acidly.
"Hey, just kidding!" She held up her hands in mock-surrender.
"You're definitely hanging around Shanygn too much," he grumbled as he left the room.
Silhouette smiled as she watched his back. Maybe.
* * *
Raven looked at the completely black Sentinel with slight fear rising inside of her. He was eerie, like a living black hole in a otherwise brightly lit room, greedily sucking in every particle of light until there was a shadowy outline around him. She blinked and the outline disappeared. Maybe it was just her imagination. Midnight would have been a good warrior of her kind, she thought, then discarded that thought. Even the warriors would have found him too strange. The Sentinel leader's green visor showed no emotions and the few yellow veins running through his skin were adding to his unusual appearance. He regarded her closely, like examining a bug under a microscope. Raven didn't know all that much about Sentinels. They were Cybertronian, but they were neither Autobots nor Decepticons. She didn't know where to place them. Their relationship with humanoid partners was a mystery to her as well, and the Decepticons had never looked too thoroughly into the matter. They despised them for relying on flesh creatures, but Raven didn't feel this way. In her opinion they didn't really rely on their humanoid friends; it was more; it was different; it made her curious. There was no human around now, though.
The golden-brown and green colored Sentinel, Wild Card, had brought her here, to this building, under heavy guard. They weren't treating her like a criminal, more like someone who might be dangerous, but had not shown any move to being a threat just yet. They showed respect, so much was clear, and the black Sentinel, Midnight, seemed to have no ill intents. She didn't know if, had she wanted it to, she would have been able to escape them.
"Your name is Raven," he said, his voice dark and pleasant, and she nodded. "But you are not a Decepticon, though there have been reports about you being seen with them."
"I had my reasons," she answered briefly.
"Why did you come here? What did you do in the chamber?"
"I want to see Rodimus Prime," Raven said, not answering his question. "Only he will get the answers to your questions."
He seemed to frown. "Rodimus Prime is on Earth. He is currently unable to come here."
"Then you have to wait."
Midnight clearly didn't like this. "What role do you play in this game?" he asked, his voice still calm. "I know the origin of your insignia; you are like Nightmare." He leaned forward a bit. "But you are older."
She wondered if he knew more than she had thought at first. The Autobots had discovered the doorway deep inside of Cybertron, something she had not known existed there at all. Raven wanted to know what they knew about the doorways; and was there a Gatekeeper to this doorway? If yes, where was he? Had they killed him? She didn't judge the Autobots as cold-blooded killers. If he didn't exist, who controlled the structure?
"All right," Midnight said slowly when she didn't answer. "I'll contact Autobot City and see what I can do."
Raven looked at him, trying to get him into a category she could handle. It was difficult, very difficult.
"You are not allowed to leave the premises and your access is restricted," he went on. "Wild Card will be your guard while you are here. Don't antagonize us by trying to escape."
"Is this a threat?" she asked calmly.
Midnight smiled. "No, only good advice." With that he left the room and she was alone.
Raven wondered if this had been such a good decision after all. She needed to be close to the doorway, but what if the Autobots decided to scrap her? What if they thought she was a Decepticon spy? She could only hope that what she had heard about Autobots was true: they didn't shoot first and then ask questions later. Raven only wanted to find a way to get to Nightmare. He was her key to more answers, and this doorway she had seen deep inside Cybertron might prove the only way. She was playing a dangerous game and right now she hoped she could handle the prize.
* * *
Optimus Prime studied the reports from Hot Spot, who was going through the mansion of Diana MacKenzie with a fine comb. He and the other Protectobots, except for First Aid, who was needed back here, were busy helping the police securing the grounds and digging up evidence. So far they had shuttled back every file and computer disk they could find, which was now viewed by the Autobots for hints. Perceptor was most interested in the finds because he hoped that they might discover some notes on the machine he was trying to reconstruct. It was a thin hope, but it was there. The Technobots had unlocked many things from the files, most of them unimportant, but there had been several remarks and notes about one particular event Optimus Prime hated to remember. That was one reason why he needed to talk with his second-in-command.
Then there was the female robot, Raven, who had come to Cybertron and helped Wild Card defeat the small invasion force. Raven was currently under the guard of the Sentinels. Midnight was treating her cautiously, but not like a prisoner. She had surrendered and told the Sentinels that she wanted to talk to Rodimus Prime. Why only Rodimus was everyone's guess, but unless Rodimus was finally back in his old body there was no chance in hell he'd go to Cybertron.
Someone entered his office and Optimus' optics were drawn several feet down to the rather annoyed looking human in an overall. Rodimus looked a lot like his robot self, the Autobot leader reflected, but as a human he had a greater display of emotions, which made him easy to read. Well, Rodimus had always been easy to read for those who knew him well. Right now his eyes quite clearly told him not to ask about how he was or even mention his condition.
"Thank you for coming, Rodimus," he greeted his second-in-command, trying to treat this situation as if it was normal.
"Well, it's a break in an otherwise frustrating day," Rodimus muttered and sighed. Aloud he asked, "Anything on MacKenzie?"
"No. The police has put an APB out on her and she's steadily rising on the Most Wanted List. We are supporting the search with everything at our disposal." Optimus glanced at the screen again. "Hot Spot has discovered some files which might interest you."
Rodimus looked up at the screen and grimaced. He hated it, Optimus saw, he absolutely hated it, and he wouldn't even think about asking. Trying to suppress a smile Optimus knelt down and picked his second up, who looked as mortified as they came as he was lifted onto the table. Optimus wanted to tell him that this was all right and that he didn't have to feel ashamed of it, but he knew that Rodimus would get this the wrong way. Placing him on the desk he scanned over the frail human body. The injuries were all too visible and Optimus knew they had to be painful.
Rodimus tried to salvage the last of his dignity and looked at the screen. He paled dramatically, then whirled around to look at the Autobot leader.
"Are you sure?" he breathed.
Optimus nodded. "Yes. We unlocked the information from a nearly destroyed file, which we were able to recover in parts. The information is not complete, but what we found is enough for me."
Rodimus gulped and studied the screen again. It told him one gruesome thing: Diana MacKenzie had been the responsible person behind the virus, which had threatened to destroy the Cybertronian race. They had never found a lead on the one creating the virus and now..... MacKenzie! He clenched his hands into fists, trembling with rage.
"Any lead on her?" he asked, his voice almost sub-zero temperature cold.
"No. We are still looking for her."
Rodimus' face was white as a sheet. "If I get my hands on that woman!" he hissed.
Optimus nodded. "I feel the same way," he said calmly, sitting down. "But our first priority is getting you back into your body and then to Cybertron."
Rodimus raised an inquiring eyebrow.
"Raven has turned up on Cybertron and surrendered to Wild Card -- after helping him scrap three Sharkticons and chase off the Enforcer who was with him."
"Raven only wants to talk to you," the Autobot leader continued. "And the very second you are back, you're going to Cybertron. I want to know what's going on. Midnight says she isn't wearing a Decepticon symbol and her original insignia is like Spook's or Nightmare's."
Rodimus nodded thoughtfully. "Let's hope Perceptor finds a way to put me back soon or I'm gonna scream!"
Optimus couldn't repress an amused glint in his eyes, though he understood his second's worries and problems. Being human wasn't fun when you had been a robot and were used to a different size.
"That's not funny!" Rodimus growled.
"I understand you, really. Why don't you just sit back and relax? You're on recovery and there is nothing that can't wait."
"Sure, right, tell that to everyone else," his second mumbled.
Optimus shook his head. "Maybe some time in med bay might help you get out of everyone's path. You can get some quiet there."
"Not med bay! Being human and in need of a doctor delivers you right into the path of needles, syringes and drugs!" Rodimus exclaimed in horror.
Optimus laughed. "Then hide somewhere else," he suggested.
"Uh-huh." Rodimus looked down the high table. "I hate this," he muttered in disgust as Optimus put him down again.
He left the office and Prime watched him with an amused glint. It wasn't funny, but Rodimus had a way of getting mad at things, which showed much more prominently on his human features. Well, with a bit of luck he'd be back in his body soon.
* * *
Nine days. Nine long days with more problems in one spot than he had ever encountered in all his life, Rodimus thought. Not even when he had become Autobot leader after Optimus Prime's death had there been that much to look after, take into account, watch out for and do! Shanygn was doing a marvelous job helping him adjust to this hopefully, he prayed, temporary situation, but even she couldn't help him with everything. She took him to lunch, introducing him to something she had discovered some months ago: hamburgers, and generally tried to occupy him with everything just to take his mind off his situation. But looking into a mirror or just the very fact that he couldn't do anything what he had done before was reminder enough of what had happened. Eating had been a major problem, but he hated to go back to the liquid feed in the med bay so he had managed.
Spike, Carly and Daniel helped as well, with Spike asking Rodimus to help out with some of his ambassadorial work connected to either Cybertron or Nebulos. It had also given him a chance to visit the Witwickys and be introduced to their latest member, Melissa Witwicky. The baby looked very different from a human point of view and Rodimus had been fascinated. The day with Spike's family had passed faster than any of the other eight days.
Optimus treated him as normal as he could. They were partners concerning Autobot leadership, but there was the fact that Rodimus was human and this couldn't be totally ignored. He tried to help out, do his job, and the others tried hard to act normal around him, which sometimes didn't go too well. But his injuries forced him to rest and, much to his dismay, to visit Kyle every day. The medic had decided that if the burns kept on healing as they were doing right now, aided by medication, the transfer could commence the moment Perceptor was finished.
"What do you mean?" Rodimus demanded as Dr. Scott bandaged his hands. He could move his fingers more freely and only the slightly worse burns on his wrists and back of his hands needed treatment now.
"We can't transfer your essence while you're hurt, Rodimus. We don't know what consequences it will have. Since Perceptor is still busy testing the machine, we have time to get you back in shape."
Rodimus tried not to look too disappointed and crestfallen. Wait. He hated the word. Waiting was nothing he was good at and never had been. The whole situation was laying heavily on his mood and he knew he sometimes reacted the wrong way. Shanygn took his outbursts calmly, like a rock in a stormy sea, and he was keeping his temper under control when he was around others. He mostly sounded off when he was alone with his Interface partner.
"Oh," he made mutely.
"You are doing fine," Kyle told him and smiled. "The burns are healing much faster than I thought and you are getting the hang of this body, I see."
"It's difficult," the human Autobot confessed. "Last time I didn't have to worry about food or sleeping or things like that. This condition lasted only for a few hours! It's been nine days now!"
Shanygn entered the lab.
[You are getting cranky again] she told him gently.
They had discovered that their mind link worked just perfectly, even though he was human.
[Whoops] he muttered. [Sorry]
"C'mon, bright-eyes," she said aloud. "Let's get you somewhere more cheery."
"As long as I don't have to go to town and visit a mall ....." He smiled lopsidedly.
Shanygn grimaced and grabbed him by the arm, steering him out of the med lab. When they were alone, she asked, [More new problems?]
[The same old ones] he said wryly.
[You need a shave] she remarked.
Rodimus threw her a dirty look. [Thank you, Shanygn. That's just what I needed to hear. One day I'll kill myself with this shaver, I swear!]
Shanygn grinned broadly. [That's something I can't help you with]
They walked down the corridor, Rodimus sighing softly. [How does Spike or any human avoid getting stepped on?!] he asked.
[All of us here grew up with you big guys] Shanygn answered. [We are used to it. You aren't. You are used to looking out for us small fleshy ones] She grinned.
Rodimus grimaced, but he knew this was true. As a robot he was always aware that humans were around him, much smaller, and he had to be careful. Spike had grown up with them, as had Carly and Danny, and they knew how to act and what to do and what not. He was just getting the hang of being that small.
[I hope Perceptor hurries it up] he muttered.
Shanygn touched his arm. [He can do it, Roddy. He's a genius]
He only nodded. [I hope you are right]
* * *
Perceptor stepped back from the machine. It looked a lot like the one he had seen some years ago and which had been responsible for the transformation four of his friends had had to go through then. He had stored the information of the machine then and after that it had been dismantled. The machine which had now transformed Rodimus Prime into a human once again had been a bit more refined and not as crude as its predecessor. This had meant more tests, more work and a bigger chance of failure. Perceptor just hoped he was on the right track. If he wasn't..... he didn't know what would happen.
* * *
Galvatron's optics flashed a dangerous red and Cyclonus expected the old personality to come charging back howling and slashing any second now. But the Decepticon leader remained calm, icily calm, which was even more frightening and dangerous than if he had flipped completely.
"Is this information confirmed?" he asked, his voice cold and completely controlled.
"It is," Soundwave answered.
Galvatron looked at the report, which showed him the picture of a blonde human woman. Diana Michelle MacKenzie.
"A human!" he snarled.
Buzzsaw had brought back the information on the woman. The Autobots had retrieved files that connected this Diana MacKenzie to the mysterious virus that had nearly destroyed the Decepticons years ago. Galvatron had vowed to personally dismember the one responsible, but the person had always evaded his efforts to find him. Now the Autobots had discovered the responsible person behind this virus strain.
"Find her!" he ordered with an unnatural calm in his voice. "And bring her here -- alive." The glint in his optics told Cyclonus that she wouldn't be alive for much longer after she was in Galvatron's hands.
"Yes, my lord," he answered and ran a check on who he could send out. There were quite a few Decepticons handy and the search could be done very thoroughly.
Cyclonus left the throne room and Galvatron watched him disappear. His lieutenant had not shown any reaction to Raven's disappearance other than glowering at every Decepticon who crossed his path and didn't watch his mouth. If that Decepticon was lucky he got away with only the glare, else he suddenly found himself introduced quite closely to the next available wall. Cyclonus had told Galvatron that he didn't believe that Raven had turned a traitor and he stuck with that belief, no matter what. Galvatron respected it -- and he believed it as well. Raven had disappeared, but not with treachery in mind. He knew more about her than she thought he did.
The old Galvatron would have sent out someone to kill her, but not his present persona, the one from before Unicron's death, the one in constant pain and confusion in his mind. That time was the past. The days of madness were over.
* * *
Silhouette watched the proceedings with mixed feelings. Rodimus stood in a glass cylinder, looking more than wary about the whole process, while his still-in-vehicle-mode robot body was standing outside the tube. Cables ran from the cylinder to the truck and then to a control module. Perceptor was doing some last minute calculations while Optimus Prime stood silently beside the female Dinobot. Shanygn was present as well, her face stony and slightly detached. Sil guessed she was either talking to Rodimus via their mind link or she was trying to build up a shield in case there was a backwash from the transfer.
"Ready?" Perceptor asked and Rodimus nodded, his eyes reflecting apprehension and slight fear.
Silhouette crossed her fingers and glanced at Optimus, who wore an impenetrable mask. Perceptor pushed the start button. Sil didn't know what she had expected to happen, but this wasn't exactly what she had imagined. Rodimus' human body was suddenly turned into what looked like swirling, white cloud, which was now and then flashing with energy. And then it seemed to streak toward the top of the cylinder, disappearing into the transfer cables. There was a short electrical charge running over Rodimus' robot body, then silence settled. Everyone looked expectantly and with a notion of fear at the truck, waiting for it to transform. Silhouette clenched her hands into fists, her optics flashing.
Shanygn's face was the same mask as Optimus'. Suddenly relief crossed her face.
"He's all right," she whispered.
Rodimus transformed and came to his feet, swaying slightly. He seemed a bit disoriented, then smiled at the others. "Hey, I'm back!"
Shanygn simply smiled and Silhouette was now sure she was mind-linked to him. There were little tell-tale signs she had learned to watch out for.
The Dinobot restrained herself. It wouldn't do to fly to him and give him a hug in front of this audience. Everyone knew about their relationship, but Sil was a private person. Perceptor ran a quick check and came up with a perfect read-out. Rodimus was just fine.
Optimus walked over to his second-in-command, relief written plainly over his partially covered face. "Welcome back," he said.
"Somehow, I was never really gone," Rodimus replied with a grin, then grew serious. "Cybertron, right?"
Optimus nodded. "We have to give this priority over everything. Kup has taken over the case of finding Diana MacKenzie and is coordinating everything with the FBI now. The case is going international. Our primary task is Raven now. She seems to be the key to a lot of our questions."
Silhouette joined them, trailed by Shanygn. "I'm with you," she told Rodimus.
He smiled at her. Shanygn only nodded. She wouldn't leave his side for one second. The trio left the lab.
* * *
Nicholas was driving into town on his old motorbike and parked it near Doug's garage. It was still to early for Doug to be up, but Nicholas had promised to help him repair the tow truck, which had been in need for repair for some time now because it broke down every other mile. He dusted himself off and unlocked the garage's main door. He was just about to enter the building when he heard a sound he had heard before: a much softer than normal engine. Nicholas frowned at the red truck as it stopped.
No one was driving it .....
"Hello, Nicholas," the truck said.
"Uh," Nicholas replied, then got himself together. "Black with some airbrush might have looked much more cool."
Optimus Prime chuckled and transformed. "Maybe," he conceded, "but I prefer my usual red color."
"Right," Nicholas muttered, too shocked by the sheer size of the Autobot. "Eh, what brings you here?"
"Me?" Nicholas echoed. "What happened? Did I do something wrong? Connected two wires and you blew something else?"
Optimus smiled. He liked the young man. "No. It's just the other way around. You showed some remarkable talent in repairing me."
Nicholas shrugged, a bit self-conscious. "Hey, I earn my money through repairs most of the time."
The Autobot nodded. "That's why I'd like to invite you for a trip to Metroplex. I talked to Raoul Simone, our chief engineer back at the City, and he'd like to get to know you."
"Uh, why? I didn't do anything out of the ordinary!" the young man protested.
"Well, you repaired technology far beyond your normal car mechanics," Prime said with amusement shining through. "You never studied advanced engineering, but you took one look at my innards and did what was right."
"Got a talent, the boy," a voice said behind Prime and the Autobot leader turned.
Doug had come out of his old RV and smiled proudly, like a father. "The boy's just too modest ta tell ya he's a natural genius," the mechanic went on. "Looks at a thing and knows how it works."
"Doug," Nicholas hissed through clenched teeth.
"Hey, kid, nothin' wrong in tellin' the truth, eh?"
"He is correct," Optimus said. "Well, how about it? Raoul would be very happy to meet you."
Nicholas shrugged. "I have a job here ..."
"Ya fired," Doug called cheerily, chewing on his cold cigar.
"Oh, thank you," Cavanaugh grumbled. He looked at the Autobot. "All right, let's go. Nobody wants me here anyway." He shot Doug a mock glare, which the mechanic answered with a toothy grin.
Optimus Prime transformed and opened one door. As Nicholas climbed inside he asked, "Want to drive?"
"Only if you are struck by sudden blindness," Nicholas replied as he settled back.
Optimus chuckled and rolled off.
* * *
Ralyk had watched.
And it had decided.
All the signs told it that the last decisions had made had been correct. This encouraged it.
Now it was time to do what was right. Its new creations were growing and needed a place; they needed a purpose. Ralyk had a place and purpose for them. It had marked them.
In the vast, black-walled hall the rings of the giant doorway began to shift, realigning themselves to coordinates that spanned space and time.
Yes, it was time.