Psychological Dependence: Part 2

     It has been five weeks, as time is measured on Charr.  I have
somehow drifted out of the populated sector of the galaxy -- nebula all
around me, heated gases and ions pulsing in green and purple wisps.
Some warmth in here, at least.  Was getting tired of flying through
days of absolute zero, ice eventually forming in all my joints and
shattering soundlessly with each movement.  That doesn't happen in
here.  But it's still cold, like the ice has condensed into a core within
my central circuitry and won't melt.  It's like bad melodrama -- cold,
hungry, lost and alone.
     I'd thought of landing on the nearest inhabited world, of
course -- gathering a few good warriors, leading them against the
traitorous Decepticons -- but how long would they have followed me?
How long before the same scene repeated itself?  No, better to keep
flying, maybe I'd come across something useful.
     By the time I really started to get low on energy, I was too far
away from any known fuel source to make it back.  So, I'm here.
Maybe I'll drift in the nebula until -- until -- what is that up ahead?
Like a shadow passing over -- maybe a ship?
     I fly up through the shifting ion clouds and dust particles
until I'm above the plane of the nebula.  It rolls like wind-lashed
clouds below me, lights flashing through.  Just ahead -- I was right!
Not just one ship, but a small fleet.  Most look old, battered.  But well
armed.  The smaller ones fly in a loose formation, surrounding a huge,
hulking gunship in considerably better repair.  Instinct tells me it's a
flagship of sorts.
     Can't take them all on, of course.  But I *must* have fuel!
Only chance is to attack one of the small ships, one near the rear and a
bit away from the others -- if I can drag it into the nebula and dispatch
the crew, I can drink from the fuel tanks and vanish while the others
are still searching the gas clouds.
     No margin of error here.  The maneuver will burn up all of
my remaining fuel.
     I've targeted one of the smaller ships.  I don't think they know
I'm here.  I shoot forward, raising my fusion cannon, ready to blast out
the guidance systems and disable the vessel -- but I never get the
chance to fire.
     Suddenly I'm tangled in a web of light!  Strands of pure
energy bind me, and I fight them, kicking and struggling, but no use.
Cannon won't fire -- I'm being dragged toward the flagship.  A hatch
opens and I'm pulled in, drifting in darkness, still tangled.  The hatch
closes, shutting off the outside light of the nebula.  Recompression --
light and gravity turn on, I'm dropped unceremoniously to the floor of
a small, empty docking bay.  "Who's responsible for this?!" I demand.
"Show yourself!  When I get my hands on you--!"
     A hatch slides back on an inside wall, two creatures enter.
Organics, in pseudo-military dress, half my size.  Blasted energy net!
Must break the strands -- can barely move!  "Release me this instant,"
I snarl at the organics.  "Release me or die a tormented death!"
     They look at me, at each other, back at me.  "Hey, look at
this," one exclaims, reaching through the energy strands as though
they weren't there.  He tugs at my fusion cannon.  "Slike, help me with
this, will you?  I know a couple of Ferengi free traders who'd pay top
credits for a weapon like that."
     "Touch my cannon and I will obliterate you!"  Trying to fight
the net.  Each movement draws it tighter.  The organics detach the
fusion cannon from my arm -- it takes both of them to lift it and lean it
against the nearest wall.  "Pathetic weaklings!" I snarl.  "I'll vaporize
you!"
     The one called Slike touches the receiver in his helmet,
speaks into a small microphone.  "Yes sir.  Yes, we understand."
Turns to the other.  "Sorry, Stardance -- we don't get to throw him into
recycling for spare parts after all.  The boss wants to see him."
     "Waste of good materials," Stardance sighs, pulling out a
control box with buttons and levers.  "Oh well. On your feet, robot."
     "I am Galvatron!  Supreme commander of the Decepticons!
No one tells me what to -- *What*??"  The net is contouring itself to
my body, moving my muscle cables against my will, making me stand
and walk ahead of the two organics into the open door-hatch.
     "Did he say Decepticons?" says Stardance, daring to control
my movements with his levers.
     "Maybe that explains it," says Slike in a bored tone.  "But
who knows?  We may get him for spare parts in the end, after all."
     I try to fight every step, try to throw my weight backward
against the relentless forward motion.  I'm not even slowing down.
"You will all suffer for this!  I'll tear apart your whole armada!"
     They're not impressed.  We pass through vast corridors,
sealed hatches and other passages leading off to both sides.  Realize I
have been too busy fighting the net to have paid attention to directions,
to the way back.  Surely this damn net is going to run out of power any
second...?
     We stop before a huge doorway that slides up to reveal a dim
chamber.  Stairs inlaid with blue fluorescent strip-lights lead up to a
platform carrying a throne or command chair, its back to us, facing the
wall behind it.  That wall is made up entirely of viewscreens -- must be
two dozen or more, some dark, most showing some interior view of
this, or maybe the other, ships.  One shows the cargo bay where I was
brought in, my fusion cannon still lying against one wall.
     The net moves me forward and brings me to a stop at the base
of the stairs.  Lousy organics stop behind me, snap to attention and
hold a salute.  "We brought him in, sir," Slike says respectfully.  "Like
you wanted. But he strikes me as a bit of a lunatic, sir, if you want my
opinion.  I don't think he could be of much use--"
     With a mechanical "whirrrr," the throne swivels around to
face us.  Cyclonus!  Its occupant is Cyclonus, I can't believe it -- ! --
can't believe I'm almost glad to see him.
     "I neither asked for your opinion, nor paid you to think,"
Cyclonus says to the organic.  "Now leave us."
     Stardance regards me dubiously.  "You sure?"
     "Out!" Cyclonus thunders.  They scurry away, hatch slides
shut behind them.
     It takes me only a moment to get over my surprise.
"Cyclonus, release me at once, or suffer the consequences!"
     "Of course."  He smiles fractionally, touches a button on one
armrest of the throne.  The net dissolves away from me.
     "Now I'm going to tear you apart!"  I leap up the stairs, eager
to get my hands around his throat -- but something slams me back,
halfway up -- a bright clash of light and a physical impact that felt like
a jolt of electricity.  Invisible force shield.
     Too low on fuel to try again.  I pick myself up at the base of
the stairs, glare at him.  Notice he's got his laser gun resting on one of
the broad armrests of the throne, and a tray of small energon cubes on
the other.  About now, I'd trade him my fusion cannon for that tray of
energon -- if I still had it.
     "Now that you've gotten that out of your system, "Cyclonus
says, "perhaps we can talk reasonably.  I'm curious -- how long did it
take for the Decepticons to throw you out?"
     "They didn't," I snarl at him.  "I *left*.  I refused to work
with such blundering idiots any longer."
     "I see.  And you hope to find warriors of greater intellect out
here in the nebula."  He offers me the slightest of superior smiles, sips
absently at an energon cube.
     "Look, Cyclonus.  Maybe we can discuss this over dinner?"
     He watches me silently for interminable moments.  I'm
starving, and damn him, he's enjoying my discomfort.  "Alright," he
agrees finally.  "If you behave yourself."
     "Yeah.  Sure."
     He picks up his laser and comes down the stairs, the force
shield letting him through with the slightest of electronic crackles.
"Through here," he says, motioning me toward another door-panel in
the wall, which slides back to reveal a storage room piled floor-to-
ceiling with energon cubes of all sizes and colors.  I can only stare at
him.  "How did you---?--where did you--?--oh, never mind."  I plunge
in, greedily drinking up energon. Never had such good energon.  But I
remember what happened the last time I had too much -- this time, I
drink only what I need, no more.
     Cyclonus has followed me in, and watches me, leaning
casually against the inner wall.  Seems relaxed, but I know that type of
relaxed -- the raised laser means he's alert and ready.  Could move and
fire in a split instant if he had to.  That's what made him such a good
second-in-command.
     Finished refueling, I turn to him.  Feel like being generous
now.  It *was* good energon.  "Cyclonus, I forgive you.  I'll take you
back into the ranks.  Now let's get started and leave for Charr before
the others descend into total disarray without their leader."
     For a moment he stares at me in amazement, then bursts out
laughing.  "*You* forgive *me*?" he splutters. "*You*??  Galvatron
you really -- you really *believe* your own propaganda, don't you?"
He shakes his head, still laughing.
     "What do you mean?" I demand.  If he doesn't stop laughing
at me, I'll stuff his mouth with my fist.
     He's suddenly dead serious.  "I'm not going back," he says.
"Remember what you said about the dregs of the universe?  Well, I
own them now.  This fleet -- the Star Raiders.  Mostly space pirates,
but they haul contraband also -- even an occasional legitimate
transport.  I ran into them shortly after I freed myself from your
clutches, and thought I might like to spend a piece of my life in control
of such an outfit."  He tilts his laser into plainer view.  "Amazing, how
a little superior firepower can win you instant acceptance.  That is
probably the one useful thing I learned from you.  Too bad you never
learned how to *maintain* your underlings' respect.  No, Galvatron.
You've got nothing more to offer me back on Charr."
     Can't believe I'm hearing this.  He should jump at the chance.
Be grateful.  I don't understand.  "But Cyclonus, you're not a space
pirate!  You're a warrior!  You'll waste away and die for lack of
action."
     "We see our share of action," he counters.  "I've used
Decepticon technology to improve the weaponry and defensive systems
of the fleet, allowing us to attack larger and more dangerous targets.
You're welcome to stick around and see for yourself."
     Is it my imagination, or is Cyclonus offering me room and
board?  I certainly can't go back to Charr.
     "You'd have to earn your keep, of course," Cyclonus adds.
     I glare at him suspiciously.  "What do you mean by that?"
     "Hold down a job.  Occupy some kind of a useful position."
     "Work for you?  Are you *crazy*?  -- What kind of job?"
     He regards me thoughtfully.  "Well, something appropriate.
Something you'd be good at.  You were once my leader, after all.  I'd
say ... we need a decent gunner on the flagship.  Weapons officer, if
that suits you better.  But remember, *I'm* the leader here.  And you'd
have to control your irrational outbursts of temper.  I don't like
disorder on my ships."
     "You're insane, I won't stand for this!  Only Galvatron leads!
Do you hear me?"
     He shrugs.  "Suit yourself.  You're free to leave, of course.
I'm even willing to drop you off at the nearest inhabited planet -- you
could melt down a few natives, carve up a few continents -- whatever.
If nothing else, you got a free meal out of me."  He turns to leave.
     The bit about the inhabited planet sounds almost tempting.
But the thought of being cast adrift again, in that vast, cold, empty
universe.... I catch myself shivering.  Not that I need companionship
or acceptance or any such nonsense.  I need nothing from anyone.  But
... maybe Cyclonus needs me.  Of course.  He can't get along without
me, that's it.  I call him back.  "Wait, Cyclonus.  I think you need a
decent gunner for the flagship."
                    * * *
     Sometime later Cyclonus shows me to the bridge.  It's
sparsely furnished and utilitarian, with a raised command chair in the
center, two console positions in front, and several computer stations
ringing the perimeter in the background.  Huge forward viewscreen
shows the slow passage of stars at the fringe of the nebula.
     Only two other creatures on the bridge as we enter.  One
relinquishes the command chair to Cyclonus and takes up a position to
one side.  He was once apparently a pure organic -- now, the right half
of his body consists of machinery: half of the face along with one
round, gleaming optic sensor, one metal leg, one metal arm tipped not
in a hand but a circular sawblade.  A heavy chain is looped over his
organic shoulder.  A jagged crest of black hair leans erratically over
the metal half of his head.  He reaches barely to Cyclonus' shoulder in
height, but is a bulky, powerful-looking thing, for an organic.
     The other creature is a female, seated at the left forward
console.  Neon-pink swaths of hair are loosely held back by a dagger
and sheath serving as a clasp.  Big, bright-purple eyes watch my
approach -- must be artificially enhanced.  Her clothing is strategically
tattered, in a way that almost reveals those sections of the body that
organics, I suppose, find seductive -- but in contrast, between layers of
spiked belts and colored material, I see the glint of concealed
weaponry.
     Cyclonus indicates the empty console next to her.  "Here's
your weapons station," he says.  "I think you'll find everything
reasonably familiar."
     I sit down, try it out.  Not too bad.  Cyclonus stands beside
me, as though awaiting something.  "If you expect me to say 'yes sir'
and 'no sir' to your every utterance, you can wait forever," I snap.
     "I was waiting to see if you had any questions about the
controls," he says.  "I did make a few -- improvements."
     "Nothing I can't handle."
     He nods, takes to the command chair behind me.
     "So who's the new recruit?" comes the gravelly voice of the
male organic lounging indolently against the side of the command
chair.
     "His name's Galvatron," Cyclonus tells him.  "He may require
a period of adjustment."
     "Adjustment?" rasps the organic.  "Why bother with that?
Cut him up for spare parts, I say."  I hear the whirr of the sawblade as
he lets it rotate once at the end of his arm.
     I swivel my chair to keep him in sight -- wish I had my fusion
cannon, I'd show him some spare parts!  Cyclonus glares at him.
"Scrounger, I will make the decisions here," he says.  "Now get back to
your computer station and see that we stay on course."
     Scrounger gives a grunt of assent, moves off to one of the
empty computer stations behind us.  I turn back to my console,
studying it.  Everything does look familiar, the usual lasers, torpedoes,
shields and ion blasts -- all except a few controls in the upper right
corner.  Wonder what they're for.
     "So you're Galvatron, eh?" says the female beside me, giving
me an appraising look.  "Glad we finally found us a gunner.  I had to
do double duty now and again, I did."  She thrusts out a hand at me.
"I'm Toxicaria.  I fly this rig.  Navigator, you know?  My friends call
me Toxic."
     I look at her hand, the neon-pink talons of fingernails.
     "Righto," she says, pulling it back.  "You robot-types don't
shake hands, I gather."
     Not with organics.
     She adjusts a few controls, continues, "Now where have I
heard your name before?  Don't tell me, now, let me guess --
Galvatron, Galvatron ... got it!"  She stares at me with her bright
purple eyes.  "You used to be a big-shot among the Decepticons, didn't
you?"
     Used to be?  I can't help but wince.  How quickly one becomes
a used-to-be.  I *don't* have to stand for this.  Feel rage creeping up
inside me again.  Turn to glare at Cyclonus.  What have you saddled
me with?  He's watching with an amused expression.  "You'll get used
to her," he assures me.
     Damn creature is still at it.  "Wait a minute --
*Decepticons*!" she exclaims.  "Cyclonus -- that's what you are!"
     "Yes, that's what I am," he says in a tolerant, almost bored
tone.
     "So you guys--" she points at me, at him, back to me.  "You
guys are like old friends, reunited?"
     "Something like that," Cyclonus says in the same tone,
watching me closely.
     She grins at me.  "What a coincidence, don't you think, that
we ran into you all the way out here, don't you think?"
     I clench my fists to keep from reaching over and throttling
her.  "Toxicaria," I say, very quietly, very calmly.
     She wags a finger at me.  "Toxic -- remember?"
     "Yes.  Toxic.  Now will you do me a minor favor?"
     "I suppose," she shrugs.  "Depending on what it is, of course,
because you never know how minor favors can grow into--"
     "SHUT UP!!" I scream at her.
     She cringes away from me, giving me a look of utter surprise,
then busies herself hastily at her console.
     Cyclonus chuckles.  "Well, you passed the test, Galvatron.
You didn't stand up and start dismantling the bridge.  Now enough
chatter!  Toxic, keep us on course."
     "Righto, luv," she mutters, giving me a wary sidelong look.
     Luv?  This is his idea of discipline and order?  Ha!
     Not much for me to do at the moment.  I drum my fingers
along the console, stare out into space, then back around the bridge.
Scrounger steps back up on the platform and takes up his position
beside Cyclonus, leaning against the command chair.  "Long distance
scanners should be making contact any minute now," he says.  "We'd
have reached the transports already, but we lost some time picking up
Scrapmetal here."  He gestures at me with contempt.
     I stare back with equal contempt.  Would love to send a
fusion blast through his skull.
     A few more crew members enter the bridge, take up positions
along the computers.  From what I've seen, Cyclonus' Star Raiders are
made up of all sorts, ranging from ratty space pirates like Toxic and
Scrounger through polished paramilitary types like Slike and
Stardance -- with every imaginable shading in between.  The one thing
they have in common is greed -- a virtue, to be sure, but this is still no
place for a Decepticon warrior.  What use could Cyclonus have, for
instance, for gold loot?  That soft and useless metal isn't good for
anything, and yet, to hear the Star Raiders talk, it's one of the fleet's
most eagerly sought prizes.
     I hate this sitting around.  I long for action, destruction!
     "Long-range sensor contact, Cyclonus," rasps Scrounger,
back at his computer post.
     "On screen," Cyclonus commands.  The starfield is replaced
by a computer image of three bulky transport ships, and our fleet in the
distance, moving to intercept.
     "Visual contact in four minutes," Scrounger announces.
"*They'll* see *us*, too, unless we start scrambling their optics."
     "I'm aware of that, Scrounger."  Cyclonus watches the screen
calmly for perhaps half a minute longer.  "Alright.  Galvatron, start
jamming all their sensors.  Long and short-range scanners, visual,
radio -- everything.  Feed them static."
     How?  I stare blankly at my controls.  Must be one of these
buttons in the upper right.
     "No, not that one!" hisses Toxic, reaching across in front of
me and flipping up a pair of switches.
     To her contemptuous look I reply, "I was *going* for those."
     "Keep watch on our fuel-levels," Cyclonus tells Scrounger.
"You know how the scrambler system burns energy."
     "Almost in range, Cyclonus," Toxic announces.
     He touches a control along the armrest, opening a channel to
his other ships.  "Star Raiders, this is Cyclonus," he says.  "Attack
plan has been fed into your computers -- activate the sequence now.
Do not alter course unless I so order.  Cyclonus out."
     "That's it?  That's all you're going to say to them?" I demand.
"That's not the way to wring performance out of underlings!
Cyclonus, you've got to elaborate on the rewards of success, and
especially, on the consequences of failure!  I *knew* you couldn't do
this on your own.  I'll handle the attack for you."   I start to rise from
my place, find Scrounger suddenly beside Cyclonus, aiming a shrapnel
blaster at me.
     "You'll do no such thing," Cyclonus says.  His eyes flash
warning.  "I see no reason to waste time and effort elaborating rewards
that these pirates already know of -- nor carrying on about the price of
failure, which is more effective if left ominously unspoken.  All your
ranting and raving about punishments you couldn't fully carry out
anyway, is not nearly as effective as a single public execution for
willful incompetence."
     "Yeah," Toxic whispers to me, "that's what happened to our
last gunner!  Better sit down if you know what's good for you."
     Reluctantly, I withdraw back to my console.
     "Excellent decision," Cyclonus says.  "Now watch, Galvatron,
and see how advance planning and strategy is superior to manic,
uncontrolled attack."
     The screen still shows the computer graphics, tracing our
ships as they slowly draw a snare around the three transports.
     "You've got a gaping hole in your circle," I point out with
malicious pleasure. "Those ships will duck right down into the
nebula."
     "Yes -- I'm counting on it," Cyclonus says.  "If you'd paid
attention, you would see that the screen display shows less than half of
our fleet.  Now turn off the scrambler system.  Let them know we're
here."
     I flip those two switches back down.
     "Screen on visual," Cyclonus commands.  The bright graphics
are replaced by the bulk of the transports, drifting before the black
expanse of space and the churning nebula below.
     "Shields up, Galvatron!"
     Right.  I know what *those* controls look like, at least.
     "Transports preparing to fire, sir," one of the paramilitary
types in the back announces.
     "Disable their weaponry," Cyclonus says.  "But keep
structural damage to a minimum, and don't hit the fuel tanks."
     I have a brief vision of the space station flashing into flame
all around me.  Was that really only a few weeks ago?  Seems like
lifetimes.
     Photon blasts from the transports bounce harmlessly off our
shields, rocking the ship ever so slightly.
     I power up a narrow, intense laser beam, locking it onto the
gun turrets of the nearest ship.  *Fire*!!  I can almost feel the surge of
the beam as it slices out at my touch.  This is delicious, the controls
respond to my slightest whim.  Explosions flower against the hull of
the transport as their gun turrets shatter.  Quickly I shift my aim and
take out the weaponry on the other two.  No other aspects of the ships
have been damaged.
     "Not bad," Toxic says appreciatively.
     Disarmed, the transports flee, dropping down through the
obvious gap Cyclonus has left for them.  They plunge toward the
nebula.
     "You'll lose them, you idiot!"  Knew I should've handled this.
Never send a second-in-command to do a leader's job.
     Scrounger growls at me, but Cyclonus is unconcerned by my
insult.  "Just watch," he says.
     The transports have almost reached the nebula, our fleet
moving in behind.  Suddenly, more of our ships shoot up out of the
nebula, right toward the transports.  Between them is strung a glowing
energy net, a vastly larger version of that which captured me.  In
moments, the three ships are wrapped immobile in glowing strands.
     "Okay, fine," I growl.  "Clever and elegant and all that.  But
why not just blast out their engines and be done with it?"
     "We need their engines," Cyclonus explains, "to say nothing
of their fuel.  Most of my fleet consists of old ships that have survived
countless battles, and we need all the spare parts we can get.  I doubt
there are any captured replacements that wouldn't fit a ship
*somewhere* in this fleet."
     Toxic grins.  "Cyclonus is putting us back together again, he
is.  The former boss -- why, he just let everything fall apart."
     "Care to come examine the loot, Galvatron?" Cyclonus offers.
                    * * *
     That first shipment was full of quadrilithium crystals -- the
best known channels for focusing and conducting power, be it through
our faster-than-light engines, or in the most intense of laser beams.  In
the last two weeks we have intercepted two other transport convoys,
one carrying computer chips, the other, precious jewels.  In each case,
Cyclonus' mode of attack has been carefully planned and precise, with
every option accounted for -- if lacking the vital thrill that comes from
plunging into the unknown, skirting the edge of danger.
     He keeps his crew carefully in line, allowing only so much
celebration after each victory, and no more.  When I think of the
disastrous consequences of the victory celebration back on Charr, I
guess I can agree with that policy.  What drives me crazy is the
damned inactivity between bouts of action, when I have to sit at my
console and listen to Toxic's incessant chatter ("*Shut up*!" doesn't
shut her up anymore), or trade menacing glares with Scrounger.  I'd
*really* like to take apart Scrounger.  I'd really like to take apart just
about anything by now.  Been too long since I've really torn into
something, smashed up an Autobot or a recalcitrant Sweep or
whatever got in my way.  Would be nice if we could swoop down and
decimate an occasional planet, but this sector of the galaxy is almost
entirely empty.
     Wish I still had my fusion cannon.  I'm told the two glitches
who captured me sold it to the Ferengi.  Surprised I feel such a sense
of loss about it, but then, it was part of me -- I can't even transform
properly without it.  Feel a little bit unprotected and vulnerable
without it, and I hate that.
     And the thought of Cyclonus in command.  Every day it gets
harder, not easier, to accept.  Every time he tells me to do something, I
have to struggle to keep from screaming at him, how dare he tell me
what to do, I am Galvatron, the commander and destroyer...!  Not that
his orders are ever unreasonable, I'll admit that.  But just the very idea
... I don't think I can live with it much longer.
     It's very late, by ship's time.  Some hours past midnight.
Cyclonus has assigned me reasonably comfortable quarters, I should be
dormant.  Can't sleep.  Too agitated, too frustrated, living this way.
Think I'll go have it out with him once and for all.  This can't go on.
     I leave my rooms, navigate through the huge, dim corridors of
the flagship.  Cyclonus' private quarters are toward the forward
section.  I reach the sliding entrance, finally.  Never mind the door
buzzer.  I pound on the metal with my fist.
     After some moments, the entrance slides back.  "Galvatron,
what do you want, at this hour?" Cyclonus asks.
     I push past him into the room.  What, no Scrounger lurking
in the shadows?  No self-appointed bodyguard leaning against the
furniture?  Dim inlaid lights along the walls.  One wall faces forward
in the direction of the ship's flight -- it's entirely transparent starting
from the floor up and arcing over into the gently curved portion of the
ceiling.  Showing the stars.  Remote galaxies and nebulae spiral in the
distance.  The ice-cold crystalline void of space.
     My annoyance cools somewhat.  "Quite a view."
     "Yes, I rather like it," Cyclonus says, coming up beside me.
We watch the forward motion of the ship in silence for a few
moments, as shown by the slow disappearance of stars along the edges
of the transparency, with new ones becoming obvious in the distance.
     "Alright, Galvatron," Cyclonus sighs, as though bracing
himself for the inevitable.  "What's wrong?"
     "This whole situation is wrong," I begin, suddenly on the
verge of explosion again.  "I can't stand this anymore!  Sitting still and
taking orders from you.  I'm a leader, it's part of my nature -- I've got
to be in command!"
     Cyclonus nods, as though he's been expecting this.  "I know
that.  And you do have certain leadership qualities that I lack -- the
ability to electrify and inspire your troops, for example.  A talent for
snatching victory from the talons of defeat, a willingness to take risks
and go for larger goals instead of playing it safe -- that's what I always
admired in you and found worthy of my loyalty.  But too often you
completely lose sight of your objective and descend into irrational fuel-
thirsty destruction.  *That* is your downfall.  You let your own
uncontrolled impulses carry you away."
     I wait, not sure how to respond.
     Cyclonus moves toward the nearest solid wall, touches a
panel.  "You want an energon cube?"
     "Sure."
     A small hatch slides open, pink glow coming from inside.
Cyclonus tosses me a cube, takes one for himself.  Moves back in front
of the starfield.  "I'd hoped you would adjust to being here," he
continues.  "In any case, it was never my intent to keep you under
intolerable circumstances.  I guess you'll be leaving us."
     "Leaving?"
     He smiles slightly, ironically.  "You're not a prisoner here,
you know.  You're free to leave at any time."
     Leave.  But where would I go?  I drain my energon cube, turn
toward the starfield.  Among all those points of light and color, there's
not one place that wants me.
     Sparks of anger flicker back on.  I turn on Cyclonus. "I want
you to come back to Charr with me," I demand.  "You've had your fun,
you've played your games -- enough of this nonsense already!"
     His gaze is steady, intense.  Fearless. "I'm not going back to
Charr."  Each word spoken slowly, deliberately.  "Go back out there
and make your own destiny, but don't drag me into it.  I told you.  This
is my life now."
     "Oh, I see.  So now you're throwing me out?  Fine way to
treat your leader, even your ex-leader--!"
     "You're the one that burst in here at four o'clock in the
morning telling me you want to leave!"
     "I never said I wanted to leave!"
     We stare each other down in front of the starfield.  Cyclonus'
eyes flash scarlet.  Reflexively my hands ball into fists.
     The alarm siren that suddenly shrieks through the ship makes
us both jump.  For a split instant we stand frozen, then Cyclonus
rushes forward, I'm right behind him.  We dash out into the corridors -
- corridors so vast that Cyclonus has room to transform and shoot
forward in space-fighter mode, though at an angle and with wings
tilted.  Room for me to fly too.  We reach the bridge in almost no time.
     Scrounger leaps up from the command chair as soon as he
sees Cyclonus.  "Sentinel Enforcers," he calls out, pointing to the
screen.  "They're tracking us!"
     Cyclonus slips smoothly into the command chair, punches up
higher magnification on screen.  I take my place at weapons, look up
at our pursuers.  First thing that strikes me is, those ships are new.
Sleek, fast.  All systems functioning at optimum capacity.  Not like our
rattletrap fleet.  Ten of them could make short work of twenty-five of
us.
     "Where did they come from?" Cyclonus demands.  "How did
they get so close without sensors picking them up?"
     Scrounger is for once at a loss for words.  "I -- I don't know,
Cyclonus.  They were just suddenly, well -- *there*."
     "Cloaking devices," says Toxic's night-shift replacement
beside me at navigation.  "A more sophisticated version of our
scrambler system.  You don't even get static.  You just don't *see*
them."
     "They're gaining on us, Cyclonus!" Scrounger exclaims.
"Open a channel to the others -- I say we scatter!  We've got twice as
many ships, and they can't follow all of us at once."
     "No!"  I swivel away from my console to look at Cyclonus.
"He's wrong, they *can* follow us all.  Each of them will pick a target
and destroy it, then come back for those that are left.  We've got twice
their ships, but they've got three times our speed.  We're at a huge
disadvantage -- our only chance is to stay together."
     Cyclonus opens a channel to the others.  "Cyclonus to Star
Raiders.  We are under attack.  Do not break formation -- repeat, do
not break formation."  Scrounger glares at me with pure malice.
"Galvatron, see if you can slow them down," Cyclonus tells me.  "Keep
all possible power to the shields, and maintain top speed."
     "We can't outrun them, Cyclonus!" Scrounger protests.
     He's right.  We can't.  I aim for one of the closest followers
and launch the rear torpedoes.  My target tilts into an evasive
maneuver, but I guide the torpedoes and score a direct hit to their
underbelly.  Their shields take the blast in white-hot explosions, the
ship is undamaged.
     "Attacker's shields at 46%," one of the computer-jocks in the
back calls out.
     Good!  They won't be able to take another hit.  I hurry to
reload torpedoes -- but, what's this?  The cowards are dropping back,
letting another ship with full-strength shields take their place in the
formation.  I fire.
     "Second attacker's shields down to 54%," comes the result.
     The second ship drops back, a third takes its place.
     "First attacker's shields powering up again!" yells the startled
computer-jock.
     Damn.  Even if we had speed, they could play this game
forever.
     "Full power to rear shields!"  Cyclonus commands, just as
five lances of laser light slash out at us through the darkness.  Flagship
lurches under the metal-jarring impact.
     "Rear shields at 23%."
     "Three of our ships are breaking formation!" calls another
voice from the background.
     With a snarl of frustration, Cyclonus punches open a channel.
"Star Raiders, remain in formation!  *Remain in formation*!"
     Can't stand any more of this.  I leap up and grab the armrest
of the command chair, shouldering Scrounger aside so hard that he
goes crashing to the floor.  "Star Raiders!" I command.  "Get back in
formation this instant or forfeit your worthless hides!  Scattering won't
help you, you idiots, and if the Enforcers don't get you, *we* will hunt
you down afterward and blow you to pieces!   Now do as I say!"
     "It's working!" calls the tracker in the back. "They're
returning to formation."
     "Now," I tell Cyclonus, "we turn and attack."
     "You're crazy, Scrapmetal!" shouts Scrounger.  He has leapt
back to his feet, his right arm raised, sawblade whirling.  "Let me
finish him, Cyclonus!"
     "Finish me?!" I scream back at him.  "Come and try it, you
organic glitch--"
     "Silence!  Both of you!" Cyclonus thunders furiously.
"Scrounger, turn off the sawblade!  Galvatron, get back to your
station!"
     "Only if you turn this fleet around and attack!  It's the last
thing they would expect us to do!  Don't you *see*?  The element of
surprise, Cyclonus, are you so set in your ways that you can't see it?!"
     Another combined blast of laser fire slashes into us from
behind.  I'm slammed back against my console by the lurching floor,
Scrounger grabs the arm of the command chair to stay standing.  The
rear shield fails with a crackle like shattering glass.
     "Now," I tell them, "our only chance *is* to turn.  We can't
outrun them, and the next shot will take us out.  Dammit, Cyclonus,
turn this fleet around and defend yourself!"
     "Scrounger, take over the ship-to-ship computers." Cyclonus
snaps.  "I want every ship in the fleet to receive automatic instructions
to mirror what we do.  Turn this ship around and attack!"
     I'm back at my weapons console, ready to feed the enemy
torpedoes and laser bolts.  Our smaller ships turn faster than we do,
but they wait until the flagship is in full position, and then we move in
as one, all weapons blazing.
     "Concentrate all fire on one enemy at a time," I tell Cyclonus,
and he relays the instructions to the rest of the fleet.  We're taking
heavy hits, but one of the enemies is already in bad shape....
     A blinding supernova erupts on the screen as the Enforcer
vessel explodes into a fireball of light and destruction.  Not having
expected a full-scale counterattack, they're so closely spaced that it
ignites the three closest vessels, which in turn disable three more.
Beyond that, we can't see.  The light and energy has overloaded the
screen, it shuts itself down to blackness.  Shockwaves from the
explosions almost threaten to tear us to pieces.
     For a sickening moment, the lights dim and all sound from
the electronic equipment dies down to silence.  Then emergency power
kicks in, things start up again.  We're still blind with the screen down,
but sensors are operating.
     "Status report?" Cyclonus says.
     "We've lost nine of our smaller vessels," Scrounger replies.
"Some of the others are torn up pretty bad.  All things considered, the
flagship's not so bad off -- except there's still three Enforcers out there
gunning for us."
     As if on cue, the screen sparkles back to life.  All three
enemies are converging on us, though one looks almost out of the
running -- I send out the last of my torpedoes, and it novas into space
debris.
     The others have kept a safe distance this time.  I've got lasers
left, and ion charges.  If I can slice a hole in their shields, I can hit
them with ions, which are useless against shields.  "Forward!" I
command the navigator beside me.  He obeys without consent from
Cyclonus.
     Both ships firing on us now.  Lasers.  I counter with lasers of
my own.  Computer-jock in the back is keeping up a running report on
the condition of the shields.
     "Leading enemy vessel has forward shields at 84%.  Trailing
enemy at 72%.  Our forward shields--" Suddenly panic in his voice --
"losing power!  Power dropping rapidly, 64% -- 55% -- 40% --"
     "Evasive maneuvers!" Cyclonus orders.  "Drop down under
them!"
     Yes, get under them, and I'll tear them up from below!  Laser
light lances out at my command, feel like its shooting out through the
ends of my fingers, through the controls and out into space, raining
destruction -- *destruction*!
     "Galvatron, cease fire, we're too close--!"
     One of the attackers explodes into a glorious fireball.  Cease
fire?  *Never*!
     Debris from the demolished vessel slams into our shields.
Stressed metal shrieks as the shockwave tears through the
infrastructure.
     "Shields are down, Cyclonus!  Forward shields are totally
inoperative!"
     One more to take out!  One more magnificent hellfire-nova to
light the depths of space!
     "Full reverse power!" commands Cyclonus. "Take us out of
here!"
     "No!  No you will not rob me of my kill -- forward!
*Forward*!"  I work the laser controls furiously.  Blasted navigator is
pulling us back!  I'll mangle him, as soon as I get through with the last
Enforcer!
     "Enforcer shields buckling!" comes the incredulous cry from
behind.
     I've got you, crawler!  Die!  Die by the hand of Galvatron!
     "Incoming ion blast!" screams the navigator beside me.  The
ship lurches and groans.  Sizzles of pure energy shoot up from my
console, a burning electric cold that shoots up my arms -- but I refuse
to release the laser controls, I've got them, just one more blast--!
     The navigator leaps away from the console, screaming, with
scorched and smoldering hands.  Console's going to blow!   I don't
care!  Can't let go of the controls, must keep firing -- will not rob me
of my kill--!
     Cyclonus leaps forward from his command chair, tries to pull
at my arm, but I shoulder him away.  "Galvatron, get away from that
console!" he shouts.
     Never -- *never*!  The enemy tilts on the viewscreen, one
more blast--!  The screen erupts into fires of destruction!  *Yes*!
     Cyclonus slams into me from the side, sending me sprawling
just as the console shatters into a thousand pieces of burning shrapnel.
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