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.