Psychological Dependence: Part 3

     Scrounger glowers at me in cold fury, blocking the entrance
to the repair ward.  "You got some nerve coming here, Scrapmetal," he
snarls.  "This is all your doing.  *You* should have taken that blast,
not Cyclonus."
     "If you don't get out of my way," I counter, "I'll forcibly
remove you!"
     He offers me a twisted, humorless grin, lets the sawblade on
his hand whine through a few rotations.  "I'd love to see you try,
Scrapmetal.  Just your luck that I'm needed on the bridge and wouldn't
have the time to carve you up properly."  He steps aside and stalks
angrily away down the corridor.
     I enter the repair ward.  It's designed to accommodate
organics, of course, and so would more properly be termed a sickbay,
but even for that it seems pitifully inadequate:  an operating stage with
only the barest possible equipment, a few cabinets of potions and
serums, three unembellished beds, and a single intensive-care unit
with some haphazard life-support equipment dangling down from
above, including a viewscreen to monitor lifesigns.  A team of four is
attempting to hook Cyclonus up to this equipment as best they can.
There's very little they can do in terms of life support, of course.  But
even equipment designed for organics can track electropulse and brain
waves.  I watch the viewscreen, don't like the signals.  Weak, erratic.
     Finally the four organics step back.  One approaches me, an
entirely hairless female whose skin, eyes, clothing all gleam a
translucent blue.  "I'll give it to you straight," she says.  "It doesn't look

good.  Half a hundred pieces of shrapnel tore into him, one that lodged
itself in his fuel pump.  We didn't dare remove that one.  We've
patched and soldered everything else as best we could, but there could
be internal leaks that we couldn't reach...."  She trails off, shaking her
head.  Seems genuinely upset.
     Another of the pirates, a tall male in a black cape, comes up
beside her, puts a hand on her shoulder.  "We just don't have the
technological expertise," he says.  "Sure, I've done a lot of tinkering
with electronic gadgets and appliances, even repair work on our ships,
but when you're dealing with a *living* machine, the complexity
increases a thousandfold.  Can't *you* do something?  You're of his
species, after all."
     "I'm a destroyer, not a healer," I tell them.  "I know nothing
of repairs."
     "Well then," says the female, "I guess it's up to Cyclonus."
     "I'd sure hate to lose him," the male says.  "He's the best
commander we've had."  All four of the organics seem agreed on this.
     "We'll leave you alone," says the female.  "We'll be just across
the hall, so let us know if there's any change."
     Not that they could do anything about it.
     They file out of the tiny repair ward, leave me alone with the
irregular beeping and blipping of the life-signs monitor.  And
Cyclonus.  I step over to the intensive care unit, look down at him.
His chest and torso are criss-crossed with improvised soldering and
patches of various metals.  Even the most slipshod field-repair by one
of our Constructicons during the heat of battle could have done better
than that.
     He's not conscious, not anywhere near conscious.  His optic
sensors are completely black, one cracked into a network of fissures.
The left spire on his helmet has been halfway torn off.  I want to reach
out, put my hand on his arm, but don't dare.  Might disturb some kind
of tenuous internal balance.  Seems like he's fighting for every beat of
the fuel pump, each infiltering of oxygen.
     Don't give up, Cyclonus.  It's not the Decepticon way.
     Footsteps behind me.  I turn to see Toxic, she comes up
beside me, her eyes huge and glistening with suppressed tears.  "It's
not true, is it?" she whispers.  "He's not ... dying?"
     The monitor blips sporadically.  Awful, empty, hollow dread
in the pit of my being.  "Of course not.  He's a Decepticon.  We're
survivors."
     She relaxes a bit, even smiles.  Then her expression turns
cold.  "Next time I get hold of an Enforcer, I'll strangle him with his
own innards, I will," she vows, unconsciously stroking the long,
straight dagger strapped to her thigh.
     Can't help but wonder what it is about Cyclonus that inspires
such loyalty, even affection, among this ragtag band of space pirates.  I
question Toxic, "I keep hearing, Cyclonus is the best commander this
fleet has had."
     She shrugs.  "Long as I been here, anyway.  No question."
     "What makes him so unique?"  *What's he got that I haven't
got*?
     "Well, let's see."  She tilts her head slightly in thought.  "He's
got -- what's the word?  Honor.  Yeah.  Nobody's got honor anymore.
But Cyclonus -- he tells you he'll do something, and you know he'll do
it.  He thinks he owes you something, he'll pay you back -- good or
bad.  You get a feeling like he'd stand by you through anything, if he
thinks you're worth it.  But then, I'm sure you know that already."
     So this is how guilt feels.  Like I swallowed hot acid.
     Toxic smiles at me fractionally, touches my arm.  "They need
me on the bridge, luv.  You take good care of our commander, hear
me, and see that he gets back into the action.  I'll check in later, I
will."  She turns, leaves.
     Silence, except for the maddening blip of the monitor.
Electropulse signal getting weaker.  I clench my hands into fists to
stop their unaccustomed trembling.  My only friend in all the universe,
and he'll die, unless I overcome my own inadequacies and *do*
something.  Maybe Toxic was right, that first day on the bridge.   I am
a used-to-be, a has-been.  But dammit, I'm still Galvatron!   My power
may not be absolute anymore -- not without the fusion cannon -- but
still formidable.  I won't let this be.  I'll make it up to you, Cyclonus.
     The would-be repair team has left his laser gun on a nearby
shelf.  I snatch it up, stride quickly out of the repair ward, and ride the
turbolift up to the bridge.  Scrounger, at hearing my entrance, begins
to swivel toward me in the command chair.  I give him no chance to
react, to say anything -- I grab him by the scruff of the neck and fling
him forward out of the chair, toward the repaired weapons/navigation
console.  He keeps his balance, whirls on me, sawblade spinning.
     "Stay where you are!" I tell him, aiming Cyclonus' laser at his
stomach.  He freezes, even turns off the sawblade, the one mechanical
and one organic eye radiating wrath.  I slide into the command chair,
keep him in sight.  "Toxic," I command, "turn this ship around.  We're
going to Charr."
                    * * *
     Final approach to Charr.  The planet darkens the screen like a
burnt-out cinder, an empire of ash and ruin.  The Decepticons might
blow me to pieces when we land, but I know they'll help Cyclonus.
The troops always had respect and admiration for Cyclonus.
     *If* we land.  "Encountering resistance," Scrounger
announces from back at the computers.  Once he realized that the only
way to save Cyclonus was to get him into the hands of the
Constructicons, and I was the only one that knew the way back to
Charr, Scrounger had settled down well enough and accepted the
change of command.
     "Shields up," I instruct, and Toxic leans over from navigation
to key the right sequence on the unmanned weapons console.
Astrotrain and Blast Off are arrowing toward us on the screen, lasers
flashing, the advance guard.  Behind them, Thrust, Dirge, Ramjet,
Scourge and the Sweeps escape the negligible atmosphere of Charr to
join in.  Attack bounces off the shields, but we're still low on power
from our battle with the Enforcers.
     "Forward shields weakening," Scrounger confirms.
     "Fire?" Toxic inquires.
     For one electric moment I want nothing more than to agree.
Yes, fire -- in fact, I'll come up there and do it myself, grind them to
dust, the traitors, throw me out, will they....?!
     No.  Feel my fuel pump racing with the lust for the kill -- but
no.
     "Hold your fire, Toxic."  I flip open the communications
panel on the armrest of the command chair, tune in the Decepticon
frequency.  "Decepticons, cease your attack!" I tell them.
     "Galvatron!" comes the response from Astrotrain.  "You dare
to return here?!"
     "With a warfleet, no less," Dirge puts in.  "Finish him!"
     "You idiots!  It's not a warfleet!  Have I fired a single shot?"
     "Forward shields almost down," Scrounger informs me.  "If
you're going to do something, you better do it now."
     "Decepticons, cease fire and listen to me," I call out urgently.
"I haven't come to attack.  Cyclonus is with me.  He's badly damaged -
- he'll die if you don't let us land, let the Constructicons repair him.  I
promise you, I'll leave again afterwards."
     Maddening silence from the radio.  Then:  "Galvatron,"
comes the voice of Scourge, "I'll have to take the chance that you're
telling the truth.  But -- I say this as much for your sake as anything --
if this is a trick, you're going to be very sorry."
     The attacking fighters break off their onrush and clear a path
for us.  Toxic eases the huge flagship down toward the planet.  Our
smaller ships, in loose formation, accompany us -- screen fills with the
brown-black coloring of Charr, sharpens into details of scorched peaks
and valleys, waste plains, rusted and tarnished ruins of a former
civilization that perished long before we arrived.  I can see my fortress
now, drawing closer -- movement below, the other Decepticons with
weapons ready, tensed for our arrival.
     Engines whine with the strain of vertical descent.  Toxic
adjusts controls, landing gear.  Feel the soft jolt as the ship touches
down -- screen shows the rest of the fleet grounded around us on the
only reasonably level plain near the fortress.
     Scrounger rises from his computer station as if to follow me
from the bridge.  "No," I tell him, motioning him back.  "Let me deal
with the Decepticons.  Cyclonus would expect you to watch the ship,
be prepared."
     "Prepared for what?" Scrounger rasps.  "For your
triggerhappy scrapmetal buddies out there to attack us?"
     "Let's hope I'll be enough of a diversion for them," I mutter.
     I ride the turbolift down to the repair ward.  Toxic has already
opened entrance ramps, since one of the space pirates has led Scourge
and the Sweeps to Cyclonus.  As I arrive, two Sweeps are carefully
carrying Cyclonus out of the tiny ward, and start down the corridor.
Some give me hostile and suspicious looks as they go by, but say
nothing.  I fall in at the end of the column, next to Scourge.
     "I don't know if it's a terribly good idea for you to come out
there with us," Scourge says.  "I can't guarantee your safety --- even
from my own Sweeps."
     "I'm coming with you."  I dare him with my look to contradict
me.  He shrugs, keeps walking.
     We reach the closest entrance ramp and file out into Charr's
dimness.  Decepticons arranged randomly to both sides, weapons
ready, watching in stony silence.  I try not even to look at them, try to
stride confidently, pretend I still have the fusion cannon on my arm.
Any trace of fear, uncertainty, and they'll be on me.
     I could have stayed on the ship, of course.  But feel I owe it to
Cyclonus to stay close.
     We enter the small, flat, hangar-like repair bay off to one side
of the fortress.  Hook and the other Constructicons are already waiting
there, and they motion the two Sweeps carrying Cyclonus to follow,
disappearing into one of the partitioned work areas.  The two Sweeps
emerge again a few moments later, glare at me dangerously.  I glare
back, draw myself to my full height.  Even without my cannon, I think
I can take on the Sweeps.
     "We'll wait outside," Scourge intervenes.  Slowly, reluctantly,
the others draw back and follow Scourge out, leaving me alone once
again.
     I move to the closed door of the work room and lean close --
can hear the clink of metal, occasional hum and whine of equipment,
snatches of conversation that sound clipped and tense, but can't make
out the words.  I drift over to the single window facing out onto the
plains of Charr, see the Decepticons arranged in what might be a
perimeter guard position if the pattern were more organized.  Close by,
Motormaster is slashing his laser sword through the air to punctuate
his argument with Scourge, who's backed up by Razorwing.  This I
must hear.  Quietly I creep to the door leading out, slide it back a tiny
crack, then a tiny bit more--
     "--don't seriously doubt that Cyclonus' condition is *his*
fault, do you?" I hear the angry growl of Motormaster's voice.
     "We don't know what happened," Scourge counters.  "I, for
one, don't want to lay blame or extract revenge without knowing all
the facts."
     "And he did say he'd leave again afterward," Razorwing adds.
     "And you believe him?" Motormaster challenges.  "With that
armada sitting out there, awaiting his orders -- probably with all guns
trained on us right now!  I say we finish him now, while he's
distracted!"
     "He could just as easily have fired on us from orbit," Scourge
says.  "Could have taken the rest of us out, and *forced* the
Constructicons to repair Cyclonus.  He didn't, did he?"
     "Right," says Razorwing.  "I think that's pretty good evidence
for his sincerity."
     Feel the flicker of a strange sort of warmth, deep inside me.
Scourge and Razorwing are defending me!  They don't know our
damaged shields and weapons wouldn't have lasted long against an
all-out Decepticon assault -- nor that the fleet doesn't generally take its
orders from me.  They may let me walk out of here alive after all.
     "Alright," Motormaster growls. "But I'll be watching that
demented mechanism, and if he makes one wrong move -- even
*looks* like he's *thinking* about it--"  I hear the slash/hum of the
laser sword as he swings it in demonstration, then hear the crunch of
footsteps and pull quickly back from the door, letting it slide shut.
     I look around the empty waiting room.  Only a few benches
against the walls.  I choose one a few paces to one side of the window,
along the same wall, where someone looking in from outside couldn't
see me.  Don't trust someone like Motormaster or Onslaught not to
take a shot at me through the glass.  If I wasn't so worried about
Cyclonus, I might dwell on the absurdity -- Galvatron, supreme
commander of the Decepticons and terror of the quadrant, hiding out
from his own warriors.
     Seems like it's been hours already.  I can see a small sliver of
the sky out the window from here, track the infinitely slow shift of
stars in Charr's constant night.  A few times I actually get up and look
out -- Decepticons outside are clustered in small groups now, talking --
occasionally a verbal shoving match erupts into swinging fists until
someone else intervenes, then everything settles again for a while.
Motormaster paces restlessly, swinging his sword; Scourge and
Razorwing sometimes join him, sometimes pace separately.
     I return to my bench.  It's been forever.
     The door to the workroom slides open.  I leap to my feet in a
surge of anticipation and anxiety -- do I really want to hear the news?
All six of the Constructicons file out, it can't be good.
     They seem too worn-out from their long efforts to muster any
hostility or blame against me.  "He's alright," Scrapper says.  "Good as
new."
     Relief floods through me like a tide, like smoldering-metal
support beams in flaming space stations lifted away.
     "You got him back here just in time," Hook adds.  "Another
half hour--"
     "--he would have been gone," Scavenger finishes.
     "We'll tell the others," Long Haul says, and all six of them
leave the building.
     Cyclonus comes out of the workroom.  Impulsively I go to
him and clasp his shoulders, then step back and look him up and
down.  No trace of damage.  The Constructicons have even put a new
coat of polish on him.  "You look wonderful!"
     He smiles.  "I understand I owe that to you. The
Constructicons too, of course, but you're the one that brought me here
in time.  You saved my life."
     "We're even, then."  But I think of all the times he's dragged
me out of Autobot firing lines, and correct myself, "Well, a little
*more* even, anyway."  Another thought strikes me.  "Why did you
endanger yourself by shoving me away from that console?  Of all the
stupid, thoughtless things to do!  And they say *I'm* a few chips short
of a full circuit board!"
     He shrugs.  "Old reflexes.  Next time I'll know better."  But
his fractional smile and intense eyes tell me he'd do it again.
     "Right."  Some moments pass in uncomfortable silence.  "So
what now?" I ask finally.
     "Now, I suppose, I take my fleet and continue on my way,"
Cyclonus says, moving to the window and looking out into the
distance.  "You're still welcome to join me.  Or--" he turns his head to
look at me curiously, "--will you be staying here?"
     "*Here*?" I echo, incredulous. "That rabble out there wants
to melt me down!  I've got no choice but to go with you."
     "The way I see it," Cyclonus muses, "you have *two* choices.
You can either return to the Star Raiders with me, and live the life of a
space pirate, which you hate --- or you can fight for your true destiny
here, as a leader -- as is your nature."
     I think of Motormaster and his laser sword.  "The
Decepticons will never accept me as their leader," I'm forced to admit.
"Not unless -- not unless you stay too."
     Cyclonus sighs.  "We've been through this, Galvatron."
     "But why?" I demand, trying not to sound too plaintive.
"Why won't you stay?  Look, maybe I am just ... a *little* ... out of
control -- maybe I do need you as a rational counterbalance, to deal
with the troops as someone they respect."  He regards me somewhat
skeptically, but at least I have his attention.  Could it be that all he
really wants is an apology?  Think I may choke on these next words,
but-- "Cyclonus, I ... I'm ... sorry ... I treated you so badly earlier.
You're right, I took your loyalty for granted and just let my fuel-thirst
carry me away.  I didn't realize until you almost died that I've been
deluding myself.  You don't need me, but I ... I need you.  Not just as
backup and intervention with the other Decepticons -- but as a friend."
     He looks at me with surprised respect.  "I know how hard it
was for you to say that," he acknowledges.  "For that reason alone I
think you mean it."
     "I do," I assure him quickly.  "And I wouldn't bash you
around anymore, or hurl undeserved insults at you, or -- hell, I'd even
take your advice on occasion!"
     He holds up one hand as though to ward off further words.
"Don't get too far ahead of yourself, Galvatron.  You mean it now, but
I know you -- as soon as you get the next Autobot in your gunsights,
all promises are forgotten."
     "Then it's up to you to remind me."
     He considers this, watches me thoughtfully for a few
moments.  "I'll remind you *now*," he says.  "Remember that I have
another life now, that I could always go back to."
     "Could?  You mean you'll stay?"
     He smiles fractionally.  "Yes, I'll stay."
                    * * *
     The other Decepticons seem as pleased as I am that Cyclonus
will stay.  When we step out of the repair bay, they swarm around him
in welcome.  They all seem in agreement with Scourge, who tells
Cyclonus, "We sure have missed you around here."
     I keep to the background, try to remain as unobtrusive as
possible for the moment.  The others ignore me, even when Cyclonus
disentangles himself from the crowd to go send the Star Raiders on
their way.
     I accompany him to the open entrance ramp of the flagship.
Looks like the entire crew of the fleet has gathered to say their
farewells.  One by one or in small groups, they take their leave of
Cyclonus and return to their vessels, awaiting liftoff.
     Finally only Toxic and Scrounger remain before the ramp --
and two other figures lingering in the background, a pair of helmeted
and uniformed organics that I recognize as Slike and Stardance, the
two that originally brought me into the fleet.  Cyclonus motions them
forward, says, "Stardance, Slike, go retrieve that item I told you to
hang onto."
     Stardance protests, "But sir, we could still make a good
profit--"
     "*Right now*," Cyclonus cuts him off.  "That is my final
order as commander of this fleet."  His eyes flash dangerously.  The
two organics snap into a salute and hurry off into the ship.
     "You know, Cyclonus," I venture, "you've gotten so used to
giving orders, I hope you won't have a problem with taking second
place again.  I don't need someone contradicting me every step of the
way, or worse, someone with designs on the Decepticon leadership --
now that you've had a taste of command, I mean."
     "Not to worry, Galvatron.  I much prefer being second-in-
command.  It gives me almost as much power, but if things should go
wrong, the blame falls to you."
     "Why you devious--!" I begin, then realize he's only kidding.
Isn't he?
     "Actually," he says, "I can lead if I must, but I don't have a
psychological addiction to command.  I'll leave that to you."
     As though to offer proof of that, the two organics re-emerge
from the flagship -- dragging my fusion cannon between them!
Cyclonus takes it from them, hands it to me.
     "I thought you sold this to the Ferengi," is my incredulous
and delighted response.
     Cyclonus' eyes flicker conspiratorially.  "Don't think I wasn't
tempted."
     I grin at him, slide the cannon onto my arm.  There!  The last
missing piece falls back into place.  A surge of renewed confidence
rushes through me -- I turn eagerly toward the plain where the other
Decepticons await.
     Cyclonus puts a restraining hand on my shoulder.  "One
moment, Galvatron.  I think you'll need a mediator."
     Impatiently I turn back toward the ship, where Scrounger and
Toxic have been waiting.  They come forward now.  Toxic, as usual,
bubbles over with talk.   "You really are gonna do this, aren't you,
Cyclonus, luv?  Leave us at the mercy of Scrounger in charge, eh?"
     "He can handle it," Cyclonus assures her.
     "But it's not fair, it isn't," Toxic protests half-heartedly.  "I'll
*miss* you."
     "You'll live," Cyclonus says in the casual, tolerant tone that
he takes with her.
     "She's got one thing right," Scrounger puts in.  "We'll kind-of
miss you.  If Scrapmetal over there doesn't treat you right, you know
you can always come back."
     "Careful, organic," I growl at him, "or I might melt you to
protoplasm as a parting shot."
     Scrounger gives me a disdainful look, but Toxic turns her
bright purple eyes on me and says, "I still think you'd of made a good
space pirate.  Not much on stimulating conversation, you weren't, but
you sure could lance out those laser beams.  Now I gotta do double
duty at the weapons console again, I do."  She turns away, shaking her
head in resignation.  Scrounger, with a final nod to Cyclonus,
accompanies her up the boarding ramp.
     "Now -- about those Decepticons," I begin, not even wanting
to wait for liftoff.  The flagship's powerful engines hum to life behind
me as I turn away from the landing site, stride toward the assembled
warriors.
     Cyclonus hurries after me, falls in at his usual place beside
me.  The warriors are looking at each other uncertainly as we
approach, as the fleet leaves without me.
     "You got an excuse, Galvatron?" Swindle challenges as we
stop before the assembly.  "You promised you'd take off again
afterward!"
     "He's doing you a favor by staying," Cyclonus answers before
I can reply.
     "Hey, we said we wanted *you* back," Brawl says pointedly.
"*Not him.*"
     "Oh really?"  Cyclonus' casual tone is deceptive, leading up to
something.  "Then tell me -- what inroads have you made against the
Autobots without Galvatron's leadership?"
     The warriors exchange glances.  "Well, nothing just *yet*...."
Onslaught admits reluctantly.
     "Any particular reason?"  Cyclonus' tone is still
conversational.  The Decepticons respond with silence.  "No?  Then
let's try another approach -- who's in command here these days,
anyway?"
     Instantly half a dozen voices clamor for recognition, begin
arguing among themselves.  "That's enough!" Cyclonus silences them.
"*There* you have your problem.  You've all descended into anarchy!
How can you fight the Autobots if you're this busy squabbling among
yourselves!  This ends, now.  Galvatron and I are back, and there's
going to be some order around here from now on."
     "But Galvatron is--" Motormaster begins, but stops abruptly
as Cyclonus aims a laser at him, point-blank.
     "Galvatron is your leader," Cyclonus growls, "and you will
obey him."  He includes the others with his gaze.  "All of you.  Or go
through me first."
     The tense silence that follows is broken unexpectedly by
Scourge, who steps forward to stand beside us, laser drawn.  "That
goes for me, too," he tells the assembly.
     A moment later Razorwing joins us, and then Soundwave,
and the Constructicons, and after that, the rest of them are easy.
     They're mine again!  Already I feel the thrill, the anticipation
-- the plans, the conquests, the terror we'll wreak apon the surrounding
stars!  I am Galvatron, my power is absolute!  Let the Autobots
beware!

END
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