Assimilation

by Lizard (lizard@vnet.net)
	This story refers to characters trademarked by Hasbro Toys and
Paramount Productions. These trademarks are used without
permission. This story may be freely distributed or copied for
personal use, but may not in any way be sold or included on any disk,
compilation, collection, etc, that is sold.


Prologue


	Candarvis was a small, dim star far from the well-travelled
routes. It was orbited by three small worlds, long past their useful
life.
	The innermost world had once held a thriving ecosystem, which
was now represented by exactly twenty-one species of lichen. But the
eons in which life had thrived had left the planet rich in
petrochemicals, which could be easily converted into Energon...the
lifeblood of a race of beings known as Transformers.
	Years before, the Autobot Sky Lynx had discovered this world,
and Optimus Prime was pleased.  During a lull in the perennial civil
war, he had dispatched a handful of his followers to establish a
colony/refinery on this world. In order to disguise their prescence,
the colonists communicated only rarely with the main body of the
Autobot army. Every few years, cargo shuttles would come by to haul
off the accumulated Energon.  It was a dull life...but after six
million years of war, a little boredom was more than welcome!
	This was all about to change.

	The Autobots, like all Transformers, had senses and
perceptions that extended far beyond the human norm. As sentient
machines, their consciousness extended into the dimension of
Cyberspace, the electronic equivalent of such human notions as the
"astral pl ane". Foolish humans thought they were creating Cyberspace
with their computers;in reality, they were merely opening doors into
that which had always existed.
	In an instant, therefore, the two dozen or so colonists were
aware of the intruder. It's Cyberspace manifestation was
overwhelming. Every data fortress, every secure barrier, in the
cyberspace of this world was instantly breached, the information
sucked out in nanoseconds.
	Chorale, the colony's Communication expert, had been wandering
through the small park at the far edge of the colony, a minor
concession to civilization and art amid the hard functionality of the
isolated outpost.  She had been sitting by a slowly flowing stream of
light lubricants, observing the play of light on the gold and silver
foil leaves of the sun-feeding 'plants'...in actuality, a form of
Cybertronian techno-wildlife. Now, she was curled on the ground, half
shifted to her Omnisynth mode, frozen in mid-transform, as small arcs
of lightning crackled up and down her bronze mettallic skin.
	As Chief Communicator, her senses were continually tuned to
their maximum sensitivity, always looking for the slightest
disturbance that could indicate any potential danger. The sudden
appearence of the Intruder had smashed into her with nearly physical
force. Many of her receptors simply burned out from the strain; fuses
designed to handle nearly any stress snapped like brittle ore. Slowly,
backups and safety switches came on-line, damping down input and
permitting her higher consciousness to function. Sh e shifted fully to
her Omnisynth mode and began broadcasting on all the major Autobot
emergency and military channels.
	"Chorale of Candarvis I colony to all. We are under
assault...intruder of incredible power. Not the Enemy, but equivalent
in might. Do not attempt rescue. Repeating...."
	She had blocked out all sensory input;she would continue
broadcasting as long as she could. But certain functions were below
conscious control;damage sensors reported rapidly rising temperatures
behind her;her outer coloration was beginning to peel, and the metal
surface underneath was warping. Still she continued to broadcast.
	Then it stopped. Instantly. Even though she had locked out all
input, she felt a sudden relief on her sensors...there was no longer
input to be locked out. Confused, curious, she slowly began to open
channels.
	Nothing on audio but the wind blowing through the thin
air. Cyberspace was a barren wasteland, nothing but static. Finally,
she transformed, activating optics.She was standing in the same place
she had been when it began, facing the worn rocks that surrounded the
colony. The carefully ordered garden was a ruin of molten metal and
puddles of lubricant.
	The silence was terrifying. She needed to turn around, to see
what was behind her, but her servos seemed frozen. Focusing herself,
she regained her composure and turned, knowing what she would see but
still wishing she did not have to see it.
	Behind her was a vast pit gouged in the ground, hundreds of
meters deep and perfectly circular. The edge of the pit was roughly
one meter from where she stood.
	The entire colony was gone.


Chapter 1



	The glory of space is the only fitting backdrop for me,
thought Sky Lynx.  Magnificence such as mine deserves an equally
magnificent background.
	His contemplation of his own wonderfulness was interrupted by
a distress beacon that slashed through his consciousness. There was a
babble of voices, screaming in terror, and then, suddenly, a clear
transmission that overrode and subdued all the rest.
	"Chorale of Candarvis I colony to all. We are under
assault...intruder of incredible power. Not the Enemy, but equivalent
in might. Do not attempt rescue. Repeating...."
	He dimmed it to background noise and hastily called up his
navigation data files. Candarvis? Why...that was the world *I*
discovered! How could MY world be under assault? 'Do not attempt
rescue'? Why, Chorale must not have realized I would receive the
transmission! Perhaps it would be too dangerous for any other Autobot,
but certainly not for ME!
	He ignited his primary engines and slid into the fractal
madness of subspace. Theory held there was a "hyperspace" as well, but
he didn't worry much about it. Physics texts were dull. That's what
beings like Perceptor were for.
	Swooping through the anti-geometry of subspace, he began to
formulate a battle plan. Chorale was continuing to transmit, the same
message, over and over. She was like that, he recalled. Just locks
herself into a loop and keeps going, joylessly. Not like me! I
*never* do anything the same way twice!
	The message paused for about one minute, then resumed. He
barely noticed the interruption.
	It was many hours of self-congratulatory reflection later that
he moved in on the colony world. Orbital scans showed nothing in the
area, but there were HEAVY subspace distortions, as if a massive
object, many times larger than even himself, had appeared here and
then left. Funny....no energy readings from the colony at all. Only
one faint trace of a power source...Chorale.
	For the first time, genuine concern arose. His fellow autobots
were, at times, less than appreciative of his greatness...but they
were his friends and allies, nonetheless! What could have happened?
	He swooped through the thin atmosphere, heading towards the
location of the colony. When he reach optic range, he nearly fell from
the sky. The colony was...gone! not even ruins remained! Megatron
couldn't do this. No Decepticon could. This was...alien. A lmost
frightening. A lesser being would undoubtedly flee.
	A glint of metal against dull rock. Chorale.
	He swooped low, slowed, then landed and shifted to his
dinosaur-like mode.  Extending his legs, he trotted up to her, still
locked in her omnisynth shape. She did not respond to a gentle radio
probe, so he shifted to audio. "Chorale? This is Sky Lynx. I heard
you, I'm here to rescue you...." She was not responding. With a
delicacy that his bulk belied, he nudged forward, tapping her with the
tip of his head. The omnisynth shuddered, then rapidly unfolded into a
humanoid robot. Sky Lynx looked at her in shock and dismay. The
copper/silver patterning of her exterior was charred and peeled. Her
back showed signs of warping and damage from extreme heat...several
inner systems were exposed and lubricant had caked along the wounds.
	She staggered back, a sonic blaster materializing in her hand
from subspace. Then she seemed to come back to full awareness. The
blaster vanished and she collapsed forward, onto her knees.
"You...should not..have come here. I *told* you!" She looked up at
him. "Why are you here?"
	"As I said, to rescue you. I heard your warning, but ignored
it, of course. There is no danger so great that it would frighten me!
I faced..."  He looked at her again. She was staring at the vast pit
where the colony had been, saying nothing.
	Sky Lynx sighed....or would have, if he had lungs. He knew,
but did not fully understand, that some beings simply didn't find
tales of his greatness as exhilarating as he did. Over the millennia,
he'd learned to accommodate this odd idiosyncrasy. He shut up.
	They both waited in silence for a long time.
	Finally, Chorale spoke. "You're here. There's nothing I can do
about that.  Take me back to Autobot City, on Earth. So many gone...."
her voice trailed off into silence. Sky Lynx transformed back to
starship mode and opened a hatch. With a final glance at the pit, she
walked up the ramp.

****

	Sky Lynx was not the only Transformer capable of space travel,
nor where all such travelers Autobots. Blast-Off, of the Combaticons,
was 'enjoying' a brief sojourn away from Earth. Soundwave had
apparently detected irregular Autobot transmissions coming from a
supposedly 'dead' sector of space. Megatron had decided to
investigate, and Blast-off was available.  Soundwave was riding inside
him, scanning for transmissions. And, blast the luck, of all
Soundwave's bonded partners, the only one Megatron felt was worth
sparing was that psychotic (even by Decepticon standards) Frenzy.
	"Have you detected anything YET?" Blast-off asked of
Soundwave. This whole affair was a waste of my precious time, he
thought. They all hate me for my superiority...why should I ferry them
around?
	"Negative. Continue search pattern." Soundwaves 'voice' was
utterly flat and emotionless. If he had emotions and didn't express
them, or simply had none, was something Blast-off didn't know...and
didn't particularly care about.
	"Hey! When we gonna get to kick some Auto-butt? Huh?" That, of
course, was Frenzy. Soundwave had let him 'out' of the subspace pocket
that he normally 'lived' in. As far as Blast-Off was concerned, that
was a major error.
	"If Autobots are found, we may engage in combat. Your job is
to record information, however."
	"Yeah, sure! How's about I record the sound an Autobot makes
when I rip out its' optic sensors?"
	"Such information is not...Hold. Blast-off, veer to 65 mark 21
mark 13 Beta. An Autobot distress beacon is coming from that
direction."
	Blast-off made the course corrections and flew off. He wasn't
detecting anything at all. Wait...there it was. Incredibly hard to
pick out of the background noise...of course, it wasn't intended for
Decepticons.  Soundwave could do his job...but that was ab out all he
was good for.  Glorified radio. Of course, he had information on
*everyone*. That made him especially dangerous.
	After some time, Soundwave said. "Signal stopped. Continue
anyway." They did.
	Finally, the reached a dim star. The signal had come from the
innermost world, so they flew to it. Blast-off moved himself into a
low orbit while Soundwave scanned.
	"Curious. No transmissions at all. No power sources. No
Autobots. Begin optic scans. Frenzy. Transform to data-storage mode
and rejoin me."
	Frenzy had been using his weapon to scrawl "Frenzy Rulez" into
Blast-off's inner hull. Shrugging, he tossed the weapon back to
subspace and leapt, folding down into a relatively tiny cassette
shape. Soundwave, in turn, folded down to something the size and
general form of a human radio. He plugged himself into Blast-off, who
focused his powerful optics on the planet and moved into an orbit that
would cover the entire surface of the world.
	In a subspace realm others had wondered at but never visited,
linked with Soundwave in total communion, Frenzy did his job. Data
streamed in, terrabytes of it...he sorted, analyzed, recorded. Dull,
dull, dull...this planet had rocks. And shallow seas. And more
rocks. And more seas. And more rocks. And a gaping, circular pit. And
more seas. And....
	"Soundwave, Frenzy here. We got somethin'....lemme go check it
out!"
	Soundwave processed, considered, reached a conclusion.
"Affirmitive.  Blast-off, bring us down and release Frenzy at a
suitable altitude."
	Blast-off swooped low, towards the pit. At about a hundred
feet, he opened his cargo bay and rolled, tossing Frenzy into the
air. He then sped back to orbit.
	Frenzy flailed at the air, cursed loudly, and plummeted
groundward. His momentum carried him into a cliff, which he grabbed
onto, losing outer finish as he slid downwards. Finally, he came to a
stop, then clambered down. That flying tin can is gonna PAY for this,
big time! he thought. Me an' my buddies can take him an' those
Combaticon pals of his any picosecond of the minute. 'Bout time
someone brought those renegades into line, an' I'm the guy to do
it. Hey! Whuzzat?
	He knelt down. A cybertronian flower was 'growing' in the cold
sunlight.  All around him was dried lubrican and pools of metal which
he recognized as being Cybetronian in origin...this had clearly been
some sort of garden. Definitely Autobots. Now, ain't that cute. The
little Autobots played with flowers. He picked up the single bloom
that remained, crumpled it into a small foil ball, and tossed it
forward. It fell into the pit, and if there was an echo, he didn't
hear it.
	The pit itself..that was aritificial, no doubt about
it. Perfectly circular, less than a single degree of distortion. Glass
smooth, down about one kilometer, then flat.  Down at the bottom of
the pit, he could detect pools of black liquid...oil. This area
was rich in petrochemicals.
	OK, Frenzy, let's put two and two together here, he
thought. We got some Autobot gardens. We got some oil. We got a pit.
	There were Autobots here, drilling the oil. Now they were all
gone. They sent a distress signal, something happened to them.
	It wasn't us Decepticons that did it. So someone else out
there hates Autobots, too! Yeah, well, anyone who knew them would hate
them.
	Great. Allies. Megatron will be so pleased, he might let me
kill Blast-off.
	For the rest of the long voyage back, Frenzy would
occasionally burst into insane laughter, and neither Soundwave nor
Blast-off could understand why.

***
Somewhere else....

]What have We found?
]Purely Mechanical Consciousness
]Can We assimiliate them?
]We can, with difficulty. We must devote much of the Collective to the
	task.
]Is there more?
]Yes, there is. We can find it, use it, incorporate it into ourselves
]We shall do so, then.
]Yes. We shall.
]Shall we seek an incarnation to assist in the assimiliation?
]Yes. We shall.

***

	A part of Earth was being transformed into a scene from the
Golden Age of Cybertron.
	Several square miles of Colorado land had been leased from the
United States government in return for technologies as yet
undisclosed, and declare to be "extraterritorial space". The Autobots,
at long last, had a place of their own, a permenant base to begin
construction on. And they were going at it with a vengeance.
	Grapple and Huffer stood in the center of the construction,
examining the holographic blueprints that floated above the scene.
Ratchet was supposed to be with them, but had left for the old Ark,
apparently needing to take care of some personal business. Huffer
studied the plans intently, and his mechanical visage grew ever more
distressed.
	"It isn't going to work, Grapple. You're trying to push a
dozen fields of science forward millenia, all at once. I mean, look at
this...." he pointed to a small section of the plan, which expanded on
command to show detail. "Your talking about a nearly forty percent
functionality shift in that region alone. Even the Gestalts don't
achieve more than a twenty-five percent redundancy...and we know what
problems there are with THEM!"
	Grapple merely pointed to one of the completed buildings
forming the core of what was turning into a city. "You claimed that
structure couldn't be built, yet built it yourself."
	"Yeah...but that was a lot less complex than THIS. And...well,
frankly...do you want to put so much power in any single being?
Wouldn't some sort of controlled drone be preferable?"
	"Drones can't react fast enough to threats. It would be
useless. Besides..."
	"Besides WHAT?"
	"You aren't supposed to know this...no one is....but the
Decepticons are working on the same technology. We can't let them have
it alone. They were the first with the Gestalts, the first to master
flight-mode forms....we have to at least equal them this time, or the
war is done."
	"They were first because they have no scruples. Do you know
how many thousands of Cybertronians they murdered before they got the
Gestalts to work? If that's what winning means, it isn't worth it."
	"We should not have to engage in such activities. Nor will
we. Now...back to work."
	Grapple shifted to his crane form; Huffer to his truck
form. Both rolled across the smooth metal surface to where the
heaviest construction activity was occuring.
	Inside the Ark, the four-million year old spaceship that had
served as an impromptu base for the Autobots during their nearly 15
years on Earth, the Autobot surgeon Ratchet turned towards the
now-official Ambassador from the United States to the tiny cou ntry of
"New Cybertron"...'Spike' Witwicky.
	"I believe, from studying your human customs, that the
appropriate phrase is 'Congratulations, you're going to be a father'."
Ratchet looked down at the small human curiously. "Odd. You don't seem
totally pleased."
	"Ratchet....are you sure? I mean...you're not exactly an
expert on human physiology...is there a chance you made a mistake?"
	"Highly unlikely. The scans were perfectly clear. I can show
them to you if..."
	"No...that's OK. Thanks. Uh....you've told her?"
	"Certainly."
	"Terrific. Just...oh, never mind. Can you....do me a favor?
Just keep her busy for an hour or so? Tell her you need to run another
test or something. Anything. One hour. Okay?"
	Without waiting for a response, he walked away, heading for
his temporary quarters.
	Once inside, he collapsed on the bed, staring at the grey
metal of the ceiling. For the first time, he actually *felt* twenty
six. His protracted adolescence, he realized, had just come to a
crashing end. And was that such a bad thing?
	Fourteen years. For fourteen years, more or less, I've been
living a life out of...out of....a comic book or something. Kid
sidekick to the Autobots. Living on the front lines of an eon long
civil war and treating it like a game.
	Even this "Ambassadorship"....an act of convenience. The
government would kill for that technology, and they've learned the
Autobots were the only trustworthy ones. And, after all, if they
wanted to build a city here, who could stop them? But best to make it
look nice and above board. And, hey!  That guys been hanging around
them for years. Better give him a fancy title and set him up as our
"representative".
	Well, at least I've got a job now. Not that I'm qualified to
do much else!  One semester at MIT....couldn't handle it. How could I
sit there and play with workstations when I've dealt with genuine
artificial intelligences?  I've travelled through time, I've met alien
races, I've walked on the surface of a distant world.....how could I
sit in a classroom and take notes on theories I already know are
totally wrong?
	Back to here-and-now, Spike. You know her. She's going to want
to have it...him...her...whatever. And you know your father. He's
going to want a wedding. Well, that was sort of inevitable, but so
SOON? No time. The decisions been made for me. I've got to talk to
her, tell her what I feel...but....I'm not even sure myself.
	Spending your teen years watching robots fire energy blasts at
each other does not prepare you well for adult relationships, he
thought glumly. I'm going to have to make this up as I go along.
	There was a sudden blaring of alarms. Spike recognized the
pattern immediately. Decepticon air assault. Thank God there were
still some certainties in life.


Chapter 2



	Warning:This segment contains several scenes in which nothing
is exploding, burning, shooting, or otherwise doing violent
things. Even worse, it contains a few paragraphs that could almost be
described as romantic. For those whose delicate sensibilities are
offended by this distasteful lack of violence (Hi, Frenzy!), please
accept my assurances that there will be a high enough body count in
future installments to appease the most refined of tastes, and I
apologize for this momentary lapse.

**********

	Spike left his quarters rapidly, running down one of the
adjoining corridors towards the main exit from the Ark, carefully
avoiding the medical center. He loved Carrie, of course, but the last
thing he needed right now was to face her. He needed to deal with
anything BUT the situation at hand...and he knew how to do it.
	There. Skydive. No doubt with some brilliant new plan gleaned
from Terran history.
	"Hey! Skydive! Hold on a second, will you?"
	The large robot slowed to a halt, turned to face the
human. "Yes, Ambassador?"
	"Please, just...call me Spike. You want a gunner?" The
Transformers were, of course, fully functional in all modes by
themselves....but they had discovered that having a human working in
tandem with them could improve efficiency. After all, they were
originally built as tools. Only a tiny handful of humans, though, were
comfortable working with machines that were alive...so it was not a
common practice.
	"Certainly, Spike...but...shouldn't you be with your mate at
this point?"
	Ratchet, thought Spike, had a big mouth. "No,
Skydive.... that's the last place I should be.  Now...are we teaming,
or not?" Damn. Rude. Not good....I'm letting this affect me far too
much. It's Ninteen NINETY Seven, not FIFTY Seven. I...
	"Well, Spike? What are you waiting for?" Skydive had already
shifted to his fighter-jet mode, and the pilots cockpit yawned
open. Spike shook his head and clambered in, strapping himself down
against the G forces sure to be generated. "Will you be forming
Superion?" he asked, somewhat inanely.
	"No....Silverbolt is away on a mission. Decepticon
intelligence almost certainly knew that, which is why they picked this
time to attack.  Fortunately....". He began to accelerate down the
large tunnel, heading for the exit where pulses of life could already
be seen.  "...I've been working on tactics designed around just this
sort of contingency.  Silverbolt can be....unreliable at times."
	He reached the exit, sped upwards, the sky was a brilliant,
clear blue, streaked with contrails and illuminated by multi-hued
beams and splashes of energy.  Three other Aerialbots were there,
using their smaller size and greater manueverabilty against the
Decepticon jets....which were obviously targeting the construction
below.
	"There, Spike....along the road. As I expected."
	Spike looked down. There were five tiny dust trails moving
across the broad highway leading to the construction site. He checked
the scanners, tapped the magnify button a few times. Four racing
vehicles and a huge truck, nearly the size of Prime. Stunticons.
Skydive twisted rapidly, straining his mettalic form to its limits,
and began diving towards them.
	"Spike, here's the plan. Motormaster has one significant
weakness compared to Prime in this form...the trailer isn't a subspace
attachment. Do you follow me?"
	"Yeah...I do. Excellent!" For the first time this morning,
Spike had found something to focus on. He took the controls for
Skydive's main guns, and activated targetting. He had to hit a target
barely one square foot in size while his plane was handling the task
of dodging plasma streams, shells, liquid nitrogen, and a host of less
identifiable weapons.
	Just like old times, he thought, smiling grimly. The joint
came into clear focus. He pressed the trigger, and beams of bright
energy streamed out, focussed, intersected right on target, as Skydive
reverse thrust and pulled up, away. Brief exhilaration mixed with pain
as the G-forces bore down, then relieved. He punched up a rear view,
magnified, to see what the effect was.
	It was not a pretty sight. Even though he knew the damage was
temporary, it was still ugly. The severing of that joint had forced
the Stunticon leader back to his robotic form...but slashed in
half. Spike couldn't hear the screams, but he imagined them.
Transformers felt 'pain' in much the same way organics did.
	"Good shooting, Spike!" Skydive's voice echoed around
him. "They're out of the battle for the moment. Our next target,
according to my strategy, is...."
	Spike continued, working on a sort of autopilot. Years of this
sort of this activity had given him instincts and reflexes equal to
any professional gunner. Or, on some occasions, pilot. Suddenly,
though, it had gone....well, the only word that came to mind was
colorless. It was as if the reality of it all had just revealed itself
to him. This was a WAR, dammit. It wasn't fun. But it wasn't going to
end soon, either. The Decepticons weren't merely 'misunderstood' or
fighting over trivial political differences. Any negotiation or
compromise meant enslavement and destruction.
	Could he raise a child in the middle of all this? Finally, the
real issue had manifested itself. His subconscious, he mused, was more
on the ball than his conscious.
	The battle was winding down. The damage to the construction
seemed minimal, but undoubtedly it looked worse on the ground. Skydive
hadn't exactly turned the tide of battle single-handedly, but
eliminating the possible threat of Menasor had helped tremendously in
evening the odds.
	The Autobot landed smoothly, and opened his canopy to permit
Spike to leave. He jumped out, and watched as the plane unfolded and
expanded into a humanoid robot.  Spike gave a quick salute and marched
off to find Carly. Time to get this settled, before worrying about it
gets me killed.  My life has just become a lot more important than it
was yesterday.
	Carly, of course, found him first. The teenager he had met so
many years ago had grown up into a beautiful and extremely
accomplished woman....she slipped equally well between the roles of
warrior, diplomat, and scientist...and they had grown together over
the years, from teenage infatuation to a much deeper relationship,
built in large part on the fact they had shared experiences no other
human would really understand. At times, over the years, they'd tried
to go their seperate ways...but they'd always come back together soon
enough.
	At the moment, however, her face was twisted in rage and pain,
as she strode towards him furiously. He didn't resist when she slapped
him. Hard.
	"How....DARE you! Risking your life like that...when you
KNEW...trying to keep me back there...I...." She tensed, forcing her
emotions back under iron control...the discipline that had kept her
alive, and sane, when confronted with things humans really weren't
meant to know. "What the hell were you thinking of?" she finally said,
icicles seeming to hang from every word.
	Suddenly, for Spike, everything fell into place. It all
fit. It all made sense. It would work out.
	He smiled, almost maliciously. "Well, I was thinking Cynthia
if it's a girl, Daniel if it's a boy."
	Carly took a half step back, almost stunned by his studied
non-chalance.  She rapidly alternated between the options of kissing
him and knocking all of his teeth down his throat.
	After an eternity one second in length, she kissed him.

****

	The Decepticons, after several failed attempts to secure land
in a manner similair to the deal the Autobots had made, had finally
settled on an abandoned and useless volcanic island in the Pacific, in
addition to numerous smaller, well-hidden bases scattered around the
world. The volcano, at least, provided consistent power, and
Decepticon engineering had secured enough tectonic stability to make
permanent construction possible.
	Deep inside the sprawling fortress, Mixmaster and Scavenger
were hard at work.  "You...you know, Mixmaster, I think....I think you
can...uh...tell Commander Megatron's moods by...by the percent of the
floor that he...he leaves intact when he's done...uh...debriefing
Starscream." Scavenger laughed, weakly, at his own attempt at humor.
	Mixmaster was in cement-truck form, transforming raw materals
into the unearthly alloy which formed most of the base. Though he
resembled a simple Terran cement mixer, albeit a bright green one, his
'drum' was perhaps the most advanced materials fabrication facility
ever constructed.  Its' interior was a huge subspace factory, and any
Terran chemist would give several decades of his life for a few
minutes to investigate it.  Actually, he'd give all his life...
instantly...if he ever tried it.
	Even without a face or a humanoid body, Mixmaster still
somehow managed to fix a chilling glare on Scavenger.
	"I recommend you leave the humor to others. Here's the next
plate." He lifted up his drum and spilled out a pool of metal, which
quickly hardened. Shifting to robot mode, he used a surgical laser to
slice it to a perfect square, then tossed the remaining material back
into his drum and transformed, again, to produce another
plate. Savenger glumly took the plate and set it in place, then welded
it molecularly to the rest. Only a few more to go....
	"And I expect we'll have a lot more work to come,
Scavenger. Megatron is furious at the damage done to Motormaster. And
then, there's no telling what he'll do when Blast-off gets back. If he
gets back...." There was a slight hint of hopefulness in the
Constructicons voice.  The various Gestalts had long-standing
rivalries. And the Constructicons, the first EVER, had grown resentful
of the later...and more succesful...creations.
	"Do you....do you think there's a chance he
won't...uh...return, then?"  Scavenger asked while welding.
	"I don't know. I don't really care, either. Will you hurry up?
I'm ready to pour the next piece."
	"Yes...Mixmaster...it's just about...about ready now." In a
few moments, the floor of the audience chamber where Megatron received
reports and debriefed his field operatives was fully
repaired. Mixmaster shifted to robot form. "Good. Let's get Hook to
give it the once over..." he sneered, slightly, at the thought. Hook
would look for joints a fraction of a millimeter out of vertical and
demand the entire floor be relaid...."and go get some Energon from the
dispensory. I've earned it."
	"Don't you mean...mean *we've* earned it?" Scavenger asked,
almost piteously.  Mixmaster said nothing, just looked at him with
contempt and walked away. Scavenger gave one glance back at the
newly-laid floor. I *did* earn it, he thought to himself, and followed
Mixmaster out of the room.
	In another part of the complex, Megatron watched as the
various parts of the still- conscious Motormaster were reattached, one
severed connection at a time. The huge robot, nearly Megatron's size,
lay in an operating bay as myriad robotic tendrils and probes moved up
and down his twitching form. Trauma, Decepticon chief surgeon and
interrogator, was joined to the bay in his vehicle mode, so that he
could fully experience the operation.  He enjoyed his work, of that
there was little doubt. A pity, Megatron thought, that my other
warriors are not so simple to motivate and control.  Especially one of
them....
	He turned to Starscream, who was picking at a relatively minor
tear in his left shoulder.  Lubricant and hydraulic fluid had caked
around the opening, and it bothered his not inconsiderable vanity.
	"Don't worry about it, Starscream." Megatron nearly
purred. "The good doctor will take care of that for you in short
order." As if to punctuate that comment, there was a final scream of
mettalic agony, a sound like metal shearing in a high wind, from the
operating bay, and then silence.  Then, seconds later, Trauma's
voice. "He's fine, now. He'll need a few days to fully integrate the
new circuitry and allow the nanobots to knit the connections back
together. He shouldn't transform for at least two days...and
definitely shouldn't perform a Gestalt Merge. It could kill him."
	Megatron fumed, but said nothing.  The image of the Autobot
who had caused him so much grief was locked into his visual memory, as
well as that pathetic 'squishy' who had assisted. The two of them
would pay for this outrage...slowly.
	He looked at the rest of his warriors...Dirge, Ramjet,
Thundercracker...all had minor damage of one sort of another. At least
they'd done their job, more or less....provided cover while Reflector,
one of the semi-Gestalts, had done his job of data-gathering. It
seemed the complex game of intelligence and counter-intelligence he'd
planned was working. The Autobots were racing ahead with their own
program, believing the Decepticons to be must further along than they
actually were. Now, all he had to do was keep stealing what they were
doing...
	An internal transmission reached him. "Laserbeak to Commander
Megatron.  Blast-off sighted entering atmosphere. ETA, five terran
minutes."
	"Wait for him, and the others, to enter, then direct them
immediately to me. Megatron out." Smiling, he shifted to tank form and
rumbled back to the newly repaired audience.

***

	Sky Lynx swooped out of space, exhilirating in the rush of air
and fire against his nearly heat-proof outer hull. He headed down,
deliberately building up the friction burn, so he appeared as a
blazing comet streaking towards the Autobot headquarters. At the last
instant, he changed vectors and landed, his hull glowing bright red
before cooling to its' usual brilliant white. Perfect, as always, he
thought.
	There was a clanging against his lower body. Shifting to
dinosaur form, he extended his long, flexible neck to look around, and
down. An Autobot whose face plates had actually started to sag with
age was looking at him, glowering.
	"Idiot! We almost blew you out of the sky, pulling a dumb
stunt like that!  If it wasn't for your passenger sending an IFF,
you'd be free floating particles now!" He stopped, waiting for a
response.
	"Well, it should have been obvious to anyone that it was
me. Who else COULD it be?"
	The other Autobot just looked disgusted and walked away. Sky
Lynx caught a few words.  "Pathetic....in my day....no respect for
experience....just like that time I...."
	Meanwhile, Chorale had peformed a direct cyberspace link to
her 'brother', Blaster, and he, in turn, plugged the data directly
into Teletran One. As he watched the datastream go by, he set up a
secondary process and called for the various Autobot commanders and
subcommanders. Optimus Prime.  Grimlock. Silverbolt. Hotspot. And, of
course, Sky Lynx himself.
	All except Sky Lynx physically assembled inside the Ark, in
the huge meeting room which could easily accomodate being of their
size. Spike was there as well, of course...part of his duties as
Ambassador included making sure that any war plans being made would
have only minimal impact on human-populated areas.
	Optimus Prime entered last. He managed to project an air of
power and concern. He had been one of the earliest casualties of this
war, and while he still tried to live up to his old name of
"Peacehunter", he was beginning to feel it was a very elusive quarry
indeed.
	He looked around the meeting table as he walked in. Silverbolt
looked nervous, and kept glancing around. Hotspot was focussed. Sky
Lynx, on the monitor, was preening himself.  Blaster was leaning
against a wall, probably analyzing the continuous chatter of the city.
Chorale was seated far away from the others, and seemed to be staring
into space, lost in thought. Grimlock was in his robot mode, and had
his feet on the table while he sketched symbols in the air with his
plasma sword. Spike was...dressed, was that the term?...in what
Optimus recognized as "formal" clothing, and was sitting, patiently,
behind a human-scale desk that had apparently been recently added to
the meeting hall, placed at roughly eye-level with the 'average'
Transformer.
	In the center of the table, in brilliant color, was the final
image Chorale had recorded as she and Sky Lynx had left the destroyed
Candarvis colony.
	Optimus walked smoothly up to the table, sat down in the chair
geared for his frame. The widely variant body construction of
Transformers meant that there was little in the way of standardized
furniture.
	"Autobots," he began. "We now face a threat potentially more
deadly than even the Decepticons. I trust you have all reviewed the
data Chorale has provided?"
	There was murmured assent. 
	"I need opinions, input, suggestions. Anyone?" He turned
quickly to Silverbolt, as if to encourage the relatively inexperienced
commander to speak, but another voice cut through the room, harsh and
unyielding.
	"Me, Grimlock, say:Attack now! Find weakness!" Grimlock had
actually intended to say, of course, "I recommend an initial probing
assault, with the intent of locating some exploitable weakness." But
an odd glitch in his processing circuitry had left him with the
electronic equivalent of a speech impediment. Those who knew him well
had learned to respect the hidden intelligence behind the obvious
brawn. Those who did not know him well....well, there were advantages
to the "dumb Dinobot" role he had been forced to adopt.
	Silverbolt finally spoke. "Well, I disagree. We could lose
even more Autobots, and we can't afford them. How do we know we'll
even see this 'intruder' again, anyway?  Candarvis was very far, well
away from our normal operations."
	There was a slight sense of agreement building in the
room. Chorale sprang to her feet, slammed the table, hard. "No!"
	She waited for silence. She got it. 
	"This will not be the last attack. I....received a sense of
their consciousness, their plans.  They...are marauders, invaders.
They know where we are. They know what we are. They WANT us." She
stopped. She had suppressed the knowledge she'd absorbed in that
first, terrible encounter, allowing it to trickle into her conscious
understanding only slowly.  Even now, the pain of trying to assimilate
something so alien was overwhelming to her.  She collapsed back into
her chair. "We can't ignore it. We have to find them, fight them."
	For a few moments, there was no sound.
	Blaster, naturally enough, broke the silence. "Okaaaay. If my
Sis says we fight, then I say we fight. We've seen what they did to
that colony...we don't stand a chance just waiting here. Better to
bring the fight to them!"
	Optimus looked at the assembled faces. "Any other input?"
	"Yes." Spike stood up. "According to the treaty which led to
the creation of New Cybertron, the Autobots assume responsibility for
protecting Earth from any dangers the Cybertronian Conflict might
bring. THAT", he said, point to the hologram that still dominated the
tabletop, "is just such a danger." Spike looked directly at Optimus.
"I helped push this treaty through by talking endlessly about your
commitment to honor and justice.  Don't make me look like a liar."
	Optimus looked down at Spike, his solid blue eyes shading
darker in thought. There was a seriousness of purpose in the human
that was not there before. The potential that Prime had seen in a
human child years before was finally starting to manifest in the adult
now standing before him.
	No one else seemed inclined to speak.
	"Very well. Grimlock, you and the Dinobots are best suited for
this mission. And take Perceptor along. He's no warrior, but he'll be
helpful in analyzing whatever you discover.  Sky Lynx will provide
your transportation. Good luck."
	Grimlock thought, I'm glad you finally saw the wisdom in my
suggestion. I look forward to the coming battle. What he said was,
"Yay! Me, Grimlock go to fight!"
	"Dinobots! Me, Grimlock, say, go to construction site! Big
fight coming!  Perceptor, come too!"
	Grimlock transformed to his dinosaur mode and stomped, loudly,
out. After about a minute, there was an incoming signal from
Perceptor. Optimus responded. "Yes, Perceptor?"
	"Optimus, there is one of those....Dinobots in my laboratory!
He insists I accompany him!  Is this true?"
	"I'm afraid so, Perceptor. You'll find the relevant data on
board Sky Lynx. This is a mission of vital importance to all of
us. Perform it well."
	"I....I will, Optimus" There was the sound of Slag's voice
saying, "Come on, we ain't got all day, big eye!" and then the
connection was cut.
	Optimus dismissed the remaining Autobots, then turned back to
watch the construction site on one of the monitors. He saw Sky Lynx
extend a loading ramp, and the Dinobots, followed by a reluctant
Perceptor, climb on board.  Then the ramp was retraced, Sky Lynx
shifted to shuttle mode, and took off.
	Prime watched the shape dwindle and vanish. He felt a hideous
dread. He knew this wasn't going to be the end of it. Whatever this
new enemy was, this battle was not going to be quick or easy.

****

	Megatron was smiling. It wasn't a sight to inspire joy.
	"This is excellent intelligence, Soundwave. As usual, you have
done superbly." Megatron glanced sidelong at Starscream, who wisely
said nothing. "We must exploit this new discovery. Either we will use
this 'intruder' as an ally, or steal their technology for ourselves."
He opened a communications channel. "Astrotrain! Combaticons!
Afterburner! Report at once to the launching platform. I have a
mission for you..."
	Soundwave spoke. "High probability of Autobots performing a
similair action, Commander Megatron."
	"I expect they shall, Soundwave. We will let them be the
trailbreakers for us, then benefit from their destruction."

****

	Some time later, in deep space....
]We detect approaching craft.
]They appear to be of the same species We discovered earlier.
]Excellent. We shall assimilate them.
]We have determined they will seek to resist assimilation.
]Resistance is futile.


Chapter 3

Sorry folks, but there does not appear to be a chapter 3 to this story.  In something that resembled a scene from Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Lizard skipped Chapter 3 and went straight on to Chapter 4. :-)  -- Doug


Chapter 4



	Deep space....
]We have the information. 
]There is more. Of a new sort. It must be assimilated before the
Incarnation can be selected.
]We shall aquire this information. These beings are now irrelevant.

*****

	"Hm. It appears that there have been some...ah...unexpected
side effects.  We....AUGH!"
	Afterburner went flying through Astrotrain's cavernous
interior, propelled by Brawl's fist. As he impacted the rear wall, he
summoned his particle-accelerator rifle from subspace and aimed it at
the charging Combaticon. A small explosion between the two temporarily
distracted them.
	Onslaught, in his missile truck form, spoke. "Enough!
Punishment for failure is Megatron's duty and pleasure, Brawl...not
yours. Besides, if you destroy him, none of us can undo what he has
done. Which is not to say I don't sympathize with your feelings."
	"Yeah, well I say he can work just as well if he's missing
some useless parts....like those wings of his!" Brawl advanced on
Afterburner, who was still trying to regain his footing. The chamber
was too narrow for him to transform, putting him at a significant
disadvantage.
	"Hold, Brawl. You will NOT violate my orders." Reluctantly,
Brawl stopped.  Each one of the Combaticons had faced Onslaught at
some point in the past;each one had barely crawled away
intact. Onslaught was leader not merely by appointment, but by right
-- the right of might, which was all that mattered in Decepticon
political philosophy.
	Onslaught shifted back to robot form, walked over to the now
standing Afterburner. He glanced, derisively, at the accelerator
rifle. "That toy won't harm me, but it will anger me enough to forget
what I said to Brawl.  Put it BACK." After a moment's hesitation, the
rifle vanished. "Good.  Now....you have made a grevious error, but not
a fatal one. If you find a way to undo it, you may well be permitted
to live after only...minor...punishment. If you fail...we all die
here, but you will die first, and not pleasantly at all. Your Energon
and capacitors will keep us functional for quite some time. Now
then...." Onslaught towered over the smaller Decepticon, "...undo what
you have done and *get* *us* *moving*."  Each word was spoken with a
razor-edged fury.
	Afterburner reluctantly moved towards the device he had
implanted. It had, at the time, seemed brilliant. He had linked the
motive controls of Astrotrain with those of SkyLynx, by a very devious
use of minor subspace distortions. Unfortunately, the link was *too*
good;something had happened to Sky Lynx, and that had caused a
powerful feedback reaction in Astrotrain's motive circuits. Even more
unfortunately, thought Afterburner, was that I can't quite *remember*
exactly what it was I did. It was very clever, I know that..but the
details are rather faint. Hm.
	He glanced behind him. All five of those thugs were standing
there, glaring at him. He turned back to his work. Stall for time,
stall for time. Then, maybe, I'll think of something.
	Fortunately for him, such tactics became unnecessary in short
order.
	The Autobots had the advantage of having a survivor of a
previous encounter with the Borg ship. They had locked down all
cyberspace input except that involving direct physical connection. The
Decepticons, of course, didn't know to do this. In seconds, all six
were reeling from the sensory overload as the Borg ship swung into
range. It wasn't even trying to contact them;the incredible cyberspace
prescence of the mass-mind simply radiated around it like a battering
ram.
	Brawl, the least cerbral of them all, was the first to
recover. His optics were flooded with static, which slowly resolved
down to normal vision.  There was a sort of flesh-creature in there
with them...at last! Something to hit!
	He tried to shift into his tank mode, failed for a second,
then recovered enough to do so. Without hesitation, he fired a stream
of shells from his main cannon and energy bolts from his rear-mounted
double barrelled blaster. The fleshling dissolved into vapor
instantly. Sadly, so did a part of Astrotrain's hull.
	Explosive decompression occurred instantly. Brawl, and the
other five, who were still struggling to full consciousness, were
swept out. As they flew out into space, Brawl saw a faint greenish
glow within Astrotrain, then he tumbled away.
	He drifted for a few minutes, firing small retros to try to
regain stability. While he was not designed for space, nearly all
Cybertronians had some limited 0-G manueverability. He also began a
homing signal to guide his companions, and wished, desperately, for
something to hit.
	It was not too much longer when a signal crackled through his
internal receivers. "Idiot. Stay where you are. I've gathered the
others. Curse the day Megatron selected *me* for this team. How DARE
he demean me so...."  Brawl just clenched and unclenched his fists
rapidly. Blast-Off could be, often, nearly intolerable...but they were
still bound together. That made it worse.
	The greenish spacecraft moved into view, slowing as it
approached. The hatches over the main cargo bay opened, spilling the
other three into vacuum. Brief flashes of light could be seen as
manuevering thrusters fired. Brawl tensed, knowing was was coming. His
optic focussed on Onslaught, waiting for the signal....
	"Combaticons! Merge and form....BRUTICUS!"
	Stars blurred by Brawl's optics as he was pulled into the
raging vortex of energies that flared around Onslaught. His body
twisted into a foreign shape and merged with the others...and his mind
expanded and joined into a more powerful entity.
	Bruticus awoke. He existed so briefly, only a few sparse
moments at a time....he felt the rippling and shifting of the other
consciousnesses within him. They had a purpose...an enemy, of
tremendous power. He moved to fight it.
	Fire flared from his feet, and he accelerated towards the
cube. He brought his arms forward, focussed his mind on the huge rifle
stored in subspace.  As he closed on the cube, he summoned it, and
fired blast after blast into the cube.
	The first shot gouged a hole in pitted girderwork of the Borg
ship.  Onslaught struggled to the forefront of the massmind, locating
weak points, calling for precise strikes....fighting with Brawl, who
just wanted to see things explode...and there was a persistant
undercurrent from Swindle, a demand for negotiation and trade...can't
we cut a deal?
	NO! Screamed the minds of the other four, drowning him in a
flood of mental static.
	The second shot tore out another chunk of metal. The
third....a much smaller pit. The fourth....bounced off a transluscent
plane of energy.
	Bruticus paused, momentarily confused. As his subordinate
personalities battled with suggestions, a lance of blue-white energy
slashed through space, impacting him square-on.
	Bruticus screamed, silently. In the minds of his components,
the scream echoed, then was joined by their own shrieks of
agony. Through the pain, the part of Bruticus that was Onslaught still
managed enough discipline to release the binding.
	Bruticus' mind shattered again into the five. Their bodies
hung in space, occasionally twitching as damaged capacitators spilled
energy into frayed circuitry.

]We have the information.
]The incarnation has been chosen.
]Aquire the incarnation and assimilate it.

	A small cube broke off from the bulk of the main ship. It
moved rapidly away, then streaked into warp.
	Borg workers were already swarming around the minor damage
inflicted by Bruticus, repairing it....according to new
directions. The process of assimilation had begun.
	The Borg ship continued on its' path.

*****

	Afterburner sat in the darkened, broken cargo bay and fumed.
	First, he had been shocked into unconsciousness. Then, when he
awoke, he was floating in space while strange creatures, almost like
fleshlings but not quite, swarmed over Astrotrain, who was still
paralyzed. He had tried to stop them, but had nothing to show for it
but a hopelessly shattered right wing. There was some slight hope of
rescue, but even Bruticus had been brushed aside by these
creatures. Now, he was alone.
	No. Not quite.
	This was intolerable, unthinkable, inconceivable...but there
truly was no other option.
	"This is Afterburner, of the Decepticons, calling the
Autobots. I offer a temporary truce. This is...."
	Repeating, again, and again, and again. There was nothing else
to do.

*****

	"Commander Grimlock, I am....receiving a signal. Weak, but I
can amplify it."
	"Me, Grimlock say: Let's hear!"
	"This is <crackle>ner of the Decep<snarl> calling <buzz>

Autobots. I offer a <hiss>rary truce. This...."
	Slag spit a small glob of plasma. "I don't trust him." Murmers
of assent came from the others. Grimlock snarled at them, turned back
to Perceptor.
	"Me, Grimlock, say....Ask him why we need truce with him!"
	Perceptor quickly complied. After a few moments, "He says he
knows we're stuck here. So is he. He claims, with our help, we can all
get back to Earth."
	"Me, Grimlock, say:Perceptor clever. What YOU think?"
Actually, he thought, 'Me Grimlock say', you have a keen analytical
mind. What is your assesment of the situation? Of course, it never
comes out that way.
	"At last, you begin to see the wisdom of listening to
me. Hm. My opinion.  Well, on the one side, we are indeed trapped
here, and any options are to be carefully considered. On the other
side, Afterburner is treacherous ad extremem, and cannot be
trusted. But, again, he may well be trapped in as dangerous a
predicament as we are. Still, he may think it is worth his own
existence to take us with him. Then again...."
	Sky Lynx' interior shuddered as Sludge stamped his massive
feet.  "Ssss...Get to the point! Yesss or no?"
	"I am *trying* to approach this rationally, you....sauropod!
Oh! I do believe I just lost my temper. How fascinating! I don't think
I've ever...."
	"ENOUGH!" Grimlock's roar stunned them all into silence. "Me,
Grimlock, say....we work with Decepticreep. But...how we get to him?"
	"I believe *I* can solve that problem."
	Perceptor shifted to his larger, treaded microscope form and
rolled over to the open panel which exposed Sky Lynx's circuitry. He
angled the main "tube" of his body back, until it was nearly perfectly
horizontal, then extended a series of probes and interface plugs. In a
few moments, he was fully plugged into Sky Lynx.
	His voice, when he spoke, was distant and distorted. "I
can...reach his realspace manuevering...controls. His
consciousness....is still here, but....shut down....subspace systems
are...off line. I've locked on to Afterburner's signal...here...we
go."
	The interior shuddered slightly. The massive rear jets of the
crippled Autobot crackled once, then flared to life, guided by an
alien mind. The body turned, zombie like, and followed the signal back
to its' source.
	It took the better part of a day to reach them. Slag peered
out at the crippled Astrotrain. "Good Decepticon....HURTING
Decepticon." He laughed.
	Perceptor disconnected himself, shifted back to humanoid
form. "We aren't doing so well ourselves. I hope this isn't some sort
of trap...."
	"Me, Grimlock, say, we can beat them!" Perceptor favored the
Dinobot leader with a sidelong sneer, but said nothing. He hoped so.
	The two stricken transformers, both in quite similair forms,
were nudged near to each other. Perceptor focussed through the gash in
Astrotrain's side, and saw the charred and battered bodies of the
Combaticons.  Afterburner had opened up most of them and was
assembling a curious device.
	Perceptor activated his radio. "What, exactly, is it that you
are building?"
	"Our salvation! Sometimes, I even surprise myself. Using some
components from my defeated comrades...and I'll need some from your
brain-dead leader, there..." Perceptor put out a hand to restrain
Swoop, who was preparing to leap across space to tear out
Afterburner's primary power conditioner, "...we can get
home. Astrotrain's subspace engines are intact, but he lacks
navigational facilities. You, on the other hand, know how to get
home...but lack the means. As my sadly dysfunctional comrade Swindle
might say, I think we have a reason to deal."
	Perceptor considered. The device seemed functional...and his
probes detected no hidden bombs. It was risky, very risky...but..."I
concur. Tell me which components you need, and I will retrieve
them...myself."

*******
	"Yeeee-haaaaah!" The scream echoed through the Colorado
forest, followed by a sound of breaking timber and a squeal of burning
rubber. This was followed, in turn, by a deep rumbling sound and the
whine of jet engines slowing to sub-flight speeds.
	"Bang! Zoom! Can't you stay on the Kazam! roads?" Warpath
unfolded out of this tank form and walked into the shattered stand of
trees. Behind him, Powerglide landed, transformed, and followed.
	"Yeah! Really, Reb, you drive like a girl! Hey...Spike! You OK
in there, buddy?"
	Spike clambered out of the slightly dented cab of Rebel Yell's
truck form.  He wondered briefly if this was all some sophisticated
plot by Carly to kill him for his life insurance, than consoled
himself by remembering he didn't have any. "Yeah...I'm fine. Reb? How
about you?"
	"Dang, never felt better...eh...could one of y'all give me a
little tug backwards?"
	Warpath complied, freeing Rebel Yell from the trees he was
wedged in. His pickup form shuddered for a moment, then transformed
back. In robot form, he was primarily red and blue, about the same
size as Warpath. On Cybertron, he'd been configured similairly to Kup,
but, once stationed on Earth, had chosen a suitable local
form. Unfortunately, he still hadn't gotten totally used to the
limitations of the new mode.
	"Kapow! I think we should walk into the Zamm! town."
	"Yeah. Me too. Come on, Reb, Spike...it's only about a mile."
Powerglide looked back. "Wonder if anyone needs some firewood?"
	The 'border' between America and New Cybertron consisted
solely of a simply chain-link fence and notices of the change in
status. There was free passage between the two countries, for a
variety of fairly obvious reasons.
	The town was officially still called "Andersville", but it had
come to be known as "Robotown". It served two entirely different, and
not altogether compatible, groups of people...the workers, scientists,
and journalists who were involved with the Cybertronians as a matter
of day-to-day life...and the gawkers, tourists, and so forth who
viewed the Transformers as scenery rather than people. Not to mention
the occasional fanatic out to "save the Earth from the metal
monsters!"
	"So...uh...where do you guys usually hang out?" Spike knew
that many of the Transformers went to the human town on a regular
basis, but usually for business reasons. He wasn't quite sure where
they would go for 'fun'.
	"We usually rotate...don't want anyone to think we're leaving
them out!  But, tonight, I think....there." Powerglide pointed to a
building at the end of the main street, which seemed to have a
mettalic glint to it. "Let's give the tourists a *real* thrill...I
mean, how often can they see me?"
	"Yeah...let's just hope they ain't eaten soon! I hear seeing
you has that effect on fleshlings!" Rebel Yell slapped Powerglide
across the back, hard enough to cause him to stumble forward; Warpath
grabbed him, then they all laughed loudly.
	Carly was right, thought Spike. They're idiots. Sighing, he
followed along, running slightly to keep up with their much longer
strides.
	Spike arrived at the bar, which was constructed as something
that vaguely resembled a Russian Orthodox church, done Art Deco style
and coated with christmas lights from a week-after-christmas sale. He
read the bars name, emblazoned in glowing neon, blinked, and read it
again, just to be sure.  "Iacon Bar&Grill" And, in smaller letters,
"Guaranteed Authentic Replica of Cybertron Architecture" He turned to
Warpath. "You're here to level this place, right?" he asked,
hopefully.
	"Kazam! No! This is our favorite place!"
	"Yeah, for humans, they serve pretty good high-Octane
Energon." added Powerglide. "Er...you won't mention that part to
Prime, right Spike? I mean, Prime's OK and all, but sometimes, he
forgets...you know...how to have FUN!"
	Spike nodded, albeit hesitantly. This was *not* making him
feel better...if anything, he felt worse. Apparently, an entire
human/Cybertronian subculture was building out here, and he barely
knew about it. Some Ambassador. OK, this is now a 'fact finding'
mission. "No problem, Powerglide...let's go."
	Powerglide was never known for subtlety. He did nothing to
alter that reputation.
	He slammed open the doors, which were massive enough to admit
the smaller of the Cybertronians, and stomped in, loud enough to make
sure the crowds attention was focussed on him (where it belonged, of
course!) and called out, "Hello, humans! In case you've been in a cave
all your life, I'm Powerglide, greatest warrior Cybertron ever
produced, and these are my friends, Rebel Yell and Warpath! Say
'Howdy', fellas!"
	"Shoot, don't listen to that loudmouth, people! Ah'm the REAL
warrior of this bunch!"
	"Ha! He can't even fly!"
	"Yeah, well, you can't drive!"
	"Kablam! I got a bigger gun, so you BOTH better Krang! watch
it!"
	There was uproarious laughter from the humans in the bar as
the three Autobots went through an ever more bizarre series of
put-downs and posturings...and, suddenly, Spike got it. The three of
them aren't nearly as dumb as they let one, he thought. I wonder if
they thought of this themselves, or if someone like Skids put them up
to it? Unnoticed in the commotion, he slipped deeper into the bar to
find a seat.
	The interior was as garish as the exterior implied. As one of
the fewer than a dozen humans who'd actually been on Cybertron, the
falseness was especially glaring. For one thing....it was too
bright. Cybertron was a dark world of tarnished metal and dim,
flickering light. The walls were decorated with all manner of
allegedly "hi tech" garbage;broken circuit boards, some gears, and,
here and there, a few bits of genuine Cybertronian junk, cast-offs
from the contruction site, carefully inspected to be sure no
"forbidden" technology escaped. Controlling the rate of technology
transfer was yet another thing to worry about. The Autobots had seen
what had happened when advanced Terran nations had carelessly tossed
advanced technology to less developed nations that lacked the
structure to support and maintain it, and they wouldn't let that
happen.
	Voices from behind him, cutting through over the general
din. "I'm telling you, that's him! He was in Time just last week!"
	"Oh, come on. What would *he* be doing here with people like
*us*?"
	Spike glanced around. Obviously, some celebrity had wandered
in...then, in a moment of accute embrassment, he realized the two
young women were talking about him. He made accidental eye contact,
smiled weakly, and turned back to his drink...but it was too late.
	"It *is* you!" One of the women, medium height with slightly
curled brown hair, far too much makeup, and a dress that was probably
illegal in several states, had wedged herself in next to him, while
her friend hovered over her shoulder. "Ambassador...Witwick? Was that
it?"
	"Witwicky. And...you can just call me Spike." It beats the
name my father stuck me with, at any rate.
	The tourist squealed excitedly. "And you've been with the
Autobots for YEARS! That must be so *exciting*!" Spike deeply wished
to say something along the lines of, "Look, there's three of them over
there quite eager to put on a show for you.", but thought the better
of it. Instead, he merely muttered, "Yeah..quite a few years." My
whole adult life, maybe?
	The other tourist pushed her way to the front, with a sidelong
sneer at her friend. "So, uh, tell me..why you? I mean...how come you
ended up hanging out with them? What was it about you?"
	"Um...I really can't say." I really *can't*, thought Spike,
though I'd sure like to know myself. It all seemed to make sense at
the time, but looking back over the years, it seems ridiculous. I've
become very useful to them NOW...but how could they have known that
fourteen years ago? "I think....I was the first human they met when
they arrived on Earth. It just sort of....happened."
	"Wow. Kind of like, you know, ducks. Imprimation. I read about
in Reader's Digest last year."
	Diplomat. You're a *diplomat*. Be *diplomatic*. Spike repeated
that mantra a few times, silently, then answered, "Yes...exactly like
that, I suppose."
	Spike was spared further conversation by a flash of light
ricocheting off the mirrored surfaces, and raucous laughter, human and
mechanical, from the far end of the bar. Warpath, wearing
a....tablecloth? wrapped around his optics, was holding a laser
pistol. Rebel Yell and Powerglide were slapping him on the back, and
money was changing hands among the humans.
	"Ah told y'all he couldn't do it!" Rebel Yell proclaimed,
loudly. "He couldn't hit the broad side of a comet if it was in a
tau-field!"
	"Someone blang! must have moved the target on me!"
	"Here, let ME show you how it's done!" Powerglide took the
laser, then knelt down in front of a young woman who was looking up at
him with adoration. "You wanna give me a hand, little....huh?"
	Spike noticed it to. There was a rapidly growing light coming
in from the outside. Powerglide straightened out and headed to the
door, not panicked but curious. Warpath and Rebel Yell
followed. Spike, seeing an opening, dodged through the crowd and out,
as well.
	People were running from buildings, screaming, and pointing
upwards. A fireball was streaking from the sky, seemingly heading
straight for the town.
	"I'll check this out! Probably a Decepticon sneak attack on
our favorite bar!" Powerglide shifted into plane form and took off for
the sky, to applause and cheers. Evidently, people assumed this was
just another show.  It wasn't.
	Even as Powerglide was angling upwards, a squad of emergency
vehicles came rolling in from the direction of the Ark, led by a
bright red firetruck.  All sans drivers, of course. Spike ran to meet
them as they came in.
	Inferno was the first to transform. "We picked this up on the
scanners a few minutes ago. Trajectory and composition are all wrong
for a meteor, but it looks to be hitting here any second
now. Protectobots! Start getting these humans out of the line of
fire!"
	Hotspot nodded. "Protectobots! Merge into DEFENSOR!"
	The crowd was silent as the process occured. Five robots leapt
together, twisting and transforming as they did, piling together to
form, impossibly, a single massive unit. The crowd began to edge
backwards.
	"HUMANS. DO NOT PANIC. I AM HERE ONLY TO PROTECT YOU.
PLEASE. MOVE AWAY FROM THIS AREA. GO SOUTH. I WILL BE SURE YOU ARE
SAFE."
	It didn't take much urging for the humans to obey. The crowd
moved in the direction Defensor was pointing.
	Powerglide soared upwards. He was no longer the only flying
Autobot, but he still loved the air. The meteor...or whatever it
was...was still looming larger and larger in the sky. The heat it was
giving off mad flying difficult...make that, would have made flying
difficult for, say, those kiddie Aerialbots or those wimp
Decepticons...but not for ME! Bouncing and riding the heatwaves like a
surfer, he continued to climb.
	Optics locked on target, magnified, amplified, corrected for
distortion.  There were TWO forms in there, seemingly bound together
and sheathed by flames. But the details were impossible to resolve. He
contemplated ramming into it, knocking it off-course away from the
town, but his internal computer told him the intertia was too much to
overcome. It was going to hit, and hit hard....just outside of town,
it appeared. He pulled away hastily as it tore past him, then angled
around to follow it down....
	Spike instinctively covered his eyes and ducked as the object
impacted barely a quarter-mile away. The ground shook and a blistering
wind roared across him. Then, silence.
	For about three seconds, which is how long it took for Warpath
to transform to tank mode and go smashing through the trees, clearing
a trail for Inferno, already spraying neutralizing foam, to follow.
	The arrived at a site few of them had seen since the early,
brutal days of the war. Two huge forms lay smashed and crumbled amidst
the blazing woods, and a few smaller forms could be seen staggering
from the wreckage. Molten metal droplets were everywhere, and the
stench of evaporating lubricant and charred insulation filled the
air. It was a charnel house...or a junkyard, as the case might be.
	Warpath's optical sensors focused on one of the moving shapes.
Pattern-recognition systems and IFF logic circuits flashed
instinctively on, and a cold rage built inside him. Decepticrud! He
aimed his barrel to fire at the staggering form....this would be an
easy kill. He mentally triggered the firing control....
	...and suddenly twisted the barrel out of the way while
hastily pulling it up, up....as the lumbering form of Grimlock
interposed himself in front of the Decepticon. Metal strained and
fuses snapped, but the devestating shot arced harmlessly over the
trees.
	"Me, Grimlock say...Ally! Not shoot!" He then collapsed
forward, half transformed back to robot mode. Inferno and Hotspot were
there then, dousing the burning woods as fast as they could manage. In
thedistance, the other Autobots approached.
	Spike leaped out of Rebel Yell's cab and hurried forward, only
to be held back by a firm mettalic grip. "Y'all be careful
there....that's still dangerous for humans."
	Ratchet and Wheeljack arrived few moments later. By this time,
the burning forest had been doused with fire-retardent foam, giving it
a sort of Christmas-in-hell atmosphere. As the fire died down, the
battered shapes of Sky Lynx and Astrtrain could be seen. Both were
badly charred and twisted, but there was worse damage visible. Sky
Lynx' forward cabin had been.....drilled. Astrotrain showed signs of
significant battle damage as well.
	Astrotrain's rear hatch was open. Afterburner and Grimlock lay
on the ground near it, Grimlock still trying to get complete his
transformation.  The pathetic clicking and whirring that emenated from
his prostrate form was painful to listen to. Ratchet walked up, then
reached down and mercifully disconnected Grimlock's consciousness
circuits. He looked around at the two crippled spacecraft and the
wreckage of twelve other Cybertronians, Autobot and Decepticon
alike. He turned back to the others, waiting for his report.
	"What the hell *happened* out there?"

Sometime later...
	At first, there was nothing but a jumble of lights and
sounds. Then, pattern-matching and symbolic integrations circuitry
came online. A blur of colored dots dissolved into the face of....the
enemy! An Autobot! Attack!  Afterburner tried to lurch forward, but
his body wasn't responding...helpless here...no...wait. Memory began
to return, higher consciousness coming online, overriding instincts
and accumulated behavior patterns. We had a truce...we were coming in
to Earth when the circuits finally gave...lost control...there was a
vague image of that lump-headed Dinobot leader saving his life, but
Afterburner chalked that up to memory-core damage.

::Vocal systems check?
::Vocal systems: Online 85% capacity.

::Motive systems check?
::Motive systems: *OFFLINE*

	Damn. Clever Autobots.
	"Dr. Ratchet, I presume?"
	"Correct. I see your optics are working. Now then...why don't
you tell me, in your own words, what happened out there?"
	Afterburner thought furiously. I survived. Odds are, at least
one of the Autobots and some of my fellow Decepticons survived as
well. Since I can't predict their lies, I'm better off sticking close
to the truth.
	He did so, more or less, only slightly exaagerating his own
brilliance and conveniently forgetting some of his more embarassing
errors. When he was done, Ratchet nodded.
	"Very good. That matches...close enough...with what we've
gotten from the others. Wheeljack?"
	The other Autobot moved out of the shadows, holding a small
device. "This is a little invention of mine, Afterburner. Called an
inhibitor. Ratchet took the liberty of implanting a little control
device in your subspace linkup circutiry. So long as you're within ten
miles of this little toy, you can't transform or summon your
weaponry." His 'ears' flashed, and he continued.
	"If it were up to me, you poor excuse for an engineer, I'd
have made it permenant. But Commander Grimlock ", Wheeljack sneered as
he spoke the name, " insisted I abide by the terms of the truce. Your
own medics can remove the device easily when you've returned to your
base. Ratchet, give him mobility."
	Ratchet reached down into Afterburners chest and connected
some circuits, then closed the opening. "Don't think you're fully
repaired, by the way.  I've implanted a lot of repair nanobots in you,
but they'll be sucking energon from you for weeks to come. Even if you
*could* transform, I wouldn't do it often."

::Motive System: Online 43% Capacity

	Afterburner stood, slowly. His limbs moved jerkily, and one of
his wings was held together by a very visible reweld. Transforming
would probably shatter it.

::Activate Weapons systems
::*CRITICAL FAILURE* *SUBSPACE INTERCHANGE FAILED*

	Why, he wondered, don't Autobots ever lie?
	"How long?" he asked.
	"Nearly four full Terran days. " Wheeljacks 'ears' flared
red. "You and your Decepticon 'buddies' have taken up a lot of our
time and resources...more than I'd say you deserve. Pity Optimus and
Grimlock don't agree with me."
	"Now, if you don't mind, I'll have Red Alert show to your
temporary quarters. For the duration of this 'truce', you'll be
treated as a guest...not as the treasonous worm you are." He motioned
to the Autobot security chief. "Take him away."
	Ratchet looked at Wheeljack after the other two
departed. "What *is* it with you? Afterburner's hardly the worst of
the lot."
	Wheeljack's voice was flat, but edged with threat. "It's a
long story, and I don't feel like telling it." With that, he
left. Ratchet shrugged, a mannerism he had learned from humans, and
returned to his other patients.

A day later....
	Onslaught was wary. Crippled by the inhibitor, badly damaged,
he was sitting face-to-face with the greatest foe the Decepticons had
ever faced.  Many of his comrades despised Optimus as a weakling for
his compassion and ethics....Onslaught knew better. Optimus Prime
permitted himself such apparent weaknesses because he was able to be
extraordinarily effective *despite* them.
	"Alright, Onslaught. I know what you think of me...and you
don't need to guess what I think of you. So sit down and listen.
	"I've been looking through the reports and memory dumps from
your people and ours. Fourteen of our kind dispatched in mere
mintues...and the only reason you're all still functional, albeit
barely, is because you weren't worth bothering with once you were past
the point of interference. And that thing is heading here."
	Onslaught stirred. "So what has that to do with me?"
	"You're supposed to the master strategist. What are the odds
of either of the sides in this war defeating that thing on their own?"
	Onslaught considered, then responded. "Negligable." He could
see where Prime was leading.
	"And together?"
	"Still negligable...but much greater. I understand your point,
Prime...but you are a fool if you think Megatron will ally himself
with you. He'd rather die. For that matter..." Onslaught sneered, "so
would I."
	Optimus stood. His face, as always, was an unreadable mask,
but the bright blue lifelight of his hexagonal eyes darkened to a
malignant purple. "Oh, I have no doubt you'd rather *die*..but death
isn't going to be your option.  We've determined what those creatures
are. They're parasites on a cosmic scale. They encounter other
cultures and assimilate them, absorb them, use them. You and I and
Megatron and all the others won't be killed...we'll be
*absorbed*. We'll just become cogs in their great machine."
	Optimus moved so that his faceplate was mere inches from
Onslaught's. "You remember the *first* Civil War, don't you...General
Onicrax. You remember why we died by the millions to overthrow the
Quintessons. You remember the one thing which unites *all* of us, the
one truth at the core of our beings...that we will *NEVER* be used as
tools again!"
	Onslaught nodded, slowly. Prime, curse him in the name of the
Enemy, was right. Put that way...even Megatron would agree. The
alliance would be painful, tense, and dangerous for all
concerned...but it would come to pass.
	Optimus backed away, his voice and eyes normal. "Your
companions aren't in perfect health, but they can travel. Astrotrain
won't be flying for a while, though. You'll be escorted to a neutral
point, and we'll arrange for the other Decepticons to meet you and
take you home.
	"I don't trust anything about you but your own sense of
self-preservation, Onslaught. I'm expecting that will be enough for
you to take my proposal to Megatron and make sure he listens."
	"What condition are my Combaticons in?"
	"They'll continue to function, though at greatly diminished
capacity. Your own medics will need to give *all* of you a thorough
examination....we don't have records here of your personal quirks."
	"If you have no further...requests, we will leave now."
	"Agreed."

	Elsewhere...
]We approach the gravity well of the system.
]This is not the homeworld of the assimilation target.
]However, this is where the Incarnation has been found.
]Shall we assimilate this world, as well?
]Yes.


Chapter 5, Part 1



	"Laserbeak to Megatron! I have a report!"
	"Speak."
	"Octane approaches in tanker mode, carrying the former
prisoners of the Autobots. Your command?"
	"Have them quarantined once they disembark. I want them
scanned for any explosives, traps, or computer viruses the Autobots
might have used. And I want full maps made of their personality
matrices. It's all too possible one of them might not be who he
seems."
	Megatron rose from his command chair, his massive green form
causing the base to rumble slightly as he moved. Not only were some of
his finest warriors defeated, but they were saved, if the reports
could be believed, by *Autobots*! Prime knew that this indignity would
gall him no end...that must be the only reason he did it. At some
point, Prime, I will take great pleasure in crushing your personality
matrix to dust in my hands.
	"Well, Megatron? What have you to say about your *latest*
failure?"
	"Starscream...be quiet, before I silence you
permenantly. Whatever this force is we are fighting, it is powerful
beyond the scope of your meagre intellect. Yet, the must be a way to
contact it, to make it ally with us against our foes...there *must*
be!"
	"Or perhaps the Autobots will turn it against *us*! We must
destroy it now!"
	Megatron smiled. "I would not object to you proving your
courage and loyalty in such a manner, Starscream. When next we face
this foe, I will be sure that *you* lead the assault! Now, be gone!"
	Starscream said nothing, but slunk out of the room. You'll
regret that mockery Megatron...when the time is right, you will see
there is more to me than meets your eyes!
	Megatron watches his lieutenant depart. Then he turned to the
communicator board. "Onslaught, can you hear me? I want your personal
impression of this matter."
	"Yes, I hear you, Commander Megatron." Onslaught
hesitated. Can I go through with this? Prime's voice seemed to echo in
his mind....'You remember the *first* Civil War, don't you...General
Onicrax.' How had Prime known *that*? It was so incredibly long
ago...Onicrax...yes. That had been him, hadn't it? Hero of the
Revolution. Victor of the Battle of Jaxion.  Slayer of the Tyrant
Arcanus. Yes.
	"Commander, my recommendation will both shock and anger
you. But I request that you listen to it and consider it
carefully. The future of our kind depends on this."
	Megatron listened. He was, indeed, shocked and angered. But
after a dozen scans and tests showed that Onslaught was uncontrolled
and in sound mental health, Megatron began to ponder. Plugged into his
simulator, he ran scenario after scenario, using all the data gleaned
from his troops' encounter with the Borg. Time and again, blazing red
letters would appear over the projection, reading:"Total Destruction
of all Decepticon Forces".
	Even so, simulators were not reality. This was not a decision
to be made lightly.
	"Shockwave, Starscream,Onslaught, Motormaster, Hook. Report to
the main meeting room *immediately*."
	Each came, in their own fashion. There was a delicate balance
in the action. Arriving too quickly was the mark of a toady, and
Megatron distrustes those who were too eager to please. Arriving late
could be seen as an act of definace, and the grim necessities of the
Decepticon cause permitted little individual freedom, at least during
the war. So, even the simple act of arriving for a meeting became a
complex game of politics and alliances. Megatron personally didn't
care nearly as much as he let on, but that would remain forever
unknown. In his mind, his personal sacrifices to his cause were far
greater than he had ever asked his subordinates to make.
	Motormaster was first to arrive, with a shriek of tires and a
cloud of noxious fumes. Soundwave was next, quiet and aloof, but
flanked by his rowdier "children", who were there to record all for
posterity. Onslaught had been waiting for the summons and arrived
exactly at the appointed time.  Hook was last, as if this meeting was
an inconvenience pulling him away from more important duties. Lastly
was Starscream, arriving late and entering the room with the air of a
king arriving at his court...an attitude not lost on Megatron. He
glared angrily at Starscream, then began.
	"I sent all of you the summaries of the recent...events. You
are aware of what we face. Our might is nearly unlimited...but there
are mightier things which exist."
	"Perhaps, oh 'mighty' Megatron, this enemy merely has better
*leadership*!  With the PROPER leadership, the Decepticons could
have...."
	A fusion blast sheared Starscream's left arm clean off. He
screamed in shock, then fell to the floor as sparks crackled from the
wound. He looked at Megatron with genuine fear and surprise...that
wasn't supposed to happen! Megatron always *missed* on the first shot!
What was going on here?  Megatron looked as if he had intended to
wound him, not just silence him!
	"Starscream, ordinarily, I permit you your folly in return for
your undeniable skills as a warrior. Not this time." He turned to the
other assembled leaders, as a din of conversation began. "Be silent,
all of you!  This isn't some simple Autobot or fleshling ploy we are
dealing with! This could well be the greatest crisis our army has yet
faced."
	He lowered his weapon, and continued, his voice filled with
power and command. The normal megalomaniac ranting was gone, replaced
by something far more terrifying. "We have no time for games, no time
for politics, no time..." he looked intently at Hook, Onslaught, and
Motormaster,"...for intergroup squabbling. Total and absolute
obedience and coordination will be necessary. *Any* deviation, no
matter how slight..." and now he looked at Starscream, who, for once,
said nothing but simply stared back sullenly, nursing his shattered
limb, "...will be punished by immediate termination.  Are there any
questions?"
	There were none.
	"Now then. After consultation with my chief strategist,
Onslaught.....and careful, and painful, consideration of all
options...." Megatron hesitated.  His vocal circuits seemed to want to
short themselves out rather than say what he was about to say. He
tightened all of his polyfibre muscles, then relaxed them. He
continued. "...my orders are to declare an immediate, and total,
cessation of all hostilities with the Autobots, for the duration of
this crisis. We are to rendezvous with them in four Terran hours, at a
neutral site...one of our abandoned bases. We will work together to
defeat this enemy. Any hostile action taken against an Autobot, or one
of their allied fleshlings, for the duration of this truce, will be
viewed by me as an assault upon one of our own kind and *dealt* *with*
*accordingly*.  Further...." and he smiled grimly, "the *commanders*
of each subgroup will be held *personally* accountable for the actions
of their subordinates!"
	He waited for their responses, carefully watching each
one. The first to make a hostile move would die, instantly. No one
did.
	"Good. Go now, and alert the troops under your command. Anyone
with any complaints about these arrangements can meet with me,
personally, to discuss them."
	Megatron waited for them to depart, then sat back down. In
four hours, he would be face-to-face with his greatest foe...and
unable to attack! No matter, he mused. There will be ample opportunity
to both gain the assistance of the Autobots and to betray them when
the foe is defeated. In four Terran hours...
	Of course, in three and three quarter Terran hours, it all
became rather moot.


Chapter 5, Part 2



	Roughly an hour earlier. New Cybertron.
	"You *still* haven't called your father, have you?"
	Spike looked momentarily confused. He had been helping oversee
the loading of delicate weapons systems for the move to the
agreed-upon neutral site, while mentally composing his speech to the
Subcommittee on Non-Organic Military Affairs explaining why, after
they had been informed the Decepticon's could not be reasoned with,
the Autobots were busy reasoning with them. Carly's question jolted
his brain over a few tracks.
	"Uh...no. Of course not!" He was regaining his
composure. "We're in the middle of a war here! Those...things will
probably be arriving on Cybertron in a few hours. We've got to stop
them there, or they'll probably come to Earth next. Chorale says..."
	Carly sat down on a case of energon conversion buffers.
"You're right.  We're in the middle of war." Her voice turned
harsher. "And we have been for over a decade, and we probably will be
for the rest of our lives. *Deal with it!*"
	She paused, then continued. "I've been very patient these past
few weeks. I kept hoping, eventually, you'd sort yourself out. But it
seems every time you were about to, some crisis or another occured and
gave you something to hide behind. Well, the crisis' aren't going to
stop anytime soon...and I think *that* is what you really don't want
to think about.
	"The problem...and I see it in myself, too...is that you've
got all these images in your head of what it means to be an
adult...but they're the images of adulthood a twelve year old would
hold, because you've grown up, really, here. You never had the
experiences that would have changed those images. I've...been going
through the same process, myself. It's not something pleasant to think
about, I know.
	"There isn't going to be any long stretch of peace and quiet
in our lives, Spike. I don't think either of us would know what to do
if there *was*. We are going to have to make our plans and move
forward with our lives, no matter what is going on."
	Spike finally spoke. "We...could get out of it, you
know. There must be dozens of companies who'd pay for what we
know...even what little we could tell. It's just that...I...I don't
know if this", he gestured to indicate the Ark around them,"...is the
best, well, environment to raise a child in.  You're right. It's
always going to be one crisis after another."
	"We can't leave, Spike. You know that *damn* well. Remember
that semester at MIT? And as for *me*...." she laughed, "..I've spent
the past year working with subspace equations, anti-matter power
conduits, engineering thousands of years ahead of Earth's. Do you
*really* think I'd go to GE and design, oh, transforming microwave
ovens?"
	She shook her head, sadly. "Forget it. If we tried to live a
'normal' life, we'd end up hating each other in a year...and resenting
our child for doing it to us. *That's* an even worse way to bring up a
child." Her voice dropped. "Trust me on that score, okay?"
	Spike said nothing for a few minutes. Carly responded with an
equal silence. Finally, he spoke.
	"You're right. Look, could you...could you take over for me
here? I think I've got to... go to the comm center and contact
someone."
	She smiled and nodded.

****

	Decepticon Base. Fifteen minutes before the scheduled
rendezvous.
	Megatron stood in the huge loading and launch bay. The air
warriors, the backbone of his army for eons, stood ready to fly. The
various gestalt teams huddled together. Soundwave had gathered the
whole family, in preperation for the data needs of the new
alliance. Shockwave stood resolutely by. A minor chill always struck
Megatron when he viewed Shockwave. His quiet obedience was, somehow,
far more threatening that Starscream's perpetual bluster.
	"I take it all is in readiness?" Megatron managed to make the
question sound like an order. A rousing chorus of "Yes Commander!" ,
"Aye!", "Affirimitive, Lord Megatron!" and so forth rose from the
assembled armada.  Then, without warning, alarm claxons sounded.
	"It's an Autobot sneak attack! They've betrayed us!" shouted
Starscream, beginning to transform into jet mode. The other air
warriors started to do likewise.
	"HOLD!" Megatron's voice shattered the air. "Soundwave,
release Laserbeak!  Get some visuals! All of my other warriors,
prepare for battle! If this is indeed treachery, the Autobots are far
more foolish than I had ever imagined!"
	Soundwave tapped his chest. The portal to his personal pocket
universe opened, and Laserbeak, in cassette form, shot out,
transforming to his winged birdlike mode as he did.
	"Laserbeak. Operation: Observation."
	Laserbeak dove low, then swooped out. A few seconds later,
Soundwave began displaying images transmitted from Laserbeak's optic
circuits, enhanced and clarified.
	The sky and sea were clear of Autobots. There was an energy
emission from high above, though, powerful enough to trip the
sensitive alarms. Laserbeak accelerated skyward.
	"Soundwave, full magnification." Megatron commanded, and
Soundwave complied.
	A small dark speck appeard in the hologram. With each second, it grew
larger. A terrifyingly familiar cube quickly became visible.
	"Recall Laserbeak!  Soundwave, transform to communications
mode and alert the Autobots. Warriors!" he turned to the
crowd. "Shockwave and Starscream will remain here with me. The rest of
you are to head to the appointed rendezvous point."
	Shockwave spoke then, in even tones. "Analysis:You will be
destroyed in any combat with this intruder. Fact:You are the best
leader for the Decepticon cause at this time. Conclusion:You must
leave to avoid harming the cause."
	"Quite logical, Shockwave, but for one thing. A good leader
does not send warriors to their deaths needlessly, nor does he flee
while others battle for him! I am Megatron the Mighty! I am he who was
christened the Slag Maker by my foes! I will *stay* *and* *fight*!" I
hope that little rant inspires them, Megatron thought. The Decepticon
cause is more important than even my own continued functioning...and
I'm the only one powerful enough to buy my army the time it needs to
escape.
	Megatron shifted into tank form and, mentally, primed the warp
gate to an anti-matter neutron star which only he knew about. He could
feel the power building within him. He knew he would be destroyed, but
he would take thousands to the smelting pit with him when he went!
	As he began to roll for the exit leading to the open air,
dozens of green flashes of light filled the bay. Suddenly, they were
surrounded by the mutated "squishies" he had seen on the
recordings. They were everywhere. As each was fried, blasted,
squashed, shocked, or otherwise dispatched, still more would appear.
	Megatron's main turret spun madly, trying to clear a path. All
the while he was broadcasting silent orders, commanding an orderly
fighting retreat.  However, it was doing little good. After the first
few minutes, the next wave appeared with near immunity to every attack
the Decepticons could throw...and they were on him. A dozen of them
swarmed over his tank form like maggots. Then, he felt one place
something on him, there was a flash of green obscuring his vision, and
his world shattered into a million pieces in front of him.
	In an instant, then, the hall was empty of invaders. The
battered remains of the Decepticon army stood...or occasionally
slumped...there in shock.
	"Decepticons!" Starscream's voice cut through the growing
mumble of panic.  "We still have orders to obey!" Not that I approve,
he thought bitterly, but at least we'll have the pleasure of seeing
the Autobots die alongside us!
	"Follow me to the rendezvous site!"
	High above, in the Borg vessel....
]Assimilate the chosen Incarnation.
]Proceeding....
]It is done.


Chpater 5, Part 3



	"Decepticreeps coming over the horizon, Prime." Ironhide's
voice was tinged with deep loathing.
	"Noted. Blaster?"
	"I'm not gettin' anything but static...wait! Oh, man, if this
is true, we're in *real* deep trouble!"
	"Ah knew it!" Ironhide smashed a nearby tree. "They've
betrayed us!"
	"Calm down, Ironhide. What do you hear, Blaster?"
	"They're all chattin' with each other...nervous. *Starscream*
is leading them and...if I'm gettin' this right...the Enemy has
captured Megatron!"
	Optimus Prime's eyes darkened, becoming hexagons of deep
purple. "That *is* bad news. We could have used Megatron's cunning,
not to mention his raw power. Blast!" Prime walked away from his two
lieutenants and focussed his optics on the swarm of tiny dots becoming
visible on the horizon. Starscream was even less trustworthy than
Megatron, and, without Megatron's iron grip, keeping the Decepticons
disciplined was going to be even more difficult.
	Prime was standing on a thickly wooded hill. Buried beneath
him, he had been told, was a massive base once owned by a band of
renegade humans and later taken over by the Decepticons. They, in
turn, had abandoned shortly after the spacebridge was finally taken
out of commission a few years back.
	He activated his magnification functions. There were the jet
warriors in the lead...he could see some of the larger fliers carrying
others.  Astrotrain, Vortex, Ocatane, and more. This was one of the
largest assemblages of Decepticons he'd seen since they had come to
Earth. Where was Starscream? he thought. Blaster said he had taken
over command...
	Minutes later, the Decepticon armada landed. Trees cracked and
shattered as they transformed to land. Astrontrain landed in his
shuttle mode, clearing a landing pad by brute force. His rear hatch
opened, and Starscream emerged...missing an arm. Optimus Prime
cautiously approached him.
	"I take it you're in charge here now?"
	"Yes, Prime. At long last." There was a bitter taint to the
damaged robot's voice, something different from his usual whine. "Not
as I would have chosen it. Megatron was to be mine to take down!" He
looked down at the charred stump of his arm. "It doesn't matter
now. The truce still holds, Prime...but don't let it go to your
head. If we survive this, I will still someday build my throne from
the wreckage of your body!"
	"When Primus walks." Optimus sneered. "Now, let's get on with
it."
	"Very well. Decepticons -- Disarm and enter the base!"
	"Autobots...accompany them. And keep your grudges to
yourselves."
	The various troops, muttering and clearly ill-at-ease,
followed orders.  The alliance, tenuous as it was, had begun.

***

	"Are you sure"
	"you know where"
	"you're going?"
	Reflector asked from within Cosmos' hull, his triple
consciousness splitting the sentence between his bodies.
	"Certainly. I'm quite comfortable in Earth orbit."
	"That's not what I"
	"heard from"
	"Blast-Off. He says"
	"you get"
	"spacesick."
	"He's a pompous liar. And we have a job to do." Cosmos slowed
to a near stop. His long range sensors detected the enemy ship in a
low lunar orbit. "Do your little spy act." He opened his inner
airlock. Reflectors three bodies leapt out as one, then combined and
shrank into a tiny camera. There was no change for several minutes,
then they split apart again and returned to Cosmos.
	"We can"
	"return"
	"now."

***

	"Curious....this protrusion clearly was not there before. And,
look -- over here -- doesn't that appear Rigellian to you? But
certainly not.  Perhaps an offshoot of the Rigellians?"
	"Will you please try to focus on one task at a time? This
endless waiting is bad enough, but listening to you prattle on..."
	Starscream turned away from Perceptor and tried to calm
down. No point in setting a bad example for the others...this hideous
situation was bad on them all. The Autobots' pet flesh-creature kept
scurrying about and making peeping sounds, as if it was trying to
talk. Oh, wait -- there were two of the little things. Maybe one would
try to kill the other.
	He was interrupted by Perceptor's continuous drone. "...and
this is clearly some sort of mass displacement locus! But nothing in
the original scans is even remotely comparable..."
	"Mass displacement locus?" Starscream suddenly realized what
was occuring.
	"Why, yes. And this is..."
	"No, no, you idiot. Get back to the locus!"
	"Very well." Perecptor keyed the hologram back a
step. "There."
	Starscream studied the image very closely. There was a pattern
of much thicker grooves running around the cube, grooves which were
not there when the ship had been encountered in space. The locus was
positioned right where it should be if...if...
	No. That was too monstrous, too impossible. By Primus, the
craft was nearly five kilometers along an edge! If what he suspected
was true, these creatures were countless millenia ahead of even the
finest Decepticon scientists...and that was fundementally impossible.
Cybetronians were superior to all other life;Decepticons were superior
to all other Cybertronians, and thus were the only ones fit to rule,
for the greater good of all.
	If that credo were false, the whole war would be meaningless.
Therefore, it could not be false.
	"Do you want to say something, Starscream?"
	"No, no. Go about your business, Autobot. I need some
energon." And maybe I'll ask Frenzy for some of that "Enerbeer" he
claims to have invented.

****

	Prime walked in on the silent trio, who were arguing loudly
and furiously.
	"Danger imminent. Prognosis - failure."
	"Quit yappin' and start zappin! We can break their ice!"
	"I'm afraid I concur with Soundwave, brother. They are
powerful...very powerful." Though her physical form was still in
omnisynth mode, her cyberspace incarnation radiated a placid sadness,
a resigned acceptance of defeat.
	"No way, no how! We've beaten worse than this!" In cyberspace,
Blaster looked at this two partners. Chorale was holding back,
hesitant to move again;Soundwave was standing, arms crossed, in
contemptuous anger. The Borg ship still remained an impenetrable wall
of lightning before them.  "Alright, let's jack out and fuel up. We'll
go in again later."
	He became fully conscious of the room around him, and of
Optimus Prime standing at the doorway. He transformed out of his radio
form and gave a quick perfunctory salute. He could hear the other two
shifting behind him.
	"Report." Prime's voice was flat, but Blaster could sense the
growing worry within him.
	"They've got enough ice to sink a fleet of Titanics. And
there's something real spooky about it...it's like the whole
consciousness of the collective -- we got that much, that's what they
call themselves -- is starting to change."
	"Change? Into what?"
	"I don't know, Prime. We were startin' to make some
headway..."
	"An inaccurate description. Progress -- nonexistant."
	Blaster glared at Soundwave, but said nothing.
	Prime nodded, not willing to take sides. "I'm sure all three
of you have done what you can for the moment. I came here to remind
you to take a break and recharge."
	Chorale spoke then. "Are the others...are they making any
progress?"
	Prime frowned. "A lot of them are building weapons systems,
but I think we know that won't do much good. I've got Ratchet and
Afterburner analyzing the scans we have for exploitable
weaknesses. Perceptor and Starscream were working together, but
Starscream seems to have gone off by himself and Perceptor has locked
the lab door." He shook his head. "I know, not good news."
	"Hopeless. I should have stayed on Candarvis. It wouldn't have
mattered."
	Soundwave turned to her, the lifelight in his eyes curiously
muted.  "Never hopeless. Not while consciousness remains."
	She looked back at him. Blaster sensed a communication pulse
between them, but it was encrypted and very brief. Then she
nodded. "You're right, Soundwave. Energon?"
	"Affirmitive."
	The four of them left the room.

***

	Tenth analysis. Eleventh. Twelveth. There must be an error,
Perceptor thought. There must be. Thirteenth. Fourteenth. There?
No. It still works. Fifteenth. Oh, give it up, he thought. I've never
run from the truth before. Must tell Prime, though.
	Perceptor deactivated the privacy seal on the lab. It had
taken only a few seconds to reach the same conclusion that had sent
Starscream off to Primus-knows-where, but he had checked and rechecked
for endless hours, until there was no doubt remaining.
	He began to walk towards the central command room, where
Optimus and Shockwave were conferring. Suddenly, a thought flickered
through his consciousness. He turned and ran back to the lab, calling
out as he did.  "Afterburner! Ratchet! Wheeljack! Hook! Meet me in the
engineering room!  At once!"

***

	With a roar of jet engines and a squall of animalistic fury,
Laserbeak swooped into the base. Soundwave opened the portal to his
interior universe, and Laserbeak transformed and slid in. They bonded,
then, and Soundwave displayed the data.
	The Borg ship was no longer in lunar orbit. It was moving,
relentlessly, towards Earth.
	"ETA: 2 Terran hours." The time of doom, delivered in flat and
emotionless tones, was heard by all.
	There was not time for them to accept that, though, when every
monitor and viewscreen in the complex flared to life, each displaying
a single image.
	It was...Megatron, but distorted and mutated. Alien machinery,
raw and ungainly, sprawled across half his face. One eye had been
replaced by a hideous black carbuncle, like a fleshing wart. Cables
and protrusions of dark metal covered his upper torso. And when he
spoke, his voice was distorted and broken.
	"I am Akarnos of Borg. I speak for the Collective. Do not
resist assimilation. First the Cybertronians, then the Terrans, will
be assimilated into the collective. Resistance is futile. Prepare
yourselves."
	Then the monitors went dark.


Chapter 5, Part 4



For a moment, there was silence. Then, of course, everyone started
talking at once.

"What do we..."
"...but...he's on *our* side..."
"They planned this all along, stinking..."
"Insufficient data for full analysis..."
"Wonder if we can deal with them?"

There was a hideously loud squeal, penetrating all channels of
communication. Then, the monitors and comm screens in the base
flickered back to life. 

Prime and Starscream stood there, side by side. Each waited as the
noise, audio and cybernetic, faded and died. 

"We have two hours, or less, to prepare. Autobots, I expect you to
redouble your efforts."

"As for my loyal Decepticons...." there was a slight murmur, but
nothing came of it, "..do not be deluded into thinking
that....abomination...is our beloved Megatron! They've simply usurped
his image to control and divide us! *I* am your leader now...and we
will stand and fight!"

Blitzwing shouted at the image of Starscream, "Fine words! But what's
the *plan*? What're we actually gonna DO?"

"You'll be informed of *that* when I, your leader, see fit to tell
you!" With an angry gesture, Starscream deactivated the comm
circuits...before the demand for non-existent details began to spread.

Optimus turned to him. Though his face could show no emotion,
Starscream was *certain* there was a mocking grin under that
impenetrable mask. "I don't suppose you'd care to share your brilliant
plan with me, Starscream?"

Starscream smiled himself, then shrugged. "When I've devised one,
Optimus, you'll be the first to know."

A secure comm panel blinked insistently. Optimus activated it, and
Perceptor's image appeared. Behind him were several others, Autobot and
Decepticon alike.

"Optimus, Starscream...I believe I..I mean, WE... have found a possible
solution."

He began to speak, with the other scientists filling in the details,
and, as he did, both Optimus and Starscream began to feel, for the
first time, that this might be survivable. Might be.

***
Later...

Skywarp stood in the entranceway, which had been designed for the rapid
launch of Terran-style jet craft, then modified still further for the
needs of the Decepticons. He fondly remembered many raids from this
place...the screams of shock and surprise when he'd materialize out of
nowhere, the fleshlings scurrying to avoid him, the look on the face of
a squishy pilot as he realized he was seconds away from a midair
collision...ah, those were the days.

And now they expected him to *carry* the little squealing things?
Disgusting. Hm. There they were, along with Rumble and Frenzy. Or was
it Frenzy and Rumble? For some reason, Skywarp couldn't recall which
one was red-hued and which one was blue. He suspected they changed
their outer coloration regularly as part of some complex game.

Skywarp looked down on them. "I can't carry you two in my plane mode!
You won't fit."

Rumble (maybe) looked up at the taller warrior disdainfully. "Blow it
out your central exhaust port." He then folded down to cassette mode,
making an obscene gesture as he transformed. He landed at the feet of
one of the squishies.

Spike bent down to pick up the tiny blue cassette. In this mode, I
could snap him in two, Spike thought...and then, no more Rumble. Very
tempting, considering all the trouble this little monster has caused
me. He sighed, and placed the transformed Decepticon carefully in his
shirt pocket.

Carly glanced at Frenzy. "Your turn."

"You sure there'll be things to kill up there?"

"Quite positive. You'll have more targets than you know what to do
with."

Frenzy sneered, then transformed as well. Carly snatched the cassette
out of the air, then called to Skywarp. "Alright, you too. Our pal
here" -- she tapped the cassette -- "has the best schematics we've been
able to make of the inside of that ship. We're going to need to tie
those into your teleportation systems."

Skywarp transformed. He opened his canopy, and his voice spoke from
deep inside his nose cone. "Alright, get in and plug in the data. Don't
think I enjoy this."

Spike climbed in the front seat. "Just don't teleport away while we're
inside you in midair!" He paused for a second. "Er...that was a joke."

"I'm laughing on the inside. And if I were you, squishy, I wouldn't go
making suggestions."

Carly followed suit, getting into the other seat. Spike turned to her. 

"You know, they only need *one* human on this mission."

"You're right. You can stay here if you want -- I won't mind."

"That's *not* what I meant."

"Do you realize that we're about to see something no one has ever seen
before, or will again? You think I'm going to miss that?"

"But...the risk..."

"If we fail, we're doomed anyway -- here or there. So, I'm going.
Here." She handed him Frenzy. "Plug him in and let's get moving. T
minus 100 and counting."

"Do you think our forces can hold out for an hour?"

"They'd better."

Skywarp interrupted. "Whenever you're done, let me know. I'm really
enjoying hearing how humans squabble."

"Move on out, then."

With an acceleration designed to be as uncomfortable for the occupants
as possible, Skywarp hurled himself into the sky.

****

"Now, if our understanding is correct, they're going to seek to capture
as many of us intact as they can. That's the key to this plan."

Kup looked over the massive holomap as Onslaught pointed and lectured.
"You know, I faced a problem very similair to this on Jacon. Of course,
we also had to deal with rains of liquid nitrogen. I don't think I ever
got my left motivator fully thawed. So, there we were..."

Onslaught glared at him. "Spare me your remininsces, you antique. I've
fought in as many battles as you, and I've learned one thing...NO
battle is like any other. It's a small wonder so many of your stories
end with 'And I was the only survivor'." Onslaught turned back to the
map. "*MY* troops come back functional."

Outrage twisted Kup's features. His hand clenched, and his mind locked
onto his laser-musket. Ironhide noticed this and moved to act. "Hold
it!" He slammed Kup's hand out of the way. "You oughta know better than
to let this overrated tin can bother you." Ironhide then glanced at
Onslaught, who had been watching the exchange with amusement. "And as
for you...you maght do well to listen to someone who *wasn't* locked in
a box for fahv million years!"

Onslaught drew himself up to his full height. He could easily destroy
both of them, even with the wounds of his last battle still healing.
But...that would be pointless. He did need them both for his plans.
Pride and purpose warred within his circuitry, and purpose won.

"I...apologize. I should not dismiss any advice so readily." A lie, of
course, but a face-saving one. For all concerned.

"OK, then," Kup relaxed, a little. " Now, as I was saying, on Jacon..."

****

"There it is."

Skywarp's voice was surprisingly flat. For ten minutes, it had been
bluster, threat, and brag, delighting in the near-helplessness of the
hated fleshlings within him. Then, there had been a sudden fifteen
seconds of silence, and then that emotionless pronouncement.

"It's...big." said Carly, then winced at the inanity of that statement.
But no words seemed adequate.

"Yeah." Spike finally answered. Finally, he forced a laugh and turned
back to Carly. "Great last words, huh?"

"Yeah." she said, still entranced by the wall of metal looming before
them. Then, she suddenly seemed to realize what she had said, and
doubled over in fear-inspired laughter.

"Hey, don't go crazy on me!" Skywarp shouted. "I ain't gonna die in
there alone!"

"We're...we're OK, Skywarp." Spike said, around barely restrained
gasps. "Let's do it." Adrenaline was surging. Carly was right -- there
was no way he could ever give this life up -- not that there seemed
much choice.

The ship was a latticework filling the sky before them.

Then - the world inverted. 

And there was a one second glimpse of a world of metal and lights and
vast, sprawling spaces, and then the all too familiar sound of tearing
metal -- followed by the sound of living metal screaming in agony.

Then all was still. And very, very, quiet.

"Skywarp?" Spike whispered, though he didn't know why.

"I...still function. But we seem to have...missed...the target spot."

"Can you get us back out?"

"My...teleport functions are on-line. But it will be random."

"We'll make do. Open up."

Metal strained, and Skywarp gave an almost human like grunt of pain --
but the canopy opened. Spike clambered out, and Carly followed. There
was a faint pop, and Frenzy ejected from within Skywarp, rapidly
expanding to his full ten foot height. A second later, Carly tossed
Rumble into the air, and he too transformed.

The two Decepticons were considered puny, even runts, by their fellows
-- but they towered over the two humans. Spike had argued for the use
of Rewind or even Steeljaw, but Starscream had insisted that
Decepticons be used in the mission to find their leader, and Optimus,
struggling to hold the fragile alliance together, relented.

Carly was examining a small scanner. "We've got a definite fix on him,
but he's a long way from here. And we have only ninety minutes. Let's
go."

Silently, the foursome ventured out of the bay into the vastness of the
alien ship.

*****

Ironhide shook his head as he watched Skywarp depart. "Ah don't know
'bout this, Prime. Sending two humans and three Decepticons...."

"I understand your concern, old friend. But the creatures who built
that craft are humanoid, and the humans will be most able to move
around freely in there. As for Rumble and Frenzy...well, you know the
plan."

"Ah know, ah know. Ah still don't lahk it, and Ah don't trust them
Decepticreeps one little bit."

"We have no choice." Internally, Prime received an alert beep. "Prime
here. Go on."

"We're ready to begin the experiment, Prime -- but for some reason,
your loyal followers don't want me to be alone with them!" Starscream's
voice, half mocking and half whining, made Prime's circuits cringe, but
he controlled himself. "I'll be right there, Starscream."

The Constructicons had done their work well. A fifty foot stand of
trees had been cleared, a hyper-concrete base added, and the amplifier
towers were rapidly being assembled. In the center of the clearing, a
small, bickering group of Autobots and Decepticons prepared for their
final stand.

Prime spoke. "Starscream, what is the ETA?"

"As I told you, Autobot, sixty Terran minutes from now. We'll need to
keep this site secure for a half an hour --and I might remind you, all
of our PREVIOUS encounters with the enemy lasted mere minutes at best."
He smiled. "Of course, that was before *I* was involved. With my...I
mean, of course, OUR, leadership, there should be no problem."

Optimus said nothing. Why, he wondered, couldn't Starscream just be
honest? It was obvious the Decepticon was terrified -- no sane being
wouldn't be. But he had to hide it all under bluster and innuendo.
Well, two can play that way.

"Undoubtedly, you'll be leading the assault wave, then?"

"Why...I wish I could! But my scientific skills will be needed HERE." 

"Of course." Prime turned away, and walked over to the three
communications specialists, who were engaging, it appeared, in vigorous
if undetectable debate.

Blaster was the first to speak. "Hey, Prime! We're about ready to begin
-- we'll need to time this just right, so..."

"Don't worry. You won't be interrupted."

"Uh...yeah. It's a pity we can't fully extend the shield, but..."

"Everyone out there understands. The enemy is going to try to close in
on you, but they'll have to do it by force. And we stand ready to stop
them."

"Oh, enough of this chit-chat, Prime!" Starscream called from his
position leaning against a nearby tree. "You'd better get going.
Wouldn't want to miss the action!" He laughed, then, knowing he could
stand there and send the being he hated second-most in the galaxy off
to perish -- or, in the worst case scenario, maimed.

Prime swiveled his head to glower directly at the lounging Decepticon.
"Don't get your hopes up, Starscream. I'll be back." With that, he
transformed into his truck mode and roared off, making sure Starscream
was within millimeters of being clipped by his trailer.

As he rolled off, he summoned a holographic map of the battlefield.
Everyone was in position. With the enemy able to teleport at will,
there needed to be even coverage of all angles. Another thought erased
the map and focused on the approaching cube. It was closer than he
would have thought. Hm...energy reading surging and...

The forest-turned-battleground exploded in a thousand flashes of green
light. Suddenly, they were everywhere. Prime was face to face with a
trio of Borg -- he had not time to slow or swerve, but simply plowed
right through them. The feel of their flesh being crushed, their metal
shrieking, would be with him forever. But no time to think of that now
-- more of them -- and WHAT were they DOING?

Five Borg lined in front of him, apparently ready to be destroyed like
the first few -- but they suddenly leapt together and in a grotesque
parody of a gestalt unit, formed into something like a giant laser
cannon. Prime had an instant to be horrified -- those were *organic*
beings squeezed and contorted into wholly unnatural forms -- they had
to be in agony as their cybernetic parts linked and fused into the
living weapon. Then it fired, and the blast sent Prime careening off
his wheels and spilling into the trees. With a thought, he activated
his transformation circuits and dispatched his bulky trailer unit to
subspace, retrieving his blaster cannon and returning fire. 

Then they swarmed over him.

******

It's an irony, Onslaught thought, that I should die under such a
classic example of my name -- for this is truly an onslaught. They are
*everywhere*. Already, I've lost contact with sectors 12 and 15...even
Devestator is starting to go down. But we must hold on...

"Kup! Report!"

From behind him, Kup's aging voice spoke. "I'm still here, Commander."
Kup spoke the title with respect, not disdain or irony. "But not for
long. This is worse than the Swarming Biobeasts of...oh, never mind.
It's just bad. I...watch it!"

Kup's optics caught a new flare of green, as the second wave of attack
began. The horde was moving right for Onslaught, but Kup leapt into it,
laser-musket firing wildly. He held them long enough for Onslaught to
shift to missile-truck and fire a continuous volley. Bits of flesh and
metal scattered, and Kup's body collapsed, shattered, in the middle of
the wreckage.

He knew I would do that, Onslaught thought, and he acted anyway. 

Onslaught gave a brief salute to the smashed body. Kup was a good
soldier. And who knows? He might be tough enough to survive the wounds.

He then scanned the surrounding area. Enemy everywhere. Accelerating
into the thick of the foe, he issued orders: "Fall back to secondary
positions! Protect the shielded zone at all costs!"

Twenty Terran minutes....and counting.

Then his sensors were overwhelmed with a flood of chatter --
astonishment, fear, rage...he diverted his optic scanners upwards, and
saw it.

The cube, floating a kilometer or so overhead, so massive as to possess
it's own microgravity, was starting to change.

The deep canyons in its' surface, which had not been there when he
encountered it in space, began to expand, and energy crackled and
roared in the gaps. The upper third of the cube lifted and more gashes
appeared. It began to spread. Subspace distortions rippled the air as
mass was shifted back and forth.

The lower two thirds, then, twisted, forming a vertical slab of
latticework metal. Then it, too, began to expand downwards as more
rifts developed, shifting one impossibly large component after another
into a new position.

Feet the size of Terran aircraft carriers, or so it seemed, crashed
into the forest.

Hands that seemed capable of crushing Devestator like a tiny doll
blotted out the sun.

And, far, far above, half as high as the tallest mountain on this
world, Onslaught could see the shape of a head, and eyes glowing with
the fire of a sun glaring forth.

And then it spoke. It was Megatron's voice, and it wasn't, and it was.

RESISTANCE
IS
FUTILE

And Onslaught knew it was right.


Conclusion


"What the hell is happening?" Spike screamed as the floor fell away
under him. He grabbed for a metal rod that was extending outwards from
the wall and clung to it in desperation as a gaping pit appeared below.


"Exactly what we expected. Incredible!" Carly was alternating between
studying her handheld monitoring device and staring in awe at the scene
surrounding her. Walls of metal, skyscraper sized or greater, were
moving, shifting, expanding...and far above, she could *see* a subspace
portal opening and absorbing a gargantuan slab of latticework metal as,
far below, another portal disgorged a series of glistening cables that
seemed to spin themselves into the surrounding structure.
"It's...beautiful!"

"Yeah! This is totally awesome!" Rumble added, momentarily ignoring the
fact he was agreeing with a hated fleshling.

"Heh! Gonna be real cool to see it EXPLODE!" Frenzy sneered. "In fact,
I think it's time for a little rock-and-ROOOLLL!!!" He shifted his arms
to powerful jackhammers and, in orgy of sheer violence, began pounding
on the nearest wall. The vibrations resonated through the immense inner
chambers.

"Damn it, Frenzy, not YET!" Spike tried to shout over the din and
maintain his balance. "It's your blasted leader we're supposed to be
rescuing here!"

Rumble leaped onto Frenzy, disorienting him. They rolled around on the
shifting surface, cursing and smashing. Between the fighting and the
spitting static of their accelerated conversation, it looked like a
mechanical version of a catfight.

Finally, after two minutes of violence while the humans looked on
helplessly, it stopped. Frenzy withdrew. Rumble spoke, "Alright, little
brother? Had enough? Or do you want some more?"

Frenzy sneered, then drew back for a leap, "Hey! You're MY little
brother!"

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah!"

They were distracted from resuming their fight by a streak of golden
metal appearing in front of them. The Autobot, Steeljaw, stood between
them, growling.

They turned, stunned, to see the human female standing with her arms
crossed, grinning smugly. "You overgrown eight-tracks didn't think I
was going to let your short tempers and dim wits blow this mission, did
you?"

Rumble was the first to speak. "But...Optimus Prime ordered you..."

Carly shrugged. "Orders are meant to be broken, blue boy. Now, let's
get moving. Oh, yeah -- send that damn signal to the team below. " She
rambled off a cryptic list of numbers and letters. "Got it? Good."

Their fury momentarily calmed, they moved on. The five proceeded into
the altered ship, following a trail only Carly could detect. The humans
in front, the Decepticons in the middle, and the newly transformed
Autobot bringing up the rear. Time passed.

Spike whispered to Carly. "Er...next time you change one of Optimus'
plans -- TELL ME???"

"Sorry, Spike -- but you would have told him. You're a bit too honest
for your own good, sometimes." She smiled warmly at him, as if this was
a trait she admired while being glad she did not possess it. Then she
went businesslike again. "OK, time for you two to do what's best --
through that portal." I just hope THEY didn't change the plans on us --
we're all expendable now.

The two Decepticons needed no encouragement. With a whoop of joy, they
leapt to the portal, tearing it to shreds in seconds. Behind it, a
horde of Borg stood to face them...and beyond the Borg, the altered
body of Megatron, plugged into the ship itself. His eyes glowed dimly,
the lifelight still active, but his body was slumped and immobile.

"Party time!" someone shouted -- and Spike couldn't tell if it was one
of the two Decepticon warriors or Carly. He glanced at her. She was
holding her arms as if she was cradling an imaginary hand cannon -- and
then, with a familiar flicker, she *was*. Shot after shot exploded
outwards. Spike just moved forward, on instinct -- there was going to
be a LOT to discuss if they survived this.

Rumble was in his glory. Hordes of beings *smaller* than he was, all
rushing forward to die! They crunched like Autobots and splattered like
fleshlings -- two for the price of one!

But they kept getting harder and harder to kill. Each one seemed more
capable of avoiding his blows and, in the back of his mind, his battle
computer predicted destruction in fourteen-point-six seconds.

He turned off the battle computer with a mental flick and kept on
hitting.

*****

"Time is critical. Window is closing. We have the frequency."

"You think I don't know that? We got to give the guys  a chance!"

"We will act in sixty  Terran seconds."

"Soundwave, how can you be so cold? Those are your children up there --
AND your leader!"

Blaster's outburst was interrupted. "He knows that, Brother. And yet,
he does his duty without delay or excuse."

"Sounds almost like you admire that, sis!"

"I do."

For once, Blaster had nothing to say. Chorale had always
been...intense, even obsessive -- but always mixed with a glorious
passion for life and joy. Now, it seemed as if the loss of the
Candarvis colony, so suddenly, had driven her deeper into herself. The
joy had been burned away, leaving only the intensity.

"Yeah, alright. Sixty seconds."

"Fifty five."

*****

Onslaught was standing with his Combaticons. They could not combine due
to their still-healing wounds, but it wouldn't matter. Devestator,
Defensor, Menasor, Superion -- all had fallen. The forest around them
was in flames. The tally of the dysfunctional kept rising, and if the
fight didn't end soon, they would begin to die. For fourteen minutes
they'd assaulted the giant with everything they had, using every weapon
developed in four million years of war -- and each small victory simply
resulted in it getting stronger and stronger. It *moved* like Megatron,
even, but a Megatron devoid of passion or pride -- just raw,
unrelenting, *purpose*.

It noticed them. A fist the size of a small asteroid drew back....

*****

"Ten Seconds."

*****

Spike slammed a tiny black disc onto the shoulder of the immobile
Megatron. Their gamble had paid off.

The collective consciousness of the Borg had become tainted by their
chosen spokesman. Megatron's inherent contempt for humans and disdain
for those he considered weak had altered the way the Collective would
respond. Two humans and the two smallest, weakest, Decepticons were
simply ignored as irrelevant until it was too late. Even in the final
fight, the Borg had gone after Rumble and Frenzy -- leaving the humans
free to act.

Spike screamed. "Skywarp! Now!" Oh, please --- just this once -- let
Afterburner be right!

For a single second, nothing happened. Then, Megatron, the Borg, the
ship, Rumble, Frenzy -- all vanished in a flare of light. Then there
was a flash of green and brown, and the feeling of something very hard
smashing into his back with considerable velocity. Then blackness.

*****

"Five seconds."

"Wait! They're out! Do it now!"

"Complying."

In a small clearing in the burning forest, surrounded by a glowing dome
that had resisted all attempts to breach it by the enemy, Blaster
stood, in robot mode, hands resting on the multi-leveled keyboard of
his sister's Omnisynth form. Resting on that mode, connected into it,
was what would look to any observer as nothing more than small Walkman.

Blaster's fingers touched the keys in rapid succession, playing a
complex melody which resonated not in three dimensions, but in *many*
-- and its' purpose was not beauty, but destruction. The sounds
generated filled the air with eerie harmonics, but they also passed
into Soundwave's form, where they were filtered, focused, amplified,
condensed....and, finally, a nanosecond later, emitted as a field of
four-dimensional vibration reaching not only through the air, but into
subspace, as well. It was a sound that was carefully and precisely
tuned to the single thing they knew the Borg could not have
decentralized when they assimilated Cybertronian transformer technology
-- the transforming cog, the multidimensional crystalline lattice that
served at the control for the matterflow between realspace and
subspace. Each Transformers' was unique, a key to a private universe --
and this song was aimed solely at the one in the heart of the Borg
giant above them...through a key provided by the team that was *inside*
when the ship transformed, the only way to possibly obtain it.

******

So this is doom, thought Onslaught. The rush of water-soaked air being
pushed forward by a wall of living metal.

Then, doom stopped.

Onslaught looked up.

The being was staggering, beginning to transform -- but it was a
hideous, lurching dance as random components of its' body began to
shift and fold. Screams of agony erupted from across the battlefield as
the myriad Borg soldiers, part of a single collective mind, were caught
up in the firestorm of conflicting orders as the carefully orchestrated
components of the transforming ship warred with each other for
dominance. The left arm tried to transform itself back into a wall of
the cube, while, somehow, the creature as a whole was trying to unfold
wings. Energy, both crackling lightning and an odd, amorphous sort of
plasma field, played across the surface of the convulsing giant. 

It doubled over, tried to fold into itself, and...

...vanished.

Silently.

Swindle, standing with Onslaught and his fellow Combaticons, had made a
concerted study of human culture, in order to better..ah..swindle them.
Out of thousands of hours of human entertainment, one phrase bubbled,
insanely, to the forefront of his mind.

Where was the kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering
kaboom!

But the only sounds his audio sensors could pick up were the crackle of
wood burning and the breeze whipping through the trees. And the screams
of the maimed and dying.


Epilogue



	Blaster, Chorale, and Soundwave, all in robotic mode, stood
inside the dome. Starscream stood with them. It had been his continual
manipulation of the fields frequency and harmonics that had kept the
invaders out. He was making quite sure no one would forget that fact,
too.
	"Hm. In the abscence of Prime or anyone else, I declare
*myself* new leader of the Alliance. My first order is to..."
	Blaster grabbed Starscream by the right arm and hauled him
forward. "Drop the jabber -- AND the screen. We've got to scout for
survivors."
	"Concurred." Soundwave's monotone still managed to speak
volumes, since he was also concurring with Blaster's defiance of
Starscream -- a fact not lost on the Decepticon would-be leader.
	"Very well, have it your way." Starscream sneered, then
casually flicked a switch. The was a subtle shift in the air pressure
as the field dropped.
	"Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, eject. Operation: Observation."
	A mechanical click, and the two avian Transformers ejected
from their pocket universe and soared skyward.
	Blaster slowly looked around, taking in the
surroundings. Locked in concert with the other two for the whole of
the battle, he had only a vague idea what was going on -- but now he
could easily see the devestation that had taken place. What little of
the forest that wasn't trampled -- was burning. He knew that the
invasion team had cleared the Borg ship, but if they landed in this
hell, they were as good as dead anyway.
	Including Steeljaw. He hadn't told Prime, of course...but if
Prime lived, there'd be the smelting pit to pay. Prime certainly
wasn't as violently megalomaniacal as Megatron, but he insisted on
some semblance of order -- and he trusted Blaster almost more than
anyone else but Ironhide.
	And I'll never know if it did any good, he thought glumly.
	He mentally scanned through his immense library of music and
finally settled on a selection of medevial dirges. It suited his mood.
	High above, Laserbeak surveyed the carnage, rapdily flickering
through a range of different filters and optics. The data coming back
was, to say the least, surprising -- despite the tremendous damage
done and the general destruction of the area, every inactive
Cybertronian scanned still showed positive consciousness signatures,
though in most cases they were in lockout mode.
	Why? Well, Soundwave or one of the others can judge that. It's
still nice seeing so many shattered and mangled Autobots and...

[Motion Detected]
[Active Cybertronian Lifeform Vector 7.9 Alpha 6]

	Laserbeak fired a manuevering thruster, altered the flow
across his airfoils, and swooped down.

[Identity confirmed] 
[IFF signal verified]

	With a squawk of mechanical delight, Laserbeak glided low,
right in front of a staggering Frenzy.
	Frenzy's optics and identification circuitry were still mostly
off line.  Visual acuity was down to 12%, and the normally automatic
process of identifying a figure as an ally or an enemy was running
rather slowly. And Frenzy's last coherent memory was of smashing a
seemingly endless horde of pseudo-fleshlings. So he can be forgiven
for lashing out blindly and knocking Laserbeak into the burning stump
of a tree.
	Then, finally, he got a postive ident. He smiled drunkenly,
powered down the few weapons systems he had remaining, and sprawled
forward into the dirt.

***

	A medley of Terran death-ritual music provided Blaster with
accompaniment as he wandered through the burning charnel yard. Bodies
were everywhere.  The vast majority were the Borg, either dead or
staring insanely, helplessly, as they desperately tried to contact a
collective mind that had simply winked out of existence. But there
were also the fallen of his own kind. Blaster knelt by one, a
Decepticon jet warrior -- Thundercracker, he guessed, though the
coloration and insignia were seared off.
	Blaster stepped back in surprise. Though his consciousness was
clearly off-line, Thundercracker's eyes still flickered, dimly, with
life.  Curious, he ran to the next corpse...Bumblebee. One arm was a
shattered mass of torn steel and half his faceplate had been atomized,
but again -- life remained.
	Two doesn't make a pattern, Blaster hurriedly reminded
himself, but even so...
	He walked more quickly, now. He checked body after body. Each
seemed to be on the edge of funtionality. It was as if the enemy knew
just how much force to apply to render a foe inoperative, but
repairable. Cybetronian survival reflexes were designed to preserve
the memory core as long as possible...if a body was damaged below a
certain point, all functions would be automatically shut down and all
energy remaining was reserved to keep that core alive.
	With a thought, he killed the dirge, and switched to some
Beatles. Hope remained.

***

	This is hopeless, thought Spike. He lay crumbled at the base
of a smoldering tree. Each breath sent sharp pains through his chest,
and he could taste blood in his mouth. One eye seemed to be swollen
shut, and the only thing he could see through the other one was smoke,
which stung to the point where he shut it again. He tried to cry out,
but couldn't draw enough breath without the pain causing his slim grip
on consciousnes to fade.
	Broken ribs, he thought. And at least one leg. Probably a
concussion, too.  Combined with internal bleeding. At the least, he
thought, I expected to die *quickly* -- an incinerating blast from
Megatron, flattened by Menasor, or something like that. Not like this.
	Flickering memories of the last few minutes raced through his
brain. He had reached the transformed Megatron and planted the "Remote
Field Enveloper" that Wheeljack and Afterburner had devised, based on
Perceptor's study of Borg teleporter technology and Skywarps unique
abilities. Then he'd signalled Skywarp, and he had activated his
teleportation circuits, pulling them all from the Borg craft...then he
was falling, and then he was here.
	He coughed again, and felt blood run down his chin. He
attempted to pull himself forward a few feet, but the pain overwhelmed
him. Then darkness closed in once more.

***

	Idiots!
	Starscream fumed as he smashed through the woods. Look for
survivors, indeed! As if there was any point to...
	Sprawled on his back, a spear of rock through his abdomen, was
Megatron.  He was covered with encrustations of Borg technology, as if
his internal circuits had become diseased and had festered out through
his skin. His outer coloration was badly charred and pitted, and his
fusion cannon was twisted to uselessness.
	Starscream moved cautiously closer. Check the eyes, he
thought...the eyes...
	One was covered with a strange optic enhancer, or something
similair, the other was lit, very dimly, from deep within, and a
flicker of red could still be detected.
	By the smelting pit! Starscream swore silently. He still
functions!
	For the moment.
	With a thought, Starscream summoned his scattergun from
subspace. One small explosive shell, oh mighty Megatron, and you'll
finally be finished -- and having proven my abilities as leader, I'll
have the *loyalty* I could never get before.
	His finger tightened on the trigger. Starscream was savoring
this moment, the culmination of eons of waiting, the chance to correct
a mistake he had made five million years before -- and that was his
undoing.
	With a growl that could terrify even the staunchest
Transformer, Ravage propelled himself out of surrounding woods,
knocking Starscream's gun out of his hands. Then he landed, turned,
and prepared to leap for the traitor's throat.
	"No....wait!" Starscream pleaded. "You misunderstand...it's
not as it seemed...I would NEVER harm Megatron!"
	Ravage paused for a second.
	"It's only...we don't know if he was still under their control
or not...I was *covering* him until I could be sure he was fully
recovered!"
	Ravage pawed the ground, growling low. Starscream's duplicity
was legendary...but what he said made sense...and there were so few
fuctional Decepticons remaining...
	Slowly, very slowly, Ravage backed down. Then he went over to
Megatron's immobile form, and gently nudged it with his head. He
batted gently at one arm with his forepaws, then sat back and
whimpered sadly.

*****

	It was Optimus he found next.
	One cyrstalsteel chestplate was shattered, and the damage to
his leg was severe -- transformation was out of the question. Blaster
knelt down beside his fallen leader. He was no Ratchet, but there were
some basic repairs anyone knew how to make. If he could just get
Optimus *conscious* again...
	He patched some fractured lubricant tubes, and reconnected the
shattered primary power conduit. Optimus' eyes flickered for second,
then glowed a steady, if unhealthily faint, blue.
	"B...Blaster?"
	"Yes! Optimus, you're functional!"
	"Did we..."
	"We kicked Borg tail, Op!"
	Optimus couldn't smile, of course, but his eyes brightened
momentarily.  "Survivors..."
	"Better than we'd ever have hoped. Wounded and maimed as far
as the optics can detect, but no terminals...yet."
	"The humans?"
	Blaster was silent.
	"Blaster...."
	"I...haven't seen either of them, Op, or even the Decepticons
who were up there with them. They got out, but..."
	"Help me up."
	With some difficulty, Optimus regained his footing. He took a
few cautious steps, then fell forward, grabbing a tree for
balance. Then he snapped a century old oak in two and created a
makeshift walking stick.
	"Let's go."
	"Wait a minute...gettin' something....it's Chorale!"
	"Put it on full audio."
	"This is Chorale. I've intercepted some transmissions aimed at
Soundwave.  They've found two of their own...Frenzy and...Megatron."
There was a pause. "Megatron sill functions."
	"Location, sis?"
	"Vector 7F from Alpha Quadrant."
	"Gotcha. Locked and ready!"
	Blaster turned to Optimus. "Can you make it?"
	"Lead on, old friend. I'm not done with this war yet."

*****

	"We're....still functional." Brawl just kept repeating that,
as if to fix the statement into reality.
	"You've said that before...idiot." Blast-off was struggling to
transform, but even the beginning of the process paralyzed him with
pain. The wounds were still too severe.
	Swindle made a motion of dusting himself off. "Well, the
battle's over, we're alive, and everyone else is probably scrap
metal. So, guys, it was a fun couple of millenia, but, hey, it's all
gotta end sometime. I'll survive, don't worry about me..." Swindle
started to walk away.
	"Swindle, if you take one more step, you *will* be scrap
metal, and I doubt Megatron will be angered in the slightest."
	Swindle spun around to stare at Onslaught. "Look, boss -- it's
OVER! The damn war is finally over. Megatron's dead. Optimus is
dead. We just go to the spacebridge, go home, and get back to our
lives already!"
	"Megatron lives." Onslaught paused for a second. "And so does
Optimus."
	Swindle said nothing for a few seconds. Then:"Oh. Well, why
didn't you SAY so? All that stuff about leaving...I just *kidding*!
You know me, always joking, always..."
	"Be quiet. I am planning our next move."
	Swindle looked from one Combaticon to the other, and saw not
the slightest hint of sympathy. They couldn't possibly be holding a
grudge over that little incident a few years ago? That was just
business. Still...
	Swindle shrugged mechanically, sat down, and awaited further
orders.

*****

	"Whoa! Strong life readings up ahead, Op!"
	Blaster and the still-limping Optimus knocked through some
barely standing trees, to come face-to-face with the five
Combaticons. Onslaught stepped forward as his four teammates spread
out behind him, in standard battle formation. The massive warrior
studied the crippled Autobot leader.
	"I could take you easily, Prime."
	Optimus sneered. "Go ahead and try."
	For a second, it appeared as if the Decepticon strategist
would, indeed, try. Then he relaxed and grinned broadly, if
coldly. "No, Prime. I'll defeat you in honest battle, when you are at
your peak -- so you can go to meet Primus knowing that at your best,
you could not defeat me. Now then -- let's round up those who are
still capable of movement and take our forces home."
	Prime simply nodded.

*****

	Dr. Arnold Brenkwitz had just transferred to Andersville a
mere month ago.  In that brief time, he had seen an two air raids, a
meteor impact (or something like one, at any rate) and a duel between
two gargantuan machines. He'd also treated human workers from the
nearby New Cybertron for such industrial accidents as plasma burns,
bone fractures caused by hypersonic rays, and exposure to something
called "glass gas". And now...an ambulance had just smashed THROUGH
the front doors of the small hospital's lobby.
	I should have been a plastic surgeon, he thought.
	The ambulance spoke.
	"Doctor....there are two humans in my bay. They are both in
critical condition and need immediate repairs. One of them is
constructing."
	Brenkwitz blinked. Constructing?
	Ratchet fumed. Any systems deemed nonvital were shut down, and
that included the idiom-mapping portion of his speech software. He
couldn't even transform, but was frozen in his ambulance mode. It
didn't matter.  This couldn't wait.
	"Just DO IT, Doctor...or don't human doctors PERFORM emergency
reconstruction?"
	"Uh...no. I mean yes! I mean...open your damn doors, if you
want me to heal your patients."
	Ratchet complied.
	Brenkwitz looked in. The ambulance looked totally normal from
the outside, but the inner bay was lined with very odd equipment. And,
indeed, there was a man and a woman, both in obvious need of
attention, lying inside.
	Brenkwitz poked his head back out. "Nurse! Get Moldower and
Jensen off that golf course and back in here, and prep room six!
Hurry!"

******

	The battlefield.
	Onslaught, giving orders.
	Flashes of green, and enemy troops everywhere.
	A soldiers duty -- defend his commander.
	Ramming into half-mechanoid, half-fleshling bodies.
	A flare of light, the brief shriek of missiles.
	Darkness.
	Light.
	Consciousness.
	"Hey, old-timer! You still with us?"
	Optics? Blast it, where are my optics? Rewired...ah..there
they are. [Activate] Ironhide?  "Ironhide?"
	"Yeah. Ahm glad you could make it. Ahd hate to be the oldest
one still functioning."
	"We won."
	"Yup."
	"The rest? Prime?"
	"Prahms' still alive and kicking. Ah don't think anything
could knock him out fer good."
	"Tell me...everything."
	Ironhide obliged. He had stayed functional right up almost
until the very end, and had been finally overwhelmed trying to provide
ground support for Ramjet and Dirge. When Ironhide finished his tale,
Kup shook his head sadly.
	"A giant, five-mile tall robot? And I *missed* it? I'll NEVER
get a chance to see anything like that again."
	Ironhide laughed. "Ahd rather be dead than see anything lahk
THAT again!"

*****

	His troops, assembled and ready.
	Alert! Attack! Enemy!
	Smashing through them, scattering them, fusion cannon firing
madly...  A flare...green light everywhere.  The world shattered, then
reformed.  Machines...probing..disassembling...remaking...
Battle...killing my own people...all I know, all my skill, being used
without my consent...  Now where?  PAIN!!!!
	Megatron screamed.
	"Ah...very good. You *felt* that."
	Trauma, his own body still badly damaged, leaned over
Megatron's newly-restored face. "I've succesfully removed the implants
from you, Commander, but I was worried that there might be...residual
effects.  I...gahhhhkkk!"
	Megatron's one hand was tightening on Trauma's throat. While
Cybertronians did not breathe, there were still vital power conduits
and structural mechanisms in the throat region. "If you have any
further tests, Doctor, either you disconnect my pain sensors, or *I*
shall disconnect your central processing unit!" With more effort than
he would ever admit, Megatron flung the Decpeticon surgeon away and
stood upright. Around him, in grim disarray, were dozens of broken
bodies. Some moved slightly, one or two were still upright. All were
burned, scarred, pitted.
	"You have a lot of work ahead of you, Doctor. I suggest you
begin it. Send each survivor to me for debriefing as soon as they are
capable of it."
	"Y..Yes, Mighty Megatron."
	Trauma watched him leave, then shook his head. Barely
functional, living on tertiary power and triply-patched backup
circuits, and he still takes immediate command. And that idiot
Starscream thinks he can do the job?  Hah!
	No one but Megatron will *ever* lead the Decepticons again.
	Now....who here has the most...interesting...wounds?

*****

	"We're not doing so well, Prahm."
	"I know that, Ironhide. Repairs are taking longer than we'd
hoped, and the Decepticons had more survivors in better
condition. Suggestions?"
	"Ahve established contact with some rebel cells on
Cybertron. Most of the planet is still Decepticreep territory, but Kup
knew some people who knew some people and..."
	"Go on."
	"We've found one of your proteges. Remember Magnum?"
	Prime scanned through eons-old data files, long
unaccessed. "Yes...I think so."
	"He's callin' himself 'Ultra Magnus' now, rebuilt himself to
look a lot lahk you, in fact...and he's got a whole team of operatives
under his command. Kup worked with them, he'll vouch for 'em. There's
a triple-changer named Springer, someone named Arcee, and a punk kid
callin' himself..."
	"I don't need the dossier right now. If you can bring them to
Earth, then do it."
	"You got it, Prahm."

*****

	"Perceptor?"
	"Hm? Ah...yes, Carly? What can I do for you?"
	"I just haven't seen you since Ratchet pronounced you fit to
go back to work. What have you been doing?"
	"Oh...I..well..."
	Carly jumped up onto the transformer-scaled computer console,
and winced slightly. Some the wounds were still healing. She peered
down at the screen, having learned to read Cybertronian technoglyphs
years before.  "That looks like an analysis of the human/cybernetic
fusion technology the Borg used." She smiled conspiratorially. "Didn't
Prime say that data was too dangerous to be used?"
	"Well...he did...but you see...he is sometimes TOO
cautious...I mean...knowledge can't just be thrown away, it must be
preserved and..."
	"Don't worry, Pereceptor. I agree. But you can't keep that
data in these systems for long. Even you can't hide it from Blaster,
and Blaster won't truck with anyone disobeying Prime."
	"I am cognizant of this. I am preparing a single encoded,
compressed transmission to an ally of mine on Cybertron, a fellow
scientist called...ah...Chromedome would be the human translation of
his chosen name. He has long had an interest in such fusions...the
possibilities are fascinating. There are certain..."
	Carly hopped down. "Well, don't get too distracted. We need to
get back to work on our main project."
	Perceptor nodded. "It's really not all that important, I
suppose. I doubt there's any practical application for this
technology, anyway."

*****

Subspace.
	One of uncounted billions of 'pocket universes' which coexist
with our own.
	In an instant, this universe was filled with ten trillion
pieces of exploding Borg. But this particular universe was already
occupied, and the matter it could hold was fixed. As the Borg ship
warped in, the previous occupant was forced out.
	FREE!!!!!!
	AFTER UNCOUNTED AEONS, I AM FREE!
	HUNGER. I HUNGER.
	THERE.
	FOOD.
	Slowly, very slowly, the planet-sized sphere began to drift
towards the nearest sun...

THE END.

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