Mistaken Identities

by Robert Jung (rjung@netcom.com)

Author's Notes: Okay, folks. After reading some of the neat
Transformers fan fiction here, I decided to give my hand at writing
something. After bopping around a bit, I ended up with this. If you
want to pass it around, or stick it in an FTP site, or whatever, go
for it.

I think it fits pretty well in continuity. I'm pretty sure it fits
easily in the second season of the TV series, and making it fit in the
first-generation comic shouldn't be too hard. I haven't tried to make
it fit into anyone else's fan fiction, so don't get too critical in
that regard.

I don't want to say too much about the story itself; there are a few
surprises in it, and the more I say the worse it gets.

I hope you find it enjoyable, and comments are DEFINITELY welcome.


Prelude


In cosmic scales, the planet Cybertron is a wholly insignificant sphere.
Barely visible against the darkness of space, it is quickly eclipsed by the
spectacle of the stars.  Its own star, if it had one, has long been forgotten,
for the planet hurls through space as an orphan.  On rare occasions it passes
through a solar system, leaving chaos in its wake as it disrupts and shatters
moons and planets.  Most often, though, it travels harmlessly, content in its
seeming insignificance.

Only when the planet is seen from close up that its uniqueness becomes clear,
for Cybertron is a planet entirely made of metal.  Though there are no oceans,
no vegetation, no signs of organic life, Cybertron lives.  From the towering
spires reaching up from its surface, through the numerous subterranean layers,
down indeed to the core itself, the planet resonates with life, in an unending
variety of forms and colors.  For Cybertron is the home of the Transformers --
an ancient race of robots, each able to change his shape into different forms.

The Transformers are at war.  Some call themselves Decepticons, and seek a
life of conquest and expansion, first with Cybertron itself, then with the
rest of the universe.  Others call themselves Autobots, and devote themselves
to stopping the Decepticon plans.  The few who are unallied with either group
often find themselves trapped between the conflicts of the two.  Most do not
remain neutral for long, by choice or by fate.


                                    * * *

Sideswipe nudged the dial on the camera slightly, then smiled to himself.
"Perfect," he said, "I've got the Decepticons dead to sights."

"Chill, man," Jazz cut in, placing a warning hand on Sideswipe's shoulder.
"This is surveillance, remember?"

"I know, I know," came the muttered reply.  "I just hate to sit here and play
spybot when I could be bending fenders instead."

Jazz suppressed a sigh.  He shared similar feelings, but Prime's orders made
sense.  "The two of us, against the Constructicons?  Even with Cosmos on
standby that's not a fight I want to be in.  Stop being silly and keep
shooting pictures, okay?"  Without waiting for a reply, he returned to the
readouts on the recorder.

Sideswipe also resumed his task, carefully aiming the camera at everything
below. Their equipment captured much more than just sights and sounds, but its
narrow focus required an operator to point it in the right direction.  The two
Transformers were working in a large crater near Cybertron's southern pole,
huddled on a small ledge halfway up one side of the wall.  They remained
undetected, nearly invisible in the shadows while the glaring blue-white light
of a nearby sun lanced overhead.

Several hundred meters away, in the bottom of the bowl, six lime-green
humanoid robots were busy assembling a towering metal framework of some kind.
They were the Constructicons, among the best engineers and architects in the
Decepticon army, and so named because their vehicle forms were modelled after
Earth construction vehicles.  Nearby stood the blue form of Soundwave, silent
and immobile, who watched their activities with his usual distanced interest.

                                    * * *

The metal pole slammed into the parched ground of Ariza with a loud thud.
Wiping his brow with the back of his hand, Tor wheezed, "That's the last one,
Rob.  Isn't it?"

Rob glanced up from his handheld computer.  "Yes it is, Tor.  I still need
some time to go over these calculations, though."

Tor looked up at the completed structure, and a glint of sunlight off one of
the rods made him wince.  To him, it was just six steel shafts in a circle,
wired to a small black box, but he knew better than to try and understand one
of Rob's inventions.  "Well, the sooner we get started, the sooner we can go
home.  Being out in the middle of nowhere is not my idea of a good time."

Rob smiled slightly.  "Why don't you join the others?"

"Forget it!  Bo's still mad at me after last night.  At least here I can get
some rest."

Rob shrugged and returned to his work.  Tor began to look for a nice flat area
to work on his tan.

                                    * * *

Scrapper realized that he was crankier than usual, but he didn't care.  He
hated this assignment; on the rare occassions when Cybertron passed close
enough to a suitable star, the Constructicons dropped whatever they were doing
and set up a receiver to capture the gamma and X rays emitted.  He questioned
the value of such efforts, certain that the waste of time and energy involved
wasn't worth the Energon retrieved.  He couldn't even get the task delegated
to other Decepticons, as Hook's overblown ego refused to consider such a
possibility.  And with Soundwave nearby, he had to watch his words -- anything
he said can and will be used against him.  Berating the other Constructicons
became the only way to vent his anger.

"Mixmaster!  Aren't you finished yet?"

"Of course, of course!", came the maniacal reply, almost a laugh.  "I'm just
refining the--"

"We're wasting enough time!  If it's ready, apply it!"

Without a word, Mixmaster doubled over and transformed into a cement truck,
his vehicle mode.  A copper-colored liquid began to flow from the rear nozzle,
which he directed to the parabolic dish on top of the structure.  Everything
touched by the spray instantly gleamed a dull brown, and Mixmaster adjusted
his position and his nozzle to quickly coat the entire surface.

Scrapper watched in silence, his faceplate an unreadable mask for the
frustration he felt.  He turned to see Long Haul and Bonecrusher as they
attached the power conduits from the dish to a nearby generator, which Hook
was adjusting for the fifth time this cycle.  Scavenger appeared to be working
on the motor at the base of the tower, but Scrapper suspected that he was just
avoiding work.  Still, there wasn't much else for him to do on this
assignment, so Scrapper ignored it.

                                    * * *

Rob looked around.  "Are we all set?"

There were quiet nods all around.  The seven were standing in the center of
the ring of pillars, along with the aircar.  Six pairs of eyes watched the
young man eagerly.  The sky was almost dark now; the setting sun covered the
flat plains in a dusty orange.

"All right."  Rob paused for dramatic effect, then shouted, "Here goes!"

He closed the contact.  There was a brief flash, as each of the metal poles
flared for an instant, then stopped.  It ended in a blink.

Tor broke the silence.  "Did it work?"

Rob checked his wristband for a second, then responded.  "It worked fine.
We're now in a new universe."

Boo looked around, a puzzled expression on her face.  "I don't see anything
different."

"Well, Boo, the reason we came to this planet in the first place is because it
has the same location and the same orbit in both universes.  But almost
everything else is different."

Ono pointed.  "Look!"  All turned at once at her discovery.  There was a new
planet in the solar system, one that was not in their reality, and proof that
the experiment succeeded.  "Way to go, Rob," Tor said, lightly patting his
shoulder in affection.

"Can we take a closer look?"

"Can't see why not," Rob replied, then added, "It'll be fun."

                                    * * *

Sideswipe watched through the camera as the parabolic dish slowly began to
rotate.  He turned to Jazz and said, "I think they're about to start."  Jazz
nodded once in reply, then flicked several switches on the recorder.

                                    * * *

Scrapper braced himself, then walked up to Soundwave.  Keeping his voice in
check, he said, "We're ready for you now."

The blue robot spoke in his monotonic voice, "Yes.  It is time to produce
Energon cubes."  He followed Scrapper towards the tower, which was finally
finishing its rotation towards the sun.  Once they reached the base, Soundwave
turned so that it was behind him, whereupon a small panel in his back opened
up, revealing an access hatch.  Scavenger and Bonecrusher quickly attached a
thick cable to it, while Hook began pressing buttons on the generator's
control panel.

Scrapper grudgingly allowed himself to enjoy the proceedings.  Normally,
Soundwave would produce empty Energon shells, and the X rays and gamma rays
from the receptor would be channelled into them.  They would then be
compressed into Energon cubes, a highly concentrated form that could be used
for a variety of purposes.  This time, however, Soundwave would take the
captured energy directly, place it into shells while they were still within
his body, then emit the filled cube.  If the scheme worked, it might increase
the cubes' capacity and speed up the process.  If it didn't, Soundwave could
suffer a painful, possibly permanent, injury.  Either way was fine with
Scrapper.

                                    * * *

"Will ya look at that!" Sideswipe exclaimed.  He was watching pre-filled
Energon cubes coming out of Soundwave's chest, and the sight was a genuine
surprise. As he readjusted the camera for a closer view, he continued, "Are
you getting all this, Jazz?"

"Yeah, keep it up!  Accordin' to the recorder, those new cubes got twelve
percent more storage density than the old ones!"

Sideswipe frowned.  The two warring factions were closely balanced to the
point where even the smallest advantage was pressed for any benefits it could
yield.  "I hope the guys in the lab can duplicate this stuff, for our sakes.
Good thing we're out here after all."

                                    * * *

Soundwave remained immobile and silent as the process continued.  He was not
one for needless chatter, and certainly felt no need to talk to any of the
Constructicons.  The Energon was starting to be loaded by the others into Long
Haul's dump truck mode, but the cubes were coming faster than they could be
loaded, and a small pile began to build.  Soundwave turned his attention
elsewhere.  He had quickly realized that the dish could also be used as an
amplifier for his reception abilities, and so he started a wide-spectrum scan.
Perhaps he might find some long-range Autobot transmissions; Megatron would
certainly reward him for that.

A few pings showed up, but Soundwave dismissed them as minute radar echoes,
probably interstellar radio waves bouncing off debris.  He turned his focus
down the band, and immediately picked up something more distinct -- voices!

"Autobot intruders!" he announced, pointing towards the far wall of the canyon
that was beneath the sun.  The Constructicons turned, those without polarizing
lenses using their hands as shade from the bright light.  Though barely
visible in the shadows, two figures could be seen scurrying on a small ledge.

That was enough for Bonecrusher.  He reached down and quickly produced a
rocket launcher from his interdimensional storage.  In one motion, he lifted
it to his shoulder, aimed, and fired.

                                    * * *

Jazz threw himself forward, clutching the recorder with one hand even as the
rocket exploded.  Sideswipe's warning was fast enough, but he still felt the
blast -- a senses-shattering explosion, a momentary feeling of weightlessness,
then tumbling down the metal mountain. His vision twirling out of control, he
still managed to point himself face downward and transform.

As a white Porsche racing car, Jazz was now driving down the sloping metal
wall, the recorder shoved into his passenger compartment.  He could see
Sideswipe to his left, transformed into a fiery red Ferrari, also racing full
speed down the steep wall.  They could not stop, and the concave slope of the
structure forced them down towards the Constructicons, who were already
preparing to meet them at the crater floor.

He tried to raise Cosmos on the radio, but got the shrill static of an active
jamming signal.  Soundwave's work.

                                    * * *

Rob could feel his excitement grow as they approached the planet.  The aircar
was not designed as a long-distance space vehicle, but since this new world
was in the next outer orbit as Ariza, the journey only took a half-hour.
There was no rush.

Next to him, little Ono was looking out of the cockpit in youthful, wide-eyed
fascination.  She was recording everything, as usual, and perhaps some new
astronomical discoveries would be found when the information was analyzed.
Rob, however, was an engineer; the distant stars were all so many pinpricks of
light to him, and only the enigma of the grey planet held his interest.

Bort noticed it first.  "L-l-look at it," he stammered, still a tad nervous.
"The whole p-p-planet's made of metal!"

Bo, by his side, squinted slightly.  "You're right!  Rob, could it be a
construct of some kind?"

"It'd be amazing if it was," he said.  "Let's get a closer look."

More details of the planet below became evident as the explorers closed the
distance.  Parts of the surface were peeled open, exposing a grimy inner
structure and the fading orange glimmers of a dying fire, perhaps from a
planetary core.  Towers and domes dotted other parts of the surface, and the
abundance of dim light hinted at the possibility of inhabitants.

Though sorely tempted, caution finally prevailed in Rob's mind.  "We better
stay away from the lighted areas," he said.  "If there's people here, we don't
want to do anything that might disturb them."  The others were silent in
agreement, and the group turned for a darkened area near one of the poles.
Only then did they descend even further; fortunately, the sun was high on this
side, and the planet's features were clearly visible.  There were more domes
and structures and spires, but they were all dark and dusty with the weight of
long disuse.

"I wonder why those buildings were abandoned," Ono asked.

"I wonder who lived here," Rob added.

"Well, I don't think it's very pretty," Boo said with the hint of a pout.  "No
flowers, or trees, or riv--"

A loud explosion sharply interrupted her.  Everyone stopped in midair, and Tor
yelled, "What was that?!"

"I don't know," Rob said, "but it didn't sound friendly."

Ono checked a readout on the aircar's computer screen.  "It came from over
there," she said, pointing towards the right.

                                    * * *

"Surrender, Autobots!"

"Crash and burn, Decepticreep!"  The cry was punctuated with a laser burst,
which flew harmlessly high overhead.  At least one of them was severely
wounded.

Scrapper knew the demand was pointless -- those fools never know when to give
up -- but revelled in it anyway, just to emphasize the futility of their
situation.  The two Autobots were clustered behind a pile of rubble, their
backs to the sheer wall they had descended.  Their position was easy to
defend, however, and though the Constructicons had them surrounded, the
Autobots' weapon fire kept them from closing in.  Still, it wouldn't last much
longer, for reinforcements were already summoned.  When they arrive, the spies
will be quickly captured, and "questioning" them back at headquarters should
prove amusing.

He looked over his shoulder briefly and could barely make out Soundwave, who
was still standing immobile by the tower on the other end of the bowl.  The
production of Energon cubes never stopped,  and a substantial number was
piling up next to him now.  Scrapper wondered briefly if he should order
Soundwave to release the Decepticons in his chest, to help take the Autobots
that much quicker.  But then he realized that would require a pause in the
production of Energon, and even a minute reduction would be enough to invoke
Megatron's wrath.  It wasn't worth it.

Scrapper turned forward again; the Autobots were still sheltered behind their
cover, and the stalemate hadn't changed.  Then he caught a glimpse of
movement, up over the rim of the bowl.  Six black specks were flying through
the air, silhouetted against the sun.  Were these the reinforcements,
preparing for a bombing run?

He reconfigured his optics for a magnified view, then refocused: five humanoid
figures and a vehicle of some kind, none that he recognized.  They were not
helping in the attack and did not bore any Decepticon sigils, so he could only
draw one conclusion.  "More Autobots!" Scrapper cried, and began firing on the
intruders, to be joined by Mixmaster and Long Haul.

Rob jerked the yolk suddenly and dodged the first burst.  The second one hit
Crunch, who plummeted instantly, hit the sloping metal wall, and rolled
downhill in a tangle of arms and legs.  As Boo broke formation and followed,
Rob decided -- a fight between two unknown alien factions was one thing, but
having his team shot at was another case all together.  "Take them out!"

Tor didn't need encouragement.  "Nobody does that to my buddy!"  He landed,
then hit the ground fist-first, shaking the Cybertronian surface with a
thunderous jolt.  Autobots and Decepticons alike stumbled and fell in the
shock,  while Tor quickly recovered and sprinted for the nearest attacker.

Three seconds later and he was by Hook's side, just as the Constructicon was
beginning to regain his footing.  A quick look at his foe left him surprised.
"Holee--  Rob!  These guys are robots!  Like us!"

"ROBOTS?"  The excitement in Rob's voice was obvious.  "Are you sure?"

"Sure as this guy's ugly."  He took one step back as Hook stood upright.  Tor
was over two meters in height, taller than the average human, but the
Constructicon's fifteen meters dwarfed him easily.  Masking his nervousness,
Tor continued, "Betcha he ain't built as well as I am, though."

Before either robot could move, Bort landed on Hook's shoulders, his spindly
blue arms and legs askew on Hook's head.  "I-I-I'm warning you," he said.
There was a quick shimmer, and Bort instantly turned into a set of thick
banded cables, entwining Hook.  "Don't make m-m-me hurt you."  As Tor
attacked, Hook snarled in reply, then lashed out and kicked the red robot
away.

Bo, meantime, had landed and immediately disarmed Long Haul and Bonecrusher
with her telekinetic powers.  She was levatating the two in midair, out of
harm's way, and admonished them.  "Didn't you learn it's not nice to shoot at
people?"

Scrapper was nearby, still maintaining suppressive weapon fire with Mixmaster
and Long Haul to keep the Autobots from escaping.  He stopped for a moment to
turn and shoot at Bo instead.  Hit in the back, she crumpled with a cry and
dropped her two charges, but before they could move against her, she wobbled
to her feet and took to the air.

Crunch had finally regained his senses with the aid of Boo, and the two ran
out on the battlefield.  The roar of rockets overhead caught their attention;
a flying craft, black and purple, soared over the battlefield.  Taking notice
of Bo, erratically weaving through the air, it turned towards her and fired.

Boo acted first.  She pointed her arms skyward, and a searing bolt of
superheated air flowed from her hands and sliced towards the attacker.  It
banked suddenly to avoid the blast, shots firing wide.  A moment later, Bo was
engulfed in a soft green beam, and Rob turned the aircar to tow her to a safer
part of the combat zone.

Astrotrain turned sharply, undaunted.  His side door opened, sowing seeds of
havoc in the robotic forms of Dirge and Blitzwing.  The two Decepticons
transformed an instant later into their jet modes, joining Astrotrain in an
air-attack formation.

Scrapper yelled to them.  "Keep the Autobots from escaping!"  Now that the
reinforcements were here, he no longer needed to maintain the holding action.
"Constructicons, follow me!"

Across the field, Hook staggered as he tried to dodge Tor's blows, his arms
still bound by Bort.  Hook sidestepped one swing only to be hit by a second,
which drove him to the ground face-first.  With a broad grin, Tor declared,
"All right, sleeping beauty, time for your nap!"

Before the blow struck, Mixmaster rammed into Tor in vehicle mode and sent him
tumbling eighty meters away.  As Hook continued to squirm, Mixmaster sprayed
Bort with a clear liquid; Bort yelled as the acid hit, reflexively reverting
back to his humanoid form.  Hook angrily shrugged off the blue robot, then
transformed into his vehicle mode and raced to join the other Constructicon
vehicles.

Scrapper eagerly gave the expected order.  "Constructicons, transform!"

Rob, circling overhead in the aircar, got a richly impressive view of the
proceedings. Scrapper and Mixmaster were first, doubling over to raise twin
pillars into the sky.  Long Haul then drove into the air, shifting as he did,
landing on top of the two.  Hook followed, twisting in midair, coming to a
rest on the growing structure with a loud clang.  Scavenger and Bonecrusher
were last, sprouting forearms, flying through the air as if suspended from
strings.  The two locked onto the shoulders of the golem simultaneously. Then
from nowhere, a head arose: shielded red eyes, a sharply sculptured face, and
an expression of arrogant superiority, announcing the arrival of the engine of
chaos called Devastator.

Jazz could only manage a quick peek before being driven back by an exploding
shell.  Astrotrain had landed in his robot mode, and was working with
Blitzwing's tank form to keep the Autobots pinned with long-distance artillery
and laser fire.  Overhead, Dirge circled ominously, occasionally strafing
them.  Their shielded position managed to negate most of the effects, but they
were going nowhere.

"How's it looking out there?"  Sideswipe asked with a small wheeze.

Jazz shook his head.  "Not good, and gettin' worse."  He knew that there was
no point in being gentle.  They were both wounded, although Sideswipe's
condition was worse.  In vehicle mode, they had enough speed to drive away,
but neither of them had weapons in that form.  Furthermore, the only exit was
through a small gully at the other end of the bowl, and Soundwave and the
receiver tower were in between.  A run would be difficult at best. With
Devastator, simply impossible.  Jazz realized that the other robots had bought
them some time, but it was now quickly diminishing.

Devastator stood still for a moment.  Then, as if finally noticing the aircar
overhead for the first time, he looked at it.  "DIE!" cried the voice, craggy
and jagged like a landslide, and twin beams of concussive force shot out of
Devastator's eyes.

Ono panicked, but Rob acted instantly.  Though not blessed with robotic
reflexes, he was fast enough, twisting the steering yolk and sending the
aircar into a graceless twist around the attack.  He quickly stabilized the
craft and brought it towards the others, then noticed Ono watching in
expectation.  He smiled back, eyes twinkling.

"Well, we can play too!  Orbots, unite!"

The five airborne robots suddenly worked a ballet of their own, growing in
size and mass as they went.  Boo and Bo turned and twisted, spiraling,
doubling over, then connected with a resounding boom in Tor's shoulder
sockets.  An instant later, Crunch and Bort tucked themselves in, folding
solid as they joined with the torso, forming legs.  The aircar darted through
a door in the chest; once inside, it rose upwards, the cockpit pivoting and
separating in its own unseen dance, coming to a rest in the head.

"Ignition, Ono!"  On Rob's command, her chest cracked open, and a connector
extended, locking into its fitted slot on the panel before her.  The screens
were immediately lit in a blaze of neon, and the minds and bodies of the six
robots were now one -- Mighty Orbot.

The natives of Cybertron were surprised at this spectacle.  Combiner teams
were relatively rare, and both Autobot and Decepticon factions kept close tabs
on new developments in the field.  An unallied robot gestalt was simply
unheard of.

Mighty Orbot and Devastator stood facing each other, each at the ready.  Of
the two, Devastator was taller, but not by much; a quick glance would have
identified the two combatants as the same size.  One was an angry mountain of
green and purple, a near-symmetrical tower of brutality.  The other was a
bright pillar of hope, red and orange and blue and yellow and gleaming metal,
with a pose that spoke of assured confidence.  The Orbot's face was frozen in
a permanent smile, which only served to make the Decepticon angrier.

Devastator moved first, raising his right hand and firing the massive photon
rifle which appeared in it.  Mighty Orbot was faster, taking a half-step back
and swinging his left arm up, where an oval blue shield materialized into
existence to deflect the shot.  Stepping forward again, he dematerialized the
shield and pointed his right arm at Devastator, palm first.  A triangular glow
appeared, followed by a beam of neon green energy, which struck in the left
shoulder.

Devastator staggered slightly, then charged forward with surprising speed. His
rifle was gone, his right fist twisted behind for a powerful blow.  Mighty
Orbot assumed a defensive stance, but Devastator sucker-punched with a left
hook, and his opponent crashed to the ground.

Jazz winced as Mighty Orbot fell; his hopes were raised when the two titans
faced off, for if Devastator was defeated or delayed, maybe he and Sideswipe
could make an escape.  But now, his hopes sank as Devastator stood over the
staggering stranger, locking his fists overhead for a hammer blow.

Devastator roared, ready to swing, when Mighty Orbot suddenly vanished.  The
cry died suddenly; Devastator glanced around, but could not see any sign of
his foe.  He fumbled through infrared, ultraviolet, radio, audio, and other
sensors, but detected nothing.  Long seconds passed.

Silently, Mighty Orbot appeared again behind Devastator.  With the advantage
of surprise, the former grabbed the latter and locked his arms. Devastator
struggled in anger and defiance, stomping the ground and sending another
seismic wave throughout the area.  Soundwave staggered, Astrotrain fell, and
some of the Energon cubes scattered slightly.

"Now!" Jazz yelled, and leaped out of their battered enclave.  Sideswipe
followed a second later, and the Autobots transformed into their vehicle
modes.  Tires screeching, they quickly darted past the recovering Astrotrain.
Blitzwing quickly rotated and followed, lobbing high-explosive shells, but the
two cars dodged them easily.  Dirge went into a sharp banked turn and began to
pursue, followed a moment later by Astrotrain in his shuttle mode.

Devastator heaved, then elbowed Mighty Orbot in the side, breaking free.  The
two separated, faced each other, then braced for another attack.  The green
giant tried a charge, but Mighty Orbot sidestepped it easily.  Inside the
head's control center, Rob and Ono worked with practiced ease at the controls.
The other robot was stronger, but Rob knew that they had the advantage in
agility.  "Just keep away from him," he muttered.

Ono, still plugged into the system, pointed to the screen.  "Rob!  Those other
robots are trying to escape!"

Rob quickly assessed the situation.  "We've got to help them," he said.  Ono
nodded.

Outside, Devastator yelled again, his voice still rumbling.  "DEVASTATOR WILL
DESTROY YOU!"  He charged once again, and this time Mighty Orbot leaped up,
palms outstretched.  Two blasts of cold leaped forth, hitting Dirge and
Blitzwing, instantly encasing each in a sphere of ice.  The jet immediately
plummeted to the ground, whereupon the sphere instantly broke into a thousand
shards.  Dirge remained immobile and harmless, half-buried by the slush.

Sideswipe cheered.  "All right!  We have a chance after all!"

Jazz's enthusiasm was more tempered.  "Don't be too eager yet!"  He noticed
the other was lagging behind, but couldn't do anything about it.

Unseen by the Autobots, Devastator had leaped towards Mighty Orbot at the same
moment, tackling the other in the midsection.  The two fell in a tumble, and
the ground shuddered with their combined weight.  As Ono and Rob struggled to
free them, his wristband began to beep.  He gave it a glance, then shouted,
"Oh, no!  We have to leave, fast!"

Mighty Orbot was immobile for a split second as his operators were distracted.
Devastator seized the moment, throwing himself on top of Mighty Orbot and
pinning him to the ground.  He began to laugh, a hideous sound like two
massive boulders rubbing together, then grabbed the Orbot by the shoulder and
slammed his opponent's head against the ground.  The control center shuddered
violently, and Devastator's bellowing could be heard, screaming, "DIE.  DIE!"

Soundwave had watched the proceedings with growing interest, recording all
that happened without stopping the production of Energon.  Though the Autobots
were escaping, he had expected the other Decepticons to capture them first.
Now, though, only Astrotrain was left, and it seemed unlikely that he could
handle the two of them alone.  A decision was made.

He stopped the circuits responsible for the manufacture of Energon cubes,
making sure to step down the power diffusion breakers exactly, not wanting to
risk a possibly fatal overload.  It was a slow process, however, and by the
time he finished, Jazz drove past the tower in a wide arc.  Soundwave noticed
that the other Autobot was barrelling straight towards him, so he assumed a
defensive stance and brought forth his concussion blaster. His robot form was
larger than the other's vehicle mode, and Soundwave was sure he could either
stop the Autobot or delay him before Astrotrain arrived.

In the control room, Bo's stern voice cut in.  "Can't this guy take 'No' for
an answer?!"  Outside, Mighty Orbot's chest immediately flared orange; an
unseen force pushed, shoving Devastator off.

As the jade brute staggered to remain upright, Mighty Orbot climbed back on
his feet. Devastator roared in anger, then acted on instinct alone and swung,
right fist forward.  Mighty Orbot sidestepped and pivoted with the blow,
capturing Devastator's arm.  Continuing the twist, he bent and released,
throwing Devastator towards the far end of the crater.  Without a glance,
Mighty Orbot leaped skyward.

Sideswipe smiled to himself as he closed in on Soundwave.  "Eat my dust!" he
yelled, suddenly transforming into robot form.  He came up running, then
leaped into the air and fired his jet pack, flying in a steep arc over the
surprised Decepticon.  Almost as one, Soundwave and Sideswipe swung and shot
at each other.  Both missed, their bolts flying wide.

There was a small explosion as one of Sideswipe's shots hit an Energon cube.
The cube ignited its neighbors, and another, immensely larger explosion shook
the planet an instant later.

Devastator was thrown into the heart of the blast, but Mighty Orbot never
noticed, already flying through the Cybertronian air when the explosion
occurred.  Buffeted by the shockwave, he recovered quickly, then looked back.
All that was visible now was the canyon, overflowing with a white-hot flare,
swallowing all other features in its bright, billowing immensity.

Rob did not have time to admire or even understand the sight.  "Ariza, Ono!
Full speed!"  As she took the controls, he checked again on the readings from
his wristband, tapped a nearby keyboard, then brought up a graphical display
of arcs, tangents, and ellipses.

Tor asked, "Why the rush, Rob?"

Rob tapped a few more keys as he explained.  "The planet of robots is not a
part of this solar system.  It's passing through, and its mass is starting to
alter Ariza's orbit."

"So?"

"So, if the Ariza in this universe and the one in ours are out of sync, the
dimensional shifter won't work, and we'll be trapped here!"

Boo asked the next question, the panic barely evident in her voice. "Can we
still make it?"

"If we give it everything we got.  C'mon!"  Though Mighty Orbot flew faster
than any one of them could alone, he knew that they were pressed for time.

                                    * * *

Astrotrain was high overhead chasing the two Autobots when everything hit the
turbine.  The mysterious gestalt took off, Devastator flew by, one of the
Autobots fired, and the explosion occurred.  Though dashed to the ground far
from the crater, he recovered rapidly.  Certain he had lost the escaping
spies, Astrotrain opted to follow the unknown robots instead, perhaps to gleam
a clue about their identities.  Pursuing them with a late start was difficult,
but Astrotrain had a slight edge in speed.

They had just reached the outer atmosphere of a nearby planet when Astrotrain
was finally within range.  He noticed that the flying giant was just as he
last saw it, still in its combined form.  It did not appear to notice him;
acting with the simplest of strategies, he fired.

His attack was accurate, but it went unanswered, which left him completely
surprised.  The battle with Devastator showed that the newcomer had a wide
variety of weapons, and he had been prepared to dodge any response, counter
any tactic. Instead, there was none -- the multicolored robot simply dove
deeper into the atmosphere.  Was there a base below?

Slightly paranoid, he ran a thorough sweep before continuing, but his sensors
only told him what he had assumed.  The planet was barren and had no signs of
life, either mechanical or biological.  Astrotrain closed in further, and
fired again.  He saw the giant shudder, but nothing more, and considered the
possibilities.  No attack, no base, no reinforcement, fleeing from a fight.
The only conclusion remaining was that the intruder was injured, perhaps
severely.

Astrotrain was elated.  Depending on the extent of their damage, he might be
able to capture two or three of them.  That was sure to earn points with
Megatron, especially after the damage they had inflicted back on Cybertron.
Perhaps he could even hold off or follow the giant long enough for more
Decepticons to arrive, and then help capture it intact.  Driven by excitement,
he closed once more, set his guns to maximum, and fired.

In one smooth motion, Mighty Orbot spun in midair, stood upright, and held out
his arms.  A multihued T-shaped glow appeared, then lashed out in a focused
beam.  Caught in the brunt of the beam, Astrotrain screamed, but it went
unheard, as Mighty Orbot quickly resumed his downward flight.  A charred form
fell through the Ariza atmosphere and smashed into the ground far below.

Almost at ground level, Mighty Orbot quickly came apart, collapsing like a
child's toy.  As the aircar flew out of the chest doors, the arms and legs
separated, and each Orbot turned, shrank, and unfolded back to their
individual selves.  As a whole, they darted for the ring of columns they left
only several hours ago.

Rob leaped out of the aircar before it stopped and dashed for the switchbox.
He spun around, a quick glance telling him that everyone was in the area of
effect.  No fanfare or posing now -- he threw the switch, and reality
shimmered for an instant.

The Orbots stood in worried silence.  Slowly, as if sharing their fears, Rob
looked at his wristband, afraid to trust its readings.  He looked again,
tapped a few buttons, then faced the others.  "We're home."

Tor summed it up thusly: "Whew."

Unnoticed by anyone, in the same spot one reality away, a small green
spacecraft circled twice, then flew off.

                                    * * *

Megatron, slumped on his throne, brooded in silence.  He was alone in the main
conference hall, cleared by his command.  Drumming his fingers on the armrest,
he tried to make sense of it all.

Over eight hundred cubes of Energon were in their hands, only to be destroyed
in an instant.  Blitzwing and Dirge, two of his more competent warriors, were
severely injured, and would be out for at least ten Cybertronian days.
Soundwave, his trusted lieutenant, needed a minimum of thirty, though Rumble
and Ravage faired slightly better, partially protected by being in Soundwave's
chest during the explosion.  The Constructicons, a centerpiece of his assault
forces, were burned enough to be almost unidentifiable.  Their essential
circuits were intact, fortunately, but the bodies will require massive repair
and reconstruction, not to mention some time-consuming memory reorganization.

As difficult as this was, Astrotrain was the worst off.  A Decepticon rescue
crew found him in the bottom of a fifty-meter deep crater on a nearby planet.
His outer form was melted into a shapeless blob, charred darker than the void
of space.  His insides fared little better, as only his basic personality and
long-term memory storage were spared.  Everything else was fused or destroyed,
and he would have to be almost totally rebuilt from the chassis up.  Even
then, it will be a long time before he recovers, and Astrotrain will be
forever plagued with random lapses of amnesia.  As his short-term memory was
slagged, he will have to watch the recordings to re-learn his role in the
conflict.  Assuming he wanted to see them.

Megatron growled, clutching the armrest tighter.  The recordings salvaged from
Soundwave were sufficent, but incomplete.  Repeated examination showed no
identifying marks on the unknown gestalt, and none of them were recognized
Transformers of any side.  Could this be a new Autobot strike force?  The
possibility was very real, and Megatron realized that he would have to revise
his immediate plans just in case.  The abilities those robots showed --
full-spectrum invisibility, telekinesis, temperature control, polymorphism,
maybe more -- were formidable in themselves, but having them available in a
combiner made for a truly dangerous foe.  If they were Autobots, then the
position of the Decepticons was in jeopardy.

A glance at the time strip on the wall brought a small smile to Megatron's
face.  Starscream was due to report any moment now on whether the Decepticons
could duplicate those feats with one of their other gestalts.  Whatever else
Megatron thought of him, Starscream was admittedly one of the top scientists
in the ranks.  If the outcome was hopeful, then work will have to begin
immediately.  And if the prognosis was dim, then Megatron will have a perfect
excuse and a target to vent his frustrations...

                                    * * *

"...disappeared immediately when the human reached the box.  I checked the
area twice, but there was no trace of them.  Then I came back to Autobase and
filed my report."

There was a nod.  "Is there anything else you want to mention, Cosmos?"

"No, Prime.  I've told you everything."

"Thank you.  If you do have anything else, let me know immediately."

"I will.  Cosmos out."

Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, watched the green and yellow robot's
image wink off the display.  He turned away from Teletran 1, then paced out of
the Ark's main bay into the hazy Earth sun, deep in thought.

He had to admit that it was mostly luck that the Autobots did so well on this
assignment.  Jazz and Sideswipe escaped with relatively minor injuries, though
the latter would require a few days' rest to let his injuries heal.  Prime had
no qualms about that, and left him to Ratchet's tender mercies.  Meanwhile,
Jazz had dropped off the recordings on the new Energon-storage process, and
the initial prognosis for duplicating the process were hopeful.

What puzzled Optimus the most were the sightings of the neutral robots.  They
were clearly not Decepticons, what with destroying an energy tower, aiding
Jazz and Sideswipe in their escape, and severely injuring numerous Decepticons
--Devastator, even!  Prime was glad that Cosmos was prudent enough to only
observe the stranger and do nothing more.  The report of the attack on
Astrotrain made Prime wince, even if it was one of "the enemy".  To lose one
of his troops like that was a risk he always tried to avoid.

But they were not Autobots either.  If only that team was on their side; their
abilities and skills would make a major difference in the Cybertronian war.
The idea of a robot/human gestalt alone was appealing to Prime, if only
because it was such a perfect example of how their two races could work
together.  But from Cosmos' report, it seemed evident that they would not be
back any time soon.  Perhaps they were time travellers from the future.  That
could explain their advanced level of technology...

                                    * * *

Back in their home on Earth, the Orbots spent an animated evening talking
about all they had seen and experienced.  Though another trip to that reality
was no longer possible, the idea of an entire planet populated with robots had
everyone excited.  Bo, true to form, teased Tor about a world full of
"handsome hunks of metal men" for her to choose from.  Ono and Bort speculated
on what the planet's society must be like.  Boo shared in the talks, but her
words were tinged with sadness at how dull and dark the world looked.  Crunch
sat quietly, listening with his usual lack of comprehension, content to idly
nibble on a few chunks of iron ore.

In his nearby bedroom, Rob was isolated from the sounds of their talk, but
could not rest.  He tumbled and turned in his sleep, always haunted.  He and
the Orbots had constantly fought against Umbra and its evil schemes, yet in
their trip to another reality, he had engaged in a fight and inflicted heavy
damage, maybe even killed.  Though they were robots, they were also sentient,
also alive.

He had no knowledge of their society, their history, their causes.  For all he
knew, the two robots they aided were dangerous renegades, about to be captured
before the Orbots arrived.  He hadn't even tried communicating with them,
though some of the sounds made by the large green robot did not seem very
friendly.  Then there was the massive explosion; was that his doing?  Yet the
final assault on their pursuer bothered him the most.  He had struck back
because they were almost out of time, and Mighty Orbot couldn't separate while
under attack.  But was there another way, an alternative he overlooked?

The Orbots were convinced that their opponents were evil, that their cause was
just.  After all, Tor had argued, there were ten of them firing on those other
two, who were helpless.  Rob tried to accept that, but could not be completely
convinced; the doubts continued to plague him.  He couldn't be SURE.

And now, he could never find out...

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