Prometheus

by Robert Jung (rjung@netcom.com)

   Notes:
     * 1. Continuity? Oh, between the first cartoon series and the movie,
       I guess.
     * 2. Comments, comments, COMMENTS! Lots of them. Go ahead, thrash me
       to pieces, I deserve it. Post them, mail them, do something. Write
       'em now or after you read all four parts, I don't care.
     * 3. Speaking of which, I want to thank everyone who read and wrote
       about "The Fallen Star". Some of the remarks were very insightful,
       and I think they helped greatly on this one.

Chapter 1

The white van pulled up to the opening in the border, raising a small cloud of
dust as it stopped.  The driver carefully read the sign on the chain-linked
fence:


                   WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

                       U.S. GOVERNMENT RESTRICTED AREA
                          Authorized Personnel Only
                              Beyond This Point

                        Trespassers will be persecuted
                        to the full extent of the law.

                                ARMED SECURITY
                           DEADLY FORCE AUTHORIZED

                   WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING


"What's wrong?"

"Susan, are you SURE it's safe?"

"For the seventeenth time, yes, I'm sure.  Don't tell me you're scared."

The driver grinned from behind his glasses.  "Well ... I still haven't seen
the last episode of TREK yet.  If I get killed, I'll haunt you for the rest of
my afterlife."  Susan gave Rob a playful swipe with her notepad.  He released
the parking brake and resumed driving.

Despite the warnings, the sparse forest on the inside of the fence looked just
as harmless as that on the outside.  Rob kept a nervous eye open while Susan
stared off in her daydreams.  They traveled for another mile before they
finally saw it.  Even then, it was almost invisible, orange metal against
orange stone.

Susan was shaken out of her reverie and thrown against the seat belt as the
van lurched to a halt.  Brushing strands of blonde hair out of her face, she
was about to yell at Rob when she saw why he had stopped.  A large, futuristic
tank blocked their way, its imposing red barrel pointing into the passenger
compartment.  "PRESENCE UNAUTHORIZED.  IDENTIFY NOW," a disembodied voice
boomed.

Rob looked to Susan in panic.  Unfazed, she rolled down her window, stuck her
head out, and yelled, "Susan Sanderson and Robert Glen.  We have an
appointment."

There was a long pause as the tank barrel swiveled, pointing at each of them
in turn.  Finally it replied, "IDENTITIES VERIFIED.  WAIT HERE."  Another
second, then "PLEASE."  Susan wordlessly settled back into her seat.

A few minutes later, a police car pulled alongside the two vehicles.  Rob
gaped as the car quickly unfolded itself into a humanoid robot fifteen feet
tall.  "I've got them," he said to the tank, and it rolled away on electric
rails.  He knelt on one knee and addressed the van's passengers.  "Hello, I'm
Prowl.  I hope Omega Supreme didn't scare you too much."

"Nah," Susan replied, as if being threatened by giant tanks happened to her on
an hourly basis.  She turned to Rob, who was still gaping.  She gave him a
rough nudge, then said with an embarrassed grin, "Don't mind him; he's still
excited over the visit."

Prowl smiled briefly as Rob cranked his jaw closed.  "I understand.  Please,
follow me."  Without waiting for a reply, Prowl turned away, then transformed
back into a police car.  He drove away, and the van followed close behind.

Once inside the Ark, Prowl stopped and transformed once again.  The van's
engine died with a faint wheeze as the two humans climbed out.  Rob ran one
hand through his greasy black hair while he looked in awe at the cavernous
bay.  Susan drew herself to her full five-feet-six-inches, then straightened
her white dress.  "Optimus Prime is waiting in the command center," Prowl
said.  "That should be sufficient, we hope."

"Oh, yes," Susan replied, reaching back in for a small suitcase.  "It sounds
fine."  She turned to Rob, who was unloading a set of heavy black boxes from
the rear of the van.  "This is going to take a while," she said to their host,
"since you insisted that only two of us could come.  I don't suppose you have
a dolly or something...?"

As if on cue, a red and yellow Volkswagen emerged from the bowels of the Ark
and stopped next to the van.  They transformed to a pair of robots, smaller
than Prowl but bearing more than a passing resemblance to each other.
"Bumblebee and Cliffjumper here will help," Prowl introduced.

"Great," Susan said with a small smile.  "Rob, are you going to be okay if I
leave you now?"

"Um, yeah," he replied.  He was still nervous and excited and dumbfounded by
everything, but growing more accustomed with each passing minute.  "We'll get
the satellite feed up, then run the gear to where you are."

She nodded, then turned to Prowl.  "Lead on," she said.  As Bumblebee helped
unload the van's contents and Cliffjumper was receiving instructions from Rob,
Susan followed Prowl into the Ark.

The Command Center lived up to its name.  Monitors and machines and boxes and
equipment filled the walls of the room, all for reasons Susan could not begin
to guess at.  Filling one far wall was a vast computer workstation, scaled to
Transformers' sizes, and in front of that was a giant chair.  Optimus Prime
turned and stood up as the two entered.  "Ms. Sanderson," he announced.  "I
trust you didn't have any problems?"

She shook her head.  "Your people have been wonderful," she said.  "And this
room will be perfect.  Um ... Do you have a platform or something like that?
To bring me up to your level?"

Prime sat down again, looking very much like a king on a throne.  "We
anticipated your need," he said, gesturing behind her as Prowl wheeled in a
repair gurney.  A few button presses quickly raised it to Prime's level, then
Prowl reached down, palms flat.  Susan stepped in, grinning at thoughts of
King Kong as she rose into the air.  She stepped off at the top of the
scaffold and looked around again.  "Yes.  Just great."  She looked at Prime,
then frowned.  "Except..."

"Is something wrong?"

She pursed her lips slightly.  "I don't mean to offend, but you got washed
recently, didn't you?"

"Why, yes," Prime confessed, slightly surprised.  "I thought a good appearance
was important to humans."

"Oh, it is, it is," she said. "But we're going to get too much glare.  Let me
get my talc..."

                                    * * *

"When's it going to start already?"

"Will ya keep yer voice down?"

"What for?  We're still waiting!"

"Shhhhhhh!"

"Look, look!"

The rabble suddenly fell silent as one voice grabbed their collective
attention.  "Pollution.  Disease.  Famine.  Blight.  These problems have been
around since humans first walked on the face of the Earth.  Now, one man says
the solutions to mankind's ills are ours for the asking.  Opponents say
releasing it would pose an even greater danger.  Who is right?  Tonight, we
ask: Should Cybertronian technology be applied to humanity's problems?  Join
us here, on NIGHTLINE."

In the Ark's main conference room, a few Autobots whooped and cheered, only to
be quickly silenced by the others.  The tactical display had been jury-rigged
for television reception.  The lights were now turned off, so the only
lighting came from Ted Koppel's image filling one wall of the room.  Almost
all of the Autobots were watching, and the unfortunate few who were on patrol
were allowed to listen to the audio.

Koppel quickly introduced his guests, lined up left to right on the screen and
brought together via satellite.  From Denver, Geoffrey Cooper, leader of the
interest group "SECT - Save Earth with Cybertron Technology".  From New York
City, United Nations spokesperson Katherine Amasova.  And from the Ark in
Oregon, Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots.  The last drew another round of
cheers and applause, which died down even faster as Koppel began.  "Mr.
Cooper, for those viewers who are not familiar with your group, can you
briefly tell us what is SECT's purpose?"

The president of SECT was in his late thirties, with hazel-colored hair that
was starting to thin slightly on top of his narrow face.  He wore a dark blue
sweater and sat in a huge leather chair in his den.  He blinked once, then
cleared his throat to speak.  "SECT is a non-profit, non-partisan group that
simply wants to solve Earth's problems immediately and directly.  We are
petitioning the beings of Cybertron, and the world's governments, to allow for
the free use of their science in applications to save the planet and the
people of Earth from the enviromental and social disasters we now face."

"I think it's very clear that the technology of Cybertron is very advanced.
But is it applicable to the problems of Earth?"

"We think so, Ted," Cooper casually replied.  "SECT's own studies and the
scientists we've consulted all agree that Cybertron's technology is decades
ahead of anything we know now.  Pollution-free energy, weather control,
nanotechnology -- what we consider science fiction is probably science fact
for them.  In fact, many of our basic laws of physics are already obsolete, as
they contradict what we've seen from simply watching the, ah, Transformers."

The host now turned to Optimus Prime.  "Mr. Prime," he said with practiced
ease, "Can your science really do everything that SECT says it can?  Or is
this simply a case of exaggerated expectations?"

The Autobots yelled and applauded as Optimus Prime's image suddenly filled the
screen, the computer banks of Teletran 1 forming an impressive backdrop.  He
answered in a calm, measured voice, "I will not lie and say he is wrong.  In
fact, Mr. Cooper's assessment is very accurate -- with the proper use of our
technology, for instance, we could repair the ozone layer, turn deserts into
farmland, eliminate your need for fossil fuels, and perhaps cure some of your
deadliest diseases."

"Really."  Koppel's response to this revelation was met with cool aplomb.  One
got the impression that he could announce the end of the world with equal
indifference.  "And yet, you don't.  In fact, soon after you and the Autobots
introduced yourselves to the world, the United Nations passed a treaty banning
the solicitation or use of any of Cybertron's knowledge and technology.  Why?"

Prime paused for a moment before responding.  "There are many reasons, Mr.
Koppel, but the most important one is that we don't wish to interfere with
Earth's internal affairs.  I -- along with the leaders of Cybertron -- feel
that any information we release would have wide impact on your social and
political structures.  If we provided you with new farmland, who controls the
land and make sure its benefits are shared equally?  If we removed your
dependence on petroleum, that would wreck havoc with the global economy and
damage the countries that rely on it for income.

"No matter how we watch it, if we were to start sharing our knowledge, we
would be unduly influencing one nation or one ideology over others.  We
cannot, and should not, interfere with your planet's politics.  Your leaders
have to make changes and reach agreements by their own means, while we should
keep our presence to a minimum.  The Autobots are here only to protect the
people of Earth from the Decepticons."

Cooper suddenly interjected, "So you're just going to sit there and let humans
starve and die?  Why not just give your knowledge to everybody?  Let us worry
about who gets what and where?"

Koppel turned to Prime, who replied, "That's because we do not feel that
humanity is ready for that level of science now.  Most of our technology can
damage the environment or destroy countless people if used improperly.  There
should be a gradual evolution in learning -- for us to simply give you our
knowledge would be a major leap in your planet's development.

"Take nuclear power as an example.  Human beings are still learning how to
control it, and the results are mixed at best.  You haven't yet reached a
point where it can be controlled with confidence and safety.  Introducing
Cybertronian science to your world now could cause a calamity hundreds of
times worse than the atomic bomb ever did.  That is why both myself and your
United Nations feel that it's to humanity's best interest to keep our
technology away and let you discover it, gradually, on your own."

"That's just elitist condescension," Cooper snorted.  "Sounds to me like you
don't really care about us, despite all your talk about protecting sentient
beings."

Prime's emotionless faceplate hid any signs of the indignation he felt.
Instead, he merely replied, "If that was the case, Mr. Cooper, then we would
let the Decepticons do whatever they wanted to with your planet.  But we
remain here, because we feel responsible for protecting Earth from a menace we
accidentally unleashed."

"You mean because you don't want them to get a lead--"

"Mr. Cooper!"  Koppel's voice was loud yet calm, a verbal blade honed through
hundreds of broadcasts that sliced through the dialogue.  Satisfied with the
ensuing silence, he turned to the center monitor.  "Miss Amasova," he
continued, as if nothing untoward had happened.  "Is the United Nations
willing to reconsider its position on this issue?"

Katherine Amasova stood up straight, her simple face framed by shoulder-length
black hair.  She was outdoors, wearing a dark red jacket as the lights of Long
Island glittered softly in the background.  A smooth European accent tinged
her words.  "Ted, the Chairman is in complete agreement with Optimus Prime and
the Autobots.  He is not pleased with the restriction, but he also understands
the wisdom behind it.  For now, humanity will have to work together and solve
its own problems.  Maybe this will motivate our nations to work harder in
reaching cooperation and negotiation."  She smiled as she finished, "He also
hopes that, perhaps someday, the human race will be able to join the beings of
Cybertron as equals."

"A very hopeful thought indeed," Koppel concurred.  "While Mr. Cooper has a
worthwhile goal, it's apparent that the Autobots do not wish to release their
science to us for the greater good."  There was a pause, then he turned to his
unseen audience.  "Next up: should the United States attack Bosnia in force?
Military analyists debate the dangers involved.  We'll be right back."  The
image faded to black, then replaced by a commercial for men's cologne.

                                    * * *

The red light on the camera winked off.  "We're clear," Susan announced.  As
Rob began disconnecting the video monitors, Optimus Prime stood up and
approached the platform.  "I hope I made a good impression with your viewers."

"Oh, you were fine," she said, then confessed, "This was mostly a filler piece
anyway; it's been a slow week."

"I was wondering why it was brief."

Susan's next words were interrupted when a barrage of Autobots quickly entered
the command center, mobbing the new celebrity.  Ironhide reached him first.
"Prime, you glory-grabbin' son, you!"

"Hey, he didn't look too bad for a first-timer," Sunstreaker added modestly.
This was met by a punch in the arm from Sideswipe.  "Look who's talking!  When
was the last time YOU got on national TV?"

"Well, I would have been perfect," Powerglide boasted eagerly.  "Charisma,
grace, and suave sophistication!"

The other Autobots began to arrive and swarm and talk, complimenting their
leader on his showing and commenting on the broadcast itself.  Though he
didn't show it, it was clear that Prime was both flattered and amused by his
temporary attention.  Susan merely smiled; she had seen this same scene
countless times  before with other interviews.  Even though they were giant
robots from outer space, she knew now that the Autobots weren't as alien as
they appeared.

                                    * * *

"What is it, Skywarp?"

"Just some human news broadcast.  The computers picked it up because it
triggered the keywords."

Megatron reached over Skywarp's shoulders and adjusted the controls.  "Optimus
Prime ... 'Save Earth with Cybertron Technology'?"

Skywarp shrugged in apathy  "Sounds like an Earthling kook to me."

"Mmm," Megatron replied.  "This may be interesting.  Out of the chair," he
commanded.  Skywarp quickly slid out, then stood to one side as the Decepticon
leader took his place.  Megatron tapped a series of keys and replayed the
broadcast from the beginning.

As the debate grew heated, Megatron started to smile.

Chapter 2


Corporate executive Geoff Cooper pulled his black Ford pickup to the front of
his estate.  As one hand toggled the controls to open the automated gates, the
other was used to roll down the truck's window.  A chilly blast of the
Colorado air greeted him -- <Winter's coming early this year,> he noted.

With both hands, he reached into the mailbox and pulled out a thick pile of
envelopes.  Though there was the obligatory sprinkling of junk mail, Cooper
was delighted at the number of personal envelopes that were present.  Though
his talk with Optimus Prime was disappointing, his television appearance also
allowed him to share his views with a wider audience.  That, in turn, led to
more interest in SECT, which translated into more potential recruits.  If the
growth trend continued, he estimated that they could have 200,000 members in
another six months and begin petitioning Congress in earnest.

As he placed the pile into the seat beside him, one item caught his eye.
"What's this?"  It was an unmarked, unlabelled audio cassette; Cooper wondered
who would send such a thing as he wheeled the truck past the gates.  By the
time he reached the front of his manor, his curiosity was fully aroused.  He
gracelessly let himself into the warm house, clutching the mail as he hung up
his coat.  Envelopes in one hand, tape in the other, he briskly stepped
through the living room and popped the tape into the stereo.

A gravelly voice greeted him when he pressed PLAY.  "Greetings, Mr. Cooper.  I
am Megatron, leader of the Decepticons.  It's come to my attention that you
are looking to acquire some of our advanced Cybertron technology.  I'm very
interested in this exchange -- if you want to discuss this, let Laserbeak
know, and we'll meet tomorrow."

The tape stopped with a sharp click.  Cooper popped it out and stared at it
even as he considered the offer.  Without warning, the cassette wiggled loose
from his fingers.  It grew and expanded as it fell, to land as a vulture-like
robot two feet tall.  Cooper could only stare in amazement.  He had never seen
a Decepticon before, but was absolutely certain this was the one Megatron
mentioned.

Laserbeak waddled on metal talons, turning at Cooper with a piercing glare.
He stretched lazily, showing off an impressive eight-foot wingspan, then
looked at Cooper again, who finally realized that he was waiting for an
answer.  Swallowing his courage, Cooper tried to look composed when he
replied, "Yes.  Tell Megatron I'll see him."

Laserbeak nodded in acknowledgment then hopped to the front door.  He stared
at it until Cooper got the hint.  Once the door was open, Laserbeak walked out
and flew off on silent jets, quickly shrinking to a black dot that vanished
against the twilight sky.  Cooper stared for long minutes afterwards,
wondering what he had gotten himself into.

Fortunately, the week was over; he only needed to make a few phone calls to
postpone his usual Saturday rounds.  The rest of the evening passed without
incident, dreadfully dull in comparison to the visit.  By the time Cooper went
to bed, he had managed to convince himself that Megatron was not a danger to
him.  <What could he gain from hurting me?>  Lacking any reasonable answer, he
soon drifted into a dreamless sleep.

                                    * * *

The view outside continued to show nothing but white.  Cooper stirred
restlessly in the pilot's chair while he mused over his predicament.  After
washing, dressing, and descending the stairs, he had found a gray military
helicopter sitting in front of his home.  With only a blueberry muffin for
breakfast, he introduced himself to the Decepticon named Vortex who was here
to take him to Megatron.  The flight was long and tedious -- Vortex had spent
the entire time either in the clouds or over the cloud layer, and Cooper had
no idea where they were going.  The Decepticon didn't help matters any; aside
from his name, Vortex refused to answer any questions or even engaged in idle
conversation.

Vortex dipped suddenly, shaking Cooper out of his musings.  The cockpit view
suddenly cleared, showing them to be diving deep inside a mountain range with
jagged peaks all around.  Vortex didn't stop as he barreled for a sheer rock
wall straight ahead; before Cooper could yell, they were inside.

They flew down a gigantic metal cavern, dimly glowing with lines of amber
light.  It opened into a larger landing bay flooded with florescent lamps in
the ceiling.  Vortex touched down abruptly, and the buckles on Cooper's chair
unsnapped themselves as the propeller slowly wound down.  With silent
understanding, Cooper climbed out of the chair, straightened out his white
sweatshirt, and shakily made his way outside.

Vortex transformed into his robot mode after Cooper exited, then led him down
a maze of corridors to a computer chamber of some kind.  Exotic machinery,
video screens, and flashing lights impressively filled the walls of the
gigantic room.  Seated in the middle was Megatron, his fingers steeped in
front of his face.  The same gravelly voice from yesterday greeted him now,
sounding more impressive with the Decepticon leader's bemused grin behind it.
"Welcome, Mr. Cooper.  I'm glad you could join us."

Cooper was suddenly lifted into the air by Vortex and deposited on a console
opposite Megatron.  Giant switches and buttons surrounded him, and images of
Gulliver lost in the land of the Brobdingnag came to mind.  When neither
Megatron nor Vortex made any further movement, Cooper awkwardly seated himself
on the smooth metal surface.  "Ahhh-- I'm glad to meet you too, Megatron..."

If he sensed the worry in Cooper's voice, Megatron didn't show it.  He glanced
warningly at Vortex as he continued, "I trust you had a pleasant trip?"

"It was all right," Cooper replied, afraid to offend his hosts.  "Quiet."

"Vortex is not much of a speaker.  Let's dispense with the pleasantries.  I
think our situation is simple enough -- you want me to give you Cybertron's
technology, so that you can use it to solve your planet's problems."

"Well, not from YOU, exactly," Cooper stammered.  "And the information would
be given equally to everybody.  But yes, SECT wants to see your people's
knowledge used for the good of Earth."

Megatron waved one hand absently.  "Yes, yes.  The bottom line is, you want
our technology, right?"

"Right.  I suspect, though, that you're not going to give it out of charity."

Megatron leaned back and smiled.  "Very astute, Mr. Cooper.  You're right; I
won't give it for free.  But if you're willing to help me out a little, I'll
give you all of the diagrams and plans for our basic sciences.  Nothing
sophisticated by our standards, but certainly enough to satisfy your needs."

"I'm not looking for weapons--"

"--and you won't get them."

"That's fine."  Cooper was beginning to submerge his initial fear of Megatron;
the Decepticon leader was blunt and uncivil, but the human no longer sensed
that he was being led into a trap.  "What do you want from me, then?  Money?"

"Nothing so base.  I only need you to do me a little favor..."

Cooper swallowed the lump in his throat.  Sitting up straight, he said, "I'm
willing to do a lot of things for my cause, but I'm not going to do anything
illegal."

"Illegal?"  Megatron laughed as he grasped what Cooper was implying.  "No, Mr.
Cooper, I don't need you to commit treason for me.  I have no interest in your
nation's petty secrets, and if I did want them, I wouldn't need you to get
them.  No, I want you to help me against the Autobots."

"The Autobots...?"

"Yes, Mr. Cooper.  Surely you aren't feeling loyalty to them, are you?  Our
war has nothing to do with Earth or you humans; it's a difference in
philosophy between our own people.  I'm just asking you to help our side gain
information on our ... moral opposition.  In return, you'll have everything
you need to make your dream come true.  Do we have a deal?"

Cooper pondered long and hard.  Megatron was right; he had no loyalty to the
Autobots, especially after Optimus Prime's aloof implication that humanity
wasn't up to their level.  He didn't completely trust Megatron; he had heard
of some of the Decepticon actions before on the news, and knew they weren't
all pristine and innocent.  Still, Megatron never claimed otherwise, and his
concerns were with the Autobots, and not with Earth.

<Do you have the courage of your convictions?> he asked himself.  <Are you
really willing to do what it takes to save the human race?  Who are you
protecting if you refuse?>

Cooper spoke with a determination that surprised himself.  "All right,
Megatron.  We have a deal."

                                    * * *

The last flush of a toilet faded away, gasping a final gurgle before it fell
silent.  The slow drip of a leaking faucet filled the ensuing void, with
footsteps passing outside providing an occasional backbeat.

Two minutes passed.  The blue tape player on the toilet tank suddenly ejected
a cassette which transformed and grew to land in a man-sized humanoid form.

"Pew!" Rumble commented.  "What the shock am I steppin' in?"

"Silence," Soundwave reprimanded.

Muttering to himself, Rumble locked the stall door and climbed on top of the
toilet.  Two low-energy blasts from his laser pistol were enough to open the
air vent.  Holding the grill in one hand, he used the other to push Soundwave
into the dusty shaft beyond.  Rumble pulled himself in, then spot-welded the
cover back in place with a few more bursts.

The two sat still for several hours, silently indifferent to the personal
hygiene of assorted federal employees.  Rumble fidgeted slightly when the
janitorial staff finished their rounds, but it wasn't until Soundwave gave the
order that they moved again.

Cautious use of the pistol soon produced a Rumble-sized hole in the duct that
would not be found for months, maybe years.  Rumble slung Soundwave to his
side with shoulder and waist straps, then consulted the blueprints he had
downloaded earlier.  He squirmed through the hole and climbed through the
building's infrastructure, his powerful robot hands digging into concrete and
steel support columns.  Writhing like a monkey among the wires and pipes and
shafts, he soon made his way over a hallway on the fourth floor.

Re-entry was even easier; the offices on this floor were used for routine
clerical work, and the suspended ceiling provided decor, not protection.
Rumble slid a panel aside and poked his head through the opening, verifying
the absence of security systems.  Satisfied, he landed nimbly, then headed for
room 422.

Rumble stifled a laugh at the stupid humans as he closed the door behind him.
All of the "sensitive" material was in the sub-basement, where armed guards,
keycard access locks, and closed-circuit cameras protected everything on a 24-
hour basis.  What they didn't understood, however, was that a crafty foe could
turn even innocent information to his advantage.  He unbuckled Soundwave, who
transformed into his massive robot mode; the Decepticon communicator had to
kneel to avoid hitting the ten-foot ceiling.

Soundwave bent over the Apple Macintosh on the secretary's desk, his fingers
resting lightly on its case.  While Rumble stood guard, ultra-sensitive
receptors in Soundwave's fingertips began to sense the information on the hard
drive.  He had experience reading the electrical patterns in both Transformer
braincases and human minds; compared to those, it was childishly simple to
locate -- and modify -- the files he needed.

He was finished in under a minute and signaled completion by changing back
into a tape player.  Rumble ran over and strapped Soundwave to his side, then
darted out the door.  The uneventful trip to the roof was interrupted only by
the need to deactivate the alarms and blast open the door's lock.  Once there,
he dropped Soundwave and stepped back.  Soundwave calmly ordered, "Laserbeak.
Prepare for flight.  Operation: transport."  Laserbeak ejected and unfolded
into condor mode; Rumble transformed and took his place back inside.

With a sharp banking dive, Laserbeak snatched Soundwave in his talons, then
silently soared off into the night.

Chapter 3


The rented Oldsmobile drove through the border with nary a pause.  Inside,
Geoff Cooper dabbed sweat off his brow even though the temperature was a cool
72 degrees.  He gave the sign a cursory glance, but the warning about "deadly
force" sent his stomach into a tight curl.  He had helped sneaked Soundwave
into the Federal Information Center offices as part of a tour group, and
Megatron had assured him the next day that his visit to the Ark was ready.
Still, Cooper worried that something might go wrong.

<What's Megatron going to gain by getting me killed now?> he asked as the car
continued into the Autobots' reservation.  <Nothing.  Stop worrying,> he
reassured himself.  Megatron had even agreed to turn over some of the plans
already -- "Half now, and half when you finish your end of the bargain."
Those plans now sat in the briefcase on the seat beside him, along with a few
SECT reports and a few of his own business papers.  Cooper had looked at the
plans earlier; though he wasn't an engineer, he had retained enough of his
college science courses to believe that they were genuine.

A massive railed tank suddenly glided in front of him, moving much faster than
its size suggested.  Cooper slammed on the brakes in panic and swerved to
avoid a collision.  The Buick's engine died from the sudden stop as a swirling
cloud of dust enveloped it.  When he finally caught his breath, Cooper looked
in the rear-view mirror, only to see the ominous red barrel pointed at him.  A
voice like the wrath of a displeased god demanded, "PRESENCE UNAUTHORIZED.
IDENTIFY NOW."

With slow movements that he hoped were not provocative, Cooper opened the door
and stepped out to face the tank.  "Geoffrey Cooper, from SECT.  I have an
appointment with Optimus Prime...?"

Omega Supreme scanned the human, checking him, his clothing, and his vehicle
for signs of Transformer life and any unusual electronic devices, satisfied at
finding none.  It radioed Teletran 1, asking for a verification of Cooper's
visit, and was surprised when the query came back empty.  Suspicions rising,
he sent Prowl a Level 4 alert while instructing the human to wait.

                                    * * *

Optimus Prime spotted Prowl hunched over his console in the Security Center
and sensed something amiss.  "Is there anything wrong?"

"I'm not sure.  The human, Geoffrey Cooper, is here to see you.  He says he
has an appointment, but I can't find the authorization in our records."

Prime stroked his chin thoughtfully.  "Have you checked with Washington?"

"I'm doing that--  ah, here it is.  Yes, they have a record of his visit.
Seems he made the request the day after your television appearance, and the
Vice-President approved it.  I wonder why we didn't get it in the daily
database update?"

"Perhaps there is a malfunction in our data link; I will ask Wheeljack to
investigate.  Meanwhile, you can escort Mr. Cooper to the command center."

                                    * * *

Cooper stiffened slightly as the police car pulled up next to his Olds and
unfolded into a giant robot.  "All clear, Omega," he said to the tank.  "I'll
take him in."  As the tank rolled away, the robot turned to him.  "Mr. Cooper.
My name is Prowl.  I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but we weren't notified of
your visit.  Optimus Prime is waiting for you."

"That's, ah, that's all right," Cooper said with a faint smile.  "I just
wanted to talk to him once more, to try and persuade him to change his mind
about SECT."

Prowl nodded in politeness.  The human's persistence was laudable, though he
did not think Prime would be convinced.  "Please follow me."  Prowl
transformed back into his vehicle form, then waited for Cooper to start his
car before heading for the Ark.

When they arrived, Prowl and Cooper stopped almost simultaneously.  Cooper
climbed out with his briefcase, then adjusted his shirt and tie while Prowl
watched patiently.  When Cooper was finished, Prowl guided him away, taking
the lead.  He failed to see the human take a small plastic disc out of his
jacket and adhere it on a console.

Prime greeted Cooper as they entered the command center.  "Mr. Cooper.  I was
not expecting to see you."

"I'm not surprised; our last meeting was a little ... pointed."  He glanced
momentarily at Prowl's exit, then returned to Prime.  "I just wanted to talk
to you once more about the possibility of releasing your technology to us
humans."

Prime kneeled to bring himself closer to Cooper's level.  "I must be honest,
Mr. Cooper.  I do not think you will change my mind."

"At least give me a few minutes of your time."  He dropped his suitcase and
popped the latches open, then pulled out a few sheets of paper.  "Now, let me
talk about the world food crisis..."

                                    * * *

Omega Supreme slowly continued his walk around the perimeter.  Once in a great
while, one of the other Autobots would ask how he could stand the dull
monotony of his task.  His reply was always the same: "PATROL ESSENTIAL.  MUST
FULFILL."  He was glad to perform any other duties required of him, but the
truth was that he welcomed the repetitive nature of patrol duty.  His life had
been shattered by chaos times before, one of which left his speech center
permanently impaired.  The patrol gave him a sense of stability and order that
had long been missing.

The radar suddenly lit up with a cluster of blips.  A second sweep confirmed
his suspicions -- low-altitude intruders, flying at just under MACH 1,
converging directly on the Ark from a 160-degree arc.  Motion detectors added
more bad news: additional ground-based units were arriving at speeds up to a
hundred and twenty miles an hour.  Even as Omega darted for the entrance, he
activated the Ark's alarms and defense systems for a Level 1 alert.

He was dumbfounded when the laser batteries remained buried underground and
the emergency sirens stayed silent.  Repressing panic, Omega next tried to
alert Prime, Prowl, Jazz, Blaster -- anyone -- on the combat frequency; for
this he was rewarded with a numbing silence.  "DECEPTICON ATTACK," he shouted,
then fired a half-dozen bursts across the sky for emphasis.  Unwilling to wait
any longer, he transformed.

The sight would have boggled the mind of any human engineer: miles of electric
railing retracted in seconds into massive overcrossings.  A launch tower
suddenly snapped in two the rocket it was holding.  Struts retracted, brackets
extended, giant segments weighing several tons gracefully soared through the
air while reforming and merging into new shapes.  Omega's tank component
shifted and flew, to lock into the exostructure with a reverberating boom.  A
shield retracted from the turret to reveal Omega's face, ready for battle.

Inferno, Sunstreaker, and Windcharger arrived just as Megatron fired.  "Die,
Autobots!" he cried, and an orange fireball blossomed in front of the Ark,
sending grass and dirt flying.  Nearly a dozen airborne shapes followed in his
wake, strafing the ground-based Autobots.

Sunstreaker leaped into command.  "Windcharger, alert Prime!  We've got an
invasion here!"  As Windcharger transformed and drove off, the Autobots
opened fire on the Decepticons, who readily dodged the uncoordinated attack.

An ominous shape suddenly blotted out the afternoon sun.  Before Omega could
react, Predaking swooped out of the sky and tackled him; the two fell with a
crash that shook the earth.  The Autobot titan and the Decepticon gestalt fell
and rolled apart.  Each immediately raced to regain his footing first.

A second blast from Megatron's fusion cannon sent Inferno and Sunstreaker
deeper into the entry bay.  Bluestreak and Skids arrived just then, and the
four dove for cover as the Decepticons landed in robot modes and continued
firing.

"There's too many of them!" Skids yelled.

Inferno laughed in total disregard for safety.  "Nine to four?  Get real!"

                                    * * *

Omega Supreme was having his own problems.  Predaking was promptly joined by
Bruticus and Devastator, who were now triple-teaming him.  Though the guardian
was larger and stronger than the combiners, they had numbers on their side.

He backhanded Devastator with his plasma blaster while grabbing Predaking with
his clawed hand.  Bruticus charged, but Omega spun his head and fired off his
head-mounted laser.  While Bruticus staggered from the point-blank burst,
Predaking punched Omega in his lower torso and squirmed free.

And more Decepticons were arriving!

Omega aimed at the newcomers, but Predaking knocked his blaster before he
fired.   The shot exploded far behind the speeding Stunticons, who swerved
around the lumbering giants and drove past.

                                    * * *

"Where are those zarking reinforcements?" Inferno yelled, all of his bravado
now stripped away.  Bluestreak laid motionless at his feet, a gaping hole in
his chest, his shoulder rockets sprayed around his head, locked in a look of
stunned surprise.

Sunstreaker was no strategist, but even he could see that the situation was
deteriorating.  Things were manageable at first -- the Autobots kept the
Decepticons behind the cave entrance, reducing the attack to a two-pronged
battle.  But then Soundwave dispatched the cassettes, and they were nimble
enough to break through the front lines.

Skids yelled as Ravage bit into the Autobot's thigh.  A point-blank burst from
his electron blaster sent the mechanical jaguar scurrying, but left him open
to Rumble's pounce.  Sunstreaker pried the small blue 'con off and rudely
hurled him away, then ducked as Laserbeak roared past.

"I hate to say this," Inferno hollered from across the bay, "But I think we
better run!"

Sunstreaker followed the outstretched arm, aimed at the arriving Stunticons.
The decision was immediate.  "Let's peel!"

Inferno transformed into a fire truck, his cherry red hull pocketed by scorch
marks.  He blanketed the entrance with fire-retardent foam, which sent the
smaller Decepticons scurrying away in surprise.  Under cover, the Autobots
quickly drove off.

The foam exploded seconds later as Motormaster plowed through.  Megatron
strode in among the drifting white globules, wearing a look of smug
satisfaction.  He surveyed the destruction with growing pleasure: the dry
smell of dying flames, the random crackle of exposed wiring, the burned walls,
the chaotic fields of white ... and the immobile Autobot on the ground.

The first of many.

He turned to the troops behind him.  "You have your assignments.  Follow the
plan, seize your areas, and exterminate every Autobot you see!"  He pointed to
the motionless Bluestreak, then softly growled, "But save the bodies."

"What for?" Thundercracker asked.

Megatron's grin grew wider.  "For the funeral pyre.  Now, ATTACK!"

The Decepticon squadron scattered through the maze of corridors.  The fall of
the Ark began.

                                    * * *

Optimus Prime was no longer paying full attention to Cooper.  The tremor had
surprised them, but Prime suggested that it was due to settling from the
dormant volcano that the Ark rested in.  The lack of aftershocks seemed to
support that theory, to Cooper's satisfaction.  But while he resumed talking,
Prime couldn't shake his own sense of anxiety.  The Ark's thick, insulating
walls normally provided lots of comforting silence, but now it added to his
worry.  He found comfort only from the fact that the emergency sirens were
also mute, indicating all was well.

But while Prime ruminated, he was also able to follow Cooper's conversation.
Now he interrupted, "But tell me this, Mr. Cooper ... if we were to repair the
ozone layer, what incentive is there for your factories to stop producing more
CFCs and ozone-destructive materials in the future?"

"The current threat of the hole has been enough motivation already."

"But you're asking us to remove that very threat--"

Windcharger barreled in, skidding to a halt next to the Autobot commander.
"Prime!  The Decepticons are invading the Ark!"

"What?  Why aren't the alarms--"

"--Jammed!  No alarms, no comm, no defenses!"

Prime turned to Teletran 1 and rapidly flipped a set of switches.  The
resulting status display was schizophrenic: video cameras showed Decepticons
gathering in the burnt wreckage of the Ark's entry, while sensors and alerts
shone in green tranquillity.  He began to form a counterattack plan, but with
no way to convey his orders--!

And he had a human to protect.

Prime whirled.  "Windcharger!  Take Mr. Cooper and get out of here!  Find
someplace safe, keep him out of danger!"

"Right, Prime!"  Cooper, though stunned at the news, retained enough sense to
climb in the Autobot.  The door slammed shut behind him and the two drove off.

Prime glanced at Teletran 1 again.  He pressed a series of switches and
buttons, but the interior defenses remained unresponsive.  The Decepticons
were beginning to spread out; soon they'd be everywhere.  The emergency blast
doors would stop them, but they, too, refused to close.

He began disconnecting and sliding the heavier pieces of equipment when
Sunstreaker and Skids ran into the room.  Skids shouted, "The 'cons are here!"

"I know," Prime spoke with a calm he didn't felt.  "Have you alerted the
others?"

"Inferno's working on that."

"Quickly, we must barricade ourselves and prepare for the Decepticons."

As Skids moved to comply, Sunstreaker asked in disbelief, "Shouldn't we get
out there and fight?"

"No!  I don't know how Megatron overrode our systems, but we have to try and
repair them somehow.  If the center falls, Megatron might turn our own
defenses against us.  Hurry!"

                                    * * *

Blaster's fingers flew over the dials and levers of the communications board
as he frantically tried to make sense of the situation.  After Windcharger
told him about the Decepticon attack, he realized that he would serve Prime
best by working to restore the comm net.  Sensors and tests revealed nothing
abnormal, and whatever was bollixing the system was no ordinary jammer or
counterwave mechanism.  Normally Blaster could have served as a substitute
broadcast center and bypassed the problem, but the Ark's heavy shielding made
that impossible.

The door buckled twice then exploded, destroying his impromptu barricade.
Ravage was first through the smoke, but was ambushed in mid-air by Steeljaw.
The two mechanical felines landed feet first and started pacing the other.

Blaster leaped out of his chair just as Soundwave fired; the concussion blast
seared through the empty seat instead.  He tumbled to a crouch, then sprang
forward and punched Soundwave in the jaw.  "Uh-uh!  That's not number one, and
you don't go platinum!"  The Decepticon staggered as Blaster grabbed him; the
two struggled, then went down grappling.  Overhead, Laserbeak flew in and
began searching for targets to destroy.

Rumble was halfway through the door when he was tackled by Rewind.  "Bingo!
What a blitz!" Eject yelled as he jumped into the fray, electro-guns at the
ready.  The three fell into a writhing tangle of arms and legs.

In the corner, Ravage hissed and snapped, to which Steeljaw growled.  The two
suddenly reacted to an unseen signal and pounced, disappearing into a frantic,
snarling cloud of metal claws and teeth.  Laserbeak circled high overhead,
trying to strafe Autobots without hitting a fellow Decepticon.  It was, even
for him, a very difficult task.

                                    * * *

Cooper was too absorbed in his own thoughts to watch as Windcharger raced
through the corridors of the Ark.  <What have I gotten myself into?  I agreed
to help Megatron spy on the Autobots, but not this!  How can that little disc
do so much? ... Or maybe it wasn't me!  Maybe this is something different, and
it's a coincidence that I'm here when-->

There was a burst of white, a tumbling sensation, and a sickening crunch.
Cooper suddenly found himself resting on his side, surrounded by a wreck.
Windcharger was crumpled against the corridor wall, black smoke pouring from
under the hood, immobile except for a free-spinning wheel.

Through the cracked and webbed windshield, Cooper could see someone -- or
something -- approach him, a massive gray blob that quickly grew larger.
Metal tore violently, and a large hand plucked Cooper out of the frame and
hoisted him through the air.

"Megatron?!"

Megatron grinned wildly and his voice oozed with sarcasm thick enough to be
poured.  "We meet again, Mr. Cooper!  Are you enjoying your tour of the Ark?"
With mocking exaggeration, the Decepticon kneeled and placed the human on the
ground.  From behind, Starscream watched in mild amusement.

Cooper stammered as a hundred words fought for contention in his mouth.  "Wh,
what is the meaning of this?"

"Why, we're invading the Ark!" Megatron answered merrily.  "And it's all done
with your help."

"You told me that disc was to help you spy on the Autobots!"

"Oh, it does that," Starscream explained.  "But it does a lot of other
things, too..."

"Yes, Mr. Cooper.  Starscream outdid himself this time.  But you needn't
bother yourself with the details."  Megatron reached into a compartment
beneath his chest and pulled out a computer disk, almost invisible in his
giant fingers.  "Now that you've completed your side of the bargain, here's
the last of the information I promised."  He let the disk fall to the floor.
"Our bargain is over."

Cooper let the disk lie still as he looked up at Megatron.  "You didn't tell
me I was going to be a part of an invasion!"

"Mr. Cooper..." Megatron growled.  His smile faded, all pretense of tolerance
quickly evaporating.  "I'm showing you the last of my generosity by sparing
you.  But if you don't leave immediately, you'll be a greasy stain beneath my
heel.  Do I make myself clear?"

"He means it, too," Starscream chimed in with a smile.

Cooper nodded, never taking his eyes off the Decepticons while he fumbled for
and pocketed the computer disk.  Still watching, he slowly backed away from
the two, then suddenly turned and bolted down the corridor.

Once he was out of sight, Starscream turned to the Decepticon leader.  "Why
didn't you just kill him, Megatron?"

Megatron smiled again as he answered, "Because he's more entertaining this
way.  Now, for the rest of his pathetic life, he'll have to live with the
knowledge of what he has wrought.  Besides, there's no way he can hurt us."

"He could call humans to help the Autobots."

"Ha!  You know their weapons are as nothing to us.  Even if they were to use
the information we gave him, they'd still be no match for any Decepticon."

He turned down the hall.  "Let's go; we have a meeting with Optimus Prime, and
I don't want to be late..."  The resulting laughter echoed through the hall.

                                    * * *

Prowl's right arm flapped uselessly against his body as he fired another shot
at the Decepticons.  The pain was fading, but had not disappeared entirely.
<At least I'm still conscious,> he reminded himself, glancing at Skywarp's
unconscious form to his left.  The teleporting Decepticon had done a lot of
damage before he was finally taken down.

"How're the repairs coming?"

Wheeljack's hands never stopped dancing over the nest of exposed wires and
circuit boards before him.  A hole gaped in his side, revealing burned
internal mechanisms.  The panels on the side of his head flashed rapidly as he
spoke, "No good!  I can't find whatever's clogging up the security systems!"

Hoist popped out from behind the toppled computer and fired another burst at
the doorway.  Turning to Prowl, he said, "We've got to get out of here!  Both
you and Inferno need treatment!"

"Nonsense," Inferno croaked, "...Just point me at the 'cons and..."  He
struggled to his feet, only to have Hoist roughly yank him down.  An arc of
ionized air from sizzled overhead and etched a bold black curve on the wall.

Prowl snapped at Hoist.  "And I'm sure Astrotrain and Thrust will be glad to
stop firing so we can take a break?"

"Maybe if we surrendered--"

"WHAT?  Our only hope now is for Wheeljack to get something back on line, so
we can start a counterattack.  Turning over the command center is the LAST
thing to do!"

Hoist nodded and looked at Wheeljack.  "I guess we're going to be here for the
duration, then."  A rocket exploded above them, and everyone ducked as debris
rained on their heads.

"I'm working, I'm working!"

                                    * * *

From behind and to the left, Predaking charged with power sword upraised.
Omega swung without looking.  His plasma blaster arm connected with a
resounding clang, sending Predaking sprawling and adding yet another dent to
his rapidly-growing collection.

Omega Supreme fought on.

He was exhausted.  Joints creaked, servos strained, and he felt pain in parts
that he never knew existed before.  He wanted nothing more than to sit still,
to relieve his burden and disengage his higher brain functions for a week.

Omega Supreme fought on.

Devastator came next, fists clenched for an overhead smash.  Omega's head spun
around and he tried to fire.  Only then did he remember that his head laser
was snapped and useless.  Devastator connected and Omega staggered back.
Grabbing blindly, he caught the jade gestalt in his clawed hand and tightened
his grip.  His head faced forward again; Omega wanted so much to see his foe
crumple like tin, fall away as a lifeless, impotent threat.  But this, too,
was denied him.

Omega Supreme fought on.

Even a moment's respite would have been decadence now.  To stop moving, stop
thinking, stop reacting for just a minute.  He couldn't, of course, for then
the Decepticons would raid the Ark and their victory would be assured.  And
above all else, he refused to let that happen.

Omega Supreme fought on.

Bruticus dashed from the right.  Omega twisted suddenly, swinging Devastator
like a club and hitting with a hideously loud crash.  Bruticus stumbled away
and smashed into Predaking, throwing off a shot from the other's laser cannon.
Omega aimed and fired a searing orange bolt that melted Bruticus' left leg.
The crippled combiner screamed as he toppled to the ground.

Omega Supreme fought on.

He shut his mind to what was happening inside the Ark.  Bad enough that he
couldn't fight those Decepticons as well, but this crisis was entirely his
fault.  He was lax in his duty, and for that the enemy slipped by his guard.
The fact shamed him; he'd beg forgiveness from Optimus Prime later, if there
was even a later.  But to think of that now would paralyze him and worsen the
situation, so he didn't.

Omega Supreme fought on.

Devastator snarled and broke free of Omega's grip, snapping off a claw in the
process.  A hideous jolt of pain shot through his body, but Omega didn't cry,
didn't react.  He wouldn't give his foes the satisfaction of seeing him weak
for even a second.  Instead, he swiped with the remnants of his hand and
delivered a scarring blow that sent Devastator pinwheeling away.  But even as
the 'con fell, Predaking charged yet again.

Omega Supreme, true to his duty, fought on.

                                    * * *

"Surrender, and I'll grant mercy!"

"Do you expect us to believe that?"

Megatron laughed in reply.  "Of course not!  You'll be dead before this day is
done, Prime!"

His particle beam cannon fired again for emphasis.  Optimus Prime leaped away
from the attack, but the monitor behind him shattered and sent shards of glass
into his legs.  He tumbled in the open, then rolled behind a console before
another shot ruptured the floor where he had landed.

Sitting up to get his bearings, Prime noticed that Sunstreaker was next to
him, shaking nervously.  "How the shock are we losing when we've got them
outnumbered?"

Megatron backflipped suddenly, transforming into an oversized version of a
Walter P-38 assault pistol.  He landed neatly in Starscream's hands, who began
sweeping the room with a lethal spray of blue fusion fire.  Sunstreaker and
Prime rolled apart as their console was riddled with holes; one shot hit
Skids, who yelled and collapsed.

                                    * * *

Cooper ran and ran and ran.  He was numb to the pain in his legs, the heaving
of his lungs, the panic in his heart.  His mind did not register any of the
blackened corridors or inert Autobots he passed; he focused only on where he
had to go and what he had to do.  Part of him prayed he was heading in the
right direction, and another wished he had paid more attention earlier.

With a loud gasp of relief, Cooper turned into the Ark's entrance bay.  The
damage here was the greatest he'd seen that day; machines sparked and
sputtered, the sooty odor of fires long dead, once-pristine walls charred with
ash, and white foam blanketed everything.  He paused for just a second, then
started digging through the slippery froth, trying to find where he placed the
infernal disc.

He stumbled around the fallen form of a robot half-buried in the chaos.  The
gaping hole in his chest left enough of a sigil to identify him as yet
another Autobot victim.  Cooper wondered if he was dead, then shoved the
thought away.  <I'll make amends later, after I undo this mess...>

Cooper slipped on a patch of water and grabbed another piece of equipment for
support.  He scrabbled forward, still searching, hands sliding frantically
over every surface available, looking for--

His fingers found it.  Cooper kneeled, verifying that it was the disc he
received from Megatron.  With trembling hands he grabbed it.  <Who knew this
little thing could cause so much trouble?  Well, now everything will be all
right...>

The disc refused to budge.

He grabbed again, but it remained stubbornly immobile.  He peered at it
nervously and saw that the thin plastic disc had fused itself to the metal
casing.  The intruder fit seamlessly and was now an integral part of its host.
Cooper's eyes filled with tears.

Chapter 4


Motormaster was bored with the invasion.  Logically, he knew that his job was
critical -- to keep the Autobots bottled up in their personal quarters, so the
Decepticons could capture the rest of the Ark without interference.  Only when
the others were finished would the slaughter truly begin.

But he was still bored.  The Stunticons were up at the front of the main hall,
firing enough bolts and shots and blasts and projectiles to level a mountain.
No Autobot was dumb enough to try and brave the barrage to fight back, much
less break through.  But Motormaster's cyclone gun was all but useless
indoors, so he was at the rear of the battle directing the strike force, for
what little he was needed.  Even Blitzwing by his side was able to do
something -- the triple-changer was in tank mode, lobbing explosive shells
down the corridor.

Fighting off feelings of uselessness, Motormaster shouted, "C'mon, Stunticons!
Teamwork, teamwork!  Dead End, keep cover for Breakdown while he reloads!"  He
didn't know when Dead End replaced his compressed air gun with the ion rifle,
and wished he'd though of the same idea.

"Don't panic, M.M.," Blitzwing chortled, "Those Auto-bozos are going nowhere!"

"You never know what can happen!  'Sleep at the wheel and you'll run off the
road,' I always say!"

"You never said anything like that!" Drag Strip teased.

Motormaster bristled.  "Quiet!  More suppression, less talk!  I'm in charge
here, so--  AGGGH!"

The Stunticons turned as one.  From the ceiling came high-powered laser
cannons, one of which shot Motormaster in the back.  With impeccable aim they
fired again, this time hitting Wildrider and Breakdown.

"What th--?"  Drag Strip fired at a cannon, but a protective field dispersed
his bolt.

"Their defenses are back!" Motormaster shouted.

"No!"

"YES!!!"

This last came from the far end of the hall, as dozens of Autobots surged and
stormed the Decepticon blockade.  They charged, they attacked, and they cried
like robots possessed:

"Let's get 'em!"

"Me Grimlock stomp Stunticons!"

"Payback time!"

"Save one for me!"

Caught between armed Autobots and automated defenses, Motormaster had only one
choice.  "Decepticons, retreat!  RETREAT!"

                                    * * *

Blaster heard nothing now but the loud, incessant bells.  It was a steady
rhythm, ringing each time Soundwave smashed his head into the communications
console.  Long out of witty remarks, Blaster spoke with his elbow, thrashing
suddenly and knocking Soundwave back.

A new voice suddenly filled the room, drowning out the sounds of battle that
surrounded them: "--en through!  Repeat, the Autobots have broken through!
Decep--!"  The sentence ended in a flurry of violent but unidentifiable
noises.

Soundwave suddenly leaped away from Blaster and quickly ordered, "Rumble,
Ravage, retreat!" Even as he finished, the two Decepticons disengaged from
their respective battles, folded into cassette forms, and flew into
Soundwave's chest cavity.  The communicator then ran out to the hall and
leaped up, shrinking into his tape player guise in midair.  Before he hit the
ground, Laserbeak snatched him and flew away.

Blaster could only marvel at their coordination before sinking to the ground
in exhausted relief.

                                    * * *

"Now!"

Megatron sidestepped as Starscream lobbed a round of cluster bombs into the
command center.  The ensuing explosion rocked the hall and showered the
doorway with shrapnel and debris.  Braving the thick black smoke, Megatron
slowly peered in; Optimus Prime was in the corner, still moving, still alive
... but not for long.

A mortar cannon dropped out of the ceiling and fired.  Megatron was hit in the
chest and staggered into the hall, which was now thick with a multitude of
laser bolts.

"What's happening?"

"Starscream, you IMBECILE!  Your nullifier has failed!"  A blast slammed into
his knee and sent him stumbling.

"Impossiagggh!" Starscream cried, spinning violently as an artillery shell
exploded on his right wing.

"Get us out of here!" Megatron cried as he leaped.  Starscream quickly
transformed into his jet form just as Megatron -- now a human-sized gun --
landed in the open cockpit.  With explosions nipping at his heels, Starscream
flew down the narrow corridor.

                                    * * *

"The hunt ends NOW!" Predaking snarled.  He charged at the staggering Omega
Supreme, his sonic sword raised overhead and shrilling ominously.

With surprising speed, Omega fired his blaster, knocking the sword out of the
Decepticon's hand.  "TALK ... CHEAP," he taunted, a smug grin barely visible
behind his opaque face mask.

"Arrrrrrrr!"  From behind, Devastator moved suddenly and pinned the guardian's
arms against him.  Omega thrashed madly, but the prolonged battle had taken
their toll, and he could not break free.

With fists the size of boulders, Predaking bludgeoned the helpless Autobot.
"Now -- you -- DIE!" he screamed, striking with each word, landing each blow
with raw, naked fury.

The sharp jolt of ozone filled the air as the external defenses suddenly
activated.  Anti-intruder weapon batteries popped out of the ground and
swiveling towards their targets.  Multiple laser strikes lashed out, hammering
the Decepticons, who staggered away in a mixture of surprise and pain.

Omega seized the opportunity and seized Predaking.  He spun forcibly and sent
his captive crashing into Devastator, reveling as the two fell.

Devastator laid still; Predaking staggered upright, but the automated cannons
continued to pound him, and his protective field was faintly visible as it
buckled under the strain.  Omega aimed and fired, sending Predaking back a
step from the force of the blast.  Before Omega could fire again, Predaking
lifted Devastator in his arms, leaped into the sky, and flew away in silent
defeat.

Omega turned to his right.  Bruticus had broken up into his individual
Combaticons.  Except for Brawl's half-melted form, they were rapidly driving
away, already out of range.  Beyond that, the Ark could be seen; fleeing
Decepticons poured from it like hornets from a burning nest, lashed by bolts
from the automatic guns.

Omega surveyed the scene with a solemn silence.  Despite the charred and
battered landscape, despite the damage and destruction to himself and the Ark,
despite the long, exhaustive battle fought ... he smiled.

                                    * * *

Optimus Prime stepped out of the repair bay and slowly passed the long line of
Autobots awaiting treatment.  Ratchet and Hoist and the others would be busy
for several days easily, tending to their injured.  Fortunately, the most
severe cases -- many caught in the corridors when the invasion began -- were
stabilized and in stasis.  The Autobots were lucky that the bodies were left
intact; that made total recovery that much easier, and Hoist insisted that
memory recall and reconstruction would be needed only in the extreme cases.

Prowl and Wheeljack turned a corner, with a human dressed in a military
uniform between them.  They waved to Prime, who picked up his pace.  As he
approached, Prowl spoke.  "Major Dannis, this is Optimus Prime."

The Major saluted.  Prime returned the gesture, then turned to Prowl.  "I wish
you'd let Ratchet take care of that," he said, pointing to the dangling arm.

"It can keep; this can't.  There are some things you'll want to see."

Prime knew better than to press the issue.  As Prowl led the way, Prime turned
to Dannis.  "Major, thank you for your assistance."

"All part of the job, sir," Dannis drawled.  "Our orders came straight from
the top.  I've got our boys securing the perimeter; the engineers say they'll
have the fence back up before noon tomorrow."

"Your men are very efficient.  Please extend my thanks."

Dannis smiled.  "They'll be pleased to hear that.  The Army prides itself on a
job well done.  How long will you be needing a security detail?"

"At least a week," Prowl replied, turning a corner.  "It'll take at least two
days just to get our subspace link back on line."

"Then we can send the prisoners back to Cybertron.  The attack damaged our
cells, so we had to improvise," Prime explained.  Several Decepticons were
left behind when the invasion was aborted, some due to injuries in battle,
others caught in the stampede of avenging Autobots.  They were now penned
outside under armed guard, their weapons and offensive systems deactivated.

"That's fine," Dannis said.  "With your boys watching and mine working backup,
they'll be going nowhere fast."

Prime turned to the others.  "Have we found what caused the breakdown in our
security systems?"

Wheeljack replied, "We found it in the entry bay.  It was some kind of data
dampener -- somehow, it sensed any commands or communications we sent and
suppressed it, so it was like we never did anything at all.  Amazing, really;
the scanners didn't catch it because everything was done with ceramics and
plastics.  It was entirely passive until Megatron turned it on by remote."

"But what about the shielding in the Ark?"

"I'm not completely sure how it worked, but I think the device used the
ship's hull as one giant receiver.  There was no way to stop it once it was
attached to any part of the Ark."  Wheeljack's panels flashed even quicker
in excitement as he thought of the engineering involved.

"Then how did our systems get back on-line?"

"I was in the command center with Prowl, trying to send an activation signal.
When the dampener got destroyed, it went through and the systems came on."

They reached the entrance bay now.  A few Autobots were cleaning up, aided by
two dozen soldiers garbed in olive green.  Most of the foam was washed away,
though the rest of the damage would take more time to fix.  "You said the
device was destroyed," Prime spoke.  "How?"

"Mr. Cooper did it," Prowl answered; there was a hard edge to his voice.  "It
appears he was also the one who brought it in in the first place."

Optimus Prime followed Prowl's gaze.  Black ash ringed the side of a weather
sensor terminal.  On the ground next to it was Cooper's immobile form.  His
clothes were in tatters, and his face and hair were caked with blood and dirt.
Something else was odd--

His arms were gone.  Where the elbows and forearms should be, Cooper had
stumps swathed with bandages.  A team of medics and nurses were tending to his
wounds and preparing a stretcher.

"He was in deep shock when we found him," Dannis said.  "But the docs say
he'll recover."

"He had a suitcase and a computer disk on him," Prowl added, "containing plans
for basic Cybertron technology.  I've secured them."

Wheeljack spoke next.  "We found what was left of the device at the blast
center there.  It looks like he couldn't remove it, so he tried smashing it
instead."

Prowl continued, "He must have grabbed the nearest thing available, which were
Bluestreak's shoulder rockets."  He pointed nearby; two more rockets rested
where they landed when Bluestreak fell.

"Contact switches," Wheeljack concluded.  "As soon as he swung..."  He left
the rest unsaid.

"Major!"  One of the medics shouted.  "He's speaking, sir!"

Major Dannis ran briskly to the doctor and bent over Cooper.  "What is it,
boy? ... Hm?  Optimus!  He wants you!"

Prime knelt, ignoring the looks of astonishment he received as he loomed over
the other humans.  "Yes, Mr. Cooper.  I'm here."

Cooper's voice was shaky and weak; Prime could barely hear him.  "...sorry ...
Didn't ... k-k-know ... wanted to ... to save..."  He began to shudder.

"Sedative!" cried the doctor.  While two others held Cooper steady, a nurse
handed a hypodermic and the medic quickly injected the contents.  Cooper
stopped shaking and Optimus Prime stood back.  The Major and the Autobots
watched in silence as preparations were finished and Cooper was loaded onto
the stretcher.

Prime finally addressed the Major.  "What will happen to him?"

"Hmm?  Well, the docs will get him fixed up at the base hospital.  Probably
fitted with some prosthetics, I guess, and start physical therapy.  Legally,
I'm sure he'll end up in prison, though I have no idea for how long.  The man
knew he was breaking the law, and he went and did it anyway.  I don't see how
he can fight it, really."

"This may cause some problems with the media," said Prowl.

"Don't worry about that," Dannis dismissed.  "Far as anyone knows, this never
even took place -- this whole facility is classified, after all.  The guys and
gals in psych-ops are already working on a cover story about how Cooper got in
an accident, trespassing at the Yuma Test Center."  He looked around for a
moment, then continued, "Which isn't that far from the truth, in a way."

Prime spoke next.  "What about his group, SECT?"

"Bet it'll fade away in six months or so.  Hard to run a group when you're
behind bars and without funding."

"Other people may start similar causes," Prowl suggested.

"They're welcome to.  But we've still got that pact going, and until it gets
changed, your stuff's off-limits to us.  Anyone who doesn't like it'll have to
tough it out with the U.S. government."

Prime elaborated, "It wasn't the pursuit of knowledge that was the problem,
Prowl.  It was when Mr. Cooper started dealing with the Decepticons that
caused his downfall.  I just hope no one else tries it."

The others nodded in somber agreement.

                                    * * *

The room was dark.  It would have been pure black, but a single beam of light
sliced through the void.

Someone whispered, "Are you sure about this?"

"Sure?  As in one hundred percent sure?  No.  But it's the best chance."  The
second was just as quiet as the first.

"Does it work?"

"In the lab, yes.  In theory, yes.  But you know what they say about theory
and practice."  A long pause followed.

"All right.  Do it."

A low hiss filled the silence.  More minutes passed.

"Hello?"

"...Hello? ... Where am I?"

"Someplace safe."

"..."

"Do you know your name?"

"...Yes.  My name ... is Geoff."

"Good.  Your name is Geoff Cooper.  I am Michael Dannis.  Geoff, you once had
some notes about advanced technology from Cybertron.  Do you remember what
was on them?"

"I ... I don't remember..."

"Doctor, more please."

A second hiss filled the room.

"Try again.  Do you recall anything now?"


                                    THE END

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