Warbirds

by Robert A. Jung (rjung@netcom.com)

Warbirds
Copyright 1994, Robert A. Jung (rjung@netcom.com)

All characters depicted or mentioned in this story are the trademarks and/or
copyrights of their respective holders, except for those that aren't.  Any
resemblance to actual people, alive or deceased, is coincidental, etc., etc.
Geez, it's just a story, guys.  Don't get too uptight over it...

                                    * * *

	Fingers tapping lightly across the keyboard, the woman
reflected sadly on her lot in life.  Even after all this time, she was
still an outcast and a pariah, crusading against a threat that only
she could see.  Though she had dreamed of single-handedly defeating
the enemy, reality refused to cooperate.  Her foes refused to die, and
seemed to grow in number with each day.  Eventually, she swallowed her
pride and faced the truth: she needed help.
	So here she was, searching for allies in the recesses of a
database few people knew existed.  A string of characters on the CRT
hinted at something useful, and keys clattered as she listed the
subdirectory's contents.  She no longer worried about being
interrupted.  The building's security was by sophisticated sensors and
electronic locks, but she easily bypassed them.  As the guards never
patrolled, no one ever knew of her visits so as long as she cleared
her traces and left before the dawn.
	Hope died as the listing revealed nothing but a series of
memos.  <What kind of logic do they use on these filenames?> she
wondered.  Out of boredom, she called up the latest file and skimmed
it.  Unfamiliar names and cryptic schemes flew by, but one item caught
her eye -- an urgent reference to a code name, one that matched
something she saw earlier.
	Her fingers flew as she retraced her steps.  Her eyes widen at
the contents of the directory; so many entries!  Two questions
immediately sprung to mind: <Who are they, and can they help me?>
	With mounting interest, she opened the first file.

                                    * * *

	The worst of the morning commute was over, but even so, enough
cars remained on the roads to ensure that any trip would not be quick.
While visitors to Washington, D.C. may have been disappointed that the
nation's capitol wasn't immune from the woes of urban congestion, to
the natives it was just another Tuesday morning.
	No one therefore paid any special attention to the
tractor-trailer rig that patiently rumbled down Sixteenth Avenue.  At
1631 South, it eased into a gray parking structure, barely clearing
the maximum height limit.  Once inside, it took the appropriate ramps
and lanes and descended into the bowels of the building.
	Once it reached the fourth basement level, the truck pulled
through a pair of unmarked double doors, which closed silently behind
it.  As the trailer's ramp descended, recessed ceiling lights flooded
the room, revealing a featureless giant chamber that could have been
turned into a respectable gymnasium.
	Three men approached the truck as two police cars rolled out
of the trailer.  Once the cars were clear, the cars and the tractor
unfolded, each transforming into a giant robot.  One of the car-robots
was painted black and white, while the other was blue and yellow, and
both were around fifteen feet tall.  The cab-robot, predominantly red
and blue, stood at twenty feet and barely cleared the ceiling.
	One man stepped forward and said, "Thanks for coming, Prime."
He had dark amber hair in a conservative cut, and was dressed in a
typical "working white collar" look -- shirt, tie, and slacks.  Aside
from the pistol strapped under one arm, he could have passed for one
of the city's thousands of clerks and engineers.  "I'm agent
Markowitz."
	He gestured towards his companions and continued.  "This is
agent Papin, and intelligence officer Brant."  Papin nodded with a
broad grin; aside from his blonde hair, he was as nondescript as
Markowitz.  Brant smiled politely through his thick beard, his eyes
sparkling against his dark brown skin.  His clothes were hidden by a
green electrostatic robe, leaving only his sneakers and jeans visible.
	Optimus Prime nodded to each man in turn, then introduced his
party.  "This is Prowl, my chief tactical officer, and Streetwise, my
intelligence specialist."  Prowl remained immobile, leaving Streetwise
to smile to the humans.
	Markowitz asked, "You had a nice trip?"
	Prime replied, "Yes.  I admit, however, that I wasn't
expecting you to send a C-17 Galaxy out for us."
	"Well, we needed to get you here quickly, without a lot of
attention.  No offense, but your own aircraft would have stuck out
like a sore thumb at the airport."
	"While nobody cares about C-17s in this town," Papin added.
	"I am also curious as to why you requested a live meeting.  We
have no reason to believe the data link between the Ark and the CIA
office is compromised."
	Markowitz shook his head.  "This stuff's real touchy.  The
system is cleared only up to Secret access."
	"Then we should begin immediately," Prowl suggested.
	"Right."  Markowitz pulled out a small remote-control from his
pocket and pressed a button, plunging the room into darkness.  A
moment later, the quiet whirl of a projector could be heard, and a
rectangle lit up on the far wall.  He handed the controller to the
bearded man.  "Go for it, Brant."
	The intelligence officer coughed softly, then began.  "Are any
of you Autobots familiar with the situation in Rwanda?"
	"Generally, yes," Prime replied.  "But not in great detail."
	"All right," Brant continued.  "The fighting's over now that
the rebels have won, but it was not a clean uprising."  The projector
clicked rapidly, flipping through several photographs of the war.
Human bodies lying dead in pools of blood.  An unidentified building
exploding, its debris flying with flaming arcs.  A small crowd
gathered in fascination as a man writhed on the ground, his body
aflame.  A ragged gang of fighters running in retreat as their
opponents gunned them down.
	Streetwise gaped; the others watched in morbid silence.  "You
may have seen some of these on the news services," Brant emotionlessly
explained.
	Prowl finally spoke.  "Pardon me for asking, but how does this
pertain to us?"
	"Take a look at these next slides," said Markowitz, "the ones
that haven't been released to the public."
	The next scene showed a man in a full-body armored suit,
flying through the air as he fired an energy weapon into a crowd of
soldiers.  The next featured eight more men overturning a burning
truck.  The third had an armored vehicle, hovering off the ground and
firing a vicious blast of orange energy.  Three more slides featured
variations on those themes.
	"Look familiar?" Papin asked.
	"I..."  Prime started, then stopped himself, unsure of what to
say.
	Brant filled the silence.  "We think that the advanced armor
and weapons were developed with basis in Cybertron technology."
	"Which would be a direct violation of U.N. resolution 426-3,"
Markowitz added.
	Prime replied firmly, "The Autobots have NOT been giving out
our technology.  I trust my people implicitly."
	"But the Decepticons might be," Prowl suggested.  "They're not
bound by any resolutions."
	"Let's throw out some more stuff first," Markowitz
interrupted.  The slide changed, showing a raised metal disc, embossed
with a hawk's head in profile.  "Do you know of a group called the
Warbirds?"
	Prime looked to Prowl, who looked to Streetwise, who shook his
head.  "I'm afraid not."
	"I'd be surprised if you did."  Markowitz confessed.  "The
Warbirds are the folks who were wearing the suits and driving the
tanks.  They're a gang of mercenaries and arms merchants, who sell
their 'services' to anyone who pays.  We don't use them, of course--"
	"Of course."  Streetwise smiled slightly.
	"--but we've got at least eight incidents in the last three
years where the 'birds have interfered with U.S. ops.  They've been
around for years, usually competing with other merchants like MARS,
but it was strictly conventional arms.  Only recently have they showed
up with the big guns."
	"I don't understand," said Prowl.  "If they're such a danger,
why haven't you stopped them before?"
	"They've never done anything illegal, since there're no laws
against selling guns or soldiers.  These guys aren't terrorists like
Cobra or the Black Band.  They sneak around a lot, but everything they
do is on the up-and-up.  And they're not affiliated with any
government, so we can't bring international law on them, either."
	Prime nodded, then asked, "Who is in charge of the Warbirds?"
	"Glad you asked."  The projector clicked again.  On the screen
was a slightly blurred photograph of a masked woman.  She was
Caucasian, with light brown eyes and amber-black hair that ran down to
her shoulders.  A blue headband was wrapped around her forehead, while
a blue mask covered her nose and mouth.
	"Her name is 'Ladyhawke,'" Brant said.
	"Here's the situation as we see it," Markowitz explained.
"(1) Is Ladyhawke and the Warbirds using Cybertron science for their
new toys?  (2) If they are, did they get it from the Decepticons?  If
the answers are yes and yes, then you and the Autobots can go in and
stop them."
	"And if you happen to break the 'birds in the process, we
won't complain," Papin added with a small grin.
	"Now wait a minute," Streetwise interjected.  "Is it possible
that the Decepticons aren't involved at all?  Could the Warbirds have
developed this all on their own?"
	Everyone looked to Brant, who slowly replied, "It's possible
... but ..."
	"...not very probable," Prowl finished.  "I'd have to agree.
For the Warbirds to make such a technological leap on their own seems
unlikely.  Prime, I would estimate the chances that the Decepticons
are involved somehow are greater than 95%."
	Prime stroked his faceplate in thought.  "Perhaps.  But
Megatron wouldn't simply give it away for free.  What would Ladyhawke
offer him in exchange?"
	"Energy?" Papin suggested.
	"Perhaps.  But then he would simply steal it."
	Silence filled the room for a long minute.  Finally,
Streetwise admitted, "Well, I'm stumped."
	"So are we," said Markowitz.  "But now you see why we called
you in on this.  We were hoping you could've said whether or not the
Warbirds were using Cybertron tech to begin with."
	Prowl shook his head.  "If we had something to examine, we
could give you the answer.  But a few photographs isn't enough."
	"Yeah, we figured as much.  We need more information before
can commit to a plan, but I think that we can work together and come
up with something..."

                                    * * *

	The suitcase bounced off Michael Wilmington's lap as the sedan
hit a rough spot, but he was quick enough to catch it before it fell.
He wondered how long he had been riding; reflexively, he glanced at
his wrist, stopping when he remembered that his watch wasn't there.
Taking a deep sigh, he settled back in his seat and started quietly
singing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall."
	He was down to forty-two bottles when the car rolled to a
stop.  There was nothing visible through the tinted windows, but he
could hear the crunch of heels on gravel as his hosts climbed out of
the front.  A moment after he unbuckled his safety belt, the door on
his left clicked, then swung open.
	"We've arrived, sir," announced a clipped British voice.
	Wilmington climbed out of the car and stood next to the
speaker, a middle-aged man sharply dressed in a three-piece black
suit.  Nearby were the man's companions, two massive bodyguards who
had never spoken a word.  Looking around, he saw that he was in a
velvet green countryside, with soft rolling hills that were dotted
with assorted flowers and trees.  In the distance, gray mountains
faded upwards to white, standing proudly against the blue sky in
prelude to the coming winter.  It was a classic European countryside,
though Wilmington had no idea exactly where in Europe he was.
	Most impressive of all was the large castle that stood before
him to the west.  The design was based on the English model; what it
lacked in height, it made up in territory.  The stone wall,
impressively large from the front, hinted at a grand estate within.
The main keep was a rectangular building that stood fifty feet tall at
its height.  The only identification was a silver flag bearing a
bird's head in black profile, which gave the structure an eerie
atmosphere of secrecy.  A stone path led from the car to the
drawbridge, which was presently lowered over the moat.
	Across the drawbridge came a female figure, just under six
feet tall and clad entirely in Azure blue.  Wilmington's eye was
immediately drawn to her body -- specifically, to the flexible metal
mesh armor that covered it.  On her hands and forearms were gauntlets
made of the same material, and she wore knee-high flat-heeled boots on
her legs.  A matching headband and face mask rounded out the ensemble.
	She addressed the man in the suit.  "Is he clean, Watson?"
Her voice was clear even with the mask on; Wilmington detected a hint
of an accent, though he wasn't certain of the nationality.
	"Yes, ma'am.  His laptop computer had a hidden video camera,
and his watch had a homing transmitter.  They are both in his hotel
room."
	Ladyhawke turned with a twinkle in her eye.  "Tsk, tsk.  You
know the rules, Mr. Wilmington.  I hope my Hawks didn't hurt you too
much when they took away your toys."
	"No, no," Wilmington hastily replied.
	"May I examine your briefcase?"  It was not a question.
	"Sure."  He rested it on the hood of the sedan and quickly
opened it.
	Ladyhawke was immediately by his side as she poked through the
contents.  "Pens ... papers ... German/English dictionary ... a tape
player?"  She peered at it, and asked in polite mockery, "'Q-in-Law.'
Books on tape, Mr.  Wilmington?  I thought you were more literate than
that."
	He smiled in embarrassment.  "I have a small bit of insomnia.
The player has a timer; I use it to help me sleep."
	She pressed the PLAY button, and Majel Barrett's voice came
forth: "Picard flushed slightly, and he could sense behind him that
Worf was ready to charge.  He saw Riker--"
	Ladyhawke flicked off the player and returned it to the
suitcase, then smartly closed it.  "I enjoyed that book," she
confessed, "but you'll have to leave it inside."  Once again, her tone
left no room for debate; Wilmington could only nod politely as she
handed the case to him.
	"Shall we proceed, then?" Ladyhawke asked, smiling again.
Without waiting for a reply, she began walking towards the castle.
Wilmington caught up to her with a short dash, leaving Watson to trail
behind.

                                    * * *

	The woman failed to fall asleep for the fifth time.  She was
not sure if it was due to guilt, anticipation, or the loud, roar of
the jet engines.  Perhaps it was all three.  Though coach class was
crowded, she was acutely aware of the conspicuous looks people gave
her.  That could not be helped; dressing inconspicuously would have
made her stand out even more.  But no one dared to approach, so she
could at least pretend to be normal.
	<Just another tourist.  Right.> Most tourists didn't bypass
airport security, or faced awkward questions about prosthetics, or
forged their tickets.  Even though the airline was a faceless
conglomerate, even though her cause was just, she knew that what she
did was wrong.  And while she pledged to repay the costs someday, it
didn't assuage the guilt.
	She closed her eyes again, just before hearing the young boy
who asked about "the funny-looking lady."  A woman scolded him with a
sharp whisper and admonished him for pointing, but the damage was
done.  She wondered how she would bear the remaining seven hours.

                                    * * *

	The walk from the sedan was a relatively short one.  From the
drawbridge and the barbican, Ladyhawke led Wilmington past the front
court, into the keep, and then to a cozy little library overlooking
the rear bailey.  A thick oriental rug covered the floor, and the far
wall was dominated by a massive case packed with books.  Ladyhawke
glided into a large chair, turning it so her back was to the
fireplace.
	She gestured to a seat next to the bay windows, and Wilmington
took his seat.  "Nice place you have here," he commented.  Watson
stood by the door, quietly deferential.
	"Thank you.  I'm very proud of the Nest.  I've kept it as well
as the day when I took over from Father."
	"It'd make a nice vacation spot," said Wilmington with a grin.
	She chuckled back.  "I'm afraid we don't do packages."
	"Well, my wife wanted to go to Japan anyway."
	Ladyhawke leaned back in her chair, then crossed her legs and
pressed her fingertips together as she peered at him.  "Then let us
discuss your presence, Mr. Wilmington.  Why are you here?  I thought
your government wasn't interested in associating with us."
	His demeanor turned professional.  "Policies change.  After
all, it's a different Administration now, with a new President."
	"Yes.  But I understand she's having a hard time with Health
Care."  Ladyhawke laughed softly at her joke, then resumed.  "I
suspect, however, that what has really piqued your interest are our
newest 'offerings'?"
	Wilmington shrugged in confession.  "I won't deny it; that
armor and those heavy weapons you're using are beyond anything we
have."
	"Yes; I'm glad to see your intelligence facilities are still
up to snuff.  Are you actually here to make a purchase, or are you
merely shopping around?"
	"Just looking around, I'm afraid.  But my superiors are
prepared to make an offer if my report is positive."
	She smiled.  "Then perhaps I should be certain that you're
suitably impressed.  Maybe we can give you a few photos for souve--"
	A beeping sound interrupted, its tone soft but shrill.
"Excuse me," she said.  Tapping her right wrist, she spoke into the
back of her hand. "Ladyhawke."
	The anonymous voice replied quickly, with no sign of emotion.
"We have a 487.  Six blips, bearing seventy-nine mark three.  ETA one
minute."
	"Acknowledged.  Go to yellow alert, and prepare the Phoenix."
She tapped her wrist again, and a quiet electronic wail started
echoing from somewhere deep within the castle.
	As Ladyhawke stood, she said, "It appears you may be getting a
different demonstration than the one I had planned, Mr. Wilmington."
Her tone was dispassionate and professional now, and he caught the
suspicious glare she threw at him.  Quickly, she ran out of the
library, with Watson at her heels.  After a moment's decision,
Wilmington scrambled out of his chair and gave chase.
	The three dashed out of the keep towards one of the towers,
where they bounded up a spiraling stairwell to the top of the east
wall.  Wilmington was panting heavily by the time he reached Watson,
who was holding a pair of binoculars at arm's length for his mistress.
	She didn't need them.  Clear on the eastern horizon were six
shapes, flying fast and low over the gentle landscape.  Five were
aircraft; the sixth was immediately recognizable to Wilmington, a
giant gray humanoid form--
	"Megatron."
	Ladyhawke acted as if she hadn't heard.  She pressed another
control on her gauntlet, and the sirens howling in the background
increased in pitch and volume.  Over the din, she shouted, "Hostile
intruders, prepare for siege!  NCPs evacuate immediately!"  She
whirled towards the two men.  "Watson -- Get our guest clear, and make
sure he has a good view."
	Not waiting for acknowledgment, Ladyhawke climbed over the
battlements and leaped off.  She landed with a tumble thirty feet
below, then snapped upright and dashed back into the keep.  With
surprising strength, Watson grabbed Wilmington's arm and started to
lead him away.

                                    * * *

	Blitzwing could barely contain his excitement.  Sitting around
Decepticon headquarters had left him bored and restless, but there was
nothing for him to do between campaigns except alternate between
target practice and being surly.  As a result, he was eager to leap
into a rousing battle, even if it was against mere fleshlings.  It
didn't promise to be much of a fight, but it would provide a few hours
of change, at least.
	They were almost upon the castle when anti-aircraft batteries
suddenly emerged from the top of the ramparts and the towers.  The
weapons fired as one; the Decepticons broke formation, quickly
scattering to avoid the attack.  Giving the firing order, Megatron
bellowed, "Destroy them!"
	Thundercracker and Dirge surged ahead.  The AA guns tracked
and fired again, but the two dodged the second volley with sharp banks
that no Earthly jet could ever match.  Dirge took out two of the guns
as he flew by, his engines wailing a song of doom and dread.
Thundercracker followed a second later and rocked the castle with a
sonic boom to emphasize the point.  As they banked for a second pass,
shells licking their tails, the other Decepticons spread out, landed,
and surrounded the castle.
	Blitzwing reconfigured into his tank form and landed forcibly
before the castle's front gates.  An explosive shell leveled the
barbican, killing one human even as another dove into the moat.
Megatron touched down a second later and began firing rapidly; each
blast of his fusion cannon tore out a gaping hole in the wall.
"Prepare to die, worms!" Blitzwing cried.
	An orange bolt caught Megatron in the back and sent him
stumbling.  The two turned, to be greeted by a floating platform
carrying a large cannon.  Part of the meadow behind them had sunk,
providing an access ramp to an underground cavern.  Even now, a dozen
armored humans were streaming forth into the afternoon sun, followed
by another hovertank.
	A second shot caught Megatron in the right shoulder.  He
staggered briefly before counterattacking.  The tank skirted sideways
and easily dodged the blast, then fired for a third time.  It caught
the surprised Megatron in the chest and sent him back another step.
	The foot soldiers charged at Blitzwing.  He surged forward to
meet their attack, then fired point-blank.  Half were caught in the
blast, but the other six leaped into the air and flew by overhead.
Before he could turn his turret and fire again, the men landed behind,
dove underneath, and started to lift him.  They were joined by their
fallen fellows, whose armored suits were smoking and darkened but
otherwise seemingly unharmed.  As they hefted him off the ground,
Blitzwing could only gape and wonder how he was having problems with
mere fleshlings...

                                    * * *

	Wilmington rested against the tree and struggled to catch his
breath.  Next to him was Watson, standing with the same air of
unflappable detachment he always wore.  Ladyhawke's aide ("butler"
didn't seem right to him, somehow) had guided them through an
intricate labyrinth of underground rooms and corridors, to emerge
north of the Nest in a grove of trees.  The sloping hill gave them a
good, safe view of the conflict.  With a little more detachment,
Wilmington could almost pretend it was a movie instead of a narrow
escape for his life.
	In front of them, a large red and gray robot -- apparently one
of the airplanes they'd spotted earlier -- was battling some of
Ladyhawke's troops.  He managed to stomp a hovering cannon, but had a
harder time fighting off the second tank and the armored men who were
flying around him.  He crushed one or two, but the others nimbly kept
out of his reach and fought back with their weapons.
	A muffled voice broke Wilmington out of his reverie.  He and
Watson exchanged confused glances before looking around, but they
didn't see anyone nearby.  The voice spoke again.  Remembering,
Wilmington snapped open his briefcase and pulled out the recorder.
	"Michael, What's going on?" the voice asked.  "I thought I
heard Decepticons!"
	Wilmington caught a glimpse of Watson's surprised expression
as he replied, "You heard right.  They're attacking the castle."
	"Castle?  What castle?  Never mind, I will call Prowl.  Let me
out."
	In agreement, Wilmington ejected the cassette, which flew out
of the case and unfolded into a red robot just under two meters tall.
It turned towards the battle, then pressed a finger against its
forehead.  "Grand Slam to Prowl, Grand Slam to Prowl.  Can you hear
me?  We have a situation here..."

                                    * * *

	Flying wing-to-wing, Thundercracker and Dirge accelerated for
another sweep over the stronghold.  Most of the anti-aircraft guns
were knocked out now; Dirge figured two more strafing runs would take
them all out.
	They swept from the west, separating in parallel rolls to
avoid a volley of concussive shells.  Thundercracker fired a rocket at
the untouched wall as he flew by.  It detonated with a deafening
explosion that could be heard above the background noise of battle.
	"Yeah!  Direct hit!" Thundercracker cackled in glee.  Dirge
said nothing, but simply wondered about the skill need to hit a wall.
He turned right and flew south.  As he passed overhead, Dirge fired
haphazardly at some of the humans that were swarming around Thrust.

<They're worse than scraplets on a husk,> he thought with a touch of
disgust.
	Thundercracker pulled up next to him.  "This is too easy," he
said.  "Where's the challenge of --YAAH!"
	Another laser bolt sizzled by just as Thundercracker spiraled
east in evasion.  Dirge glanced around and saw five small one-man
airships.  Four were a combination of airplane and helicopter, moving
with the versatility of both.  The fifth was a low-profile jet with
sharply angled wings.  There was no outer hull; the entire structure
was exposed and painted in yellow and orange.  Assorted weapons and
guns lined the bottom of the wings, and a woman wearing blue was
visible in the cockpit.
	Dirge banked hard to the right.  The yellow ship and one of
the 'copters followed, leaving the other three to chase
Thundercracker.  Dodging bolts and shells, Dirge suddenly dropped in a
power dive.  He spiraled to port in an outside loop, then snapped
upright and transformed.  As the humans tried to follow, he sprayed
with his arm-mounted machine guns and destroyed the helicopter.
	The yellow ship swerved to avoid the flaming debris.
Reverting back into his jet mode, Dirge pursued it, too absorbed to
notice the new roar from overhead.

                                    * * *

	"Now!"
	Prowl leaped a second later, arms and legs spread wide as he
pinwheeled towards the ground.  Despite the spin, he quickly assessed
the situation below and radioed his orders.  "Warpath, Brawn!  Take
the front of the castle!  Smokescreen, you've got the south!  I'll get
Starscream!  Jetfire, the air is yours!"
	"What about the humans?" Brawn asked.
	Prowl hesitated for an instant, and decided to err with
caution.  "Don't attack them!  We're only after Decepticons!"
	As the others acknowledged, Prowl fretted.  The strike force
was supposed to be used in case of an emergency extraction, so he had
selected Autobots best suited for a quick rescue from a human
structure.  But the Decepticon attack had changed all of that.  Prowl
didn't know why they were attacking, but prudence led him to side with
their victims.
	He put away his displeasure at the improvisation involved.
Being outnumbered and outgunned was bad enough, but this aerial
assault was worse, since it left the Autobots vulnerable during
free-fall.  He agreed to it only because it was the quickest means of
insertion available, and he hoped the combatants below would be too
busy fighting to notice them.
	Five seconds from impact, Prowl activated his jet pack,
leveling out as he darted towards the northern end.  He swooped low
over the wall even as one of the anti-aircraft guns fired at him.
Surprised, he realized, <They think we're Decepticon reinforcements!>
Then just as quickly, he dismissed it; there was no time to explain,
even if he could.
	He touched down roughly on the moat's northern shore.
Starscream was in front of him, his back towards Prowl.  He was waving
the remaining hovertank in both hands, swatting the flying soldiers
that swarmed around him.  "Pathetic germs!  Humans are no match for
me!"  He emphasized the point by batting one deep into a grove of
trees.
	Prowl shed his jet pack even as he shunted in his rifle.  With
practiced reflexes he shot three times, his acid pellets sketching a
diagonal line in Starscream's back.  The Decepticon cried as he
staggered, then turned angrily.  "Interfering Autobot!"
	Starscream flung the hovertank at Prowl.  He dove to the left,
and the tank smashed into the castle wall instead.  Prowl leaped again
to avoid a second burst, then transformed and hit the ground running.
Dodging a third blast, Prowl rammed into Starscream and bowled him
over.  The humans then pressed the advantage; they landed on the
Decepticon and began using their energy weapons like scalpels, trying
to dissect him.

                                    * * *

	Megatron wordlessly vaporized one of the fleeing humans, then
lowered his cannon.  The others were out of range now, and didn't
warrant the effort to hunt them down.  Broken bodies and smashed
hovertanks littered the field, a gory testament to the losers.
	Still, Megatron couldn't help but admire their skill and
courage.  What they lacked in firepower they made up in agility, and
the Warbirds fought to the end, inflicting a fair share of damage and
incapacitating Blitzwing in the process.  <If only my Decepticons were
so devoted!> Megatron thought.
	He was shaken out of his reverie by a quiet roar from behind.
Megatron turned in time to be blindsided by Brawn's flying tackle.
The two stumbled and fell, then Megatron flung the Autobot away.  He
climbed to his feet just in time to dodge a mortar that exploded
nearby.
	"Zowie!  Let's try that -- Pow! -- again!"  Warpath, now
landed and in his tank form, quickly rotated to track the Decepticon
leader.  But Megatron was faster; his fusion cannon blasted the ground
nearby, and the ensuing blast sent Warpath tumbling like a pebble in a
hurricane.
	Before Megatron could fire again, Brawn charged, punching him
square in the jaw.  "We're taking you down, Megatron!"
	Megatron recovered quickly and slapped the Autobot back.
"Runts like you?  Never!" he laughed.  He squeezed out another shot
before Brawn could recover, striking him in the left side.
	Pain erupted in Megatron's back as Warpath's next shell
connected, and the explosion sent him spinning.  Before he had
recovered, Brawn leaped on his back, grabbing with one hand while
bludgeoning with the other.  "You can't call me a runt and get away
with it!"
	"Yeah!  We'll -- Wham! -- him!  Blammo!"

                                    * * *

	<First things first,> thought Jetfire, as his tracking systems
pinpointed the nearest cluster.  He set an intercept vector, banked
sharply, then kicked in the afterburners.
	Up ahead, Dirge was doggedly chasing a yellow craft.  The
pilot was going through a wide repertoire of evasive maneuvers --
power climbs, wingovers, spiraling dives, Immlemann turns, and a few
snap-back somersaults that would tax most aviators -- but Dirge
refused to be shaken.  He matched the human move for move, nipping
occasionally with a burst from his machine guns.  Given enough time,
the yellow ship would fall.
	Jetfire changed course to one parallel to the two planes and
rolled halfway on his side.  The quad underbelly guns spat violently
as he passed by.  Their particle beams thoroughly sliced Dirge with
surgical precision while leaving the other ship untouched.
	Ignoring his original quarry, Dirge swept to the left and went
after Jetfire, leaving the yellow ship behind him.  Almost
simultaneously, its lasers and Jetfire's cannons fired again, riddling
the Decepticon from both fore and aft.
	Unglamorously, Dirge fell.  Jetfire quickly set a new course
across the battlefield towards Thundercracker, not anxious for a
confrontation with the human.  Fortunately, the yellow craft didn't
bother with him, but instead turned towards the besieged citadel on
its own path.

                                    * * *

	Wilmington watched the unfolding battle with a variety of
emotions.  The Autobots were having mixed success against the
Decepticons, while Ladyhawke's men were faring worse.  Though he had
professional reasons to see the Warbirds lose, all he could feel was a
sense of revulsion.  He was no stranger to death, having killed in the
line of duty, but the Decepticons' wholesale slaughter was far worse
than anything he had ever inflicted.
	He looked away out of nausea.  Behind him was Grand Slam,
standing alertly with dual repulsor guns at the ready, a glorified
bodyguard.  Wilmington then realized something was amiss.  "Hey,
where's Watson?"
	Grand Slam peered around, surprised.  "I am not sure.  My
sensors detect no trace of him nearby.  Do you think he might turn on
us?"
	"I doubt it.  What's the point?"
	Grand Slam pondered a moment, then said, "You are right, I
suppose."
	Wilmington shrugged in resignation.  "Nothing to do but wait
until the shooting's over."  The Autobot nodded silently as he
continued to record the grisly sounds of warfare.  Suddenly, on the
horizon, a fast-moving dot approached the battlefield.

                                    * * *

	Warpath was down, but Brawn made up the difference with
renewed determination and vigor.  The Autobot was agile enough to
dodge Megatron's cannon most of the time, and rugged enough to
withstand off its blasts.  Megatron's strategy was therefore a
defensive one; he dodged the rampaging attacks, responding with a kick
or a punch when the opportunity appeared.  He was confident that he
could outlast Brawn, given enough time.
	He had just leaped over Brawn's latest charge when two things
happened in rapid sequence.  The first was an energy blast that singed
his side; Megatron turned to face Smokescreen, straight from his
battle with Thrust and clearly a bit worse for wear.  Megatron snapped
off a shot, but Smokescreen leaped to the ground, dodging the blast as
he folded into a red and blue sports car.
	A second later, the sun was blotted out as a massive shadow
crossed the sky.  The subject landed in the castle's bailey with a
crash that shook the earth.  A golem of the modern age, it stood
nearly seventy feet tall, a seemingly disorganized hodge-podge of
military vehicles assembled in the frame of a man.
	Bruticus.
	He attacked without warning.  One kick shattered a storage
shed.  A fist the size of a small car effortlessly caved in a roof.
Inside the buildings, rare collections and priceless objects d'art
were ruined beyond recovery.  Glass, stone, wood and steel shattered
and buckled as Bruticus' rampage escalated.
	Smokescreen barreled forward as thick black smoke poured out
of his exhaust pipes.  Megatron sidestepped and fired, striking him in
the rear as he yelled, "Your pathetic tricks won't work with me,
Autobot!"
	Brawn slammed into Megatron from behind with enough force to
send him to the ground.  "How about my pathetic tricks, then?"
	Megatron growled as he threw Brawn off his back, then yelled,
"Bruticus!  Destroy the Autobots!"
	Without interrupting his symphony of destruction, Bruticus
lifted a cottage and hurled it eastward, violently interrupting
Smokescreen's next charge and scattering stones across the meadow.
Half of a tower crumpled in his hands, to be thrown northward at Prowl
and Starscream.  With chaotic efficiency, Bruticus violently tore out
chunks of masonry and steel, then turned them into missiles against
his foes.
	An explosion against his right arm sent him stumbling with a
roar.  Bruticus spun to face a small yellow jet and was rewarded with
a second rocket in the chest.  The giant staggered, smashing a house
in the process.  He flung part of a wall at the ship, but the pilot
dodged it easily.  With remarkable agility, the jet continued to elude
Bruticus' swipes and attacks even as it fought back with its lasers
and missiles.
	On the ground, Megatron roughly shoved Brawn into Smokescreen,
sending the two Autobots in a tangle.  Spotting Prowl approaching from
the northwest, Megatron quickly decided for discretion and leaped into
the sky.
	Flying towards the yellow ship, his fusion cannon flared
twice, and a bolt of white seared through the right wing.  Wounded,
the jet flew away, smoking and wobbling as it went.  Megatron smiled
the predator's smile as he gave chase.
	The erratically-dodging craft eluded him for a few seconds,
until a third blast from his cannon clipped the left wing.  He chased
it in a steep power dive as it pinwheeled towards the ground,
collapsing and imploding on itself as it went.
	Suddenly it straightened out, its transformation complete.  It
was now no longer an airplane, but a sophisticated exoskeleton,
humanoid in shape and about twelve feet tall.  Thick legs and clawed
hands made it suitable for a variety of heavy tasks, while the weapon
racks on its shoulders clearly marked it for warfare.  It flew with
the twin jets on its back, and the cockpit had folded down into a
control seat in the center, giving a clear view of the pilot, a
blue-garbed human female.
	It pulled up and stopped in mid-air, giving a half-turn as
Megatron flew by in surprise.  A salvo of missiles struck him in the
small of his back and ruptured a few of his subsystems.  Ignoring the
pain, he spun and fired his cannon in one motion.  "Die!"
	The exosuit's rear engines suddenly stopped.  The human
dropped suddenly, leaving the fusion bolt to pass harmlessly overhead,
then retaliated with a laser barrage at Megatron.  He spun rapidly to
avoid the attack, then swore to crush the pretender as he bolted
forward.

                                    * * *

	The woman slowly sipped her cappuccino, frustrated and
puzzled.  The information she had was highly fragmented and
maddeningly incomplete, but she had concluded that this sleepy village
was the most probable location for a hideout.  But from all
indications, there was nothing covert either about the town or its
people.
	She drained the cup and peered over the local map again,
mentally kicking herself again for not copying the clues that she had
found.  Working from memory alone, she was now considering alternative
places to explore.  <It could be anywhere in a forty-mile radius,> she
concluded.  <And most of that's undeveloped countryside.  What chance
do I have?  Maybe if I-->

	Her thoughts died suddenly as she spotted the thin column of
smoke on the far horizon.  A sick sensation twisted her guts even as
instinct told her that she had found her quarry...

                                    * * *

	Jetfire quickly landed north of the castle and shifted to his
robot mode.  He sprinted by Starscream's immobile form, half-buried
under a pile of stone, then crouched to a halt next to one of the
smashed hovertanks.  It was relatively intact -- a big surprise -- and
he hoped the other Autobots could keep Bruticus distracted while he
worked.
	The outer armor took all of his strength to peel.  Once it was
exposed, he quickly found the weapons systems and carefully dissected
those, inspecting them with his scientific eye.  At the same time,
molecular analyzers in his optics performed a scan of the composition
of the materials used.  It was not as accurate as a well-kept
laboratory, but the general results it gave would suffice for his
needs.
	He performed the same rapid examination of the tank's
propulsion and power systems.  Then, respectfully, he took out the
dead pilot, still encased in his battle armor.  A micro-laser in his
fingertip sliced it open, and Jetfire rested the body in the grass
before he inspected the suit itself.  When he was finished, he dropped
the suit and activated his communicator and reported.
	"Prowl!  I've examined the Warbirds' equipment.  They're not,
repeat NOT, using Transformer technology!"
	"WHAT?!?"
	Surprised by Prowl's outburst, Jetfire continued, "There's
some very efficient designs, but nothing here that's beyond human
knowledge.  I've recorded everything in my memory banks, so we can
double-check later, but I'm sure of my results.  What should we do
now?"

                                    * * *

	Megatron slammed into the ground on the west side, his arms
locked around the armored human.  Though smaller and weaker, the pilot
was clever enough to use the exoskeleton's speed and strength well.
The claws were now swinging madly, roughly knocking his head and face
with each blow, but the Decepticon leader remained determined.
	He spun suddenly and pinned the human beneath him.  Pushing
himself up on one arm, he hissed, "Enough!" as he pointed the fusion
cannon at the cockpit.
	The suit's legs quickly lashed out and kicked him away.  He
fell back to a sitting position just as the power suit tumbled into
the moat.  It staggered upright, slowly backing onto the small ledge
of dry ground at the base of the castle.
	Megatron fired but the human dove forward, falling face-down
in the moat even as the blast struck the wall instead.  Undaunted,
Megatron swept his arm, firing again and again, each bolt striking the
base of the ramparts.  With a moaning roar, the battlement suddenly
collapsed, burying the woman beneath tons of rubble.
	Megatron slowly climbed to his feet as he watched the moat.
Aside from the ripple of water and rising clouds of dust, there was no
sign of movement.  A sense of satisfaction filled his circuits.  He
rubbed his dented faceplate as he considered continuing the battle
against the Autobots, then dismissed it.  Aside from Bruticus, the
other Decepticons needed repairs, and there was the chance that more
Autobots would arrive.
	No.  His objective was accomplished, and he was content.

                                    * * *

	"What should we do now?"
	Bruticus lurched forward before Prowl could answer Jetfire's
query.  "Fall back!  Fall back!" he shouted, even as the Autobots
complied.  They fired as they went, but none of their weapons had a
significant effect on the seemingly invincible gestalt.
	Bruticus took two steps forward, then kneeled and scooped up
Blitzwing's shattered body in one smooth motion.  Without a second
glance, he jumped skyward and flew away.  Trailing him was Megatron
and a number of Decepticon jets, in various states of disarray.
	Quicker than it had begun, the fight was over.
	Stunned, Prowl looked around.  The fortress was a shattered,
smoking ruin, nothing left but twisted beams and stones scattered as
far as one could see.  The mashed and mangled remains of armored
soldiers littered the battlefield, and the smell of burnt vegetation
hung heavy in the air.  It would take some time before anyone could
make sense of what had happened here today.
	Prowl flicked on his communicator.  With a weariness of voice
that surprised himself, he spoke, "Grand Slam?  You and Agent
Wilmington can come out now.  Jetfire, prepare for transport ... We're
going home."

                                    * * *

	Megatron was feeling wonderful, gladly savoring every moment
of the flight back to Decepticon headquarters.  There was something
primal and satisfying about simply destroying the enemy, without any
tactical advantages or complex plans to complicate the issue.  He was
refreshed and invigorated, even though he knew that he should be
feeling pain and exhaustion instead.  Nothing could ruin his mood now.
Not even...
	"Megatron?"
	Megatron braced himself as he slowly replied, "Yes,
Starscream."
	"Now that this FIASCO is over..."  Despite his own extensive
injuries, Starscream was still able to convey enough contempt to be
truly irritating.  "...would you mind telling me the purpose of this
POINTLESS attack?"
	"Pointless, you say?" Megatron laughed.  "Isn't it obvious?"
	"No!"  Starscream's voice was shrill.  "What have we got to
show for this?  No fuel, no weapons, no Autobots, nothing but lots of
damaged Decepticons!"
	Megatron spoke pleasantly.  "Precisely, Starscream!  Look at
the difficulty we had fighting these 'Warbirds' today.  Try and
imagine how much MORE trouble they would have been if they were at
full strength.  Then imagine how much harder it'd be to vanquish the
Autobots and take over this miserable planet if humans like that were
EVERYWHERE."
	His voice rose as he hammered his argument home.  "Now,
however, they are vanquished.  Their leader is dead.  A potential
threat has been removed from our path.  THAT is why we attacked.  NOW
do you understand?"
	Starscream pouted silently.  Megatron knew that his point was
made, and that he had reinforced his leadership in the process.  His
smile returned; Nothing would ruin his mood.

                                    * * *

	Forty-some-odd miles to the southwest, the Autobots were
heading over the Atlantic Ocean inside Jetfire's passenger bay.  Brawn
and Smokescreen were tending to Warpath's injuries, while the others
tried to make sense of the day's events.
	In the front of the room, Jetfire flashed a series of
schematics and graphs on a small display screen.  "...So you see,
Prowl, that there's nothing alien about these plans at all.  It's all
Earth science, coupled with some new and unusual designs."
	"Risky designs, you mean," said Wilmington.  "I'm no expert,
but some of those schemes look pretty dangerous to me.  The power
systems on that battle armor has almost no shielding at all.  Anyone
who wore that suit probably increased their chances of cancer by three
hundred percent."
	"Maybe Ladyhawke -- Yow! -- paid them enough -- Zing! -- not
to care," Warpath suggested.
	"Or maybe she didn't tell them," Prowl added.  "All right,
Jetfire.  I'm convinced.  Looks like we were wrong; the Decepticons
haven't been feeding Cybertronian technology to the Warbirds."
	Smokescreen soberly added, "Yeah, but there isn't much of them
left now."
	Everyone turned to Wilmington.  "We'll see.  We know the
Warbirds have hideouts around the world, though we don't know where
all of them are.  I doubt all of the 'birds were killed, but Ladyhawke
was the force that held them together.  If she's dead, anything can
happen."
	"In any event, this is no longer our concern," Prowl said.
"It's clear that this is strictly human politics."
	"Right.  Thanks for helping us clear this up."
	Grand Slam finally spoke.  "I am still wondering about the
Decepticons' attack.  I cannot think of a reason why Megatron would
bother, especially if there is no tie between them and the Warbirds.
And the fact that they attacked at the same time we were trying to
infiltrate their headquarters is very suspicious."
	"I agree," said Prowl.  "I'll have to check for security leaks
when we return to the Ark.  As for Megatron's motives, I can't see a
reason either.  Perhaps we'll never know."
	"Aw, maybe Megatron was bored," Brawn suggested.
	"Yeah!  Blam!  Maybe he -- Powie! -- just wanted a big --
KABOOM!  Heh heh!"

                                    * * *

	Watson waited until the white jet was over the horizon before
he came out of his hiding place.  He quickly dashed to the western
side of the estate, where he had seen Ladyhawke and the Phoenix last.
The sight of the stone-filled moat greeted him.  Without hesitation or
regard for dignity, he climbed onto the tallest pile and began pushing
the stones off.
	A splash to the right caught his ear; he turned in time to see
a blue-gloved arm reach out of the shallow waters.  Quickly, Watson
scrabbled off the mound, then reached Ladyhawke's side as she pulled
herself ashore.
	He moved to help her, but she weakly waved him away.  He stood
passionlessly as she laid on the shore, coughing up water, her chest
heaving with each breath.  Her outfit was torn and battered in
numerous places, and ugly bruises and cuts were visible where the
flesh was exposed.  But if her injuries gave her pain, she didn't show
it.
	Finally, she had gathered enough of her composure to pull
herself upright.  Looking at the debris that was once a castle, she
muttered, "Damn.  I loved that place."
	Watson stood silently.  Ladyhawke finally turned to him, as if
just noticing his presence, then said simply, "Report."
	He pulled a small palmtop computer out of his breast pocket,
flipped it open, and consulted it.  "The action against the invaders
was unsuccessful.  All of the Owls, Ravens, and Sparrows here were
successfully evacuated and are currently in transit to the French
Nest.
	"Of our Combat Personnel, we have over eighty-five percent
fatalities overall.  The Falcons, the Eagles, and the ground-assault
cannons are total losses.  The Hawks did better, though survival came
only from those who retreated from the battle.  They are, to a man,
wounded in varying degrees and are now awaiting rescue and
extradition.
	"All of our weapons and equipment should be considered lost,
except for our computer files.  Naturally, they were copied to the
other facilities.  The total financial losses are pending."
	Ladyhawke nodded, not showing any hint of emotion.  "Have a
team of Ravens down here immediately.  We must remove all signs of our
presence before the authorities arrive.  Alert the Robins.  I want an
air-tight cover story in three hours, tops.  Oh, and send for the
Steel Talon; I need a bath."
	Watson keyed on the computer as she spoke, then replied, "I
took the liberty of calling the Talon earlier, along with a team of
Nightingales; its ETA is currently under ten minutes."
	"Very good, Watson.  I knew I could count on you."  Her mask
tensed with what he knew to be a satisfied smile.  As an afterthought,
she asked, "What happened to Mr. Wilmington?"
	He softly cleared his throat.  "I believe he has departed with
his friends."
	Ladyhawke's brows narrowed darkly.  "So he WAS responsible for
the attack?"
	"Oh, no," Watson quickly corrected.  "I am quite certain that
he was not.  He had an ... 'accomplice,' hidden inside his tape
recorder.  After we had escaped to safety, this robot called for
assistance."
	"Ah," she said, stroking her chin thoughtfully.  "Those must
be the others who helped fight off our 'visitors.'  Perhaps I owe him
a word of thanks."
	A new voice from the left suddenly interjected.  "You
shouldn't bother; they're all working together anyway."
	Watson and Ladyhawke turned as one to face their visitor: a
Caucasian woman, standing at five feet eight inches with close-cut
blonde hair.  Her only form of clothing were strips of silver metal
which crisscrossed her from head to toe.  Aside from the poise of a
tired warrior, she had nothing else.
	Ladyhawke stepped forward and took in the stranger's outfit
with a skeptical eye.  "Who, my dear, are you?"
	"I'm called Circuit Breaker.  And I want to talk to you about
those robots."
	"Oh?"
	"Yes.  As you can see," she waved to indicate the ruins, "they
are cold, emotionless killing machines!  All they want is to destroy
everyone on the planet!  But the world governments are cozy with them,
and refuse to see the danger.  I've been fighting them by myself, but
there are too many of them.  I need your help to--"
	"Hold it," Ladyhawke sharply interrupted with a raised hand.
"This sounds like a business proposition.  No offense intended, but
I'm in no mood to talk about work until I get myself cleaned up.  If
you are willing to accompany me, however, I'll be glad to hear your
story..."

                                    * * *

	Three hours later, Josie Beller -- nee Circuit Breaker -- was
flying at 30,000 feet inside Ladyhawke's jet, the Steel Talon.  True
to her word, after Ladyhawke had bathed, cleaned, and changed into a
new suit of armor, she promptly locked the two of them into a private
office.
	Josie was slowly coaxed into telling her life story: how, as a
child genius, she went from the orphanage to the care of the Blackrock
Enterprises.  How she was almost completely crippled while manning the
security systems on an oil rig under attack by a band of robots.  How
she had built her network of metal circuitry tape, which duplicated
the work of her dead nervous system and gave her a host of new powers.
And how she swore to use those powers to eliminate the giant robots
that menaced the planet.
	Ladyhawke, in turn, listened with complete attention.  She
would occasionally prod with a question, or type something at the
computer on her desk.  Once, she had Josie remove one of the metal
strips of her suit, and studied it with intense concentration.
	Now Josie was finished.  Ladyhawke leaned back in her chair
and pressed her fingertips together.  Taking a deep breath, she slowly
said, "You need help, my dear."
	"That's why I came to see you--"
	"No, no, Josie.  You need help.  As in professional,
psychiatric help."
	"WHAT?"
	"Have you ever listened to what you're saying?  It does not
match with reality.  For instance, if all of those robots that
attacked me were evil, then why did the ones that arrived later fought
off the first set?"
	"It's a ruse--!"
	"Yes, yes.  Grand schemes to fool the public."  Ladyhawke
waved the air absently as she continued, "Frankly, Josie, your
conspiracy theories would be a dream come true for Oliver Stone.  It's
obvious that you're bitter over your accident, out for revenge, and as
a result grossly oversimplifying the issue."
	Josie leaped out of her chair.  "I didn't come here to be
insulted!  If--"
	"SIT -- DOWN!" Ladyhawke commanded suddenly, with a piercing
glare that sent Josie scowling back into her seat.
	Once she had settled, Ladyhawke leaned forward and resumed
speaking in her normal tone.  "Now listen to me.  I don't claim to be
a professional counselor.  And even if I were, I've better things to
do than to 'cure' you.  I'm not a nursemaid.  I said those things
because it's the truth; whether or not you choose to believe them is
your own matter.  And frankly, I don't care if you are daft in the
head -- some of my best operatives are certifiable lunatics.  But they
get the job done, and that's all I ask for."
	Ladyhawke climbed out of her chair and started pacing before
Josie.  "I don't believe in this 'evil robots are out to destroy the
Earth' theory of yours.  I DO believe that those who call themselves
'Decepticons' are out to plunder our resources, while the 'Autobots'
are trying to stop them.  There's enough evidence in the public record
to support this.
	"That does NOT, however, make everything all right.  Good
intentions or no, the chances are very high that whenever these
'Transformers' get together, there'll be a lot of collateral damage to
whoever's nearby.  There is also the possibility that the Autobots may
fail to stop a Decepticon attack.  Or worse, that the Decepticons may
eventually defeat them and leave us all helpless."
	"So we have to stop them!" Josie yelled.
	Ladyhawke ignored her as she continued lecturing.  "The
Autobots are also not entirely in my best interests.  They are
currently staying out of human affairs, but that may not hold forever.
And if that happens, I'd rather not have Autobots who may interfere
with a target of mine someday.
	"So, Josie--" Ladyhawke stopped now, and turned to look down
on her.  "Though your obsession seems misdirected, you do bring up
some valid points.  For my own interests and those of the human race,
you are right.  We should work together against the Transformers."
	Josie's expression broke into one of hope.  "You mean you'll
help me?"
	Ladyhawke leaned back against the edge of her desk.  "Not
entirely.  I want to hire you.  I've had your personal records pulled
while you were talking, and I must confess, they are impressive.  You
are a certifiable genius, and that suit of yours is the best proof
possible.  I want you to work with my Owls, in research, weapons
design, or whatever else you care for.  Also, I want you to protect my
resources in case the robots attack again.
	"In return, I'll give you my men and my facilities to fight
the Transformers.  You'll answer directly to me, but you can wage
whatever missions you want -- provided that they don't interfere with
our contracts and assignments.  Business first, vendettas later.  Your
jobs would also be a good way to keep my men in shape; the last thing
I need are complacent soldiers."
	Josie pondered for a long time.  Finally, she looked up and
said, "I won't fight humans for you."
	"I won't need you to."
	"And you know that anything I develop will be for fighting
robots."
	Ladyhawke crossed her arms indifferently.  "Fine with me.  You
create the hardware; I'll put them to use."
	Josie glared at her.  "And I won't like you."
	"As long as you obey me, I don't care.  So ... Do we have a
deal?"
	Josie closed her eyes.  Ladyhawke's attitude and personality
irritated her greatly.  Yet she also realized that this was the best
opportunity she had to defeat the robots.  Once, she believed that she
would deal with the Devil himself to reach that goal.  And now she was
asked to give up her soul...
	She took a deep breath, opened her eyes, and looked up.
"Deal."

                                   THE END
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