Gambits and Lamentations

By Tony “Thunder” Klepack

    “What?!” Matthew Kirkby regarded the large Decepticon named Face that he was hovering in front of.
    “I remarked that Gwen is under Starscream’s absolute mental control. Your belief that she is suffering mental neurosis from the binary-bonding process is incorrect.”
    “Starscream is...controlling her? How?”
    “The Headmaster process is a sharing of minds between two individuals from two different species. In a normal scenario, the two minds form a stronger whole from their joining resulting in better combat efficiency. However, you are two different unique minds...the one and the other. On some occasions, both minds are in harmony. On others, one or the other of you disagrees and the stronger will inevitably triumphs.”
    “So...Starscream has a stronger will then Gwen does?” Matt asked. “And he gets to call the shots?”
    “More than that, Starscream’s will is incredible--overwhelming Gwen’s own mind and personality totally. She is still inside there, however her mind is untrained to handle such a situation--she cannot fight off Starscream’s mind because she does not understand how. He is the dominant mind, suppressing her own will completely.”
    Matt looked at Face, silently mulling this new information over. Could it be true? All this time he’d thought Gwen was going mad when she was really being manipulated by Starscream? It seemed hard to believe and yet, it was possible. Gwen had undergone a total personality change almost overnight and he’d thought she’d lost her mind but what if he had interpreted it wrong? What if the new traits and attitudes were her binary-bonded partner’s own mind manifesting itself in her body?
    It seemed plausible. In fact, he wanted to believe it; Granted, this wasn’t a much better situation than before, but at least Gwen really wasn’t responsible for her actions. For some reason that fact alone made him feel a little better...
    Maybe because he didn’t feel betrayed?  
    No, that was a stupid thought. She was just his ex-secretary and he felt nothing like that toward had just been a physical attraction, that was all. He was just relieved knowing she wasn’t responsible for her actions of late and he owed Gwen for her loyalty to him in all this. That was why he was so determined to help her out...he didn’t have feelings toward her. He didn’t need anyone else in life, except himself...
    He forced those thoughts out of his mind and concentrated on the present instead. Looking up at Face, he wondered how the other had known about Gwen’s condition. Granted, he’d demonstrated some unusual abilities before--influencing his wingmates when they’d first met and now, grasping Matt in a telekinetic energy field--but even then, he would have to be very powerful or resourceful to be able to know every little detail going on inside Gwen’s head.  If it was the former, why would so powerful a being bother masquerading as a Decepticon in the first place? There’d be nothing to gain... and if it were the latter instead, it would’ve taken a lot of work to find out anything and even then, Face couldn’t have known for certain if Starscream was controlling Gwen.
    And any way, why bother to find out? As both Whisper and he himself had figured, the Decepticons seemed very uninterested in the affairs of other lifeforms--except where they could exploit them to conquer the people.  So, why would Face be so interested in Gwen’s affairs that he would investigate her and find out about Starscream’s influence? And why tell Matt about it, assuming it was indeed true? There had to be something more to all of this...some angle he couldn’t see as of yet.
    ‘So, why not ask him? I mean, you have nothing to loose really,’ Whisper’s voice spoke in his mind.
    Good point...
    “How do you know all this for a fact, Face? I don’t suppose you were walking by Starscream’s quarters and overheard her saying something...”  The undertone of sarcasm was obvious enough, Matt hoped, to get a response out of him.
    “As you should know by now, I have my ways...”  Face replied calmly, apparently unaffected by the sarcasm--or seeing through Matt’s attempt to get more out of him. “Just know that I speak the truth concerning this matter. I do not think, I know, that I am correct. The rest you will just have to take on faith.”
    “Faith?!? I should have faith??” Matt snapped. “I don’t have any reason to trust you--and the only person I ever trust in life is me! You tell me I should believe Starscream is controlling Gwen--but you don’t offer any proof. And even if I did believe you, why are you telling me this? There’s no obvious gain for you here, so why are you doing it?“
     Face smiled slightly at that. “I gain nothing from this little exercise. You are quite correct in your assessment; you have no reason to trust me and I have no apparent proof of my statement. Except, I do not need irrefutable proof to offer you. I knew you would understand the truth when I revealed it to you--despite this little charade of yours, you realized immediately when I said it that I was correct. Thus, further evidence was irrelevant--you have seen enough already to know what I speak is the truth. Your own convictions have already convinced you of it.”
    “Okay. Fine. But what’s your angle here? You must have one--everybody has an angle to exploit!”
    ‘I agree completely,’ Whisper chimed in.
    “I gain no immediate benefit from aiding you--I merely seek a little justice in an unforgiving universe.”
    Matt opened his mouth to speak, but Face cut him off. “I know you do not trust me entirely yet, Matthew. But despite surface appearances, not all the Decepticons are evil as you believe. Some are a mindless rabble that crave death and destruction--some, not all. Some of us are intelligent enough to want a better future for our people--that is Megatron’s belief, why he started this entire war in the first place. Nor is destruction my overall goal in life... I know you have had a hard life Matthew and that you don’t easily trust other people but I assure you I have no ‘angle’ to exploit.”
    “How did you know about my past growing up? I’ve never told any of the Decepticons about it! Hell, I haven’t been here long enough to tell anyone about it.”
    Face smiled that smile again. “I know a lot about you, Matthew...”
    “How’s that?” Matt asked. He hadn’t revealed his criminal background to anyone--not the security staff he went through when he was officially amalgamated into the Decepticon empire, certainly not Gwen...there was simply no one here who knew. So, how did Face?
    “That’s of little importance right now,” Face announced, seemingly reading the thought from his mind. “We are both interested in saving the Human Gwen from Starscream, are we not? Surely, we should pool our resources to that end...”
    He lowered Matt to the ground telekinetically and allowed him to stand in front of him on the floor. Matt looked up into the reflective visor that covered most of Face’s visage. After a moment of silent reflection, he made his decision.
    “Alright, fine. Let’s do it...”
    “Excellent. Starscream is an extremely dangerous individual. More so than most Decepticons realize...or believe. If you are to confront him and save Gwen, you must be made ready...”
    He turned and began to walk down the empty corridor. Hastily, Matt followed after him.
            *            *            *
    The Star Sentinel burst out of nowhere and glided to a relative stop in space. Sunfire used her mind to telekinetically adjust the nav system to stabilize the ship from drifting too much as she prepared for what was to come.
    She had gone over the plan in her mind several times as she had traveled through Hyperspace here. There was a high element of risk involved in all the aspects of her plan, but she had no other choice. This was the one option left open to her--she had tried going to her Autobot brethren but they would not listen to her--not that she blamed them. After all, she did look Human now and the circumstances leading to her resurrection had been rather unusual, to say the least.
    That meant the Autobots fate was sealed from what she could interpret...their own inaction would doom them all to destruction and there was nothing she could do to stop that. But there were still other sides in this conflict--the Decepticons would not listen to her either but they stood a better chance overall of survival and, as such, her efforts would have to be concentrated on protecting their faction from destruction.
    There were other sides in this conflict to consider as well. One group was the coming force that would instigate the Omega Point in this universe if they weren’t stopped. They could not be reasoned with and there would be no point in trying to contact them at all. All she might achieve by attempting to do so would be her own premature death--and she had no interest in dying twice. The third force in this conflict was also stubborn and unruly--also bent on the destruction of her people. But they were not so removed from her own kind as to be unreasoned with. It was possible--if only slightly--that they might be open to listening to what she had to say.     
    And if they would listen, abandon their own agenda, then perhaps her people would stand a chance at survival yet. Perhaps the coming destruction could then be averted and a new, true Golden Age could be ushered in.
    It seemed too perfect to be realistic, she knew, but it was a dream to strive for in the end. If even her people could survive at all, she would be satisfied by that. And if the Autobots met their end soon, as she had foreseen and feared, the Decepticons would hardly usher in a new Golden Age...  but that was a matter for another time, she knew.
    The Autobots...  could she have done more to save them, she wondered. Or would anything she have done just been a temporary respite before they and all of their people were destroyed in the coming darkness? Were events totally locked into sequence as she feared or was it possible to break the chain?
    She decided to choose the latter. After all, if she didn’t believe she could change events then why bother even trying?  No, she would change events...prevent the predicted outcome no matter what. Even at the cost of her own life once more... it seemed all too familiar a theme of late in her life. But she was still an Autobot at heart and honor demanded she could do no less.
    Sunfire turned her attention back to the behemoth consoles in front of her. Focusing her newfound powers, she ordered several commands into the ship’s computer. After a moment, she heard a click somewhere below her and then another noise as the vessel launched an energy torpedo into the dark expanse before her.
    Closing her eyes, she concentrated and reached out, watching in her mind as the torpedo did a sharp turn in space and came back at the Sentinel. She had ordered the projectile to fire on the ship but due to safety protocols in the computer had been unable to get it to target the ship exactly--the best it would allow was within 15 kilometers of the vessel. Since she did not have the override codes, she had decided to do this the hard way.
    The torpedo neared her vessel, seeking it’s target above the ship. Watching mentally and waiting for the precise moment, Sunfire readied herself.
    She grabbed the torpedo telekinetically and wrenched it down into the ship, forcing it to explode against the area of the hull above the central power energizers. The ship shuddered horribly as the impact occurred, destroying the energizers and several sub systems as well.
    Almost instantly, the lights flickered out and the consoles blanked. After a moment of dark silence, the emergency lighting switched on and an alarm began wailing.
    “Warning! Critical damage to ship systems! Warning! Critical damage to ship systems! Warning! Critical damage--”
    “Computer, override emergency alert protocols,” Sunfire announced. Instantly, the computer fell silent.
    That was better. The bridge seemed almost creepy to her in the eerie blue glow of the emergency lighting, but at least she didn’t have to put up with that annoying alarm anymore. Closing her eyes, Sunfire eased back into her overlarge chair and concentrated once again, reaching out with her powers...
    She surveyed the damage to the ship psionically, noting the scarred hull where the torpedo had been directed. The central power energizers had been destroyed completely as she’d planned, rendering the ship virtually powerless.
    Had the shields been up, this much damage could not have occurred, she knew. But she had wanted it to occur...after all, she needed the ship to be damaged and powerless for this plan to work. And the damage appeared to be inflicted by another vessel which worked better for her purposes...
    That just left two things to do now... returning her awareness to the inside of the ship, she directed her telekinesis at the consoles before her, redirecting available power into the communications board. Tapping in a few commands remotely, she ordered the ship to broadcast a general emergency S.O.S signal at the planetary systems closest her.
    “Computer, respond,” Sunfire called out.
    “Standing by,” the disembodied voice replied.
    “Shut down all life support systems,” she ordered. “Emergency override, code 114-A 771. Unit XR358-Delta.”
    “Command acknowledged, Autobot Sunfire.”
    If only it could have been that easy with the torpedo, she mused. But the life support override code was a fairly common thing for the rank and file of the Autobots, in unusual cases that dictated the use of it. Ordering one’s ship to fire on itself was not and could have easily been used by a saboteur, hence it was restricted to high-ranking Autobots only.
    Closing her eyes once more, she searched out the life support systems in the interior of the ship and telekinetically destroyed them, preventing the system from being re-enabled later. It was insurance for when they arrived...and they would, she knew. This would be too unusual a circumstance for them  to simply ignore.
    As the oxygen in the bridge compartment slowly dwindled away, she eased back into her seat and relaxed, closing her eyes in meditation. Sunfire wondered what had become of the Decepticon Tempest, the current identity for the Syntara whom had once been Optimus Prime. She hadn’t seen Tempest since Cindras 2 and her death...wherever Tempest was now, she hoped It was safe.
    She saw the Autobots from her squadron, the Air Defense Force, standing alongside Tempest as she started slipping into unconsciousness. She hoped...these Transformers...people she was particularly close to would...survive somehow. She swore with her last conscious thought, perhaps futilely, to ensure they would be protected somehow...
            *            *            *
    Gwen Piterson writhed about on her bed, her naked form loosely concealed by a thin sheet. Her body glistened with perspiration, her crimson lockes sprawled out loosely on the mattress beneath her.
    “ more! Stop it...p-please--stop it!” she cried out to the empty room, tears streaking down her face.
    Her body tensed up suddenly and her back arched, sending the sheet sliding off her. Her frame convulsed violently and her voice whimpered weakly.
    “It is pointless to resist me, Human,” she replied in a more harsh tone, her form suddenly going limp. “My will is far stronger and I control you almost totally already!”
    The violent protesting voice subsided into the back of her mind, dulled by Starscream’s own consciousness. Rising from the bed, Gwen dressed quickly and tied her loose hair back into a tail. Walking over to her binary armor, she quickly put it on as well and leapt into the air, transforming into Starscream’s head. Nearby, Starscream’s torso walked over and picked up it’s head module, connecting it to the rest of it’s body.
    “You deserve whatever I give you, Human,” Starscream snapped indignantly. “After all, you are the one whom saw fit to bestow this terrible indignity upon me--of being reborn as a Headmaster, and a female at that!”
    She walked over to the large mirror nearby. “I suppose it could be worse,” she said, looking into the mirror. “After all, you females are often underestimated by males--and I can easily use that to my advantage.”  She gave her body an appreciative look, admiring the sleek curves and polished chrome. “Still... I detest the looks I get from the other Decepticons!”
     Of course, this Human body she now possessed had it’s uses. Human relations could be most...pleasurable, as he’d discovered. And the woman he was bonded to was quite attractive
apparently--the looks he had gotten from the Human males had been unmistakable. She had enjoyed them all, even Grax, whom she’d had to eliminate yesterday.
    But this Kirkby character that Gwen appeared to be so fond of was dangerous. She had planned originally to use Gwen to intercept Matt yesterday afternoon outside his quarters. She would be troubled, fragile and in need of his help--a ploy that would’ve worked long enough for him to lower his defenses and then when he wasn’t expecting it, she would strike.
    That had been the plan. However, Matt had not returned all that evening and she, fearing someone would discover Grax and Skullcruncher were missing, had decided she didn’t want to be lulling about the ship’s corridors for no apparent reason. So she’d returned to her quarters, waiting for a more opportune time to kill him. Given his interest in Gwen, she knew that wouldn’t be very long...
    It was all so complicated now, she mused, not like before... back when Galvatron ruled and Shockwave, Lightning and herself had plotted to overthrow him. Now, Galvatron and Shockwave were dead, killed by the newly-resurrected Megatron.
    Something had gone wrong with their plan and as far as she could tell, it had been Lightning. Megatron must have used that unstable freak to exploit their plan for his own gain. And it would’ve been just like Lightning to have gone along with it when he’d realized the chaos that could ensue as a result.
    She knew better than to trust Lightning again--she’d even had her apprehensions back then about trusting him, but had ignored them for the potential pay off. She wouldn’t make that mistake again, though...
    This new Megatron was completely stable and in control--of that, she was certain. All her potential allies were gone this time and if she was to succeed, then it would have to be by herself. But then, wasn’t that always the way it was in life?
    But despite appearances, this Megatron had some weakness somewhere--some flaw in his
‘armor’--everybody did. And she would find it and exploit it--she deserved to rule the Decepticons and that was all there was to it.
    Besides, if Starscream didn’t find some way to take out Megatron now, then Megatron would find a way to take her out. She didn’t know how long he‘d put up with her presence here and she wasn’t about to tempt fate by finding out...
    No, it was best she struck first. And when the time came, strike she would!
            *            *            *
    Tempest walked down a lone corridor on the Dark Glory, her footsteps echoing on the deckplates. She noted the lack of activity in the section she was in and knew that most of Megatron’s forces were being prepared for an all-out assault on these mysterious Disciples of Primus. Right now, his forces were gathering intelligence and planning strategy--and very shortly, everyone would be needed. But for now, only his top level officers were involved and most of the rank and file were being trained in military drills.
    But she was a deep space scout by assignment and hadn’t yet received any new orders, hence her lack of activity at the moment. Being a Syntara, she knew exactly what the Disciples were and why they were there, but they were the lesser of two evils at the moment. No, a much more ominous threat was on the horizon and that was her prime concern.
    She sighed. The last several months had been hectic. With her enhanced senses she had known something was wrong right before the Decepticons struck the Autobots and destroyed many of
them. Unfortunately, Syntara code prevented her from warning her former Autobot brethren and she couldn’t figure out a way to do it before the Decepticons attacked without revealing how she knew and what she really was.
    Well, she’d had Oberon constructed in secret, so hopefully the Autobots at least had a fighting chance still because of Optimus Prime’s foresight. It would have to do...  It was funny, she’d spent five million years as Optimus Prime, the courageous Autobot leader, and despite Syntara edict about not becoming too involved with their assignments, she had to admit she missed the Autobots in some ways.
    Of course, she’d only been Tempest for a few months and hadn’t yet had time to fully adapt her mindset to this new role as a Decepticon scout. Perhaps in a few years--assuming the Transformers race continued that long--she would be more comfortable with the current state of her life.
    And what of the future, she wondered. Would the Decepticons survive the coming destruction or would the Syntara’s efforts be in vain, the enemy destroying them utterly? She knew she had been
re-assigned to the Decepticons because they were now where the power in their race lay--the convergence of the Transformers future would be decided with them, not the Autobots. The Syntara had decided the Autobots were certainly doomed now and there would be no point in re-assigning Tempest there, content to let the other faction to it’s fate.
    It had been different at one time, though. Back when Sunfire was still alive, she had believed the Autobots could still be saved. Sunfire had always been a dreamer and philosopher in peace time, but Prime had known she could be more...he saw that earnest intent, that fire beneath it all, the potential to lead her people to salvation. She had tried to make her understand that when Optimus Prime had died at Autobot City, hoping Sunfire would take up the mantle of leadership in his stead.
    And on Cindras 2, The four Syntara watched as the lone Sunfire battled hopelessly against the superior killing machine, Midnight, and actually succeeded in holding her own. They’d met again then, and she had revealed her true nature to the Autobot, placing hope in her that she could become a Harbinger to her people, revealing to them the coming danger of the Enemy.
    But it was not to be. Midnight had found Sunfire as she left the Syntara’s realm and killed her in his own sadistic fashion... but he had not suspected Tempest to be there also and she had at least gotten the satisfaction of destroying him--for Sunfire’s memory and her own sense of justice.
    Of course, it was a violation of the Syntara code to have used her powers directly to kill
Midnight--irregardless of if there was witnesses or not. It was forbidden to use the Syntara power in the physical universe when they were taking on a disguised form--for fear they would be witnessed by other higher powers and their true nature and interference would be revealed. And she had not had time in her schedule to return to the Three and explain her actions to them. But she would when she next returned to their realm and they would understand--they’d have to.
    Of course, none of it could bring Sunfire back. That young female whom had looked up to him, loved him for some reason. Perhaps, it was his position or clarity of mind as leader of the Autobots that had attracted her to him, she didn’t know. But it was a tragic ending to a life so very young for a Transformer... and in some ways, Optimus Prime had admired her too. She’d had so much potential and been so full of
life--not yet had her heart blackened by the horrors and atrocities of four million years of war--and, of course, that was just in Tempest’s time as a Transformer. It was to say nothing of her earlier assignments with other powers of this universe...
    She supposed it was time to put Sunfire’s memory out of her mind and get back to the present. After all, she could do nothing for the dead--her goal was to protect the living and ensure they remained that way. Reminiscing over a lost comrade was pointless and she--
    Tempest looked up as she heard an odd buzzing noise from the adjacent corridor behind her. She turned in time to see a partially-visible energy wisp rushing up at her. She barely had time to raise her hands in defense as it slammed violently into her body. Half melding into her frame, it exploded in a violent display of sparks and energy, thrusting the helpless scout down the corridor. Tempest tumbled to the floor hard and sank into unconsciousness.

    Skyquake thundered down a quiet section of the Dark Glory, rushing in the direction of the bridge and Megatron, where he was to give a report to his leader.  Passing by an adjoining corridor, he noted a Decepticon lying on the deck, it’s form unmoving.
    Rushing to her, he checked for life signs. Finding some, he quickly tapped his comlink and spoke into it.
    “Medcenter, this is Skyquake. I have a downed Decepticon in--” he checked the corridor designation. “--corridor 132, sub-section T. Send an emergency team immediately!”
    “Understood, sir,” the Decepticon on the other side replied. “Medcenter out.”
    Checking the Decepticon’s body again, he noted it was a female he did not recognize immediately. Her armor was slightly scorched in the front, as if something had burned her though not completely. Looking up at the corridor she had been in, he noticed a section of it was charred black in a roughly strewn ring.
    What on Cybertron had happened here, he wondered.
            *            *            *
    Three ships converged on the Star Sentinel, it’s occupants noting the torn, charred top section of the vessel.
    After several minutes of waiting, one of the vessels came in closer and moved beneath the crippled spacecraft. A top portion of the new vessel twisted and warped, stretching outward toward Sunfire’s vessel. After a moment, it connected and solidified into a bridge between the two ships.
    Inside the damaged Autobot vessel, an acidic substance melted away the hull, allowing access to the interior of the vessel. After another moment, twelve armed figures climbed up out of the new access way, their dark pulsating armor a stark contrast to their silvery hair.
    “Units one, two, four and six will secure this vessel’s engineering section. Three, five and seven will guard thou portal. The rest of thou art with thyself,” the lead one spoke through his masked face.
    The five Humans quickly made their way to the front of the ship and the secured bridge doors. Their commander didn’t know what to expect apparently lifeless mech vessel had shown up off Eden’s location and transmitted a general distress beacon. Oddly, it had been in their native tongue as opposed to Cybertronian.
    “Open them,” their commander ordered, pointing at the bridge doors. The four with him raised their weapons and fired acidic bursts at the doors, the substance impacted on the doors and quickly burned a small hole at the base, allowing the smaller Humans access.
    Two Humans took point, securing the large room. Their leader followed and the last two soldiers followed slowly, their minds alert to any potential danger from either direction.
    Noting the lifeless bridge, their leader opened his mind and immediately detected the foreign life inside the vessel. Summoning his armor’s powers, he rose into the air and hovered over to the large seat at the very front of the vessel.
    In the middle of the large mech-sized seat was a small unconscious figure of a woman--a Human woman! Landing on the chair, he cautiously walked over to her still form. After a moment of judicious examination, he tentatively reached out a hand to her.
    “Careful, lord!” Another of his party said as he hovered nearby with another guard watching his progress.
    Despite the sentinel’s warning, he doubted there was anything to really be concerned about--the ship was devoid of oxygen, their earlier sensor scans revealed the vessel’s oxygen reclamation systems having been destroyed. Mostly likely in the pursuit this ship was involved in. Mechs could survive in vacuum, but their own kind could not. Unless, this was some sort of trap--but then, why use a dead Human for it?
    Their commander touched Sunfire’s neck, feeling for a pulse. He found one and realized that her skin was still relatively warm though it had a slight blue tinge to it now.
    “She is alive,” he announced. “But weakened, thy fear. We shalt return her to Eden and have her attended to.” He looked at the others. “Have thy ship searched thoroughly, determine what thou can and then destroy it--thy do not wishest a mech trap in this vessel, be thy a weapon proper or a tracking system of some sort.”
    He reached into a leather pouch slung about his chest and pulled out another oxygen mask. Gracefully, he lifted her head up and placed it on her head, being careful to cover her nose and mouth. As he expected, she did not stir from the further contact.
    They had determined the mechs from yesterday whom had arrived on Eden and tried to find their sanctuary had most likely crashed there accidentally not intentionally, so their home was still safe for now. But he would not risk the chance that this was not a trick of some sort, meant to find their base for a certainty and destroy it then with some hidden weapon on the vessel. No, destroying this vessel was their best bet.
    But if the woman was some mech slave or had valiantly tried to escape her captors, then she deserved to be returned to Eden and allowed to be liberated. She was, after all, a fellow Human being.
    And yet, who was she that a mere Human was able to pilot a mech ship out here? It was far too large for her to physically pilot and she was not a Master as they were. So how had she done it? There were things about this whole scenario that did not make sense, and the only way they would understand was if they took her back and got some answers.
    Hoisting her fragile form into his arms, the commander levitated back into the air above the large chair. “Rest easy, child. Thou are among thy own kind now,” he said quietly.
            *            *            *
    “Why are we here?” Matt asked the behemoth Transformer beside him.
    Face was tapping some commands into a hovering comp pad beside him and hadn’t said much since they’d come here.  Matt cast a glance about the spacious room once again, taking in the darkened area and the captivating low illumination as it cloaked the arena with a spectrum of crimson, sapphire, emerald and amethyst.
    The room reminded him of the factory production facilities from Project Excalibur, yet more graceful, with the air of a Roman arena about it. Machinery sporadically dotted the walls as did a dim white webwork of light which covered the entire ceiling and walls about them. The lighting wasn’t sufficient in many places, but Matt could see the room was roughly spherical and he suspected it was domed somewhere above them.
    “A moment further,” Face replied finally. He quickly tapped a few more commands into his console.
    Matt sighed, feeling impatient. He didn’t know exactly why he was here, only that Face had awoken him early and brought him here for some reason, apparently relating to his plan to rescue Gwen from Starscream. And he was still tired--after Face had given him that revelation, they had returned to Face’s quarters and they had discussed a few options about rescuing Gwen. But then the conversation had degraded into Face asking him about Gwen and his time on Earth...and Face had seemed interested enough in Matt’s recollections, but he’d gotten the distinct feeling that Face was intentionally keeping him there--almost as if he didn’t want Matt to return to his own quarters for some reason.  And then...he’d fallen asleep. That last half hour or so before he’d surrendered to his biological need to shut down had been a blur. But in the morning, before Face had dragged him here, Matt had returned to his quarters to change and check the place over. Everything had seemed normal enough...but why he had been kept away the night before still seemed suspicious to him. And he knew enough not to take things at face value all the time.
    “We are ready to proceed,” Face announced, as he tapped one final command into the pad.
    “With what, exactly?” Matt demanded.
    “A simulation, of a sort,” Face replied. He gestured about them. “This is one of several holo chambers on the Dark Glory. We generally use these for combat simulations and intensive strategy sessions when we need a virtual battlefield.”
    “So, are we going to...what? Study Starscream’s fighting style or something?”
    “Not exactly.” Face tapped two buttons on the comp pad beside him and the world around them vanished, replaced instead by a white beach and foaming ocean.
    Matt looked up and noted the star above them, surrounded on all sides by a turquoise sky and the odd puffy grey-pink cloud sailing unintrusively about. He felt the warmth of the sunlight on his face, the gentle breeze tickling his hair. After a moment of absorption, he cocked his head in the direction they weren’t facing, noting the green shrubbery that eventually evolved into forestry about a quarter mile from the beach they stood on.
    “This is impressive,” he told Face. “We’ve had some experiences with hologram technology on Earth, but never anything this sophisticated. It feels so.... so real.”
    “I concur,” Face agreed. “Unlike previous technology on Earth and Cybertron, the Dark Glory uses projected light and forcefields to achieve a realistic effect for someone using the holo chambers.”
    Matt lingered in the illusion for a moment longer, reveling in the virtual environment about him. He didn’t know what world this simulation represented--if any--but it was an attractive place to be. So calming, relaxing...
    He sighed and looked up at the other beside him. He noticed a slight curve at the ends of Face’s mouth and realized he was smiling slightly. Why did he suddenly feel less comfortable?
    “So...” he asked tentatively, “why are we here? How will this help me fight Starscream?”
    ‘Maybe you’re supposed to relax her to death!’ Whisper’s voice suddenly volunteered in his head.
    “Tell me, Matthew, do you trust me?”
    “Sure, I guess.”
    “Yes or no.”
    Matt thought about it for a moment. He searched his mind, recalling how Face had forced him to join the Decepticons and inadvertently saved him from the brutal fate all of Earth Headmasters had befallen. At least, he assumed it had been incidental...after all, Face couldn’t have known what was going to come, could he?
    And he had aided Talon in becoming a better Decepticon by assigning him to his unit and keeping the inexperienced Matt protected from more seasoned enemies.  Face had even stood up to Megatron--the only Decepticon Matt had yet seen do so--for Matt’s continued existence.
    And now he was trying to assist him in saving Gwen from the clutches of Starscream’s control. He had always been a suspicious type and he still suspected something odd about the previous night, but after having considered all the recent evidence there was only one real answer.
    “Yes. I do trust you.”
    Face nodded. “Excellent. Gwen is greatly endangered by Starscream, Matthew. She is little more than a puppet to him and once he grows tired of her continued presence, he may find her...dispensable.” He paused. “I want you to sit here and dwell on the implications of that. I know the thought disturbs, I want you to meditate on it. Learn to separate your emotions toward Gwen’s well-being from your rational mind.”
    “I don’t understand,” Matt exclaimed. “What’s the point of this, exactly? How will allowing myself to get all worked up about Gwen help her?”
    “Understanding is not required,” Face exhorted, “only obedience.”
    “But I still--”
    “Matthew, understanding comes in time to all things. If one truly strives for it in life, it can never escape them. Now, please do as I have requested...continue until I return for you.”
    Face walked down the beach with his comp pad. Pressing a few buttons on it, a doorway appeared in mid-air and opened in front of Face. He stepped through it and on to the deck of the Dark Glory. Immediately, the doors slid shut behind him and the hologram re-appeared over the doorway, making it seem as if the doors had vanished.
    Matt sighed and sunk to the white sand. He cast a look about the virtual landscape and a part of him hoped he wasn’t going to imprisoned here for a very long time... although it didn’t seem truly likely. He was just tired was all and not thinking completely straight. He wondered if that was intentional so his meditation would be further complicated or was it merely coincidental? Knowing Face, he suspected the former.
    He closed his eyes and started attempting to do what he had been instructed to do. He just hoped Starscream wasn’t ready to make her move yet and that Gwen would be safe for the time being...
            *            *            *
    Starscream was seated at one of the large Transformer-sized consoles in the Decepticon archives, hacking away at the red and purple touch pad in front of her. She had been here for an hour and a half looking through files and attempting to ascertain what she could about Megatron’s new power base and how he had been resurrected from the dead.
    It had been somewhat successful; she had found out that the Dark Glory was his Empire’s largest vessel--although that was fairly obvious. His Empire had fifteen planets cyberformed completely with another three at partial stages of transformation. Impressive, any way one looked at it...especially for so little a time frame. Indeed, he’d attained far more in only nineteen years then he had in four million...
    Perhaps she’d been backing the wrong Decepticons all these years? Megatron had accomplished a great deal. Still... his competence was not in question, she supposed. Starscream merely wanted what he had--power and a great deal of it.
    Finding information on his return from  the dead had been somewhat more complicated...she had found few references at all and those that did refer to his new origin only mentioned “the Benefactors” as having given him his new power base. It was all a little too vague for her concerns.
    But after having been here so long, she’d decided to work at hacking into Megatron’s personal log files, using relatively unknown “back door” tricks to route around the usual safeguards and alarm code sequences. She had just managed to get past all the security now and into a data log of his journal entries.
    Starscream tapped a few commands and tried to open the earliest file on the list. As the computer screen displayed the file data in front of her, she cursed as she realized the file was encoded! Tapping two more commands, she discovered it was some kind of triple-encrypting like she’d never seen before. This new Megatron was careful...
    She’d have to find some way to crack these files--they contained information on his origins, she was certain of that. And if Megatron really had been recreated by some mysterious aliens, why wasn’t he still affiliated with them? Had they been displeased with him somehow? Or had he simply turned his back on them? Either way, these “Benefactors” were the key to defeating Megatron and taking his power for herself.
After all, if they could help him achieve this much power then perhaps they would be looking for an ally against him--one to either destroy an unsatisfactory product or to punish him for abandoning them.
    She quickly downloaded the files to a data crystal and removed it from the console. Her access would be located shortly by the computer and she didn’t need to be caught. Tapping a few commands, she disconnected from the secured files and shut the console off.    
    She examined the crystal. “Megatron, I shall soon know your weakness,” she sneered. “And then... then you will be mine!”