Picking Up the Pieces
By Tony “Thunder” Klepack

    It was mid-morning as Matthew Kirkby marched down the mammoth corridors of the Dark Glory, his mind focused on his task.  His former secretary, Gwen Piterson, had binary-bonded to some Decepticon named Starscream and in the bonding process her mind had snapped.  Her previous behavior had confirmed this suspicion in his mind and knowing he had been responsible for her involvement in the
project--and hence, her merging with Starscream--he felt obligated to help her out.
    And he would. The Decepticons possessed centuries of advanced technological knowledge on both their own and other species. If he could find aid for her anywhere, it would be in their vast database.  Matt had been meaning to get down to the ship’s archives earlier, but had been detained this past week with initiation into the Decepticons’ varied ranks and rigorous training exercises--which, thanks to his own Headmaster augmented abilities and Whisper’s past combat experience, he had passed through with slightly higher than normal skill for someone so new to their ranks.
    He sighed. It was still hard to get the mental image of Gwen out of his mind from the previous week when she had tried to seduce him. It was so out of character for her--obviously, she had been aware of his own lingering looks at her figure and at times he could’ve sworn she’d even played into it a just little. But the Gwen he knew would’ve never been so outwardly aggressive. It was a male fantasy to be with a commanding woman, he knew. But truthfully, her behavior then had frightened him, not excited him.  She was not in control of herself anymore and he feared for what she was capable of doing--if she said or did the wrong thing to the wrong person she’d find herself dead very quickly and that was not a thought he wanted to have deal with.
    Why couldn’t this Starscream she was bonded to deal with Gwen’s unstableness, he wondered. Was she--or rather, he--scared to allow Gwen access to his own mind? Or was he simply disinterested in the fate of his binary partner?  Matt didn’t know, but he would’ve assumed Starscream would have at least tried to calm her down.  Of course, there was another possibility--what if Starscream wanted her to get herself killed so he could be rebuilt as a non-Headmaster like before?
    Whatever Starscream’s true motivations were, he obviously wasn’t going to be much help in this situation. Matt had noticed a prevalent attitude of self-interest among many of the Decepticons and he suspected from what little he’d heard that Starscream possessed this quality in the extreme. He made a mental note to look up her partner’s service record while he was searching the Decepticons’ computer and see what it said about him exactly.
    Matt scratched absently at his beard as he walked and abruptly realized he’d shaved it off before he’d been bonded to Whisper. It had always been a sub-conscious habit when he was troubled by something and with all the changes recently--the war for Earth, the bonding to Whisper and now, Gwen, his mind simply hadn’t caught up to some of the realities of his current life.
    Realities... like Earth. It was a broken world now. The Decepticons had batted aside all resistance on his homeworld, even decimating their last hope, his own Project Excalibur. Oh, it had been a noble idea all right, but the Humans simply didn’t have enough time to pull it all together and without the Autobots to either slow the Decepticons down in the beginning or to aid them as they defended their world, the Humans hadn’t been able to stop their inevitable downfall.  And then, someone somewhere had decided to use an electro magnetic pulse weapon to prevent the Decepticons from having their victory--but what a price Earth had payed in the process!  All machinery on the world was rendered useless and there was no way he’d ever be able to return now. From all the Decepticon reports, the pulse had killed all the binary-bonded Humans left on Earth and it would linger in the atmosphere for a very long time...
    He was stuck now. In perhaps the greatest adventure a Human could’ve ever asked for...except, he hadn’t really asked for it, had he? He would be bonded to Whisper for the rest of his life, fighting in a war he hadn’t wanted to be a part of. The world he’d known all his life--growing up on the streets, using any method he could to get ahead in life and take what he wanted and rising up the corporate ladder to become somewhat respectable--it was all gone now and there would be no going back. He would have to adapt this vast new world in front of him or he wouldn’t last long.
    That was the reality of it, wasn’t it? All his life he’d had to rely on himself to get anywhere in life and learn how to cope with what life had thrown at him and this whole situation was no different. More dangerous--granted, but ultimately the same.
    In fact, all that remained of his previous life was Gwen now. A person whom had devoted herself to helping him out at Blackrock Enterprises and was in her current situation because of him. He’d had few friends like that in his life--most had been people whom had used him or whom he himself had used--and he felt obliged to help her out.  Loyalty was an alien feeling to Matt, but it did seem to be one of those adjustments he had to make in his new life--he just had to watch that he wasn’t getting weak in his old age!
    He chuckled slightly at that and realized suddenly that he was walking near her living quarters.
Almost before he’d completed that thought, he found himself turning in the direction of the adjacent corridor, the one that would take him past her door on the way to his ultimate destination. He hadn’t seen her in days and wanted to discreetly make sure she was all right. Surely, she was--after all, the Gwen he’d known had been anything but rash.
    But this isn’t the Gwen you knew, remember? Whisper’s voice echoed in his thoughts.
    Matt nodded silently as he walked. No, she wasn’t... and he didn’t know what to expect, but he hoped deep down that she’d still retained enough sense to stay out of trouble for the time being.
    His hopes were dashed though as he turned the next bend in the corridor and saw Gwen standing in front of her corridors, flanked on either side by two men in binary armor. Speeding up his pace slightly, he walked toward them, hoping to appear casual.
    He watched as Gwen wrapped her arms around both men and shoved her mouth against one’s mouth, passionately kissing him. Moving closer, he noted she was wearing a short, thin robe that did little to conceal her naked form beneath. Her enticing curved figure remained all too visible to any passerby.  He found himself more than a little unsettled by the sight.  
    “Mmm...thank you both for last night, Vorath and Grax,” she purred. “You were...wonderful.”
    “The pleasure was all mine,” Vorath responded in his slight Latin-sounding accent. “You are a woman of extraordinary talents.”
    “You can say that again, eh?” Grax agreed. “If we didn’ ‘ave to get ta duty we wouldn’t be in such a hurry to leave ya.”
    “Mmm...it’s too bad you don’t have the whole day off the way I do,” Matt thought he heard Gwen say. “Then, we could explore new... positions between our two peoples.”
     The trio chuckled at that and it was then they noticed Matt walking toward them. The two male Headmasters appeared casually disinterested while Gwen maintained a wicked glint in her eye.
    “Eh! Whatta you want, mate?” Grax snapped at him, breaking the instant of silence. “Can’t ya see we’re tryin’ to ‘ave a private moment ‘ere?”
    “Is there something we can do for you, sir?” Vorath agreed, not immediately appearing to recognize him.
    “Just passing through,” Matt muttered as he passed them. He cast a glance at Gwen whom was busy planting kisses on Vorath’s left cheek and ear.
    As he continued onward down the passageway, he cast one final look back at the three Headmasters. Gwen was throwing him an intense look over Vorath’s shoulder--neither of the men seemed to notice, both being too busy with attempting to satisfy Gwen.
    Matt exhaled in disgust--much to her bemusement as far as he could determine--and turned back on his way.  
    The intent of her expression had been clear enough: Look what you could’ve had.  He doubted she’d intended the whole incident just now--but it couldn’t have worked out better for her if she’d tried.
    This new side of Gwen greatly worried him and, maybe, made him a little envious. But he knew she wasn’t in control of herself anymore and if this was one of the things she was now capable of, he shuddered to see how far Gwen could go before she’d stop...if she’d stop at all.
    It was quickly re-affirming his desire to get down to the archives and see what he could locate in the Decepticons database about mental illness in Humanoids and what technique he could use to heal her shattered mind.
    He had to save her, he knew. There couldn’t be any atonement for his past actions until he had seen this through. And see it through, he would.
            *            *            *
    Sunfire awoke with a start. She’d been having an insane nightmare--she had met Optimus Prime, reborn as a Decepticon named Tempest...then, she’d been torn to shreds by a Decepticon assassin named Midnight...only to reborn as a Human--
    She looked down at her body lying on a makeshift cot in the Autobot medcentre and realized much to her surprise that it hadn’t been a dream--rather, a waking nightmare! She was a Human...  
    It had all been a blur before but now the images and chaos of her mind had begun coalescing into order inside her mind. She had defended her Autobot brethren on Cindras 2 from the crazed killer Midnight, stopping at nothing to destroy him. And then, somehow, she’d been...elsewhere. An interdimensional realm of sorts where she’d met Tempest--a being whom had been the one true figure she looked up to...
    Optimus Prime.
    She’d been told of the coming darkness and how she had an important role to play as a harbinger of this news to her people. How they would face certain annihilation if they did not know... and then, Midnight again. He had surprised her and her last conscious thought had been him hissing madly how he’d finally beaten her--finally taken her life... finally won.
    And then, she had been here. And things had changed... she knew in her mind now that the Syntara had recreated her as a Human to better combat the coming darkness--though how, she wasn’t entirely certain just yet. And she knew that a Human mind was smaller in scale then even a Transformer mind and her brain hadn’t been able to adjust to all this new knowledge yet when she’d arrived here. But it was adjusting now...and she understood most of what she had to do now--enough, at any rate, to get the job done.
    She chuckled to herself. It was all madness...even for her. But it was real too and she knew that, despite her own trouble accepting the reality of it all, she had a purpose to fulfill. A destiny, if she could be so melodramatic.
    Rising slowly, Sunfire got off the small, custom made cot and rose to the cold steel floor. She was awestruck momentarily by the vastness of the world around her--it was a moment few of her kind would ever experience...the sheer alien perspective of being a Human. Of being nothingness in a world of giants at play.
    It was quite humbling, she had to admit...
    As she walked toward the exit to the medlab she was currently situated in, her mind took note of the absence of personnel in the adjacent areas of the base. She could...sense other minds now--and there were far fewer than there should’ve been here.
    She hoped the Autobots hadn’t put their faith in one of the two newcomers whom had arrived.  This Sonimus Prime character whom claimed to be her reborn to lead them. Of course, that was
preposterous--but the others may not have believed so. After all, to them she was just a crazed Human and not their comrade of many years. Sonimus, on the other hand, sounded and acted like her, and even seemed to possess her memories. She could’ve far more easily convinced the others of her identity then Sunfire herself could presently.
    And then, there was this Optimus Prime character--a prototype Go-bot bodyshell that had seemed to come alive by itself. He had all the charisma of their lost leader, but Sunfire had met Tempest--and she knew the Decepticon scout to be the genuine article. Even acting as an irreverent scout, there was something unmistakable about Tempest--an energy of personality and a strength of character beneath it that Sunfire knew too well and could not mistake. That was Optimus Prime’s strength beneath it--
    No--not Optimus Prime’s. Rather the Syntara whom she knew as Optimus Prime’s strength of character. They could change their appearance, state of existence and their genders even, but there was no mistaking that underlying personality that had been the heart of both Optimus Prime and Tempest. She realized now that neither persona was truly his but rather both were roles or aspects of his true underlying personality--he simply played up the right traits to blend into whatever role he was performing.
    She wondered about Tempest...how often had the Syntara sent others of their kind into the Transformers race and how had they manipulated her people’s evolution? Had it been for the better or for the worse?
    She supposed it didn’t really matter right now--if the Syntara’s knowledge was anywhere near accurate, she had a mission of the utmost importance to perform. If she failed, all this speculation would be irrelevant because the coming threat would totally annihilate her kind. And she couldn’t allow that--she would do anything to stop that--anything necessary.
    “Hey you!” A voice cried out. “Where are you going?”
    Sunfire looked up to see an Autobot--Fixit, if she wasn’t mistaken, rushing toward her from his adjacent office.
    “Fixit, I need to talk to Grid Iron about a matter of the utmost importance,” she replied. “There’s...” She paused, trying to figure out how best to proceed. But she wasn’t entirely certain herself how to not make it all sound like the rambling of the totally insane.
    “There’s... a great threat coming to the Autobots and our entire race--a great darkness that will destroy us all if we do not act immediately. I must speak to Grid Iron and warn him about this threat! I must make him see that he must not retaliate against the Decepticons. If he does--”
    “Whoa, there!” Fixit replied, a cross between bemusement and concern on his face. “I think you should just go back to bed for now and we’ll see what we can do about--”
    “Blast it! I’m not crazy!” Sunfire snapped. “Don’t you understand?! I really am Sunfire! And I’ve been told what’s been coming--we can’t attack the Decepticons right now or the Autobots will suffer great destruction! And that’s what the darkness wants to happen--it knows the Decepticons won’t see it until it’s too late to act and then it’ll all be over! The Autobots will be destroyed and the Decepticons won’t know what they’re up against! Please, you have to believe me...”
    “And who told you all this, exactly?” Fixit asked patronizingly. “Am I supposed to take your word for it all?”
    Sunfire stopped mid-sentence. She knew she was supposed to keep the Syntara’s identity out of this all--after all, that was why she’d been chosen. So the Transformers could decide their own fate and the Syntara could remain hidden, not directly involved in this conflict. She’d been given the power to intervene herself--the power to defend her people like she’d done back on Cindras 2--and not make the enemy realize whom had aided her along.
    “I--I can’t tell you,” she began.
    “You see?” Fixit asked. “Now, enough of this talk! Go back to bed for now and I’ll see what I can do with Grid Iron, okay?”  He subtlety pressed a button on his wrist-mounted comlink. “You don’t want me to have to call security on you, do you?”
    A moment later, a guard appeared at the door to the medbay and Sunfire realized Fixit’s intent in tapping his comlink and mentioning security--it had been a subtle message to the guard outside.
    Fixit gave her a questioning look and Sunfire forced herself to draw herself in. No, now was not the time to act against them. Not yet--it wouldn’t look good if she was to have any credibility at all. She knew they were all skeptical of her but Grid Iron was a reasonable person and if she acted now, he would have no trust in what she said at all.
    “All right,” she conceded. “But I want to talk to Grid Iron--and soon!”
    Fixit smiled. “Of course--and you will, I promise. But for now...”
    Sunfire turned and walked back to the cot. She lay down and faked contentment.
    Fixit nodded and walked out of the room with the guard in tow.

    Outside, Fixit turned to Rotor Rocket.
    “She’s quite unstable, I gather?” the other asked.
    Fixit nodded. “I don’t think she’s dangerous but we don’t want her running off around the base. A being her size could easily get hurt. Also, we don’t know exactly why she’s here or how she found out about this place. If somebody did send her here for some reason...”
    “What are we going to do with her?” Rotor Rocket asked. “We can’t keep her here forever.”
    “I know,” Fixit agreed. “But with Earth ruined for us, we can’t take her back there. Cybertron’s under the unknown hostile’s control and besides, we don’t even know who she is or what she wanted here. She’s obviously been under a great deal of emotional duress and isn’t thinking straight.” He sighed. “I don’t know...I guess we can just hope Grid Iron or one of the others can decide something when they get back from attacking that Decepticon colony world Hosehead discovered.”  
    The other nodded. “I hope that goes well...I wish I could’ve been along for it. With all that’s happened of late, I feel so helpless being here! I wish I could be out there doing something to help.”
    “Me too,” Fixit agreed. “But somebody has to remain back here--besides, I have a bad feeling my services will be in great demand when they return.”
    “The one bitter truth about war,” Rotor Rocket agreed. “Death and pain...”
    They stood silently together for a moment, reveling in the reality of the Autobots current dilemma.
    “Well...” Fixit finally said. “I guess I should get back to work. Carry on, here.”
    Rotor Rocket nodded and looked at the door behind him. He sincerely doubted a mere Human--and an unstable one at that--was going to be much of a problem...
            *            *            *
    “Everything else is pretty much under control,” Frostwing finished. She stood at attention as Megatron finished glancing over her report on the comp pad she had given him.  
    “I see,” he replied after a long moment. Giving the report one final glance, he placed it aside and looked up at her. “Very well, Frostwing. I have faith in your abilities as security chief... I trust you can handle everything.”
    “Yes, Commander,” she replied.
    Megatron looked back down at his computer terminal and realized that Frostwing hadn’t started to leave yet.
    Glancing back up, he asked; “Is there something else?”
    Frostwing nodded and exhaled slightly. “I’ve been... concerned by two internal security threats of
late--namely, Starscream and Lightning. Given their past histories, neither can really be trusted...”
    Megatron eased back and steepled his fingers thoughtfully.
     “You are correct, of course,” he replied. “Starscream has always been one of my more...colorful warriors. A born opportunist...it is inevitably only a matter of time until he--until she--attempts to make a bid for power again and undermine my authority.”  
    However, she would find it a hard battle this time around to usurp Megatron’s authority. All of his new warriors understood what was at stake this time and none were pursuing any other objectives. It was not like the first Decepticon empire... back when several disgruntled Transformers with varying viewpoints had hastily assembled under Megatron’s charismatic leadership, realizing that the common fact that something in their society and their lives needed to change. His new soldiers knew what was needed--a strong concentrated effort to bring their kind into a dominant position in the universe. Able to oppose any force that threatened to destroy their uniqueness...like his Benefactors, for example.
    And the old guard Decepticons whom had rejoined his Empire, such as the Predacons, Skywarp and so forth were swiftly discovering the truth of the situation. Most of them had been loyal to start with and those whom hadn’t were realizing their behavior would not be tolerated this time around.
    But Starscream would not be one of them. Megatron knew his old adversary too well to delude himself into believing she would change--it was simply Starscream’s nature to stab someone in the back when the right opportunity arose.
    “Obviously, Starscream will have to be eliminated at the earliest occasion. But we will have to be careful; if she is executed without any obvious reason then I may undermine the trust I have created between my warriors and myself. I do not wish for them to fear me for no good reason...no, we will have to make sure there is solid motivation for Starscream’s sentence.”
    “I could plant something...” Frostwing suggested. “Or at the very least, have careful watch kept on her for when she makes her move.”
    He nodded. “Planted evidence will not work with Starscream--she’s too cunning for that and will most certainly be expecting something. No, we will keep watch with that one and give her enough cable with which to hang herself. Sooner or later, she will.”
    “I understand,” Frostwing replied. “I suspect your logic will be similar in Lightning’s case as well...but he does strike me as more dangerous in some ways. He’s unstable--capable of anything.”
    “Yes, I know,” Megatron agreed. “Lightning has been a concern for some time and his presence could eventually prove detrimental to my plans...”
    “So, we are going to get rid of him, then?”
    “Definitely. He did help me accomplish my revenge on Galvatron and Shockwave but his usefulness has come to an end. If given enough time, I suspect he could be a problem as well.”
    Although he doubted a partnership between Starscream and Lightning was something he need concern himself with. After all, Shockwave’s vy for power of Galvatron’s forces had been Starscream’s idea to begin with and he had let the unstable Lightning in on the plan. Surely, she had realized by now that Lightning had been Megatron’s instrument in undermining that plan and that he could not be trusted nor controlled enough for a second alliance. Starscream was nothing if not untrusting of apparent allies.
    “Perhaps an accident of some sort,” Frostwing suggested. “Given Lightning’s mental condition it’s not unlikely he could wander into the wrong area and end up fatally injured...”  
    That would just leave Starscream, she knew. And one less security threat was all the better as far as she was concerned.  And given the recent disappearance of one of her officers--a promising young soldier named Bluewind--she knew one of these individuals was involved with the probable death of her staff member. She took it as a personal affront that someone had dared take out one of her people--the individual would pay, she promised herself.
    Frostwing suspected Lightning more of the two. He just fit the profile more...Bluewind had disappeared in a maintenance section and it seemed unlikely that a grand schemer such as Starscream had been hanging out down there. But Lightning could very well have been...and he was the type who would enjoy killing just for the sake of it.
    “Hmm?” Frostwing snapped to attention, realizing Megatron had just said something.
    “Are you all right?”
    She nodded briskly. “I’m sorry. I was just lost in thought...”
    Megatron regarded her with an atypically unreadable expression. “I see,” he said simply. “As I was saying, keep watch on Lightning as well and if the right opportunity should arise, kill him. As I said earlier, the Starscream problem will attend itself.”
    “Yes, Commander,” she replied. “I was---”
    Frostwing was interrupted by the comm-unit on Megatron’s desk.
    “Go ahead,” he ordered as he depressed a button on the touchpad on it.
    “I apologize for the interruption, Commander, but there is a high priority signal from Dnema,” Soundwave’s monotone replied.
    “What would Mercer want again so soon, unless...” Megatron trailed off, an expression of concerned understanding dawning on his face. He looked up at Frostwing.
    “This meeting is over. See to those matters we discussed...”
    He turned back to his comm-unit and switched channels over to Mercer.    
    Frostwing nodded, turned and strode out of Megatron’s office with that.
    Yes, she would carry out his orders with her usual precision...but she would take on Lightning personally.
            *            *            *
    Matthew had been researching Gwen’s condition for hours and had come up with a good deal of research on the subject--or so she had ascertained from discreetly observing him for the past hour and a half.
    Gwen watched him work in the near-silent Decepticon archives, tapping away at one of the scant, newly installed Human-sized terminals. At this time of day there weren’t usually any personnel around--most of the Decepticons were on duty and those that weren’t usually didn’t want to waste their time stuck in a library all day. Even the ship’s administration hadn’t seen fit to place an attendant down here, leaving a information seeking Decepticon to their own vices to find what they wanted on the ship’s computer databases and data crystal archives.
    Matt was going to be trouble--of that, she was certain. And she couldn’t stand such a random element in her future plans. He would have to be eliminated--that was all there was to it. A part of her hated that prospect--he was genuinely concerned with her well-being and she was going to have to kill him for it. But he couldn’t be allowed to remain alive--he was a nuisance at best and a genuine threat at worst. She found neither aspect acceptable and so he would die.
    And she knew the best way to do it too. He would be turned off by her blatant sexuality toward
him--but his concern for her could be used against him if she manipulated circumstances the right way. All she really had to do was be fragile and helpless toward him and he would be pulled in--he wouldn’t stand a chance against such bait. And then, when his back was proverbially turned, she would take him.
    All too easy... people, no matter what species they were a part of, were simply too trusting. And that could always be exploited. Only the outdated guise of morality prevented most people from doing so--as if anything like conscience would ever stand in her way!
    She smiled at that...
    “Ey, luv! I wus thinkin’ we could go back yer place and ‘ave some more fun. What you say, eh?”
    Gwen barely noticed that Grax standing there in his Headmaster armor beside her. He must’ve just arrived...
    “Hmm? Oh, Grax... what do you want?”
    Grax smiled and grabbed her hourglass waist, pulling her close to him. “You, luv! Interested?”
    Gwen smiled her best crocodile smile. “Not now, Grax. Maybe later, okay?”
    “Wha’s the matter? Ya seemed to enjoy me last night. Not tireda me already are ya?”
    “No...just busy.”
    Grax looked up at Matthew in the adjacent room, totally unaware of them and their conversation. “Oh I see--ya got the eye for ‘im earlier today, eh?”
    “`E’s half the man I am! Come on, ‘aby!” He said, clutching her tighter.
    “Not now, okay?” Gwen snapped.
     “Yer jus’ playin’ hard to get. C’mon ‘aby, let’s ‘ave a little fun!” He pulled her slightly down the corridor.  “Don’t make me hurt ya, now...”
    Gwen heard the words playfully spoken but easily spotted the subtlety implied threat within them. Grax wanted his way with her and he wouldn’t take no for answer...he would get his way, one way or the other.
    Sighing, Gwen looked up into his blue eyes. “You’re going to be forceful, huh? Honey, if you wanted me that badly, why didn’t you just say so?”
    “Thought I did...” Gwen stopped him from talking as she leaned into him and kissed him passionately. She ran her arms up his larger muscular frame, her delicate hands stroking every inch of him until they were caressing his face.
    “Like that?” she cooed.
    “Mmm-hmm...” Grax mumbled.
    “Me too...”  With that, her hands gripped the sides of head tight and wrenched his head unnaturally to the right side. She heard a gruesome crack as his neck broke and his body crumpled into her arms. She lowered the body slowly, making sure his Headmaster armor didn’t make any appreciable noise as it contacted the floor.
    She slinked back to the recently constructed Human-sized doorway that she had been observing Matt through, making certain that he hadn’t heard anything. Seeing he hadn’t and was still wrapped up in his work, she moved back to Grax’s body and looked at it sprawled on the floor for a moment.
    “Jerk!” she spat quietly. Casting another glance around, she picked up his corpse and hoisted it over her shoulder. Of course, it would have to be disposed of somewhere. She couldn’t risk being detected...which meant Skullcruncher would have to be silenced now too.
    Sighing loudly, she carried the lifeless Headmaster with her and marched into the larger corridors beyond, using her augmented memory to avoid the surveillance system about her.
    Down one dark-lit side corridor that she’d passed, Face crept outward after she’d gone. Casting a look at her as she carried Grax’s body, unaware that she’d been spotted, he nodded silently to himself and returned to the shadows.
            *            *            *
    There was no warning as Rotor Rocket stood guard. No indication anything was amiss--it just suddenly happened...
    The heavy door to the medbay Sunfire was in suddenly exploded outward, catching him completely unaware. His body was slammed into the opposing wall by the door’s remains and he lost consciousness on impact.
    Sunfire emerged, noting her guard was unconscious but thankfully not dead. The last thing she wanted to do was kill one of her Autobot brethren. But she had overheard the conversation earlier and knew that the Autobots had already commenced an attack on the Decepticons. It was too late for them now...  She had mulled it over for a little while before acting but knew she had to ultimately. Once Grid Iron and the others returned, it may already be too late for her to do anything for their people. She had to act before the Autobots fate was concluded and she was caught here in the middle of it.
    Rushing down several adjacent corridors as fast her small body would carry her, Sunfire knew it was time for a more hands-on approach. There were other forces in this conflict yet and perhaps she could appeal to one of them. In fact, the more she’d considered it, the more sense it made... after all, if any of the forces in the coming war could even be pulled off their mutual courses then that might be enough to prevent the bloodshed to come. At any rate, it would make for better odds against the dark enemy they would all soon have to face.
    She saw the dark Armada of vessels again in her mind set against the crimson interdimensional void. They would hail the destruction of all she held dear and the end of her people, be they Autobot or Decepticon. She couldn’t allow them to succeed...no matter what it took she would stop them.
    She had to.
    Slipping right, toward what her mind told her was the vessel dockbay, she found the vast cavern ahead of her and with several spare vessels in drydock.
    She rushed up the vast ramp into one of them. Using her mind to focus, she caused the large button to press in telekinetically, closing the vessel off behind her and preventing anyone from easily getting aboard once they detected her there.
    Slipping into the vast bridge, she telekinetically leapt into the pilot seat of the personal transport. Placing herself comfortably in the middle of the vast chair meant for a Transformer, she sighed and then concentrated, bringing the ship’s systems to life.
    Within minutes, the vessel was hovering to ceiling length and pushing forward toward the exitway. Outside, she could see emergency lights flashing their crimson beams brightly as an unauthorized take-off commenced.
    Steeling her mind to the task ahead, she sent the vessel on a course out the exit tunnel. After several moments of accelerated take-off--far safer than was usually done by an Autobot crew--she powered up the ship’s defense grid, sensing the impending closure of the outer rock opening concealing the entrance on the surface.
    As she approached, she loosed several full power volleys, tearing open the partially closed aperture and allowing her vessel to exit safely.
    As her vessel accelerated, she sensed the surface defenses going online and used her enhanced instincts to avoid the energy bolts and missiles at the last second. She knew if the comm system had been activated, they would probably demanding--or pleading--with her to stand down and surrender. As if anybody in a similar circumstance would ever do so!
    She chuckled at that and set the ship’s Nav computer to fly her to an unfamiliar sector of space. After a moment, it acknowledged her new course and she ordered the vessel to Hyperspace with her telekinesis, leaving behind several last-ditch attempts of her Autobot brethren to stop her escape.
    She was safe for the moment, cocooned by the mad interdimensional distortions of Hyperspace. She was on a course with her future now...a pathway that would either see the Transformers annihilated by the darkness or saved from it. And it all depended entirely on whether or not she succeeded on this mission...
            *            *            *
    Matt walked briskly back toward his quarters, confidently carrying a small leather folder with a couple of data crystals and some paper sheets in it. It had taken him hours of research but he was confident he had found several promising leads about Gwen’s condition.
    It seemed the Decepticons had discovered several different techniques for correcting psychosis in Humanoids including changing the electro-chemical balance in the brain to properly function as well as several nanotech procedures for physically correcting the problem and ultra sonic modulation which seemed to have several positive results in the past as well.
    It was most encouraging, as he’d hoped.
    ‘My, you certainly go to extraordinary lengths to get a woman!’ Whisper’s voice spoke in his mind. ‘Most guys just prefer going to bars or something, not performing complicated neurosurgery on them.’
    ‘Oh, be quiet!’ Matt thought back. His binary partner could be so annoying at times--though truthfully he suspected they both had more in common than they’d like to admit.
    At any rate, now he had several options to mull over. Though he supposed Whisper had a
point--once he selected one, what would he do exactly? Kidnap Gwen and perform the technique on her himself? Go to Megatron, or perhaps Face, and get their permission--assuming they believed him or even cared. After all, he’d seen several Decepticons whom didn’t exactly strike him as being mentally stable. Who was to say they’d consider a mere Human?
    ‘Now, you understand,’ Whisper told him. ‘Megatron’s always struck me as being more concerned with our own kind. This latest incarnation is especially...fascist toward non-mechanoids. I wouldn’t count on his or other officers help in this matter.’
    ‘What about Face?’ Matt asked. ‘He seems unusually interested in my business.’
    ‘Hmm...I don’t know. He’s always been a little, ah, mysterious you could say. If there ever were somebody whom the term “wildcard” applied to, Face would be it.’
    That didn’t strike Matt as encouraging. It was certainly possible that Face could help them out but for all he knew Face could also turn them in or just turn a mute audio receptor to his problem. Perhaps he should just stick to his traditional more subtle approach in these matters.
    ‘Ah. So we’re definitely settling on kidnaping then?’
    Matt shrugged physically. ‘It does have certain advantages...’
    ‘Like not getting caught, for one.’
    Almost on cue, Face emerged from a side corridor ahead of Matt. He turned in Matt’s direction and he knew the Decepticon was going to address him.
    “Greetings, Talon. I believe we have to talk...”
    “Not now, Face!” Matt replied, slight agitation creeping into him. “I’m busy with something else.”  Had he somehow known what Matt had been thinking? It was out of the question normally but Face had already demonstrated unusual talents in front of him before...like on his two wingmates Dirge and Skywarp when they’d first met.
    He pushed past the mammoth Transformer and continued on his way.
    “I am afraid I must insist,” Face announced.
    “Yeah, yeah. Take a numb--” Matt never finished as he was unexpectedly levitated into the air.
    “Telekinesis,” Face explained to him as he hovered at optic level with the Decepticon. “It does have it’s uses.”
    Matt started to look down and then decided he’d rather not see how high up he was.
    “So,” he began, smiling sheepishly. “You wanted to talk?”
    “Indeed,” Face replied, a small smile apparent on what little of his face was visible beneath his visor. “I felt I must inform you that you are mistaken in your logic...”
    What did he mean by that?
    “I don’t...know what you mean.”
    “Of course you do. Your interest in the woman, Gwen Piterson--Starscream’s binary partner.”
    “I don’t have any--”
    “Of course you do. And I have intercepted you now to inform you that your logic in this matter is flawed. Often in life one jumps to conclusions based off their observations. For the most part, their inferences are generally correct. However, the facts do not always add up to what we conclude...do you understand?”
    “Not exactly, no.”
    “Based off the available evidence, you have assumed Gwen is mentally unstable and therefore needs some sort of corrective surgery. You feel, in your own guilt, that her predicament is your fault and therefore your responsibility to correct.”
    “It is...” Matt replied.
    “True. Her predicament is the result of your involvement in the project and the result of her concern you were under Decepticon control. Thus, she bonded to Starscream in the hope she could come to your aid. In essence, you are responsible for her current situation. However...”     
    Matt regarded him curiously. So, she had undergone the binary bonding process solely to come to his aid! He hadn’t realized that before... but it did fit with her personality. She had always been concerned with doing a good job for him, but this... this was far above and beyond the call of duty. He truly was responsible for her situation, he realized now. He also admired her selflessness--she was obviously a more dear friend then he’d realized to risk so much for him.
    ‘So, you could always give her a raise...’ Whisper chimed in.
    Ignoring his partner’s comment, Matt realized he had wondered about why Gwen had bonded to Starscream before now and had just assumed she had joined some kind of last-ditch effort to save Earth after he had left. But no. She had done it to save him... and in the process had payed the ultimate price of her own stability of mind. It just made him feel all the worse, now...
    Face exhaled. “That is where your error is. You see, Matthew, she is not mentally unstable as you believe. Rather, she is under Starscream’s absolute mental control...”

    Gwen stood near Matt’s quarters, awaiting his return. She had decided it would be best to eliminate him immediately and get rid of the problem he posed once and for all instead of waiting longer as she’d initially planned. Again, a part of her mind rebelled against the idea, but she immediately silenced it. Her Humanity was interesting, but quite irrelevant to her ultimately. The Human portion of her mind had once been taken with this man but that was of little consequence now.
    She held a carefully concealed steel blade in her left hand, awaiting the opportunity to use it on Matt when he arrived. And she suspected he would be along shortly...it was true he was a workaholic but even he had his limits and she knew he would not spend any more time researching then necessary. Surely by now he would have found out what he needed and be along shortly.
     “Human! I would have words with you!”
    Gwen spun about to see Skullcruncher speeding toward her. He was confined to his crocodile mode now, devoid of his head component. But even in his animal mode, he was no less dangerous, she knew.
    “You killed my partner, Grax, and now I will have revenge on the great Starscream’s partner!” he yelled, lunging at her with his mammoth steel jaws.
    She leapt out of the way just barely in time to avoid being crushed between his teeth. It occured to her as she ran toward the opposite end of the corridor that Headmasters were the stupidest idea going--kill the partner and the character was helplessly stuck in one mode. Of course, none of these concepts were all that logical, she supposed. Targetmasters, Powermasters, you name it--all had obvious flaws going for them.
    She ran to the end of the quiet corridor and heard someone step behind her. She summoned her helmet from interdimensional storage and quickly placed it on her own head. Leaping into the air, she transformed and merged with Starscream’s body behind her.
    “You’re a fool,” Starscream announced, “to assume that I wouldn’t keep my partner nearby to defend myself!”
    She leapt into the air and rolled out of Skullcruncher’s way as he lunged at her again. Landing behind him, she drew her steel sword.
    “Shut up and die, you coward!” Skullcruncher howled, lashing his tail out and striking Starscream in the chest, slamming her to the floor. He leapt at her fallen form but missed as she rolled out of the way, narrowly avoiding him.
    Flipping to her feet, Starscream laughed at him, her voice a higher pitch than when she had been male. “I’m no coward!” She exclaimed. “I just know when to fight and when to escape... a point I’ll soon impress upon Megatron too!”
    Skullcruncher made good use of his time, turning and leaping at Starscream. He collided with her and crashed to the floor. “I’ll tear you apart piece by lousy piece!” He grabbed her arm in his teeth and clamped down hard on it.
    “I’ve killed better than common street trash like you!” Starscream snapped. She rolled him to the floor and delivered a hard chop to his mid section. He let go of her arm in reflex, leaving only some teeth indentations.
    Leaping into the air and landing on her feet, Starscream lunged for her sword. Grabbing it, she swung it in a defensive posture.
    Seeing Skullcruncher had regained his footing and stood watching her, she glared at him. “What’s the matter? Had enough? Going to let yourself be beaten by a mere female?”
    “NO!” Skullcruncher yelled, leaping at her.
    Starscream easily dodged the lunge and slammed her elbow into Skullcruncher’s head module as he passed her. He crashed to the floor and she leapt at him. Thrusting downward at him, she tore her sword through his head module, killing him. She ripped the sword out of his head sideways, cutting his head in two.
    Looking down at the body, she smiled. “It’s a mess, but I’m two for two! Not bad for a day’s work...”
    Wiping the oil and fluid off her sword blade, she sheathed it. It was going to be difficult to hide all these bodies but she’d have to get used to it. After all, this wouldn’t be the last...
            *            *            *
    She was close now. Frostwing had decided to investigate Lightning’s quarters herself and look for evidence of anything unusual and conspiratory in tone. She suspected he’d be on duty somewhere and wouldn’t be there himself. Of course if he was, well, then that “accident” she intended for him would befall him swiftly.
    But it would be better if she could find something linking him to a crime first off. Most criminals wouldn’t be stupid enough to leave evidence in their own living area she knew, but Lightning’s mind set didn’t rule that prospect out entirely. Perhaps in his own insanity he believed he was invincible and therefore unable to be caught and prosecuted by Decepticon justice? At any rate, it seemed a good place to start.
    As she walked toward a corridor junction in the secluded section of the ship Lightning had chosen to dwell in, she heard a voice speaking to someone and after a moment, she recognized the tone as belonging to her quarry himself.  
    She crept along slowly, wondering if he was talking to a co-conspirator of some sort, such as Starscream--after all, not even Megatron was right all the time. Some part of Frostwing’s mind wondered if perhaps she would luck out and catch him in the proverbial act now.
    “I hate you!” his strange, English-like brogue exclaimed to someone in the adjacent corridor where he was. Frostwing decided to play it cautious for the moment and just eavesdrop on their conversation. If one of them said something to implicate themselves then she would move in on them.
    “You are a piece of work, you know that?!”  Lightning continued. “You are evil and...and stupid--and I don’t know why I ever let you talk me into this!”
    “But I--” another voice began. Frostwing could tell it was male but not which of her brethren it belonged to.
    “Oh no! No, you’re not going to talk your way out of this one! You’ve screwed up royally this time and nothing you can say is going to convince me otherwise!”
    “Please! You know I would never hurt you...I love you and I only want what’s best for you. Please...you’ve got to believe me...” the other Transformer pleaded.
    “Mere words, my friend,” Lightning replied. “Things you’ve said far too often...”
    “Don’t you see?! They had to pay for their crimes--and I did it for you. I did it all for you!”  The other said. A pause and then; “You’re not strong enough to see it--but I am! And I wanted to help you understand it too--that’s why I talked you into it. They had to die, so you would be truly avenged! I may have made you pull the trigger, but you know now it needed to be done. Please... don’t hate me for making you do what was necessary...”
    Her curiosity got the best of her and Frostwing risked a slight glance around the corner. A look of shock and disgust crossed her face. Slowly, quietly, she turned back and silently left the area.
    She wouldn‘t be nailing Lightning today, she realized. But Frostwing would soon, somehow. She was more convinced now then ever that he had been responsible for her officer’s death and she would have her revenge for it. Bluewind deserved that much, though Frostwing would never have admitted that to one of her subordinates directly, she realized. It just wasn’t her way...

    As Frostwing left the area, Lightning continued his conversation unabated, not realizing she had been there listening in.
    “So...it comes down to this, I guess,” he continued.
    “I guess...” the other said. “You understand why I did it now, don’t you?”
    “Yeah,” Lightning told him softly, the rage having left his voice. “I believe that I do. But--don’t think this makes us even or anything! I still hate you, what you are and what you’ve become to me--and no matter how hard you try, nothing’s going to change that.”
    “You never know,” the other Transformer said to him. “Maybe...maybe in time you’ll truly understand and learn to forgive me. I exist to serve you--I love you and only want what’s best for you... if you believe nothing else I ever tell you, believe that.”
    “Hmph!” Lightning exclaimed. He decided to leave then; he still had a lot of work ahead of him to accomplish...
    He cast one final glance at the other’s hopeful visage--in the mirror right in front of him--and then turned to leave the otherwise empty sitting lounge.