(The main story to Transformers: Balance of Power #4)


By Tony “Thunder” Klepack


    "This is Bonnie Cartier for the World Global News." The young raven-haired woman on screen held a grim look on her face as she spoke.
    "Seven hours ago, the Transformers faction known as the Decepticons began their attack on Earth."
    The vid-link screen cut to several video clips of Galvatron's warriors laying waste to buildings and tearing through the photon tanks and sonic jets of human kind like they were nothing more than mere tin foil.
    The footage continued and Bonnie's voice spoke alongside it.
    "The assault began after a long twelve hour conflict on Canada's Vancouver Island, the location of Autobot City."
    The camera changed view to stock footage of the Autobots going about their daily routines months before, blissfully unaware of the coming events.
    "Although, we cannot safely get cameras to the site, eyewitness reports indicate the city has been obliterated and that the Autobot casualties may number as high as ninety percent of the overall city population."
    G.B. Blackrock put his hand against his temple in shock at the situation. He had many Autobots friends in the city and he had a horrible feeling they were all dead now.
    Seated nearby on a black Italian-leather sofa, was Buster Witwickity and his wife Jessica. Beside them, their two children Carla, and Michael, sat quietly. The family wore a similar looks of remorse...and fear.
    On the vid-link, the news reporter Bonnie Cartier continued her report blissfully unaware of her viewers emotions, but doing her best to look concerned and serious. "The Decepticons forces are rapidly spreading outward from the western continental coast, and heading inward to the very center of North America."
    Bonnie stopped her reporting and looked upward as a high-pitched noise came closer to her location. She and the camera person broke into a run, the camera blurring as they moved. Behind them, a large explosion could be heard. Blackrock realized a missile with some sort of ultra sonic targeting device must have been fired at the two reporters.
    The camera was steady now. Bonnie, although flustered, seemed to have regained her composure now. She quickly took center stage on camera and continued.
    "The Decepticon forces have not yet attacked the eastern hemisphere but it seems inevitably, that they will eventually. One thing is abundantly clear: the Decepticons are back...with a vengeance."
    "Screen off." Blackrock called to the unseen computer system as the vid-link switched back to the anchor desk.
    The screen went dark and the five Humans sat silently, each one absorbing the implications of Humanity's dilemma.
    Blackrock looked over at his younger friend Buster. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he had met Buster, whom had been a teenager at the time. Their mutual friendship with the Autobots had made them both friends despite their enormous age difference. Blackrock had later been enthused with Buster's mechanical abilities and hired him as part of Blackrock Industries research and development wing, where he had quickly rose in the ranks ever since. Buster had in fact just been promoted to vice-president in charge of Research and development a month before the assault began.
    Blackrock wiped some strands of grey hair out of his face as he silently studied his worker. He was now sixty eight himself and had been looking forward to retirement until this disaster had occurred.
    And now the United Nations council wanted him to find a way to stop the Decepticons--as if it had been his fault they were here! Still, Blackrock knew he was probably the one to call.
    After all, he had been the one who had gathered the four mutants together whom had formed the Neo Knights, a team dedicated to stopping the Decepticons on Earth.
    But they were no longer an option. Circuit Breaker had been institutionalized ever since her last attempt at revenge on the Transformers--when Blackrock himself had forced her to attack Unicron on Cybertron, and given Optimus Prime the valuable moments he needed to regain the Matrix and destroy the evil entity forever.
    Dynamo had been killed in a final attack by Bludgeon's Decepticons almost eighteen years ago now. As for Rapture and Thunderpunch, both had resigned and disappeared separately. To this day, Blackrock did not know what became of either.
    "Do you think they're all dead?" Buster finally asked him, breaking the silence.
    "Sorry. What?" Blackrock asked again.
    "I said, do you think they're all dead?"
    "I don't know. Optimus is a good leader, but the Autobots weren't exactly expecting anything... of this magnitude."
    "I can't help thinking that Spike and Fortress Maximus were there when..." Buster's voice trailed off. He did not want to think about the chance his older brother Spike was dead.
    Buster habitually ran his hand through his brown-colored beard as a part of his mind carried out Spike's fate to it's logical conclusion.
    Spike had not been the same since he had binary-bonded to the Autobot Headmaster leader, in the hopes of rescuing Buster, whom had been a Decepticon prisoner at the time.
    In the months following Buster's rescue, Spike had been adamant he did not want to continue to remain with the Autobots. however, Buster had noted his depression and emptiness, although Spike had never shared his feelings with his younger brother or their late father Sparkplug.
    Buster and Sparkplug watched as Spike finally set off for the Arctic Circle and the Ark's final resting place. Days later, Spike had returned with Fortress Maximus, both triumphant as they had defeated Galvatron.
    After that, Spike seemed to have regained his soul. Acting as one, the two rejoined the civil war until it's conclusion and had become leading members of the Autobot community afterward.
    He did not want to think negatively, but somehow Buster knew his brother had been there when the Decepticons had slaughtered the Autobots. Spike hoped that if Spike was dead, he had died defending the Autobots and Humanity as a whole.
    It all seemed so futile to Buster now. Everything the Autobots--everything Mankind had worked for, was over. It had all died the minute Galvatron ordered his warriors to attack Autobot City, and Buster doubted it would ever be truly over for either race. Nothing short of total genocide would truly stifle this conflict.
    "We've got to find some form of counter attack." Blackrock said nearby, as he looked over a holographic map on his table that displayed North America.
    "Agreed." Jessica said, from beside her husband. " But what can we do?"
    "I believe... I have an idea." Buster spoke beside her, a look of inspiration on his face.

                                     *                                                    *                                                     *
    The hijacked Autobot shuttle the Decepticons had used to get to Earth and attack Autobot City rose above the planet and into the cold emptiness of space.
    On it's bridge, Motomaster sat in the center of the room overseeing three of his four soldiers Drag Strip, Breakdown, and Wildrider. Dead End was two decks below, guarding the Autobot prisoners.
    Motomaster wished they could have stayed behind on the planet and helped the other Decepticons destroy the Humans and their pathetic civilization. He disliked being relegated to mere courier duties, taking the Autobots prisoners back to Cybertron where they would be executed publicly as an example to the Autobot slaves whom crossed Galvatron's warriors; but he knew better than to cross their illustrious commander.
    Motomaster sighed. It was probably for the best anyway. Attacking the Humans and their targets was no real challenge for the power the Decepticons commanded.
    The Autobots on board could not be executed before Galvatron sent the signal to his Cybertron forces to attack the Homeworld. Motomaster knew they would have already been there if not for Galvatron's particle cannon damaging the shuttle's Hyperdrive systems earlier when they had attacked Cliffjumper and Tailgate. It had been several hours since the damage was realized and the Stunticons had jury-rigged it together. Motomaster only hoped the Hyperdrive would stay operable long enough for them to reach their home.
    "Not like the good old days is it?" Drag Strip said from the helm, as if he knew exactly what his commander had been thinking.
    "No." Motomaster agreed quietly. "At one time, we could at least count on Megatron to, ultimately, have our best interests at heart."
    "Yeah, but Galvatron's just a freaking nutcase!" Wildrider added from the communications station behind them.
    "You know, there was a rumour going around that Galvatron was originally Megatron in his own universe." Breakdown chimed in, from the tactical station. "But that, somehow, Unicron transformed him into Galvatron."
    "No way!" Drag Strip snapped, turning his chair to face Breakdown. "Megatron wasn't a psychotic death machine."
    "At first." Breakdown agreed. "But remember when that Human destroyed Optimus Prime? He was over the edge then. Remember what he did to Brawl?"
    "True." Motomaster interjected. "But it was only one time. And knowing Megatron, it's possible it was all an act to fool Shockwave and make his escape to Cybertron."
    The other three Stunticons said nothing but gave looks akin to shrugs. They all knew Motomaster had a good point about their now deceased leader. Deception had always been Megatron's specialty.
    "Given a choice, I would still prefer Megatron to Galvatron any day." Motomaster added. "Even if Bludgeon or Scorponok were alive, they would be better than Galvatron!"
    At any rate, it was a pointless debate now. All three leaders were long dead--two by Galvatron's own hand. He was far too powerful for any one Decepticon to defeat right now. Like it or not, they were stuck with Galvatron.
    Motomaster, like the others, only hoped his insanity would not destroy them all.
    "We're at optimum Hyperdrive range." Drag Strip noted, looking at a display on his console.
    "Take us in." Motomaster ordered. He gave the subject one last thought as the Hyperdrive powered up and decided he felt sorry for anyone who attempted to cross their great leader.
    The shuttle jumped into the interdimensional void of hyperspace, leaving nothing in it's wake.

    Moments later, the Predators' spacecraft appeared out of the nothingness over the Earth's moon, the location of the cloaked fortress Dark Glory.
    The Predators ship aimed itself at Earth and accelerated. Behind them, the mysterious new Transformer's takeover plan had begun.
                                          *                                                    *                                             *
    Several thousand light years away, the battle for Cybertron raged in deadly force. The Decepticon surprise attack had been a grand success.
    Everywhere, Autobot settlements and cities burned from the intensive assault by the Decepticons.
    The Autobots retaliated fiercely, defending their home as best they could, but it was clear they did not have the upper hand. In only twenty years, the Autobots had not had enough time to repopulate the entire globe. In only fourteen hours, the Decepticon onslaught had destroyed much of the new legacy the Autobots had tried to build here.
    Ultra Magnus lead his small group of Autobots against a group of attacking Decepticons in Iacon. The group tried like so many others to futilely save their home from these invaders.
    "Tear them to pieces!" Apeface growled as he transformed into gorilla mode and leapt toward Hubcap.
    The small red communications officer tossed himself out of the way, forcing Apeface to crash into the ground, head first.
    "Is it me or do these creeps look uglier each time I see them?" Springer yelled as his sword clashed against Stranglehold's mace.
    "Well, Galvatron didn't have much of a sense of fashion as I recall." Rad snapped, smashing his fist into Octopunch's head.
    Having recovered, Apeface leapt Ultra Magnus, making the large Autobot drop his rifle. The two struggled fiercely for a moment, each trying to gain the upper hand. Finally, Magnus managed to catch the triple-changing Headmaster and flung the Decepticon off him.
    Apeface hit the ground once more, but quickly recovered. He readied himself for another lunge but a laser blast struck him in the head first, killing him outright. His Nebulan partner transformed and dropped the ground dead also. His armor was badly burned where Apeface had been shot.
    Ultra Magnus looked up to see his savior standing nearby. It was Bumblebee in his pretender shell twirling his two guns triumphantly liked he had learned from a Human concept called a western.
    "Thanks!" Ultra Magnus smiled.
    "No problem." Bumblebee replied, before turning and continuing his fight. His guns stopped, turning in a forward position and he began firing several volleys at the nearby Decepticons, catching some off guard and forcing the survivors to run for cover.
    "Aw, it was just getting good too!" Warhawk snapped, his guns still smouldering.
    "Don't worry--" Springer began, but never finished as a trio of Decepticon jets flew overhead and strafed them.
    "Take cover!" Ultra Magnus yelled as the jets came back at them for another pass.
    "Let's give them some air cover." Tornado ordered WarHawk, Airlift, and Firestorm. The four Autobots transformed and took to the air, followed shortly after by Springer, and Skyfall.
    Tornado shot down one of the jets relatively easily. The other two however, decided they would not be as easy targets and spun around, firing as they did. A shot struck Springer's rotors, forcing him to crash land. Skyfall opened fire and downed the jet as he made the mistake of trying to finish Springer off.
    The remaining jet decided to retreat, and turned to do so when Airlift dropped down from above him and transformed back into her robot mode. She landed on the Decepticon and thrust her spear into his cockpit. She leapt away as the impaled Decepticon streaked downward and exploded, the spear still stuck through him.
    "I hate killing." Airlift said as she landed beside Tornado and Skyfall.
    "I know. But we've got to do what we must."
    Airlift said nothing. She was an Autobot who spoke her true feelings little. She preferred instead to hide them beside her ever present sense of humour. Had Tornado given it any thought he would have wondered why she had mentioned killing at all this time. However, he gave no indication of having noticed as Airlift went to retrieve her spear from the Decepticon's twisted wreckage.
    "We can't stay here, Magnus. The city's crawling with Decepticons!" Rad snapped at his commander, as nearby battles could be heard.
    "I know, but I'm not just willing to abandon Iacon without a fight." Ultra Magnus retorted. He did not want to admit he thought it was hopeless. Not yet, anyway. "Hubcap, what was the last official word from our other cities?"
    "Darkmount, and Primar both stopped sending reports not long after the battle began. Karai hasn't contacted us at all since the battle began. We have to assume their command centers are also destroyed and that they're in similar shape to us."
    "Or worse off." Springer muttered.
    "Or worse off." Hubcap agreed.
    Ultra Magnus remained silent for a few moments. Above them, several more Decepticon aircraft arrived and began firing on them, forcing everyone to duck back into their cover.
    "Tornado, try and get a small aerial patrol going around this area." Ultra Magnus ordered.
    "Right." Tornado replied. He and his fellow aerial comrades marched out from their cover and transformed.
    Ultra Magnus watched them go. He did not know what Prime would do in this situation. But if Hubcap was correct, and their other three cities did not have command outposts anymore, it meant no one was coordinating this battle on the Autobots side and that would spell certain defeat for them fairly soon. Magnus wished Iacon's command center had not been destroyed earlier by Predaking. It had been a running dogfight from there ever since.
    Ultra Magnus cursed himself for not having insisted to Optimus Prime to have the new Autobot population spread into smaller settlements more. The current situation had four cities a few miles from one another, making everyone remain together and be easy targets for attackers. But then, it had not been a real concern that the Decepticons would ever resurface again--at least, not with so many warriors and then attack Cybertron and Earth simultaneously.
    And somehow, the Decepticons had found some way to get through the Autobots electrical force fields surrounding the cities. The force fields which were their only real means of defense.
    Ultra Magnus wondered why they had not gone to greater lengths to defend Cybertron. If only they'd had more time to increase the Autobot population, but again, no one realized the Decepticons would try a full frontal assault so soon. Still, it was too late to cast blame. The only thing to do now was make a decision, to stay, or leave and essentially give the Decepticons the planet.
    `What would Prime do?'
    "I think it's time we examined ...options." Ultra Magnus said aloud to Rad and Bumblebee who stood nearest to him, awaiting the decision.
                                   *                                                             *                                                         *
    Shockwave and Lightning watched with intense fervor as their forces decimated Cybertron's surface.
    The two stood in Moonbase one's main control center and watched a large video screen on the wall. The screen relayed footage in real time from a satellite in Cybertron's orbit.
    "Got to hand it to you Shocky, your plan's working great so far."
    "Of course it is, Lightning. I calculated all possible factors in the conception of this plan. Nothing can go wrong."
    "You never know, Shocky. You never know." Lightning replied. He could only imagine the surprise Shockwave would get when his boss would reveal that he had played Shockwave and Galvatron against one another. It would bring about the end of Galvatron's reign as leader and rid them of Shockwave once and for all. Lightning liked the thought of Shockwave being gone. Maybe his employer would even let him be the one to kill this pompous twit.
    Of course, just because he was working for "the commander" as he referred to himself did not mean he could not turn on his new employer the minute the opportunity arose. Lightning wondered how the Decepticons would be under his own personal command.
    "Ridiculous." Shockwave snapped, a tinge of annoyance in his voice. "I defeated Megatron years ago, because I was smart enough to realize his wounds made him vulnerable to short circuiting. Not too much later, I used the Predacons and his own hatred of Optimus Prime to drive him insane and try to kill himself. Later, I would have defeated that fool Scorponok had Primus not brought us to Cybertron when he did. He deserved to die, and I would have gladly obliged him!"
    Lightning suppressed a sarcastic comment just then. According to Decepticon records, Scorponok and not Shockwave would have won their battle when Shockwave tried to take over. Obviously, Shockwave's ego helped him remember events differently. And as for Megatron ...he was obviously too incompetent to keep his command. Even his scheme for revenge later had failed when Ratchet had outsmarted him with his own prototypes for Starscream's pretender shell.
    "Should Fortress Maximus fail to defeat him, I will find a way to destroy Galvatron myself. Then, I will take my rightful place as leader of the Decepticons! I was created to fill tha--"
    "Oh spare me!" Lightning said, cutting his co-conspirator off in mid-sentence. "If I wanted to hear your--"
    Lightning's voice trailed off as Ultra Magnus appeared on screen surrounded by an entourage of other Autobots.
    "I'm going planet side." Lightning snapped, not taking his optics off the screen. "I've got some personal business there."
    At that, Lightning ran out of the room and left Shockwave by himself.
    Shockwave looked up at the image of the Autobot commander.
    "Indeed," he said quietly.
                                *                                                             *                                                                 *
    Galvatron hovered in front of the statue of Liberty. He had allowed his Monster Pretenders to destroy the statue in his own universe. For some idiotic reason, the Humans looked upon the statue with great reverence.
    The Decepticon leader raised his right arm and loosed a particle blast at the statue, destroying the top portion and allowing the debris to crash to the small island below.
    "Commander?" A familiar monotone voice called out from behind him.
    "Yes, Soundwave?"
    "Sensors indicate an incoming vessel of Decepticon configuration."
    In unison, Galvatron, Soundwave, and Buzzsaw looked up to see a large spacecraft fly up to them and hover nearby. On the underside a hatchway opened and Skyquake, flanked by Skydive and Snare, leapt out.
    "Skyquake!" Galvatron exclaimed, a hint of genuine surprise in his tone. "Why are you here?"
    "We received your orders." Skyquake replied innocently.
    "Orders? What orders?"
    "These." Skyquake replied, removing the small touch pad from a compartment on his person and giving it to Galvatron.
    Galvatron looked over the forged orders telling the Decepticons to attack Cybertron and for the Predators to go assist in the subduing of Earth. He noted his own signature at the bottom of the pad.
    "Then, the battle for Cybertron has already begun?"
    "Yes." Skyquake replied. "Several hours ago."
    "Someone has usurped me!" Galvatron growled, crushing the pad in his hand. "But who? Who gave you these orders?"
    "Shockwave. Why?" Skyquake said, feigning innocence. "Do you...do you mean he?"
    "It would seem so." Galvatron said calmly, making Skyquake wonder if the Decepticon leader had believed his performance.
    "That traitorous fool! It will be the last mistake he ever makes!" Galvatron snapped.
    Nearby, Skyquake's jade eyes flashed slightly, but Galvatron did not notice. But then, Skyquake suspected he would not have. After all, the predators were supposed to be his elite force, loyal only to Galvatron, and loyal to the death. Little did Galvatron suspect they had a new master who commanded them.
    "Soundwave, you're in command until I return. The predators and I are going to Moonbase to ...remind Shockwave who is in charge!"
    "I assume I should assign a new chief logistics officer, then?" Soundwave asked matter- of-a-factly.
    "Definitely. After I'm through, we'll need one!" Galvatron hissed. "Predators, follow me!"
    Soundwave nodded at Skyquake slightly when he gave the communications officer one final look. Had Galvatron seen, he would have thought nothing of it. But Skyquake knew it's meaning. It was a message to the commander ...it meant "good luck".
    The four Decepticons boarded and the ship soared spaceward, leaving Soundwave and Buzzsaw in a cloud of vapor.
                                            *                                                             *                                                                     *
    In orbit, a pair of crimson optics watched the predators ship enter the space above Earth. In a colorful display, the ship disappeared into hyperspace.
    He had to hand it to Galvatron, he was predictable. He pushed a button on his arm.
    "Snipe, this is ...the commander." The warrior said, catching himself before he identified himself by name. "The predators have just left for Cybertron. Set course for Moonbase. We don't want to miss the show."
    "Yes, sir." Snipe's voice replied from the comm-link. "Setting course. Snipe out."
    The mysterious Transformer continued watching Earth from his viewport in the darkened office. Earth moved down and away as the Dark Glory began turning to face the general direction of Cybertron's star system, Proxima Centauri.
    He had almost mentioned himself by name to Snipe. It was not that the other Decepticons aboard did not know who it was that commanded them, it was just that he did not wish to be identified by his name. Not yet anyway. He would have to defeat Galvatron before he genuinely earned the right once again to call himself that.
    It would be soon enough. It would only be a matter of time now before he would arrive at Moonbase and confront Galvatron and Shockwave, officially returning to life as Commander of the Decepticons.
    The Dark Glory roared into hyperspace.
                                         *                                                                     *                                                         *
    The silence of British Columbia's forests was broken by the roar of Hot Rod's engine.
    Behind him, the four jets that make up the Air Strike Patrol gave pursuit. Their shots barely missing the young Autobot as he sped toward a nearby valley.
    "Give it up, Autobrat. We all have to die sometime!" Tailwind yelled, dropping a bomb at the racing Autobot below.
    "Not today, metal--" Hot Rod never finished his quip as the bomb found it's mark, crashing right beside him. The explosion blew him off the road just meters from the safety of the valley.
    He transformed and tried to shake his dizziness off as Tailwind and Whisper swung around for another pass.
    The Decepticons did not realize they were not alone as Red Alert, Hosehead, and Silverbolt emerged from the valley and began firing at their pursuers.
    A crimson blast tore into Stormcloud's fuselage and his jet mode crashed to the ground, exploding fiercely as it did.
    "We can take them!" Nightflight yelled, charging downward at his enemies and strafing them.
    "Chill out!" Hosehead yelled, firing a high pressure blast of water at the attacking Decepticon fightercraft. Unable to control his trajectory, Nightflight crashed just inside the nearby valley.
    He did not have time to transform as a large foot crashed down on the dazed Micromaster, crushing him to death.
    "Surrender to my power." The deep voice of Omega Supreme boomed at the remaining two Decepticons, as his plasma cannon fired two blasts.
    One shot incinerated Tailwind completely, only a few ashes dropped from where his body once was. The second shot, intended for Whisper, missed as he dropped away from it. Realizing his dilemma, the remaining Decepticon spun around and began flying away at his top speed.
    Hot Rod cut loose with his arm guns, the shots exploding into the fleeing Decepticon, whom seemed to have been favoring speed over evasion. His body crashed into the road not too far away from the direction Hot Rod had just come moments before.
    "You okay?" Hosehead asked his comrade as Hot Rod stumbled forward.
    "Uhhhh ...I think the servos in my leg are damaged." Hot Rod replied, rubbing his left leg where a blackened area remained from Tailwind's bomb.
    "Let's just hope they didn't signal reinforcements." Red Alert stated, his ever present vigil for enemies surfacing as he scanned the horizon. Nearby, the remaining Autobots came out from behind their cover in the valley and greeted their aft scout, Hot Rod.
    "I'm not leaving an Autobot under my command to the Decepticons, no matter what happens." Hosehead snapped, defending his decision to stop the convoy, exposing the other Autobots to danger, just to save Hot Rod's life.
    He had proven himself and his command abilities years earlier on Karn, during the final conflict with the Decepticons before now and Autobot City. No longer did the Autobots think of him as the clumsy but well-intended Autobot from years previous.
    "I appreciate the sentiment. I really do. But we'd best get to the Ark's remains before the Decepticons figure out where we're headed." Hot Rod replied as Pipes applied a medical torch to his leg's wound.
    "It's too bad we got separated from Prowl and the others." Erector chimed in.
    "I did not wish to leave." Omega Supreme boomed.
    " We didn't have much choice." Pipes said, stopping his repairs on Hot Rod for a moment and looking up at the giant. "After Hot Rod saved me, we were cut off from Prowl and the others, and without them we couldn't defend what little remained of the city."
    Hot Rod recalled his brisk departure from the others as he saw Pipes about to be ambushed by the Sports car patrol. By the time he had helped Pipes deal with them, the Decepticon forces had cut them off from the others. He knew the others must have been killed in their adversaries assault and so they proceeded to retreat. On the way he had found others and they decided to escape and go to the Ark's wreckage in the Arctic Circle and see if they could restore one of it's shuttles to service. Omega Supreme had not wished to leave, but to stay and defend the city's remains. However, Hosehead had reminded him he had a duty to those survivors of Autobot city still alive and in need of protection. Reluctantly, the giant guardian had agreed.
    The Autobots had never done much to the Ark's remains after it's crash, except remove any still remaining warriors and revive them. Hot Rod remembered Optimus Prime's shock when he realized his friend Ratchet's body was there, destroyed beyond repair. Nearby, Megatron's body had also been destroyed, but this time by a particle blast. The recovery team later realized Galvatron must have destroyed him when he assumed command of the Decepticons.
    Still, the ship's remains had not been cannibalized by it's owners and held a possible escape for the beleagured Autobot survivors of Autobot City. If they could just get there without being detected first.
    "We've got to get to Cybertron and warn Optimus Prime about the Decepticons." Jackpot announced. "They may be in serious trouble out there and not even know it yet."
    "And Prime'll know what to do." Silverbolt added nearby. "He's the only one we can count on to devise a successful counterattack."
    "Let's get going." Hosehead ordered, as he transformed into his fire engine mode. "We've got a lot of ground to cover before we reach the Ark, and little time before the Decepticons realize something happened to the Air Strike patrol."
    The Autobots transformed back into their vehicular modes and prepared to move onward.
    "Hot Rod, ride with Erector." Hosehead ordered him as he noticed Hot Rod had also transformed into car mode. "You're wounded and will slow us down too much otherwise. Jackpot can take up the rear guard position."
    Hot Rod transformed back to robot mode and climbed aboard Erector. He was not in the mood to argue the point, especially when he knew Hosehead was correct. He stared northward as the small Autobot convoy continued their journey. He swore to himself he would make the Decepticons pay for bringing the war back to them. He would find some way, some how.
                                    *                                                             *                                                                 *
    "It's working." Hubcap told Ultra Magnus as he finished some work in a panel on a small communications tower. “Go for it."
    "You're sure this will reach everyone?" Ultra Magnus asked.
    "Everyone still alive." Hubcap replied, not trying to sound too grim with his remark.
    Ultra Magnus held up a microphone connected to a slot inside the panel, and spoke into the microphone. "Attention all Autobots, this is Ultra Magnus on general inter-Autobot radio. I am officially ordering a retreat of Autobot forces ...from Cybertron."
    Ultra Magnus paused a moment at that last part. He did not want to leave their Homeworld to the Decepticons, but if the Autobots were going to survive to fight another day, he knew they must. He knew even Optimus Prime would admit the hopelessness of this situation and call a retreat. It would save lives, so it was the right thing to do. For some reason, it did not feel like the right thing to do... he only hope Optimus was having better luck on Earth than he was here.
    "Evacuation code: 117b-1011-aba-000005-a. Repeat: This is Ultra Magnus on inter-Autobot radio, all forces are hereby officially ordered to retreat, Evacuation code: 117b-1011-aba-000005-a. All forces abandon Cyber--"
    Magnus heard a jet engine soaring downward at them from behind. He grabbed Hubcap and dived for cover as Lightning soared down and opened fire on the communications tower, destroying it completely.
    He swung around and transformed into his biped mode, landing gently nearby the two Autobots.
    "SMOKIN'!" He yelled hyperly as the rubble of the tower burned beside them all.
    "You sadistic traitor!" Kick Off yelled as the others came running from getting several escape shuttles ready nearby. He flung himself at the Decepticon scientist.
    "I know you are, but what am I?" Lightning howled enthusiastically. He sidestepped Kick Off's clumsy lunge and grabbed him. He cut loose with his electrical power and flooded the Autobot's body with electricity.
    "Shake and bake anybody?" He laughed as he threw the unconscious Autobot's body off to the side of him. His hands sparked slightly as he'd said it.
    "Come on, Magnus! We've got to get to the shuttle!" Rad yelled, as he helped Ultra Magnus and Hubcap to their feet.
    "Take Kick Off and get the others to the shuttles." Ultra Magnus ordered the other Autobots standing there. "Wait two Breems for me. If you haven't gotten my signal by then, leave without me. I can't allow others' lives to be jeopardized for my own."
    "But--" Hubcap started to protest.
    "Go!" Ultra Magnus ordered. "That's an order, not a request!"
    The Autobots began leaving. Hesitant at first, they finally transformed and rolled or flew away.
    `Go. Lightning's my problem.' Ultra Magnus thought to himself as he watched them disappear into the distance. He turned to face his adversary.
    "Well, well, well." Lightning grinned, a look of mania in his optics. "It looks like I've got a BIG fish to fry."
    "Stick it in neutral, psycho!" Ultra Magnus yelled transforming as he did and roaring toward the blue-colored Decepticon before him.
    Lightning easily avoided Magnus's truck form by flying into the air and hovering there.
    Faster than he could believe, Ultra Magnus transformed and fired his laser rifle at him. The green bolt slammed into Lightning's chest and sent him crashing to the ground.
    "Our battle ends today." Ultra Magnus growled, coming closer. "Seventeen years ago, I foolishly gave you life--a life you don't deserve! One of us isn't walking away from this battle alive."
    Lightning got to his feet and stood non-threateningly. The burn on his chest from his adversary's gun obvious against his finely-polished blue chrome. "Perhaps, the fault is yours for sending me out into battle without a warrantee."
    "No. I've blamed myself for years for your insanity. And maybe, I am partly to blame. But you're the one who killed all your fellow Autobots escaping Cybertron and defecting to the Decepticons--you're the killer! Not me."
    "Be that as it may, being totally nuts is somewhat liberating." Lightning retorted. "One need not concern themselves with such silly things as morality and the like. You should try it sometime, you might like it!"
    Ultra Magnus noticed a gleam in Lightning's optics a split second before he blasted the mammoth Autobot with a burst of his electrical power. Magnus collapsed to the ground in excruciating pain as every system he had overloaded and shut down...

        "We're suffering enormous casualties on Karn.'" Ultra Magnus told Wheeljack. "I need the Autobot Air Defense Force ready now. This may be the Decepticons final stand and Optimus Prime needs to be ready for it."
    "I understand that." Wheeljack replied. "It's just that we haven't had time to finish their programming and they could react in any number of ways without it finished. Past cases have been as wide varied as slightly strange behavioral problems to all-out insanity or even death. It's not worth the risk!"
    "Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't there also been several warriors in the same situation who survived just fine to this day?"
    "Of course, but--"
    "Then, I'm sure we can make the squad adapt just fine. Activate them."
    "I can't be responsible for their actions." Wheeljack protested. "I'm not even--
    "I am the senior officer here." Ultra Magnus reminded him. "I take full responsibility for this course of action."
    "Well, alright. But let it be noted in the logs I did object to this action and warned you of the possible effects."
    "So noted, Wheeljack." Ultra Magnus replied. "Now, throw the switch!"
                                        *                                                     *                                                                         *
    "Hmph?" Ultra Magnus muttered as he turned from watching the stars outside the city of Iacon. "Oh, Optimus! What are you doing here?"
    "I came, because I heard about your leaving the victory celebrations early." Optimus seated himself on a rock beside Ultra Magnus, his piercing blue optics searched Magnus's face. "What troubles you? The Air Defense Force's situation?"
    "You always could read me like a book." Ultra Magnus replied, meeting Prime's gentle stare. "I feel responsible for what happened with them. If I hadn't foolishly insisted Wheeljack activate them before they were ready, then they would still be alive today."
    Optimus Prime remained quiet a moment, taking the opportunity to gaze up at the stars and think before he responded. He recalled the recent event involving the Air Defense Force and how two of it's members, Hawk and Starfire, had malfunctioned severely in the middle of the battle. Hawk had tried to kill his fellow Autobots before finally turning his guns on himself. Starfire had marched off and attacked the Decepticons. However, at the last minute she did not fire her guns and seemingly allowed herself to be destroyed by her enemies. The other two members of the group, Lightningbolt and Tornado, seemed to be fine and both passed medical examinations when the Autobots returned to Cybertron.
    "I...understand why you did what you did." Prime finally said, still gazing outward into the stars. "Given the circumstances I may well have done the same thing in your position."
    The Autobot leader turned and faced Ultra Magnus once more. "You knew the possible consequences, but you also knew what would've happened had we not gotten additional aid on Karn."
    "Still, if I had just listened to Wheeljack, none of this would've happened to those two Autobots. I don't know if I could ever forget..."
    "You can never forget." Prime replied. "But in time, the pain will lessen. As it is, Wheeljack and Grapple tell me Hawk's components may be salvageable. Perhaps, he will one day return to life."
    "Thank Primus for that." Ultra Magnus said, his spirit lifted slightly. "Maybe we'll--"
    "Prime here. What is wrong?" Prime said, speaking into his com-link.
    "Prime, this is Red Alert. We've got a situation in the science faculty. I need you down here as soon as possible."
    "Affirmative. I am on my way." Prime snapped his com-link off. "Are you coming?"
    "Yes, I am. There's no point in wallowing in self pity any longer." Ultra Magnus and Optimus Prime simultaneously transformed into their truck modes and raced off to the nearby city.
    It had taken only two Breems to get to the science faculty in Iacon. When they got there, the two Autobots found a plethora of Autobot security officers.
    Prime transformed and walked over to Red Alert. " What is transpiring?"
    "Lightningbolt is inside. Apparently, when Outback arrived and asked him if he was going to the victory celebrations, he was distant and strange. Suddenly, he started attacking everything without any reason. Outback was severely wounded in the attack and died from his wounds a few minutes ago when I tried to interrogate him. Several other scientists and maintenance personnel inside are dead as well."
    "Wheeljack said that a possible side effect of incomplete programming was madness." Ultra Magnus chimed in. "Do you think Lightningbolt may be..."
    "It is possible." Prime replied.
    "I'd lay odds on it." Red Alert snapped. "He wasn't making any sense when we tried to contact him inside. It seems likely he's lost it."
    "I would rather not speculate. Let's attempt to--" Prime was cut off as an explosion tore a large hole in the side of the building above them.
    "Take cover!" Red Alert yelled as everyone scrambled for safety as a shower of debris rained down on them.
    Suddenly, Lightningbolt flew out of the hole and hovered. "Hear me Autobots! I will no longer be one of your pawns....my mind has been liberated. I now see the Decepticons way is right. We are far more than these pathetic beings we protect!"
    "Lightningbolt, we must discuss this--"
    "Lightningbolt is no more Optimus Prime. I am Lightning now, and from this day forth you are my enemies!" At that, Lightning transformed and strafed the Autobots, killing several more before he soared skyward.

    Ultra Magnus awoke to find himself laying on the ground. Groggily he recalled Lightning had attacked him and he had blacked out from the damage. He realized he had dreamt of Lightning's origin.
    His blue optics looked up to see Lightning standing nearby with his back turned to his enemy, unaware his prey had reawakened. It was funny. Lightning had rebuilt himself so much he did not resemble the Autobot Lightningbolt very much anymore...still, Magnus would never forget him no matter where he went or what he did to his appearance.
    "Surprise!" Ultra Magnus yelled, rising and smashing his fist into the Decepticon's back. Lightning stumbled forward uncontrollably and fell to the ground. Quickly, he picked himself up and jump kicked Ultra Magnus.
    Ultra Magnus slammed his fists into Lightning, smashing pieces of armor away as he connected.
    Lightning picked himself up once again and grabbed a piece of steel piping from the debris nearby. He jammed the piece through Ultra Magnus's shoulder. It took everything Magnus had not to scream out from the pain running through his left arm. Sparks flew out as one of his power relays overloaded.
    Magnus tore the piece of metal out of his body and swung it at his opponent who was now leaping at him. The pipe sliced away part of Lightning's synthetic skin on his face, exposing circuitry. Taking the advantage, Magnus smashed his fist into Lightning again, knocking him to the ground.
    He turned onto his back just in time to see Ultra Magnus hoisting a large piece of rubble over his head.
    "This must end. I am responsible for your creation, and I'm the one who'll stop you." He said. Magnus knew he had to stop Lightning. He had created this monster and he could not allow it to kill anyone else.
    Lightning lashed out with his foot and kicked his opponent in the leg. Ultra Magnus stumbled and fell, dropping the debris too close to Lightning. The rubble crashed onto Lightning's right arm and pinned him there.
    "Yaghhh!" Lightning screamed as he felt the last shreds of pain from the crushed metal under the debris, that was once his arm.
    Ultra Magnus began picking himself up but Lightning kicked him in the head, knocking the beleagured Autobot down again.
    Desperate to find a way out, Lightning drew his pistol from a compartment on his leg and set it to full power. He fired the beam across his right elbow, severing his forearm from the rest of his body.
    Lightning fired his rifle at his opponent, the purple blast tearing into Ultra Magnus's chest. Armor burned and circuits leaked fluids from his chest, as Ultra Magnus struggled to keep his balance and ignore his pain.
    Magnus tackled the Decepticon whom had gotten to his knees and slammed him back onto the ground. Struggling, Lightning placed his left hand on his opponent's face and loosed his electrical energy on UItra Magnus.
    Ultra Magnus fell back unable to scream as his servos tensed up and his systems nearly overloaded.
    "Now, my dear Ultra Magnus, you die!" Lightning sneered, one of his optics glowing as he said it. The other was cracked and damaged. He pointed his fist at Ultra Magnus and ---
    Nothing happened. Lightning silently cursed himself as realized he did not have enough reserve electrical energy to attack with. He turned and went to retrieve his rifle.
    Behind him, Ultra Magnus laid on the ground, trying desperately to hold onto consciousness. He rose slightly and managed to fire two blasts from his own rifle, despite his pain.
    The two crimson shots tore into Lightning's back and slammed him to the ground.
    "It's o-over..." Ultra Magnus gasped. He could no longer fight his damage and dropped his gun. He tried futilely to get to his feet, but collapsed instead.
    Behind him, Lightning managed to get to his knees and find the steel rod he had stabbed Ultra Magnus with earlier amidst the wreckage around them. With one final lunge, he slammed it through Ultra Magnus's head module, killing him.
    "Shiskabob, anybody?" He sputtered out but did not have the strength to laugh.
    Overhead, a Jetfighter soared downward toward Lightning and Ultra Magnus's body. Darkwing transformed and landed on the ground a few feet from them.
    "Hey, Lightning! You managed to kill Ultra Magnus?! Wow, I'm--"
    "Help me..." Lightning gasped, collapsing at his feet.
                                            *                                                     *                                                                 *
    Out amidst the beauty and darkness of space, a fleet of three hundred vessels drifted toward their ultimate destination.
    A large group of Transformers stood in the darkness of the bridge. The large viewscreen before them provided the only real illumination in the room.
    "The time has come. Primus demands we unite our race. Make all one with the great beyond." A voice echoed among them, although it was not clear whom was speaking.
    "Targeting destination." Another voice spoke. The viewscreen switched to a view of a beautiful steel planet.
    To Cybertron.