In Perpetual Motion

By Tony "Thunder" Klepack                            

    Cybertron shimmered silently in the darkness of the void. It seemed small from his perspective yet it was still as beautiful as ever. In a way, like so many other places Megatron had seen in his travels through the cosmos except for one important difference.
    It was home.
    The place where it had all started. The place where Primus had been imprisoned in his last desperate bid against his Dark Enemy and given life to their kind so that they might carry on his legacy in the millennia to come.
    "There is our goal," he spoke aloud. "Another world in a vast sea of nothingness, but with one important difference." He turned and gazed at the others. "This is our world. The place where our war of ideology started and the prize which both of our peoples have labored over for so long."
    The assembled group of Transformers behind him continued sitting in silence, allowing him to finish making his point.
    "After so long a struggle, at last we find our world within our grasp only to have these Disciples strike out and seize it. We cannot allow them to interfere in the Empire's business any longer!"
    "Agreed," Terrorwing chimed in, his face grim. "But we must be careful. If we act rashly, we could find ourselves overwhelmed by their superior numbers."
    "What of our resources? Skyquake asked. "How much damage did we take from Lightning and his machinations?"
    "Mostly minor," Frostwing replied from across the table. "We lost some personnel and suffered a bit of damage but thanks to Terrorwing's quick command of the situation we were able to limit the mutineers actions and eliminate them before they could do any serious damage."
    Megatron nodded. "As I suspected... It is time we moved on with our battle plans then." He met their gaze. "We need to come up with an effective plan to eliminate our enemy while limiting our own casualties. If these preliminary numbers are accurate, we face millions of enemies on the surface. I want options."
    "Perhaps using some quantum warheads," Skyquake chimed in. "It would decimate the enemy forces with ease."
    "And Cybertron's surface," Soundwave added.
    Skyquake nodded. "There is that problem. By the time we finished, there might not be many structures left to occupy."
    "Perhaps..." Frostwing began.
    Megatron gazed at his security chief. "Yes?"
    "Well, I am no tactician, but remember the electro-magnetic pulse weapon the humans used against us? Perhaps we could create something along those lines--albeit, a little less potent--and use it on the Disciples."
    He nodded. "An interesting option. Anyone else?"
    Terrorwing spoke up. "Perhaps we could use Frostwing's weapon against the fleet then move in afterward and do a limited orbital bombardment on installations we know that house the Disciples. They have barracks, factories, supply depots--things of that nature. It would further disrupt their infrastructure then we move our invasion forces in and finish off whatever is left."
    Megatron nodded. "I'm hearing some good ideas here... with some further refinements, we'll be ready to enact our plan."
    "How soon will we strike?" Soundwave asked.
    "It is my hope that we will be ready in five days time," Megatron replied. "We have wasted enough time gathering data. I will accept no more delays."
    He glanced around the room, meeting his officers gazes in turn, making certain they understood him.
    "Let us begin..."
            *            *            *
    "My Lord, we have taken out their perimeter defenses with ease," Thunderfist replied. "The station has also taken a lot of surface damage."
    Starscream nodded abruptly, wishing his lieutenant would come to the point. "But?"
    "It appears their primary power reactors are heavily shielded. We do not appear to be able to penetrate the station's interior core without significant time and expenditure."
    He gazed out the viewport at the massive construct before them. In the void between the Conquest and Grand Central Space Station, dozens of ships buzzed about trading weapons fire. From all indications, his warriors were swiftly wearing down the station's security forces.
    "What do you suggest then?" he asked.
    "We could deploy a small strike force to the interior of the station--rig the reactors to overload and finish the task we have begun."
    Starscream considered his words. "Very well. Assemble the strike force. I will command it personally!"
    Thunderfist looked as if he were going to object but then thought better of it.
    "As you command," he said instead.

    "It appears to be one battle ship, backed by multiple fighters," Matt reported to Face through inter-Decepticon radio. He tapped a few more buttons. "The fighters are of varying designs. I'm not certain who we're up against here but that ship's big and looks nasty."
    "I believe it is time for us to depart," Face replied. "It is likely this station will not withstand the assault for very much longer."
    Matt switched off the console before him. "Yeah, I'm good with running away too."
    The corridor shook violently then and he felt himself drop to the deck before he could react. An alien voice announced something over the comm system then other voices joined it in quick succession.
    "Perimeter breach! Evacuate immediately!" a voice in English finally added.
    "That's it! I'm--" Matt stopped in mid-sentence as a group of armored warriors rushed down an intersecting corridor beyond him. "Hang on! I'm going to check something out and then I'll head back."
    "What is happening?"
    Matt moved toward the other corridor. "I just saw security forces going somewhere. I think they're trying to fight some invaders. I don't know--I'm going to go check it out and see if I can get a look at our visitors."
    "Be careful, Matthew."
    "Don't worry." He switched off the comm.
    It wasn't too far but the group moved back and forth through several more junctions before arriving at their destination. Matt tried his best to memorize the varying twists and turns back to where he'd started.
    The group hastily set up a perimeter around a large hatchway and waited. The wall nearby exploded and several energy blasts tore into them before they could react. The intruders marched inward with little effort, striking down the remaining opposition as they moved.
    Matt felt himself gasp as he recognized the invaders.
    He peered out slightly from his vantage point, trying to detect any Decepticon symbols but none were present nor did they appear to have any faction symbols at all.
    Just what was he dealing with here?
    The Transformers secured the perimeter and two in the middle stood waiting as another emerged from their makeshift entrance in the wall.
    "The immediate area is secured, my lord."
    "Very good," it answered in its deep voice. "Do we know exactly where these reactors are?"
    "Not precisely, but they are located in the approximate center of the station."
    The other suppressed a sigh. "Very well. Fan out in teams of two and find the swiftest route to victory!"
    He did not bother to turn back as a small humanoid in armor entered through the tear in the wall. "I will summon my little pet and have her assist us in our search." He gazed down at the humanoid. "You know what to do, Gwen."
    Matt reacted at the name and watched in stunned silence as the humanoid removed her helmet, revealing the full face of his one-time assistant.
    âI live to serve." She giggled wickedly at that and Matt knew it was Starscream making her speak the words.
    That meant that the large robot must be...
    "Oh hell!" he exclaimed.
    He ducked back behind the corner he'd been watching from and switched on his com-link.
    "Face," he spoke. "We've got a problem..."
            *            *            *
    Gwen marched along, her pistol at the ready for any opposition she might encounter. So far, there had been none. All she'd seen was the odd merchant or civilian scampering off in one direction or the other.
    The majority of the station's resources had been diverted to trying to repel Starscream's invasion force. Most of the citizens and non-essential personnel were doubtlessly trying to escape the station and harm's way.
    'Fools! There's nowhere to hide from me!' she thought, marching along. Once they had destroyed this station, Starscream planned to get things started on his bid to take out Megatron. Then, the Galaxy would learn to fear the name of its new master--he would make certain of that.
    She'd accessed the station maps and determined what she thought was a swift route to the maintenance level. She was fairly certain she was close to the correct area even now.
    Once they found the reactors, they'd be rid of this station and its abominable attitude towards their kind...
    All the innocents that would die to satisfy Starscream's power lust... they didn't deserve what they had coming. If only--
    She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. Where had that come from? The small remnant of humanity within this fleshling's mind? Foolish female--she was his now! There was nothing she could do to resist his mental dominance here. Nothing could stop Starscream! He was all powerful now! Megatron's benefactors--his own benefactors now--had made certain of that.
    Gwen moved forward further, entering what appeared to be the opening of the maintenance section. She casually disregarded some cautionary signs and entered the area through a large blast door.
    She paused a moment, whipping her weapon around and searching for signs of any stray workers that might not have vacated the area. Her quick searches turned up nothing however and she continued slowly working her way inside.
    The maintenance area was as huge and impressive as the rest of the station had been upon her initial visit. There were multiple levels, criss-crossing every which way with catwalks. The actual reactors were enormous, making a low hum as blue and purple energies pulsated through their massive structures.
    They were beautiful in a bizarre kind of way... she could feel radiation emanating from them, although she suspected it wasn't in any dangerously high levels.  
    She moved forward, surveying the machinery and trying to determine its weakest areas. Starscream must be certain to--
    Her mind reeled and she felt herself stumble slightly. She paused a moment then attempted to continue forward but felt her equilibrium shift abruptly. She collapsed to the deck, reaching out for a hand-hold to keep her from sprawling on the deck completely.
    After several moments, the nausea wore off and she slowly glanced up, regaining her senses. For the first time in a long time, she felt good and abruptly realized she was in control of herself--truly in control.
    Starscream wasn't in her mind anymore!
    She gazed at the nearby reactors and realization dawned. Somehow, her proximity to the radiation was interfering with his link to her.
    She smiled weakly and moved off as fast as she could. Surely Starscream knew the instant the connection had been broken and was already on his way to find her. If she could get deep enough into the area, maybe she could figure out some way to elude him and deactivate the nanotech that was allowing him to control her.
    Failing that, there was another option...    she glanced over the railing nearby and noted that the
reactors went a long way down before ending at a lower deck some distance below.
    But that was only a last resort.
    She moved deeper inside the maze of machinery, looking for a good place to hide and a place that was far enough away from where Starscream would be able to find her easily.
            *            *            *
    "Is everything secure?"
    Sludge nodded, noting Hot Rod as he slid a fallen Decepticon off the console where he'd slumped over.
    "Everyone's accounted for," he replied. "The Decepticons never knew what hit 'em!"
    The other seated himself at the console and started tapping buttons on the keypad before him. Sludge glanced up as Cliffjumper entered the chamber as well.
    "It's like we thought, there's not a lot of supplies here," he said. "Standard issue but nothing special about them. Barely worth the effort."
    "We can use everything we can get," Hot Rod reminded him, continuing to read the console in front of him.
    "Why are we here, anyway?" Sludge asked. "There's got to be better targets out there."
    "This is a mining facility," Hot Rod explained. "What it lacks in supplies it makes up for in other things--at least, that was my hope."
   "And?" Cliffjumper asked.
    Hot Rod glanced at the screen he'd pulled up, checking its contents.
    "Jackpot." He turned to the others. "This facility is rich in raw Deplutonide-40."
    Sludge gave him a strange look. "What's that?"
    "Deplutonide-40 is the key ingredient in quantum warheads," Cliffjumper offered. He met Hot Rod's gaze. "Surely, you're not thinking--"
    "I am," the other replied. "We want to hurt the Decepticons--badly--and this is exactly what we need to do that."
    "Are you certain this is a good idea?" Sludge asked. "A quantum warhead in the wrong place could kill millions of innocents in addition to the targets it was meant for."
    "We'll be careful not to use it in the wrong situations," Hot Rod replied. "If there's any innocents involved, we won't even consider it. But in Decepticon strongholds this is just the thing we'll need to even the odds."
    "I hope you know what you're doing," Cliffjumper said.
    "Trust me," the other replied. "This will work..."
    Sludge said nothing at that but he hoped their Commander knew what he was talking about. He'd signed on to combat the Decepticons but he had no intention of letting innocents suffer as a result of their actions.
    He longed for the days of Grimlock or even Optimus Prime. A time when their leaders were stolid, unflappable in their resolve. Did Hot Rod know what he was doing, he wondered. Or would his hot-headed youthfulness be their undoing when the time came...
    Still, he'd thrown his and the Dinobots support behind this Autobot's cause. He needed to give him time and trust to work things out before judging his actions. He just hoped he'd made the correct choice.
    "Lets get to work," he said.
            *            *            *
    "What do you think?"
    Face glanced at Talon as the two strode through the empty corridors of the station.
    "I believe you are correct," he replied. "It appears that Starscream was able to successfully locate Megatron's Benefactors and utilize their resources to obtain a new body and this army of Transformers you observed."
    "He kept Gwen around..." Talon mused.
    "Indeed. We are fortunate he finds her useful," Face said. "This provides an opportunity to retrieve her. If he'd dispensed with her our efforts would be futile."
    Talon nodded. "But now that she's not essential to his robot form I wonder how long he'll keep her around before he gets tired of her."   
    "If we are fortunate, it will not come to that."
    "Why do you think he attacked Grand Central?"
    Face shook his head. "I am not certain. Perhaps he wishes to make a statement against their strong anti-robotic beliefs... or perhaps he simply wishes to test out his new power. Whatever the reason, we are in grave danger here."
    "We will attempt to acquire Gwen before we escape," Face cut him off. "On that, you have my word."
    Talon mulled it over a moment.
    "All right," he said finally. "What's the plan?"

    It had concerned Starscream when the connection to Gwen had been broken. The fleshling had been a part of him in a very real way for weeks now and it felt odd not being able to control her.
    He glanced around at the large reactors, the same ones he'd seen through her eyes earlier and sighed. Obviously the Headmaster nanotech was susceptible to large doses of radiation. Had he lost her for good, he wondered. Had the radiation destroyed the nanites completely or was it merely interference?
    He turned and glanced at his security chief, BloodEdge. "Speak."
    "We've determined the optimal points for explosive placement on the reactors," he explained. "I've got our team deploying to them right now."
    Starscream nodded. "How long until we are ready?"
    "It shouldn't take longer then two breems, at the most," the other replied.
    "Very well." Starscream glanced about the area. "Inform me when you are ready. In the mean while, I have a search to conduct--if any of your men locate my little pet, you are to bring her to me immediately. She cannot be harmed!"
    BloodEdge bowed. "By your command."
    Starscream heard the other move away as he turned his attention back to searching the area. The engineering section was vast. He wondered if there was any real chance of locating Gwen in the time it would take his men to set the detonators or whether he would have to leave his partner here to her fate.
    'It's been fun, my dear...'
    He continued his search, scanning behind some large cylinders that controlled some thing or the other in the station's bowels.
    A noise in the distance caught his attention. He turned and glanced down the section to where his warriors had been working.     That had sounded like an explosion!
    He went for his com-link.
    "I'd say you have bigger things to worry about then your soldiers."
    He spun about to see another Transformer nearby. This one was blue and black colored.
    "How did you get here?" he demanded.
    Talon smiled. "Did you really think Megatron was oblivious to your machinations? Come on, Starscream! He knows better then to trust you..."
    That gave him pause. Was it true? Had Megatron suspected his treachery even before he'd come and had him followed? But if so why hadn't he stopped him before he located his Benefactors and allied with them? Or had he been waiting to incriminate himself?
    He stepped forward, all thought of Gwen vacating his mind as he drew his new sword.
    No, he was just being foolish. Megatron wouldn't have gone to all this trouble--not for him. If he'd wanted Starscream dead, he would've just done it and been over with it. The fool! It was his own hesitation to act that had doomed him.
    As for Talon... he was controlled by the human, Kirkby. The one that had once been Gwen's boss. He had wanted more from her, he knew from Gwen's thoughts and she...had been open to the idea on some level even though she'd pretended otherwise at the time. It was obvious why he was here although he was still wasn't certain how he could've known Starscream would've been here, now. Had Talon somehow been responsible for Gwen's disappearance or was it merely coincidence, he wondered.
    "Surrender now, Starscream!" Talon demanded, drawing his laser sword and igniting it. The purple-blue blade was vibrant. "Megatron might go easier on you if you don't resist."
    The fool! He was trying to bluff him... no one got the better of Starscream! No one!
    "Never!" Starscream hissed, charging.

    Gwen had hidden herself as best she could, deep within the network of machinery that powered the station. She'd seen Starscream from afar once, watching him as watched for her. He wouldn't give up until she was his again. She was certain of that.
    He'd had his body rebuilt by Megatron's Benefactors as he called them but spared her life rather then disposing of her along with his old form. It was as if he was determined to make her suffer as long as possible rather then die in peace. She wondered what he had against her... did he despise her for being human? Female? Both? Was he indignant to have been merged with her?
    She'd replayed the moment of her bonding with him over and over in her mind. It had seemed so noble at the time--to take on a new form and rescue her boss, Matt Kirkby from his own bad judgement in bonding with an unsafe headmaster shell. She'd had little time to consider why he'd done what he'd done. Had it been desperation? Or was there some other element at foot there? Perhaps he'd wanted to sell the technology to the highest bidder on the black market? Whatever his plans, they'd blown up in his face along with any hope of their ever returning to Earth now.
    'Condemned to hell...'  That's what it had been. A life of living hell--controlled by Starscream and made to act on his every whim, no matter how brutal or insane. Unable to control her own body but made to watch and see everything that happened... unable to hide anything from his mind. He knew everything she knew and he was all but a blank slate to her. An unstable bonding where he dominated her totally and she was left with no gain out of the process.
    What if he caught her again? There'd be no end to it! She didn't think she could stand it...
    She stopped and caught her breath, trying to calm her racing heart in the process. She had to stay positive. Have hope that she'd make it out of this alive, free.
    An explosion caught her attention just then. She peered out cautiously from her perch, attempting to locate the source of the disturbance. In the distance, something had caught fire. She heard several mechanical voices shouting in alarm. Curiously, she heard laser blasts shortly afterward as well--she assumed most of the station's security had already been weeded out. Certainly the majority of them were outside the station combating Starscream's forces.
    She decided to move up, further away from the disturbance as far as she could. She made certain not to track back to where she'd seen Starscream earlier... she hoped he'd go to the battle--or whatever it was down there--and help his troops out rather then continue hunting for her but she had no idea what he'd actually do.
    She also didn't want to leave the engineering section for fear he could re-assert control of her. She still had no way to know if their link was severed permanently or not--she feared this had all been a temporary reprieve and she certainly wasn't going to just walk back into his waiting clutches.
    He planned to destroy the station and unless she made an effort to escape, she'd die along with the great structure. But if it came to it, that would be preferable to a life of slavery with Starscream...
    She climbed a ladder, ascending to the third level of the section as she did. It seemed to lead to the topmost level of the area that was actually regularly serviced by the station's personnel. Beyond that, the machines ran deeper into the depths of the station. It got tighter beyond that and she suspected there was only crawl space for the occasional maintenance situation that was required. Still, as long as she stayed hidden, it should suffice for her current situation.
    She nestled down into a hiding area and watched, waiting.
    It was long before the deck shook and to her surprise, a Decepticon emerged from a lower level, its laser sword at the ready. Starscream crashed through the deck before him, displaying his newfound strength. She watched in shock as the two fought viciously with their weapons, each seeking an opening in the other's defense.
    Starscream's opponent seemed vaguely familiar... she moved out slightly and focused her vision. The Transformer was blue and black, winged.
    She gasped. It was Talon! That meant--
    Starscream moved under Talon's last slash and pummeled him with his fist. He slammed to the deck, losing his sword. He twisted to his left evading Starscream's killing blow as he did.
    Talon slammed his foot into the other's knee joint, forcing his opponent to stumble and allowing him time to regain his weapon. He jumped to his feet and charged Starscream, forcing the other back momentarily.    
    "Fool!" he hissed. "You don't stand a chance against my power!"
    "I seem to be doing okay so far," Talon retorted. He stabbed at the other, narrowly missing Starscream's shoulder.
    The other struck out with his fist but Talon evaded it skillfully. He struck again with his sword, dislodging Starscream's own blade as he did. He moved fast and kicked it away from his opponent's reach.
    "You're weaponless now!" he snapped. "Give up and make this easier on both of us!"
    "You'll never get Gwen!" Starscream exclaimed, rubbing at his sword hand. "I've already disposed of her, you fool! Once I got this new body...there was no reason to keep her alive."
    "She's...dead?" Talon seemed hesitant.
    "That's right," Starscream replied. "I squished her little pink body with my foot... she was weak, worthless to me."
    She watched him move slightly closer to Talon. She knew he'd use every dirty trick in the book to win--she just hoped Matt was smart enough to realize that for himself.
    Talon seemed unsure of himself and Starscream seized on his confusion, leaping forward. At the last second, he evaded the charge and slashed Starscream as he moved past, scarring his armor slightly.
    "I guess that's why I saw her enter the station, then," Talon said. He assumed a fighting stance as Starscream rose slowly.  
    Gwen was amazed by the revelation. After everything Starscream had done to scare him off, Matt had seen through it all somehow and come for her. She didn't know how he'd found her, but she was grateful nonetheless.
    She just hoped he'd survive this so she could tell him in person.
    "Smarter then I gave you credit for," Starscream hissed."It doesn't matter. That sword is far from my only weapon. I am stronger and far more powerful then before. I am Megatron's equal in every way and once I dispose of you I'm going to take him out too!"
    "Whatever." Talon slashed out at him but the Decepticon evaded the strike and materialized a weapon out of thin air. He fired his rifle, forcing the other to draw off.
    Starscream fired again. Talon timed it right and caught the blast with his laser sword, reflecting the energy into a nearby console.
    "Always wondered if that would work," he mumbled.
    "Time to end this." Starscream fired upward and a section of the ceiling crashed down, forcing Talon to scramble out of the way. He stumbled slightly and fell, losing his own sword in the process.
    "I'd intended for crushed Talon, but I guess this is as good an outcome as any." He aimed his weapon at the downed Headmaster.
    "STOP!" Gwen screamed, charging out of her cover. "Don't do it, Starscream!"
    She met his cold crimson optics as she caught up to the duo. "It's me you want," she spoke. "Leave him be and I'll... I'll come along quietly."
    "Willingly?" he demanded.
     She nodded somberly.
    "Don't do it!"
    She looked up to see Matt transform from Talon's head module and come running toward her.
    "It doesn't need to be this way, Gwen!" he exclaimed. "We've come here to rescue you! Don't let him just take you!"
    He approached her and Gwen watched him quietly. Nearby, Starscream said nothing. Matt removed his helmet.
    "It's over for him, Gwen," he told her. "Come away with me... he can't hurt you anymore. We can be safe... Together."
    "I..." Gwen touched his cheek. "I wish it were so easy, but.."
    She struck out with her free hand unexpectedly, catching him in the jaw. Matt dropped to the deck, stunned.
    She stood over him. "You stupid fool!" she hissed. "Letting your heart do your thinking for you! Didn't you even stop to consider that this close it was a simple matter to re-assert control over her? She's mine again. The way it should be! And you..."
    Starscream trained his weapon on Matt.
    "You've just handed me victory!" he hissed in his deep tone while Gwen stepped back out of the line of fire.
    Matt closed his eyes...
    He must have been as shocked as Starscream was when an energy blast emerged out of nowhere in the nick of time, striking the Decepticon in the chest. His shot going wild, traveling into the maze of machinery beyond them.
    "Perhaps it is you who should have considered that he did not come alone!" A new voice spoke. Gwen glanced up to see another Decepticon, Face, rushing toward them.
    Starscream grasped her small form in his fist as gently as he could. "No matter. I already have what I came for!" He changed into his starfighter mode and flew off, leaving the two to their fates.
    "Stop him!" Matt yelled. He leapt into the air and re-merged with his Headmaster form.
    Before his opponents could react, Starscream loosed a salvo of missiles at them as a parting shot. Impossibly, the projectiles seized in mid-air and shot upward, slamming into the ceiling above, tearing it to pieces and cutting them off from him with a pile of jagged debris.
    Not the ending he'd hoped for but it would do, he supposed. Obviously one of them had some kind of force field or telekinetic power and had stopped his attack before it struck. But they'd also effectively stopped their own pursuit in the process.
    "Starcream to BloodEdge," he transmitted to his comrade. "Report!"
    "This is BloodEdge,"the voice came back to him. "Commander, I've been trying to reach you for several minutes but there's been some sort of interference."
    Had Face and Talon been smart enough to jam their comm channels? He hadn't realized they'd planned this all out as well as they did. Still, he doubted Megatron's forces were here. Otherwise, none of them would still be functional...
    "What's been going on? Are those explosives ready?"
    "Affirmative. We were attacked by... another Transformer, I think. It may have been several--I'm not sure but he--or they--sure kept us on the alert. It was as if he were in several places at once and--"
    "Never mind that!" Starscream interrupted. "Are those explosives ready?"
    "Pull out and blow it! That's an order!" Starscream replied. "I'll see you back on the Conquest."
    He laughed wickedly even as Gwen sat motionless in his cockpit.
    "Your friends back there won't be able to make it out in time, I think," he told her. "That's one problem up in smoke..."
    He felt a surge of emotion in her mind but quickly suppressed it. There was nothing further she could do to stop him and her last hope for rescue was over. It wouldn't take long for her to realize that.
    She was his now...
    First, Talon and Face. Soon, he would do battle against Megatron and eliminate him as well. Then all his enemies would lie dead at his feet and he would be truly invincible.
            *            *            *
    The large city in space that had been Grand Central Space Station erupted in a magnificent fire storm, sending charred wreckage in every direction.
    Starscream watched in satisfaction from his command chair on the Conquest. Gwen was seated nearly immobile on the armrest, dressed fully in her binary armor.
    His forces had fared well in their inaugural battle against an enemy--coming back with a mere five percent loss in their overall assault force. There had been no serious injuries to speak of among the living either. The ship, the Conquest, had taken only minor damage to its hull by a few stray defenders that had made it through their defense grid. Even then, the damage was only superficial in nature.
    Still, if they were going to take on Megatron and his Dark Glory fortress, they would need more then mere luck to be successful. They would need cunning as well.
    Fortunately, cunning was his hobby...
    They would have to soften up the Enemy first then when they were disoriented, move in for the kill. There was no way they'd succeed in a direct assault against a battle commander like Megatron.
    The untimely appearance of Talon and Face had concerned him. Not Talon so much, but Face had been among the Decepticons ranks much longer and he'd always been mysterious about his motivations in general. Talon was controlled by the human Matt and he wanted Gwen back--but what was Face's angle on all of this? Surely he wasn't acting out of the kindness of his core.
    Despite their appearance though, he believed they were acting on their own. If Megatron knew where he'd been or what he was up to, he suspected he would've spared no expense to come after him and eliminate Starscream for good. Sending two lone warriors wouldn't have cut it.
    He'd trapped them there and destroyed the space station around them. There was no way they could've escaped before he'd detonated the explosives. He was certain they were dead and with them, all hope they would be able to take Gwen away from him.
    She was his now.
    For good.
    He glanced down at the lifeless human on his armrest. She sat quietly, awaiting his next command.
    Just like a good pet should...
    "My warriors," he said, rising from his seat. "You have proven yourselves well in our first assault against a real opponent." He watched their expressions, viewing the anticipation in their faces. "Now, we go for the real prize--the Dark Glory!"
    The warriors around him raised their fists and cheered.
    "Set course for Cybertron!"

    The Conquest leapt to hyperspace.
    Two small shapes were docked to the underside of the ship, their docking struts magnetized to its underside.
    "We failed," Matt radioed to Face. âWe had Gwen right there and I--I blew it!"
    "Do not worry, Matthew, Face replied. Although we failed in our effort on Grand Central, be assured that this is not over...
            *            *            *
    It hadn't been a long trip from the Dark Glory and its perch over Cybertron but to Tempest it felt like it had taken forever to reach Cindras Two.
    She didn't know why Face had approached her or what angle he had been trying to play--if indeed, any. But after her conversation with him, she'd felt reinvigorated and filled with purpose again. She knew she'd have to get out there and try her best to stop the dark Enemy from interfering, powers or not.
    But then as she'd prepared to leave, something bizarre had happened.
    Midnight, the Decepticon assassin she'd eliminated earlier on Cindras had returned from the dead and tried to eliminate her before discovering she no longer had her Syntara essence. He'd let her go and disappeared back to wherever he'd come from but she was under no illusions she'd seen the last of him. He was still out there, biding his time before whatever dark purposes he was laboring for became apparent.
    She'd gone to the medical bay and got the med techs to patch up the minor damage he'd done to her armor then refueled and hastily left the ship before anyone else could distract her further.
    She'd planned to go to Oberon and try to show the Autobots what was occurring around them. If they were to fight against the Armada, they would need to be united--all of them. But the sudden appearance of the dead assassin had left her with a sense of foreboding... he'd known precisely what she'd been and spoken the word Syntara with contempt. Had he planned some sort of action against them? Even so, would he have been able to succeed against them--she had no idea how powerful he was now. No way to know if they could destroy him or not...
    Her mind made up, she left the Dark Glory for the last time and leapt to hyperspace, bound for Cindras Two and her former people.
    She wondered if she was just being paranoid. What if she arrived there and they were fine? Would they even deem to descend to her level? To tell her they were all right but that since she had been punished for acting openly, they wouldn't have anything to do with her? She had no way of knowing...
    Then there had been Midnight's reference to Sunfire. Had the Three really brought her back or had he been toying with her? And, if so, why? What point was there in making her believe the fallen Autobot had been resurrected. If Sunfire was still alive and out there somewhere, where would she have gone. There were too many places she could've traveled and no way to be certain.
    The arrival at Cindras Two was uneventful. The world was churning and unstable as always but she knew a safe path on the surface and from there it was a short way to the cavern that accessed the Syntara realm.
    She paused as she approached a yellow lava pool. This had been the place... the final resting place of the Autobot Sunfire--or so she'd believed, at any rate. Now she wasn't so sure. She gazed into the brilliant molten rock for a moment, considering her original plan for Sunfire.
    'How things should have gone...' she mused.
    She moved on. It was little further to the end of the path she traveled. The cavern twisted several times, finally ending up at a dead end. To a normal mortal, this was the end of the line. To a Syntara, it was the Nexus that they used to enter their realm and approach the Three.
    She called out with her mind, trying to establish contact. If they were there, they would be aware of her... but would they answer? She didn't know.
    "Talk to me! Slag it!" she exclaimed. "I need to know if you're there!"
    If they weren't, she didn't know what would become of the Balance of Power... the races of this Universe and indeed, all the Omniverse, would truly be on their own. It was a scary thought but one she had to consider. Had they pushed the Powers too far? Had the Armada seen fit to strike back?
    "Answer me!" She slammed her fist against the stone wall uselessly.
    No answer came.
    Panic surged through her circuits... it was true, wasn't it? They weren't answering because they weren't able to. Somehow, they'd been eliminated and even in her powerless state she'd sensed it on some level.
    What now? Without the Three, they'd have to--
    She stopped in mid-thought as a scraping sound caught her attention. Instinctively, she drew her weapon out of sub-space and trained it down the corridor behind her. She half-expected to see a black dragon descending out of the shadows.
    Instead, a group of humans emerged from around the last bend, small glowing orbs hovering nearby them, providing light on their journey. Their armor glowed faintly with a trace of bio-organic luminescence.
    She recognized them immediately.
    The Masters.
    But how had they arrived here? They knew nothing of the Syntara or the special meaning of this place.
    The leader of their group was a woman with white-blond hair and clothed in a ordinary jump suit that distinguished her from the others. She had jade eyes like all the others but they seemed to glow with life, outshining the others in some way Tempest couldn't quite quantify. The group detected Tempest at almost the exact same moment she discovered them.
    The woman glanced up, a look of astonishment on her face.
    "Tempest!" she exclaimed. "You're here! You're alive!"
    "Who...?" Tempest began.
    "It's me, Tempest," the woman answered, a tone of joy in her voice.
    "It's Sunfire!"