Interludes And Machinations

By Matt "Talon" Kirkby

    "So is he really Optimus Prime?"
    "I don't know," Grid Iron replied with a scowl and a shrug. "I just don't know!" He paused for a moment after that outburst. "A part of me denies the possibility outright...and yet, another part of me wants it to be true."
    At that moment, the doors hissed open and Auto Forse entered the computer center, pausing a few seconds to study the gathered Autobot command staff. "I have completed my preliminary studies of all the available data," he announced as Mainframe silently followed him over to a console.
    "And?" Arcee prompted as Auto Forse slid a datacrystal into a slot on the console.
    "They are... inconclusive." Auto Forse frowned as the others groaned at his not-all-that-unexpected response. "The bodyshell is that of a prototype GoBot, officially listed in Oberon's records as still being a lifeless shell," he continued as data scrolled across one of the wall-mounted monitors. "However, the same computer records indicate that this shell vanished from storage bay four-nineteen less than six hours ago. According to the door-sensor, the bay doors opened from the inside five and a half hours ago...the logs also indicate that no one has entered that particular storage bay in well over a month."
    Arcee frowned. "Could the sensor log be faked?"
    "No," Nightbeat replied, shaking his head. "Well," he amended a moment later, "I suppose it could have been faked, but this one wasn't. I checked over it using every trick I know—and a few I learned as I went along. The medpod apparently activated itself, and its occupant then left under his own power...the traces of that are clear enough in the footprints disturbing the dust on the floor."
    "The ventilation system was shut down," Auto Forse explained to no one in particular. "A minor malfunction Utaxx hasn't gotten around to fixing yet."
    The Autobot in charge of maintaining Oberon's base infrastructure scowled at the historian. "My staff has been a little busy lately," he grumbled. "A few minor things have slipped down the priority lists."
    "I am not complaining, Utaxx, merely stating facts."
    Arcee raised her voice: "But if that shell was never given life—"
    "Exactly, Arcee." Thunderclash looked directly at Auto Forse. "Just who is in that bodyshell right now?"
    "The personality profile of subject: Autobot-X remains indecisive," Mainframe added. "Medical personnel have completed a full spectrum of studies and tests. Analysis detects a stable neural network but cannot confirm or deny that said network belongs to Autobot: Optimus Prime."
    "Could Prime have survived?" Bumblebee asked, hope clear in his voice, "The Matrix—"
    "Has been lost to us since it was used against Unicron," Nightbeat reminded him.
    "But Prime carried it within his body for so long...maybe some of its powers remained inside him, allowed his spirit to come back to us take over that empty bodyshell."
    "That is a very unscientific theory." Auto Forse shrugged. "However I currently have no better theories to offer."
    "This situation is without parallel," Mainframe agreed, re-entering the debate. "Files on Autobot: Optimus Prime pinpoint certain personality traits...observation of subject classification: Autobot-X does indicate fifty-two per cent of said traits clearly exist."
    "Rumors about this little situation are already getting out," Thunderclash announced from the comer where he was sitting, "Many of the Autobots here are gaining new hope just from the rumored news that Prime is back."
    "But he's not back!" Arcee countered. "We've just got an Autobot who thinks he's Optimus Prime."
    "Can you be sure he's not?" Bumblebee demanded. "I've spoken with him...he certainly seems just like Optimus."
    "Seems isn't is."
    "It's close though!"
    "No, it's not!"
    With that shout, the room fell abruptly silent. The assembled Autobots looked at each other sheepishly.
    "Further speculation without access to additional data will only be counterproductive," Mainframe told them, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "A waste of resources we cannot truly afford to squander."
    Grid Iron spoke up: "Rumors are indeed affecting morale, and finally motivating Autobots back to their duty. Even if this isn't really Optimus Prime reborn, perhaps we should let him continue to pretend...." He tried to ignore the shocked expressions which greeted that suggestion. "The appearance of new hope could be the best weapon we have in this war."
    "Well said," Optimus agreed as he stepped into the room.
    "How'd he get through the lock-code?" Nightbeat demanded of Thunderclash in a low voice. "He's supposed to still be locked up in MedBay." To say nothing of the command center’s own doors being locked.
    "I don't know," Thunderclash admitted. "I designed those new lock codes myself. Thought it might give any spies among our ranks some trouble."
    "I thank you all for your concern regarding my health," Optimus continued, ignoring the two whispering security officers, "but I am feeling fine. After as many near-death experiences as I've had, you start to get a real feel for the the Humans say, it then becomes 'old hat'." A few of the assembled Autobots chuckled at that comment. "But now, my fellow Autobots, we are faced with a serious crisis...our beloved Cybertron has been invaded by both Decepticons and these mysterious Disciples, Earth is reeling under Decepticon attack, and all of the Autobots are demoralized and in hiding." His voice firmed, growing stronger. "I thought I had taught you all better than that...I thought you could manage without me."
    "I guess you were wrong," Bumblebee said weakly. "Optimus."
    The Autobot Commander shook his head, a rueful smile on his face. "Well, I shall just have to start giving you some new lessons." Optimus nodded. "We'll start by getting things organized around here." His voice had an air of authority, one which demanded obedience. "Auto Forse, I want a full briefing on all current Decepticon and Disciple activity scheduled for 2130... include every piece of intelligence you have obtained on both groups. Thunderclash, I want a full report on the combat abilities of every Autobot present at Oberon: troop numbers, general and specialized skills, our current resource stockpiles, and the general state of readiness among our military forces. Bumblebee, organize volunteers for spy missions to Cybertron and Earth."
    "You got it, Prime."
    "Arcee, you and Hosehead are to see what kind of warships we’ve got available. We'll be moving soon—launching our own counter-offensive—and we'll need some kind of armed craft for the coming battles."
    "There are several new designs for armed fightercraft present in our facilities," Auto Forse informed than. "Oberon has pushed forward general levels of science and technology in many areas though primarily those connected with warfare. I will include that in the briefing as well."
    "Grid Iron, you and I must talk." Optimus kept his voice calm, but insistent.
    Face expressionless, the commander of Oberon AutoBase nodded back. "Yes," he agreed, "we must."
            *            *            *
    Far across the galaxy, in a location hidden from detection and untouchable by the events transpiring elsewhere, metallic forms drifted and twisted themselves into huge, bizarre, abstracted shapes which dominated a brilliant landscape of gleaming silver and gold, under a sky which was a sea of soft, swirling pink. The landscape itself was slowly moving and shifting and turning as if intricate components of some tremendous, unbelievably complex machine.
    At the center of things was a huge chamber that appeared to open out into space itself. Stars and nebulae swirled, obscured slightly by a thin mist, above a patterned floor of interlocking blue and red crystals, and on each side—where walls were expected—stood silver basins from which sprawled all manner of massive green and colored foliage, assorted plantlife from a thousand worlds. At the center of that chamber, seeming to be the focal point, was a slightly raised platform of black crystal. Upon it were three large thrones of the same material, upon which sat three figures.
    They were unlike the majority of creatures who inhabited the galaxies: thin, white wisps of flowing, ephermery, hardly visible ghosts in humanoid shape. One was male, the others were female. Their hair, tinged with gold, was as long and flowing as their silvery robes. Their large eyes were fixed on nothing, but the shining blue orbs seemed to see everything. The three shared thoughts, communing through mindspeech without spoken words.
    A feminine voice echoed through the void first, her tone soft and gentle: "Our agent has acted somewhat precipitously I fear."
    The male's thoughts agreed: "Her actions were foreseen...but not actually expected. The probability index was greatly against such a course of actuality... yet now we must pay the price demanded for such interference. Events beyond our sphere are now spiraling out of what little control we originally sought to maintain."
    "History repeats itself...the corrupting cycles which our kind have watched devastate other dimensions have now begun hare. Our efforts to stop them have failed."
    "They have."
    "Our wayward agent must be punished."
    The second female then mindspoke: "We must not act with equal impatience," she thought as she finally joined the debate, "lest by our own haste we further upset the very Balance we seek to preserve."
    "Yet Tempest must be punished," the male insisted. "Our Prime Law forbids any direct interference with the affairs of lesser creatures."
    "Surely the fate of the Omniverse stands above the punishment of our wayward agent."
    "For now perhaps... yet that fate is still endangered. The Imbalance is spreading faster through all dimensions. This one is now crumbling... others are also being corrupted."
    "We are aware of that. Our agents have reported as much to us on the astral plains."
    "The fabric of all that might be is threatened...the temporal wavefront is increasing in magnitude. The Imbalance will soon reach critical mass...from that point on, there will be no salvaging of this situation."
    "What else can we do? We have stretched our efforts to their utmost in that pursuit."
    "Our agent sought to correct the Imbalance through subtle manipulation...we agreed to undertake such an experiment, knowing full well that it stretched the Prime Law."
    "And our test Subject was destroyed."
    The Third One rejoined the debate: "I cannot truly fault our agent for her...overreaction to that loss. The Experiment was interrupted before it could truly further attempts at correcting the Imbalance will be rendered more difficult by exponential factors of magnitude." There was a brief pause before she added: "Even for our powers."
    "Further interference will only increase the Imbalance...we must be observers only." The First One's mindvoice was firm. "I will not condone any further Experiments."
    The male was also adamant: "Our agent has knowingly—and willingly—violated our most sacred Law. She must be punished."
    "She must," the First One agreed. 'The fragile fabric of the Omniverse cannot be meddled with in this fashion." Her thoughts carried memories of what had happened to other god-like beings who had sought to control events beyond their power. "Our own existence could become threatened." A shadowy menace tinged her mind voice...definite threats existed, even to beings of the Syntaras’ powers.
    "That is another reason our agent must be punished! She prodded us into taking direct action and violating our Prime Law...that action has left us vulnerable."
    The Third One sighed mentally: "Very well...I must agree to your proposal. I see that I am left with no other choice." She paused before asking: "What is her punishment to be?"
    The first two conferred mentally. Then the First One spoke in a voice deep with age and tinged with sorrow, a spoken voice which boomed through the chamber and across the landscape and seemed to make the cosmos itself tremble: "The decision is made: we summon forth an Ethereal Assassin...let all Syntara now take note that for her crimes, the ultimate punishment is demanded and hereby assigned for the rogue Syntara known as Tempest."
    For a moment, time seemed to stand frozen.
    On Oberon, Optimus turned away from the small viewport which looked down on a hanger bay crowded with shuttles and stared at Grid Iron with bright blue optic censors. "You don't believe that I'm really Optimus Prime, do you?"
    "I have my doubts," Grid Iron replied calmly as he stepped closer to the viewport. "I'll admit that I served on Earth for only a very short time so I'm not as personally familiar with Optimus Prime as Bumblebee is." All Autobots knew about Optimus Prime—he was a legend after all—but very few knew him personally.
    "He seems convinced of my identity."
    "He is young, and still reliant on hope."
    "While you are older, wiser, and far more cynical." Optimus shook his head sadly. "You and the others want facts and figures, visual records of my rebirth. I cannot provide such evidence for most things in the universe, you must accept, me on faith."
    "Or reject you on that same faith," Grid Iron replied calmly. "I must look out for the other Autobots here...I am their leader and their safety is my prime concern." He paused. "Those were my orders."
    "I know," Optimus replied. "I feel the same way...and that's what makes this war we fight so difficult. Every good commander knows that no matter how good one's orders and strategies are, how carefully he plans, some soldiers will always die carrying them out. But accepting those cold facts is the hardest part of command."
    Grid Iron nodded. "Too true."
    "Oberon," Optimus muttered as he stared out of the viewport at the distant stars. "I chose this world for a reason."
    "I figured that. It's distant from past battlefields, barren to eliminate risk to any innocent natives, and reasonably worthless to discourage visitors...."
    "All very true." Optimus chuckled. "I chose it for another reason though, Grid Iron. Curious?" He paused long enough for Grid Iron to nod. "Its name." Another pause, "Yes, its name, I chose this world because I once visited an old neutral colony on Tralgar VI," His voice reflected the distance of his currant thoughts, seeming to come from lightyears away. "Tralgar was a major power among the Colonies during the early years of the Great War. Not a military power, though, but a diplomatic one. The planet hosted many conferences and meetings as Autobots and Decepticons alike tried to influence the other Colonies into supporting their particular factions." His voice turned grim. "I was young and foolish then, fighting the delegates like I would any Decepticon, trying to convince them to join in the War. I failed, of course." He didn't sound bitter though. "I was ahead of my time, trying to convince people who felt safe and isolated from the War that they had join us in fighting it."
    Grid Iron nodded, "All this is ancient history."
    "Very true. To you it is history; to me, it is an important part of my life. Anyway, the colonists on Tralgar developed their own dialect of Cybertronian Standard. To them, 'Oberon' means 'hidden strength'. That's what made me choose this world when I was studying star-charts."
    "I see."
    "Grid Iron, you know what this world represents to us. To the future." Optimus stared into the optic sensors of Oberon's commander—and appeared to see Grid Iron's hidden pain. "I need this world and its resources to stop the Decepticons, I—" his voice faltered for a moment, "I can't fight them and you." He held out his hand.
    After a long moment of silence, Grid Iron took it in his own. "I'm with you," he replied. "Optimus."
    Optimus smiled. "And now no one will stand in our way."
            *            *            *
    "This place is so boring!"
    "We are doing all that we can."
    "I am aware of that, Mercer, but we Predacons are not suited for duty on such a...peaceful planet." Rasorclaw gestured to the spires and towers—so reminiscent of Cybertron's most popular architectural styles—which loomed around them. "Dnema is a fine example of what can be accomplished by Decepticons, but some of us are just better suited to serving out on the frontier, fighting on unconquered worlds." He shuddered. "This cyberformed replica is soulless."
    "I am sorry you do not feel at home," Mercer replied in a polite voice. "Megatron ordered us to make you comfortable while you undergo system upgrades and indoctrinations."
    Razorclaw grimaced. "I don't like anyone messing around with my circuitry," he snarled. He forced his tone to calm before continuing. "But I appreciate your efforts." Megatron had scattered all of the Decepticons he had recovered from Earth throughout his new Empire to undergo upgrades from the advanced technology the newer generations possessed, as well as to be instructed in all that Megatron's forces had accomplished thus far,
    If Razorclaw had to sit through one more 'behold the glory of the Decepticons speech…well, he just wouldn't be held responsible for his subsequent actions!
    Four technicians walked past. They were talking softly about the actions of 'the benefactors'—whomever they were—and wondering if it was true that they could truly restore the dead.
    Razorclaw narrowed his optics. "What are they talking about?" he demanded.
    Mercer shrugged. "It is a fad," he answered dissmissively. "After being nearly destroyed by Galvatron, back on Earth some twenty years previous, Megatron wag rebuilt by some aliens for their own mysterious purposes, but he rebelled against them, of course, and built up his own empire using technology acquired from them. The younger generation now think that the aliens restored Megatron to life from the dead!" He chuckled briefly. "I'm sure the fascination will pass in time."
    Razorclaw grunted. "Perhaps, "There was dull in conversation while they walked on, touring the streets of Dueiaa's capitol. "Are these 'benefactors' powerful?"
    "Apparently, though they've been in hiding for over fifteen years." Mercer shrugged. "Meatron has had his scientists working to upgrade and improve upon the technology he obtained from them prior to breaking free of their control. Should these aliens return to attempt to enslave us, then they will be in for quite a surprise."
            *            *            *
    Optimus stepped into the command center. "I have chosen our plan of attack," he declared to the Autobots assembled there.
    The other Autobots stared back at him.
    "You have?" Sonimus Prime asked in a neutral tone.
    She looked around the center. "Then you are all convinced that this is indeed Optimus Prime reborn?"
    "As certain as we all are that you truly are Sunfire reborn," Arcee countered, "After all, your personality is different to what we were all used to."
    Sonimus smiled and nodded at Arcee. "Point taken, my dear, but being dead can do that to you." She stepped towards Optimus with a wide grin on her face. "So, Optimus, what's your cunning plan?"
    Optimus looked at her. "It's--"
    A chime sounded, interrupting the conference. "This is Cosmia...I have some important news. High priority."
    Unbidden, Grid Iron adjusted the com-screen. "What is it?"
    "I just got back from scouting that odd radiation surge we detected out in quadrant seven." The female Autobot sounded surprised. "And I found a Human." She held it up so the camera pick-up could see its naked, squirming form in her hand.
    "A Human?" Arcee asked. "Here?"
    "This is impossible!" Grid Iron protested. "We're well beyond the range of Human-built vessel."
    "It gets oven weirder," Cosmia replied with a shake of her head, "She claims to a Transformer...she claims to be Sunfire."

    "They're coming!"
    Dynamo heard the whispered signal from Trapper. "Take cover!" he snarled to his troops as he deactivated his comlink. "Quickly." He looked out of a crack in the wall-plate he was crouching behind. "Five of them," he growled. His hand tightened around his sword hilt. "Wait for my signal."
    The rumble of motors grew louder.
    "Wait for it."
    An explosion boomed out nearby.
    "Attack!" Dynamo lunged out from behind his cover and opened fire with his optic lasers.
    Four identical tanks were rumbling along a former street. The fifth tank was upside down, most of its left side crumpled and torn open from the mine it had driven over.
    Fire from the rest of Dynamo's shrunken battlegroup tore into the still-mobile tanks. Explosions consumed two tanks, before counterfire sent his troops diving for cover.
    "Reinforcements closing," Trapper's wheezy voice warned over the com-channel. "Fighters incoming from the north!"
    "Understood." Dynamo adjusted his comlink as a laser caught one of his warriors—Scraphook, judging by the tone of the scream—and melted his head-module into liquid. "Terrorflyer, deploy!"
    "Terrorflyer is scrapped," a whiny voice informed him. "Warper is now in command of air team. Warper will support you."
    Dynamo sighed. Still, as long as Warper could fly, then Dynamo would just have to put up with that annoying speech impediment. "I need you here right now, Sub-Commander."
    "Warper copies." And almost immediately a squadron of jets flew overhead towards the northern edge of the mostly-deserted city.
    A quick stutter of weapon's fire signaled Trapper's entrance into the ambush.
    "About time," Dynamo muttered as he scanned the impromptu battlefield for enemy survivors. "Victory!" he shouted, thrusting his sword into the air. At this rate, his team would drive the Disciples off of Cybertron long before Megatron returned from Earth.
    Instead of eyes, Trapper's optics were rows of horizontal slits. "These were easy prey," he chuckled. "Five for one...I'd call that an acceptable loss ratio."
    Dynamo glared at him even as Warper landed nearby and transformed to his green/yellow robot-mode. "The Disciples fight without honor." Without their overwhelming numbers they would be little threat he knew. Unfortunately, they had those numbers.
            *            *            *
    "Come on, this is just ridiculous," Sonimus Prime declared as she stalked into the medcentre. "After all, I—"
    "Claim to be Sunfire," Optimus interrupted.
    "And you claim to be Optimus Prime." Sonimus shrugged, as if to remove the sting from her tone. "One can certainly say that things are never dull around here."
    "Didn't your visions show you this?" Thunderclash asked.
    Sonimus glared at him. "Don't mock my visions," she snapped. "A higher power guides me now. I must light the path to our future, lest our race fall into darkness."
    Thunderclash snorted.
    "Doesn't anyone stay dead anymore?" Auto Forse asked of no one in particular. "Next I'm sure that we'll hear that the Chaos Bringer has been reborn." That remark plunged the group into shocked silence.
    "I certainly hope not," Nightbeat said, "because things are already bad enough without Unicron coming back."
    The door to a secondary room hissed open and Fixit walked towards the newly arrived members of the Autobot command staff.
    "Well?" Grid Iron asked. "Is she all right?"
    "As far as I can tell, she is a perfectly healthy Human female." The MicroMaster shrugged. "Approximately thirty Terran years of age. No injuries, no signs of physical damage or decay." Then he shrugged again. "Her mind is another story though."
    "Oh?" Optimus asked as he peered through the viewport at the tiny Human female sitting atop a TransFormer-sized table. Her waist-length hair was a blonde so pale as to be almost white, her eyes were bright green, and she was dressed in a loose robe—probably obtained from storage and meant for some Nebulan or Human.
    "She is very disoriented. She has no idea where she is or how she came to be here."
    A ceiling speaker picked up part of the Human's mutterings as her voice rose from a soundless mumble. "The whole universe is screwy... saw myself die...the Watchers told me everything that is to come...but they never interfere with events...even when the Beast got me...burned me...ate me alive and spit my soul out into the void...Tempest, why didn't you save me? Surely Optimus would have...failed him...."
    "She's been going on like that for hours," Fixit sighed.
    "I want to see her," Optimus announced. Without another word, he stepped into the iso-lab. "Hello?" he said, pitching his voice into a calm tone.
    The Human stared at him with wide green eyes. "Who," she asked softly, "are you?"
    "A friend."
    "You seem almost maybe we knew each other in a past life." She laughed softly.
    "I am called Optimus Prime. What is your name?"
    "Optimus? Optimus?" the Human repeated. "Optimus Prime is dead! Dead! Dead, like me...consigned to the void."
    "This is getting us nowhere," Sonimus argued from the main chamber where she was watching the scene play out. "The Human is a distraction we can ill afford. Let the medics examine her to their hearts' content ...we have a war to wage."
    "Have you no compassion?" Grid Iron demanded.
    "Plenty for beings who deserve it. This Human has no right to be here. No idea even how she came to be here. The security of Oberon could be threatened."
    "Not by one disoriented human," Optimus told them, looking back over his shoulder at the open door.
    Sonimus snorted.
    "I'm not Human!" the human shouted.
    "Nebulan then?" Optimus suggested. "You certainly look like an ordinary Terran."
    "I am not a Human of any kind. I'm not a carbon-cycle organism!" she shouted. "I am a TransFormer!"
"That settles it," Sonimus said into the silence which greeted that pronouncement, "this whole place is a madhouse. No vision could have possibly prepared me for this!"
    "I am SunFire!"
    "Wrong, Human." Sonimus stepped into the room and walked towards the table. "I_ am—was—Sunfire...and I am called Sonimus Prime now."
    "That's not my body," SunFire said. "I got killed, you see... tracked down and slain by the dragon in its den."
    Sonimus shook her head, wincing with remembered pain. "I know that--I was there."
    "And then I was in the void...and I saw Optimus, there in the afterlife." Her green eyes narrowed as she focused on the mechanoid now calling himself Optimus Prime. "What did I tell you, as we huddled in that ghostly battlefield, Optimus?"
    "You, you told me...I said...that is...." He shrugged. "I am... somewhat unclear as to exactly what transpired in the void. I am quite certain I will recall it in time."
    "You didn't tell me anything," Sonimus told him. "I would have remembered something like that."
    "I told him something," the Human announced. "I fought for you, Optimus, I slew the Dragon for you. And you told me that you...were proud of me."
    "I am proud of all my Autobots."
    "And I...I asked you me."
    Someone gasped, while Optimus stared at the Human.
    "I love you," she said again, face and tone wistful.
    "This situation grows even more absurd!" Sonimus protested. "A Human who claims to be a dead Autobot reborn and also claims that she professed her love to Optimus Prime while they were both in the afterlife." She turned to Optimus. "Do you recall any of this happening when you were dead? I certainly don't!"
    "No," Optimus admitted, "but that does not mean that it did not happen."
    Sonimus threw her hands up towards the ceiling. "Primus give me strength!" she pleaded. "If this is what the commanders are like, then it's no wonder the war is going so badly!"
    "That is uncalled for," Optimus countered. "To speak so ill of the dead—"
    "I am not dead! I am Sunfire reborn—"
    "But other Autobots are dead. You are maligning their memories."
    "Forgive me then, oh wise one." Sonimus lapsed back into silence.
    "Enough!" Grid Iron snapped. "Stop this bickering at once."
    "I do not bicker," Optimus said rather petulantly.
    "She doesn't sound anything like me," SunFire said. "Your tone is all wrong."
    "I am reborn," Sonimus replied coldly. "When I was reformed and shown my grand destiny, I had to change."
    "The change wasn't all for the better," Nightbeat commented softly.
    "So how did you become a Human?" Sonimus demanded, choosing to ignore Grid Iron for the moment.
    "The Watchers must have given me this new form."
    "Ah," Sonimus said, "but I thought they never interfered?"
    "They have a few agents who do interact."
    "Like this mysterious 'Tempest'?"
    Sonimus looked at the others. "Does any of this make any sense whatsoever to you guys?"
    The other Autobots exchanged looks.
    "Sonimus, you never did clearly explain to us just how you came to possess that new bodyshell."
    "I told you, Auto Forse, that I was wounded by that Decepticon creature I had tracked to a cave. An eruption started a cave-in, further damaging me. I was recovered by a...being whose armor gleamed brighter than the stars. He reshaped me, granted me visions with which I could guide the Autobots to new heights of glory and forever banish the evil of the Decepticons." She smiled proudly. "I was chosen to altar the course of history itself and reshape our race's future!"
    "A good story."
    "It's no different than SunFire's claims to have been reshaped by some ghosts."
    "The Watchers!" the Human shouted. "They watch everything and never interfere." She stared at Optimus with her wide eyes, the green color blazingly bright. "Right, Tempest?"
    "I'm sorry," Optimus replied. "I do not recognize that name. Auto Forse?"
    The Autobot historian looked startled for a moment. "I... am not familiar with, any Autobots possessing that designation." He recovered his poise. "I will have to check the personnel files."
    "Of course you're not," the Human explained. "Tempest is now a Decepticon. Well, she's really a Watcher who assumed a corporeal form to interact with this facet of the Omniverse."
    The Autobots exchanged looks.
    "You have to believe me!" the Human screamed. "The Watchers told me everything! They showed me Megatron building his new Empire and conquering planet after planet. I saw Oberon destroyed by fire from the sky. I saw the uncounted warships gathering in the fiery void between dimensions...biding their time until they can strike out and destroy us all."
    "Wild guesses," Sonimus said. "Anyone who knows about the war can claim seeing visions of Megatron once again leading the Decepticons."
    "Which he is."
    "Which he is," Soniraus agreed. "But a mysterious armada lurking in the fiery barrier between dimensions? Isn't that just a little hard to swallow?"
    "Yeah, not like coming back from the dead," Fixit commented dryly.
    "I'm telling you the truth!" the Human shouted. "You must believe me. The balance of power depends on it!"
    "I've seen enough," Optimus declared. "Our presence here is only upsetting her further. Fixit, do what you can to help her. Now let's go back to the war room. I want to explain my plans to you all...." He turned and strode out of the medcentre.
    "You have to listen to me!" the Human shouted desperately. "Please, Optimus! You have to listen!" She began crying. "You have to listen to me ..."

    "It is not yet time."
    "We have the Mechs on the defensive," a second voice — cold and arrogant — said. "Now is the perfect time for us to press them back further."
    "No." The first voice was softer, almost gentle.
    Wind rustled through the blue-green leaves.
    "If thou will not sanction a widening of our activities, then at least command the Disciples to cleanse Cybertron more quickly. The resting place of the Guardian must be found. The sacred — "
    "Hush, Militant. We are being observed."
    He turned, peering through the shrubbery. "Ah, her," Green eyes narrowed .
    The first bowed his head. "Greetings, Katrina."
    "Greetings, Avatar Prime." She bowed her head.
    "I have duties. The Holy Fist has training to be done." His green eyes narrowed even further. "Katrina," he made the name into a snarl. "Avatar." Wings unfurled from the back of his bioarmour and he rose into the air.
    Katrina watched him until he was just a speck against the swirling nebula which formed Eden's sky. "He doesn't like me."
    "Militant likes few people. Do not take his dislike personally." Avatar brushed silvery hair from out of his face.
    Katrina shook her head — brown hair settling over the shoulders of her red robe.
    "You look fine."
    She jumped, "I don't think I'm ever going to get used to the effortless way you can read my thoughts. "
    "It is effortless for us--a gift from our Lord." Avatar slowly paced through the knee-high grass. "You share that gift, Katrina."
    "I prefer to be called Rapture," she told him. "Katrina died a long time ago. On another world...."
    "As you wish, Rapture." His accent rippled around her name. "Our Lord is generous to his Children. Our gifts are commonplace to us, With proper training, you will someday match us."
    She shook her head. "On Earth, I was a freak — "
    "Never say that!" Avatar's voice was rich with anger. "You are one of us, Child. One of the blessed few who can consciously utilize the Divine Gifts inherent in every Human." He smiled at her. "A rare enough talent on Eden, for a Earth-born Human to manifest such talent is surely a sign from Primus Himself."
    She looked at him.
    "Of course I'm certain, Child," he replied to her thoughts. "Now come, walk with me and tell me of Earth. The Eyes have told much and shown many detailed holograms, but you actually lived upon the sacred Birthworld. Speak to me of it?" His voice was wistful and yet still commanding.
    Rapture sighed. "Where to begin?"
    "Open your mind to me," Avatar prompted. "Let me see into your memories…yes, just like that...."
            *            *            *
    "Excuse me for interrupting you, Thunderclash, but I believe I may have stumbled across a matter which requires some of your attention."
    Thunderclash turned away from his computer monitor to look at Auto Forse with a puzzled expression. "Oh?"
    "Yes, I was just in the com-centre trying to uplink with some of the recon probes we still have orbiting near Cybertron. No luck in contacting any of them I'm afraid…the Disciples have probably already destroyed then. Anyway I mistyped a command — silly of me I know — and called up a record of recent com-traffic." He handed a data crystal to Thunderclash.
    The Autobot security officer popped it into a reader and studied the screen as information scrolled across it. "Is this accurate?" he demanded as he stopped the flow to study one record in particular.
    "Apparently," Auto Forse replied calmly. "Someone sent a com pulse to Tridumo—that's listed as an uninhabited system by the way—earlier today." He paused. "I thought you should be alerted, given your recent efforts at counter-espionage."
    Thunderclash nodded. "Thanks, Auto Forse. This info will be really useful." He looked hard at the other Autobot. "You know about the suspected spy in our midst?"
    "Yes, of course." Ho looked surprised by the question. "I am the chief historian, and in charge over most of Oberon's databases...I hear just about everything that happens in this base. But I can keep a secret!" he added fiercely. "And I want you to know that I will do everything in my power to help you catch the spy." He shook his head grimly. "To think that some among our number could be traitors... spying for the Decepticons after all the butchery they've caused."
    Thunderclash stood up. "Exactly... but I'm glad I don't need to remind you to keep this info a secret."
    "I am only too happy to help out, Thunderclash. Anyway, I'm not a lover of violence, no I will leave this apprehension in your capable hands. If he is a could have been a simple error I suppose."
    "I doubt it."
    "So do. I." With that, Auto Forse turned and left the room.
            *            *            *
    Tempest sighed and shook her head as she stepped into her quarters onboard the Dark Glory and the door sealed itself behind her. Such a busy last few weeks: official scouting missions for the Decepticons, Autobots to secretly arrange a rescue from Cindras Two for, and so many other minor details of organizing a new life among this faction of Transformers. It was all so tiring, even for a demi-god-like being like a Syntara. A panel on the computer console was silently flashing, indicating waiting messages. Tempest hurriedly scanned the list of status reports for her to read, the demands for reports she still had to write, and several
pro-Decepticon indoctrination files. "It was easier being an Autobot," she muttered.
            *            *            *
    "Thunderclash has given us some good news. He has located and apprehended a Decepticon spy."
    The assembled Autobots clapped politely.
    Thunderclash shrugged. "It was pretty easy actually. A copy of recent com-traffic was brought to my attention and it contained the record for a signal sent to a deserted star system. A scouting party found that the signal was sent to a relay satellite—which then self-destructed before we could study it."
    "And the spy?" Sonimus asked.
    "Doubledealer is undergoing interrogation right now."
    "Is he the only spy?" Arcee asked.
    "The only one whom we know of right now...we don't actually know. He's being very uncooperative."
    "Perhaps you need to try some different methods of questioning," Auto Forse suggested. "I will be pleased to assist in correlating any of the data you obtain."
    "I'll leave the matter in your hands, Thunderclash," Optimus said, "If you want any help, you'll get, it, but I have no intention of interfering in your job." After a moment he continued: "But I really want to continue with the planned briefing. We can come back to the spy after Doubledealer talks," The others nodded agreement. "My plan is simple yet elegant.
    "We will be launching a raid," Optimus Prime told the command staff in a calm voice, "A bold military strike against the planet—codenamed Icon—which Nightboat located, during his last scouting mission." He smiled at the HeadMaster detective. "I know that many of you want to go after Cybertron, or Earth, but I think we can best hurt the Decepticons by striking a world they will not expect to be hit." He sounded confident. "Icon is a symbol, a statement of our willingness to face the enemy in battle and offer than a defeat."
    Sonimus nodded, "Sounds workable. Just like what I had in mind for us to do."
    The door hissed open and Scoot huried into the room. "Commanders!" he gasped, "I have terrible news!"
    "Somehow, 'terrible news' just isn't as ominous as it used to be," Grid Iron replied dryly. "Let me see." He took the preferred datapad. "By the Matrix!"
    "What?" Optimus demanded. He took the pad. "No! This cannot be!"
    "What's wrong?" Soniraus asked as she took the pad. "Oh."
    "What, is it, Optimus?" Bumblebee demanded.
    "Earth..." Optimus seemed unable to continue, his mouth opening and closing without making any sound. "The...the Humans," he said finally, "have driven off their Decepticon invaders." He motioned his fellow Autobots to stop cheering, "They have detonated some unknown electromagnetic weapon...radiation pulses have scrambled the neural circuitry of every TransFormer on the planet. The effect is still ongoing, so no Autobots can land on Earth." He shook his head. "The affect has spread to their electronics—all of them—and the planet's culture is collapsing."
    There was shocked silence.
    "We have to do something," Bumblebee protested.
    "We can do nothing," Scoot replied grimly. "The pulse effect is global...any Autobot sent to the planet will perish almost instantly. The Decepticons and Disciples took heavy casualties after the initial detonation. Before they withdrew that is."
    "Then how did you get this data?" Sonimus asked.
    "The GoBots left stealth recon drones in orbit, and at selected sites on the surface." Scoot glanced nervously at Optimus, but the commander took no overt notice of his words. "They recorded the Decepticon and Disciple engagements, relaying that data back to us. After the pulse bomb detonated, the drones recorded the demise of Decepticons and Disciples present on the surface and the rapid withdrawal of their warships into hyperspace...they also recorded the first disruption to Human electronics, before the drones began going off-line themselves. Our assets in the system are now non-existent."
    "Have you sent more drones?"
    "They've all gone off-line within twenty seconds of their arrival at Earth. The effect seems to b« localized within the planet's own magnetic fields, but I can't be certain."
    Optimus shook his head, "Continue studying the pulse effect... maybe we can counteract it somehow." He paused, gathering himself to continue. "Meanwhile, the Humans have- found their own safety from the Decepticons… now it is our turn."
    "But, our friends—"
    "We can do nothing for them right now! Yes, my heart grieves for them, Bumblebee, but we roust concentrate on defeating the Decepticons or else they will destroy everything we hold dear."
    After a long silence, the young Autobot nodded, "I understand, Optimus."
    "Good. My plan for Operation: Roll Out is simple." Optimus gestured to a viewscraan. "Nightbeat will lead Phase One: the arrival and attack by our new strike ships." Icons blinked into life on the screen. "They will carry the offensive towards the planet, distracting the Decepticons, Arcee will command Phase Two: the dropping of strike teams onto the surface, where they will attempt to steal or destroy supplies and personnel," His voice displayed some distaste at that tactic, but he knew the outnumbered Autobots had little choice but to hit hard and dirty, "Phase Four will b-a the hardest... the recovery of our strike teams and the withdrawal from Icon."
    All optics turned to Auto Forse.
    "The planet's name is Dnema," the historian said after a moment. "Apparently. I decrypted some transmissions Nightbeat's com-system recorded. No important data, I'm afraid, but one of the pursuit ships was contacting Dnema."
    "Why wasn't this mentioned to me before?" Optimus demanded.
    "I only just finished decoding it before coming here. There is no vital data in the transmission, and I was unaware of Dnema'a sudden importance to us," he shrugged, "Obviously, I will now supply a full download to you and the strategic staff."
    "This isn't an invasion," Grid Iron clarified for the others, "just a quick raid for supplies, and to remind the Decepticons that we're still functioning."
    "Sounds like fun," Sonimus agreed. "A definitely appropriate opening shot to herald the new era of the war and our greater glories to come."
    Nightbeat nodded. "So what am I flying? My scoutship isn't really suited for combat."
    Mainframe stepped forward, "I have obtained the necessary data." A viewscreen lit up with the image of an angular vessel. "Defender-class strike ships. Length: one hundred, fifty meters. Crew: two possible, standard complement of five. Engines: two class-three sublight thrusters, one hyperdrive, and all powered by one class-seven fusion reactor. Weaponry: twelve particle cannon, seven pulse laser batteries, five missile pods capable of launching twenty-five missiles per salvo, and a class-two energy shield."
    "Wow," Bumblebee whistled. "That's pretty impressive firepower for such a small ship."
    "The armament of a small cruiser placed in the mass of a standard shuttle," Nightbeat added with his own look of appraisal. "The Deceps will never know what hit than."
    "Oberon has advanced the level of Autobot military technology considerably," Auto Forse explained rather proudly. "The pulse lasers and particle beams are more powerful than what you are used to, hence the more powerful reactor needed to power them."
    "It’ll just make a bigger boom."
    Optimus smiled. "The Icon raid will be launched in five days. Make me proud, Autobots." He raised a clenched fist. "’Till all are one!"
    "’Till all are one!" the others shouted.
            *            *            *
    "This is going to be so great," Raggletag announced as practically bounced off of the tunnel walls. "We’re finally going to strike back." He made a few half-hearted punches towards his shadow.
    "And it’s all because of Optimus Prime," Quickmix noted as he sparred with Raggletag.
    "About time," Huffer grumbled as he followed the other two Autobots through the corridor, sidestepping their scuffle. "We’ve been getting our gears ground for long enough."
    "Yeah," Raggletag agreed.
    The last Autobot in the group shook his head. "But is he really Optimus Prime?" Beachcomber asked plaintively.
            *            *            *
    "And now you swear to me your lives, and your honor, such as they currently are, knowing that my life and my honor is then bound within yours, and thus such, bonds tie together the Grey Legion." Terrorwing stood, atop a raised dais and stared down with a predatory expression at the hundred or so new recruits to his Legion…hundreds selected out of thousands of applicants, he noted sourly. But it was a start...yes, it was indeed.
            *            *            *
    In a place removed from the strife-torn Milky Way galaxy,shadowy figures gathered in front, of huge com-screens. Light from these screens glinted off predominantly metalloid bodies. All was silent for a final moment.
    "Recon parties have successfully transited home," a voice echoed out of the darkness.
    "Downloads of all data completed as scheduled," another voice added.
    "Threat assessments have been undertaken."
    "Threat potential remains extreme…many worlds have been touched and a few have already commenced bonding experiments. We have obtained visual proof."
    "Such experiments cannot be tolerated." As the new voice spoke , the others fell silent. "Events do not follow the path of our choosing…our servants have failed in their missions."
    "The Core has completed its analysis," the new voice—harsh and cold—announced. "We are satisfied by all currently recovered data. The preliminary analysis is completed. Request data displays of selected targets."
    "Primary planetary targets selected." Starcharts flickered across the screen.
    "Targets agreed upon…request confirmation of primary objectives."
    "Confirmation of primary objectives is given."
    "The Core is in concurrence," the harsh voice agreed.
    "First stage operations have reached point of diminishing returns…the lesser beings are rapidly moving beyond our spheres of control."
    "New strategy will soon be required."
    "Second phase will be implemented only if necessary…request new confirmation of supposed targets."
    "Targets confirmed. Centaruri Alpha One has the prime potential to become a central focus of organized resistance to our will."
    "The elimination of Centauri Alpha One will guarantee our success."
    "Negative," the harsh voice snapped. "But it will enhance the probability of our overall success."
    "Selection of additional targets confirmed. The Core demands the pacification of all touched worlds before they can develop into true threats to us." The harsh voice paused. "Military force is not currently an option."
    "Additional agents will be activated and dispatched to the field."
    "Overall resistance will be crushed."
    "The Core confirms this order."
    "Victory is our way."
    "Victory is our way," the others agreed in unison.
    The leader smiled.