By Tony THUNDER Klepack

Grid Iron watched Fixit and three of his medical technicians work on bringing Jazz around. Several of his fellow Autobots had been killed during the Autobot City Massacre, where his Pretender shell had been disintegrated by Galvatron himself, creating a brutal neural feedback that left the Autobot veteran comatose for the rest of the battle and the Cindras 2 fiasco after it. Miraculously, his body had survived all that, protected as best he could be by his Autobot brethren.
    But others had not been so fortunate. The vast majority of Autobot City's population—including several Autobots of renown like Optimus Prime, Kup, Grimlock, and Fortress Maximus—had died nobly defending their outpost in the spirit of protecting the Humans around them.
    Grid Iron turned to look out the medbay's window, his optics searching the vast concrete flooring far below which contained dozens of Autobots shuttles and space vessels, a mish-mash of survivors’ ships and Oberon's own vessels. The battle-scarred old ships stood out amid the sleek, modem war machines.
    He allowed himself a sigh. The ships wouldn't have been battle-scarred if they hadn’t been allowed to be fired upon. If, when the slaughter began, a fleet of Autobot vessels and an army of troops had materialized out of nowhere and attacked the Decepticons—at the very least forcing them to fight hard for their victory.
    But instead, it had been a massacre. The Decepticons had struck both Autobot City and Cybertron, slaughtering Autobots unaccustomed to fighting for nearly two decades. Some of whom fought back viciously, defending what was theirs, while a small minority froze in fear or hid themselves futilely, being murdered in the end anyway, regardless of their intent against their ancient enemy.
    It would've been just if Oberon’s forces had jumped from trans dimensional portals and star vessels and struck their enemy with well-trained forces—forces who had never let their training be soiled and forgotten by dreams of peace and prosperity, warriors freed from the illusion of the Decepticons were never coming back.
    They always came back, It was only a matter of when.
    But justice was not to be. Grid Iron was a good warrior, who always followed his orders to the letter and this time, in doing so, he was responsible for the death of thousands of his brethren Oberon was Optimus Prime’s contingency plan—a fallback for his forces should they ever lose Cybertron. It had been the prime order of their now-deceased leader that Oberon's existence never be revealed, no matter what. Obviously, if they lost Oberon, there was nowhere else for the Autobots to run to.
    And Grid Iron understood that, all too well.
    Although they had no direct way of monitoring Earth, Oberon's Autobots did have several highly advanced and camouflaged spy satellites directed on their homeworld, for obvious reasons. They'd seen the fighting as it had broken out on Cybertron, simultaneously in all four of the main cities. At any time, Grid Iron could have ordered his forces there go engage the enemy—but he didn't. Because he understood what it might’ve meant if Oberon were to be discovered by the Decepticons-and, right now, he never regretted following orders more.
    He was all too familiar with the injured and dying he'd seen as they came in on the escape shuttles. Their bodies hideously burned and torn—some well beyond recognition.
    Their injuries, their dead loved ones were all his fault. He'd failed them by observing his orders...failed them completely.
    Of course, he'd talked things over with his friend and confidante, Thunderclash, and his friend had been quick to point out that if he had acted, he would've diminished Oberon's resources and Jeopardized his obligation to all the survivors. He had to keep them alive and motivated, give them hope for tomorrow and the resources to fight onward.
    Grid Iron knew that, of course. In his head, inaction had been the only tactical option open to him. But in his heart, he was partially responsible for the loss of Autobot life that had taken place—and logic or not, he couldn't completely alleviative his feelings of responsibility.
    Grid Iron was aware he was one of the only command-level Autobots left and the only one currently in charge of anything—which effectively made him acting-Commander of the Autobots. It was an obligation he did not feel he observed right now, but like it or not, there was no one else.
    He had to gather himself together. Now was not the time to show weakness—or to allow it. He had to present the others with a solid front and inspire confidence in them, give them that hope they so desperately needed…even if he wasn't sure he felt it himself right now.
    Grid Iron snapped out of his meditations and turned to the source of the voice. "Yes, Fixit? What is it?"
    Before the MicroMaster could respond however, another voice answered.
    "Oh, man, have I got a headache!" Jazz replied, rubbing his temples and sitting up on the medical bed. He looked up and saw Grid Iron and Fixit watching him—and their emerging smiles. "Did I miss anything important?"

    Matt marched down the corridor of the Dark Glory, where he been assigned quarters. All of the few remaining Decepticon Head and TargetMasters were stationed in this section, where quarters had been reconditioned to allow for Human and Nebulan-sized beings to live alongside their binary-bonded partners without having to contend with enormous appliances and beds.
    But as impressive as it and, indeed, the Dark Glory itself were, he had more important concerns on his mind today.
    It had been three days since Earth had activated its doomsday defense against The Decepticons—the EMP bomb—a weapon which had worked so utterly perfectly that it had also knocked out every last piece of technology on Earth and killed its HeadMaster defense force. A team Matt had been so instrumental in creating.
    It had been a whirlwind week for him, starting with commandeering a HeadMaster body, becoming intoxicated by his new found power and merging minds with the remnants of the dead Whisper to become Talon. Then being coerced into joining the Decepticons by the unusual yet forthright Decepticon, Facet, being forced to reveal Camelot's secrets to Megatron and being shocked by the arrival of some female TransFormer named Starscream—whom Face assured him had once been a he—Matt hadn't realized mechanoids were prone to the same desire to have a sex change as Humans were….
    He heard another voice in his mind groan at that, and he knew Whisper had been monitoring his thoughts.
    'Go away I have no time for you right now,' Matt thought angrily.
    He waited a moment, hoping Whisper had taken the hint, and then continued on with his thought. It wasn't that Starscream had been so surprising—he, she—whatever-meant as much to him as Soundwave or any other Decepticon did—very little. But seeing his quiet, meek secretary, Gwen, binary-bonded to Starscream was quite startling. She'd had such venom in her voice when she spoke to him, accusing him of being a traitor to their world—as if he'd ever willingly have given up Earth! Venom, and something else…
    She'd assured him that she wasn't crazy and he didn't doubt that statement. That she'd failed the psyche tests meant only that she wasn't a good candidate for the bonding program because the test results meant she either couldn't' handle the transition to controlling the robotic bodyshell, or the strenuous combats situations into which she'd be placed.
    But he'd sensed something further when she'd confronted him—a confidence she'd never demonstrated before and almost crazed…flamboyance, for lack of a better term. She'd worked with him long enough for him to get to know her on a few levels, and this didn't strike him as being in her personality type.
    Granted, he'd possibly taken a few too many liberties appreciating her beauty and rounded figure—unfortunately, letting her catch him at it a few times. But she'd still demonstrated a forthrightness he'd never seen from her before. Her usual tact and manner had seem totally supplanted.
    If only he'd been more sensitive to her. But it was just his nature to act that way around good-looking women. He'd had a harsh life, having lost his family at an early age he'd had to survive any way he could. He'd learned all he could on the streets and used his mind to advance himself through both legitimate and less legal methods—like extortion and black marketing—to get himself into a prominent position with a respectable company like Blackrock Industries. In all that time he'd had little time for learning how to act around women—after all, they had no value in getting him where he'd wanted to go in life and if he needed anything physical from them, he could always count on the bars...they catered to all types of amorous people, including many of the more…pleasurable women he'd had encounters with.
    He wondered if Gwen was just sick of being polite with him, and giving him hell like he'd probably deserved or if it was traits of her partner, this Starscream character. After all, the binary-bonding process was supposed to be a 50/50 merge between organic and mechanical llfeform, giving the new being the best of each.
    Of course, Project Excalibur was supposed to have changed the rules by mindwiping the cerebral circuitry of the shell, giving the organic side full control. And in all the subjects he'd seen, it had been a complete success—save for his own case, of course. But Phase Mordred had been done in secret, without all the usual safeguards and procedures of the mainstream Project, thus the anomalies of his case, while being irritating were not completely surprising in retrospect.
    But had the same fate befallen his former secretary? He'd like to hope not, but he knew it was most likely the case as well.
    Despite his bonding with Whisper though, he hadn't felt himself acting any differently when separated and walking around in or out of the armor—like he was now. The change in Gwen was near instant and worrying.
    He'd wanted to go to her ever since their encounter and make sure that she was handling it okay. Now was the first time he'd had free yet and he was going to her quarters to do Just that. He needed to make sure she could control and accept Starscream's presence and also adapt to what had happened to Earth the other day—after all, neither of them would be returning in the foreseeable future.
    He stopped in front of the door to Gwen's quarters and composed himself for whatever state she'd be in. Exhaling sharply, he pressed the door chime beside the small Human-sized entry to the quarters. As he waited for a response, he noted the large, Transformer-scaled door nearby which would allow the bonded partner entry.
    He just hoped Starscream wasn't home.
    "Enter," Gwen's voice spoke out of an unseen intercom.
    Matt waited as the door opened—and revealed near total darkness inside. He stepped tentatively inside and the door quickly slid closed behind him.
    "Lights," he called out.
    "Oh, they won't be necessary." Gwen replied from somewhere nearby, "I so prefer it this way..."
    Matt! looked around in the darkness, trying to locate the sound of her voice.
    A blue light suddenly sprang to life off to his right, the sudden brilliance playing havoc with his eyes which were still trying to adjust to the darkness. In it, Gwen knelt atop an oversized pillow, a robe loosely concealed her body.
    "I hope this is better for you," she purred.
    "Gwen, what's going on? Is Starscream here—"
    She shook her head. "My new partner is undergoing some maintenance in medbay." She ran both of heir hands through her hair, the action parting the two halves of her robe and revealing her nakedness.
    "We're all alone right now," she added seductively, making no attempt to hide or close the robe.
    "What's going on?" Matt demanded, forcing himself to meet her eyes and ignore her other attributes, "Is Starscream making you do—-this?"
    Gwen smiled. "He doesn't make me do anything. In fact, I'm more in control than he is." She rose to her feet and walked over to him, letting the robe slide off her shoulders completely, "I'm a woman, Matt. I have my own desires…."
    "Stop this…" he replied hoarsely.
    Gwen ignored him and rubbed against him, her breasts sending a wave of undesired pleasure throughout his body. She whispered in his ear, her breath hot against him. "Don't you want me? I saw you how you used to look at me before...I know you do."
    He felt the heat of her breath on his neck once again as Gwen began kissing him there. Her hand ran over his chest, searching for the release clip on his tunic.
    "No!" Matt snapped, shoving her away. "Stop it Gwen!"
    She regarded him amorously—a look of desire in her eyes, seemingly undeterred by his previous rebuttal. Unexpectedly, she lunged at him—grasping him tightly in her arms. "Give yourself to me!" she cried in an unhuman, almost desperate tone. She kissed him violently on the lips acting as if her life depended on getting her way.
    Matt struggled against her HeadMaster strength, trying not to hurt her in the process with his own augmentation. Finally, seeing no other way to release himself, he gave in and almost flung her violently away from him. "I don't know what's wrong with you!" Matt snapped. He turned and fumbled in the dark for the door control panel. Finding it, he opened the door to the outside of her quarters, walking through before she could act further.
    Gwen rushed out behind him as he strode down the corridor—not bothering to cover her nakedness—and stood outside her quarters looking after him. "You bastard!" she shrieked. "I swear you'll regret this!"
    "Do you hear me?" she continued, as Matt ignored her, now almost out of earshot, "If you won't love me I'll kill you!"
    "Matt!" one final scream chased after him.
    Matt stopped, now safely out of sight around a bend in the corridor. He took a moment to calm himself and gather his thoughts.
    Perhaps he'd been wrong. Gwen was acting insane—the mood changes, the violent-tendencies, the pattern was there. And he could see it all clearly now. The shock of merging minds with Starscream's had been too much for her. If he remembered his psychology, correctly, she must have been a sexually repressed personality-type and the merging was too much change—-a new kind of liberty. Starscream's own mind had presented her with that, her mind couldn't accept, and thus, she had snapped from the transition. Which meant, as far as he could tall, that Starscream's own sanity could give him a distinctive edge in controlling them in bonded situations. When they were separate, though, Gwen was on her own—left to the vices of her own shattered psyche.
    Her sanity was beyond the medicine of Humanity to be able to cure—even when theyfd had their technology operating—but, perhaps not beyond the Decepticons’ technology. He decided that he'd have to inquire discretely into the Decepticons’ medical database and find out. Because what ever her current state, he was responsible for it.
    And after what had happened to Earth, he had enough to live with...
            *            *            *
    Bluewind drew her gun and turned in the direction of the sound she’d just heard. Waiting a moment, her optics searched about the area in question. She was in one of the Dark Glory's many maintenance sections—a vast collection of pipes, dingy corridors, and other unimportant consoles and equipment storage rooms.
    After another moment, she heard nothing further and wondered if it had just been one of the ship's sub-systems making background noise, or, in fact, an intruder.
    Of course, she'd been searching the area for twenty minutes and it seemed that if the alarm system problem on the compartment down here had been sabotage and not just a malfunction, that she would have seen some evidence of tampering or another Transformer down here. Instead, she had nothing but a sound and her own overactive imagination.
    Letting out a sigh, she tapped her comlink, "Unit 145-A to Security Control."
    "Go ahead, Bluewind," a voice replied.
    "All clear in section 122028," Bluewind continued. "It must've been a system malfunction we detected earlier."
    "I wouldn't be surprised. The larger they build them, the more bugs they seem to develop." A pause, then: "All right. Return to your regular post."
    "Affirmative. 145-A out." Bluewind tapped the link again, shutting it off. She gave the area one final glance, then turned and proceeded down the corridor, noting where the pipes swung low here and there and preparing to duck when necessary.
    It was always possible there were intruders in these cases, and protocol dictated checking them out—but more often than not, it was just a system malfunction either in the section itself, or in Security Control's scanners. This was an acceptable distraction at any rate, as her normal sentry duties were usually quite dull—-after all, nobody was likely to ever make it past the Dark Glory's defenses."
    She ducked under two pipes and continued on her way.
    Who'd want to break into a maintenance section, anyway? she wondered. It's not like there’s anything down here worth stealing or sabotaging!
    A pair of hands shot down from the webwork of piping above her, hoisting the surprised security officer into the air.
    Before she had time to scream or even acknowledge it, her circuits were scrambled by a charge of energy. The world darkened about her and Bluewind felt herself being dropped to the deckplates.
    It took a moment for her optics to clear to normal. When they did, she saw a blue Decepticon standing over her, a bemused look on his face.
    "Who...?" she asked, her voice hoarse.
    "You mean you haven't heard of me?" he sounded genuinely indignant. "I am chaos, child! I am a force of nature like all things around me...haven't you heard of Lightning?"
    She shook her head weakly, coughing from the exertion. "Why...did you attack m-me?"
    "You came to investigate a malfunctioning system—I caused it," He looked around at the drab solitude. "These maintenance areas are wondrous—no one would think to suspect a legitimate break-in down here. But—he held up a utility case which Bluewind immediately recognized as a technical kit. "They are excellent places to shop for the mech who has everything."
    "I'd already reported in," she stated as her strength slowly seeped back into her body, "Why attack me? You could've gotten away without any hassle..."
    "True," Lightning admitted. "But this way is so much more fun."
    He regarded the kit in his hand, "These tools are a small component of my master plan…I will bring chaos to my Decepticon brethren! Free their minds of the mundane constraints that shackle them down—morality, honor, love—allowing them to experience the true freedom I experience!" He looked at her sinisterly. "You will all thank me for it!"
    "Not likely," Bluewind answered bravely, knowing this wasn't going to and well for her.
    "Well, as much as I'd love to rant all day, I've got places to be, things to do," he regarded her coldly, "people to kill."
    "I hope you don't expect me to beg," Bluewind snapped.
    Lightening raised his hand and small bolts transferred between his fingertips, "No, but you will scream…and then, you will die!"
    Electricity surged forth from his hand and tore into her. The last thing she remembered—would ever remember—was intense pain shooting all over her body and the sound of her own voice as she screamed one final scream.
            *            *            *
    "What is our next order of business?"
    "Before we get to that," another figure interrupted, "I would like to ask about our plans?"
    The Council Head looked at him with an expression of surprise. "Very well K'ronei," he replied, "What is it you wish to know?"
    The other nine councilors looked at K'ronei expectantly, some impatiently, while others hoped he would express their questions of their leader's recent actions.
    "I fully understand the importance and logic of our actions with Megatron," he replied. "But what of the other realms?" He looked at the others. "Some of my fellow councilors, as wall as myself, do not understand the logic of sending someone so inexperienced as Jonara to disrupt the TransFormers in that realm. Surely, one of his elders would have been more suited to such an operation?"
    The other nodded in understanding, "I agree that Jonara is inexperienced, being the newest member of the Cores. But he does have ample battle and tactical experience in the field."
    One of the other councilors looked as if he was going to interrupt with one of his own thoughts, but the Head Councilor cut him off.
    "And," he added, "Jonara must learn. As all of you, as I myself, and all of our forebearers did. He can never assume command of such a large group of our forces without being able to command such an assignment as this by himself. All of us here have commanded operations in other universes—it: is essential to our ultimate Goal that our forces can be divided up and attack on several fronts. Otherwise our Goal will take infinity to accomplish." He smiled. "Forever is a long time."
    "And if Jonara fails?" another asked.
    The Head shrugged. "Then Jonara dies because he was not worthy. That is our way in case you have forgotten."
    "Don't lecture me! I was one with the Core long before you ever came along."
    "Ah, yes," their leader replied as he walked over, closer to the speaker. "The great Dii'eusis. I seem to recall you were the one who lead our people to brutal defeat at Sigma Draconis in Universe 547-V eighty-seven years ago. Very impressive...obviously a decorated veteran such as yourself learned our way well."
    Dii'eusis appeared angered over the reminder of his own failure but said nothing.
    "Victory is our way." their leader addressed them all. "I have never led any of you to defeat—or worse, destruction. There is no need to start questioning my strategy now. If Jonara fails us—if he does—then we will move into that universe when we are done here and destroy its Transformers ourselves! Is that clear enough for all of you?"
    The others said nothing and their leader returned to his seat. After a moment, he shuffled his documents in front of him once more. "If that is all," he began, "then let us continue on—"
    "It is not all!" another councilor interrupted. "You have spoken up for Jonara, but you have said nothing of one other important thing. What about the Syntara?"
    "They will be dealt with, K'ronei, if any further interference arises from them," He looked down at the silver ring on his finger appreciatively. "I will see to it myself...."
    This statement left the others quiet. Their Head looked at them, knowing he had put them on edge referring to his alien acquisition. He permitted himself a smile at that. They did not know what it was capable of, and they feared it's power.
    But he didn't. Nor did he entirely understand its full potential—but he knew enough to deal with their ethereal enemy...and he would, when the time was right.
    "Is that all, than?" he asked. His question was answered with silence. "If so, it is time to continue onward with meeting. We have plenty of work ahead of us.…"

    Grid Iron, Thunderclash, and several others stood in his office and watched a camera displaying the medbay as Sonimus Prime was scanned and checked over by Fixit.
    "So, what do you think?" Grid Iron asked. "Is she really Sunfire reborn?"
    "She seems to be," Tornado replied. "She recognizes Airlift, Warhawk, Firestorm and myself. More than that, she has specific memories of our time together—if she isn't Sunfire, then somebody sure did their homework!"
    "I’m just glad she survived," Airlift said. Her optics met the screen image. "She's always been like a sister to me."
    Warhawk punched her shoulder affectionately. "Don’t tell me you're going soft on us!" he teased.
    Airlift smiled at that, but Grid Iron could tell she had been affected deeply by the losses they'd endured and was grateful her comrade was safe from oblivion.
    Jetfire looked at Grid Iron. "Ifm sure that's her too. She saved us all from that...thing! When she didn’t return, we just assumed the worst..." He looked off, lost in recollection. "I'm just grateful we were wrong."
    Thunderclash interjected then: "I hate to rain on your fortune, but given that you were all saved by Sunfire’s actions, are you really the best the judges of whether or not this is really Sunfire?"
    Grid Iron looked at the attending Cindras 2 survivors: Jetfire, Sludge, and Seaspray were present. Arcee had suffered some psychological trauma on the planetoid and had been ordered to rest in her quarters she had been all to happy to oblige.
    Beachcomber was off investigating the base's geological technology, not wanting too badly to revisit his experiences on Cindras 2 yet either—or so Grid Iron suspected at any rate. And, of course, there was Jazz who had been unconscious the entire time and thus wasn't qualified to determine Sonimus Prime's identity.
    "Look at it from perspective as Security Chief," Thunderclash continued. "We’ve lost both Cybertron and Autobot City, and now, we have a Transformer claiming to be one of our own—and for all intents and purposes, she does seem to be what she says she is. But, she's vague on details of her transformation and keeps talking of prophecy fulfillment. Can we tust her? I don't know. But I'm sure as hell not going to take her word on it alone!"
    "You didn't seem to be concerned about this Mainframe character," Firestorm retorted. "It seems to me that he'd be as much of a threat to security—if not more so!"
    "Believe me," Thunderclash told him, "I haven't cleared him of that potential— we're still watching him closely."
    "I know we're all here because we’re either her team-mates or fellow survivors from Cindras 2," Seaspray said, speaking for the first time this meeting. "Does that pepper our opinions? Absolutely! But Sunfire saved our lives back there—you have to understand our loyalty! Besides, logically, if we found her on Cindras 2 near where she was thought to have gone, then she must be Sunfire!"
    Thunderclash seemed unconvinced.
    "All right," Grid Iron admitted. "You have a point. Despite several yet unexplained factors, this probably is Sunfire. I'll allow her free reign while she's here…"
    Peelings of joy and relief passed over her gathered comrades.
    "But," Grid Iron continued, "I want answers! I fully expect some sort of specific explanation from…Sonimus as to her missing time and her transformation. If she won't give us those answers, in the name of security, she'll be thrown into the brig. The same goes for her if we catch her going near any of the sensitive systems or areas," He looked at her team-mattes, "Is that clear?"
    "Yes, sir," Tornado answered.
    "One last thing. This get-together is classified. None of you are to reveal any details of this discussion to her," Grid Iron exhaled. "This meeting is over. Dismissed!"
    Grid Iron noticed on the monitor that Sonimus has left medbay. He had a feeling she'd want to find him. Reaching over, he tapped a button his desk's control panel, severing the link to the surveillance systems.
    The Air Defense force piled out first, followed by Seaspray and Sludge. Both Jetfire and Thunderclash hung back.
    "I just wanted to say Sunfire's a true hero," Jetfire told the acting-Commander of the Autobots. "She upheld our purest ideals back there—putting her life on the line for our well-being. She should be commended for her heroism, not crucified!"
    "Don't worry, there won't be any witch hunts while I'm in charge," Grid Iron replied. "You have my word on that."
    Jetfire nodded his contentment with that and turned to leave. After he was gone, Thunderclash turned to his friend. "We're not seriously going to let Sonimus have free reign of Oberoa, area we?" he asked, "We're Just asking for trouble!"
    Grid Iron shook his head. "No, but I wanted them to believe that—we don't need anymore infighting around here. We need to keep our side together—otherwise we have no chance of successfully rallying against the Decepticons," He exhaled sharply. "Same drill as with Mainframe—keep her under discreet surveillance any time she leaves her quarters."
    "You got it." Thunderclash turned to the door to leave. As it opened, Sonimus Prime was standing behind it. "I hope I'm not intruding," she asked.
    "No, Thunderclash was just leaving."
    She nodded and entered, waiting as Thunderclash departed before she spoke.
    "What can I do for you?"
    "It's about destiny," she told him. "And the future. As you may have noticed, we are leaderless in the wake of Optimus Prime's passing—" she seemed saddened as she spoke his namr, but Grid Iron couldn't quite connect why his death would’ve had more impact on her than anyone else. "—and someone must take his place, assume the mantle of Autobot leadership," she paused and looked Grid Iron directly in the optics.
    "That Autobot is myself!"