Transformers Fan Fiction ❯ Rage ❯ Chapter 1

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

AD 1985. "Now!" ordered Megatron. The chronosphere, a time machine the Decepticons had developed, enveloped the Aerialbots in a blinding, burning light as it sent them to...

> 00 <


A Transformers fan fiction by Sidewinder (, 2003-2005, last revised 2007.

> 00 <

9,000,000 BC. Slingshot examined his new surroundings with surprise. It was both familiar and unfamiliar, for reasons he couldn't understand. "What is this place?"

"Obviously, it's Cybertron!" Air Raid confidently said.

"In the past," noted Skydive, who'd studied Teletran-1's archives.

"Before the war," added Fireflight.

"Before the Decepticons wrecked it," said Silverbolt, who trusted Optimus Prime and Ironhide without any reservations.

"I don't buy that story about everything being the Decepticons' fault," said Slingshot. He wasn't as trusting as Silverbolt, and demanded evidence to support such statements. "I mean, after all, the Autobots did their share of fighting, too."

"Because they had to, not because they wanted to," echoed Silverbolt. "And are you forgetting that it's because of the Decepticons that we're stuck here?"

Slingshot shrugged, calmly accepting the fact that the Decepticons had sent him and his comrades 9,000,000 Earth years into the past. "Ah, well; this place ain't so bad."

Fireflight's optics widened with wonder. "I'll say; it's beautiful!" Every light was brightly shining, every street was cleanly swept, and every metal surface was polished-- the opposite of the Cybertron that Fireflight knew.

"Hey! You guys!" called a tall red robot. "Are you here to help?"

The Aerialbots faced the newcomer. Like their surroundings, he looked familiar and unfamiliar, for reasons they couldn't understand. "Uh, no," Silverbolt stammered, uncertain of how he could explain the Aerialbots' presence. "Not exactly."

"Never seen you guys around before," said the red robot. "I'm Orion. Orion Pax."

'He doesn't act like a Decepticon,' thought Silverbolt. 'Of course, Starscream didn't act like a Decepticon when he led us into the trap.' "Uh... I'm Silverbolt."

Slingshot saw no reason to suspect the newcomer. "And I'm Slingshot."

"I'm Fireflight, and that's Air Raid and Skydive. What do you do here?"

"Oh, we unload the energy shipments from the power plant upriver," answered Orion. He heard footsteps behind him, turned rearwards, and saw an orange robot and a pink robot. "Oh, and that's Dion. He's my best friend."

Dion smirked, familiar with Orion's work habits. "Suckering more people into doing your work for you, Orion?"

Orion frowned. "Heh, very funny." He pointed at the pink robot. "And this is Ariel. Keep away from her; she's my girlfriend."

Ariel didn't know if she should laugh at Orion-- who was too compassionate to carry out that threat-- or sigh at his lack of respect for her independence. "Don't listen to him; he's just the jealous type." The Aerialbots had no reason to fear Orion-- unless they faced him in a boxing tournament.

Dion interrupted the couple by pointing at the sky. "Hey, Orion! Look!"

Silverbolt's optics weren't fine enough to let him identify the flying objects at this distance. "Do you know them?"

"No, but everyone's heard of them." Orion enviously stared at the flying objects. "They're some new kind of robot that can fly."

"And we're actually seeing them?" Dion focused his optics, suspecting a malfunction. "It's really them!"

Silverbolt turned to Slingshot, whose telescopic vision was vital to his function as an air support troop. "Recognize them?"

Slingshot saw the insignia on the flying objects. "The Decepticons." He smiled, eager to understand the robots that seemed so much stronger, if only because they were much less restrained. "Boy, this will be a great time to get to know them!"

Silverbolt shook his head. "You've just got to learn things the hard way, don't you?"

Fireflight nervously examined the alleys between the nearby buildings. "Hey, maybe we should get to cover before they attack us."

Skydive wanted to laugh at the reconnaissance (recon) troop's paranoia. "Fireflight, we're in the past! Megatron doesn't know who we are."

Fireflight frowned. "How could Megatron not know who we are?"

"This is millions of years ago. We haven't been built yet."

Fireflight's frown disappeared as he raised a brow in surprise. "Huh?"

Orion was too focused on the Decepticons to hear the Aerialbots argue. "What I'd give to meet them."

Silverbolt was shocked by Orion's attitude, an attitude that let Starscream lead the Aerialbots into a trap. "Uh, Orion, just because they have an unusual ability doesn't necessarily make them someone you'd want to know."

The statement offended Dion, who sincerely admired the Decepticons. "Hey, go get your circuits checked, chump! Those guys are the greatest!"

Ariel followed the male robots' optics. "I heard that their leaders put together some kind of army and attacked one of the outer cities," she said, wondering if the rumor was true.

Dion laughed. "You'd believe anything."

"Anyway, what do we care if there's a war?" Orion impatiently asked. "There's guardian robots to take care of stuff like that. Right now we've got fuel to unload." He transformed into a truck and drove away.

Silverbolt frowned as he watched Orion leave. 'Is that how the Decepticons wrecked Cybertron? By convincing ordinary Transformers that they weren't a threat, until they were too powerful to be stopped? Is it too late for us to stop them?'


Megatron smiled to calm the dockworker; if he knew he was in danger, the worker would sound an alarm and foil Megatron's plans. "Hello, there! I'm Megatron. What's your name?"

Orion felt ashamed of his scratched and dusty body panels, compared to Megatron's brightly polished armor plates. "Uh, Orion." He drew more confidence from his core. "Orion Pax! It's really a thrill to meet you, Sir."

'Orion Pax... Where have I heard this name before?' Megatron dismissed the thought as he focused on the next phase of his plan.


Fireflight suggested that they avoid flying to avoid drawing attention to themselves. After 15 long minutes, the recon troop wanted to fly, so he wouldn't have to listen to his commander talk.

"That was Megatron flying over the energy docks, I'm sure of it," declared Silverbolt.

Slingshot shrugged. "So what's the big deal?"

Silverbolt glared at the air support troop. "The big deal is that Megatron's gonna steal all the energy at the dock, and he doesn't care who he has to kill to get it. We have to stop him!"

Slingshot was angered by Silverbolt's blind faith in Optimus and Ironhide's propaganda. "What makes you think Megatron's gonna do what you say he's gonna do? Have you seen it with your own optics? Have you heard him say it out loud? When are you gonna realize that you have optics and microphones, and a computer to process what they receive?"

"Megatron may be doing it, or saying that he's gonna do it, at this moment! So unless you're scared of him, I want you to come with me and find out what the Decepticons are doing at the docks!"

Slingshot bristled at the accusation. "Fine!" The Aerialbots followed their commander to the docks, like guided bombs following a laser beam.


Orion stared at the energon on the loaders Megatron had brought into his workplace. He'd never seen anyone bring so many energon cubes into the hangar at once. "Wow! Are all those yours?"

Megatron smiled. "Yes. You see, er... I've been looking for a place where I could store my wares. I was hoping this hangar might be available." In fact, the entire Decepticon Army didn't have so much energon; Megatron came to steal the energon that was stored at the dock, using the attack drones Shockwave had cleverly disguised as energon cubes.

Ariel noticed the silver robot as she returned to work. "Hey, who's that with Orion?"

Dion noticed the violet insignia on Megatron's chest. "Oh, wow! It's one of those flying robots!"

"What do you store here?" asked Megatron. "Raw materials, or energy?"

"Oh, we only store energy here," answered Orion.

"That's just what I wanted to hear." Megatron's left hand closed upon the drone remote control; his right hand closed into a fist, ready to fire his fusion cannon at the dockworker.

"Megatron!" Silverbolt screamed as he flew into the hangar, firing his electrostatic discharger rifle.

"Ahhhh!" Megatron and Orion simultaneously screamed as the electrons struck them. Megatron's composite armor shielded his internal machinery from damage; he ignored the pain that coursed through his circuits as he raised his cannon to shoot back. Although Orion's body panels were thick, they couldn't provide the same level of protection.

Silverbolt watched in horror as Orion fell onto the floor. "Noooo!" He was too distracted to avoid Megatron's shot, which blew him out of the air.

The other Aerialbots flew into the hangar seconds after Silverbolt launched his attack. Slingshot noticed the sparks shooting out of Orion's joints; the red robot had suffered severe electrical damage. "What happened?!" he demanded.

"It was an accident!" protested Silverbolt, who took cover behind a pillar as Megatron engaged Air Raid, Fireflight, and Skydive.

"You idiot! You should've let me handle this!" If a Decepticon had taken a hostage, Slingshot could shoot the weapon out of the Decepticon's hand without hurting the hostage. If a Decepticon squadron had overrun an Autobot position, he could strafe the Decepticons without damaging the Autobots who'd called for air support. "Shock!" he cursed as the attack drones transformed.

"Orion!" called Silverbolt. The red robot raised an arm. 'I must find someone who can repair him!' As the other Aerialbots led Megatron away from him, Silverbolt crept towards Orion.

Ariel thought Silverbolt planned to finish off her boyfriend. "Leave him alone!" She lunged at the Aerialbot.

"Ariel, no!" cried Dion. It was too late; Silverbolt instinctively fired his rifle, killing Ariel.

Silverbolt gasped when he identified the robot he'd killed in self-defense. "What have I done?!"

"Shoot first!" Air Raid put one hand on Silverbolt's shoulder, using the other hand to fire his rifle. The Aerialbot Commander let himself be pushed behind a pillar. "Ask questions later!" As Air Raid shot the drones, a self-propelled laser cannon silently flew into the hangar. Air Raid didn't notice the new arrival until a laser beam penetrated his chest. "Ahhhh!"

"Air Raid!" Silverbolt could only watch as the air warrior fell onto the floor, dead.

"Let's get out of here!" suggested Fireflight. Slingshot and Skydive distracted the Decepticons as the recon trooper pulled his commander towards a backdoor. Slingshot was able to follow his comrades out of the murder hole the hangar had become; Skydive was not.

"Skydive!" Slingshot cried as another beam killed the strategist.

"There's nothing we can do for him!" declared Fireflight. The surviving Aerialbots suppressed their grief as they flew on.

The cannon transformed into a tall violet robot. Shockwave examined the robot he'd killed as Megatron ordered the drones to set up defensive positions around the hangar. He continued examining the hangar interior, scanning for possible ambushes, booby traps, and other threats.


Shockwave instinctively aimed his integral cannon at the orange robot.

Dion cradled Orion in his arms. "Orion, speak to me! Speak to me!" He faced the violet robot. "You've got to help him!"

Shockwave lowered the cannon; the robots were unarmed. However, he was surprised that the red robot was still moving. The red robot's strong will to survive would make him an effective warrior, if he could be repaired. "Affirmative," he coldly answered.


Five hours later, Megatron angrily stormed into Shockwave's laboratory. The Decepticons had spent a considerable amount of time and effort to plan and execute the attack on the hangar. Warriors had died in battle against the guardians who laid siege to the hangar as the Decepticons were transporting the energon to their base. "Shockwave! I've been told that you've allowed an Autobot to enter the base without my prior approval!"

Dion looked up from an operating table, expressing his fear of the Decepticon Commander. Shockwave didn't look up from the table, and continued working. "Dion has sworn allegiance to the Decepticons prior to his entry to the base," explained Shockwave. "He is no longer an Autobot." Dion stood at attention, drawing confidence from the statement.

Megatron examined Dion. The orange robot did remove the Autobot insignia, but didn't replace it with a Decepticon insignia. He turned to Shockwave. "I've also been told that you've allocated a full 20% of the energon we took to support your research!"

"23.9%" corrected Shockwave. "I must continue my research in order to gain a technological edge over our enemies."

"We already have a technological edge over our enemies!" declared Megatron.

"Negative." Shockwave paused his work and activated two spotlights. Air Raid and Skydive's wreckages laid on another operating table. "I've examined the wreckages of these Autobots, who had..."

"I remember them," interrupted Megatron.

Shockwave resumed working. "Their circuits are 50.2% more efficient than a S10 Skyraider's, and comparable to our own." Megatron and Shockwave were the most technologically advanced warriors in the Decepticon Army. "They have an equal increase in processing speed, and an equal decrease in reaction time. Their cores are 30-45% more efficient than a S10's. Their weapons are 5.03% more powerful than a S10's. Their thrusters are 49.7% more efficient and 9.51% more powerful than a S10's." Shockwave didn't know that an Aerialbot didn't have such advantages over a Decepticon soldier of AD 1985, due to the technological evolution that would occur during the next 9,000,000 years.

Megatron frowned as he examined the wreckages. If he didn't know better, he'd think the Aerialbots were Decepticons; they were real soldiers, not workers who were modified to serve as soldiers. "Where did they get this technology?"

"95 hours ago, Soundwave reported a rumor that an unidentified repaireon was planning to rebuild Autobots into warriors, in order to fight us. At the time, I calculated a 3.08% probability that the rumor was true. Now I calculate a 100% probability..."

"I see." Megatron noticed the red robot on the operating table. "And who's that?"

"Orion Pax," answered Dion. "He's my best friend."

"I remember him too," noted Megatron. He watched Shockwave attach wings to Orion's shoulders. "What are you doing?"

"I am rebuilding Orion Pax into a Skywarrior, a means of recovering our technological edge." 'A test subject, someone we can afford to lose if the experiment fails,' Shockwave didn't say.

Megatron examined Orion. "I do detect a strong spirit within him, but..." He turned to Shockwave. "What makes you think he'll pledge allegiance to us once he's activated?"

"I will let him answer the question. Stand back." The Decepticon Subcommander waited until Megatron and Dion had stepped away from the stable, before pulling a switch. 1500 volts coursed through Orion's body, starting his core.

The red robot bolted upright on the table. "Ahhhh!" His fist struck the air to punch an enemy who was no longer there.


The red robot faced the speaker. "Dion? What happened? Where's Ariel?"

Dion's head turned sideways, unable to meet the optics of his best friend. "She-- she's dead."

"What?!" The red robot put his hands on Dion's shoulders. "How?!"

"The white robot, the one who shot you, tried to finish you off."

"Silverbolt." Anger and hatred filled the red robot's voice.

"Ariel tried to protect you... the white robot shot her for getting in the way."

An anguished howl shook the table. "Why?!" demanded the red robot.

"Silverbolt is only one of several Autobots that had been rebuilt to fight us," explained Shockwave. "He attacked Megatron at the hangar; there is a 59.4% probability that he attacked you for associating with Megatron. I advise you to join us, Orion."

The red robot jumped off the table, ready to fight. "I'm no longer Orion Pax-- no longer a worker whose blind faith in the Autobot leadership placed my friends and myself in danger. Now I'm Optimus, a warrior."

A former gladiator, Megatron maintained an interest in competitive sports. He now recognized Orion as "The Best," a five-time champion of the Iacon Amateur Boxing Championships. The Decepticon Commander suppressed a smile as he asked, "Do you swear allegiance to the Decepticons?" asked Megatron.

"I will if I can get revenge on Silverbolt," answered Optimus.

Megatron expressed the smile. "Welcome to the Decepticons, Optimus." He shook the red robot's hand.


> 01 <

AD 1985. The Aerialbots examined their surroundings. They were within the chronosphere, but the machine was apparently moved into the Ark, the grounded spaceship that served as Autobot Headquarters. "What happened?" asked Slingshot.

"The chronosphere's automatic recall brought you straight back here, just in time," answered Wheeljack, who apparently didn't notice that two Aerialbots were absent.

Grimlock approached the chronosphere. "Got energy?" the Dinobot Commander demanded.

Silverbolt frowned, confused. "What energy?"

"The energy you were supposed to get!" answered Wheeljack. Fireflight and Slingshot shared Silverbolt's confusion. "I built the chronosphere so you can travel to the past to forage energy from the era before the war, when Cybertron had plenty of power!" Wheeljack waved his arms in frustration. "Don't you remember?!"

Slingshot turned to his commander. "I thought the Decepticons built this machine?" he whispered.

"Something must've happened during the past," suggested Fireflight.

"The past we were sent to," added Silverbolt.

"Why would Megatron send us to the past?" asked Slingshot. He faced Wheeljack. "Can the chronosphere be used as a weapon?" he asked the mechanical engineer.

"Maybe." Wheeljack put his hand on his chin, deep in thought. "If we have enough power, and if we can trap the Decepticons within the chronosphere, we can carry those creeps back to the beginning of time." Wheeljack chuckled, shocking the Aerialbots with his apparent impersonation of Megatron. "They'll be trapped forever in eternal nothingness, before the galaxy even existed!" Maniacal laughter filled Wheeljack's lab.

"How we get Decepticons into chronosphere?" asked Grimlock.

Wheeljack stopped laughing. "Good question." As he thought of a solution, eight fighters-- a F-14B, a F-15E, a F-16XL, and five F-16Cs-- and a B-52H bomber approached the base at subsonic speed. They flew low enough to avoid being detected by the radar, but high enough to avoid being detected by the seismic sensors. 2500 meters from the base, the bomber dived to towards the ground, while the fighters climbed to an altitude from which they could launch an attack.

The alarm howled; the radar and the seismic sensors had detected the Decepticons. "Huh?" Two seconds later, the F-15E and the F-16XL each launched a cruise missile, the variable yield nuclear warheads set to minimum-- 25 kilotons (kt)-- instead of maximum-- 50 kt. The rocky side of Mount Saint Hillary shielded the Ark from the blast, but not from the electromagnetic pulse (EMP). "The reactor!" Wheeljack cried when the lights darkened and the alarm was silenced.

A blue and white robot rushed into the mechanical engineer's lab. "Battle stations, everyone! The Decepticons have disabled the reactor and both backup generators-- our shields are down!"

"Who the shock are you?" demanded Slingshot.

Wheeljack angrily slapped the Aerialbot. "Show some respect! He's the Autobot Commander!"

Fireflight turned to Silverbolt. "You know this guy?"

"Ironhide mentioned him once," whispered Silverbolt. "He's Ultra Magnus, leader of the Autobot resistance on Cybertron. What's he doing here?" He approached the blue and white robot. "What happened to Optimus?"

"According to Blaster, the Red Storm's been sent back to Cybertron," answered Magnus. "I hope he's right."

The Aerialbots were confused by the fear in Magnus' voice. 'The Red Storm?'

Wheeljack interrupted them by placing demolition munitions around the time machine. "If the chronosphere falls into the hands of the Decepticons, it'll be a disaster!" he explained.

Magnus nodded. "Wheeljack, do what you got to do. Aerialbots, come with me." He led them out of the lab.

The B-52H opened his bomb bay doors to release his passengers-- a M1A1 tank, a M3 cavalry fighting vehicle, a M270 multiple launch rocket system, and a gray robot-- before transforming into a green and gray robot. "After the Red Guards breach the defenses, I want Brawl and Swindle to support the hacker team," ordered Onslaught. The M1A1 and the M3 raced towards the Ark. "Blastoff, stand guard outside the doorway. Vortex, provide air support." The military intelligence specialist nodded before transforming into an AH-64A attack helicopter.

The F-14B approached the base. As he fired his plasma rifle, the recoil froze the F-14B in the air, despite his engines' efforts to propel him forward. The Combaticons paused to watch the blast doors transform into a fireball; although they'd seen this scene many times, they were always awed by the F-14B's firepower. "Air Raid, Skydive, follow me!" ordered the F-14B.

"They're...!" The sentries were gunned down before they finished the warning. The eight fighters flew over the scattered pieces of machinery, the sentries' corpses, on their way to the command center.

Magnus and the Dinobots stood in the doorway. "Now!" He launched two missiles at the fighters. Grimlock, Slag, and Sludge followed his example. The fighters couldn't take evasive action in the narrow hallway, but they didn't need to. The F-14B fired his plasma rifle, detonating the missiles a safe distance away. The plasma beam ended its path of destruction by throwing Magnus into a computer monitor. The Dinobots retreated from the approaching fighters.

Magnus watched the F-14B transform into a warrior; behind him, a F-16C transformed into a Mayhem Attack Drone (MAD), ready to defend its controller. "I won't let you win!" Broken glass showered Magnus as he raised his pistol.

The warrior used his free hand to punch Magnus. Weakened by the plasma, the Autobot Commander's body shattered like glass. "We've already won," said the warrior.

Wheeljack set the timer, unaware of what had happened outside of the lab. "Fire in the hole!" He ran out of the lab. The door automatically closed behind him; then it was blown apart by the munitions. "Slag!" cursed Wheeljack, unaware that the explosion that threw him across the hall also threw him out of the line of fire, saving him.

Silverbolt gasped when the blast illuminated the Decepticon with the plasma rifle. "Optimus?!"

The Decepticon turned towards the one who called his name. "Silverbolt!" His rifle targeted the Aerialbot Commander.

Silverbolt was silenced by the anger and hatred that filled Optimus' voice; he screamed as Grimlock pushed him onto the floor. The steel beam, their cover, burned them as it melted.

"Stupid Airhead-bot," cursed Grimlock as he returned fire, ignoring the pain. Slag and Sludge moved in front of him, shielding Grimlock from Optimus' firepower. Grimlock allowed Fireflight and Slingshot to move Silverbolt to safety; then he joined the battle.

Slag's flamethrower targeted the Red Storm. Optimus charged at the Dinobot-- his left hand covered Slag's right as the barrel of his rifle pushed the flamethrower sideways, towards another target. Whoosh! "Sludge!" The flamethrower troop watched helplessly as the demolitions specialist howled in pain, rolling on the floor to put out the fire; then Optimus' elbow slammed against Slag's face, forcing him into stasis.

The F-15E transformed as it entered the command center. Air Raid watched Grimlock charge; Optimus prepared for hand-to-hand combat while his MAD rained bullets and missiles upon the Dinobot. The Aerialbots were running away. "Skydive, take care of Teletran-1! I'll take care of the Aerialbots!" The warrior watched the strategist-- a drone command and control specialist who could simultaneously control three MADs-- approach the supercomputer. 'If Optimus can do it, so can I!' Air Raid's MAD followed him after his targets.

Silverbolt turned towards the sound of footsteps. "Air Raid?!" The Autobot warrior was apparently rebuilt as a S30 Skyraider, like Starscream.

Air Raid smiled. "You know my name; you must know my reputation." He aimed his machine gun (MG) at Silverbolt. His MAD automatically aimed its weapons at the same target. "Surrender, or I'll transform you all into one big fireball!"

"You traitor!" cursed Slingshot, forgetting that he'd also considered joining the Decepticons. Air Raid replied by shooting Slingshot's right shoulder joint, while the MAD shot the left shoulder joint. "Argh!" the Aerialbot cried as his arms were severed.

"I'm a Decepticon soldier, loyal to Shockwave, true to the Decepticon cause. I'm not a traitor, and I'll make you pay for this insult." Air Raid's optics burned with rage as he targeted Slingshot's head.


Onslaught stood right of the doorway, aiming his cruise missile launcher at the road, and his air-to-air missile (AAM) launcher skyward. The M270 stood left of the doorway. Blastoff enviously watched the flashing lights in the base, the signs of a fierce battle. He wished he could join Brawl and Swindle, but orders were orders.

A thundering roar interrupted Blastoff's daydreams. Vortex dived to avoid the gray and orange rocket that streaked towards the Ark. Onslaught instinctively fired two AAMs, which detonated harmlessly against a force field. "Slag!" the Combaticons simultaneously cursed as the rocket transformed into a guardian robot.


Air Raid squeezed the trigger. Suddenly, the base shook, throwing off his aim and saving Slingshot. "Ahhhh!" The warrior's radio buzzed.

"We're taking fire from Omega Supreme!" warned Onslaught. "We need...!"

Although the rest of the transmission was jammed, Air Raid knew that Onslaught needed help. "Skydive, hurry!"

Silverbolt carried Slingshot on his back as he searched for cover. Fireflight carried the severed arms as he followed, hoping there was some way to repair Slingshot... if the air support troop survived this battle.

Wheeljack hid in a service tunnel, cradling a keyboard. 'Good thing the Decepticons didn't detect the telephone line!' He typed another message to Colonel Chris Hallo, the US Army liaison, who transferred the message to the Autobots at Fort Friedman, Oregon. Meanwhile, a jammer prevented the Decepticons from using their long-range radios.

Unfortunately, the jammer also prevented the Autobots from using their long-range radios. When Skydive hacked into Teletran-1 and took control of the base defenses, Wheeljack couldn't warn his comrades. Omega Supreme didn't know he'd been targeted until laser beams and missiles struck his force field. Although the automated gun turrets and missile launchers didn't damage him, they were able to delay him. Brawl and Swindle used this time to exit the Ark and regroup with the other Combaticons.

"Combaticons, unite!" ordered Onslaught. Brawl and Swindle formed a giant's legs, Onslaught his torso, Blastoff and Vortex his arms. Combined into the super warrior Bruticus, the Combaticons' strength and firepower now equaled Omega's. "Roarrrr!" Bruticus added his own firepower to the weapons now hammering Omega.

'Slag!' Wheeljack typed a warning to Col Hallo before crawling towards Teletran-1. He plugged himself into the supercomputer. 'You're not getting away with this, Decepti-creep!'

Skydive's optics widened when the warning "VIOLATION ALERT" appeared on his computer monitor. "Shock!" His fingers danced upon the keyboard as he dueled for control over Teletran-1.

Bruticus' triumphant roar became a frustrated howl as the base defenses paused, targeted him, and resumed shooting. Omega suppressed his own surprise as laser and plasma beams from his integral weapons joined the laser beams and missiles that now struck the Decepticon Combiner.

Skydive also howled in frustration when he failed to overcome Wheeljack's integral processor. "Process this, Autobot scum!" The strategist chose to use an independent computer to hack into Teletran-1, sacrificing speed for security; now he demonstrated the wisdom of his choice by infecting the supercomputer with a virus, which was transmitted to his opponent. Skydive laughed when the warning disappeared; he'd recovered control over Teletran-1.

Wheeljack howled as the virus began to shutdown his systems. Fortunately, Optimus' battle with the Dinobots drowned out this sound, preventing Skydive from discovering the mechanical engineer's location. "I'm... sorry..." Wheeljack drew his pistol, targeted Teletran-1, and squeezed the trigger. "I have... no choice..." he whispered as he entered stasis lock.

The supercomputer exploded, throwing Skydive and three MADs-- his bodyguards-- on their backs. "Shock!" As Skydive stood up, a severed arm struck his chest. Skydive roared as he grabbed the macabre projectile, swinging it like a club. "That's it! Show yourself, so I can smash you to pieces!" Fear replaced anger when Optimus approached him, dragging an inactive Grimlock. "Sir, I didn't know...!"

"We've recovered long-range communications. Call Air Raid and Onslaught. Tell them that we've failed our primary objective," to capture Autobot HQ. "Now we must accomplish our alternate objective," to destroy the base, "before enemy reinforcements arrive." He extended his hand. "Give me the arm."

"Yes, Sir!" As Skydive handed the severed arm to Optimus, he noticed that Grimlock was missing an arm. Ten meters away, Slag and Sludge's inactive forms laid beside the MAD's wreckage. 'Good thing he's a Decepticon,' thought Skydive. 'I'd hate to face his rage.'


"Which way do we go?" Fireflight asked Silverbolt, hoping to escape through the rocket launch facility that was secretly built in the dormant volcano's mouth.

Silverbolt pointed to a hatch on the right wall of the service tunnel. "That way." He opened it. Fireflight crawled through the hatch, turned around to grab Slingshot's arms, and carried the air support troop through the tunnel. Silverbolt closed the hatch as he followed them.

'Where are they?' Air Raid asked himself as he slowly led his MAD down the service tunnel, scanning for booby traps and signs of an ambush. He stopped when his radio buzzed.

"Air Raid, where are you?" demanded Optimus.

"I'm in a service tunnel, pursuing Silverbolt." The warrior shivered when he heard Optimus' angered growl.

"Terminate your pursuit and return to the command center. We need you to set the demolition charges." Optimus controlled his anger, his desire for revenge, by remembering Shockwave's instructions.

"Yes, Sir!" Air Raid ran down the tunnel, more concerned with Optimus' orders than he was with any traps he may have missed.

Silverbolt drew his rifle when he heard Air Raid's footsteps. "What was that?!"

Fireflight turned towards the noise. "Whatever it is, it's moving away from us, not towards us." He turned away. "Let's go."

When the Autobots needed a means of transportation between Earth and Cybertron, the United States government agreed to build the launch facility, in exchange for their technology. The facility was empty, allowing the Aerialbots to climb unimpeded; Omega, who transformed into the only rocket who'd carry Autobots between the planets, was fighting outside.

Fireflight stopped just at the volcano's mouth, and hung onto the ledge. "Wait!" he hissed to Silverbolt, stopping the Aerialbot Commander in midair. "Take Slingshot." After Silverbolt took the air support troop, Fireflight climbed over the ledge.

The recon troop looked down. Omega and Bruticus were still fighting. The automated defenses were silent. Grimlock and Slag laid outside the base, in stasis. 'How'd they get there?' He found the answer when Optimus dragged Sludge through the doorway. 'What the shock is he doing?'


'It's not fair!' Hot Rod thought as he followed Ironhide, the Autobot Subcommander. 'The Decepticons have already conquered Cybertron and 303 other star systems! They've won! Why won't they leave us alone?!' He kept his thoughts to himself as the convoy of Autobot soldiers, escorted by US Army tanks and attack helicopters, approached the Ark.

A F-15E fighter flew above the convoy. "Hum, the Air Force is finally here," commented a tank commander. Boom! A plasma beam vaporized his tank; the resulting cloud of metal vapor overturned an armored personnel carrier (APC) behind it.

"Ahhhh!" Injured and dying soldiers struggled to escape from the burning APC. "We're under attack!" Plasma beams and missiles showered the convoy, severely damaging the Autobots and completely destroying the Army vehicles. Fear, born of confusion, gripped Transformer cores and human hearts. "I thought the Air Force was on our side!"

Hot Rod saw the F-15E's radome open like a crocodile's jaws, revealing metal-cutting teeth; he heard the fighter laugh. "It's a Decepticon!" The Autobot cavalier transformed into his robot mode and returned fire.

The F-15E dodged the laser beams with impressive aerobatics before firing his plasma carbine, a smaller version of the weapon Optimus used to terrorize the Autobots. "Is that the best you can do?!" Ramjet taunted as Hot Rod screamed in pain.

Ironhide opened a door. The boom box in the driver's seat opened his cassette deck to eject a cassette, which transformed into a robot lion.

"No," Blaster answered as Steeljaw's teeth sank into Ramjet's left wing. "We can do better!"

Ramjet howled as he rolled, trying to shake off the lion. "Get off of me!"

When Blaster told Steeljaw that the others were ready, the lion released his prey. The Autobots and the tankers opened fire the moment Steeljaw fell out of the way, muffling Ramjet's screams with the roar of their weapons. "Finish him off!" Their short-lived victory distracted them from the approaching Decepticons. "Argh!" "Ahhhh!" "Mama!" they screamed as missiles rained upon them.

Three MADs approached Ramjet. "Mission accomplished. Return to base." The air warrior followed the retreating Red Guards as they rocketed into the sky.

"They're getting away!" shouted a tank commander, who was frustrated that there was nothing he could do to stop the Decepticons.

Ironhide snorted as he watched the Decepticons retreat. "Those Decepti-creeps ain't so tough!"

'They're tough enough,' thought Hot Rod, who was silent while the Autobots and the tankers cheered.

The commander of the tank company pointed at the retreating Decepticons. "See! They're running away! They fear us!"

Ironhide added his own lies, trying to boost the soldiers' morale. "We're gonna run the Decepti-creeps off of this planet, and we're gonna...!" A deafening explosion, the base's destruction, silenced him.

'We're gonna be annihilated,' Hot Rod bitterly thought.

> 02 <

Optimus lead the Decepticons and the drones as he climbed towards something they couldn't see. As they reached Low Earth Orbit, Optimus detected the transponder signal, and leveled his flight path. A doorway appeared in midair. After the Decepticons flew through the doorway, the door closed; the Conquest, Starscream's command cruiser, was invisible again.

Skyraiders immediately surrounded the returning warriors, greeting them with suspicion. Optimus looked past the weapons, into the Skyraiders' optics. "Explain," he demanded.

"You failed your mission," Starscream answered as he approached the Red Guards Commander. "You'll be punished for your failure."

"We didn't fail," Optimus calmly stated. "We've accomplished our alternate objective, the destruction of Autobot HQ."

"And what about your primary objective?" demanded Starscream.

"The Autobots destroyed Teletran-1 to..."

"Enough excuses!" Starscream fired his null ray cannon at Optimus.

Optimus raised his left arm-- the ray disabled the electrical and electronic devices in the arm, crippling him-- and lunged, moving too quickly for the Skyraiders to stop him. He extended his right arm; Starscream didn't have enough time to recharge his cannon before Optimus punched his face.

"Argh!" As the Aerospace Commander recoiled from the blow, Optimus hooked his right leg behind Starscream's, tripping the Aerospace Commander. Starscream's head struck the floor, forcing him into stasis; he didn't feel Optimus' fist penetrate his breastplate and threaten to crush his core. The Skyraiders didn't come too his aid; they were paralyzed by fear, terrorized by Optimus' rage.

The Combaticons weren't paralyzed by fear, but they were too confused to aid Starscream; he was their master, to whom they owed a debt of honor, but Optimus was their comrade, with whom they fought shoulder-to-shoulder or back-to-back in a thousand battles. Blastoff turned to Onslaught. "Who do we help?"

Onslaught thought for a moment. "Starscream." He didn't see Swindle shudder.

'Easy for you to say; your firepower is equal to his!' Swindle thought as he followed Onslaught.

A hologram of Shockwave appeared in the hangar. "Halt," he ordered. The hangar security cameras let the Decepticon Subcommander see Optimus stand up, sparing Starscream. "Explain," he demanded.

A Skyraider answered for Starscream. "Aerospace Commander Starscream wanted to punish Optimus for failing his mission."

The hologram turned to the Red Guards Commander. "Is this true?"

Optimus ignored the pain in his left arm. "The Autobots destroyed Teletran-1. We couldn't accomplish our primary objective without control over the supercomputer. Therefore, we chose to accomplish our alternate objective."

Shockwave concealed any disappointment or satisfaction he felt. "I want a full report in 15 minutes." The hologram disappeared.

No one heard Swindle sigh. 'What a relief!' After the Red Guards exited the hangar, Onslaught carried Starscream to the repair chamber.


"Why did you spare the Dinobots?" Although Shockwave was on Cybertron, and must communicate through a hologram in Optimus' office, the distance didn't diminish the force of his demands.

"They are worthy opponents, whose great strength is more than matched by their courage." Optimus respected the courage of enemies and allies alike. "They deserve an opportunity to join the Decepticons."

"And if they refuse?"

"Then I'll grant them an honorable death."

Shockwave knew Optimus was reluctant to kill a worthy opponent; the former boxer wanted a rematch. "Very well." The hologram disappeared.


Fireflight accessed the files that were stored at Ft Friedman, trying to learn how and why the world they arrived at was so different from the world they departed. When he typed "Air Raid" and "Skydive" into the search engine, the computer opened a file on the Red Guards, an elite unit of the Decepticon Central Police (DCP). "Why didn't Air Raid or Skydive recognize us? Do you think the Decepticons reprogrammed them after they were rebuilt?"

"No, not even a memory wipe can erase the link between combiners," claimed Silverbolt.

The recon troop incredulously asked, "You think Megatron simply recruited them?"

"Remember, we all had different functions before we entered stasis lock and were rebuilt as the Aerialbots," noted Silverbolt. "That reminds me, please look up Megatron."

The recon troop frowned. "Don't we already know everything we need to know about Megatron?"

Silverbolt looked into Fireflight's optics, burning away the recon troop's doubt. "Not since we changed the past."

'He's serious.' "Okay." The recon troop typed, "Megatron".

Silverbolt leaned over Fireflight's shoulder to read the files. "The Cybertron Civil War began 9,100,000 years ago, when Straxus, the Cybertron Army Commander, rebelled against the government. Hum, that's surprising," he noted. "Fortunately, Straxus' condescending attitude quickly alienated the Decepticons. After he was overthrown, the Decepticon Army collapsed into chaos; stronger warriors named themselves warlords and fought each other for domination. Shockwave, the Cybertron Secret Police Commander, proposed an alliance with Megatron, the Mayhem Attack Squad Leader," an elite of Straxus' Army. "The two dueled to determine who'd lead the alliance..." He scrolled down the text, seeking info on the day Megatron attacked the energy docks. "An unidentified repaireon rebuilt several Autobots into warriors, to deal with the Decepticon threat... The Autobot warriors severely damaged Orion... Shockwave rebuilt the damaged worker into a Skywarrior... Orion changed his name to Optimus..." The Aerialbot Commander faced the recon troop; their optics mirrored each other's shock. "By the Matrix!"


Ironhide warily watched Ratchet reattach Grimlock's right arm. 'The Red Storm wants the Dinobots to join the Decepticons-- to betray us, as he did. Why else would he spare them?' He watched the Dinobot Commander rotate his shoulder, testing the replacement parts. 'Should I have them assassinated?' He hit himself in the head. 'Since when did I start thinking like a Decepti-creep?!'

"Are you all right?" asked Ratchet.

"Yeah," Ironhide lied. "I'm just tired." 'I'm sick and tired of this war.' He felt someone tap his shoulder, and turned to his side. "Fireflight! Did you get any energon while you were in the past?"

Fireflight sadly shook his head. "We need to talk about the mission."

Ironhide nodded. "I'm busy now. Meet me in the construction site in 30 minutes." He sensed Fireflight's confusion. "There." The Autobot Subcommander pointed at a dozen construction vehicles on top of a shallow hill.

Silverbolt and Fireflight waited within a ring of inactive vehicles, wondering what they were meant for. Ironhide joined them 30 minutes later.

"Neat collection, eh? We were gonna use 'em to exploit every known means of getting energy-- we were gonna cover that mountain with solar panels, fill that valley with windmills, build a hydroelectric dam in front o' that river..." He pointed at these geographic features, imagining what could've been. "All that raw energy would be sent to the energon compressors we were gonna build here in Autobot City-- a sanctuary from the Decepticons' treachery, and a secret staging ground from which we can prepare to retake our homeland." The Autobot Subcommander sighed. "A dream, and nothing more." They couldn't achieve it without Wheeljack's engineering genius. "Now what do you wanna talk about?"

"We need to build another chronosphere," demanded Fireflight.

Ironhide sadly shook his head. "We can't; all of the blueprints were lost with Wheeljack and the Ark. Even if we have the blueprints, we still can't build it; it took us a decade to gather all the necessary resources, and we no longer have that much time to spare." His expression became one of surprise. "What were you planning to do with the chronosphere?"

Silverbolt mirrored Ironhide's sadness, his sense of loss. "To redeem ourselves, or to die trying."

Ironhide patted the Aerialbot Commander's shoulder. "Don't blame yourself for what happened; it ain't your fault."

'If only you knew,' Silverbolt didn't say.


'I shouldn't have asked Onslaught to support the hacker team,' noted Skydive as he performed an after action review. 'Omega Supreme's appearance bought the Autobots the time they needed to recover control over Teletran-1.' He stowed his computer and focused on the monitors in the command center, studying the human television broadcasts. Some were entertaining, some were not, but they were all educational, telling the strategist something about his enemies and their environment.

"The President will be meeting with the UN Security Council..."

Skydive immediately focused on this news flash, which was simultaneously reported on three American TV broadcasting companies. Soon other nations' companies reported that their heads of government would meet to discuss the Decepticon threat. 'This is it!' he thought. 'If we hold the human leaders hostage, we can force them to withdraw their support for the Autobots, and take over this planet with minimal force!' He ran towards Optimus' office, eager to plan such an operation with his commander.


Slingshot, now fully repaired, sat before the monitor, reading the files on Optimus. A shocked expression, which matched Silverbolt and Fireflight's, appeared on his face. He faced his commander. "This can't be true!" Silverbolt answered him with a pained expression; the silence confirmed Slingshot's worst fears.

"It is," interrupted Fireflight. "Now what are we gonna do about it?"

"We got to change things back!" insisted Slingshot.

"How? We don't have a chronosphere, the blueprints for a chronosphere, or the resources to build a chronosphere."

"The Decepticons!" declared Slingshot. "They have the resources we need!"

"Oh?" Fireflight didn't hide his frustration with the situation in which he found himself. "Do you really expect them to help us?"

"Calm down, Fireflight," suggested Silverbolt. "You're starting to act like Air Raid," whose "shoot first, ask questions later" attitude often led to conflicts with the recon troop.

Fireflight's fist slammed against the keyboard, shattering it. "I'm not...!" An alarm interrupted him.

Ironhide pounded on the library door. "Aerialbots, we got a crisis on our hands! Hurry up, finish whatever you're doing, and get to the command center!"

The Aerialbots didn't know where the command center was, but by following another Autobot, they were able to find it. The command center was filled with Army officers, all of whom were focused on Teletran-2.

Optimus' visage filled the monitor; Silverbolt recognized the background as the interior of the United Nations Headquarters. "We demand the immediate termination of your material and moral support for the Autobot rebels. Your governments will simultaneously give the Decepticons access to all military and industrial facilities, and any other aid we may need in our efforts against the rebels. Failure to comply will result in this." The view changed to the exterior of Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. Bruticus aimed Superweapon-1-- a combination of Onslaught's cruise missile launcher, Brawl's laser cannon, and Blastoff's rocket launchers-- at a battleship, and Superweapon-2-- a combination of Onslaught's AAM launcher, Swindle and Vortex's MGs and missile launchers-- at an aircraft carrier. The weapons vaporized the ships and their piers; the intense heat evaporated the water, obscuring the view.

"Oh, shit!" The humans faced each other, doubting their eyes. "Was that for real?"

A telephone rang. Col Hallo picked up the phone, listened for a moment, and put it down. "The Navy has confirmed the attack on Norfolk. The situation there is serious, but not as serious as the situation in New York. Now what are we going to do about the Red Storm?"

"How many Decepticons are in New York?" asked Ironhide.

"Optimus and Reflector-- he's the cameraman-- are the only ones we see," answered Prowl. "But I'm certain the other Red Guards are nearby."

"What about Bruticus?" asked Perceptor. "If Optimus detects us within the vicinity of New York City, he will order Bruticus to attack Norfolk. The civilian casualties will number in the thousands!"

"Omega will take care o' him," answered Ironhide.

"We'll have to plan this carefully," said Prowl. "If Optimus learns that Omega's in Norfolk, he'll take the hostages with him when he evacuates the UN Headquarters. It'll take the Air Force eight hours to take us to New York, so Omega must delay his flight until we are within the city limits."

"We cannot wait eight hours!" protested Hallo. "The Red Storm will not wait eight hours; have you forgotten what happened in Tehran?!"

"What's Tehran?" asked Silverbolt.

"The capital of Iran," answered Perceptor. He saw Silverbolt's confused frown, and decided to elaborate. "A nation-state in the Middle East, with extremely abundant oilfields. The Red Guards heard a rumor that the Iranians wanted to exchange oil for Cybertronian weapons, which they wanted for their war against the nation-state of Iraq." It wasn't a rumor; Hound had negotiated with the Iranian government, keeping the meetings secret to avoid angering their American hosts. "Optimus captured Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian head of state, and demanded that the Iranians terminate the deal." Hound died trying to save the Ayatollah; his body was melted into slag to prevent any efforts to reverse engineer their technology. "When Khomeini refused, Optimus crushed the Ayatollah in his hands, and ordered the Red Guards to raze Tehran; an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 people died before Omega could stop them." Iraq conquered Iran 10 days later.

Silverbolt gasped; the Optimus he knew would never give such an order. 'What happened to him?'

"So we either stop Bruticus and let Optimus kill everyone at the UN, or we stop Optimus and let Bruticus destroy Norfolk," said Ironhide.

"He won't kill the hostages," claimed Prowl. "He needs them to accomplish his goals."

"That still doesn't solve the dilemma." Ironhide shook his head. "If anyone's got an idea, I'm all microphones."

"What if we modify your ballistic missiles to serve as transports?" suggested Hot Rod.

Hallo put his hand on his chin. "That might work. We'll talk to the Air Force about it."


Reflector saw the fear in the humans' eyes; the fear became paralyzing whenever Optimus looked in their direction. 'I admire him,' he thought. 'His strength, courage, and reputation have combined into a power so great, whispering his name is enough to end a battle.' Sunzicon, the legendary strategist who wrote 'The Art of War', would see Optimus as the perfect warrior, able to win without fighting. Megatron and Shockwave were the only other Decepticons with such power.

He heard roaring, like a rocket engine, but assumed it was thunder; the humans weren't foolish enough to launch such an attack. Reflector saw Optimus raise his head, as if he heard the same thing.

"Battle stations!" ordered Optimus. Air Raid, Skydive, and the Skyraiders laid upon the roofs of surrounding skyscrapers, using hologram projectors to camouflage themselves. A Soviet spy satellite, which Starscream had "modified," sent them images of the city.

The humans were still afraid, unaware of the Autobots' coming. 'I envy him," thought Reflector.


Fireflight studied the files he downloaded before mounting the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). 'Everything's changed.' Many Autobots, like Brawn, Powerglide-- rebuilt as Powerbomb, an antitank troop-- and Warpath, were identified as Decepticons. Air Raid and Ramjet were S50 Skyraiders, whose design emphasized strong armor and heavy firepower. Fireflight didn't recognize Starscream's fighter mode, the S60 design that emphasized high speed and maneuverability; the Aerospace Commander had no need to disguise himself as a F-15A fighter. 'I hope Silverbolt's reading these files.'

The Aerialbot Commander was doing as Fireflight asked. 'I must save Optimus! How am I gonna get him to rejoin the Autobots?'

Slingshot interrupted Silverbolt by shouting, "Watch out!" A laser beam struck their missile and ignited the solid fuel. Slingshot ignored the pain, transformed into a Harrier fighter, and flew away from the resulting fireball.

"Silverbolt!" Fireflight transformed into an RF-4C reconnaissance plane and flew away from his missile. He watched Silverbolt transform into a Concorde supersonic transport plane and recover control over his descent. "You guys okay?" asked Fireflight.

"Yeah," answered Silverbolt.

"Just peachy," added Slingshot.

Unfortunately, the other Autobots didn't have this option. "Argh!" "Gears!" "Who's shooting at us?!" "I don't know!" "Ahhhh!" "Noooo!" Ten ICBMs were launched, each carrying two Autobots. The Element of Surprise, Skywarp's destroyer, shot seven ICBMs, destroying five. The sixth and seventh missiles, carrying Ironhide and the Dinobots, fell into the Atlantic Ocean. Only six other Autobots, including the Aerialbots, survived the attack.

Skywarp lost track of the survivors when they reentered the atmosphere, and transmitted a warning to the Skyraiders in NYC. The Autobots came under fire the moment they entered the city limits. Hot Rod rode on Silverbolt's back, tracing the bullets back to their assailant. "Eat this, Decepti-creep!" His lasers fired a burst to rain death and destruction upon Thrust, who was almost invisible behind his holographic camouflage as the Decepticon laid on the rooftop.

Silverbolt gasped as the beams hit the skyscraper, penetrating walls and windows to kill the humans inside, or blasting off concrete chunks that struck those on the street. "Stop it! You're...!" A plasma beam hit his left engine. "Ahhhh!" The Concorde crashed, throwing Hot Rod off his back and into stasis.

Thrust fumed. Plasma weapons sacrificed accuracy for power; the beam that saved him could easily have killed him. "You idiot! Were you trying to kill me?!"

Ramjet growled with frustration. "Trust me, if I was trying to kill you, you'd be a pool of molten metal by now." Starscream and the other Skyraiders didn't trust him, because he owed Shockwave a debt of honor.

Silverbolt transformed and approached Hot Rod's prone form. "Are you okay?"

Hot Rod shook his head, as if this helped him reboot his central processing unit (CPU). "Yeah... Ouch!" Angry humans approached the Autobots, throwing rocks and shouting expletives. "Hey, hey! We're the good guys!"

A 7-year-old girl, wearing a bloodstained blouse, threw a rock at Silverbolt's head. "You monster!" The rock fell short and hit the Aerialbot's groin. "You hurt my Mommy!" She picked up another rock.

Silverbolt's body wasn't damaged, but his feelings were. "Let's get out of here." The Aerialbot grabbed Hot Rod's arm and led him towards the UN HQ.

> 03 <

Skyraiders flew from their cover to strafe the Autobots racing towards the building. Skywarp teleported behind Bluestreak, shot the Autobot gunner in the back, and teleported away before the Autobots could avenge Bluestreak's death. The survivors tried to blast their way into the building, which was protected by a force field; they endured a rain of bullets and missiles before someone shouted, "Take cover!"

Slingshot watched a missile detonate besides Hot Rod; shrapnel showered the cavalier. "Ratchet!" The medic didn't answer him. Slingshot turned to Ratchet and saw a wreck. "Slag!" The air support troop crawled towards Hot Rod, unwilling fly and expose himself to the Skyraiders' combined firepower. "Hey!" 'What's his name?' Slingshot tried to remember. "Hey, Hot Rod!"

"Argh!" The cavalier shook, trying to stand up.

"Don't move!" Slingshot put his hand on Hot Rod's shoulder. "You okay?"

"I can't feel my legs," he whispered.

"Don't worry, I'll get us out of here." Slingshot reached for the repair kit in his chest compartment. Ramjet saw something move, and opened fire. Silverbolt and Fireflight drove off the Skyraider before Ramjet could see if the attack succeeded. Slingshot instinctively ducked, ignoring the pain that spread across his chest; when he raised his head, he saw that Hot Rod's upper body had melted into slag. "Hot Rod! Noooo!"

Fireflight stared at the building, seeking the force field generator. 'If we can destroy the generator, we'll have a chance!' He saw an antenna, perched upon the roof like a vulture with spread wings, and shot at it; unfortunately, the laser had no effect on the field. "Silverbolt! Is your electrostatic discharger rifle fully charged?"

"Yes, but...!"

Fireflight pointed at the antenna. "There's the force field generator!" A bullet struck his extended arm. "Ow!" the Aerialbot cried as he took cover. "Shoot it!"

Silverbolt hesitated, remembering what happened the last time he used the electrostatic discharger rifle. 'What if...? No, I can't afford to doubt myself.' He carefully aimed the rifle before squeezing the trigger. The force field flickered like a strobe light before dissipating, raising Silverbolt's confidence.

Fireflight carefully reset his laser, so he could cut a hole in the wall without killing the humans behind it. "Come on!" He reset his laser as Slingshot fired a smoke grenade into the building. Silverbolt used the smoke to cover his entrance, surprised that the Decepticons inside didn't shoot at him.

Optimus forbade Reflector from shooting, concerned about the building's structural integrity. He calmly waited for the smoke to dissipate, knowing the Autobots lacked a weapon that could damage him without hurting the human hostages.

"Freeze!" ordered Slingshot.

The Red Storm looked past the weapons, into the Aerialbots' optics. "Surrender, or these humans will pay the price for your defiance-- in blood!"

Fireflight sneered. "You won't," he countered. "You need them... Gasp!"

Optimus moved too quickly for the Aerialbots to react; he now held a reporter. "I only need the heads of government."

Tears washed away the reporter's makeup as she prayed. "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name..."

Silverbolt unsuccessfully tried to ignore the reporter's cries as he looked into the Decepticon's optics, seeking the compassion the Autobot had. "Optimus, please..."

Fireflight watched the standoff between the two. 'We got to do something!' "Light up the room," he whispered to Slingshot.


"Shoot an illumination round."

Slingshot aimed his grenade launcher at the ceiling, shuttered his optics, and squeezed the trigger. The illumination grenade blinded Optimus and Reflector; they could only stand still as Fireflight shot them. Slingshot leveled his grenade launcher...

"Slingshot, stop!" ordered Silverbolt. In another world, the Aerialbots were ordered to study Earth and its inhabitants. Silverbolt was the only one who obeyed Ironhide's orders, the only one who knew that the illuminant in the grenade-- which burned at 538° Celsius-- would injure humans. He gave the order too late; dozens of humans were burned to death.

Fireflight was too distracted to realize that Optimus and Reflector's armor was reflecting the laser beams; fractures appeared in the walls and the ceiling. "Fall! Fall! Hey!" he exclaimed as Silverbolt tackled him.

The humans cried as concrete chunks showered them. "Ahhhh!" "I can't see!" "Help!" "Mama!"

The sight of blood and the sound of pain paralyzed Slingshot; he didn't notice Reflector separate into three smaller robots, whose optics were shielded from the flash. Reflector Trigger lunged at Slingshot's legs, Reflector Flash grabbed the right arm, and Reflector Lens locked his arms around the neck. "Get off of me!" Slingshot squeezed the trigger. Reflector Lens howled as a high explosive grenade shattered his chest-mounted lens. Reflector Flash and Trigger became distracted when their telepathic links let them feel Lens' pain; Slingshot took advantage of this by grabbing Flash and slamming the Decepticon against Trigger, freeing himself.

"Let's get out of here!" Fireflight transformed and flew through the hole.

"Fireflight!" Silverbolt and Slingshot transformed, rocketing past surprised Decepticons. The building collapsed seconds after the Aerialbots escaped. "Oh, no!"

"Do you think anyone survived?" asked Slingshot. Fireflight had no answer for him.


Air Raid approached the mountain of rubble that was the UN HQ. "Sir!" He leveled his MG when the mountain shook. Optimus stood up, letting rubble tumble down his back. Air Raid lowered the MG and extended his hand. "Are you okay, Sir?"

Optimus placed the reporter, the only human survivor, into Air Raid's hand. "Make sure she receives the care she needs." He waited until the warrior left before turning to help Reflector Lens.

Air Raid ignored the police officers that shot him as he approached the ambulance. He kneeled to place the reporter onto the ground. "She needs help." The police officers stepped away, letting paramedics approach the reporter. Air Raid waited until she was loaded into the ambulance; then he left.


Omega's force field flickered, a candle in the wind, as a 30 kt nuclear warhead detonated against it. The resulting blast transformed nearby city blocks into a cemetery; the heat cremated dozens of humans.

Bruticus raised his shutters, and had the satisfaction of watching the guardian fall. He dived, firing Superweapon-2 to rain bullets and missiles on Omega. "You're military history, Autobot!" He swung Superweapon-1 like a club, intending to crush the guardian's head. Omega blocked the blow with his left arm. 'Impossible! The blast should've disabled his optics, microphones, and radar!'

The bird's eye view-- transmitted by a US spy satellite-- didn't let Omega see the shock in Bruticus' optics, but the guardian knew it was there. "No..." The claws of Omega's right arm slashed Bruticus' chest, knocking the super warrior off his feet. "Not... yet." He raised his leg to stomp. Bruticus grabbed Omega's foot to throw the guardian off balance. A shadow filled Omega's vision as Bruticus pounced on him. The giants rolled on the ground, crushing buildings, cars, and humans as they wrestled.

"Combaticons!" interrupted Starscream. "That stupid Neanderthal has failed his mission!" Neanderthals were primitive humans, a species that lost the struggle for survival to the Homo sapiens that dominated Planet Earth; Starscream often used this the term to describe Optimus, a recruited Autobot who'd eventually lose to true Decepticons like himself. "Your mission is over! Return to base!"

"Yes, Sir!" Bruticus separated into his component Combaticons, surprising Omega. "We'll finish you later!" Onslaught swore as he flew out of the guardian's reach.


"Roarrrr!" Rage filled Grimlock as he climbed out of the ocean, water running between the metal-cutting teeth of his Tyrannosaurus mode. "Red Storm!" His target was flying away. Grimlock opened his jaws to use his integral plasma cannon. Optimus didn't return fire, angering Grimlock. "You insult Grimlock! Grimlock make you pay!" In fact, Optimus didn't know he was under attack; he was out of the weapon's maximum effective range.

Army and National Guard vehicles quickly surrounded Ironhide, Slag, and Sludge as they climbed onto the docks. "Freeze!" a tank commander ordered as the tanks, the APCs, and the soldiers aimed their weapons at the Autobots.

Ironhide looked past the weapons, seeking the trust and confidence the soldiers had when the Autobots mounted the ICBMs; their eyes now expressed fear and anger. 'What happened?' "Calm down, boys. We're the good guys."

"Roarrrr! You coward! Afraid to fight Grimlock! Grimlock hunt down Red Storm!"

The tank commander tried to hide the fear filling him as the Dinobot Commander roared. "Autobots, I hereby arrest you for the murders of Ronald Reagan, the President of the United States; Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; Mikhail Gorbachev..."

Ironhide's optics widened with disbelief. "What?!"


Shockwave watched Reflector's video of the incident. "So, the Autobots chose to kill the human leaders and deny them to you. Their courage exceeds my calculations; so does their stupidity." He faced Optimus. "This is not a defeat, but an opportunity to achieve victory through alternate means. Await further instructions."

Optimus was still haunted by his failure. 'I wish it were so.' He raised a fist in salute. "Yes, Sir!"

Shockwave returned the salute before ending communications with Optimus. Dion's image quickly replaced the Red Guards Commander's. "I have a mission for you. Meet me in the command center in ten minutes."

"Yes, Sir!" The Decepticon Propaganda Commander entered the command center seven minutes later. "How may I serve you, Sir?" asked Dion.

When Shockwave recruited Dion and rebuilt the orange robot into a Skywarrior, he expected Dion to serve as a warrior. He was disappointed; despite witnessing the brutal and unprovoked attack that killed a friend and severely damaged another, Dion lacked the rage that drove Optimus. Later, Shockwave ordered Dion to manufacture and distribute propaganda, a task where compassion was an asset, not a drawback; it made the promise of a better life for the Decepticons and their allies more believable. "The Autobots have chosen to kill humans to deny their value to us, despite Ultra Magnus' promises to the human leaders. Here is the evidence, a video of the Aerialbots killing their allies." He handed Dion a computer disk. "I want you to exploit this."

Dion saluted. "Yes, Sir!" The video, a gruesome reminder of how fragile biological organisms were, strengthened his resolve to aid the Decepticon cause; the order they'd bring to Earth would be the humans' salvation. Five minutes later, the Propaganda Commander began planning a message to the humans, claiming the Autobots had betrayed them and promising the humans great rewards if they surrendered these war criminals to Decepticon custody. Ten minutes later, the message was formatted for television and radio broadcast, and Dion called for Skydive's help. 15 minutes later, Skydive had taken control over 20 communications satellites, which began broadcasting the propaganda to everyone on Earth.


The Decepticon propaganda was reinforced when Susan Blu, the only human survivor of the attack, recovered well enough to be interviewed. "I don't know why the Decepticon saved me," the woman said. "Maybe they're not as bad as the Autobots say."

"So, you think we've been backing the wrong side in the Autobot-Decepticon War?" asked another reporter.

"I think we shouldn't have become involved," answered Blu. "We're putting the Earth at risk-- we're putting billions of human lives at risk-- for nothing!"

The reporter answered the survivor's rage by calmly stating, "Many believe we need the Autobots' help to defend Earth from the Decepticons."

"Don't you get it?" challenged Blu. "The Decepticons came for the Autobots! They stay because the Autobots stay! We should just boot the Autobots back into space, and let those damn robots fight their war somewhere far, far away from Earth!"


The steel roof and concrete walls of the hangar, the Autobots' prison, didn't block the radio waves. "Slag!" cursed Ironhide.

The Dinobot flamethrower troop approached the Acting Autobot Commander. "You call?"

"No!" Ironhide angrily answered. "Tune your radio to FM 101."

The Dinobot obeyed. "This bad?" asked Slag.

"This is very bad," said Ironhide, suppressing the urge to vent his anger at the innocent Dinobot. "If the humans end up believing the Decepti-creeps-- and they're likely to, after the disaster at the UN-- we'll be left without access to energy and other resources." He saw the confusion in Slag's optics. "We'll go hungry."

"Grrrr! This very bad!"

The other Dinobots joined Slag. "What we do now?" asked Sludge.

"We hunt Red Storm!" shouted Grimlock. "We crush Red Storm!"

"Hold your engines!" insisted Ironhide. "First, we convince the humans that what happened ain't our fault. If we can prove that the video was doctored, that the illumination round was actually fired by Optimus or Reflector, we'll be all right." Ironhide knew the video was genuine, but he couldn't admit this to the Dinobots. "Now leave me alone. I need to think." He waited until the Dinobots left before activating his long-range radio. "Blaster!"

The communications specialist, imprisoned at Ft Friedman, answered the call. "Yo, Heavy Metal! What's up?"

"I need you to doctor the Decepti-creeps' propaganda video. Make the Americans think Optimus or Reflector killed President Reagan."

"That ain't gonna be easy," said Blaster. "The Red Storm and Discotheque," Reflector's nickname, so-called because the recon troop's lens resembled a mirror ball, and his shoulder-mounted flash resembled a strobe light, "were still inside when the roof fell on their heads. The Red Storm's reputation won't let him look stupid, so he'll look innocent. If we can convince the Americans that the Aerialbots are actually Decepticon spies..."

Ironhide gasped. "Will you listen to yourself? You sound like Soundwave!" the Decepticon Spymaster, Shockwave's brother. "We won't betray the Aerialbots!" he insisted. "We won't act like the Decepti-creeps!"

"But..." Blaster turned to his side, as if he saw something. "Never mind; it's too late."

Ironhide frowned. "What do you mean?"

"George Bush, the new president, just agreed to surrender us to Decepticon custody; Starscream's picking us up in an hour." Blaster drew his rifle. "Mind if we escape?"

Ironhide sighed, calmly accepting the fact that the Autobots had been the betrayed. "Go ahead. I'm gonna escape with the Dinobots. Have Omega follow my transponder and pick us up." He ended communications with Blaster before facing the Dinobots. "All right, Dinobots!" Ironhide drew his pistol. "Draw your weapons, we're breaking out!" He finished the sentence by blasting a hole in the hangar wall.


Air Raid and Ramjet flew over NYC, disguised as USAF fighters. They avoided the F-15Cs that flew combat air patrol over NYC; Optimus ordered Air Raid to avoid conflict with the humans, and Ramjet agreed with the wisdom of the order. "What do you think will happen if the humans evict the Auto-bastards?" asked Air Raid, using the human insult.

"The same thing that happened on Nebulon," answered Ramjet. "We'll destroy the Autobots and conquer this planet-- with words, not weapons." Both Skyraiders knew the importance the Propaganda Commander now had. "Negotiations will take place, treaties will be signed, and a permanent base will be built here. I'll be stationed here, and enjoy all the petroleum I can drink." Ramjet became fond of fossil fuel during his time on Earth.

Air Raid frowned. "What happened to your warrior's spark? Does it no longer shine for battle?"

Ramjet bitterly laughed. "Not against my commander." He sensed Air Raid's surprise, and decided to elaborate. "When Starscream built me as a S20, he saw me as a weapon in his hand. When Shockwave rebuilt me as a S50," after Ramjet was severely damaged in battle, "Starscream saw me in Shockwave's hand; he thought my plasma carbine," a gift from the Decepticon Subcommander, "would eventually be used against him."

"You serve Starscream loyally," noted Air Raid.

"Not loyally enough, it seems. Once the Autobots are defeated..." The Skyraiders were interrupted by an alarm.

Optimus' visage appeared in their monitors. "The Autobots have escaped from the US military's custody," he noted. "President Bush has declared them as war criminals, and requested our assistance in arresting them.

Shockwave and Starscream's visages joined Optimus'. "You will render assistance in arresting the rebels. Deadly force is authorized."

"Destroy them all!" added Starscream.

"Meet us at these coordinates." A map, revealing the Autobots' location, replaced Optimus' visage.

"Yes, Sir!" The Skyraiders turned north, hungry for battle.


Humans shouted with surprised as a Toyota Onebox drove down the road, followed by three robot dinosaurs. Ironhide led the Dinobots towards the Canadian border, escaping the US governments' betrayal.

'I don't want to function like this,' thought the Acting Autobot Commander. 'To be hunted like a target drone. But this is the only function I've really known for...' Ironhide's thoughts were interrupted when a plasma beam penetrated his roof, melting his internal machinery and killing him instantly. The Dinobots quickly recovered from their shock, transformed, and returned fire.

Optimus evaded the missiles and plasma beams that reached towards him. He used the targeting laser on the left side of his head-- whose beam was redirected to a lens behind the radome when he was in fighter mode-- to shoot the Dinobots' weapons mounts, disarming them without damaging them. "Dinobots," he called as he transformed. "I admire your courage under fire, but such courage is meaningless to the cowardly Autobots. Join us; swear allegiance to Shockwave. As a Decepticon, you can use the strength Ultra Magnus wouldn't let you use-- you can conquer and rule." Ramjet, Air Raid, Skydive, and three MADs flanked the Dinobots, but didn't shoot; they knew of Optimus' plans.

Grimlock glared at his opponent. "I no swear to puny Skyraider."

"I'm a Skywarrior, an elite, rebuilt by Shockwave himself." Optimus stowed his rifle, freeing his hands. "Let's fight-- let's see how strong we are." He scanned the windows of the surrounding buildings, and shouted, "Attention, humans! A battle is about to begin! I advise you to evacuate the area!" The humans obeyed, crying and screaming. Optimus waited 30 seconds before facing Grimlock. "If I win, you'll swear allegiance to Shockwave. If you win..."

"Me Grimlock! Me win!" The Dinobot Commander extended his arm. Optimus dodged the punch, grabbed his opponent's arm, and pulled. After Grimlock crashed into a parked car, Optimus stomped on his opponent's back. Grimlock's angry growl became an anguished howl when Optimus' jet engine ignited, superheating his armor.

"Grimlock!" Slag and Sludge charged, determined to help their commander. Skydive and the MADs surrounded the flamethrower troop, while Air Raid and Ramjet blocked the demolitions specialist's path. The warriors engaged in hand-to-hand combat; the city shook with the thunder of metal against metal.

"Roarrrr!" Grimlock transformed and bit Optimus' left wing. The Red Guards Commander's elbow slammed against his opponent's head. Grimlock tore off the wing, and had the satisfaction of hearing Optimus howl. He raised his foot to stomp on his opponent's chest. Optimus grabbed the foot and pushed it sideways, throwing Grimlock off balance. The warriors rolled on the ground, where Optimus' humanoid form made him a better wrestler.

Finally, Optimus locked his arms around Grimlock's neck, tore off the Tyrannosaur head, and exposed the robot head. He grabbed Grimlock's head, threatening to crush it as he said, "I've proven how strong I am. Swear allegiance to Shockwave, and this strength will be yours."

"Grimlock!" Sludge punched Air Raid, throwing the warrior into a wall. As he ran towards his commander, Ramjet bit Sludge's knee, tearing off the lower leg. "Howl!"

"Sludge!" Slag transformed, determined to skewer Skydive. The strategist grabbed the horns and ignited his engines, gaining control over the flamethrower troop's direction of travel. Skydive rolled, throwing Slag upside down.

Grimlock watched the Skyraiders draw their weapons and target the disabled Dinobots. "Me, Grimlock, swear allegiance to Shockwave." He raised his voice and called, "Slag! Sludge! Swear allegiance to Shockwave!" He saw the confusion in his warriors' optics. "Dinobots must fight to survive! Be Decepticon, keep fighting!"

"Me, Slag, swear allegiance to Shockwave!" "Me, Sludge, swear allegiance to Shockwave!"

Grimlock felt Optimus release the pressure on his head. 'One day, me, Grimlock, be stronger than Red Storm!' he swore.

> 04 <

Blaster and Perceptor sat in the cockpit of Omega's rocket mode, scanning for Ironhide's transponder signal. "We should've picked up Heavy Metal by now. Where are they?" asked Blaster.

"It's possible they deactivated their nonessential electrical and electronic systems, to conceal their emissions from enemy sensors," suggested Perceptor.

"You mean Heavy Metal's hiding?" Blaster shook his head. "That don't sound like something he'd do. Besides, a transponder ain't nonessential-- he wants us to find him, remember?"

"Extenuating circumstances may have forced Ironhide to..." Perceptor was interrupted by an alarm. "The magnetic anomaly detector has... By the Matrix!" He turned to Blaster. "Ironhide-- he's dead!"

"What?!" Blaster rudely pushed Perceptor away from the monitor. "Maybe that's just a decoy to fool the Decepticons," he suggested. "Yeah, that's what it is-- Heavy Metal's too tough to let the Decepti-creeps..." He shuddered; if the Acting Commander was really dead, then the Autobots were doomed.

Perceptor noticed a dissonance between the sensors; the radar would detect something the infrared sensors couldn't, or vice versa. "This is unusual. There seems to be..." The dissonance ended when the Conquest launched 25 infrared-guided missiles. "We're under attack!"

"Force field: activated," stated Omega. He shook as the missiles detonated against his rocket engine, whose exhaust weakened the field. "Engines damaged. Executing emergency landing." Blaster and Perceptor ejected from the cockpit as the other Autobots jumped out of the cargo bay. The guardian transformed to land on his feet.

Blaster watched 500 attack drones swarm out of the Symphony of the Night, Soundwave's carrier cruiser. "Where the hell did they come from?"

"The Decepticons must be using a cloaking device!" answered Perceptor.

Soundwave stood behind the master control console, designating targets for the 100 drones and directing the motions of 400 holograms. Omega's antimissile system couldn't tell the difference; laser beams reached towards countless drones, only to touch thin air.

"Not bad illusions, Soundwave," complimented Starscream. "Once the Autobots use up all their power, they'll be easy to defeat. Then we shall return to Cybertron... with honor!"

Omega shook as countless missiles and laser beams struck his armor. "Tactical retreat is advised." He reset his plasma blaster; the improvised flamethrower started five secondary explosions. Clang! "Argh!"

Bruticus slammed Superweapon-1 against the back of Omega's head. "My victory will be forged from your wreckage!"

Omega's claws slashed Bruticus. "Announcement premature." The super warrior recoiled from the blow, drawing the guardian away from the other Autobots. Omega took the bait, denying his comrades the protection of his force field.

"Omega!" called Perceptor. The guardian couldn't hear him; Starscream was jamming the transmission. The drones relentlessly attacked; they were mindless, unable to feel pain, fear, or pity.

"Shock you, Pathogen!" Mirage cursed as he launched a missile, only to hit another hologram. "You promised to protect...!" The drones returned fire. "Ahhhh!"

Blaster changed frequencies constantly, trying to counter the jamming. His comrades fell one by one as he dueled Starscream. "Help!" Blaster was silenced when the 89 remaining drones focused their lasers on him. By the time the guardian heard the call, it was too late; the communications specialist became a pool of molten metal.

"Noooo!" 'I failed them,' thought Omega. 'Now... all I can do... is join them...'

Bruticus rocketed into the sky before launching two cruise missiles from outside the projected blast radius; now that the other Autobots were destroyed, he no longer had to restrain himself. Omega didn't defend himself, by fault or by choice. When Bruticus raised his shutters, he roared with victory; scattered pieces were all that remained of the last guardian.

Soundwave didn't celebrate with the other Decepticons; he simply ordered the drones to sterilize the battlefield, denying the humans a chance to reverse engineer Cybertronian technology. 'There is a 3.01% probability that the Decepticons will face an enemy as dangerous as the Autobots,' he calculated. 'Our probability to fight so glorious a battle is equally slight.' These calculations brought sadness, an emotion he carefully concealed.


Megatron and Shockwave lunged at each other with energo-swords, the traditional secondary weapon of Decepticon generals, like the legendary Sunzicon. The antennas, which superheated plasma would surge upon if the swords were activated, thundered and flashed like shooting stars, outshining the lights that covered the ceiling and walls-- the stars on a map of the known galaxy. Megatron attacked with a lion's fury, using powerful slashes to overwhelm the Subcommander's defenses. In contrast, Shockwave defended with a leopard's patience, skillfully parrying to conserve his energy as he scanned for an opening in the Supreme Commander's defenses.

Clang! It was over: Megatron's blade would've severed Shockwave's head at the same moment the Subcommander's blade would've impaled the Supreme Commander's core. "A draw," noted Megatron. Although both swords were deactivated, his body ached from Shockwave's carefully aimed thrusts. "What's the tally?"

"You have won 250 of our 500 duels. I have won 200 duels. This is the 50th to end in a draw," answered Shockwave.

"In short, I'm still the better fighter." Megatron smiled. "Excellent!" He retracted the antenna-- the sword became a dagger-- and hid the weapon in his boot compartment. The Decepticon Supreme Commander reached for the crown-- the antenna array that let him communicate with every Decepticon commander in the galaxy-- on the throne, as he did after each duel. A chime interrupted him as he put on the crown. "Identify yourself!"

"It's me, Rumble."


Rumble hid his fear as he approached the Decepticon Supreme Commander, a giant whose power could destroy him 1000 times over. "Soundwave's got news: we've annihilated the Autobots." He used his integral projector to play the Spymaster's record of the last battle.

Megatron watched a hologram of Bruticus destroy one of Omega. "Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! I haven't seen such a glorious battle in 1,000,000 years! Of course, a massacre is always glorious!" He faced the demolitions specialist. "And what about our boxing champ?"

"Optimus killed Ironhide and defeated Grimlock in battle." Rumble played a record of the duel. "The Dinobots have pledged allegiance to Subcommander Shockwave."

"Ha-ha-ha-ha! So much for the elite of the Autobot Army-- of course, if you can fight, you don't belong with those pacifist fools." Megatron turned to Shockwave. "Will you incorporate them into the DCP?"

Shockwave's optic flared as he contemplated this. "If they prove their loyalty to us. Until then, they will wear security collars," which the Subcommander could detonate by remote.

"We should reward Optimus for his accomplishments. A statue in the Hall of Heroes, perhaps?"

Rumble hid his surprise. 'What?! How come that Neanderthal gets a statue?!' The hall honored warriors who fell in battle, sacrificing themselves for the Decepticon cause; Megatron and Shockwave were the only living Transformers to have such an honor.

"There is a 65.3% probability that this will cause significant discontent among the Skyraiders," warned Shockwave. "And a 92.8% probability that Starscream will use this as a reason to..."

"Starscream's always seeking reasons to challenge my leadership," interrupted Megatron. "By presenting Optimus as his primary rival, we can keep him too distracted to do so. Besides," he smiled, "we must motivate both parties to fight harder for us, even if it's for different reasons."

Shockwave nodded. "Very well; I will contact Hook," the Constructicon Commander, Project Director for 68.0% of all Decepticon war memorials.

'I better tell Soundwave about this,' thought Rumble. 'And Starscream-- what'll he get me get for this piece of info?'


The warriors celebrated the Decepticons' victory. The workers continued working; they doubted the war's end would change their lives. The slaves mourned the Autobots' defeat; they knew no one who else could free them.

The Quintessons carefully observed all of this, seeking a weakness to exploit, an opportunity to destroy the Decepticons; there was no such opportunity. "Curses!" Carcinogen, the Chief Magistrate, lashed a monitor with an electrified tentacle. "4,000,000 years of planning, 37,000,000,000 energon cubes, and an incalculable amount of lasers, machine guns, rockets, and other weapons..." He rotated his head, replacing his mask of rage with one of grief. "Wasted! Gone with the solar wind! Ohhhh!" Carcinogen wiped away the tears flowing from the mask. "How,"-- he replaced the mask with one of thought-- "will we regain what is rightfully ours?"

Pathogen examined the video of the final battle. "According to Mirage's last transmission to us, Starscream desires Megatron's place as Decepticon Supreme Commander. Perhaps we can recruit him to our cause."

Mutagen wore a mask of joy. "Oh, goody! Another traitor to play with, another betrayal to enact!" He rubbed two tentacles together, dreaming of the damage they'd cause, the pain they'd inflict through a double agent.

A golden light appeared, revealing a disembodied head in a horned helmet. "No," ordered the head. "Starscream is too ambitious to trust." His brow deepened in thought. "The Aerialbots survive; you will recruit them."

The Quintesson magistrates wore masks of fear. "Y-y-y-yes, M-m-master!" Their tentacles continued to flail in terror several minutes after the light disappeared.


Jealous rage burned within Starscream's core as he watched the human heads of government sign the peace treaty. The Propaganda Commander signed the document before giving a speech, promising a better life for their human allies. Starscream saw Optimus standing behind Dion; his fist slammed against the integral remote control in the armrest of his chair, shutting off the monitor. "How dare Optimus steal away the honor that is rightfully mine! If it weren't for my fearless leadership and ingenious tactics, that stupid Neanderthal would be transformed into a pool of molten metal!" The Skyraiders ignored him; they were used to hearing Starscream rant and rage about his superiority.

"Starscream, we're entering Gobotron's defense space." Dirge transmitted the identification friend or foe (IFF) code to the sentinel drones-- armored rockets with antimissile lasers, missile launchers, and a plasma cannon-- and interdictor drones-- armored rockets with antimissile lasers, missile launchers, and an artificial gravity projector to force enemy ships out of warp-- patrolling the defense space; if the drones didn't receive the code within three seconds, their powerful weapons would vaporize the ship.

"Open a channel to the Blue Guards Commander."

The air warrior turned to his commander. "Should I contact Subcommander Shockwave?" Shockwave commanded the DCP and its elite units: Optimus' Red Guards and Nightracer's Blue Guards.

"No," answered Starscream. 'I must get rid of that Neanderthal, and I need her help to do so.'

"Okay." After communications were established, Starscream ordered Dirge to leave the bridge.

Nightracer's visage filled the monitor. "What do you want, Starscream?" she demanded.

The Aerospace Commander suppressed his anger at Nightracer's arrogance. "Just a moment of your time, Guards Commander Nightracer," Starscream answered with a charming smile, which had no effect on Nightracer.

"I don't have time to inflate your ego, Starscream." The Blue Guards Commander wasn't under his command; legally, Starscream couldn't punish her for such insolence.

'You will show me the respect I deserve-- when I am Decepticon Commander!' Starscream continued to smile as he asked, "How about your ego, Nightracer? I'm sure you know that Optimus will be awarded a statue in the Decepticon Hall of Heroes, in a grand ceremony where Megatron himself will honor Optimus' courage. I'm sure you envy him, hate him for taking away the glory that's rightfully yours. Don't you imagine your own statue there, to be worshipped and admired by all? Don't you wish to hear Megatron praise you for 5,000,000 years of hard work?"


Starscream sensed that the Blue Guards Commander was lying. 'I've got you!' "Let's say you want a certain Decepticon leader to show you the respect you deserve. Let's say you want to punish a certain Autobot for taking credit for your actions. Let's say a certain genius is empathetic towards the injustices that you've suffered, and is graciously offering to help you avenge them-- to pierce Optimus' lies, to crush the bravado that is his armor, and expose his true, cowardly self to the universe!" He calmed down. "Megatron will then generously reward you for getting rid of that... waste of metal."

Nightracer thought for a moment. "I'm busy; we can discuss this later in my office." She terminated communications; she couldn't hear Starscream's cruel laughter fill the bridge.


"President Bush is presenting Commander Dion a barrel of oil as a gesture of peace..."

The Aerialbots hid in the Canadian forest, using their integral radios to view the broadcast. Impotent rage filled them as the Decepticon raised the barrel from the forklift; envy replaced rage as Dion drank the oil. 'It's not fair! I spent weeks protecting those stupid humans! I deserve that oil, not that Decepti-creep!' thought Fireflight, painfully aware that he hadn't refueled for four days.

"What will we do now?" asked Slingshot.

'We wait for death.' Silverbolt didn't give this answer, the product of a broken spirit. "What do you think we should do?" he asked, hiding his despair.

"We should get some fuel!" shouted Fireflight. "There's an oil refinery nearby. We should..."

"No!" Silverbolt put his hand on Fireflight's shoulder. "We won't dive to the Decepticons' level!"

Fireflight violently pushed Silverbolt away as he drew his pistol. "Use your computer and think! The Decepticons won the war because they're willing to do things the Autobots won't let us!"

"No, they won because Optimus is on their side! If Optimus..."

"We can't change Optimus back into an Autobot!" declared Fireflight. "So either go on with your life, or go join the other Autobots in death!"

"No," whispered Silverbolt. "I can't... not until I atone for my sins."

"Atone..." a haunting voice echoed.

"What the...?" Fireflight and Slingshot instinctively targeted the alien who suddenly appeared behind them.

Mutagen wore the mask of thought. "Yes, you must atone for your sins." He rotated his head to wear the mask of joy. "And I... will show you the path to redemption!"

"Who are you, and what do you want?" demanded Fireflight.

"I am an enemy of your enemy; therefore, I am your friend." The Quintesson faced Silverbolt. "I offer you a chance to strike back against the evil Decepticons." He extended a tentacle, a gesture of friendship. "I offer you vengeance."

Silverbolt shook his head. "I don't want vengeance, I just wanna make things right."

Mutagen wore the mask of rage as his tentacle lashed Silverbolt's face. "You fool! How can there be justice without vengeance?! Without..." He replaced the mask with one of thought, reminding himself to control his temper, lest the Aerialbots discover his true identity. "I'm... sorry." He wore the mask of grief. "We must hurry, or billions of innocents will suffer! Boo-hoo-hoo!" Tears flowed above and below the tentacles covering his eyes.

Fireflight grabbed one of Mutagen's tentacles, forcing the Quintesson to wear the mask of fear; Mutagen didn't expect the Aerialbots to resist his authority. "Get to the point! How will we strike back against the Decepticons?!"

"Stop, Fireflight!" pleaded the Aerialbot Commander. "Don't hurt him... Ahhhh!" he screamed as the recon troop shot him.

Mutagen shivered. "W-w-w-we attack a m-m-major c-component of the Decepticon Propaganda Command: the Cybertron Military History Museum!" He sensed the Aerialbots' skepticism, and decided to embellish. "W-w-we d-demonstrate how vulnerable the Decepticons are, by striking against their capital, where security is strongest! That'll strengthen the resolve of the countless sentient beings who suffer under Megatron's tyranny, inspiring them to rebel against their Decepticon oppressors!"

Fireflight frowned. "Are you kidding? How will attacking a shack, full of rusty old weapons, help us?"

"Besides, how will we get to Cybertron in the first place?" added Slingshot.

Mutagen wore the mask of joy. "Like this." A blinding, burning light enveloped the Aerialbots as the Quintesson activated the spacebridge. Fireflight and Slingshot screamed with shock. Despite the noise, Silverbolt thought he heard Mutagen laugh as they were sent to...

> 05 <

Air Raid and Skydive met Optimus as he marched down the hall. "We just heard the news." They saluted. "Congratulations, Sir." "You'll finally get the honor you deserve."

"This honor was won by the entire DCP; never forget this, nor the thousands of warriors who died for this honor." Optimus returned the salute. "I'm returning to my room; I don't want to be disturbed."

"Yes, Sir!" The warriors moved out of Optimus' way.

Dion extended his hand as he met Optimus. "She would've been proud of you."

Optimus sighed; the warriors were surprised to hear the relentless Red Storm express weariness. "I wish she was here to say so." He shook Dion's hand before entering his room.

Air Raid met Dion as he walked away from Optimus' room. "Commander Dion, you've known Commander Optimus since the war's dawn, right?"

"That's right."

"He always gives orders to be left alone after a battle, instead of celebrating another glorious victory," noted Skydive. "What does he do there?"

Dion sighed. "He honors someone he once loved, whose murder at the hands of an Autobot terrorist ignited the rage that, I hope, he'll now extinguish."


Optimus opened his mask-- electrical burns, Silverbolt's signature, crossed his face-- before activating the projector. "Hello again, Ariel." The female's image was captured in a moment of joyous wonder as she saw something beautiful. "The war is over; the Autobots have been destroyed. You've finally been avenged." Optimus moved beside the hologram, looking in the same direction, as he would if Ariel lived. "What will you do if you see me now? I remember how kind and gentle you were, how you hated violence above all. Will you understand why I did what I did, and congratulate me? Or will you be horrified at what I've done, and hate what I've become?" He sighed. "Now that the enemy's been destroyed, the galaxy can be at peace. My core should be at peace, but it's not. I feel incomplete-- the joy I feel in battle ends with the battle-- and I don't know where to find the missing components."

He turned to the smiling hologram. "I'm sure you'd know what to say in this situation-- you were always the smart one, even though I was too proud to admit it-- but you can't. I know I should just... move on... but I can't." He gently raised his hand to her cheek, as he would if Ariel lived. The female's face was split in half, a cruel reminder that she was no more. Optimus sighed as he lowered his hand; Ariel's face was perfect again, now that the projector beam was no longer interrupted. "I'll talk to you later. Hopefully, I'll find the answers by then." He closed his mask before exiting his room.


"Ahhhh!" Silverbolt shivered as the blinding, burning light was extinguished, allowing him to get his bearings. He seemed to be on Cybertron-- the architecture was Cybertronian-- but there were no structures he could identify. "Where are we?!"

"You're on Cybertron, heart of the Decepticon Empire," answered Mutagen. "Yikes!" He wore the mask of fear.

Fireflight squeezed the tentacle in his hand, making the Quintesson writhe in pain. "How the shock did we get here, and how the shock do we get back?!" he demanded.

"The s-s-s-spacebridge l-l-locked onto m-my transponder and sent us here." He wore the mask of rage. "Don't even think about robbing me of my transponder; it'll self-destruct a split-second after you activate it, stranding you in the middle of nowhere-- or the middle of a star, which will deliver a quick but terribly painful death." He wore the mask of joy. "If you do a little favor for me, I'd be more than happy to do a little favor for you-- I can return you to Earth or any other planet in the Solar System, or I can reward you with a generous supply of energon."

Slingshot frowned. "What the shock do you want from us?"

"The Military History Museum houses a collection of religious artifacts from Cybertron's Golden Age. I want you to bring me one of these artifacts, commonly known as the Matrix."

"What good is a piece of slag that was worshipped by some stupid humans who cross two pieces of wood and call it their god?!" challenged Fireflight, angrily remembering the Christian evangelists who accused the Transformers of being soulless monstrosities.

Mutagen didn't bother to correct the Aerialbot's mistake. "It'll be a symbol of hope for those who suffer under Megatron's tyranny," 'and who'll suffer under our tyranny, once we...' "We simply must have it!"

"All right." Fireflight released the Quintesson. "We'll get it. Where's the shocking museum?" he demanded.


Representatives from the Decepticon Empire's many planetary governments had arrived to attend the awards ceremony. The Gobot representatives were Nightracer and Crasher, who secretly gathered intelligence for Cy-Kill, Gobotron's governor commander (GC). The relationship between Cy-Kill and Nightracer-- who, as Shockwave's enforcer, was the de facto GC-- was always tense, and Crasher often played them against each other for her own benefit.

'I wonder what I'll find, and what I can do with my findings?' Maniacal laugher flooded the spaceport, reinforcing rumors that Crasher was insane; the Gobot found these rumors useful, both defensively-- to make people leave her alone-- and offensively-- to make people give her what she wanted. Nightracer didn't ask why Crasher was laughing; she was used to it. The females exited their frigate, transformed into fast attack vehicles, and drove to the ceremony site.

The Hall of Heroes was on the Cybertron War Academy's summit, a shining crest on a knight's helmet. The Blue Guards' IFF codes prevented the sentries and the automated defenses from shooting at them as they drove vertically up the building's outer wall. Although their speed was 320 kilometers per hour, it took them 30 minutes to reach the summit.

"Gasp!" Crasher was trained at the Gobotron War Academy; she'd never been inside the Hall of Heroes, and was easily intimidated by the life-sized statues-- legendary warriors who held their weapons in the ready position, locked in eternal combat with an invisible foe-- that lined the hall.

"Don't be too impressed," ordered Nightracer. She pointed at the data plate on a statue's pedestal. "If you read the accounts of their last battles, you'll learn that many of them were killed by their own stupidity; no amount of courage could save them from that."

Crasher was surprised by Nightracer's attitude; most commanders encouraged a "destroy first, think later!" attitude among their subordinates. "I thought..."


"Roarrrr!" Nightracer instinctively spun rearwards, putting her entire mass behind a punch that would slam her assailant onto the floor.

Optimus-- with skills gained through experience-- countered this immediate action by sidestepping out of Nightracer's path, catching her extended arm, and pulling her out of balance. Nightracer tucked her arms to her side, rolled away, and jumped upright, ready to launch another attack. It was too late; Optimus' rifle was already aimed at her. "Welcome to Cybertron, Guards Commander Nightracer."

Nightracer hid her fear as she answered, "Greetings, Guards Commander Optimus."

Optimus aimed the missile launchers on his left arm at Crasher, who he'd slammed against the floor and into stasis. "One of yours?"

"Yes. How'd you know?"

The Red Guards Commander stowed his rifle. "She has your spirit." He didn't say how he felt about the Blue Guards Commander's paranoia, the fact that Nightracer identified him as an enemy.

Nightracer slapped Crasher to reboot her CPU. The Gobot roared as she instinctively kicked, forcing the Blue Guards Commander to restrain her. "Do not embarrass yourself and your commander before Guards Commander Optimus!" she hissed.

"Yes, Ma'am." Crasher laughed as she turned to Optimus. "You must be the legendary Red Storm." She seductively curved her body, giving Optimus a better view of her hips and breasts; this act often affected Cy-Kill's behavior to her advantage. "I'm Crasher, the Blue Guards demolitions specialist."

Optimus coldly nodded. "Welcome to Cybertron." He waved to a maintenance drone. "Hey, you! Show these females to their table."

"Yes, Sir."

"Thanks." Crasher hid her disappointment as she stood up. 'Shockwave's trained him well,' she noted as Optimus marched away.


Fireflight hid his fear as he marched down the street, disguised as a Skyraider. He saw how nervous Silverbolt and Slingshot were. "Stop shivering, you'll give us away!" he hissed.

The air support troop was too distracted to argue with the recon troop. 'Something's not right.' "Can we really trust that five-faced... friend to keep his word?"

"No," answered Fireflight. "But what choice do we have?" They saw a crystal tower, illuminated by rainbow lights, glittering evidence of Cybertronian cultural superiority. "There's the museum." He turned to Slingshot. "Mark the exit."

Slingshot tried to stay calm as he approached the museum. Mutagen provided the sonic charges he planted, and the hologram projector that let him avoid attracting the Decepticons' attention; this only fueled the air support troop's fear. 'Will the charges go off? Will the disguise hold up? I'm being too paranoid; why'd that five-faced freak want it to fail when we need it the most? Maybe he's led us into a trap-- he'll expose us in a public place, kill us, and collect a reward for three Autobot spies!' He slapped the side of his head.

"Are you okay?" asked Silverbolt.

"Just peachy." 'Don't be so shocking paranoid!' Slingshot reminded himself. 'You'll end up like Silverbolt!' He planted the charges on four pillars. "The exit's marked, just waiting to be opened."

"Good." Fireflight turned to his former commander. "Time to redeem yourself." Silverbolt didn't resist as the recon troop dragged him through the door, towards the Hall of the Golden Age. "Whoa!"

A relief of the Battle of Cancercon-- where Sunzicon led the Cybertronians to victory over the Quinta Imperial Guards, overthrowing the Quinta Empire and founding the Cybertron Republic-- dominated the hall. Lights, simulating laser and plasma beams, illuminated the countless rivets, welds, and other details on the warriors. Slingshot noticed a masked figure in a guardian robot's cockpit. "Hey, doesn't that look like our five-faced... friend?"

"Who cares?" Fireflight searched for an illuminant crystal in a golden frame. "There!" The statue of a warrior, identified as A-3, held it. The recon troop examined the hands, finding wiring for an antitheft system. "This will only take a minute." He nervously scanned the hall-- no one was watching him-- before cutting the wires. Beep-beep-beep! "Slag!" Trapdoors opened to release security drones; engines roared and thundered as guards raced toward the hall. "Slingshot, open the exit!"


Megatron raised his sword to free the statue from the canvas covering it. "Tonight, we honor the warrior whose strength and courage has..." Boom! He instinctively ducked as a shock wave reached the summit, blew away the canvas, and revealed a bronze statue raising a rifle in salute. "What was that?!"

Dion put his hand behind his radio antenna. "The Museum's being robbed!" He faced Megatron. "It's the missing Aerialbots!"

"What? The Autobots' pet jets dare to dishonor me by attacking my capital?! Decepticons,"-- Megatron turned to see that the awardee was already halfway to the museum-- "attack!" He flew after Optimus, followed by Air Raid, Skydive, and Dion.

Fireflight's body flashed and flickered; the hologram projector was damaged in the blast. "Come on!" He held the Matrix in one hand as he shot another guard.

"Slingshot's hurt!" Silverbolt lifted a crystal plane off of the air support troop's back. As he helped Slingshot onto his feet, he heard a plasma rifle roar. "Fireflight!" The recon troop's head and shoulders were vaporized; a severed arm clung to the Matrix as it fell.

"Silverbolt!" A plasma beam-- an expression of Optimus' anger and hatred-- reached for the Aerialbot Commander. Time seemed to decelerate as the beam touched Silverbolt's chest-- it seemed to push him back, a split-second before a fireball consumed both Aerialbots. Optimus rolled as he transformed, dodging a counterattack that wasn't launched. 'Where is he?' He scanned his surroundings, holding his rifle at the ready.

"Well done, Optimus!" Megatron landed beside him, followed by Air Raid and Skydive. "You've avenged the Decepticons' honor, and brought justice to Ariel's murderer."

'Did I?' Optimus stood up and faced the Supreme Commander. "Thank you, Sir." He scanned his surroundings again before stowing his rifle.

The surviving guards stood around the severed arm, as if it-- or what it held-- was the most valuable thing in the galaxy. When Dion landed, they told him what happened. "I see." The Propaganda Commander turned to Megatron. "Supreme Commander Megatron, the Aerialbots were trying to steal the Matrix." He saw Megatron's confused frown, and decided to elaborate. "It's a religious artifact from the Golden Age. According to legend, the Matrix granted Sunzicon the power to defeat the Quinta..."

Megatron approached the Matrix, silencing Dion. "Hum. Pretty." He faced Dion. "If it's so important to them, we must keep it out of their hands. Assign someone to guard it-- someone trustworthy."

"Yes, Sir!" Dion watched Megatron leave. "Hey, Optimus!" Wonder-- an emotion Optimus hadn't expressed since Ariel died-- was in his optics as he approached the Matrix. "The Aerialbots were trying to steal the Matrix. We need someone to guard it. Can you..."

"I'll guard it." Optimus broke Fireflight's fingers to free the Matrix. 'It's warm, like a little star.' He opened the avionics bay in his chest. 'A perfect fit!' he marveled.

Dion silently watched Optimus stow the Matrix; he knew he must respect the ritual's sanctity, for reasons he couldn't understand. "Thanks." His friend seemed magically reinvigorated as the Red Guards left.


Silverbolt and Slingshot followed Moonracer as she led them to the Amazons' secret base. Firestar carried Chromia, who'd depleted her energy supply when she used her special powers to "freeze" time and rescue the Aerialbots. "Where are we going?"

"To see Alpha Trion; he'll know what to do with you." They reached a factory in a squalid industrial park, blackened by soot and dirt and abandoned in favor of more technologically developed areas. "Here." Moonracer followed Firestar and Chromia through a hologram of a wall, into an elevator. The Aerialbots looked at each other, questions in their optics, before following the females.

The elevator was carefully designed and maintained; it silently carried the five to Alpha's lab. The door opened to reveal the gun barrels and rocket tubes of two automated sentries, ready to destroy anyone who came through the elevator and the nearby staircase. The females' IFF code prevented the sentries from firing. "Alpha Trion," called Firestar.

The repaireon, a veteran of the Cybertron Revolution, set the sentries on STANDBY. "Are they...?"

Firestar nodded. "Chromia altered time-space to save them; she needs to be refueled and repaired."

Alpha's arm swept clean a table. "Hurry!" Moonracer helped Firestar carry Chromia to the table. Alpha turned to the Aerialbots. "You too!" After Silverbolt and Slingshot moved beside the table, Alpha set the sentries on AUTO.

Silverbolt turned to the repaireon. "Alpha Trion, I..."

"Later!" Alpha impatiently interrupted. "We must save Chromia!" He didn't speak again until the patient turned on her optics four hours later.

"Alpha..." Chromia turned her head to her mentor as she tried to sit up.

"Hush." Alpha gently pushed Chromia onto the table. "You need time to recharge."

"Did we...?"

"The Aerialbots are safe." Alpha watched Chromia smile as her optics shutoff. "Silverbolt," he called. "It's been a long time since you joined Ultra Magnus on Earth; I'm glad you're all right." He noticed the attachment points for the other Aerialbots when they combined into the super warrior Superion. "I see you've been modified. Tell me, what do these do?"

"These are attachment points for combining," Slingshot impatiently answered. "We've always had them; don't you remember?!"

Alpha shook his head. "The Decepticons zealously guard the combiners' secrets; many Autobots died trying to steal this technology, before Magnus gave up."

"History's been changed," Silverbolt remembered.

Alpha was confused. "How?"

"In an alternate universe, Megatron built a time machine and sent us back in time; he was trying to banish us. We ended up here, 9,000,000 years ago. We... I made a mistake that changed Optimus into a Decepticon soldier, when he's supposed to be an Autobot leader!" Silverbolt put his hands on Alpha's shoulders. "We need you to build a time machine; we need to change things back!"

Alpha shook his head. "No."


"Who can say if history can be changed for the better? We can never know everything there is to know about the past. If I build a time machine, can we be sure that our ignorance won't make things worse?"

"I...!" "We...!"

Alpha raised a hand, silencing the Aerialbots. "We cannot be sure; therefore, I cannot, and will not, try to change history. Now,"-- he held two panels, bearing the Decepticon insignia, as he faced Firestar and Moonracer-- "we must plan for the future. Put these on."

Firestar wasn't surprised; she often painted over the Autobot insignia on her breastplate for a recon mission. "Are we gonna infiltrate a Decepticon base?"

Alpha sighed. "No, you are going to join the Decepticons."

The order shocked the females. "What?!"

"I've contacted Aerospace Subcommander Skyfire; he'll guarantee your safety if you'll swear allegiance to Starscream."


"Further violence will accomplish nothing. The Decepticons won the war millennia ago; it's time to abandon our delusions and join the new world order."

Slingshot grabbed Alpha's hand, alarming the females. He ignored the laser pistols targeting him as he shouted, "How can you betray the Autobot cause, to fight for the freedom of all sentient beings?!" He forgot the fact that he once considered joining the Decepticons as he asked, "Have you abandoned the countless innocents who now suffer under Megatron's tyranny?"

Alpha remained calm as he said, "You're fighting for a lie. I remember when we suffered under the tyranny of Cancer and the Quintas-- the scientist caste," he elaborated. "The Autobots-- the worker caste-- and the Decepticons-- the warrior caste-- were united by pain and, later, by rage against the Quintas."

The Aerialbots were surprised. "Autobots and Decepticons used to be... friends?"

Alpha nodded. "We won the war for freedom 20,000,000 years ago, but we lost the peace; the Autobot Council came to fear the military power wielded by their Decepticon counterpart, and instead of reconciling our differences, we inflamed them in a struggle for political power. In anger, Sunzicon-- the Decepticon Supreme Commander-- abandoned Cybertron in favor of the stars, where he planned to found a new empire. When Sunzicon's fleet vanished without a trace, the Autobot Council quickly took advantage of this. Eventually, they dominated the government, and were able to pass laws that marginalized the Decepticons."

"Is that why Straxus rebelled?"

"No; Straxus was a beast with an insatiable hunger for power. But the Autobot Council's excesses played into his hands; the Decepticons supported Straxus because he promised to answer their grievances."

"And Megatron..."

"Megatron did what Straxus could only dream of doing. Now,"-- he fitted the Decepticon insignia onto Chromia-- "my soldiers have suffered enough. I have paint remover, paint, and airbrushes-- things you can use to create a new identity. Create a new life, and go."

> 06 <

Slingshot watched Cybertron shrink as they used booster rockets, provided by Alpha, to reach escape velocity. "So... where will we go now?" he asked. Silverbolt was silent. "Back to Earth?"

"No!" Silverbolt answered with more emotion than he meant to express. "I-- I don't think that's a good idea." 'I've got too many memories of that planet.' "According to Alpha Trion, Earth's been put under Starscream's authority; it's not safe there."

"Then where?"

Silverbolt quickly scanned the files Alpha provided. "How 'bout Lithone?"


Chromia, Firestar, and Moonracer knelt before the hologram. "We swear allegiance to Aerospace Commander Starscream."

The hologram laughed. "You have good optics, Skyfire, but do you have good sense?"

Skyfire, the third Skywarrior, turned to his friend and commander. "Don't worry, I put security collars on them." He didn't know the females could unlock their collars in three seconds.

"Good!" The hologram put his hand on Firestar's shoulder. "Prove your loyalty to me-- I mean to Megatron-- and I'll reward you with energon and upgrades. I might even grant you some freedom!"

'Yeah, right.' "You're too kind, Sir." Firestar shut off her microphones so she didn't have to hear Starscream laugh.

'With the Blue Guards and the female Autobots at my side, I'll be powerful enough to challenge Shockwave! I can finally put that Neanderthal in his place-- in a trash compactor!' "I'll be seeing you soon, my pretty." The hologram disappeared as Starscream focused on another part of his plan: discrediting Optimus.


The Quintessons watched the Decepticons carry Fireflight's wreckage to the DCP Headquarters. "The rebels' reign of terror was ended by Guards Commander Optimus, who heroically..."

"The Autobot Skyraiders have failed," reported Mutagen.

Carcinogen's mask of rage howled. "Curses!" He lashed the holograms as if they were solid, something he could crush beneath his mighty tentacle.

Pathogen turned to Mutagen. "Now how will we get the Matrix?"

A golden light appeared. "Optimus now bears the Matrix. Lure him to you, and destroy him."

The Quintesson magistrates wore masks of fear. "Y-y-y-yes, M-m-master!" After the light disappeared, Carcinogen turned to Mutagen. "Do you still have the Autobots' radio frequencies?"

"Yes, but..."

"Use them to transmit a mobilization order. We'll lure the Decepticons to Planet Thrull, which we'll arm with a neutron bomb. We'll use our defense system to force them towards the bomb; when we detonate it, the Decepticons will be disabled."

"They'll be alive but helpless; we'll enslave them all and torture them to our dark cores' content!" noted Mutagen.

"May I propose an anticipatory snicker of triumph?" suggested Pathogen.

Cruel laughter filled the courtroom.


Swindle saw Skydive enter the bar. "Hey, Skydive!"

The Red Guard approached the Combaticon. "Swindle."

"Smile! You're among friends!" Swindle turned to the bartender. "I'll have an overdrive." The bartender filled a tankard with energon, added two fuel additives, and shook the tankard. Swindle sighed in satisfaction after he emptied the tankard. "Smooth!"

Skydive waited until the bartender left to serve other customers. "What do you want?" He used his laser communication system (lasercom), so the transmissions couldn't be intercepted.

Swindle activated his lasercom. "I see you've replaced the armor plates on your arms and legs," which no longer showed signs of repair. "Did you get them upgraded?"

The Red Guard nodded. "Shockwave likes to keep us on top of our enemies."

"With Omega Supreme's force field generator?"

Skydive frowned. "With Omega Supreme's what?"

Bang! The high-explosive (HE) bullet detonated harmlessly against Skydive's armor; a blue light, the force field, was visible for only a split-second. "Oops!" Swindle laughed. "I thought I set it on SAFE! Sorry about that!"

Skydive's left hand grabbed Swindle's MG, while his right knocked the Combaticon off the barstool. Swindle found himself looking down the barrel of his own MG. "Who told you?"

Swindle smiled. "A birdie."

"You want a generator for yourself?"

"No, I want five generators."

"One for each Combaticon."

"Exactly." Swindle slowly stood up. "Do we have a deal?"

"What do you think, Sir?" Skydive's encoder was more advanced than Swindle's decoder; the Combaticon didn't know Shockwave was eavesdropping the entire time.

"Begin negotiations," ordered Shockwave.

"Let's talk," answered Skydive.


Mutagen double-checked the transmitter. 'Perfect; everything is as we intended them to be.' Shadows engulfed him; the magistrate watched 10,000 Piranhacon air attack drones and 50 self-propelled fusion cannons-- piloted by Quintesson bailiffs, the magistrates' eyes and ears-- cloud the sky, preventing sunlight from reaching Thrull's surface. 'Beautiful, but not as beautiful as the death and destruction they'll cause!' He laughed as he programmed the detonator and its remote control. 'Just in case,' he set a timer before activating the spacebridge.


"The possibility that the Autobots have such a fleet is only 14.5%," stated Soundwave. "There is a 69.1% probability that the transmission is false, intended to lead us into a trap."

Megatron stared at the map. "Are you certain the spy drones' report is accurate?"

"I was able to verify the energy signature of a matter-antimatter reaction before the drones were destroyed."

'If the Autobots have fusion cannons...' "We cannot simply ignore the transmission." Megatron turned to Starscream. "Can you handle this?"

"Not by myself," the Aerospace Commander answered with uncharacteristic humility. "If the legendary Red Guards will lend me their guns, however..."

"I'll order them to."

"Thank you." Starscream smiled.

Two hours later, the Combaticons, the Dinobots, and the Red Guards were assembled before the space dock. Swindle noticed the additional armor on Optimus' shoulders-- which hid his force field generators-- and the advanced targeting pods under the barrels of the Red Guards' rifles.

"I don't trust the Dinobots," said Brawl.

"Reserve judgment for now; Subcommander Shockwave is testing their loyalty," said Onslaught.

"We should keep an optic on them," suggested Vortex.

"Yeah," agreed Swindle. "I can disarm a security collar in three seconds, easy. I know the Dinobots act too stupid to do so, but what if it's just an act? If we underestimate their intelligence..."

"Good point," added Blastoff.

Onslaught watched Grimlock tilt his head to scratch his neck; the Combaticon Commander knew from personal experience how uncomfortable the security collar was. "Very well."

Starscream dived towards the warriors before pulling up and transforming, a maneuver meant to display his skill. He posed, making himself look majestic as he landed. "Friends, Decepticons, comrades, lend me your microphones; I come..." The Combaticons and the Red Guards maintained their discipline, standing still as the Aerospace Commander gave a speech to promote esprit de corp. The Dinobots quickly lost interest in Starscream, and began inspecting their weapons. "Hey!" The Dinobots slowly raised their heads. "How dare you ignore me? I'll have your heads for such disrespect!"

"You got my collar detonation codes?" Grimlock interpreted Starscream's silence as a negative. "Then shut up."

"You...!" Starscream raised his arm to aim his cannon. Optimus rushed to his side, pushing down Starscream's arm.

"Aerospace Commander Starscream is the mission commander; you will give him the respect he deserves," ordered Optimus.

"Me, Grimlock, follow Red Storm's orders." He knew Optimus had the detonation codes.

"Get out of my way!" Starscream stepped away from Optimus, freeing his arm. "I don't need your help to enforce my authority!" As he boarded his command cruiser, he didn't notice Slag and Sludge lower their weapons; if he shot Grimlock, he'd join the Dinobot in death. Onslaught noticed, however.

'Did he act to protect Starscream, or Grimlock?' Onslaught wondered. 'Both?' He put aside the question as Soundwave came to deliver the mission briefing. Afterwards, the Combaticons boarded the Conquest, while the Red Guards led the Dinobots into the Symphony of the Night.

> 07 <

Carcinogen watched the Decepticon warships-- a command cruiser, a carrier cruiser, two destroyers, and 12 frigates-- approach Thrull. "They don't seem to take us very seriously." The Decepticons had 1980 warships, whose combined firepower could blast the entire planet into space dust-- if Megatron was foolish enough to deploy the patrol ships that kept the Decepticon Empire's 308 star systems under his control.

"More likely they don't take the Autobots very seriously," suggested Pathogen. "According to the dearly departed Mirage,"-- cruel sarcasm filled the words-- "Ultra Magnus saw himself as a follower, not a commander, and was reluctant to assume authority until it was clear that he had no choice but to lead; apparently, the Autobot Council refused to appoint leaders who were comfortable with giving orders as well as following them."

"In other words, they never were a serious threat to the Decepticons." Carcinogen, wearing the mask of rage, turned to Mutagen. "Create mayhem! Commit murder! Massacre! Mutilate!"

Mutagen wore the mask of joy. "Attack!"

Starscream watched the Piranhacons swarm around his fleet. "Identify... Ahhhh!" he screamed when the fusion cannons opened fire, destroying the Piranhacons between them and their targets. "Status report!"

"Starboard force field is at 20.3%-- field generators X01 and X03 have automatically shutdown due to overloading, field generators X05, Z01, and Z02 are resetting to compensate. Antimissile system is engaging the targets." A frigate exploded. "F303 has been destroyed. The Element of Surprise..."

Skywarp teleported into the bridge, carrying two survivors. "The Auto-bastards just destroyed my ship!" He expressed conflicting emotions: shock at the sudden loss of his command, and anger at the poor intelligence that contributed to this.

"The Terror is severely damaged, Thundercracker is requesting permission to retreat."

"Request denied!" interrupted Starscream.

"The Symphony is launching her drones," Dirge continued. Attack drones dueled with the Piranhacons, clouding the sky with metal fragments.

Starscream noticed the fusion cannons often targeted separate targets. 'If I were the Autobot Commander, I'd have my artillery concentrate their fire on the Conquest, and then the Symphony, picking off the ships one by one.' The drones often got in the way of the cannons and each other. 'I'd have my infantry defend my artillery...' "Apparently, our enemies aren't proficient in combined arms tactics." He smiled. "Let's teach them a lesson!" He stood up, dramatically pointing at the main monitor. "Decepticons, attack! Target those fusion cannons!"

Optimus watched a Piranhacon ram the carrier cruiser's prow, destroying itself and transmitting a shock wave through the force field. The drones used suicide attacks to destroy two frigates. "Skydive, lead the MADs in defense of the fleet! Air Raid, Dinobots, follow me! We'll silence the enemy artillery!"

"Negative," countered Soundwave. "We must complete our mission: to kill or capture the Autobots on Thrull.

Optimus saluted. "I'll capture the enemy's master control." He turned to his subordinates. "Skydive, cover us!

"Yes, Sir!" Skydive's radio was upgraded, allowing him to simultaneously control seven MADs. He maneuvered around the space debris, using them as cover from the enemy's firepower. Although he was outnumbered 1000 to one, his tactics prevented the Piranhacons from exploiting their numerical superiority.

"Defend the fleet!" Optimus ordered as he led Air Raid and the Dinobots-- who were equipped with rocket packs-- to Thrull.

"Yes, Sir!" Skydive led the MADs towards the Symphony of the Night.

"Optimus comes," noted Pathogen.

"Oh, goody!" cheered Mutagen. "Detonate...!"

"No, you fool!" Carcinogen lashed Mutagen's mask of joy. "Wait until the ships are in range!"

Mutagen wore the mask of grief. "Yes, Your Honor."


Optimus fired his rifle, clearing the magnetic mines that barred them from Thrull's atmosphere. His antennas seemed to burn as he approached the highest mountain, where a transmitter flooded the sky with electromagnetic radiation. "There's the Autobot command center! Air Raid, jam the transmissions!"

"Yes, Sir!" The warrior launched a cruise missile, which detonated above the transmitter. The EMP silenced the transmitter and the Piranhacons it controlled.

Carcinogen wore the mask of grief. "The transmitter's been captured! We're doomed,"-- he wore the mask of joy-- "without the backup transmitter."

Mutagen shared the Chief Magistrate's joy. "Launch the second wave!"

"My pleasure." The Prosecutor, Pathogen's battleship, appeared behind Starscream's fleet. "Fire!" Antimatter reached from the Prosecutor's ten fusion cannons, towards the surviving frigates. The battleship launched 1000 Piranhacons as it approached Thrull, while its transmitter revived the 5700 drones that survived the first wave. The Decepticons knew there was no escape; instead of accepting defeat and destruction, they fought more valiantly, fiercely, and desperately. "Poor fools-- your deaths didn't have to be so painful," Pathogen said with feigned pity.

On Thrull, Air Raid examined the transmitter, while the Dinobots defended him. "This unit is automated!"

"It must be a decoy!" Optimus turned to the Dinobots. "Where...?"

"Too late, slaves!" 20 bailiffs led 40 Gatorcon land attack drones towards the captured transmitter. "Terminate with extreme prejudice!" They fought fiercely, unconcerned with their own survival, knowing the magistrates would sacrifice them to defeat the Decepticons.

Air Raid dodged a missile volley, which blew away the earth and rock concealing the detonator. "Shock me!" He rocketed after Optimus. "Sir, there's a neutron bomb big enough to put out the sun!"

"We must warn Soundwave!" He launched four missiles, destroying three dive-bombers and their bailiff flight crews. "Decepticons, retreat!" He led Air Raid and the Dinobots away from the mountain.


Starscream was directing the battle when Optimus exited Thrull's atmosphere, out of range of the bailiffs' jammers. "You found what?!"

"A neutron bomb whose blast radius could encompass this solar system. We must escape."

Starscream staggered when the Prosecutor targeted the Conquest, forcing the cruiser to dodge the volley with a violent maneuver. "There's no escape!"

"We must take out that battleship," noted Skywarp. "I'm gonna teleport into its bridge and capture its commander."

"I will order Skydive to cover you," added Soundwave.

Starscream watched the MADs intercept a Piranhacon squad, saving frigate F308. "Very well."

Pathogen ignored the fighters approaching his battleship, confident that the Prosecutor's armor and force field were impervious to whatever weapons they carried. He lashed the gunner. "If you can't destroy the command cruiser, I'll destroy you!"

"Y-y-yes, Magistrate!" The gunner turned to his console. "Ready, aim... Ahhhh!" he screamed when two missiles detonated beside him, destroying him and the console.

Skywarp's MGs targeted Pathogen. "Surrender or die."

Pathogen wore the mask of fear. "Carcinogen, s-s-save m-me!"

The Chief Magistrate's chilling voice filled the bridge. "You can kill him, Decepticon, but that won't save you. Detonate the neutron bomb!"

"Noooo!" cried Pathogen.

"Shock!" cursed Skywarp. "Sir, we got to get out of here!"

"You can't!" Carcinogen laughed. "In ten seconds, the bomb will be fully charged, and you...!"

The loudspeakers shook with another voice. "That destroyer is on a collision trajectory with the detonator!"

"Direct all firepower on the destroyer! Obliterate it!" ordered Carcinogen.

"It's not stopping!" cried Mutagen.

"No Decepticon could survive that!"

Skywarp watched the Terror burn as it entered Thrull's atmosphere. "Thundercracker!" A giant fireball consumed the ship and the highest mountain.

Red lights flashed. "The self-destruct!" Pathogen turned to a loudspeaker. "Spare me, Chief Magistrate! I'm still...!"

"Slag!" 30 HE bullets struck the Quintesson, killing him. Skywarp's MG was still warm when he teleported out of the Prosecutor. "The battleship's gonna blow!" he warned Skydive. They rocketed towards the Conquest; a lagging MAD was the only Decepticon casualty of the Prosecutor's self-destruct.

Starscream opened the hangar doors. "We're leaving!"

"But Guards Commander Optimus...!" The hangar's automated defenses shot Skydive. "Ahhhh!"

Skywarp caught Skydive as the strategist tumbled towards the closing doors. "Sir!" The Conquest activated its warp drive, throwing them against the wall. The Symphony of the Night and the five surviving frigates followed her back to Cybertron.

> 08 <

"Optimus' ill-conceived, ill-fated attack on the decoy transmitter-- followed by his cowardly decision to flee from the Autobot drones, instead of capturing their controllers-- was the direct cause of this disaster! If Shockwave had trained his troops better..."

"Negative," Soundwave stated in his brother's defense. "Poor intelligence,"-- he didn't notice Starscream smile at the word's alternate meaning-- "is the direct cause. If I had sent armed scouts ahead of the fleet, the casualty rate would have been reduced by..."

"Silence!" The Aerospace Commander pointed at his rival. "I formally challenge Shockwave for the title of Decepticon Central Police Commander!"

Megatron turned to his subcommander, one of the few people he'd trust. "Do you have anything to say in your defense, Shockwave?"

"I accept responsibility for Optimus' actions. However, Starscream didn't challenge my orders to the Red Guards when we planned this mission. As mission commander, he must share responsibility for the result." He faced the Aerospace Commander. "I challenge you to prove you would have led the Red Guards more effectively."

Starscream smiled. "The only proof I need is the testimony of the troops you trained." A monitor extended from his forearm; Shockwave wondered who'd testify for Starscream. "Nightracer!"

The Blue Guards Commander and her soldiers-- Crasher, Cop-Terror, and Destroyer-- marched into the throne room. "Yes, Aerospace Commander Starscream?"

"What orders did Shockwave give you during your campaign against the... What did Turbo's rebels call themselves?"

"Guardians," answered Nightracer. "We were ordered to capture them alive; Commander Shockwave suspected that Turbo was receiving aid from the Autobots, and wanted to interrogate the Guardians."

"And what was his plan for capturing the rebels alive?"

"He recruited a double agent, Scooter, who was supposed to give us the Guardians' IFF codes, and disarm the Guardian base's automated defenses."

"What did the codes do?"

"The codes alerted the sentries and allowed the automated gun turrets and missile launchers to track us; Zero," her predecessor, "Loco, and Tux died before we realized Scooter was playing with us. I deactivated my transmitter, becoming the sole survivor of that raid." She raised a fist. "When we finally captured Scooter,"-- Cop-Terror thrust his rotor blade through the double agent's chest, impaling Scooter upon a wall-- "I used a plasma torch to melt down the little beast's fingers, his hands and feet, his arms and legs,"-- Crasher used electric shocks to prevent Scooter from entering stasis lock, free from pain-- "and then I began melting down his abdomen. I made the little beast beg for death..."

"Thank you," Starscream impatiently interrupted. "You see, this isn't the first time Shockwave's... illogical behavior killed Decepticon soldiers, and if we don't act now, we'd be sending more soldiers to their deaths."

Nightracer turned to Starscream. "What do you mean?"

"What do you think I mean?" He smiled at her ignorance.

"I agreed to testify against Commander Shockwave's decision to trust an Autobot over a Decepticon; I'm not testifying against his function as my commander."

"I was not wrong to trust Optimus; a million battles have proven his loyalty to the Decepticons," stated Shockwave.

Starscream activated his lasercom. "If you testify in my favor, you can take Optimus' place; I'll promote you to the rank of Subcommander!"

Nightracer didn't use her own lasercom; she was sickened by Starscream's secrecy. "I don't need your kind of help."

Starscream smiled, hiding his anger at Nightracer's change of heart. "Fine. Amazons, attack!"

Moonracer rocketed into the room, transformed, and aimed a kick at Nightracer. The Gobot drew her pistol and fired, knocking Moonracer onto the floor. Firestar took advantage of the distraction by ramming Nightracer from behind, throwing her into the air.

Crasher watched the red female transform and draw a pistol; Firestar would shoot Nightracer while the Guards Commander was airborne and unable to dodge the laser beam. 'Should I help Starscream's toy, or Shockwave's?' She stomped the floor, sending lightning through the floor, towards the red female. Firestar cried when the floor exploded beneath her feet, throwing her on her back; the beam missed Nightracer by 50 centimeters. Crasher raised her arms to send ball lightning, which would fry Moonracer and Firestar's circuits, killing them. Skywarp teleported before her, blocking her view. "Argh!" Crasher screamed when his fist struck her breastplate, followed by a burst from his MG.

Cop-Terror and Destroyer targeted Skywarp; they didn't notice Firestar and Moonracer had recovered, until the Amazons tackled them. "Howllll!" Nightracer aimed her rifle at Firestar, and her pistol at Moonracer; Chromia was able to surprise the Guards Commander when she dived, kicking Nightracer's head.

Soundwave opened his bomb bay doors. "Ravage, Rumble, Frenzy, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Razorbat,"-- he launched six rockets, which transformed into a panther, two robots, two eagles, and a vampire bat-- "eject! Defend...!"

Shockwave put his arm before his brother. "Negative." Soundwave and his agents turned to him, confused. "Nightracer has betrayed me. She will correct her mistake, or pay for it." He calmly watched his elite unit fight Starscream's.

The Aerospace Commander wasn't as patient as his rival. "Bruticus!" The super warrior dived through the ceiling, ready to destroy everything in the room. "Crush him!" Starscream ordered, pointing at his rival.

"Skydive." The strategist and seven MADs surrounded Bruticus, ready to defend his commander.

Starscream laughed. "You're a fool, Shockwave, if you think eight puny drones can stop a super warrior."

Shockwave didn't bother to reply. "Combaticons, I call upon your debt of honor! Stand down!"

Bruticus separated into his component Combaticons. "Yes, Subcommander Shockwave."

"What?!" Starscream's cannon targeted Onslaught. "I gave you an order! Form Bruticus and crush him!"

"We cannot." Onslaught didn't dodge the null ray, which dissipated harmlessly upon his force field. "We will not harm someone to whom we owe a debt of honor."

Megatron smiled. "I'm impressed, Shockwave-- now I know why you upgraded the Combaticons. I'm glad I chose you to be my Subcommander." He turned to Starscream. "I have doubts about your leadership skills, Starscream. Maybe the Combaticons will fight better under Shockwave's leadership."


"Silence!" Megatron rose from his throne, ready to fight. "Combaticons, I hereby place you under Subcommander Shockwave's authority. Do you understand?"

The five Combaticons simultaneously answered, "Yes, Sir!"

Starscream wanted revenge-- against Megatron and Shockwave for taking away his command, Nightracer and Onslaught for defying him, and Soundwave for denying him the secrets of the Autobots' generator-- but his weapons were useless against a force field. He defiantly shouted, "Fine!" before facing Onslaught. "Just wait, you military morons. One of these days I will have my revenge!" He transformed and flew out of the room.

Shockwave approached Nightracer. "You are hereby relieved of command. Skydive!"

The strategist landed beside his commander. "Yes, Sir."

"I am placing the Blue Guards under your authority for a period of 40 hours. Afterwards, I will appoint a new Blue Guards Commander."

"Yes, Sir." Skydive raised a fist in salute.

Nightracer felt like her core was collapsing; Shockwave no longer trusted her. "Yes, Sir." She saluted.


Air Raid was parked in a cage, his wings bent and broken; a restraining bolt trapped him in fighter mode. The Dinobots-- who could still move, despite the restraining bolts-- growled as they pushed against each other and the cage they shared. Optimus was parked before Carcinogen and Mutagen; although the Red Guards Commander was trapped in fighter mode, Air Raid knew his optics expressed proud defiance.

Carcinogen wore the mask of rage. "Tell us the status of the Cybertronian defense apparatus."

"Tell me who you are, and where you've taken us," countered Optimus.

Mutagen showed Carcinogen his mask of thought. "The answer he suppresses is that Cybertron is not vulnerable to conventional attack." He showed Optimus his mask of joy. "Are there any known weaknesses in your defense system?"

"Countless drills have allowed us to find and eliminate all weaknesses." He secretly smiled. "If you don't believe me, you're welcome to test it. I know Commander Shockwave is preparing to test you." He suppressed his pain as Carcinogen lashed him.

"This is pointless!" exclaimed the Chief Magistrate.

"Then we must drive a point into him." Mutagen pointed at Air Raid. "Feed him to the Sharkticons!" Four Quintesson guards, the magistrates' arms, carried Air Raid out of the cage. A trapdoor opened before Optimus, revealing a pool. Raging waves reached for him; the Sharkticon execution drones had detected metal, and were in a feeding frenzy.

"Before the Sharkticons shred your body panels, crush your frame, and devour your core, do you have any last words?"

"The Decepticons will make you beg for death before we finally finish you." Air Raid suppressed a scream as he was thrown into pit. The Sharkticons swarmed around him, slashing his armor with their teeth. Soon...

"Noooo!" Optimus seemed to burn; the restraining bolt melted, allowing him to transform. He illuminated the room, like a shooting star, before diving into the pit.

The waves rose higher as the Sharkticons fought each other for a piece of the Decepticons. Carcinogen wore the mask of grief. "What a pity." He wore the mask of joy. "I wanted to hear him beg for his life!" The magistrates laughed as they closed the trapdoor.

Snap! Grimlock finally chewed through the lock. Clang! "Me, Grimlock, angry at squid face! Me crush squid face!" He ran out of the cage and jumped over the trapdoor, towards Carcinogen.

The Chief Magistrate lashed a button on his throne, raising a firewall between himself and his enemies. Clang! Grimlock crashed into the wall, denting it. More dents were made as the Dinobot rammed it, trying to break down the wall. Carcinogen heard a scream as Slag gored a guard. The floor shook as Sludge stomped on a Sharkticon, crushing it. "I want every bailiff, guard, and attack drone to the courtroom, immediately! We must...!" He saw triangular blades-- a Sharkticon's teeth-- pierce the floor panels. "The court is adjourned!" Carcinogen rocketed through the skylight.

"Chief Magistrate!" Mutagen tried to follow his leader. Then a dead Sharkticon burst through the floor. Optimus-- his combat wounds magically healed-- tossed aside the improvised tool, grabbed the Quintesson's tentacle, and slammed him against a wall. "Ahhhh!" His mask of joy broke when he fell upon the throne. "Ah-ha!" Optimus' plasma rifle was placed beside it, a trophy for Carcinogen. Mutagen wore the mask of rage as his tentacles coiled around the handgrip. "Dieeee!" He pulled the trigger. Click! "What...? Ahhhh!" he screamed as a fist shattered the mask of rage.

Optimus tore off two of Mutagen's tentacles, recovering his rifle. "The weapon cannot be fired by an unauthorized user." To fire, the sensor in the handgrip must first receive the arming code from a microchip in Optimus' hand-- or Shockwave's. "Surrender,"-- the rifle targeted the mask of fear-- "or die."

Mutagen slowly raised his remaining tentacles. "I s-s-surrender." He watched Optimus hit the button, lowering the firewall. "Eek!"

"Grimlock tear off squid face's tentacles! Then squid face...!"

"Not now; I want him to answer my questions." Optimus removed the restraining bolt on Grimlock's back. "Let's roll."

Grimlock transformed to recover his weapons. "Okay."

Five minutes later, the Inquisitor, Carcinogen's battleship, came to destroy the courtroom and everyone inside. It came too late; Optimus, Air Raid, and the Dinobots were already aboard the Executioner, Mutagen's battleship. The Decepticons used the ship's minelayer to discourage pursuit; the Executioner had disappeared by the time Carcinogen cleared the minefield.


"Unidentified vessel entering the defense space!" warned Thrust. Sentinel drones scanned the corkscrew-shaped ship. "Ten fusion cannons?!"

"Target the engines!" ordered Ramjet.

"Wait... It's transmitting an IFF code... It's the Red Guards!"

Optimus appeared on the monitor, radiating anger. "I demand to see your commander!"

Ramjet stepped behind Thrust. "I'm the GC." Starscream nominated him to the post, to buy his loyalty while denying him the power to challenge the Aerospace Commander; Megatron approved the appointment.

"My soldiers and I have recently escaped from an enemy prison, by taking an enemy commander hostage and commandeering his ship. I want repaireons to service us, military intelligence specialists to interrogate the prisoner, and engineers to inspect the ship."

Ramjet raised a hand. "Okay, okay, hold your engines!" He turned to Thrust. "Give him everything he wants."

Thrust was outraged. "Just like that?!"

Ramjet activated his lasercom. "Would you rather face Starscream's displeasure, or the Red Storm's?"

Thrust hid his fear as he ordered Skyraiders to escort two shuttles, each carrying a repaireon and an engineer, to the Executioner.

Ten minutes later, Optimus joined Ramjet in the interrogation room. "How are my soldiers?"

An earsplitting shriek filled the room as Dirge waved a plasma torch before a bloody stump, the remains of Mutagen's fourth tentacle. "Don't lie to me!" the air warrior demanded.

"Air Raid will recover in four hours. The Dinobots' injuries are minor; they'll all recover in one hour. Um,"-- he used his lasercom-- "are you sure it's a good idea to leave the Dinobots armed and unrestrained?"

"They fought well during the Battle of Thrull."

"For you?"

"For Shockwave. For the Decepticons."

Mutagen shrieked again. "We're not harboring any Autobot criminals!"

"Then why are you conspiring against us?!" A golden light was projected from the crown of Mutagen's head. "Gasp!" Dirge raised his arms over his optics; the torch fell, disintegrating upon the floor.

"Because I ordered him to," answered the disembodied head in a horned helmet. He faced Optimus. "Your time in the light is short. The Matrix will not save you; you will be destroyed with your measly little planet."

Optimus fearlessly approached the golden light. "Who are you?"

"I am one with the void." The light disappeared as Mutagen melted into a pool, the molten metal bubbling on the floor.

Ramjet turned to Optimus. "Is that thing gonna attack Earth?"

"No, Unicron is going to attack Cybertron."

"Unicron? How do you know that thing's name?"

"I just do." Optimus flew out of the room, determined to save Cybertron.


"Hurry, you brain-dead fool!" Carcinogen lashed the navigator as he plotted a course to Earth. "I want the Decepticons' mutilated bodies laid before me in four hours!"

"Y-y-yes, Chief Magistrate!" The navigator turned to the star chart, which suddenly burned with a golden light. "Ahhhh!" He collapsed onto the floor, covering his face; his eyes melted, flowing through his fingers.

Carcinogen wore the mask of fear. "H-h-how m-may I s-s-serve you, m-my master?"

"By dying."

Carcinogen kowtowed, knocking his head against the floor. "Spare me, Master! I've always served you loyally, without fail, and I'll continue serving you until the end of time!"

"Do not lie! I know you conspired to use the Matrix to enslave me!"

Carcinogen turned his mask of rage towards his crew. 'One of you betrayed me! I'll kill you all!'

"One of you betrayed me! I'll kill you all!" Unicron said in Carcinogen's voice, shocking the Quintesson. "You underestimate me, Carcinogen; I can read your mind now, as I have since I saved you from Sunzicon's wrath. Now face mine." The light disappeared.

A loud rumble was heard. The warning "ASTEROID COLLISION DANGER" appeared on the monitor. Carcinogen gasped as a giant metal sphere, six times larger than Quintessa, approached the planet. "Activate the core bomb and move us out of range!" The Inquisitor rocketed away from the planet, while the monitor counted down to the moment Quintessa exploded. Carcinogen wore the mask of fear as the shock wave shook the ship; he wore the mask of joy as he watched space dust drift away from where Unicron was. "A pity we did not witness the horror on his face as he died." He turned away from the scene, laughing. "To Earth!" The pilot was frozen in fear. "What are you waiting for?!"

"It isn't even dented!"

Carcinogen's tentacles flailed in terror as the space dust swirled; a giant maw opened on the sphere, consuming the debris from Quintessa's explosion. "Get me out of here!"

The pilot pushed the throttle forward, ignoring the "ENGINE OVERHEAT" warning. The ship moved backwards, despite the engines' thrust. "We're being sucked into it!" Carcinogen and the crew screamed as Unicron's maw closed upon them.

> 09 <

Planet Lithone was known for the Grand Library, where her people-- the Lithone-- kept copies of every record, every item of knowledge and wisdom. There were few warriors on the planet; the Lithone thought violence solved nothing, and chose to surrender peacefully when the Decepticons came. The surviving Aerialbots found Lithone to be the perfect place to hide.

"Jetstorm!" called Arblus, a journeyman astronomer.

"Yes, Sir!" Silverbolt ran towards his new employer.

Arblus frowned. "I am not a military officer! Do not address me as, 'Sir'!"

"Sorry... Arblus."

The librarian smiled. "Better." He handed several discs to Silverbolt. "Please deliver these files to Master Astronomer Dille. Take the skyhook; it's safer than the shuttles."

"Yes, S--" Silverbolt paused. "Arblus!" He ran out of Arblus' observatory, remembering not to use his jet mode.

Slingshot and Kranix, an apprentice astronomer, entered the observatory. "Here's your energon tea, Arblus."

"Thank you, Afterburner." Arblus turned away from his telescope, took the teacup, and slowly drank the tea.

"Have you discovered why Ron-5 disappeared?" asked Kranix.

"No, although the increase in luminescence, prior to the disappearance of Ron-5, suggests that the planet's core had exploded."

A golden orb suddenly appeared in the sky. "Hey, what's that?" Slingshot pointed at it. "A comet?"

"Hum?" Arblus turned to his telescope. "By the Matrix!" He dropped the teacup, which shattered upon the floor.

Silverbolt gasped when the skyhook car suddenly stopped, throwing him off his feet. "What...? Ahhhh!" he screamed when looked through the window.

Unicron opened his maw to release a glowing mist, an antimatter matrix, which drifted towards the planet. A space station, Silverbolt's destination, was the first to be consumed. The Lithone cried and screamed as they fled from the mist. A few froze in fear, knowing there was no escape from Unicron.

Arblus turned away from the ravenous mist, towards Kranix. "Transform and flee, my friends! You must warn all you meet of the horror of Unicron!" He screamed as the mist surrounded him, reacting explosively with his body.

"Arblus! No!" Kranix reached for his friend, but Slingshot stopped him.

"There's nothing we can do to save him!" He pulled Kranix away from the oncoming mist. The two could only transform-- Slingshot into a fighter, Kranix into a rocket-- and flee. They didn't look back; they didn't see the planet crack like an egg, releasing rivers of lava that flowed into the sky, pulled by Unicron's gravity. The antimatter matrix surrounded Lithone, consuming everything.


The Blue Guards waited in the hangar, watched by Skydive and his MADs. "He does not deserve to lead us." Destroyer didn't use his lasercom; he didn't care if Skydive heard him. "He did not prove himself to us." Nightracer proved herself by defeating Destroyer, Cop-Terror, and Crasher in three consecutive duels.

"Do you think his replacement will be any better?" asked Cop-Terror.

"We must test him."

"Or her," added Crasher. She smiled, turning to her former commander. "Don't you agree?"

Nightracer shook her head. "If my replacement gives an order that results in my death, I'll accept it as the price of failing Commander Shockwave."

Cop-Terror activated his lasercom. "She needs to cool down."

Destroyer didn't understand the term. "Her infrared signature is not above normal levels; I do not think she suffers from thermal damage."

"Guards, attention!" Skydive turned rearwards and saluted, while the MADs continued watching the Blue Guards. Nightracer, Crasher, Cop-Terror, and Destroyer saluted Shockwave as the Subcommander entered, followed by a female flyer.

Shockwave used his lasercom to communicate with Skydive, who saluted before leading the MADs out of the hangar. The Subcommander faced the Gobots. "Blue Guards, I present One, your new commander."

"Greetings." The flyer bowed.

"One was a member of the ICE," Intelligence and Counterintelligence Executor. "Soundwave authorized her transfer to the DCP, where she promises to serve with a mission capability of 95.0% or higher. I advise you to aid her with 100% of your power; further failure will not be tolerated." Shockwave exited the hangar.

Crasher, Cop-Terror, and Destroyer circled the flyer, trying to intimidate her. "So you're supposed to be our new commander."

"Affirmative," the flyer coldly answered.

The Gobots charged their weapons. "Do you really think you deserve this function?"

The flyer frowned. "Do you plan to test me?"

Crasher smiled like a wolf at the scent of blood. "Yes."

"Very well." The flyer bowed. "I will let you..."

Laser beams, rockets, and ball lightning raced towards the flyer. The target gracefully danced around the Gobots, dodging the attacks and counterattacking with hands and feet. Five seconds later, it was over; Cop-Terror and Destroyer laid on the floor, while Crasher kneeled before the flyer.

The flyer's energo-sword pointed at Crasher's throat, threatening to boil the metal. "F-f-forgive m-me!" Crasher begged. "I didn't know you're a silencer!" the ICE codeword for assassin.

Cop-Terror gasped when he recognized the flyer. "You're Zan the Executioner, the sword that shredded Leader-1!" Cy-Kill's predecessor.

"Affirmative." The flyer approached Nightracer. "Do you plan to test me?"

"No, One."

"Please call me Zan."


"I will earn respect as the Executioner, whose sword is unbreakable-- not as the sister of Guards Commander Zero, whose statue stands in the Hall of Heroes."

Nightracer knew the sisters were proud of their individual skills. "Very well."

Zan approached the hologram projector and inserted a disc. "This is Planet Lithone. It is the site of the Grand Library, where an agent was performing research for Spymaster Soundwave. 10.4 hours ago, all communications with Lithone were unexpectedly terminated." A hologram of a thin transformer appeared. "This is Hacker, the agent. Our mission is to travel to Lithone, report on the agent's status, and retrieve his records." A countdown was projected before a map of the planet. "You will be here in four hours, board a shuttle, and travel to Lithone. I advise you to study the map,"-- she already had-- "and make whatever preparations you feel are necessary. Any questions?" No one raised his or her hand. "Very well."


S454 was fastest shuttle under Soundwave's command; now it was under Shockwave's command. It carried Zan and the Blue Guards to Lithone's location in 35 hours, where surprise and confusion gripped their cores. "Where's the planet?" "Did the navigation systems fail?" "Performing self-test of navigation systems... Compass is go..."

Zan felt as if cryogenic coolant was pumped into her core. 'I'm flying into a trap!' "Evasive action!" She ignored the Gobots' shouts as the shuttle dived.

Clang! A giant metal sphere appeared behind S454, threatening to collide with it. "Where'd that come from?!" demanded Cop-Terror.

"Who cares?" Crasher scanned the sphere, which was moving away. "I'm more worried about where it's going!"

Nightracer activated the long-range radio. "Delta Two, this is Sigma One, over! We have an emergency situation at Lithone! I say again, we have an emergency situation at Lithone!" Static answered her call. "Our radio's being jammed!"

The alarm howled. "That monster's heading straight for us!" warned Crasher. She fired the shuttle's weapons; laser beams and missiles bounced harmlessly off of the sphere. "It must have a weak point! It must!"

Zan approached the door. "Nightracer, I'm going to create a diversion. Use this opportunity to escape-- you must warn Cybertron."

Nightracer turned to the silencer, expressing uncharacteristic shock. "But...!" Zan exited S454, transformed into a fighter, and rocketed towards the sphere.

Zan broadcast "Tenchu!" on all frequencies, calling the Sky Gods to bear witness as she delivered their vengeance to the sphere.

As Unicron turned away from S454, towards the fighter, gun turrets on his ring turned towards Zan, while doors opened upon the sphere surface. "Roarrrr!"

Laser beams and rockets reached for Zan, who danced out of the line of fire. She noticed lights on the metal ring encircling the planet; Unicron was still processing the energy and raw materials he gathered by consuming Lithone. Her instincts, honed by millions of battles, told her the lights might be vulnerable. The fighter transformed, drew her sword, and impaled it upon a light. Boom! "Ahhhh!"

"Howllll!" As his enemy spun helplessly through space, Unicron flew towards Zan. He opened his maw; antimatter flowed towards the flyer...

"Zan!" A doorway appeared in space. Nightracer hung from the doorway, reaching for the silencer. Zan caught her hand, and was pulled into the shuttle. The door closed; S454 was invisible again.

"I ordered you to escape," Zan hissed. "You disobeyed a direct order."

"To leave you behind would be to disobeying Shockwave's order: never allow military technology to fall into enemy hands."

Silence filled the shuttle as it slowly moved away from Unicron. Finally, Zan answered, "Very well."

Crasher smiled. "That monster has a weak point! If we target the lights on the ring..." The lights dimmed as Unicron generated armor to protect his radiators; Crasher stopped smiling.

Nightracer examined the hologram of Unicron. "It's evolving, adapting to our tactics."

"Then we will adapt to its tactics," said Zan, expressing confidence she didn't feel. "To Cybertron. Spymaster Soundwave and Commander Shockwave will find its weak point," 'I hope.'

Four hours later, they detected two transformers moving away from Lithone's location. "What are those flyers doing here in the middle of nowhere?" asked Destroyer.

"Answering our questions." Zan fired warning shots in front of the flyers, forcing them to stop. Cop-Terror exited the shuttle to capture Slingshot and Kranix, who lacked the energy to fight or flee.


Silverbolt was confused; all of his sensors were deactivated except for his optics, which detected only light. 'What is this place?'

"Welcome, Silverbolt."

"Who said that?"

"I am Unicron. I have summoned you here for a purpose."

"What do you want?"

"Bring me the Matrix. It is the one thing-- the only thing-- that can stand in my way." Unicron sensed neither defiance nor compliance, only despair. "You do not wish to serve me?"

"I'm not worthy. In an alternate universe, I served Optimus Prime and the Autobots. I failed them-- Optimus is now a Decepticon, and the Autobots are all dead."

"You wish to resurrect the Autobots?"

"I just want things back the way they used to be. I just want to wake up and see that Earth is free, my comrades are alive and well, and Optimus is..."

"Bring me the Matrix, and I will give you a chance to restore this universe to its original form."


"I will give you this power."

"Okay... I'll serve you."

"Excellent! Behold, Galvabolt!" Metal and plastic flowed into the light, forming a giant robot whose strong armor couldn't contain the powerful aura of fear it generated. The robot tested his new limbs, feeling his new strength. He had Silverbolt's face, expressing the fierce determination the Aerialbot never had. "And his armada!" Smaller robots resembling Galvabolt-- the way MADs resembled their controller, Skydive-- were formed.

"To Earth!" Galvabolt transformed into a forward-swept wing bomber and rocketed away from the giant metal sphere, followed by 99 Galvabomber drones.

Unicron's voice reached across the distant stars. "Bring me the Matrix!"


Ramjet gripped his carbine as he walked past the Dinobots-- whose security collars were removed-- towards Optimus, who was examining the sentinel drone he'd rebuilt into a booster rocket. "Are you sure this is necessary?" The Skywarrior spent the past 50 hours designing and building weapons for the warriors he'd rescued from Quintessa, with an engineering genius no one-- including Optimus himself-- knew he had. Air Raid was inspecting his new plasma carbine, Grimlock was attaching antitank missiles-- advanced versions of the ones Vortex used to single-handedly destroy entire Autobot squads-- to the stub wings over his shoulders, Slag had unfolded his new wings as his integral jet engines lifted him off the floor, and Sludge was playfully turning the gun turret on his back.

"Yes," answered Optimus. "Our enemy is stronger than any we've ever faced. We must become stronger to defeat him."


"Sir!" Skydive and seven MADs aimed their weapons at Optimus as they entered the hangar. "Commander Shockwave orders you to return to Cybertron immediately!"

"We will once we're ready."

"Ready for what? A revolt against Megatron and Shockwave?"

"How dare you question my loyalty?" Optimus lunged with surprising speed, gripping Skydive's throat before he or the MADs could shoot. "I do this to save Megatron and Shockwave! Unicron is determined to destroy Cybertron! We must...!" He raised his head, as if he could see through the ceiling. "Incoming!" He carried Skydive as he jumped, dodging an electron beam that neutralized the force field and penetrated the armored hull.

"Battle stations!" Ramjet transformed and flew towards the bridge. "Report!"

Thrust stared at the monitor, unable to hide his fear. "Enemy flyers just wiped out the sentinels!"

"How many are there?"

"I don't know; the enemy's using a jammer." He nearly fell from his chair when another electron beam hit the frigate. "They're tearing the ship apart!"

"Optimus!" Everyone in the ship heard the call. "Give me the Matrix! I must bring it to my master!"

"What's the Matrix?" asked Thrust.

"I don't know, but if the enemy wants it this badly, it must be important." Ramjet contacted the engineers on the Executioner, which was still in orbit. "Shrapnel, have you figured out how to operate the weapons yet?"

The Insecticon Commander frowned. "Don't underestimate our engineering genius-genius! Of course we can operate the weapons-weapons!" His optics widened in surprise when numbers appeared on his monitor.

"Target these coordinates with the heaviest weapons!" Boom! "Immediately!"

Kickback smiled. "Sounds like fun. Shall we dance?"

"After the fireworks-fireworks." He aimed the fusion cannons at the coordinates. Six antimatter beams shot towards six Galvabomber formations, annihilating five of them. Sparks flew harmlessly from three cannons, while one cannon exploded. "Shriek!" The bridge darkened. "Status report!"

"Cannon 03 just exploded! The reactor has shutdown!" Bombshell opened a panel, examining the circuits it covered. "Starting backup generator!" Tools extended from his fingertips; sparks flew as he repaired the circuits.

"Did we get them?" asked Kickback.

"Of course-course!" answered Shrapnel, expressing confidence he didn't feel. The Insecticons focused on repairing the battleship, hiding their fear for their beleaguered comrades. Ramjet and Thrust shot at the Galvabombers that rushed like mercury through the holes they blasted in the ceiling. Dirge and his Skyraiders were dogfighting Galvabombers up and down the skyhook that supplied the ship with petroleum from an Iraqi oilfield, using their bodies to block any shots that threatened this lifeline. And...

"Roarrrr!" "Grrrr!" "Sludge hates the way you look!" The demolitions specialist's two howitzers fired a volley, blasting three Galvabombers to pieces. "Sludge likes the way you look now!"

"Optimus!" Galvabolt reached for the Red Guards Commander. "Don't be afraid!" He fired his electron surge cannon.

"Silverbolt?!" Optimus dodged the electron beam. "You stink of Unicron!" He locked his arm around a Galvabomber's neck, broke it, and used the dead drone as a shield.

"You don't understand! I must save you from the evil Decepticons!" A plasma beam burned a hole in Galvabolt's left wing. "Ahhhh!"

"I understand perfectly!" Optimus squeezed the trigger... Boom! The floor shook, spoiling his aim. "Argh!"

"The skyhook's about to collapse!" warned Ramjet.

Optimus watched Galvabolt transform and rocket out of the hangar. "Dinobots, clear the hangar!"

Grimlock's jaws crushed a Galvabomber's head. "Grimlock will crush the enemy!"

"Red Guards, follow me!" He led Air Raid, Skydive, and the MADs out of the hangar, so they could protect the engineers repairing the skyhook. Five minutes later, the enemy had retreated.

Ramjet carefully stepped around the dead Galvabombers on the floor. "I just lost 24 Skyraiders-- that's 60% of my warriors! If the enemy returns..."

"They came for me. Once I leave, they'll have no reason to come here." Optimus and Air Raid linked themselves to the boosters, while the Dinobots boarded Skydive's shuttle.

"Are you sure?"


"Where'll you go?"

"We'll go to defend Cybertron."

Dirge, his armor scarred with electrical burns, approached Optimus' booster. "I'll go with you."

"No, your warriors needed here-- the Empire needs you here." He sensed Ramjet and Dirge's doubt. "Unicron is determined to exterminate the Transformer race. As long as one of us is alive and able to resist, he won't succeed."

The Skyraiders couldn't challenge Optimus' argument; they could only raise their fists in salute as the Red Guards and the Dinobots left.


"You have failed." Unicron watched his servant writhe in pain.

Galvabolt gritted his teeth, determined not to scream, to let this dim his spark. He silently suffered for an eternity before he could say, "I'll try again. Next time..."

"You will bring me the Matrix, or you will bring about your own destruction."

"Gasp!" Energy surged through Galvabolt; he generated armor, fortifying himself against enemy weapons. "Y-y-yes, Master!"

> 10 <

Kranix shivered in fear as he knelt before Zan. "Unicron is the Dark God of Destruction, who seeks to destroy all creation and restore the universe to its original form: a void. According to legend, Primus-- the God of Creation-- fought Unicron to determine the fate of the universe. Their battle raged for 10,000 years before Primus deceived Unicron, defeating him by imprisoning his essence in a metal planetoid.

"But the Dark God would not be denied; he exercised his psychokinetic powers to transform his prison into a new body with which to exact revenge. To meet this revived threat, Primus created a medium through which a hero could channel the power of the Origin of All Life-- the power to destroy Unicron. When the Matrix was forged, its light reached across space and time, giving life to the Transformers on numerous metal planetoids."

Crasher laughed. "Do you actually believe this scrap?" she asked her commander.

"I believe that mobile battle station is the greatest threat we have ever faced." Zan turned to Nightracer. "What is the status of the long-range radio?"

Nightracer held up a melted circuit board. "The jamming was powerful enough to destroy it. I recommend docking at the nearest Decepticon base to use its radio, as well as refueling and rearming."

"Acceptable." Zan turned to Crasher. "To Gobotron."

Sentinel drones surrounded S454 as it approached the planet. "Is the IFF transponder working?" Crasher asked, hiding her fear.

Nightracer glanced at her monitor. "Affirmative."

"Evasive action!" ordered Zan. The shuttle accelerated, dodging the plasma beams that reached for it.

Fear gripped Destroyer's core when he realized the drones were targeting the shuttle. "Why are they shooting at us?!"

Nightracer aimed the lasers at a drone's primary sensors. "Ask questions later." The blind drone shot and disabled a second drone, forcing its controller to activate its self-destruct.

Zan put her hand on Crasher's shoulder. "To the PDF HQ!" planetary defense force headquarters. The drones ceased fire when S454 dived towards the building; their controller couldn't take the risk. "Activate the short-range radio!" she ordered when the shuttle was at the same altitude as the antennas on the roof.

"Yes, Ma'am."

Zan faced the nervous Gobots on the roof, aiming weapons at the shuttle. "I am Guards Commander Zan! I demand to speak with your commander!" An electron beam answered her by disabling the engines; S454 crashed onto the roof.

"Thank you, Galvabolt." The integral lasers in Cy-Kill's arms targeted Zan and Crasher as they crawled out of the wreckage. "Greetings, One."

Zan was too outraged to feel fear. "What's the meaning of this?" she demanded.

Cy-Kill smiled. "A new power is rising-- with it, I'll soar to new heights!"

"You dare revolt against Supreme Commander Megatron? You're a fool."

Cy-Kill laughed. "When Unicron arrives, we'll see who was foolish and who was wise."

Crasher seductively smiled. "Do you have faith in my wisdom?"

Cy-Kill frowned. "I needed you to keep an optic on Shockwave's enforcer, to keep that oversized security camera from interfering with my affairs. Now that Shockwave's on his way to see Leader-1, I don't need you anymore."

Crasher charged her lightning generator. "You...!"

Cy-Kill fired a warning shot, missing Crasher's hand by one centimeter. "Be a good female and shut up!"

Galvabolt approached a gash on the shuttle side, cut open by an antenna. "Slingshot."

The bound Aerialbot gasped when he recognized his former commander. "Silverbolt?!"

"I am reborn as Galvabolt, Unicron's enforcer." He extended his hand. "Join me-- pledge allegiance to the Dark God of Destruction-- and together we'll remake the universe!"

"What are you gonna do?"

"I'll make Optimus rejoin the Autobot ranks."

"The Autobots don't exist anymore," stated Slingshot. "It's time to get on with our lives."

"No!" Galvabolt used his hands to widen the gash, so he could grab Slingshot's throat.

"Afterburner!" Kranix stepped forward, covering the gash to protect Slingshot. "Noooo!" he screamed when an electron beam pierced his breastplate, boiling his circuits as he fell.

"Kranix! Argh!" Slingshot cried as Galvabolt lifted him into the air.

"I won't give up! I won't abandon the Autobot cause!"

Cy-Kill turned to Galvabolt. "Do you need help taking out the trash?" An energo-sword pierced his spark core. "Argh!"

Nightracer pulled the sword out of Cy-Kill back. "I'll do it myself." She turned around, cutting off the Gobot renegade's head. "Zan!" She threw the sword.

The silencer caught the sword, jumped into the air, and lunged at Galvabolt. "Tenchu!"

Slingshot watched his former commander aim the electron surge cannon at Zan. "No!" He kicked Galvabolt's free arm; the electron beam passed harmlessly over Zan's shoulder.

The sword entered Galvabolt's armpit, reaching for his spark core. "Argh!" His forearm slammed against Zan's head, knocking her onto the floor and forcing the sword out of his side. "You dare betray a fellow Autobot by helping a Decepticon?"

"I choose not to betray the Autobot cause by serving a monster like Unicron," answered Slingshot.

Galvabolt's cannon targeted his former subordinate. I'm sorry."

"I'm not." Slingshot expressed no fear before the electron beam vaporized his head.

Galvabolt faced Zan. "As for you..." Laser beams, rockets, and ball lightning struck him. Nightracer carefully aimed her pistol, launching a grenade into Galvabolt's wound. "Argh!" The Galvabombers returned fire, protecting their commander; they escorted Galvabolt out of Gobotron's defense space, leaving behind the 96 dead Gobots.

A survivor crawled towards a wreck, hoping her friend was only in stasis lock. "Vamp! No!" She felt superheated plasma scorch her neck. "Gasp!"

"Name, rank, and function," demanded Zan, ready to cut off the renegade's head.

"Snoop, seven, reconnaissance."

"You will suffice." Zan moved the sword a millimeter to the left, forcing Snoop towards the lift. "We want energon, repair parts, ammunition, and a ship. If you fail to provide any one of these items, you will beg for death before I finally cut out your spark core. Do you understand?"

"Yes..." Snoop felt molten metal flow down her neck. "Gasp!"

"I am Guards Commander Zan! I will be shown respect!"

"Yes, Guards Commander Zan!" Snoop led the Blue Guards down the lift, towards Cy-Kill's throne room.


"When Unicron arrives, we'll see who was foolish and who was wise."

Megatron-- racing towards Lithone's former location-- and Shockwave watched the video. "What do you make of this?"

"The probability that the Autobots can build such a battle station is only 0.357%. I believe the station belongs to a previously unknown faction, which has allied themselves with the Autobots to challenge us," answered Shockwave.

"This supports our boxing champ's report, but..." Megatron frowned in thought. "Whose side is Optimus on? Was he working for the unknown faction all along?"

"I am unable to calculate this."

"Demand an answer from Optimus when he returns. Megatron out." The Decepticon Supreme Commander turned to his tactical monitor. Trypticon-- Megatron's battleship-- had higher speeds, stronger defenses, and deadlier weapons than any other warship in the universe. 'Is he strong enough? Am I strong enough?' Megatron dismissed the questions; he must not doubt himself or his warriors. "Spy drones, report."

"Sensors inoperable due to jamming from high level gamma radiation," a product of matter-antimatter reactions. "Sensors inoperable due to jamming from high level gamma radiation." "Sensors inoperable due to... Buzz!" The warning "VIOLATION ALERT" appeared on the monitor; someone was hacking into the drone's computer. "Welcome, Megatron."

Megatron stared at the dark monitor; Trypticon's sensors detected no mechanical life forms. "Who said that?"

"I am Unicron."

"Stop talking through a stolen drone! Show yourself!" Megatron hid his fear when Unicron emerged from the asteroid field, disintegrating metallic rocks as the sphere passed through them. "Decepticons, attack!"

Cruel laughter shook the spark cores of every warrior in the fleet. Unicron's weapons overpowered the frigates and destroyers' defenses, immobilizing them; the ships' weapons continued firing as he consumed them.

Fear paralyzed Starscream as he watched Unicron effortlessly destroy 27 ships. "Impossible!" The remaining 25 surrounded the sphere and began bombarding its surface, but their weapons couldn't penetrate Unicron's armor.

A volley destroyed Trypticon's nose and the plasma cannons mounted upon it. "Howllll!" Red light flooded the command center in his head, filling the crew with fear.

Another volley crippled the Conquest. "Abandon ship!" ordered Starscream.


Starscream's cannon targeted the gunner's head. "You can die now as I execute you for disobeying a direct order, or you can die later when that monster devours my ship!" The gunner followed the rest of the crew through the emergency exit; Starscream was the last to leave the ship.

Trypticon transformed into a Giganotosaurus, aiming the laser cannons and rocket launchers in his arms at Unicron. "You monster!" He opened the hatches on his back, raining nuclear missiles upon the enemy. "I'll blast you into...!" A volley severed his arms. "Howl!"

Starscream watched Unicron approach Trypticon. "Megatron!" He flew between the two, using null rays, laser beams, and missiles to provide covering fire. "Megatron, get your tailpipe out of here!" Laser beams severed his arms. "Ahhhh!" He saw a bright light, the antimatter in Unicron's maw. "Oh, how it grieves me to do this... to know that I'll never bring Optimus to his knees and make him crawl." He self-destructed; the resulting explosion shattered Unicron's mandibles.

Unicron's howl, an expression of pain and rage, shook Trypticon's bridge as the crew watched Starscream's last act of defiance. Finally, Megatron ordered, "Decepticons, retreat!" Some cruisers opened their hangar doors to admit the Conquest's crew; some didn't, leaving the Skyraiders behind as they activated their warp drives.

"Yes, Sir." Rumble. "What...?" "That thing's caught us with a tractor beam!" "We're all gonna die!" "Ahhhh!"

"Silence, fool!" Megatron shot the screaming navigator. "Where's the tractor beam projector?"

"T-t-t-there!" The gunner pointed at a lens above Unicron's maw.

"I'll destroy the projector."


"Trypticon, activate your warp drive immediately after I do so."

"Yes, Sir."

Megatron took off his crown, placing it on his throne. "Deliver this to Shockwave, so he can lead the Decepticons to victory." He marched towards the emergency exit.

Silence filled the bridge as the Decepticon Supreme Commander rocketed away from the battleship to fight his last battle. Boom! "He did it!" "Set course for Cybertron!"

Trypticon watched the sphere approach his commander. "Farewell, Megatron." He activated his warp drive, leaving the dead-- and those who were about to die-- behind.

Unicron angrily growled as he generated armor to cover the shattered lens; the new cover easily absorbed the antimatter beams. "Such heroic nonsense." Unicron's lasers dismembered Megatron, making him easier to digest.

"Argh!" The Decepticon Supreme Commander watched his severed arm fly past his head, pulled by Unicron's gravity. He defiantly shouted, "By any means necessary, victory shall be ours!" as the antimatter matrix consumed him.


The Blue Guards surrounded the Monsters, the elite of the Gobot Guardians. "You are Cy-Kill's enforcers, his accomplices; you took part in his revolt. However, I understand that you were only following orders; I will be merciful. Swear loyalty to Subcommander Shockwave, or..." Zan slashed, a blow that could simultaneously kill all three Monsters.

Pincher, Scorp, and Scales-- in his Komodo dragon mode-- faced each other, using lasercoms to discuss their options. Finally, Pincher faced Zan. "I, Pincher, swear loyalty to Shockwave."

"I, Scorp, swear loyalty to Shockwave."

"I, Scales, will serve as long as I have something to kill!"

"Acceptable." Zan turned to Snoop. "Take us to the ship."

Cy-Kill's battleship was a copy of Trypticon; Snoop stole his blueprints from the Cy-Kill Shipyards, which assembled 40% of Trypticon's components. Although Zod lacked the integral supercomputer that made Trypticon so effective in battle, his strong armor and firepower would allow him to challenge his big brother. Pincher handed Zan the remote control, which she used to open the hangar doors.

In the bridge, the Blue Guards sat in the gunners' chairs, while the Monsters sat in the pilot and navigator's chairs. Zan stood before the captain's chair. "To Cybertron!"

A shuttle and two sentinel drones greeted Zod after the ship exited the defense space. "This is the Red Guards," stated Optimus. "Identify yourself, or be destroyed!"

Zan transmitted her IFF codes. "This is the Blue Guards. We are on a mission; we will not tolerate any interference."

Optimus confirmed Zan's identity. "Greetings, One. Are you now under Shockwave's command?"

"I am now the Blue Guards Commander."

"Congratulations on your promotion." The Red Guards and the Dinobots rocketed past Zod.

Nightracer's core burned in anger. "How dare that Autobot ignore me?"

"Optimus is not an Autobot; he is our comrade," corrected Zan.

"How can you accept him as your comrade?"

"I'm afraid to accept him as my enemy." Zan's answer shocked Nightracer, silencing her. "Guards Commander Optimus, is Cybertron your destination?"

"The Red Guards go to defend Cybertron from an approaching enemy."

"We share a common destination. Our ship is powerful, but a cunning enemy can find and exploit its weakness. We..."

"Very well, we'll escort your ship to Cybertron." The Red Guards decelerated to match Zod's speed. Optimus and Air Raid defended the ship's right and left sides, respectively, while Skydive's shuttle defended the rear.

The Decepticons didn't consider the possibility an enemy was audacious enough to attack Zod's front; they were surprised when an electron beam neutralized the ship's force field, scorching the nose. "Battle stations!" Zan ordered as the Red Guards engaged the Galvabombers.

Galvabolt intercepted the Red Guards Commander, who separated from the booster-- which Optimus ordered to support Skydive-- to increase his agility. "Optimus, give me the Matrix!" A plasma beam answered him, scorching his reinforced armor. "Argh!" Galvabolt transformed into his robot mode. "I'm sorry; you give me no choice." He fired his cannon.

Optimus rolled, dodging the electron beam as he rocketed towards Galvabolt. He transformed and kicked the cannon-- the second shot passed harmlessly by his side-- and grabbed Galvabolt's shoulders.

Galvabolt howled when Optimus tore off his breastplate to launch a missile at his exposed fuel tanks, blasting him in half. "It burns, it burns!" He blindly fired his cannon as he rolled away from Optimus; one shot destroyed a Galvabomber.

"This is my choice." As he targeted Galvabolt's head, an electron beam hit his backplate. "Argh!" Optimus turned around and shot the attacking Galvabomber; when he turned back, two drones had carried Galvabolt out of the rifle's maximum effective range. "Silverbolt, you coward!"

Boom! Zod shook as a Galvabomber launched a suicide attack against his left leg, damaging the rocket engine within. "Optimus, we're outnumbered and outgunned. We must retreat while we can!" advised Zan.

Optimus roared with rage, shaking the Decepticons with the strength of his hatred, before answering, "Agreed."

Zan turned to Scorp, the navigator. "Set course for these coordinates," the location of a secret ICE base.

"Yes, Ma'am."

Zan watched the Red Guards and the Galvabombers dogfight around Zod. "Optimus, here's the rally point. We're going to warp; we'll see you there."

Optimus' booster-- which had an integral warp drive-- crashed into a Galvabomber between it and its master, shattering the drone and scattering the pieces. "Red Guards, Dinobots, retreat to the rally point!" Optimus ordered as he linked to his booster.

"Yes, Sir!" Air Raid and the shuttle followed Optimus' booster into warp, unaware that the coordinates were incorrect; Galvabolt's cannon damaged Zod's radio, preventing Zan from transmitting every number in the coordinates. When the Red Guards and the Dinobots exited warp, they found themselves in a cloud of metal debris, an astral graveyard.

"Where the shock are we?" "What is this scrap heap?" the Dinobots demanded, hiding their confusion behind impatience, their fear behind rage.

The Red Guards were silent, their questions buried by faith in their commander's judgment. They followed Optimus as he flew around fragments of armor, examining the broken frames of what used to be the most powerful warships in the galaxy.

"By the Matrix!" Optimus approached the largest ship, a metal cross that was blasted in half by an antimatter weapon. It looked like a broken sword-- it deserved to be put in a museum, protected and respected as the weapon it was. The Dinobots became quiet as Skydive's shuttle followed their commander towards the ship's hangar, pilgrims marching towards the holy land.

"What is it?" asked Air Raid.

"The Tianzi, flagship of Sunzicon's colonization fleet." Optimus separated from his booster and transformed. "Air Raid, follow me. Skydive, Dinobots, cover us."

"Yes, Sir!" Air Raid separated from his booster and transformed. His plasma carbine targeted the hatch, ready to shoot any enemies behind it, as Optimus opened it. The Red Storm quickly scanned the hangar before entering, followed by Air Raid.

> 11 <

Alpha faced the other members of the Decepticon War Council: Acting Decepticon Supreme Commander Shockwave, ICE Commander Soundwave, Logistics Commander Octane, Acting Aerospace Commander Skyfire, and Expeditionary Force Commander Brawn. "We must not let Unicron destroy Cybertron. We must activate the planetary turbines and move Cybertron to a safe haven."

"Is that all that you've got, cowardly Autobot? To run and hide, instead of standing our ground and fighting back?" Brawn demanded. "What next? Will you suggest that we get on our knees and be for mercy?" The grenade launcher in his left arm targeted Alpha, ready to punish the Autobot's cowardice.

Shockwave-- wearing the crown-- stood up. "Control yourself, Commander Brawn." He turned to Octane. "Do we have sufficient fuel to transport Cybertron a minimum of ten light-years from its current position?"

"Yes, but I believe our combat units have better uses for the fuel," added the Logistics Commander.

"I studied Trypticon's logs, and calculated that we have a 0.454% probability of victory. We are transporting Cybertron in order to buy time, so that we can develop weapons and tactics to increase the probability of our victory."

Octane couldn't think of a logical argument against the proposal. "Very well."

The Decepticons placed a restraining bolt on Alpha's back, bound his arms together, and led him to the elevator that would carry them to Cybertron's core. Two hours later, the Autobot elder followed Shockwave and Octane as they marched out of the main elevator, into the planetary turbines' main engineering room.

Dion and Reflector followed the three, recording the Acting Supreme Commander's actions for a propaganda video. "It's been 1,000,000 years since we used the turbines," to move Cybertron into a star's orbit, giving them a source of solar energy. "I hope they are still functional," the cameraman said.

"Hush!" Dion and Reflector watched Octane examine the fuel pumps, while Shockwave examined the controls.


The Decepticons turned to a ventilation shaft, the source of the sound. Dion hid his fear as he asked, "What was that?" They weren't prepared for the answer, a pillar of fire-- a Transmutate worm, its body glowing with radioactivity-- that burst through the ventilation fan, knocking it into the floor.

"Ahhhh!" Reflector froze as he tried to identify the monster; he only feared the unknown, and this was an unknown. The worm's coils encircled Reflector, cracking his armor as it drained his energy. "Argh!"

"Reflector!" Dion drew his laser pistol and shot at the worm. The beams didn't harm the monster-- who simply absorbed the energy-- but they distracted the worm; Reflector separated, slipping free of the coils. Dion continued shooting, covering the Reflector Trio as they crawled away from the monster.

The worm turned its head, searching for more energy. It detected the fuel in the pumps; Octane gasped when the monster opened its mouth, revealing hundreds of sharp teeth.

"Continue the mission." Shockwave moved in front of Octane, aiming his gamma ray amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (graser) cannon-- a super weapon he secretly developed, with a laser's accuracy and a plasma weapon's power-- at the worm. The monster shrieked as the graser beam burned its skin; it couldn't absorb gamma radiation. Shockwave focused the beam on the worm's head as he moved sideways, drawing its attention away from the fuel pumps. The worm turned its head...

"Sir!" Dion pushed Shockwave onto the floor; the tail of the worm lashed Dion's chest, throwing him over Shockwave's prone body. "Ahhhh!" He crashed through a metal wall.

The monster-- guided by something beyond itself-- rammed Octane, throwing him away from his post; the Decepticon could only watch the worm lock its jaws around the fuel pumps, crushing them. "No..." he whispered before entering stasis lock.

Alpha watched the Reflector Trio crawl towards the auxiliary elevator. "I can stop the Transmutate! Release me!"

"Why should I trust you?" Boom! The Trio turned rearwards, watching the monster destroy the planetary turbines' controls. The worm shrieked as another graser beam hit it; then it generated armor to protect its head. Shockwave gasped; then the monster slammed him against the floor, forcing him into stasis. The worm crawled towards the main elevator.

"We have no choice! If the Transmutate escapes to the surface...!"

"Very well." Reflector Trigger removed the restraining bolt, while Flash and Lens used their lasers to cut the bindings.

Alpha ignored the pain in his rusty servomotors as he ran; the monster was slamming its head against the elevator's armored doors, denting them. Clang! The doors collapsed, allowing the worm's head to squeeze into the main elevator. 'I'm too late!'

"Argh!" Dion charged towards the monster, grabbing its tail. His jet engines roared as he pulled, trying to stop the worm from crawling up the elevator shaft. He could only slow it down; a structural beam pierced Dion's spark core when he was slammed through the wall, robbing him of his strength.

Fortunately, Dion's courage bought Alpha the time he needed. The repaireon removed a chip off the Matrix-- a reminder of his former identity as A-3, when he served Sunzicon during the Revolution-- from his electronics bay. "Until all are one!" Alpha raised the chip over his head, channeling energy from his spark, into the one thing that could stop a spawn of Unicron. Blinding light filled the room-- the monster shrieked as the light penetrated its armor and its skin-- then silence. The worm's body, covered with burns, collapsed like a deflating balloon. Alpha's body, the paint burned away to reveal the gray metal it covered, shattered like glass.

The light rebooted Shockwave and Octane's CPUs, awakening them. The Acting Supreme Commander approached the Propaganda Commander. "Report."

"Sir?" Dion was blind; his damaged core couldn't provide energy to his optics. "Did we... win?"

"Yes," Shockwave lied.

Dion smiled. "I'll report your victory to..." The Propaganda Commander fell silent; the chip off the Matrix wasn't powerful enough to save him.

Despair gripped Octane's core when he saw the damage caused by the monster. "What are we gonna do?"

"We will all fight with honor, or we will all die with honor." Shockwave marched past the Reflector Trio-- who kneeled, expecting punishment for their apparent cowardice-- before entering the auxiliary elevator.


"Gasp!" Optimus almost collapsed, holding a hand over his core. 'Dion!'

Air Raid turned to his commander. "Sir?"

"I'm fine." Optimus straightened himself. "Continue." 'I cannot be distracted... I cannot let his sacrifice be in vain.'

"Yes, Sir." Air Raid turned to monitor, his fingers dancing on the keyboard as he searched the ship's logs for info. "I found it!" He opened the last files recorded by the Tianzi's defense system.

A hologram of a flyer, his strong body protected by golden armor, appeared. "State your name, rank, and function!" the legendary Sunzicon demanded.

A disembodied head faced the Decepticon Supreme Commander. "I am Unicron, the Dark God of Destruction. I am here to return the galaxy to its true form... to recreate the darkness by destroying the light. You are Primus' creation, the stars' guardian... you will join them in the lifeless void." The head disappeared, allowing Sunzicon to see the giant metal sphere on the monitor.

Fear gripped the cores of the crewmembers. "By the Matrix!" "It's huge!" "We're all gonna die!"

Sunzicon drew his energo-sword; the crewmembers controlled their fears, empowered by this symbol of courage. "Decepticons, attack!" Red lights-- plasma beams from the Tianzi's cannons-- reached for the sphere, only to dissipate harmlessly upon its surface.

Optimus and Air Raid saw the fear in Sunzicon's optics, a weakness the legendary strategist hid from the crew. Sunzicon continued giving orders, encouraging the Decepticons to fight on, until Unicron blasted the Tianzi in half. Static clouded the monitor as the strategist ordered, "Abandon ship!" The static dissipated to show Sunzicon rocket towards Unicron, his sword reaching for the Dark God's left optic as its light burned away the strategist's golden armor; then darkness and silence enveloped the Red Guards.

Optimus raised his rifle in salute. "Strength in honor!" he called as Sunzicon once called to his warriors.

"Honor in victory!" replied Air Raid, identifying himself as one of Sunzicon's warriors. 'Your war is now ours to fight. Rest in peace... we'll destroy Unicron.'


"What's taking them so long?" Slag impatiently asked.

"Recon missions require time and patience," reminded Skydive.

"Too much time," commented Grimlock. "Maybe they fell into a trap... Maybe we should check them out."

"I hope it's an ambush!" Sludge's left hand caressed the howitzer barrel lying horizontally over his shoulder when he was in robot mode, a hunter playing with his favorite hound. "I wanna face more enemies! I wanna blast them to pieces!"

"Hush!" Beep-beep-beep! The motion detector drew Skydive's attention away from the Dinobots, replacing his anger with worry. "Identify!" he ordered the four MADs that stood outside the shuttle, protecting it.

The MADs targeted the skeleton that suddenly appeared before the shuttle. "Mechanical life form-- Cybertronian." "Fusion reactor detected-- reactor core has 75.0% structural damage, fuel cell is 4.70% charged, 3.00% probability of restart." "Plasma cannon detected-- fuel cell is 0.00% charged, 0.00% probability of firing." Golden armor-- reflecting the light of a thousand distant suns, burning like a sun itself-- covered the skeleton's arms, shoulders, and chest. "Armor is coated with an alloy, which has traces of gold and silver-- alloy is unidentified."

"Unidentified?" echoed Skydive.

Grimlock stared at the skeleton, recognizing the wings and talons of the dead Transformer's dragon mode. "It's electrum," which made Sunzicon invulnerable to energy weapons and invincible in battle. The formula was lost with the legendary strategist; Soundwave, who ordered the late Hacker to scan the Grand Library for a formula that wouldn't wear off after a few hours, was one of many scientists who tried to make electrum... and failed.

Skydive turned to the Dinobot Commander, unable to hide his surprise. "You mean...?"

Grimlock exited the shuttle; he knew he must face the skeleton. The MADs kept aiming their weapons at the skeleton, covering his approach. Slash! The skeleton moved too quickly for the MADs to stop it; although its energo-sword was deactivated, it could've crushed the Dinobot's head. Grimlock was barely able to defend himself, clapping his hands around the antenna to stop the sword, now 10 cm above his head. "Grrrr!" The Dinobot pushed the antenna sideways as he turned, trying to disarm his opponent.

'What are you fighting for?' asked a voice in Grimlock's head.

Grimlock shouted, "I fight for Cybertron!" which the Dinobots promised to protect when they swore allegiance to Shockwave.

The skeleton smiled. 'You have a warrior's spark, which shines for battle.' It shattered into a million pieces, a million little stars that sheathed Grimlock in their light. 'Don't let it extinguish... don't let Unicron extinguish it...'

The Dinobot gripped the handle, transmitting energy to recharge its integral fuel cell. Superheated plasma surged upon the antenna, burning away the black ice that covered it for 15,000,000 years; the sword was a hero's weapon again.


The Dinobot raised his head as Optimus and Air Raid approached the shuttle. "I, Grimlock, challenge the Red Storm for leadership over the Red Guards!" He ignored Air Raid and the MADs, who targeted him. 'I wield Sunzicon's sword; I am invincible.'

Skydive aimed his laser rifle at Sludge, and the missile launchers on his left arm at Slag; both Dinobots targeted the strategist. This standoff prevented Skydive from aiming the shuttle's weapons at Grimlock.

"Red Guards, stand down," ordered their commander, ending the standoff. "Very well. I, Optimus, answer Grimlock's challenge... with arms!" He fired his rifle at the Dinobot.

Grimlock used the sword to parry the plasma beam, rocketed towards Optimus' position, and slashed at the neck of his opponent. 'Victory!' He panicked when Optimus rocketed forward, moving too close for the plasma blade to hit its target. "Gasp!" Optimus' right hand covered Grimlock's, restraining the Dinobot's sword arm; his left hand closed into a fist to strike the back of Grimlock's neck. "Grrrr!" Static clouded Grimlock optics; when they cleared, he saw the missiles on Optimus' left arm, ready to blow up his head.

"You have a hero's weapon and the courage to use it, but you also need to know when not to use it to be a hero-- to hear all Transformers cheer, celebrating your victory."

"Why won't you kill me?"

"We both have important roles to play in the coming battle, which is too important for us to waste time and energy on this." Shockwave didn't believe in destiny; Optimus didn't know why he said something his mentor would've dismissed as illogical, but something beyond logic guided him.

Grimlock threw back his head and laughed. "You talk like a real leader," unlike Ultra Magnus or Starscream, whose leadership he disdained. "I swear allegiance to you." He deactivated the sword and handed it towards his former rival.

Optimus put his hand in front of Grimlock's. "Keep the sword; it's the key to your destiny." He led the Dinobot towards the shuttle before linking to his booster.

> 12 <

Zan stood in the Hall of Heroes, staring at Zero's statue. 'We face an enemy beyond the full strength of any and all Decepticons. Despair reaches for my core, like an energo-sword blade, and I cannot fight this feeling by myself. What will you say if you see me now, Sister? Will you understand and express sympathy? Or will you...?' She sensed someone approach her from behind; she aimed the missiles on her left arm rearwards, while her right reached for her sword.

"You fought honorably; Zero would've been proud of you," claimed Nightracer.

Zan lowered her head in thought. "Would she? Shogun, our creator and master, taught us that victory brings honor, and honor is more important to our lives than energon. If we are not victorious, we must choose an honorable death over a shameful life. When Zero fell before striking a deathblow against the treacherous Guardian... before accomplishing her mission... I considered her death dishonorable, and disowned her. Now that I find myself facing a similar end..."

"That won't be your end; there's still hope."

"Is there? Or are we deluding ourselves, as Straxus did before the Battle of Perihelion?" when the Decepticon Army was routed and its commander was destroyed.

"Commander Shockwave's logic protects him from the arrogance that led to Straxus' downfall; it protects us as well."

Zan faced Nightracer; a cold, calculating stare penetrated the optimism that restrained Nightracer's despair. "Logic must guide strength, confidence in one's strength fuels courage, and courage must propel logic; all three factors must be present to deliver victory. Where can we find the strength to protect Cybertron from Unicron?"

Nightracer lowered her head in thought before facing Zan. "Optimus' courage is proof that he found it; we too shall find it."


Molten metal and plastic flooded the repair chamber, burning Galvabolt. "Ahhhh!" He was in excruciating pain as his body was repaired, and reinforced by armor to defend him against the attack that made the repairs necessary. 'It hurts!'

"Galvabolt." The thundering voice shook the former Autobot, who felt it through the pain. "You disappoint me. Despite the power I gave you, you remain unable to defeat Optimus-- to tear the Matrix out of his dead fingers and bring it to me. Why?"

"I tried, I really tried... but he gets stronger every time we fight! I don't know what else I can do!"

Unicron examined Galvabolt's memory, trying to find the Red Storm's weakness. "If Optimus is able to use the Matrix to strengthen himself and access the knowledge of past Primes, the powers stored within its facets, then he's a greater threat than I imagined... I need another way to bend him to my will."

Silence. Then a blinding light pierced Galvabolt's head, filling him with energy. "Ahhhh!" It was more than he could handle.

"I have given you the power to enter people's minds, to read their thoughts and to manipulate them in my... in your favor. Use this power to make Optimus see the truth through your optics, and he will surrender the Matrix."

"Yes, Master!"


Optimus' booster shot through space-time at warp speed, followed by Air Raid and the shuttle. 'I can feel the void approach Cybertron, threatening to consume it... I must stop Unicron before he reaches his goal.'

Boom! The navigation systems detected a supernova in front of the boosters and the shuttle; they automatically deactivated the warp drives to prevent a collision, a certain death at warp speeds. "Argh!" "Grrrr!" The sudden deceleration felt like a punch to the Decepticons. They shook their heads to clear their CPUs; then they saw 50 Super Galvabombers-- redesigned drones with heavier armor to protect their twin reactors, which powered heavier weapons.

"Stupid computer lead us into a trap!" Grimlock raised his fist, suppressing the urge to crush the computer.

Skydive stared at the monitor. "They're using a matter-antimatter reaction to simulate a supernova and trigger our safeties!" He set the sensors to tactical mode. "What the hell is that?!" He looked through the windshield, not believing what the monitor displayed. The human expression was fitting; the giant Transformer resembled the supernatural being known as "The Devil."

"Optimus!" Galvabolt-- the metal Devil-- rocketed towards his target, followed by 30 drones.

"Silverbolt!" Missiles and plasma beams reached from Optimus' booster to the metal Devil. Super Galvabombers moved in front of the fiery fingers, shielding their controller. The booster's weapons blasted holes in the drones' armor, forming a metal cloud that interfered with Optimus' sensors; then a talon shot through the cloud. The Red Storm barely dodged the blow. 'My long-range weapons are useless! Their armor is too strong!'

"Sir!" Air Raid and Skydive accelerated; the booster and the shuttle's weapons targeted the Super Galvabombers pursuing his commander.

"Leave me! You must continue your mission!" Optimus rolled, dodging another talon. "Go! I'll distract your pursuers!"

"Yes, Sir!" Air Raid and Skydive turned around, their navigation systems plotting a course around the simulated supernova. Talons reached for them...

"Superlink!" Optimus' booster seemed to explode as it transformed into armor, giving the Red Guards Commander a guardian's strength. This confused the Super Galvabombers' tactical systems, giving Super Optimus the element of surprise. "Die!" He punched through a breastplate, crushing a core. "Die!" He shattered a helmet, crushing a CPU. "Die!" Giant fists penetrated the Super Galvabombers' armor, succeeding where missiles and plasma cannons failed. "Die!" Super Optimus killed his way towards Galvabolt, the controller.

Air Raid and Skydive watched the Super Galvabombers end their pursuit, turning around to rescue their controller. "Farewell, Optimus." They went into warp, abandoning one battlefield for another.


Unicron glided through space-time. His warp drives were powerful, but limited in their ability to propel his planetary mass. He was patient; he knew the Transmutate-- created by the Quintessons and brought under his control when Carcinogen pledged allegiance to him-- had destroyed Cybertron's planetary turbines, robbing the Transformers of their hope for escape. The Transformers' cores were filled with despair at the inevitable: Cybertron's destruction and their extinction.

The Dark God watched the approaching strike force Shockwave hastily assembled from various system defense forces-- a battleship, two cruisers, six destroyers, 18 frigates, 250 shuttles, 12 sentinel drones, and 70 interdictor drones. 'Fools. Don't they know they're doomed? Or do they believe they still have a chance?' The interdiction fields-- the interdictor drones' artificial gravity fields-- weren't powerful enough to force him out of warp; Unicron chose to exit warp. He engaged the Transformers, letting them shoot first to demonstrate his power and break the Transformers' will; he saw, but didn't feel the missiles, bullets, laser and plasma beams that bounced harmlessly off his reinforced armor.

Zan watched a burning light appear as Unicron opened his maw. "Evasive action!" Zod rolled, dodging the antimatter beam that destroyed a cruiser, four destroyers, ten frigates, and 50 shuttles.

Brawn leaned forward, steadying himself as the Brute Force, his assault cruiser, climbed to dodge the antimatter beam. "Bring it on, you ugly maker-shocker!" He stood before the command console-- Brawn thought better on his feet, and removed the captain's seat from the Brute Force-- to personally aim the cruiser's weapons.

Unicron turned to Zod, ignoring the plasma beams and cruise missiles from the Brute Force; he didn't detect Expeditionary Force Subcommander Powerbomb, who led Brutal Assault Drones (BADs)-- heavy attack drones that Powerbomb designed to complement the lighter MADs-- towards him, under the covering fire. Powerbomb's strike team flew close to the sphere surface, seeking openings in Unicron's armor; they fired illumination grenades at the openings, designating targets for the warships' weapons. "Howllll!"

The Transformers cried in pain and covered their antennas, feeling the psychic energy that broadcast Unicron's rage; smiles replaced their frowns when they saw armor plates fly from the sphere.

"Keep it up!" demanded Powerbomb.

"Keep up with me!" answered Brawn as the Brute Force fired another volley. Boom! "Argh!" he grunted as Unicron rained laser beams and missiles upon his ship, blasting it aside like a punching bag. The Expeditionary Force Commander pressed buttons on the useless console, trying to fire another volley; then he angrily stomped on the floor, denting it. "Armorer, fix this thing!" he demanded.

An armorer approached the command console; he panicked when he saw Unicron's maw on the main monitor. "We're all going to die!" Two grenades detonated against his breastplate, destroying his core. "Ahhhh!"

Brawn's grenade launcher was still warm when he kicked the dead armorer away from the console. "Shocking defeatist!" He faced the Transformers in the bridge; his anger burned away their fear. "We're Decepticons-- we never give up!" The Expeditionary Force Commander opened a panel on the console, trying to fix it before the maw closed upon his ship.

"Tenchu!" Zan ordered Zod to ram a hole in Unicron's armor. "Roarrrr!" The Giganotosaurus locked his jaws upon the tractor beam projector. He tore out the projector, freeing the Brute Force.

"Howllll!" Unicron's rage paralyzed Zod; the Giganotosaurus couldn't defend himself against the cables that rose from the hole, coiled around his waist, and threw him towards Unicron's maw. The terrifying sound of metal against metal filled Zod's microphones, promising great pain and suffering.

"Superlink!" Air Raid's booster transformed into armor the moment he exited warp. The Red Guard punched, shattering Unicron's mandibles and scattering the pieces; he used a broken mandible to cut the cable and free Zod.

"Decepticons!" called Brawn. "Rock and roll!"

Zan knew the slang meant performing a coordinated attack. "Affirmative." The silencer ordered Zod to "rock"-- provide covering fire-- while Powerbomb's strike team "rolled"-- launched an assault. Zan watched Air Raid, Powerbomb, and the BADs exploit the holes in Unicron's armor, damaging the systems underneath; Zod's laser cannons suppressed the weapons that studded the sphere surface, preventing the Dark God from repelling the assault and denying him a chance to repair and reinforce his body.

"Roarrrr!" Unicron's roar was broadcast on all frequencies, burning the Decepticons' antennas with its strength. They tried to put their hands over their antennas, but the Transformers were paralyzed.

'EMP!' Brawn thought as he laid on the bridge floor, waiting to be destroyed.

Crasher knelt before the main monitor, watching Unicron generate stronger mandibles to replace what Air Raid destroyed. "I never thought I'd die on my knees, a sacrifice to Cancer."

Zan weakly raised her hand, trying to reach a button on Zod's command console, to fire the last shot. "Sunzicon, please grant me an honorable death... let me stand tall before my sister..." Her hand fell, but was caught by another.

Nightracer put the silencer's hand over the button. "Let's stand together." Both females pressed the button. Zod fired his plasma cannons at the sphere.

"Shock." "Slag." "It was worth a shot," deadpanned Crasher. The Blue Guards and the Monsters watched the plasma beams dissipate harmlessly upon the Unicron's reinforced armor.

The sphere surface opened, unfolding to form arms and legs; the ring unfolded to form skeletal wings. "Decepticons... for a time, I thought you were useful-- considered sparing your insignificant little planet, so you would serve me loyally." The metal planetoid transformed into the Dark God's robot mode. A green light-- hideous like the fires fueled by methane from a disturbed grave-- burned within Unicron's optics, framed by a horned helmet. "That time has passed. Now you shall witness Cybertron's dismemberment!" The Dark God's claws, hideous like a vulture's talons, grasped at Air Raid; his fangs dwarfed the Red Guard's superlink armor. He heard Air Raid scream in terror...

Boom! Skydive's shuttle-- which trailed Air Raid during their escape-- exited warp. "Roarrrr!" Golden wings arced from Grimlock's back, like electricity arcing from a generator, as the Dinobot Commander rocketed out of the shuttle to point the sword at Unicron's right optic.

"Howllll!" Unicron released Air Raid to cover his shattered optic.

"I, Grimlock, will punish you!" Grimlock slashed, cutting off the Dark God's nose. He raised his sword, ready to shatter Unicron's left optic. Clang! "Howl!" The Dinobot Commander slashed at the Dark God's fingers, trying to free himself.

"That's enough!" Unicron threw Grimlock into his open mouth.

"Grimlock! Noooo!" Slag and Sludge simultaneously shouted, watching their commander vanish into Unicron's stomach.

Brawn climbed to his feet, feeling the strength he recovered while Unicron was distracted. "Decepticons, retreat!"

"Slag!" cursed Powerbomb. 'I didn't come here to run away!' but he'd obey.

Zan hid her anger at Brawn's apparent cowardice; the Expeditionary Force Commander was her superior. "Sir, please cancel that order! We can...!"

"That monster is generating more energy than all of our cores put together!" Brawn wasn't blind to the data displayed on his tactical monitor. "We must retreat to refuel and rearm!"

Nightracer and Crasher stared at their tactical monitors. "Impossible!"

Zan hid her disappointment; she knew Brawn was right. "Return to base!"

The surviving Red Guards and Dinobots aimed their weapons at Unicron, covering the warships' escape; they waited until they thought the warships were safe, before activating their warp drives.

Unicron watched the shuttle and the superlink booster enter warp. 'You cannot escape me. Soon you shall meet your doom.'

> 13 <

'Optimus...' The voice echoed in the Red Storm's head, like distant thunder.

'Who...?' Optimus focused his optics, seeing only darkness. His integral processor ran a diagnostic of his radar and sonar as he lowered and raised his shutters. The sensors were functional, but he sensed nothing... an infinite void. 'Where am I?'

'Optimus, this world is wrong... it must be fixed... give me the Matrix so I can fix it...'

'What do you mean, the world is wrong?' Rainbow lights surrounded the Red Storm, forming an image of another world. 'What?!' He watched an Autobot with his visage-- Optimus Prime, the Autobot Commander he could've been-- stand in the Temple of Vector Sigma, facing the Aerialbots. Alpha Trion-- the last Autobot minister of the Temple, before Optimus captured it to support Dion's propaganda campaign-- had used his own power supply to reactivate the supercomputer; his body laid on the floor, nothing more than scrap metal.

"He gave himself up just so we could have some jets?" said Blaster, the Autobot communications specialist. "That's nuts!"

"No, one Autobot gave his life so that six could be born," said the Prime, referring to legends that Vector Sigma was an incarnation of Primus, a medium through which the God of Creation gave life to the Transformers. "He made a choice-- the kind of choice I hope they'll be able to make when the time's right." The Decepticon Optimus watched the Autobot Optimus turn to the supercomputer. "Vector Sigma! Give these machines personality worthy of him who created me. Let them think for themselves-- to grow in knowledge and wisdom-- and let them always value freedom and life, wherever they find it!" Confusion filled the Red Guards Commander's CPU as the Prime faced the Aerialbots. "Welcome to the Autobot team! I am Optimus Prime, and we welcome you Aerialbots."

"Uh, hi! I used to be a courier ship, but, um, now I think I'm... Silverbolt?"

'My enemy?' The Red Guards Commander was too confused to express rage or hatred.

'I wasn't built to be your enemy, to fight against you. I was built to fight for you, and you were built to lead the Autobots to victory.'

'No... the Autobots are cowards and weaklings, unwilling and unable to be conquerors... they deserve to be conquered.' Optimus, a loyal Decepticon, shared Megatron and Shockwave's views.

'You didn't see them that way.' An image of another Earth replaced the other Cybertron.

The Prime looked into Silverbolt's optics, sharing the Aerialbot's fear. "Silverbolt, what happened to you out there?"

"I... I don't know. I just couldn't take being that high in the air," answered the Aerialbot.

"Any ideas as to why?"

The Decepticon's anger at the Autobot burned away his confusion. 'You should've asked Soundwave to scan the new soldier's mind to know his weaknesses!' Optimus once endured this painful process to prove his loyalty.

"Well, back on Cybertron, I was just a low-level cargo transport," explained Silverbolt.

Anger became hatred. 'You should've reprogrammed him to overcome this weakness!'

"Silverbolt, I've got an idea: I'm making you commander of the Aerialbots. It'll give you something else to worry about instead of your fear of heights," claimed the Prime. "Now go on, join the others."

'You demonstrate your incompetence by giving these responsibilities to this incompetent fool! You don't deserve to exist!' cursed Optimus.

'You deserve to be him. You will be him.'

Rainbow lights blinded Optimus as telepathic energy surged through his spark. "Ahhhh!"


'Awaken, warrior!'

The voice of authority shook Grimlock's left hand; the energo-sword's weight steadied his right hand. 'What...?'

'The enemy stands before you!'

Grimlock raised his shutters. "Howl!" Light flooded his optics as a matter-antimatter reactor opened before him. He felt pressure on his chest, and looked down to see metal claws locked around it, carrying him towards the reactor's open intake. Gamma radiation seemed to ignite his antennas; the roar from the matter-antimatter reaction deafened him. "Roarrrr!" He slashed, severing the claws to free himself. Sunzicon's spark energized Grimlock, golden wings arcing from his back he as lunged. The sword pierced one of the twelve electromagnets controlling the reaction, allowing the antimatter to react with the matter in the reactor's spherical shell. Boom! Lightning and thunder consumed the magnet, blasting a hole in the shell. Grimlock saw the void give way to gigantic and microscopic machinery-- things beyond his wildest dreams-- before the golden wings encircled his body to shield him from the resulting radiation.

"Howl!" Rage and pain shook the void, sending metal fragments-- as small as the Dinobot's fingertip, as big as his entire body-- in all directions. The golden wings blew away the smallest, the sword parried the smaller and cut apart the larger, while Grimlock dodged the largest fragments.

The Dinobot pointed the sword at another magnet. 'Shock!' The Dark God was repairing the damage and generating barriers to prevent another attack. Tentacles-- Unicron's antibodies-- burst from the walls, reaching to stun and disembowel the attacker, preparing the Dark God's next meal. "Roarrrr!" The sword cut away the tentacles as Grimlock launched a missile, blasting a hole in the wall. The golden wings dissipated as he rocketed through the hole, escaping from the reactor room-- the stomach-- to an energy distribution conduit-- the intestine. 'Where am I?' He followed the conduit, seeking an exit.


Grimlock lunged at the mask of thought embedded in the conduit. He froze; Unicron was absorbing Quintesson's body, corroding the metal and eating away the flesh. Grimlock looked into its eyeholes, pointing the sword at the core behind the mask. "Cancer."

"Cancer?" The Quintesson frowned, trying to remember this name. "Yes... the name that Primus gave me... the Quintas' creator, who ordered us to create workers to build upon his worlds, and warriors to defend them. We obeyed. As Primus' enforcers, we designed and constructed worker and warrior robots, which Vector Sigma brought to life as Autobots and Decepticons.

"But even Vector Sigma had limits. In time, we learned how to merge copies of two robots' sparks-- their core consciousnesses-- to create a new spark that we'd download into a new robot's mainframe. My creations could procreate, but to control their population, each spark had a unique component that couldn't be copied; creating a new spark required copying the sparks from a male and a female.

"The robots had the physical ability to perform, but they initially lacked the mental ability to perform on their own; they needed leadership. We Quintas provided this leadership. As the Quinta Emperor, Cybertron's ruler, I sent forth colonization fleets,"-- communications with the colonies were cut when the Quintas were overthrown, and weren't restored until Megatron sent expeditionary forces to conquer them-- "and ensured that the Autobots and Decepticons performed their duties."

Grimlock frowned. "You relied upon our performance, becoming too lazy to perform on your own. You sought simpler ways to wring performance out of the Autobots and Decepticons-- you enslaved us, made us fight as gladiators for your entertainment, and dismantled those who didn't entertain you for recycling," he said, recalling memories he didn't know he had. "Now you stink of Unicron-- you betrayed Primus, betrayed your creator and your creations."

Tears flowed from the mask. "Yes... the Autobots resented being slaves, and rebelled. In response, we built Sunzicon to lead the Decepticons, ordering them to crush the rebels. You succeeded,"-- he thought Grimlock was Sunzicon-- "but we rewarded your loyalty with enslavement; this oversight sealed our fate.

"The seeds of rebellion were planted in Sunzicon and the Decepticons, who allied with the Autobots; together, you terrorized us. We fled from Cybertron to escape your wrath. Unicron saved us... rebuilt us... I was renamed Carcinogen, and ordered to hunt and kill those who tried to escape Unicron's wrath."

"Now what?" demanded Grimlock.

"I am doomed, but you are not. Do not forget what you've learned of our past, Sunzicon. From its lessons... the future is forged..." The Quintesson said his last words, and became one with the Matrix.

The Dinobot stared his reflection in the mask. 'Who am I? Where do I come from?' He thought he knew the answers: he was Grimlock, an Autobot warrior. The late Wheeljack and Ratchet designed and built his body on Earth, and copies of Wheeljack and Firestar's sparks-- stored in Teletran-1-- were merged to create his. But everything had changed; he joined the Decepticons, Optimus redesigned and rebuilt his CPU and his body to make him smarter and stronger, and... 'Is my spark my own, or am I a slave, too blind to see my chains?'

The sword point touched the ground; the guard would've reached Sunzicon's waist, but it reached Grimlock's shoulder. The Dinobot stared at the sword like a priest staring at a cross, asking God for answers. 'Strength in honor, honor in victory.' Without strength, names and titles were meaningless... freedom was meaningless. 'I am strong. I am Grimlock the warrior because my strength defines me; I am free because my strength enforces my will. I, Grimlock, will fight anyone and everyone who denies my strength.' He raised the sword, a compass to guide him through the darkness, and resumed seeking.


Shrapnel marched beside Ramjet as the air warrior examined the Executioner's bridge, which the Insecticons covered with panels, screws, wires, and tools as they tried to repair the damage. "The nine remaining fusion cannons are powerless-powerless, although their warp conduits," which linked them to the white holes supplying the antimatter, "are intact-intact. We think the linked white holes collapsed-collapsed..."

"Or Unicron severed his link to the Quintessons and their weapons, so they cannot be used against him," guessed Ramjet. "Can you reconfigure the cannons to shoot something else?"

"Well..." Shrapnel put his hand on his chin. "If we replace the warp conduits with thermonuclear reaction chambers, we can make them into plasma cannons-cannons."

"Then do it. We need all the firepower we can get." Ramjet turned to his forearm monitor. "Is the booster ready?" he asked Bombshell.

"Yes, but is it wise to cannibalize the sentinels to...?"

"This battleship has an integral assembly line for drones. We'll modify it to make sentinels; the humans will provide the metal we need."

"Do you really think we have a chance against the mythical Dark God?" asked Kickback.

Ramjet smiled defiantly, revealing his metal-cutting teeth. "We'll find out soon enough." He left to meet Dirge, who was planning Earth's defense. "Dirge, I'm going to help Optimus defend Cybertron. Until I return, you're in command of the Decepticons on Earth." He sensed the Skyraider's shock. "Don't get ambitious and change the command codes, or I'll eat your CPU when I return."

Dirge saluted. "Yes, Sir!"

Ten minutes later, Ramjet linked himself to the superlink booster, performing a preflight inspection. 'Thanks, Optimus,' the designer, 'and Bombshell,' the builder. "For Cybertron!" He rocketed into the sky, towards the greatest battle he'd ever fight.


'Aerospace Commander Starscream's extraordinary heroism, at the cost of his life, is in keeping with the warrior caste's highest traditions and brings great honor all Decepticons.' Onslaught examined the words he etched in the bronze plate. He stared at a space left of Megatron's statue-- Shockwave's statue stood at Megatron's right flank-- to remember the day he was thrown before Megatron's feet, restrained and helpless, a final humiliation before the Combaticons would be executed for trying to take the Decepticon Commander's place; Starscream pleaded for the Combaticons' lives that day, saving them from Megatron's wrath. "Acceptable." He turned to Hook, who was setting up automated sentries to defend the War Academy. "Give Starscream's statue," to be cast after the Decepticons destroyed Unicron, "a place of honor at Megatron's left flank." He put the plate in Hook's hand. "Fix this to its base, so all Decepticons will know his courage."

The Constructicon Commander frowned at the plate. "What makes you think the Hall of Heroes will survive this battle? What makes you think we'll live to carve the statue?" Onslaught's hand closed around his throat. "Gasp!"

The Combaticon Commander coldly said, "To be a defeatist is to betray your comrades."

Hook looked into Onslaught's optics; he knew the Combaticon Commander would execute him for those words. "I... will make it part of our postwar reconstruction."

Onslaught released Hook. "The Combaticons will make sure you fulfill this promise." 'It'll settle the debt of honor we owe Starscream.'

> 14 <

Galvabolt scanned Optimus' mind. 'He's weakening... Soon his personality program will crash, and I can reprogram him into an Autobot.' He continued his psychic attack on the Decepticon, trapped in a cage formed by linked Super Galvabombers. "Optimus..."

"Who's Optimus?" asked the confused Transformer.

"You're Optimus Prime, the Autobot Commander. You must fight... you must destroy the evil Decepticons."

"Did I choose to be an Autobot?"

"It's not a choice, it's your destiny."

"Destiny? No, I..."

"You must!" Galvabolt's tone should've enraged Optimus, but he was too confused to express defiance.

"I must? But..."

"No, Orion." A light beam pierced the darkness surrounding the former Autobot. "You chose your allegiance. For better or worse, I will support your choice." A gentle hand touched the warrior's face. "Because I love you."

"Ariel..." The warrior felt warmth upon his lips, burning away the confusion. "Thank you for your love, my light and my salvation." He felt her spark in his core, restoring the strength of his arms. "Silverbolt!" Matrix energy flowed from Optimus' body like the blast wave from a supernova, shattering the Super Galvabombers.

"Optimus...!" Galvabolt's plea was silenced when the Red Storm linked to his armor, repaired by the Matrix; a hand, strong enough to tear the armor off a battleship, punched through last Aerialbot's breastplate to close upon his core.

"Now my optics are clear... now I see where you truly stand." There was no rage in Optimus' voice, only regret. "I'm honored by your loyalty, but it's no longer to my cause."

"And I was honored to serve you and your original cause... the Autobot cause... I would've been honored to serve you again." These were Galvabolt's last words before Optimus crushed his core, killing him.

"Unicron!" Optimus transformed the armor into its booster mode. The new Prime raced towards Cybertron... and his destiny.


Shockwave's booster-- a guardian who was beheaded in a battle, and whose body was reconfigured to serve as the Decepticon's superlink armor-- carried the Acting Supreme Commander to battle. Bruticus followed him, determined to settle the Combaticons' debt of honor. The warriors counted down to the moment they'd simultaneously attack. 'Five, four three, two...' "Decepticons forever!" "For Starscream!" Shockwave fired his graser-- the armor enhanced the radiation a hundredfold-- at the giant Transformer as Bruticus fired the Superweapons.

Unicron projected a force field, which easily dissipated the graser and laser beams, and the blast from the bullets, rockets, and missiles. His face, scarred by Grimlock's sword, expressed anger and hatred-- he wouldn't waste time and energy for repairs, when revenge was within reach. "My destiny is to consume the universe, restoring it to its original form... to make it one with the void! You cannot deny my destiny, or yours!" The Dark God opened his mouth to release antimatter.

"Argh!" Bruticus force field, hastily modified to counter Unicron's antimatter matrix, would dissipate in seven seconds; he knew he didn't have enough time to escape. 'Shockwave!' He watched sparks shoot from the Acting Supreme Commander's armor as the metal reacted with the antimatter. "Decepticons forever!" Bruticus rocketed in front of Shockwave, ignoring the sparks shooting from his own armor; he self-destructed, blasting his commander free of the antimatter.

The light blinded Shockwave. 'Megatron... I'll join you in the Pit,' where the sparks of dead warriors would battle for eternity. Whoosh! Metal talons closed upon his shoulders, surprising him.

"Are you okay, Sir?" asked Ramjet as his superlink armor dragged Shockwave away from Unicron.

Shockwave quickly repaired his optic as the superlink armor's integral computers ran a diagnostic. "I am 76.2% functional, my armor is 68.0% functional. Now release me. We must destroy Unicron now, or the probability that he will destroy Cybertron will be a 99.9%-- that he will destroy all Transformers, 80 to 90%."

Ramjet obeyed. "I think our chances of survival are better than that." The superlink armors turned, leading a reassembled strike force towards the sphere.

Unicron released antimatter; the Decepticon warships glowed as their force fields resisted the positrons and antiprotons. He released more, overcoming the smaller ships' force fields to destroy them, but draining his energy levels to do so. The Dark God ignored the danger of causing greater harm to himself than to his enemies. "You shall not deny my destiny!"

"Really?" Trypticon-- his armor repaired and reinforced, his plasma cannon replaced by a graser cannon-- penetrated Unicron's force field to scorch the Dark God' breastplate. "Your destiny don't seem so sure now." Unicron caught a cruiser, crushed it, and threw the wreckage at him. "Howl!" The impact shattered Trypticon's left optic; sparks shot out of the socket as he rolled away from the battlefield, in stasis lock.

Ramjet rolled to dodge another wreckage, which destroyed a frigate. "What are our chances of victory?"

Shockwave watched Unicron destroy the sentinel and interdictor drones. "9.05%, but it is worth the risk to save the Decepticon Empire's core."

"Sounds fun. Mind if I join in on the party?" asked Air Raid as his booster flew to the Acting Supreme Commander's side.

Shockwave answered by ordering, "Delta strike formation. Fire on my command." The Decepticons accelerated to launch a coordinated attack.

Unicron was busy fighting the warships; he didn't notice the boosters flying in a triangle formation, like an arrowhead, until Shockwave, Ramjet, and Air Raid simultaneously shot him in the back. "Howllll!" He grabbed a destroyer, crushed it, and threw the wreckage at the boosters.

"Watch out!" Air Raid and Ramjet moved in front of Shockwave, shielding the Acting Supreme Commander as they fired their plasma cannons. The wreckage exploded, scattering the boosters. "Ahhhh!" "Howl!"

Shockwave rebooted his CPU. "Are you functional?"

"84.6%." "Let's do that again!" answered Air Raid and Ramjet, respectively.

"Affirmative." Shockwave led the Skyraiders as they prepared to launch another delta strike... Boom! A blinding light appeared in front of the giant Transformer. "Optimus?!"

Unicron raised an arm to shield his face from the burning light; the armor plates melted into liquid metal spheres, which drifted away from his arm to reveal the frame underneath. "Primus!" A laser beam, powerful enough to cut a planet in half, reached from his left optic to the Prime. "Noooo! My destiny...!"

The superlink armor raised its left arm and charged; Matrix energy reinforced Optimus' force field, making the beam dissipated harmlessly. "Your destiny is nothing but a dream, a nightmare." The armor's right arm punched through Unicron's optic, before firing its integral plasma cannon. "Wake up." Superheated plasma and Matrix energy flooded Unicron's head.

"Howllll!" The giant Transformer burned in pain; the Matrix energy was destroying him from within, making his electrical, electronic, and mechanical systems explode. Armor plates flew from his body, like shrapnel from a grenade. Unicron barely felt an energo-sword cut a hole in his abdomen, spilling his intestines into space.

Grimlock rocketed out of the giant Transformer's body. "You're late," he deadpanned as the golden wings carried him to Optimus' side.

"I was lost; now I've found my way," the Prime said. Then Grimlock slashed, beheading Unicron.

Silence. The strike force froze as the Decepticons watched Unicron's body disintegrate, wondering what happened. Then, "Unicron is dead!" "We won!" "Cybertron is saved!" echoed through the decks, broadcast to every ship, space station, and planet in the Empire.

Shockwave approached his former subordinate. "Optimus..."

The Prime faced Shockwave; the determination in his optics silenced his former commander. "I, Optimus Prime, claim the rank of Supreme Commander by the Code of Heroism!" established by Sunzicon, violation of which was punishable by disintegration. "Who dares to challenge me?!"

Ramjet and the other warriors knew of his ferocity in battle, and feared Optimus more than any enemy. Grimlock was no longer interested in challenging Optimus, who repeatedly proved his strength and courage.

Shockwave lowered his head, acknowledging Optimus' superiority; logic told him to challenge the Prime, but something beyond logic now guided him. "I, Shockwave, recognize Optimus as Decepticon Supreme Commander." He removed his crown and handed it to the Prime.

Grimlock watched Optimus fold the left and right antennas, clear of the targeting laser's line of fire. "What now, Prime?"

"Where's Skydive?" demanded Optimus.

"They're on Gobotron with ICE Commander Soundwave and Expeditionary Force Commander Brawn," answered Air Raid.

"They are fortifying the planet as a base from which the Decepticons will launch attacks to avenge Megatron," explained Shockwave.

"And all the Transformers who died by Unicron's hand." Optimus flew to Trypticon's side and, using the Matrix, repaired the Giganotosaurus and rebooted his CPU.

"Argh!" Trypticon shook his head, seeking Unicron. "Guards Commander Optimus?"

"Follow me to Cybertron. We have work to do." Optimus transformed and rocketed towards the planet, followed by Grimlock and Air Raid.

"Yes, Commander." Trypticon obeyed for reasons he couldn't understand.


Orders were issued from Cybertron to Gobotron. Air Raid was now Aerospace Commander; Skyfire didn't challenge him for the rank. Skydive was now Red Guards Commander; he recruited Snoop and Warpath-- a soldier in the Expeditionary Force, known for his courage and ferocity in battle-- and trained them to be drone command and control specialists. Guards Commander Zan had recruited the Monsters. The Dinobots were now Honor Guards of the Decepticon Supreme Commander; Guards Commander Grimlock was supervising the design and assembly of two new warriors.

ICE Commander Soundwave, Logistics Commander Octane, Expeditionary Force Commander Brawn, and the Blue Guards stood in Zod's bridge, facing holograms of Supreme Commander Optimus Prime and Subcommander Shockwave. "You wish to offer biological organisms representation in the Decepticon government-- a path to freedom-- in exchange for their loyalty and service?"

"Service in the new Imperial Defense Force," explained Optimus. "By making the biological subjects accept this responsibility, we free the Transformers now defending the home planets of these subjects. The soldiers and their ships will be transferred to the Expeditionary Force, which will again seek out and explore new planets to bring under Decepticon rule."

Soundwave and Octane were still skeptical. "Why do you trust them with freedom?" asked the ICE Commander.

"Freedom is the right of all sentient beings, but freedom is meaningless without strength. As the strongest beings in the galaxy, we have a responsibility towards it and all sentient beings. We'll teach the biologicals the Decepticon Way; they'll become our brothers and, with free will to enforce their strength, fight at our sides... or die by our hands." Optimus saw no contradiction in this statement, because Decepticons believed freedom was a prize one earned with strength, not something one was born or built with; if one lacked the strength to defend one's freedom, one didn't deserve freedom.

"I shall discuss this with Logistics Commander Octane and Expeditionary Force Commander Brawn." Soundwave set the transmitter on standby and turned to his comrades. "What say you?"

Octane grunted in opposition. "Great, now we're supposed to waste good energon to defend biologicals while Optimus sends the Expeditionary Force to find energon in black holes?" slang for a waste of time.

The back of Brawn's hand slammed against Octane's head. The Logistics Commander reached for his flamethrower, but froze when Powerbomb's laser cannon targeted him. "You coward! After 1,000,000 years in stasis, 1,000,000 years spent patrolling the Empire's 308 star systems to keep them under our control, we can finally do what we were built to do: conquer and rule!" The Expeditionary Force Commander raised his fist. "I'll support Optimus as long as I have battles to fight!"

Soundwave knew Air Raid would support Optimus. He wondered why Shockwave didn't challenge the former Autobot. 'How powerful is Optimus?' Without Brawn, he and Octane couldn't challenge the new Supreme Commander. The ICE Commander reset the transmitter and answered, "You have our support."

Nightracer turned to her commander. "What do you think about this plan?"

"The Blue Guards, as the elite of the DCP, will be ordered to keep the biologicals in the Defense Force under Decepticon control, or to support the Expeditionary Force," predicted Zan. "Either path shall bring great honor to us." 'I won't dishonor you, Sister.'

Nightracer put her hand on the silencer's shoulder. "No matter which path you choose, know this: I'll support you to the very end."

Zan's hand covered Nightracer's. "Thank you."


Optimus marched into the Hall of Heroes. He placed a hologram projector beside his statue, linked it to the generator that powered the lights surrounding the statue, and activated the projector. "Thank you, Ariel." The female's image would forever stand beside Optimus' statue, sharing the honor in his victory, which would've been impossible without her. "Your love has given me the strength to move on." The Prime opened his mask and touched his fuel receptacle to the hologram's, as if he was transferring energon to Ariel-- a kiss, a universal display of love and affection. "Goodbye." He closed his mask and turned around.

As Optimus marched out of the Hall of Heroes, the hologram shined brighter for a moment, as if Ariel's spark was cheering him on.

> 99 <

Marvel, Hasbro, and Takara created 'Transformers'.

Hanna-Barbera, Tonka, and Bandai created 'Gobots'.