A crossover event featuring "The Transformers"

and "Robotech"

"The Transformers" are the property of Hasbro.

"Robotech" is the property of Harmony Gold

Story by:


Chapter 1

Optimus Prime gazed out at the vast black sea of stars, his rich blue eyes shining as his mind wandered in deep contemplation. So many stars. So many endless possibilities. Yet only a few may hold the key to the answers we seek. How many will we have to search before we find those answers? Time is so short. He continued to stare out of the viewport for several more cycles, his microprocessors running the near infinite possibilities through his central processing unit. Finally, he turned away with a sigh. Even Prowl would get a strain on his computational circuits trying to run that program.

He surveyed the scene on the main bridge of the Autobot exploration vessel. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. A new solar system had been discovered, one rich with planets and moons. Prowl had estimated a 58% probability that the energy they needed could be found here. Optimus walked over to the navigation station. "Any word yet from Cosmos?"

"Hold on just a minicycle, Optimus, and I'll get an answer for you," replied the small yellow robot working there.

Optimus smiled as he watched the little one energetically work to provide him a report. He knew Bumblebee sometimes viewed himself as inadequate because he was the smallest and weakest of the crew. He only came up to Prime's mid leg joint in height. However, Bumblebee's strength of character made him perhaps Optimus' most valuable crew member. There was no other Autobot who was liked more, who worked as hard, or who was as loyal to the Autobot cause as him. He always saw situations positively and it was that attitude that kept the crew, and Prime, from ever sinking into the pits of despair. Prime silently thanked the Maker that Bumblebee volunteered for this mission.

Bumblebee turned from the console. "Blaster reports that Cosmos has scanned the outer five planets and their moons, and has been unsuccessful in locating any usable energy deposits which we can convert to energon."

The crew groaned in disappointment.

"Let me finish," Bumblebee quickly interjected. "Cosmos does report that there is a blue planet, the third one from the star, which shows encouraging readings on long range scanners. He's on route now to scan it up close."

"Yes!" exclaimed a small red robot at the pilot's seat. "I'll bet you we'll find all the energon we need there, and then we can kick Megatron's rusty tailpipe into the recycle bin!"

"Now hold your cyberhorses there, Cliffjumper," admonished a much larger red robot. "Cosmos has delivered reports like this before and returned with zip. Don't get your hopes up."

"Why don't you shut up, Ironhide! Just because you've been around longer than we have doesn't mean you know everything!"

"Why you disrespectful little punk!" Ironhide stood up with anger as visible as the red shade of his surface. "It's about time someone taught you to respect your elders."

Cliffjumper leaped out of his seat and glared up at the robot nearly three times his size. "You and what army, old timer."

"Old timer? Why you little..."

"Ironhide! Cliffjumper!" barked Optimus forcefully. "That's enough, both of you!"

"But, Prime," exclaimed Ironhide. "Are you going to allow him to talk like that to a superior officer?"

"No, I'm not," replied Optimus gently. "However, you don't need to criticize them on their hopes. The Matrix knows we could use a little more of it."

"Yes, Prime," said Ironhide sullenly. "I'm sorry, Cliffjumper."

Cliffjumper was still poised to pounce on Ironhide, his fists balled. Optimus walked over to him, knelt on one knee, and put his hand on Cliffjumper's shoulder. "Not every discussion you have with Ironhide has to end in a fistfight."

Cliffjumper relaxed and drooped forward in chagrin. "You're right, Optimus. I'm sorry too, Ironhide," he mumbled as he turned back to his station.

Optimus sighed inwardly as he watched the two return to their duties. Ironhide and Cliffjumper were two of his bravest warriors. Cliffjumper was nearly as small as Bumblebee, barely a meter taller in height. However, his speed and cunning in battle more than compensated for his lack of size and strength. He continuously proved himself to be an elusive target for larger and slower opponents while picking them apart. The problem with him was that with his speed, he inherited a quick vocal program which always seemed to issue insults at those he viewed as over the scrapheap, like Ironhide.

Ironhide was a near opposite of Cliffjumper. He was one of the strongest and perhaps the most durable robot on his crew. He was a veteran who had served with Optimus since nearly the beginning of the Great War. He was a survivor, and he did his best to insure that as many of his comrades survived with him as he could. With his experience though, Ironhide did tend to criticize the newer recruits harshly, especially those like Cliffjumper, whom he viewed as reckless. Optimus hoped that the expedition produced fruit soon, before attitudes got worse.

"Hey all you bots on the main bridge, this is Blaster blastin' at ya. Come in, big O!" blared a voice on the intercom.

Optimus sat down in his command chair and pressed a button on the right arm. "This is Prime, Blaster. What do you have?"

"Hey, big boss. Cosmos is transmitting a live video feed from the third planet that's sure to be a hit among the bridge crew."

"Transmit to the main screen, Blaster."

"You got it, boss."

The main screen flickered to life and produced a scene of wonder, causing the bridge crew to gasp in amazement. The scene panned across a valley, with a lush green jungle nestled in the protective arms of a mountain range. The long necks and heads of several creatures were visible above the green canopy. Optimus' attention focused on several other creatures soaring through the air. They appeared to be gliding, but Optimus had never seen a wing design like the ones these creatures employed. "Report, Cosmos. What are we looking at?"

"It's really the most amazing thing, Optimus," came Cosmos' voice scratchily over the radio. "This planet is alive with life, but the most fascinating part is that the sensors indicate that the indigenous life forms here are organically based."

"Organically based?" questioned Ironhide. "You mean they aren't metallic?"

"Precisely," replied Cosmos.

"I didn't think that was possible."

"Well, Ironhide, it would be our own arrogance to believe that every creature we encountered would be alloy based like ourselves," countered Bumblebee.

"All this is fascinating," interrupted Prime, "but we are on a different mission. Cosmos, what energy readings have you been able to record?"

The screen suddenly switched scenes to show a mountain emitting an eerie reddish orange glow from a crater at its peak. "There seems to be a high level of geothermal energy that we can convert to energon. I've seen many such formations from orbit."

"I see, but I have to know something else. Will taking energy from these formations in any way endanger the inhabitants of this world? I will not see harm done to any innocent creatures."

"I don't believe so, Prime. There seems to be plenty of energy to spare and the creatures avoid these formations. It's my belief that they do not possess the temperature tolerances to withstand the extreme level of heat."

"Excellent work, Cosmos. Return to the ship."

"Right away, Prime."

"Cliffjumper, set course for the third planet. We're taking a closer look."

"Aye aye, Prime."

Optimus Prime felt a huge weight lift off his shoulders. He had found an answer to stop Megatron's bid for universal conquest. Soon, he'd have the power to bring peace to the galaxy. However, Prime, in his moment of reverie, never noticed the glowing yellow eyes watching him from outside the viewport.

The sinister figure in the shadows watched the Autobots for a few more cycles. Finally, it retracted its slender neck back into its elliptical body. Its mechanical clamps released their hold on the ship's hull and it began to glide along its surface, carefully dodging viewports to avoid detection. Once it cleared the ship, it fired its rockets and headed on a course directly behind the ship. Several clicks passed before it approached another ship. This ship was almost a direct contrast to the Autobot's own. The Autobot's ship was pleasant looking with its smooth curves and bright yellow and orange colors. This ship was angular, with many of the ship's planes coming together to form sharp points. It was also colored a deep, dark purple to further contribute to its menacing air. The creature immediately felt at home as it made its final approach, careful to broadcast a laser transmission to identify itself before being blasted to subatomic particles.

On the bridge, a powerful blue metallic hand pressed a button to acknowledge the creature's return. Soundwave turned from his console. "Laserbeak returns, Megatron," reported the communications officer in a cold, emotionless voice.

Megatron smiled an evil grin. "Excellent, Soundwave. Have him report here immediately. I'm very interested in what our little spy has uncovered."

"As you wish, Megatron."

"This is a complete waste of our time!" cried out an impatient, high pitched voice. "The time to strike is now! The Autobots have no idea that we are here. We should annihilate them and scatter their atoms across the galaxy!"

The giant silver robot turned in his throne to face the equally large red and blue robot challenging him. "You are too impatient, Starscream. It is clear that Optimus Prime is searching the galaxy for energon he and the Autobots desperately need, as desperately as we do. You destroy them now and we can't use them to find the energon for us."

"All I know is that it has been megacycles since we've seen any action. At least back on Cybertron, I was destroying Autobots as a true leader of Decepticons should, instead of hiding like pathetic raw cadets."

Activity on the bridge stopped and everyone turned towards the confrontation. One robot seated next to Starscream scrambled from his post to avoid any possible shots. Starscream stood there facing Megatron, his giant blue fingers curled; contempt and anger visible in his gleaming yellow eyes. With the triangular plates protruding from his shoulders to his mid leg joints, he looked like a winged beast ready to pounce on its helpless prey.

Megatron remained seated on his throne, a smirk on his face as though the menacing robot before him was as much a threat to him as a kitten. "You desire my position, Starscream? Don't make me laugh. You would make a poor Decepticon leader."

"At least I'll have the courage to destroy my enemies rather than cower in their shadows."

"Rushing in to attack without a plan only demonstrates your stupidity. You are not fit for command." Megatron turned to Soundwave. "Has Laserbeak arrived yet?"

"You dare turn your back to me?!" bellowed Starscream.

"Ah, give it a rest already, will ya?" spoke a small blue robot. "You know you can't take Megatron in a fair fight."

Starscream whirled around and stared down at this new source of annoyance. "I'd watch what I'd say to me if I was you, Rumble, or you might be the first I scrap when I become leader."

Rumble raised his hands and widened his yellow eyes in mock fright. "Ooooo, I'm so scared. Come on. You? Leader?! You don't have the smarts, the power, or the guts to dethrone Megatron."

"All I need is time."

"It'll never happen."

"Silence, fools!" yelled Megatron as Laserbeak flew into the bridge. Instantly, Laserbeak and Soundwave began to undergo transformation. Laserbeak compacted down to a rectangular shape while Soundwave's arms, legs, and head molded themselves around his chest until he reassembled the communications array he was stationed at. His chest opened, admitting Laserbeak, and closed again. Motors whirred as panels on his body opened and extended connectors which plugged into the main ports of the array board. The main viewscreen flickered to life and began playing the events on the Autobot's bridge as Cosmos made his report."

"Yes!" shouted Megatron triumphantly once the video ended. "Prime did it! He actually did it! He found a world ripe with abundant energy, energy that will be ours for the taking. I hope Optimus Prime appreciates the irony when he realizes that his hope for salvation will be the key to my total victory. Rumble, set a course for the Autobot's ship. Now is the time to attack!"

"Yes sir," answered Rumble.

Megatron then turned to Starscream. "I suggest you pay close attention, Starscream. You are about to learn what Megatron does to those who no longer prove themselves useful."

"Optimus! I've got something big on the scanners directly behind us. Teletran One computes that it's on an intercept course with our ship!" yelled Ironhide excitingly.

Prime leaned forward in his command chair. "Are they friendly or hostile?"

"Teletran can't identify yet."

"Rear screen on," ordered Prime. The screen revealed a sight that chilled the fluids in Prime's engine. It was a Decepticon warship.

"Decepticons? What in the matrix are they doing here?" wondered Ironhide.

"They've been following us and we led them directly to an energy source. Battle stations," barked Prime. "We've got ourselves a battle! We can't let them get onto that planet. They'll leave it a barren wasteland with no regard of the lives that they'll destroy."

"They're firing SSM's" screamed Bumblebee.

The screen showed smoky trails spiraling from the Decepticon ship as the ship-to-ship missiles sped towards them. "Evasive maneuvers, Cliffjumper." commanded Prime. Cliffjumper slammed the stick forward hard, causing the ship to veer down suddenly. Prime saw several of the SSM's fly by the port viewport. However, the ship shook violently as several missiles impacted against the outer hull.

"They're firing another volley," reported Bumblebee.

"Pattern Alpha One now!"

Cliffjumper attempted to make the ship corkscrew, but damage from the first missiles delayed the reactions of the ship. More missiles connected as a result, rattling the crew further.

"Optimus Prime! This is Wheeljack in engineering."

"Go ahead, Wheeljack!"

"Those last missile strikes are really wreaking havoc among the engines. I don't think I can keep them online much longer. We've already lost 30% of the engines thrusting capability." The ship shook violently as more missiles impacted on the outer hull, emphasizing Wheeljack's point.

"Cliffjumper, move us alongside the Decepticon's warship! If we remain in the Decepticon's sights like this, they'll atomize us! We must take the fight to them!"

"Right!" remarked Cliffjumper. He angled the Ark on a slanting vector and fired the front rockets to slow them down. The distance between the two ships rapidly decreased. As the Decepticon warship moved alongside their own ship, Cliffjumper swerved the Ark into the Decepticon warship, jarring the passengers of both. "That'll teach them to shoot missiles up our tailpipes."

In answer to Cliffjumper's maneuver, tractor beams lanced out of the Decepticon warship, anchoring the Ark in place.

"Prime, the Decepticons are extending a boarding tube," reported Ironhide.

"We have a fighting chance now," stated Prime. He pushed an intercom button at his command station. "This is Optimus Prime! Decepticons have anchored to the Ark! Prepare to repel raiders!"

Wheeljack listened to the announcement in the engineering department and involuntarily shuddered.

"Are you frightened, Wheeljack?" asked his companion, a large white robot with dual rocket launchers on either shoulder over what appeared to be wings.

"A little bit, Prowl," answered Wheeljack truthfully. "I'm more of a scientist than a warrior." He caressed the rocket on his left shoulder. "However, I do have a nasty surprise waiting for any Decepticreeps that want to mess with my ship!"

"That's the spirit!" complimented Prowl.

Suddenly, the far wall of the engineering section exploded. Prowl and Wheeljack whirled around, Prowl dropping to one knee and drawing his gun in one fluid motion. His logic circuits nearly overloaded at the sight of the giant silver robot striding through the newly created door, his jet black fusion cannon still smoking. Megatron! Only one course of action. "Wheeljack! Cover me!"

"Right!" answered Wheeljack, as he fired his shoulder missile at the Decepticon tyrant. Prowl rolled from his knelt position and ran for a nearby computer terminal.

Megatron dug his fingers into the wall, yanked a portion of it free, and swung it around in front of him. The missile impacted the improvised shield, releasing small particles that magnetized it. Immediately, smaller metallic objects flew towards Megatron, but he was already raising the magnetized metal above his head to throw. Prowl reached the terminal and managed to tap a button just as the thrown wall section slammed into him, knocking him across the room.

"I'm afraid I can't allow you to succeed with your plans, Prowl. I'm not through having my fun yet," cackled Megatron maniacally.

Wheeljack was loading another missile into his shoulder launcher when Laserbeak streaked in, both his laser cannons firing. Wheeljack dove to the right to avoid the shots. Unfortunately, this left his back exposed as a black beast pounced from the shadows. He growled as his claws dug into Wheeljack's shoulders and bit down on his neck. "Aaargh!" screamed Wheeljack in serious pain. He reached up and grabbed the beast. He winced as he felt he shoulders being shredded and wires being pulled from his neck while yanking the beast off him. Laserbeak came around for another strafing run and Wheeljack flung the beast at him. Laserbeak expertly dodged the clumsy attack and proceeded the disable the severely wounded Autobot, neatly slicing off the arms and legs of his victim.

"Excellent work, Laserbeak," commended Megatron. "You've taken him out of the fight, but left him functional for the pleasure of torturing him later."

"The Autobots certainly aren't putting up much of a fight," stated Starscream smugly as he walked into the room.

"Do not underestimate Prime," warned Megatron.

"I'm not afraid of him or any other Autobot," said Starscream proudly. He walked over to Prowl and hauled him from the magnetized wreckage. He dug his fingers around Prowl's neck, his yellow eyes glowing with pleasure as the smaller Autobot struggled in futility to escape his choking grasp. "Puny Autobot, what did you think to accomplish with that pathetic move?"

"I h...hit the inter...com button," gasped Prowl.

"That was pathetic. Whatever for?"

"Because...now Prime...knows where you are."

"What!?" screamed Starscream in shock. Suddenly, a laser bolt struck him square in the back. Starscream's non-functional form fell backwards, crashing hard onto the deck.

"Prime's here now, Megatron. You don't stand a chance," gasped Prowl weakly before his circuits went offline.

Optimus Prime ran in with a security detail of six Autobots. They quickly fanned out and trained their weapons on Megatron. "Give it up, Megatron," ordered Prime. "We have you outnumbered and outgunned."

Megatron stood in place confidently. "I don't think so, Prime. This is one battle I intend to win. Rumble! Now!" yelled Megatron as he flipped himself backwards, transforming and shrinking himself into a powerful handheld energy rifle. Simultaneously, a metallic blue data disk concealed on Megatron's shoulder enlarged itself to reveal Rumble. In midair, Rumble's arms morphed into giant piledrivers. Rumble slammed his massive arms onto the deck, throwing the Autobots off balance. The air behind Megatron's new form shimmered and instantly a black robot similar in appearance to Starscream appeared, grabbed the gun, and began blasting. Three Autobots exploded from the sudden onslaught by the Decepticons.

I've got to stop Rumble or we've had it, thought the medium sized robot closest to Prime. He transformed himself into a sleek four wheeled vehicle and raced towards Rumble. Rumble continued to strike the deck in an attempt to avoid the collision, but the four wheeled vehicle, whose center of gravity was much lower to the ground than his two legged robot form, just wasn't as affected by the vibrations. Jazz swerved as he reached Rumble and the small Decepticon was sent flying through the air and smacked against the wall.

"Rumble!" cried Soundwave frantically from his hiding place. He aimed at the speeding vehicle that had rammed his charge. "You have interrupted his mission. You will cease to function," he menacingly threatened.

A rectangular cube of energy appeared to Soundwave's right and a white Autobot with blue arms and legs appeared in it. "Not while I'm around, he's not," he cried, firing his own shoulder mounted missile.

"Arrgh!" screamed the giant blue robot as the missile detonated, ripping off his right arm.

Optimus Prime regained his balance and fired at Skywarp. The large black robot dematerialized before the blast reached him and appeared like a shadow behind the cover of computer banks on the far end of the engineering section. "Jazz! Mirage! Fall back!" ordered Prime while firing a shot to send Laserbeak streaking for cover. "The rest of you, cover them!" Jazz, still in vehicle mode, raced back under his comrade's cover fire while Mirage ran for it.

Megatron transformed back into his robot form and fired a huge blast of energy of his fusion cannon, tagging Mirage. The blast tore through Mirage's torso, causing the robot to flop helplessly to the floor, his legs no longer functioning. Decepticon fire peppered the wounded Autobot as he tried to pull himself to safety mercilessly. Within microns, the Autobot ceased to struggle, the onslaught sending him into statis.

"Blast you Megatron!" screamed Prime. He grabbed a computer bank and ripped it from the moorings on the wall. He then slammed the bank on the deck, creating a makeshift barrier. "No more Autobots will fall by your hands today! Regroup to this position!"

"Don't make empty promises you can't keep, Prime!" taunted Megatron. He fired several shots at the barricade, blowing large chunks out of it.

A small orange and blue robot winced as Megatron continued to erode at the barrier. "He's right, Prime. I don't think we're going to win this one," he said pessimistically.

"Don't count us out yet, Huffer," replied Optimus. He tapped a button on his wrist. "Prime to Blaster. We could use some back-up here."

"Wish I could give you some, big boss," came the reply over the communicator. "Truth is there are only a couple of us left and that won't last long. I was hoping you could come save us."

"Blast it!" cursed Prime in frustration. He looked at the few remaining Autobots still functioning with him. They continued to shoot at their ancient enemy valiantly, but it was clear from the look in their optics that it was only a matter of time before they'd go to meet the Maker. By Primus, they're a good crew. They deserve better than this, but now I have no choice. Megatron has to be stopped here. "Huffer, can you send the ship on a collision course with the planet below?" he solemnly asked.

"I...I don't know Prime," replied Huffer hesitantly. "Maybe from that terminal out there, but I'd be out in the open. I wouldn't have the time. This plan, I don't think it'll work. It's just too..."

Optimus knelt next to Huffer. "We'll provide you the cover and time you need, no matter the cost."

Huffer looked at the others. They nodded at him with grim determination. "I don't know about this..."

"Please Huffer, it's the only energon chip we have left to play."

"Alright. I'll do it."

"Thank you, old friend. Jazz, I need a diversion."

A panel on Jazz's right arm slid open and he pulled a small energon cube, glowing bright pink with energy. "One made to special order diversion coming up. Everyone shield your optics," he yelled as he flipped it into the air. At its apex, Jazz shot it, unleashing the energy within in a brilliant flash of light.

"Now!" commanded Prime. The Autobots hurdled over the barricade and dashed towards the dazed Decepticons, dodging the erratic laser fire coming from their temporarily blinded foes. Prime tackled Megatron. Behind him, he could hear sounds of scuffling as the others engaged the remaining Decepticons. He and Megatron rolled around several times, each trying to get the upper hand.

"Resorting to such desperation moves already, Prime? What do you hope to accomplish? You know you can't win in a contest of strength."

"You never know until you try, Megatron."

Huffer reached the computer terminal and began to lay in the course for the planet. "Come on, come on," he mumbled frantically as he waited for the computer to acknowledge his inputted commands. "Prime and the others won't be able to hold them off forever." Teletran finally confirmed the commands and changed course. "That's it! Now only one more thing left to do," he said, smashing his fist into the terminal, rendering it inoperable.

"Hey! What are you doing there, Autobot!" shouted Skywarp.

"None of your business!" yelled Huffer, charging the significantly larger robot. Skywarp got a shot off, scorching Huffer's shoulder, but Huffer kept going despite the pain. He collided with Skywarp, sending both down thrashing on the deck. Huffer scrambled up the fallen warrior's body and starting pounding him in the face. "For Prime!" he screamed valiantly.

"You're insane!" screamed Skywarp, bringing his arms up to shield his face from the smaller Autobot's blows. Dents were already forming on his arms from Huffer's relentless assault.

Suddenly, Laserbeak shot Huffer in the back. Skywarp used the opening to knock Huffer off him and out into the open where Laserbeak could finish him off. He sat up slowly, still woozy by the ferocity of the attack. "Man! That puny little squirt can hit!" Then he noticed the computer screen. "What the...?" Skywarp ran to the terminal and assessed the information on the screen. He looked down and saw the destroyed terminal. "That's what that little creep was doing. We have to get out of here!" Skywarp turned to where Megatron and Optimus Prime were still wrestling. "Megatron! We have to retreat!"

"I will never retreat!" bellowed the enraged Decepticon leader.

"But Megatron, the Autobots have set the ship to crash into the planet!"


The ship began to shake violently.

"What's happening?" yelled Megatron, a tinge of fright in his voice.

"We've entered the planet's atmosphere," replied Prime calmly. "It's too late, Megatron. There is no escape now."

"You're mad Prime! You'll be destroyed too!"

"If it frees the galaxy from your reign of terror, then I'll gladly sacrifice my life," came Prime's determined reply.

Megatron screamed as Prime grabbed him and held on as tightly as he could. Try as he might, he couldn't wiggle free of his ancient enemy's grasp.

The Ark broke free of the Decepticon warship's anchors as the gravitational pull of the planet caught them and pulled them downward. The Ark streaked across the sky, the hull glowing bright red from the friction of the air molecules rushing past it as it continued its course to destruction.

On the planet's surface, herds of dinosaurs began to stampede in fright of the flaming apparition rapidly falling towards them. The ship's impact sent tremors along the ground, creating cracks in the crust where none existed before. A shock wave rippled outward, drastically affecting the atmospheric conditions. Hurricane winds buffeted the valleys while earthquakes caused avalanches of stone to hammer the helpless creatures below, whose only crime was to bear witness to the fantastic arrival of the Autobot's ship.

Finally, as though the Earth was reacting in outrage to the atrocities committed against it, a volcano erupted at the landing site. Volcanic ash and smoke spewed into the air while molten lava flowed around the ship, covering it and sealing it like a tomb.

Chapter 2

4 million years later, in the year 2012 AD:

Somewhere in the Pacific ocean, about 600 miles south of Hawaii:

The SDF-1 swayed gently on the surface of the ocean, the sun gleaming off the white polished metal towers that comprised its main gun. To many of the inhabitants on board, the SDF-1 resembled a giant humanoid standing in waist deep water.

It was a gorgeous Pacific day, the seagulls calling out to each other as they circled over the giant spaceship. It was a day that typically made one feel great to be alive. The crowd of people assembled on the deck of the Prometheus, the makeshift left arm of the SDF-1, didn't any notice.

A gentle breeze blew across the deck, causing Lieutenant Rick Hunter to brush back his long wavy brown hair. He paused while brushing it back. It was the style that he, as well as most of the pilots on the SDF-1, had copied from Roy Fokker. Tears began to well up in his eyes. Memories rushed into his mind of the fearless leader of Skull Squadron. The time Roy taught Rick to fly. The time Roy went away to fight in the war and the anger he felt at being abandoned by his "big brother." The time Roy and him saved Minmei on his first unexpected mission. The argument between them when he tried to convince Rick to become a fighter pilot. The drink they shared after Rick's first "official" mission. Rick looked down at the coffin with the flag of the Robotech Defense Force draped over it, the coffin that held his oldest, dearest friend, and felt very much alone. How can we go on, big brother, if you're not here to lead us?

Claudia Grant stood next to him, dressed all in black, her eyes visibly swollen through the thin black veil across her face. Her body shook as she sobbed. Rick put his arm around her shoulder and pulled out a handkerchief for her. Claudia quietly thanked him and leaned on his shoulder for support.

Standing in front of the throng of people gathered at the funeral procession, Lisa Hayes watched her two closest friends comfort each other. Rick looks so dashing in his dress uniform. I just wish it was a better circumstance to finally get to see him in it. She shook her head angrily. Listen to me. Claudia and Rick are in terrible pain, and I'm here admiring how Rick looks in dress uniform.

Captain Henry Gloval slowly walked to the podium behind the coffin. He paused to collect his thoughts before addressing the mourners. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to do what is perhaps to the most painful duty that I as captain of this ship must perform. We are here to mourn the passing of Commander Roy Fokker."

Gloval paused for another moment, trying to gain control of his emotions. "Roy was a personal friend of mine since we served together after the Global Civil War. He was one of the most outspoken and loyal supporters of the SDF-1 project. He was a staunch defender and an able commander. His calm presence in battle was a great comfort to many of his wingmates. He always strove to bring all 'his boys' home. He was amongst the finest officers I have ever served with. He will be sorely missed by all." He paused once again. "I'm sure this is not news to all of you gathered here. We all know how much Roy Fokker meant to us and to this ship. We have felt the impact that his passing has brought. I don't know what to say to bring comfort to us. I can only say that it was my greatest privilege to have him call me friend."

Gloval then turned towards Rick and Claudia. "My condolences to both of you, Rick and Claudia. I know how much a part he was of both of your lives. You were the two most important people in his life. It is my hope that you can find some small amount of comfort in the fact that you were as much a part of his life as he was yours." Gloval then removed his Captain's cap. Lisa saw a tear run down his cheek before the wind blew his scraggly hair across his face. "Let's us pray."

The assemblage all bowed their heads, with the officers pausing only to remove their covers. Gloval allowed everyone a moment to say their silent prayers before speaking again.

"Dear Lord, we have gathered here to honor one of our finest, whom you have called home. We ask that you supply us the strength and courage to face life head on, as Roy did in his brief time here. We take comfort in knowing that he is there, serving You as faithfully as he served us. I know You will not be displeased with him. Lord, I ask that you grant special strength to those who loved him most, for their lives will be harder with him gone. Grant them the comfort in knowing that he is there, waiting for them when it is their time to come home. We ask all this in Jesus' name. Amen."

"Amen," answered the mourners.

Captain Gloval put his captain's hat back on and nodded to a squad leader.

The squad leader saluted and about faced toward the eight midshipmen lined up behind him. "Company, forward march!" he bellowed. So ordered, the midshipmen marched in two lines of four on both sides of the casket. "Company, halt!" The midshipmen then turned towards the casket and slowly raised the Robotech Defense Force flag off of the casket. Starting at the end nearest Gloval, they began to tightly fold the flag. Once finished, the midshipmen at the end of the casket presented the folded flag to the squad leader. He marched over to Claudia and held it out for her.

Claudia drew back away from it, as if it were deadly. Rick gingerly whispered in her ear. She then slowly accepted the flag. "Th...thank you," she stammered.

The squad leader saluted Claudia and about faced back towards his squad. "Company, face front!" he barked. The midshipmen sharply turned forward. "Lift!" As one, they bent down and raised the casket. Several other midshipmen cleared the podium out of the way. Captain Gloval simply stepped aside and nodded to the squad leader. "Forward march!" The squad silently marched forward with the casket. Captain Gloval waited for Rick and Claudia to walk by before following with Lisa and the rest of the procession. The squad marched across the deck until they reached a platform, and slowly set the casket down. "Company, about face! March!" The squad slowly marched off the platform. The squad leader then turned to Captain Gloval and saluted. Captain Gloval nodded once again.

The squad leader pulled a lever next to the platform. Claudia jumped at the sound of locks releasing their hold on the platform. Motors whirred as they slowly lowered the platform from the deck of the Prometheus to the surface of the ocean. The platform submerged, depositing its cargo into the ocean. The casket slowly floated away from the Prometheus before it too submerged out of sight below the surface.

Claudia gripped Rick's uniform tightly and sobbed fiercely into his shoulder. Rick slowly stroked her long brown hair, all the while staring at the spot in the ocean where his big brother had submerged. Captain Gloval nodded to another squad leader. He saluted and about faced to his squad of seven men with rifles lined up along the deck. "Company, ready!" The squad sharply brought their rifles up off the deck, pointing them straight up on their shoulders. "Aim!" They pointed their rifles out to sea in perfect 45 degree angles. "Fire!" Rick jumped at the sound of the rifles' report, feeling like every bullet was piercing his heart. "Fire!" Claudia gripped his uniform even more tightly. Fabric began to rip. "Fire!" Lisa watched the pain on Rick's face and her heart ached.

A bugler stepped up to the edge of the deck, brought his bugle up, and began playing "Taps." Tears began flowing freely down Rick's cheeks. Lisa couldn't stand it anymore. She ran to her friends and hugged them, willing every ounce of her strength to comfort her friends. She barely registered the fact when their friends, Kim, Vanessa, and Sammy, joined in. Rick just cried with Claudia, grateful to Lisa and the others for their support. He figured he would've fell over in despair if they weren't holding him up. He felt two hands touch his shoulders. He slowly looked up over his shoulder. His fellow pilots, Max Sterling and Ben Dixon, stood behind him, silently offering their support and sympathy as well. Rick slowly nodded his thanks and held Claudia close as they mourned.

A couple days later, Rick was summoned to Captain Gloval's office. He quickly made his way to the Captain's door and knocked twice. "Come in, lieutenant," came the reply from behind the door.

Rick opened the door and walked into Gloval's office. He was startled to see Lisa Hayes standing before Gloval's desk. He quickly recovered and saluted. "Lt. Rick Hunter, reporting as ordered."

"At ease, lieutenant," replied Gloval. He motioned to one of his chairs. "Please, have a seat."

Rick sat down while Lisa took the other seat. Rick glanced over at Lisa and she gave him a nervous smile.

"You're probably wondering why I have asked you here, Lt. Hunter," stated Gloval. "Very well. I'll get right to the point. You see, now that Commander Fokker is gone, we need someone to lead Skull Squadron."

"You want me to recommend a new flight commander for Skull, Captain?" asked Rick confusedly. "Begging your pardon, sir, but you know the pilots here as well as I, if not better. I'm sure the men will rally around whomever you feel is capable of the job. I don't see how I could provide any further insight on the candidates than either of you."

"You misunderstand, lieutenant. We do not need you to help us decide on a new Skull commander. We have already decided who it should be."

Realization slammed into Rick. "Me?"

Lisa leaned forward towards Rick. "Yes, Rick. The Captain and I both feel that you are the perfect man to pilot Skull One."

"N...no. I'm not," stammered Rick. "I could never be half the commander that Roy was. Shouldn't Lt. Beck or Boman take the job instead? They have more experience than I do."

Captain Gloval rose from his and walked around his desk. "Yes lieutenant, you are correct. Lt.'s Beck and Boman do have a longer service record than you do, but let me assure you, Commander Hayes and I have taken all of this into account."

"Your service record is just as exemplary as theirs," interjected Lisa.

"That's right, plus the fact that you have shown time after time that you are willing to put your life on the line to bring you're men back."

"Despite orders to the contrary," added Lisa, laughing.

"The other pilots respect you, lieutenant."

"You're a natural leader."

"Plus the other pilots are well aware of your past relationship with Commander Fokker. Many of them have already expressed their desire to see you take up his position."

"It would be a tremendous morale booster, Rick."

"All right! All right already!" yelled Rick. "I'll do it. I'll take the position."

"Excellent, Lt. Hunter," stated Captain Gloval. "I'm glad you saw things our way. That will be all. You both are dismissed."

Lisa and Rick saluted sharply. "Sir!"

After they closed the door to Gloval's office, Lisa and Rick looked nervously at each other. "Congratulations," Lisa finally managed to say.

Rick shifted his feet. "Thanks, I guess."

"What's the matter, Rick?"

"I don't know. Iguess I'm just now feeling the weight of the responsibility on my shoulders. I keep thinking that I could never be as good a commander as Roy, and that's what you need. I'm just not sure I'm cut out for this."

Lisa put her fists on her hips and stared angrily at Rick. "Now see here, Lt. Hunter. Captain Gloval and I wouldn't have asked you to take the position if we didn't feel you were ready for it. Are you doubting our ability to make good decisions?"

"No no! It's not like that!" yelled Rick defensively. "I guess the enormity of it has me a little spooked, that's all."

Lisa relaxed. "That's not a bad thing, Rick. I know what you're going through. All my life, I've striven to succeed, to prove that I'm more than "Admiral Hayes' daughter". It sometimes leaves me feeling like I want to scream. I shouldn't have to prove myself every day, but I always feel like I do."

"You shouldn't feel like that, Lisa. You're an excellent officer. The men feel secure in the fact that you're in the command booth making sure nothing sneaks up on us out there. At least, I know I do."

Lisa smiled at Rick. Rick's heart skipped a beat. The last time she smiled at him like that was when they were escaping from the Zentradi. That was the moment he started noticing the way her sandy blonde hair fell across her shoulders. He seemed to be taking comfort in her calm and commanding voice in battle. They had even began joking over the radio. What once started as a bitter hatred was turning into a rather pleasant friendship. Even the kiss she had ordered him to give her while they were prisoners of the Zentradi wasn't that bad.

"Thank you, Rick. That means a lot to me."

Rick blushed. "My pleasure, Commander. I should thank you too, for believing in me and understanding what I'm going through. It helps."

"Don't try to be Roy, Rick. Just handle the situations the way you think they ought to be handled. You've shown an excellent ability to command in the heat of battle. That's a rare gift. Use it."

"I will, Lisa. Thanks."

"I better head up to the bridge. My shift starts soon."

"All right. Just one more thing."

"Yes, Rick, what is it?"

Rick looked nervously around, not quite sure how to phrase his next comment. "I... I wanted to say... I'm glad you were the one who told me that Roy was gone. I know this sounds weird, but I'm glad that you cared enough about me to tell me yourself."

Lisa fought back tears. "You're welcome, Rick. Are you all right?"

"I will be. Thanks. You better get to the bridge."

"Okay. See you around, Rick."

"You too, Lisa."

Lisa started walking down the hallway. Her mind was racing. I should ask him if he wants to eat dinner tonight at my quarters, so he doesn't have to be alone. Would he think I'm trying to take advantage of his situation? Do I think I'm trying to take advantage of his situation? Maybe he just wants to be alone. What about Claudia? She's my oldest friend. I should check on her. No, that's just a rationalization because I'm afraid of what Rick would think of me. Besides I can invite Claudia too. That's it. I'll invite them both. "Rick?" she said as she turned around, but the hallway was empty. Darn it! I waited too long.

Rick walked quickly down the hall. What was I thinking? wondered the beleaguered lieutenant. I almost asked Lisa out to dinner. What would she have thought if I had done that? I bet she would have realized her mistake in choosing me for Skull One then. For that matter, why did I take the job? I'm not nor could I ever be as good as big brother. Man, I'm so stupid. Rick shook his head and laughed under his breath. Big brother would've hit me if he heard me talk like this. He always told me that life wasn't something you run away from. You have to jump in feet first. I'm just going to do the best I can to make you proud, Roy. I know that's what you would want me to do. With a new shot of confidence, Rick headed off base. I wonder if Max and Ben are at the mess hall. I can tell them about taking over as Skull One.

"Hey! That's great news!" bellowed the burly corporal, Ben Dixon. "This calls for a celebration." He motioned to a waitress. "Hey! How about a round of drinks here!"

The smaller man wearing thick glasses and sporting blue hair looked at Ben strangely. "Well, as I live and breathe, I don't believe it. Ben's actually buying a round."

Rick laughed. "He hasn't paid for it yet."

"Hey! Cut it out!" yelled Ben. "I just don't make as much as some hot shot pilots around here, that's all!"

"Be happy command pays you at all. You could have to pay for the damages you cause your veritech every time you fly," joked Rick

"At least he brings his veritech back in one piece, Rick," said Max. "Unlike some pilots I know."

Ben laughed his deep, throaty laugh while Rick glowered at Max. "One of these days, Sterling, I'm gonna show you what a real pilot can do."

"Is that when you're gonna show me video tape of myself?"

The waitress set the mugs of beer on the table, breaking the tension. Rick smiled and raised his glass up towards Max. "Just remember, buddy, I'll be there when you mess up."

Max chinked his mug off of Rick's. "That's 'cause I'll have saved your skin five times before then."

Ben was thoroughly enjoying this and laughed again. Both Rick and Max angrily turned towards Ben. "What are you laughing at? We have to save your hide every mission!" they screamed in unison. Ben blinked in surprise and then burst out with even stronger laughter. Rick and Max soon caught the mood and began laughing with him.

Ben raised his mug. "To the new Skull One!"

Rick and Max raised their mugs in unison. "Cheers!"

"Captain on the bridge," yelled Kim from her station.

Everyone stood at attention while Captain Gloval walked in, careful to duck under the overhang. I really must have a maintenance crew come in and fix the height of that door. I'm getting tired of banging my head when there's an emergency, he reflected. "As you were," he quietly ordered, allowing everyone to settle back to their duties. The normal bridge crew as here, with the notable absence of Claudia Grant. Sammy was filling in for Claudia while she took time off to grieve. Poor Claudia. I fear she will have little to smile about in the coming days. Things just aren't turning out the way they should. We have made it to Earth, but the council won't let us release the civilians. This is an intolerable situation. We cannot allow innocents to be placed on the front line any longer. "Sammy!"

Sammy jumped at the sharpness of his tone and turned around nervously. "Y...Yes sir?"

"Set a course for Los Angeles. Altitude 8000 feet."

Lisa turned around immediately. "But, sir, that will put the thrusters barely above the tops of the skyscrapers. You'll cause a panic."

"Yes, Lisa. I know, but I have no choice in the matter. We have a situation here that cannot persist. I will do everything I have to get the council to see the error of their decision. Them or someone else."

"Someone else?" wondered Lisa aloud. A smile crept across her face as comprehension of Gloval's statement sunk in. "I understand, sir." She turned to Sammy. "Well, Sammy, what are you waiting for? Do as the Captain commands."

"Yes ma'am."

Rick walked into his quarters and sunk into his chair at his desk. He was feeling a little guilty about the little celebration he had with Ben and Max. I know I shouldn't have, but it kind of felt nice. It really let out a lot of tension. I guess Roy would have wanted me to get back to living life as soon as possible. As a matter of fact, he'd probably haunt me if I didn't. Rick laughed at that thought and leaned over to the monitor on his desk and turned it on. Might as well find out what's happening in the world.

A news caster appeared on the screen with an icon of an erupting volcano in the upper right corner. "Our top story is the eruption of the long dormant Mt. St. Hillary in the Washington wilderness earlier this morning. Scientists have theorized that Mt. St. Hillary has been dormant for 4 million years. Our sources tell us that the nearby town of New Salem was successfully evacuated with no human casualties. However, this year's 'Twentieth Century Auto and Plane Show' held there annually was disrupted. This popular event draws thousands from across the world to view the popular styles that were prevalent in the peaceful times before the Great Global Civil War. Authorities state that most of the people in attendance only suffered from smoke inhalation from the ash spewed in the air by Mt. St. Hillary. More on this story after these messages."

A picture of Macross island flashed on the screen as a commercial began and then blew up. "They caused the destruction of Macross Island," declared an announcer in a deep baritone voice. The image changed to show Mt. St. Hillary erupting. "And now they have caused Mt. St. Hillary to erupt. Hear the shocking stories."

A middle aged man wearing overalls and a John Deer cap appeared on the TV screen and started talking into a microphone being held for him. 'Yeah, all I remember is everyone panicking during the eruption. There was smoke everywhere, and then I saw it. One of them dang UFO's.' A hazy photograph showed a gold metallic object obscured by the smoke. 'I think they was trying to determine our defenses by studying the planes. I saw it hovering over them and the cars too.'

The commercial ended with the baritone voiced narrator announcing, "On the next Hard Copy."

Rick rolled his eyes upward. "Oh brother, if the Zentradi had attacked those folks, they wouldn't be alive right now to tell the story. I guess people will buy just about any story." He turned the screen off and climbed into his bunk. "Nothing to do now but get some sleep. As the new Skull One, I'd better be on my toes for my first mission." He tossed and turned reflecting on Roy and his new responsibilities before sleep finally came to free him from his misery.

Somewhere in the Washington state wilderness, Megatron grimly looked around the temporary headquarters that he and the other Decepticons had set up. They had found a large cave to conceal their new base from the Autobots and had scavenged materials from nearby power installations that Soundwave had detected. Megatron angrily paced back and forth trying to clear his head to think clearly. How long have we been deactivated? What is the status of our conquest of Cybertron?

"We should have destroyed the Autobots while we had a chance back at their base, Megatron," declared someone behind him.

Megatron whirled angrily at the sound of Starscream's irritating voice. "We were outnumbered, Starscream, and we did not have the element of surprise on our side. Were you really that eager to be deactivated again?"

"I don't fear a pathetic band of peace loving Autobots, Megatron. You have lost your nerve. It's time for a new leader. One who will have the guts to stand and destroy our ene..."

Megatron backhanded Starscream. Starscream came back up quickly, only to find Megatron expecting him. Starscream was slammed back into the cave wall with Megatron's right fist tightening around his neck. Megatron's eyes squinted menacingly at Starscream. "You didn't learn anything from our last encounter with the Autobots, did you? With Prime leading them, they are tenacious fighters, willing to throw their pathetic lives away for him. We needed to regroup."

He threw Starscream across the room. "I am growing tired of your constant attacks on my leadership, Starscream. One of these days, I will destroy you despite your usefulness to my cause." Turning to a robot who resembled Starscream except for his dark blue color, he bellowed, "Thundercracker, take him to the infirmary. Soundwave will tend to him after he finishes the communication array."

Thundercracker helped Starscream up to his feet and positioned himself to bear the brunt of Starscream's weight as they started walking. "You just don't know when to shut up, do you, Screamer?"

Starscream slowly lifted his head. "He won't beat me forever," he said weakly.

"Yeah, sure. Whatever. Come on. Time to get you fixed up, again."

Megatron quietly fumed while watching Starscream being carried out. He pondered what he already knew about the current situation. I had victory in my grasp before Prime sacrificed the entire ship to stop me. Who knows how long I have been deactivated. Not to mention that the transformation configuration of myself and the other Decepticons has been changed when the Autobots ship repaired us with the Autobots. That suggests a mechanized form of life has settled here. But who? Is it the Autobots? Or have the Decepticons conquered Cybertron and expanded the empire? I must know before I can make my next move.

Megatron continued to muse on his thoughts as he walked towards the area where Soundwave was building the communications array. Rumble and his identical red colored twin, Frenzy, were helping Soundwave.

"Why do we always have to do the dirty work?" grumbled Frenzy.

"Yeah, this bites!" echoed Rumble.

"Because Prime is surely now finding out everything he can about this planet," answered Megatron. Rumble and Frenzy both jumped in surprise. "In answer to your question, you do the dirty work because I tell you to do the dirty work." He leaned down towards the two significantly smaller robots. "I cannot allow Prime to have an advantage over us. Now get to work before I scrap you and find someone else suitable to do the task at hand."

"Y...yes, Megatron," stammered the two terrified robots. They looked at each other in fear and feverishly threw themselves back into their tasks. Megatron smiled in grim satisfaction. At least some of his troops still kept their fearful respect for him in their long sleep. Megatron stood up satisfied that they had gotten his point and turned towards Soundwave. "Soundwave, what's the status of the array."

Soundwave looked up from the exposed wiring. "This unit is configured to receive the large number of transmissions I have detected in the air. However, the unit only has video capability at this moment."

"Very well, switch it on and let's see what we can see."

"As you command." Soundwave flicked a few switches and turned the large central dial. The screen flickered until an image clarified from the static.

The image stunned Megatron. There on the screen appeared to be an Autobot strike team racing towards an undetermined destination. It's not possible. What is an Autobot strike team doing here? Does this mean that the Autobots have won the war? No, it cannot be. I refuse to believe such a preposterous notion. Eh? What's this? Megatron moved closer to the screen. They have already passed that point. I'm sure of it. Yes. They have passed that point too. They are going around in circles. What in the name of the abyss is going on? He turned to Soundwave. "Soundwave, when can you have audio available? I need to know what their orders are. What those pathetic Autobots are doing doesn't make sense."

"Audio will be available in less than a half click."

Megatron stewed on this while he turned his attention back to the screen. No matter how he put it, he just couldn't figure out the purpose of the Autobots just circling around like they were doing. Suddenly, one of the Autobots hit the wall and skidded out of control into the grass on the side of the track. Megatron smiled in grim satisfaction. At least they seem as clumsy now as they were back on Cybertron. What's this? Megatron watched a handful of organic creatures run toward the mangled Autobot, who had now burst into flames, and started extinguishing the fire. He stared in amazement as an organic creature actually climbed out of it. "Soundwave, cease what you are doing and come look at this."

"As you command, Megatron," answered the giant blue robot obediently.

"What are those creatures?"


"Why was one riding around in that Autobot? Where are the Autobot medics? Why doesn't he transform?"

"Unknown. Perhaps these creatures have enslaved the Autobots on this world."

"Those puny fleshlings have enslaved the Autobots?" Megatron laughed out loud. "Conquering this world will be easier than I thought. Try another channel."

Soundwave turned the dial until the screen cleared again. This time it showed a fleshling speaking and gesturing to a crowd staring upwards. Some of them were running in a near panicked state. The fleshing gestured upwards and the screen followed the gesture upwards. The thrusters of a giant ship could be seen over the city.

Megatron leaned forward in interest. "Well, well, well. What have we here? Is this some sort of fleshling weapon?" He pondered the question for a moment. "Soundwave, get the audio on line, immediately. I must find out all I can about that ship."

Soundwave tapped a few buttons to make some final adjustments to his makeshift communications station. "Audio online now."

"...seems to be a giant ship in the shape of a man. It came in over the city from the Pacific ocean and has the entire city of Los Angeles in a state of panic. Several helicopters from the national guard have attempted to make contact, but they tell us that they have had no success. What the authorities are saying is that the public should not panic. There is no indication that the ship's intent is hostile." The camera came down to show a number of people running from their cars and buildings. "As you can see," continued the reporter, "no one seems to be paying them any attention. Back to you, Rob."

Megatron turned away from the screen, no longer interested. "Soundwave, could you pinpoint where the broadcast was being made."

"Yes, Megatron. The broadcast's origin is further south along the coast of this continent."

"Excellent. Dispatch Laserbeak at once. I want him to find out all he can about this mysterious ship."

"As you command." Soundwave pressed a button on his stomach. A compartment in his chest opened and ejected a giant cassette tape. "Laserbeak: launch. Mission: surveillance." The tape transformed into a giant red and black metallic condor. It's yellow eyes glowed evilly as it screeched its acknowledgment of Soundwave's orders and flew out the entrance of the cave.

Rick stood on the deck, staring at the Jolly Rodgers insignia on the tail fins. Rick had pondered taking the insignias off, considering they were Roy's, but somehow that didn't feel right. It would be like admitting he was gone. It would also be good for the men's morale to see them flying again. No, they had to stay. Rick just had to live up to the legend. Well, Big Brother, they've asked me to fill your shoes. He gingerly put his hand on the fuselage. It's funny. They've asked me, who's always getting shot down to replace you, who never got shot down. I sure hope I'm up to this.

"Skull Squadron, please prepare to lift up to the runway."

Rick smiled. Lisa sure doesn't allow you much time to waste woolly gathering around. Oh well, time to go to work. Rick climbed up the ladder to the cockpit. He paused at the top, almost afraid to desecrate the plane that his big brother flew.

"Lt. Hunter, is everything all right?" asked one of the technicians.

"Yes, just fine. You all have done a great job of keeping her in shape. I just hope I can bring it back in one piece."

"I'm sure you will, sir. Good luck!"

"Yeah, luck," grunted Rick nervously as he finally climbed in. The canopy slowly lowered as the black and gold highlighted veritech fighter was wheeled to the platform leading to the upper deck. Rick went through all his flight preparations as the fighter was lifted and wheeled out onto the deck of the Daedalus. The flight technician flashed Rick a thumbs up.

Rick breathed out deeply. Time to make it official. "This is Skull leader, Lt. Rick Hunter, requesting take off."

Claudia drew back in surprise from her station on the bridge. "Did he just say 'Skull leader'?" she asked incredulously.

"That's right!" replied Lisa with pride. "Rick's taken over Roy's squadron."

Claudia's eyes misted over at the mention of Roy's name. Then she smiled and said quietly, "Roy would've liked that."

"Permission is granted, Skull One. Good hunting, Rick."

"Thanks, Lisa," answered Rick.

Claudia cast a sideways glance at Lisa. Good hunting, Rick? Thanks, Lisa? My, those two are being awfully friendly towards each other over the radio. I may just have to push those two along.

Lisa caught the look that Claudia was giving her. "What?" she asked, confronting her old friend.

"I think you know."

Lisa blushed. "What do you mean?"

"Are you trying to tell me that you aren't at least a little bit thrilled at the fact that the Ontario Consortium has agreed to let the civilians leave the SDF-1?"

"Of course I'm thrilled. We have to make sure the civilians aren't put at any more risk."

"And by said process, they eliminate your biggest rival, a certain Lynn Minmei," followed up Claudia coyly.

"No! It's not like that!" exclaimed Lisa hastily.

"Uh huh. Tell me another one."

"But... but... but..."

"We'll talk later. Count on it." Claudia winked at Lisa and went back to her duties. Sammy, Vanessa, and Kim giggled while Lisa turned crimson at the allegations brought against her.

"All right! That's enough out of all of you!" yelled Lisa.

"Yes, ma'am!" replied everyone before falling into another fit of giggles.

"Ahem!" said someone in a stern manner.

Kim's eyes got big as she suddenly realized that Captain Gloval had just entered the bridge. "Oh my gosh," she yelped, leaping to her feet. "Captain on the bridge."

Everyone immediately fell silent, watching the Captain's eyes slowly turn to each and every one of them. He finally brought his fist up to his mouth and coughed. "Ladies, please. We have enough to do today. I must ask that you harass Commander Hayes during your off duty hours."

"Yes sir," replied the guilty parties. They turned to their stations and began to diligently work. Lisa gave Gloval a small smile of thanks and went back to her duties herself.

Captain Gloval slowly sat in his captain's chair and looked out the window. "I don't know what I'm going to do with this crew," he muttered.

Laserbeak flew into the mouth of the cave that served as the Decepticon's temporary base of operations. Once inside, he homed in on his master and protector, Soundwave, whom had already informed Megatron that Laserbeak was returning from his mission. He found the two of them in the communications room, with Soundwave already transformed into his new configuration. Laserbeak still found the new configurations for Soundwave and himself unsettling. The new forms were just so small. Nonetheless, he knew Megatron wanted a report and transformed into the equivalent of a cassette tape. In this form, he entered the chest compartment of Soundwave, who resembled a Sony Walkman. Once inside, he surrendered the data on the battle he had just witnessed.

Megatron watched the battle with interest. Two green ships that appeared to be battle cruisers had attacked the ship Laserbeak had been sent to observe. They were larger than the robotic shaped ship, but they couldn't breach the smaller ship's defenses. Laserbeak noticed Megatron's frown as he watched the battle continue and knew that he was wondering the same thing that he wondered out there. Why wasn't the smaller ship attacking? There were smaller fighter craft engaging the fighters that the green cruisers had deployed, but they weren't playing much of a factor in this battle.

"Any audio transmissions, Laserbeak?"

Laserbeak played what he had picked up though he knew Megatron wouldn't be too interested.

"Rick, the shield is being pushed to its limits and the weapon systems are off line. That cruiser is getting a little too close for comfort. If you and Skull squadron can't slow it down..."

"There won't be a ship to come home to," replied Rick. "Come on, Ben, Max. We've got a job to do."

"Roger," acknowledged both men.

Megatron watched a trio of fighters break off and try to wear down the immense ship without much success. The shield around the robotic ship began to glow red as it continued to deflect the large volleys of lasers brought to bear on it by the cruiser. Energy began to crackle wildly with each laser strike, the shield growing more erratic by the second.

"Rick," yelled Lisa frantically. "The shield's had it. It's gonna blow. Get out of there!"

"Already gone," answered Rick. The fighters began to make a run for it. One of them was slower than the others in lifting off. "Come on, Ben! Move it! That shield's exploding!"

"I'm moving," replied Ben frantically.

There was a brilliant flash of light that briefly blinded Megatron before his optic's polarizers compensated for the sudden change. He stared at the screen in awe as he watched the shield explode with the extra energy that it had been absorbing. The hull of one of the attacking cruisers disintegrated from bow to stern as the expanding fireball ripped through it. "Magnificent," he breathed.

"Ben, hit your afterburners!," yelled Rick over the radio. "You're falling behind." The three fighters were still trying to run from the fireball bearing fast on them.

"They're not responding! I don't think I'm gonna make it! I Arrrrrrgggggghhhhhhh!"

One of the fighters exploded, overrun by the now slowing fireball.

"Ben!" The other two fighters flew on to safety, the danger past to them. "No, Ben!"


"Lisa? Is that you? But I thought the SDF-1…"

"The excess energy absorbed in the omnishield blew outwards. The SDF-1 is completely undamaged, but Rick," Lisa paused, trying to gather herself, "Rick, the city..."

"I see it, Lisa. It's terrible."

"The blast affected the area for 30 square miles. Everyone..., everything..., it's..."

"I know, Lisa."

"I don't understand, Rick. Why did they attack us now?" asked Lisa, her voice quivering with grief.

"I wish I knew, Lisa," answered Rick solemnly. He paused for a moment to gather the strength to make his next statement. "Lisa, please inform Captain Gloval that we lost Corporal Ben Dixon."

"Oh Rick, I'm so sorry."

"Turn it off, Soundwave," ordered Megatron. "I've learned what I needed to know. That ship is magnificent. I've never seen anything with such a capability of mass destruction. I must have it."

Soundwave transformed to robot mode. "What is your order, Megatron?"

Megatron paced around the room. "It has an extremely powerful defense. However, we may be able to infiltrate it. We have to test the strength of those fighters that we observed in the battle. We must be sure of their strength before we can plan an attack. Have Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp attack the ship. They can destroy as many of the fighters as they wish. I want a full report on their capabilities. Also, send Buzzsaw to deliver Ravage to the surface of the ship. If Ravage can infiltrate the ship, we can learn much more about it. I want to know about that ship, Soundwave."

"As you command, Megatron."

Soundwave left the room to carry out his leader's orders, leaving Megatron alone to stare at the image of the SDF-1 on the screen. "Yes, Prime, I will have that ship, and with it, the universe." Maniacal laughter began to fill the air as Megatron envisioned his ultimate triumph.

Chapter 3

Rick sat in his veritech fighter, the memory of the recent battle running through his mind. He went over his decision when Lisa informed him of the danger the cruiser was posing to the SDF-1. Why did I choose Ben? Was I just used to ordering him around? Certainly there was someone better for the job?

"Ben, hit your afterburners! You're falling behind!"

"They're not responding! I don't think I'm gonna make it! I arrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhh!"

Rick winced at the memory of the radio transmissions as he, Max, and Ben desperately tried to escape the fireball that had been the energy shield around the SDF-1. The fireball destroyed Ontario and nearly got them. No, it got one of us.

Someone tapped on the canopy, startling Rick. He looked up and saw Max Sterling. "Are you okay, Rick?" inquired the blue haired ace.

Rick slowly nodded.

"Come on out, Rick. The techs need to service your plane."

Rick slowly pulled off the helmet, or "smart cap" as it was referred to by the pilots, that served as interface with the fighters. He wasn't feeling particularly very smart. He slowly climbed down the ladder onto the deck.

"Welcome back, sir," said of the veritech technicians. "We're glad you made it back in one piece. We heard it was nasty."

"It was," replied Rick solemnly. "Corporal Dixon didn't come back."

"We know, sir. It's a shame too. He was a good pilot."

"Yeah, a shame." Rick walked slowly towards the locker room.

Max followed him into the locker room. They both changed out of their flight suits, neither one speaking. "It wasn't your fault, Rick," Max finally said, breaking the silence.

"Oh yeah, then whose fault was it's?"

"The Zentradi, Rick. They're the ones who caused the shield to explode."

"But I'm the one who ordered him there! I'm the one who placed him in the position to be killed," screamed Rick

"Comes with the job, Rick," replied Max calmly. "You had to make a decision and you made it. Just like Lisa had to make one when she ordered you to stop that cruiser. Just like the Captain had to make when he ordered the shield to be brought on line. It's a dangerous job, Rick. People's lives are constantly in danger out there. It could have easily been me, you, or all three of us who bought today. Ben knew the risks coming in. He fought for what he believed in. He fought for the chance of getting the civilians off this ship, out of danger. He did it because it was the right thing to do. That's why he was there. He knew he had to be there because you made the right decision. It was the only decision."

"Does that mean that all my decisions are going to end up with the death of someone I know?"

"Possibly. It's something you have to deal with, or else you're never going to able to make a decision again. I have to know that you can do this. If you become too afraid of losing someone to make the decisions, you're going to lose us all."

"Then maybe it's better if I'm not commander of the Skull."

"I can't believe you'd dishonor Roy's name like that."

"You leave him out of this!" screamed Rick in rage.

Max raised his hands defensively, trying to calm Rick. "Sorry, Rick. It's just that you and I both know that Roy didn't ever shirk his responsibilities and he wouldn't want you to either. You're where you belong, whether you believe that or not. I'm confident of that, but you need to realize that too."

"Who are you to lecture me in the ways of command, second lieutenant?"

"Is that the way it's going to be? Fine then, forgive me for trying to talk some sense into my friend." Max spun around angrily and began to stomp toward the door. "See you around, Lt Hunter," growled Max before slamming the door.

Rick slumped over on the bench. "Well, Rick, you really handled yourself well there, didn't you?"

Three jets roared through the sky over the devastated area that had been Ontario hours before. The lead jet, white with red and blue highlights along the wings, flew closely over the crater, surveying the damage that had been done. "My, seeing the image on the screen before doesn't even begin to compare with seeing the beautiful destruction up close and personal."

"You got that right, Starscream," replied the black jet soaring above. "Found anything on the radar yet, Thundercracker?"

"No, not yet," answered the dark blue jet. He looked down at the devastated city. "Look at that," he whispered. "If Megatron ever got his hands on that weapon, he could end the war, but what would be the cost? Would any bit of Cybertron exist after he got done with it?"

"What was that, Thundercracker?" inquired Starscream, joining the others at their higher altitude.

"Uh, nothing. Wait, I'm picking up a large object to the West, about 200 miles away."

Starscream hit his afterburners. "Then let's go. I've waited a long time to destroy something. I'm eager to start."

Thundercracker and Skywarp followed suit and sped after him. "You need to learn to stop thinking aloud, Thundercracker," said Skywarp.

"I know, Skywarp, but it is a legitimate concern of mine."

"I personally don't care what views you have as long as you remember who are master is and you follow his orders. Beyond that, it's your world."

Yeah, but how much of it is going to be left when Megatron gets done with it, wondered Thundercracker silently.

Later, in his quarters, Rick stared at the words he had typed up on the computer screen and slowly read them aloud.

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dixon,

It is my duty to sadly inform you that your son was killed on April 26, 2010 while serving in the line of duty. He died honorably, laying his life on the line to defend innocent civilians from an enemy attack. I'm afraid I cannot find the words to express the loss that the people here feel in losing one of the SDF-1's staunchest defenders. Ben Dixon was one of the finest officers I have ever had the privilege of serving with. I know I cannot know the sorrow of losing a son, but I do know and share your sorrow because he was one of my closest friends. He will be missed by us all.

Lt. Rick Hunter"

Rick leaned back in his chair, rubbing the temples of his head. He slowly rose and walked over to the sink and splashed water on his face. He looked hard into the haunted eyes of his reflection. Why did you order him there? He wasn't as experienced as some of the other pilots. He could be here now if I had put a little more thought into my decision, but I didn't. I just reacted to the situation. Rick squeezed his eyes shut, trying to will the tears from coming out. Why did I have to be the one responsible for all their lives? I'm not ready for this. "Dammit, Roy! Why'd you have to die and leave me with this!"

Rick jumped at the sound of someone knocking at his door. "Rick?" inquired a female voice from the other side.

"Lisa? Is that you?"

"Yes, Rick. May I come in?"

"Sure," answered Rick, reaching for the door knob. It was then that he realized that his hand was bleeding. Rick drew his hand back from the door, startled by the blood on his hands. He looked around and saw the mirror cracked from where he had punched it. The hand began to throb with pain.


"J...just a second." Rick scrambled for a towel, wrapping it around his hand before finally opening the door.

"Hello, Rick," greeted Lisa sweetly, stepping into his room.

"Good evening, Lisa."

Lisa took a quick look around the room. Rick felt like he wanted to disappear. "Here," said Lisa, taking hold of his covered hand, unwrapping the towel carefully.

"You really don't have to..."

"Hush up, mister. This needs to be tended to. Now come over here." Lisa lead Rick over to the sink, where she started to wash the minor wound out. She got out Rick's first aid kit and began sterilizing and wrapping the wound in gauze. "They never fight fair, do they?" she finally said when close to completion.

"Huh?" asked a dumbfounded Rick.

"The ghosts. They never fight fair."

"How did you know...?"

"I've had to face this too, Rick. I was worried about you. Max was too. He told me that you were taking this pretty hard."

"Pretty hard doesn't even come close to it. I can't seem to get Ben's final words out of my mind. I keep going over to entire battle in my mind, wondering if I could have done something different to change the outcome. Maybe he died because I messed up."

Lisa placed her hand on his shoulder in sympathy. "Rick, I know this is hard, but you have to know that it wasn't your fault."

"How can you say that? I'm responsible for what happens to my men."

"Yes, you are Rick, and that's why you're Skull One. You do everything you can to make sure your men survive. Just like Roy did."

"Don't say that! I'm nowhere near the leader that Roy was!" yelled Rick

"Even Roy lost men, Rick. And don't forget, I'm the one who ordered you there in the first place," replied Lisa soothingly. She smiled when Rick visibly calmed down.

"But I should have chosen someone else, someone more suitable for the job."

"Like who? You, Max, and Ben had been a team for a while now. A good one. You knew how to work together. Ben wouldn't have wanted you to shield him from danger just because he was your friend." Lisa choked back tears. "The rest of us don't get luxuries like that."

"Is this anything like what you felt when I got caught in that missile strike you ordered?" asked Rick while handing her a handkerchief.

"Thank you." Lisa wiped the tears from her face. "Yes, I was so afraid that you were dead, and it would have been my fault. I still have nightmares about it where you didn't survive." And I didn't have the chance to tell you how I feel.

"We already been over this, Lisa. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Ben was too."

Rick sat there silently for a moment. "I know you're right, Lisa. It's just that I feel, I don't know, guilty."

"About surviving?"

"Right. It just doesn't make sense. Why him? Why not me that was lagging behind?"

"I'm afraid I don't have that answer. I'm still trying to deal with the loss of Ontario."

Rick softened up a little. "Lisa, you shouldn't feel guilty about that, it was the Zentradi who caused the shield to overload."

"It doesn't hurt any less knowing that." Lisa and Rick sat there quietly for a few moments pondering the conversation. Lisa's heart began to beat wildly with nervousness. Do I tell him how worried I was when I thought he might be dead again when the shield overloaded? Would he think I'm being callous if I told him that I was relieved at hearing his voice, that I could deal with any tragedy knowing that he is safe? "Rick?"

"Yes Lisa?"

"I... I'm glad that..."

"Commander Hayes," announced Sammy's voice over the intercom system, "please report to the bridge immediately. Repeat, Commander Hayes, please report to the bridge immediately."

Rick looked up at the intercom speaker in the ceiling. "Looks like duty is calling again."

Lisa sighed. "It always does." She stood up quickly and started heading for the door. "Excuse me, Rick, I have to go."

"I know," replied Rick, standing up himself. "Lisa?"

Lisa stopped at the door. "Yes, Rick?"

"Thanks. You really helped me get my head back together."

"My pleasure, Mr. Hunter." With that, Lisa ran out the door and down the hallway leading to the elevator. Just two more minutes. That's all I needed, she fumed inwardly as she ran. This had better be important or I'm going to strangle you, Sammy.

"Commander on the bridge," yelled a young lieutenant as Lisa stepped on the bridge.

"What do you got?" inquired Lisa, her tone stating her displeasure at being called up.

Sammy gulped nervously. "W...we're be...being followed," she stammered.

Lisa walked up to Sammy's station. "Show me."

Sammy called forth a radar display for them to see on a monitor overhead. "You see here," pointed Sammy to three blips, "They arrived on our radar about fifteen minutes ago."

Lisa's brow furrowed as she concentrated on the blips. "Distance?"

"50 miles. They have held that distance since we have detected them."

"Hmm, sounds like they want to draw us out."

"Exactly. I didn't want to commit any of our patrols to what is probably an enemy trap."

"Good thinking. Who do you have out there?"

"Scorpion squadron. I have them holding at 15 miles from our position, ready to intercept if those blips come any closer."

"Good. Let's let them make the next move. As a precaution, put Skull squadron on standby, just in case this turns ugly."

"Aye aye, Ma'am."

Lisa sat down in the captain's chair, pondering the situation. What is the enemy up to now?

"Hey, Screamer!" radioed Skywarp. "When are we going to create some mayhem? I'm getting bored here playing follow the leader."

"Patience, Skywarp. Do you see those six fighters on the radar?"

"Yeah, so?"

"I wanted to see if we could lure them out here where we could play with them. It doesn't look like they're taking the bait though. That proves that our foe has at least some sense of military tactics."

"You mean you're actually using your CPU before attacking?"

"I am the premier air assault leader of the Decepticons. I do know how to test and gauge an enemy's capabilities, which is what Megatron sent us to do."

"So when do we see some action?"

Starscream opened his jets full, zooming ahead of Skywarp and Thundercracker. "Right now. Let's go see our enemy up close."

"Commander Hayes, the bogeys appears to be advancing," reported the squad leader of Scorpion Squadron.

"Copy, Lt. Alvarez. Move to intercept. Do not fire unless fired upon. Something's not adding up about this one," ordered Lisa.

"I copy. Okay guys, you heard the lady. Let's go greet the neighbors." Lt. Alvarez felt himself be pushed into his seat by the sudden increase in gravitational force of his acceleration. The other five jets followed suit to his lead and took up position behind him. "Standard attack formation, they may not want to fight but I want us ready if they do. I'm lead of flight one. Ashan, you've got flight two."

"Roger," replied his second in command. Ashan and Alvarez took the lead while the other four took up position behind them, one jet on either side of the leaders.

"Bogeys coming in at twelve o clock. Time 'til contact, fifteen seconds," called out Alvarez, nervously watching the radar. "Keep your eyes peeled, boys. I want sighting before they see us."

"There!" yelled his right wingman. "Straight ahead to the right."

"Good work, Stone. All right, boys, let's see who we have here. Ashan, you hold your flight back, we're doing a fly by to warn them to back off."

"Roger. Good hunting sir."

Alvarez and his two wingman headed for the approaching Decepticons. "This is Lt. Alvarez of the RDF defense force. You are approaching a secure military base. Identify yourself." Alvarez repeated his message once more before they flew by their unknown enemy. "What the heck?"

"What is it, Lt. Alvarez?" inquired Lisa.

Alvarez turned his veritech to follow the three mystery jets and accelerated to catch them up with them. "They appeared to be old style United States Air Force F-15 Eagles, Commander."

"Those jets haven't been used since the Global Civil War."

"I know. It looks like somebody's taken real good care of these babies. I count three of them. One white decorated with red and blue trim along the wings. One black with blue trim. One blue with yellow trim. There are strange purple markings that I haven't seen before on the wings."

"Some sort of terrorist group?"

"Wouldn't be the first time some nuts got their hands on old military hardware and customized it."

"Okay, try to get the pilots' attention that they will be shot down if they do not deviate from their present course."

"Roger." Alvarez flew to the left of Thundercracker and looked into the cockpit. "What the heck?!" he screamed seeing nobody in the cockpit. "There's no pilot, Commander!"


Suddenly, the three Decepticon jets broke formation. Starscream zoomed straight up, Thundercracker dived, and Skywarp headed for a cloud bank.

"Damn!" screamed Alvarez, jerking the control stick back to climb up in pursuit of Starscream. "All units, break and intercept! We have ourselves somebody's cruel idea of a joke! Nobody's piloting the planes. Shoot at will. I repeat, shoot at will."

"What's happening out there," demanded Lisa.

Vanessa watched the radar screen intently. "Hard to say, Commander. It looks like the fighters have broken formation. It sounds like Scorpion squadron is engaging them in combat."

"How can that be when I just heard Lt. Alvarez say that there are no pilots in those jets?"

"Could someone being controlling them by remote control?" offered Sammy.

"Perhaps." Lisa continued listening to the radio transmissions from her men.

"Randolf! Don't let that black one make it to cloud cover!" yelled Corporal Ramon

"I'm trying, but I can't hit him!" replied Randolf.

"Commander! I just lost contact with the bogey being chased by Corporal Randolf!" reported Vanessa. She gasped. "No wait! Now it's behind him and Corporal Ramon! Randolf! Ramon! Watch your six! He's right behind you!"

"What the hell?! How'd he do that? He was right in front..." exclaimed Ramon.

Lisa heard the sudden screams over the radio. She didn't need to ask, but Vanessa reported it anyway. "We lost Randolf and Ramon, Commander."

Lisa wanted to scream in rage, but reined her emotions in. The rest of Scorpion squadron was counting on her to bring them back. "Sammy!" she said determinedly, gritting her teeth. "Scramble the Skull!"

Chapter 4

Rick was on the deck of the Daedalus, his veritech primed and ready to go into action at a moment's notice. He was also struggling to contain his rage. Suddenly Sammy was on the radio, ordering the Skull into action. Rick's nerves hardened to steel. "All right, boys, we've got fellow pilots in trouble and it's up to us to bring them safely home. Let's do it!"

"Yes sir!" responded his men loyally.

The deck officer flashed the launch signal and Rick opened the throttle full, his body feeling the intense G-forces pressing on his body as his veritech shot from the Daedalus's deck. His squad was in the air seconds behind him. Rick punched up a display to view the battle between Scorpion and the mysterious invaders. Things weren't looking good for them. Alvarez and his wingman, Gerry, were in pursuit of the white one while Ashan and Stone were bearing down on the blue one. Surprisingly, the black one was in pursuit of Ashan and Stone rather than helping the white one in more immediate danger. "Max, Beck, I want you and your wingmen to get that black jet off Ashan's tail while he takes care of the one coming in along the floor. Krieger, you're with me."


"Be careful with that black one, Max."

"I know. I heard the transmissions too. I want to see what kind of trick he has up his sleeve."

"What the hell? Gerry! Take evasive maneuvers!" screamed Alvarez over the radio.


"Alvarez! What's happening out there?" demanded Rick.

"I had the bogey in lock and was about to send it to the scrap heap when it did a straight 180 turn on the proverbial dime and came straight at us. I barely had time to evade its attack. Gerry wasn't so lucky. Oh God! It's on my tail. Help me out here!"

"Calm down, Luiz. We're here. Bank to your left. We'll draw it away from you."


Alvarez's plane turned hard left, barely escaping the laser bombardment from his pursuer. Meanwhile, Rick fired across Starscream's path. "Come on," he muttered under his breath. "I'm the better challenge. Come on. You want me. Not him."

"Well, well, well. So this creature wants me to leave his friend alone and play with him, does he?" said Starscream condesendedly. "Very well, follow me if you can." Starscream spiraled upwards, away from Alvarez.

Rick breathed a sigh of relief while angling his fighter upwards to give chase to the rising Decepticon. "All right, it's you and me now. Krieger, hang back with Alvarez and be prepared to back me up."


"That's an order, Krieger."

"Yes sir." Krieger flew back towards Alvarez while Rick continued his upward climb after Starscream.

"Just what the hell do you think you're doing, Lt. Hunter?" demanded Lisa over the vid link.

"It's a game of follow the leader, Commander."

"I don't want you playing this game. You're playing right into his hands."

"Wrong, Commander, he's playing into mine. Hunter, out."

"Rick Hunter, don't you dare..." Lisa's image disappeared as Rick switched off the video link to the command tower.

"Sorry, Lisa. I can't put anyone else in danger."

Skywarp zoomed above the ocean, sea spray rising in his wake as he bore down on the fighters chasing Thundercracker. Suddenly, gunfire bounced off his armor. "What the?" he cried in surprise, just now noticing the four fighters bearing down on him. "So, the little insects have some friends. Guess I get to play longer than I thought." He dipped his nosecone into water, causing the water to splash up around him as he skimmed the surface. "Let's see you adjust to this," he said as he teleported.

"How the hell can he do that without flipping over?" asked Max's wingman Corporal Baker, dazzled by the aquatic display.

"They're better armored than our own fighters," explained Max. "I know I tagged him on our last pass, but he just seemed to shrug it off."

"Hey! The water's settling," observed Baker.

Max Sterling's instincts screamed danger, his mind in a single split second replaying the transmissions from before.

Randolf. Ramon. Watch your six. He's right behind you!

"Peel off, now! He's behind us!" screamed Max to his men. The pilots obediently scrambled in different directions, just as Skywarp reappeared with his lasers firing on their last position.

Max immediately reconfigured his veritech to battloid mode, his fighter twisting in air as metal shifted itself around. His thrusters swung past his fuselage to become legs, while arms that were held in place by the thrusters now swung out while the plane folded onto itself. The wings folded back to become the back and the main body of the plane slid into place over the fuselage, becoming the chest of the robot and shield of the pilot. The underbelly laser array swung up to form the head of the robotic warrior, its sensors immediately transmitting to Max the visual of Skywarp flying underneath him. He pulled on the levers that made his right arm train the battloid's gun on his foe while projecting through the thinking cap what he wanted the battloid to do.

"What in the name of Cybertron?" screamed a confused Skywarp. His opponents weren't where he had expected. It was almost as if they had anticipated his move to teleport in behind them and finish them off like he had done with the first two. Bullets bounced off his armor again. "Blast it! That hurts!"

Max studied the plane as he shot, noting that while the bullets weren't penetrating the jet's armor, sustained fire was denting it. "Maybe I can't shoot you down with one shot, but I can wear you down. Huh?" He watched the black jet shimmer and fade from sight. "So that's it, some sort of teleportation trick. Well, I got the feel for how you like to fight now." Max spun his battloid 180 degrees so that he was facing away from the water and fired. Skywarp teleported back into the midst of Max's fire, bullets ricocheting off the fuselage and the cockpit of the jet.

Suddenly, the wings started folding forward while the fuselage bent down to reveal a head. Two arms popped out of the main body of the plane, rotating to either side of it before the wings finished their rotation and locked in place at the shoulders. "They're variable fighters too?" yelled Max in shock a split second before he was tackled by the diving Decepticon.

Adrenaline surged through Max's body at the shock of the impact. The giant fists of his battloid began pounding on the back of his foe while the two of them tumbled downward. Warning alarms blared their warnings to Max as they fell ever faster toward the ocean's surface. "Oh no!"

Rick strained with the control stick, willing the veritech to give chase to the white plane leading the way. So far, he'd had managed to keep up, but it was becoming clear to him that his opponent was nothing short of incredible. Whoever was piloting this plane was executing moves that Rick, Roy, or even Max hadn't even dreamed of. It took every ounce of Rick's skill just to follow. What's more, it appeared to be piloted by remote control. How outclassed would I be if he was in the cockpit? It's like he's had a hundred years of flying experience more than me. His hand reached for the video screen to request backup from Krieger and Alvarez, but then he jerked it back. No. This is my duel. I won't let anyone else be put in jeopardy.

Starscream spiraled through the air before dipping down and zooming into an inverse loop. He marveled at how his shadow managed to keep up with him. Only a few flyers possess the skill to follow me. I am truly amazed. I haven't had this much fun in years. It'll almost be a shame to finish off such a worthy flyer. Now let's see if you fight as well as you fly. Starscream transformed, aiming both of the laser cannons on his arms down and firing rapid bursts of energy bolts.

"Yow," screamed Rick in surprise, spiraling his fighter wildly in a frantic attempt to avoid the deadly beams. His fighter zoomed past the firing Decepticon, narrowly missing him. Starscream transformed back to jet mode and began his pursuit of Rick. Rick's mind raced as bolts of energy from his pursuer kept cutting off avenues of escape. No matter what he did, Starscream anticipated the move and was firing across that lane. Only one chance left. He flipped the switch marked "G" on his console. Immediately his thrusters rotated beside the fuselage and fired at maximum thrust. The veritech groaned as it's forward momentum was suddenly and violently stopped. Rick felt the air in his lungs being expunged by the sheer force of the sudden stop.

"What?" screamed Starscream zooming right by the veritech, unable to slow himself as quickly.

Rick looked up to see the jet right in his sights. He even had target lock on him. Rick's thumb depressed the top button on his control stick and was relieved to see a missile speed off after the jet. "You tricked me with a surprise transformation. It's only fitting that I return the favor."

"My, my, my. How treacherous," remarked Starscream, now running to outrace the missile hot on his tailfins.

Rick, his veritech back in jet mode, followed to finish the job in case his foe managed to avoid the missile bearing down on him. He didn't expect the missile to connect. This guy was just too good. Starscream didn't disappoint him. Rick marveled at the maneuver as Starscream managed a tight spiral around the missile while transforming. The giant Decepticon fired a ray at it and plucked it from the sky. Rick reconfigured to guardian mode to enable him to hover before Starscream. The two of them stared at each other for a moment, measuring each other up. Rick flipped on his external speaker. "Nice maneuver."

"Thank you. I must say that this has been quite enjoyable for me. I haven't had somebody keep up with me in well over a million solar cycles."

"Solar cycles?" questioned Rick. "I don't understand the reference?"

"It's quite simple. A skilled pilot like yourself should be able to grasp that a solar cycle is a full planetary rotation around its sun."

Rick was stunned by the comment. Did this guy just say he's a million years old? "Who are you?"

"I am Starscream. Second in command of the Decepticon army. And you are?"

"Lt. Rick Hunter. Leader of Skull Squadron, of the Robotech Defense Force."

"Well stated, Lt. Rick Hunter. I have a very high regard for your skill, but I'm afraid that I'm going to have to inform you that your planet will soon be conquered by us. I do not wish to destroy such a capable fighter. You could be quite a valuable asset to the Decepticons. I could make you my lieutenant when I take over as leader."

When he takes over? "Tempting offer, but why should I join you? I seem to doing well where I'm at right now. Besides, we like being free."

"Freedom is overrated. You cannot win this battle. We are your superiors."

"Oh really?"

"Yes. I know you have properly evaluated my skill in combat. You know you cannot beat me."

"There are others if I fall."

"Such a pity. You would've made an excellent enforcer in my new order once I finally topple Megatron. Your loss." Starscream fired both of his lasers at once.

Rick's veritech skated to the left, the beams narrowly missing him. He fired his own gun in retaliation to Starscream's attack.

Starscream didn't even move to evade. Bullets shells bounced off his armored hide. "Thermo propulsion projectiles? We haven't had to use those since the start of the Great War. Don't tell me your pitiful planet is so far behind that it still uses these," taunted Starscream.

Rick kept firing, ignoring the Decepticon's comments. He felt a chill in his heart as realization of the robot's words were sinking in. He's right. Look at the way he just shrugs off my gunfire. Those are 10 inch armor piercing shells that can reduce a Zentradi battlepod to shreds in seconds, and he's treating it like it's no more threat to him than raindrops. Rick fired another missile.

"Haven't you learn yet?" remarked Starscream contemptibly. He fired a bolt at the missile. The missile fizzled out, slowing just enough for Starscream to catch it. "Your missiles are nothing compared to my null ray. Care for another example?"

The thrusters of Rick's veritech erupted with fire, causing his fighter to seemingly jump to avoid Starscream's next volley, but to no avail. Starscream's null ray struck the veritech on the belly of the aircraft. The systems on the fighter immediately shut down. The veritech started falling. Rick frantically began flipping the reignition switches, trying to bring the fighter back on line. Oh no! I can't lose Roy's jet! I just can't! Come on! Work!

Starscream watched the veritech plummet with a small pang of regret. It was wasteful to destroy a flyer as skilled as this, but it was necessary to teach these creatures the uselessness of resisting the Decepticons. Still, it's sad to see him destroyed. He could have been an instrumental part of my eventual rise to power over Megatron. Starscream took note of two more fighters swooping down after their falling leader. He casually watched as they converted to guardian mode and positioned themselves on either side of the plummeting aircraft and slowly eased its descent. Starscream smiled sinisterly. How pathetic. They would rather ignore the enemy to save one of their own. They're pitiful fools who must learn the price of their mistake. Starscream laughed as he shot both veritechs with his null ray.

Max sweated as he wrestled with Skywarp in the salty brine of the Pacific ocean. His veritech had absorbed the brunt of the impact when they plunged into the water. Warning lights had immediately began flashing, warning Max that stress tolerances were being stretched. Max knew his best bet was to try to get away, before the cockpit was breached in the heated hand to hand combat. Unfortunately, Max could see the glowing yellow eyes of the Decepticon as he began to press the advantage, and knew that retreat wasn't an option.

Skywarp swung his fist at the battloid and was surprised when Max managed to dodge the blow. The water was slowing him down.

Max then realized the robot wasn't used to underwater combat and called upon his underwater training. The giant right fist of the battloid plowed into Skywarp's head. Max followed this up with a kick to the mid section and a jab with his left fist to the face again. Skywarp shook his head to shake off the affects of the powerful blows while Max came at him again with another kick. Skywarp made a last ditch teleport to avoid the kick, appearing behind the battloid. He grabbed the arms of the battloid and began yanking them backwards. Max struggled to get free of the Decepticon's grasp, but Skywarp was too strong. Warning klaxons blared as the battloid began to shudder with the stress of having its arms ripped off.

Suddenly, Skywarp was clubbed from behind. "Sir, get free now," cried Corporal Baker.

Max pushed off of the staggered robot and brought his fighter to guardian mode to quickly speed away. He brought his fighter back around to see that Baker had also pushed himself away from Skywarp while their wingmen had taken up position at opposite sides of the robot and were pelting him with slugs. The robot reacted as if in extreme pain, almost as if it were alive? His form shimmered and disappeared. Oh no, not another teleport. He brought his radio on line. "Keep a sharp eye on your radar. I want to know where he went."

"He's above the surface, sir," answered his wingman. "It looks like he's running for it."

"All right, then, let's get after him." The veritechs all changed to jets and blasted out of the ocean in hot pursuit. "Baker, thanks for the backup. He almost had me there."

"Pleasure to be of service, Max. Besides, you'd do the same for me in a heartbeat."

"You know it, pal."

Starscream ran a quick diagnostic on his optic circuits. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. Rick's veritech had caught the arms of the other two that had stopped his fall. He was now hovering below him holding the two to keep them from falling. Not even the mightiest of Autobots has been able to shrug off the effects of my null ray so quickly. It just isn't possible.

Rick exhaled a breath of relief when his systems came back on line, but had to act quickly as the robot had shot Alvarez and Krieger with its null ray. He managed to catch the arms of the paralyzed guardians and hold them, but it was taking every amount of thrust that he had to keep them from falling. They were sitting ducks. He looked up helplessly at the hovering robot watching them. Why hasn't he fired yet? I can't stop him.

Starscream slowly hovered down towards the three robotech defenders. He had to get a closer look for himself. "Impossible," he said incredulously, "you're back online. Are you using some new kind of energon?"

"Energon?" asked Rick. Oh great. First, the Zentradi want to know about something called protoculture, and now these new aliens want to know about energon. "I don't know anything about energon."

A visor slid down over Starscream's eyes. "Amazing. These energy readings I'm getting are like nothing I've seen before. Why, this energy could make me powerful enough to destroy Megatron once and for all."

"Starscream, mission accomplished," radioed Thundercracker.

"Excellent, Thundercracker. You and Skywarp return to base. Our job here is finished." He turned to Rick. "I'll be back. I will have the secret of your energy supply, and then nothing will be able to stop me."

Starscream's laughter chilled Rick to his bones as he watched the robot transform and zoom away. His head raced with thoughts. We're in a lot of trouble. These guys were good. He turned his video monitor on. "Lt. Hunter to SDF-1. Lt. Hunter to SDF-1. Come in, SDF-1." He saw nothing but static. What the heck? He tried raising the bridge a couple more times and failed. Rick started worrying at this point. What was their mission? Were they just feeling us out or was their intent to cripple the SDF-1? Suddenly, Krieger's and Alvarez's systems came back on line, their veritechs taking up position on either side of Rick.

"I don't understand it, Rick. He had us dead to rights. Why didn't he finish us off?" asked Alvarez.

"I don't know. It's bothering me too, but we're alive. We have to get back to the SDF-1. I can't reach the bridge." Dear God, does that mean Lisa is...? Rick couldn't complete the thought. He rapidly reconfigured back to fighter mode and sped off back to the SDF-1.

"Rick, come in. This is Max."

"I copy, Max. How are you all doing?"

"No more casualties here, but that was more luck than anything. I've never seen anything like those guys."

"I know what you mean. Return to the SDF-1. I can't reach them on the radio, but we have to warn as quickly as possible."

"Warn them of what?"

"We have a new enemy," replied Rick solemnly.

"Are our systems back on line yet?" asked Lisa frantically.

"Not yet, ma'am. We're trying our best to get them back up."

"Well hurry up. We've got men out there who need our help." Lisa sat back in the command chair. Worry was eating her alive. First, Rick cut off his radio to go solo against one of the intruders and then the other managed to evade the SDF-1's defenses and do a flyby of the command tower. He broke the sound barrier close to the tower and the shockwave had caused all the electrical systems on the bridge to go haywire. Rick was stupidly flying solo against an enemy that had proven to be more than expected and she couldn't even monitor the situation. She didn't even know if he was still alive or not. Her gut felt twisted in knots from the worry.

"Command tower, th... Rick...Come in Com..." came Rick's voice scratchily over the radio.

Lisa was relieved to hear his voice, that he was safe, but that quickly faded. She was, after all, extremely angry at him for pulling such a stupid stunt. She turned to Vanessa. "Can you get better reception?"

"Trying to compensate, ma'am."

"Bogeys have ... Requesting per... to land."

Sammy turned from her station. "We have repaired internal communications. Daedalus reports that Skull squadron has successfully chased off the intruders. They are landing now."

"Daedalus wasn't affected by the power disruption?"

"No ma'am. Apparently, it was localized to the bridge tower and surrounding areas."

"Fine then. Sammy, you have the bridge. I'm going down to debrief the Skull squadron.

"Yes ma'am."

Lisa stomped out of the bridge and hurried down to the elevator. Rick Hunter, when I get through with you, you'll wish you'd never wanted to fly.

Rick climbed out of the cockpit and down on to the deck of the deck. He motioned one of the techs over. "Check out the arm joints. I was forced to put a lot of stress on them out there."

"Yes sir."

Rick walked towards the flight tower on the Daedalus. He had to report what he had learned to the command tower immediately.

"Lt. Hunter!"

Rick whirled around. A six wheeled transport screeched to a halt behind him and Lisa Hayes jumped out, running towards him. Rick smiled. "Good, Lisa. I was just on my way to the flight tower to talk with you. I have something important..." Rick's head spun as Lisa suddenly slapped him soundly across his right cheek.

"How dare you pull a stunt like that during a combat situation, Lt. Hunter! You are the leader of Skull squadron! You have an obligation to lead by example! That does not mean that you get to participate in private air duels to prove how good a pilot you are, or to keep others from danger, or whatever other stupid little reason might have popped up into your head! You have wingmen for a reason! This kind of behavior only encourages solo stunts that will get your men killed!"

Rick slowly rubbed his cheek. The slap had taken him by surprise, but the lecture stung him worse. "I... I know, Commander Hayes. I messed up."

"If you think that a weak apology like that is going to make me forget this, Mr. Hunter, you have another think coming! If you ever do something like this to me again, I'll have your wings pulled off so fast, you'll wonder what happened to your veritech before you plummet to your death! Am I making myself absolutely clear?"

"Yes ma'am!" retorted Rick sharply. Man, she's really laying into me, but she's right. It was a stupid boneheaded move on my part. Wait a minute. What did she mean if I do something like this to her?

"Good. Now let's go to my office where you can make your report to me. You said it was important." Lisa turned sharply and walked quickly towards the Daedalus' tower.

Rick followed her, his mind wondering if there was more to her outburst than his disregard of protocol.

Chapter 5

"Decepticons?" queried Captain Gloval, leaning forward in his chair. To either side of him at his table were Lisa Hayes and Claudia Grant. Two more tables slanted away from the captain's table on both sides. Seated at these were the top military brass of the RDF stationed on the SDF-1. Rick Hunter and Max Sterling were standing at attention in between the tables, the object of their attention.

"Yes sir," answered Rick. "He said that he was the second in command of the Decepticon army."

"What do you make of the entire situation then, Lieutenant?'

"I believe it was a scouting party. They seemed to want to know what we are capable of."

"Do you think they really mean to invade Earth?" asked Lisa.

"I don't know, Commander," replied Gloval. He turned from her, inhaling slowly from his pipe. Lisa knew that he was extremely worried. That was the only time the pipe ever came out. Gloval turned back to the assembled officers in the conference room. "We don't know the true strength of these Decepticons or what their true motives are. What we are aware of is that they possess extraordinary abilities."

"Oh please," yelled out one of the majors. "You can't possibly expect us to believe that these so-called Decepticons could do any of the things that you claim in your report. Jets with no pilots that can out fly our best pilots? Robots with power depletion rays? Teleportation? This isn't a report, it's a damned science fiction story. Why don't you tell us what really happened out there?"

"Major Kremmer, please," pleaded Gloval. "These two officers are our most trusted pilots. I believe their report. What's more is that the bridge can substantiate some of the accounts of their encounter with the intruders. I have no reason to discount the rest of their claims."

"Sounds to me like they were just outclassed and concocted these wild claims to cover up their incompetence."

Rick struggled to keep looking forward, to keep himself from getting angry. He took a few breaths before addressing the major. "You are right about one thing, Major. We were outclassed up there. These guys were pushing Max and me to our limits. That's not something that is easily done."

"Maybe not, Lieutenant, but as I recall, you two have been pushed to your limits by the Zentradi before. What makes you think that these Decepticons as you call them didn't just send out their aces in an attempt to intimidate us?"

"Then why warn us? It makes no sense, unless they have the firepower to back up the claim. I believe that they are for real and that we are in serious trouble. They haven't shown us everything they have yet. We're going to need to be real careful with this new enemy."

"You seem to have a knack for predicting doom for the human race, Lt. Hunter. It was only a few months ago when you gave us a report that the Zentradi had a fleet of countless ships set to wipe us out, and yet they have not shown up. We are still here. So my question to you Lieutenant, is that since you were wrong about the Zentradi fleet, why must we believe that these Decepticons will pose any more of a threat to us just because your squad had trouble with three of their fighters?"

"Now, wait just a minute!" yelled Lisa, standing up from her chair and leaning on the table towards the major. "I was there when Lt. Hunter witnessed the Zentradi fleet. I saw the same thing he did. It's out there, or are you going to call me a liar too, Major Kremer?"

Major Kremmer sniffed in contempt at Lisa. "How do you know that it wasn't just an illusion provided to you by the enemy to make you believe that they have that kind of firepower?"

"That was already explained in my report! If you bother to read it, you'll realize just what sort of threat we're dealing with in the Zentradi!"

"This kind of gloom and doom reporting is getting old, Commander!"

Rick listened to the argument with half hearted interest. His mind was on the skirmish between his squadron and the Decepticons. How do I explain the feeling I had? It's just a gut feeling, sort of an instinct really. These guys mean business. I'm sure of it. They'll be back and this time they won't be playing around. It'll be for keeps.

"Order!" demanded Captain Gloval. Major Kremmer and Lisa Hayes fell silent at the command. Gloval leaned back in his chair and took a puff from his pipe. "That's better. Thank you for your reports, Lt. Hunter and Second Lt. Sterling. You are both dismissed."

Both men sharply saluted and exited the room.

"Man, I sure am glad to get out of there," exhaled Max, once the door closed.

"Yeah, you said it," echoed Rick.

"Some of the top dogs sure seem to have it in for us now."

"I know what you mean, but we had to warn them about this new threat, even if they don't listen to us."

"At least we know that the captain has."

"Yeah, there is that. I just wish the rest of them were as, I don't know, even minded about everything. These Decepticons were good, and they'll be back. I'm sure of it."

Max put his hand on Rick's shoulder. "In that case, pal. We'd better be ready."

"Yeah," sighed Rick. "But will we be?"

Max found he couldn't answer.

"Interesting," commented Megatron, listening intently to Starscream's report. "Continue."

Starscream stood before Megatron and Soundwave at the video monitor in Megatron's command center. Images of his personal duel with Rick Hunter played on the screen, downloaded from his own memory. He paused the screen and zoomed in on the cockpit of Rick's veritech. There, he pointed to the helmeted figure inside the fighter. "They call themselves the 'Robotech Defense Force.' They appear to be fleshlings commanding the metal warriors they fly in."

"Some sort of symbiosis?"

"Perhaps. If that is the case, it severely diminishes the effectiveness of their warriors. Only one was able to keep up with even the most rudimentary maneuvers I put them through. They also possess weaponry that is far inferior to our own. I noticed that the metal warriors possess three forms that they use in battle. A robot mode like ours, a fighter mode like mine, and an intermediate mode that is highly maneuverable. Their primary weapons use thermal propulsion slugs, but they also use missiles. The payloads of the missiles I brought back are only sufficient to cause us minor damage. Their only advantage over us is that they have more fighters than we do."

"Wrong Starscream. Skywarp came back with moderate damage to his systems. These warriors are cunning fighters. They use their numbers strategically against enemies more powerful than themselves. Skywarp was depleted of much of his energy in his skirmish with the Robotech Defense Force."

"Skywarp is an idiot who has no sense of battle strategy."

"Granted, but the enemy has proven that they do. That makes them dangerous."

"I don't believe I have to worry about any enemy that ignores a foe to rescue one of their own. They act too much like the Autobots."

Megatron paced back and forth in the command chamber. "That concerns me as well. If what you say is true, then they may be susceptible to an alliance with the Autobots. That would give them access to our superior technology."

"If they form an alliance with the Autobots, that will only prove how weak of will they really are. They will be ripe for conquest."

"You're an idiot, Starscream. Granted the Autobots are fools, but if the warriors of this world manage to form an alliance with the Autobots, that means we will be severely outnumbered. We will be at the big disadvantage. We cannot allow this to happen."

"What if we formed an alliance of our own?" asked Soundwave.

"You mean the large fleet of ships we have detected in this planet's solar system?"

"Correct." Soundwave walked towards the screen, shoving Starscream aside.

"Hey! Watch it!" shouted Starscream.

Soundwave ignored the robot as he opened his chest compartment and extracted Laserbeak in his cassette mode. He slid Laserbeak into a slot on the console. A still image of a giant humanoid appeared on the screen before them. The humanoid had a purple hue in his skin and blue hair bushed to one side. He was wearing a green uniform. The uniform had a stiff collar, that completely covered his neck and was fastened at the bottom of the neck, where the coat he wore met. Gold trim ran down the edges of the coat as it billowed out, revealing a green uniform underneath. The coat also had long green sleeves that ended in gold trim cuffs where massive purple fists were clenched. The humanoid appeared to be very angry. Soundwave turned towards his leader.

"These are the Zentradi," he explained. "They are a race of giants who are sent by their leaders, who are known as the Robotech Masters, to conquer and destroy their enemies. They have been genetically engineered for this singular purpose."

"An entire race bred exclusively for warfare?" Megatron asked incredulously.

"Affirmative. Their records were incomplete, but there were sufficient records on their ship to verify that they have destroyed thousands of civilizations throughout the galaxy."

"Amazing. Such an insidious ploy. Why go to war when you can create your own warriors to go to war for you?"

"Sounds awfully boring, if you ask me," said Starscream contemptfully.

"Agreed. You don't get the pleasure of conquering an entire world when you send someone else to do it for you. However, such a technique would come in handy, say to have a police force to look over the worlds you have conquered while you go on to conquer new ones."

"Hmmm. That does make for an intriguing thought."

"It isn't everyday you agree with me, Starscream."

"Hey, even I have to admit that you can come up with a good idea, though they are few and far between."

"So speaks the great and powerful Starscream, who fell in mere clicks of our attack on the Autobot's ship."

Starscream scowled at Megatron, who smiled contemptibly back. "I was shot from behind. That would not have happened if the Autobots had any honor."

"It was your own stupidity that got you shot. It was a battle situation, and yet you ignored it to bully an Autobot that was already down. You deserved what you got."

"And if you are so much smarter than I, how come the ship isn't in our hands with the Autobots scrapped at our feet?" Megatron clenched his fists at the question, causing Starscream to smile. Obviously, he had struck a raw nerve in his leader.

"I underestimated the Autobot's devotion and loyalty to Optimus Prime. That is a mistake I will not make again."

"So the powerful Megatron is capable of making mistakes?"

Megatron glared at Starscream. "Do not push me any further, Starscream. A true leader learns from his mistakes. That is something you have not learned. You will never be able to dispose of me until you learn this simple truth."

"We shall see," muttered Starscream under his breath, turning away from the leader he so despised.

Megatron seethed for a few moments, glaring at his second in command. He wanted so much to rip him apart with his bare hands, to feel the robot's fluids spraying against him. He wanted to watch the spark dim from Starscream's optics while he pleaded for his miserable life. A plea that would one day fall on offline audio receptors. Megatron smiled at the vision. He would enjoy the day Starscream finally got what was coming to him, but there were other matters to take care of first. He suppressed the vision and turned back to Soundwave. "You said that they have conquered thousands of civilizations. Are they that powerful?"

"Their technology is not as advanced as ours, though they possess weapons capable of causing us damage. Their battle ships are extremely powerful and are capable of mass destruction. Most civilizations have not been able to match the destructive capability of their ships. Those that could have match them were simply overwhelmed by the quantitative advantage that they have."

"Meaning that they simply outnumbered their opponents."

"Affirmative. Laserbeak was able to determine that they have a fleet of nearly six million ships."

"Six million ships?" asked Starscream in shock. "That's enough to take over the entire galaxy."

"Not necessarily," corrected Soundwave. "The records in the ships tell of a race with a larger fleet than theirs. A race called the Invid who the Zentradi have been fighting for the past several thousand years. They are losing that war."

"If they are losing the war with the Invid, why is there a Zentradi fleet here?" asked Megatron.

"They are desperate for the ship that we have observed on this planet. Apparently, it is the key to the Robotech Masters' plans to conquer the entire universe."

"Interesting. They covet the ship, so they send a small fleet to retrieve it while the rest of the fleet holds the line against the Invid. This is useful knowledge."

"Why is that?" asked Starscream.

"Because now we have something to bargain with. I believe the Zentradi are going to be very useful to us," declared Megatron.

Chapter 6

The Zentradi on Khyron's command deck worked nervously. Khyron was in one of his temperamental moods. This was a particularly dangerous time, since Khyron usually terminated anyone who displeased him on the spot. So, each member of the crew silently worked, hoping that they could escape notice until such time when Khyron finally calmed down. Even Khyron's second in command, Grell, wisely kept his distance.

Khyron stared at the insignificant blue planet on his screen. Hundreds of planets just like this puny rock had been decimated by his fleet. His reputation as a Zentradi conqueror was surpassed only by those of Breetai and Dolza. Yet, this small world with its inhabitants who were little more than insects still lived. All because of that accursed ship that Breetai and Dolza coveted. Zor's ship had been giving Khyron all sorts of headaches since his failure to capture it on the fourth planet of this pitiful system.

Damn Breetai and his single eye! cursed Khyron angrily. Why is that ship so important to him? It would be easier to just destroy it. These Micronians wouldn't stand a chance if I could bring the full force of my fleet into play. Khyron slumped back in his chair, the blood red liquid sloshing in his golden goblet as he absently swirled it. The Micronians had destroyed another of his battle cruisers and Breetai wouldn't allow him to retaliate since the operation had gone on without his consent. Khyron could only seethe with anger at the Micronians with no outlet to vent his rage. Khyron didn't dare openly defy Breetai. He didn't have enough power yet. But soon, oh so soon, Breetai would learn who the superior Zentradi commander was.

"Ex..excuse me, Lord Khyron?" asked one of his crew nervously.

Khyron frowned at him. "Yes, what is it?"

The Zentradi gulped audibly, now very conscious that he was now the focus of his leader's ire. "We...we seem to picking up a...a ship approaching the main fleet." He gulped again. "It... it appears to be a Micronian shuttle."

"Put it on the main screen."

The Zentradi nodded and quickly hit a few buttons on his console to shift Khyron's attention off himself. The image on the screen magnified to show a small purple shuttle.

Khyron smiled. The Micronian fools had just provided him the perfect target to suffer his wrath. "All gunnery units!" he commanded. "Prepare to destroy that ship!"

"Belay that order!" barked a deep baritone voice that Khyron knew all too well.

"Khyron stood and whirled toward the screen that showed Breetai and his toady, Exedore. "How dare you undermine my authority on my own command ship, Breetai! You have no right!"

"I have every right, Khyron!" replied the grim faced fleet commander. "I was appointed by Dolza himself command over this sector. That means that you are under my command whether you like it or not. Tell me, Backstabber, are you even monitoring the transmissions from the approaching Micronian shuttle?"

Khyron waved his hand towards the communication station, never once taking his hateful glare off of Breetai's face. "Go on. Let's hear it."

"This is Megatron, leader of the Decepticons. I would like to meet with the leaders of your fleet to discuss an alliance. I have a means to secure the ship that you desire without significant damage."

Khyron frowned at the transmission as it repeated itself. For one thing, the transmission was in perfect Zentradi. He was not aware that the Micronians had learned their language. He turned back to the screen with Breetai and Exedore. "Surely you don't believe that these Micronians actually intend to betray their own kind. This is obviously a trap of some sort, probably a bomb to decimate a portion of our fleet once it gets within range. It's better to just shoot it down now before it gets a chance."

"I disagree, Khyron," remarked Exedore. "Our first priority is the recovery of Zor's ship intact and unharmed. This group of Micronians may be the key to obtaining that objective. It's a possibility that must be explored, plus I'd like another opportunity to study the Micronians by observing the way they negotiate. This is a tremendous opportunity."

"You can't be serious," screamed Khyron. "They are our enemies! What more do we need to know about them other than the best means to obliterate them."

"That's enough, Khyron," ordered Breetai. "The Micronians have my permission to board my command cruiser." Breetai's single eye narrowed, focusing on the rebellious commander. "We have had 'misunderstandings' with you and your officers in the past. Let me make this one thing very clear. Make sure none of your fleet destroys that Micronian shuttle. I will interpret such an action as a direct challenge from you to my leadership and act accordingly. Am I understood?"

Khyron shook with fury. Never had he been talked to like this. That Breetai would destroy him if some pathetic Micronians perished was unthinkable.

"Answer me, Backstabber!" roared Breetai.

"I… understand, Commander," replied Khyron, backing down in shame. "You are making a big mistake, Breetai."

"Perhaps, but I am willing to take that risk. Breetai out." The screen went black as the transmission ended.

"Damn that one eyed bastard!" screamed Khyron, throwing his goblet at one of his crew. The crewman increased his activity at his station, ignoring the widening red wine stain on his uniform, hoping that Khyron wouldn't focus his outrage on him while in this dangerous mood. Fortunately, Khyron continued his tantrum without a second glance in his direction.

"How dare he speak to me as if I were a cadet! I am Khyron! The greatest Zentradi commander ever created! Neither Breetai or even Dolza himself have had as many conquests and triumphs as myself at this point of their careers! I am the true Zentradi conqueror! Oh yes, and my greatest conquest will be when I gouge Breetai's remaining eye out of his dead body. Dead by my hand! Him and the misshapen dwarf he calls an advisor. Then Breetai's eye will bear silent witness as I lead the Zentradi to glories unimagined by him! I will be the most feared conqueror in the entire universe!"

Khyron whirled and sat in his command throne. He reached into a pot to the right of his throne and withdrew a dried leaf of the Invid flower of Life. He chewed on the leaf, never noticing the shudder of his second on command. His gaze fixated on the screen showing the Micronian homeworld. "Oh yes," he murmured softly as the calming effects of the drug took hold. "I will be the Zentradi's most powerful commander and you, you pathetic Micronians, are nothing more than a stepping stone to my glorious rise to power."

"We have received permission to board the Zentradi flagship," reported Soundwave.

"Excellent!" responded Megatron.

"They have provided a course to maintain and warned us that failure to remain on the trajectory will result in our termination."

"What?" howled Starscream in outrage. "They dare dictate to us how to act? We are the superior beings! We must not allow such an insult to go unanswered!"

"Cease your protests, Starscream," commanded Megatron. "We are guests and should proceed as our hosts wish. We are here after all to negotiate an alliance rather than to conquer. Inform the Zentradi that we have received their transmission and will follow their flight plan. Make sure Astrotrain does not deviate a degree off course."

"As you command, Megatron," acknowledged Soundwave.

"The best way to establish an alliance with these Zentradi is to do it from a position of strength," argued Starscream.

"In this case, I disagree," countered Megatron. "We are vastly outnumbered and far from our resources on Cybertron. This alliance will be useful to our goal of universal domination."

"But these creatures will view us as weak if we meekly accept their directives."

"Let them. I have no need to appear strong. Let them think that they can order us around as subordinates. It won't be long before we're in a position to strike at their heart, once their usefulness comes to an end. We may even be able to command this vast army they assembled for our own purposes."

"Then you plan on betraying them?"

"Of course. They will follow me or perish. Trust me, Starscream. I have a plan."

Starscream's optics narrowed. "I will never trust you, Megatron," he said menacingly.

Megatron laughed. "Then you have finally demonstrated that you possess one trait that a good Decepticon commander must have. Now leave my presence. I have much to plan and I wish to confer with Soundwave. Return when we have docked in the Zentradi ship."

Starscream bowed. "Yes, mighty Megatron," he replied with a hint of sarcasm, noting with delight Megatron's scowl at his false subservience. A small triumphant smile on his face, Starscream turned and left his leader with Soundwave in the front cabin. You may think me a fool Megatron, but I will destroy you one day. He mused on that delightful thought as he made his way to the rear cargo bay where he found Skywarp and Thundercracker staring out a viewport.

"Hey, Screamer! Come over here and take a look at this!" called out Skywarp upon noticing the air commander's entrance.

Starscream walked over to his two comrades and contemptuously looked out the window. The sight that filled his optics nearly overloaded his logic circuits. "By the pit," he breathed fearfully. "Look at the size of those ships. They must be at least twice the size of our mightiest space cruisers."

"Not only that," spoke Thundercracker. "Take a closer look."

Starscream enhanced the magnitude of his optics to see what Thundercracker was referring to. He glanced quickly at Skywarp to confirm that he was seeing the same thing. "Those are laser bombardment cannons?" he asked incredulously.

"That's right," confirmed Skywarp.

"But there are hundreds on that ship!"

"Not only that, but they are also energized and tracking us," added Thundercracker.

"That one ship alone has the equivalent firepower of an entire Decepticon fleet. I doubt Astrotrain would be able to dodge all those cannons if he made a break for it."

"And we're surrounded by ships with the same capability."

Starscream paced back and forth in the compartment contemplating what he had just seen. "The sheer power to maintain all those cannons must be tremendous. One of those battle cruisers would tip the balance of power in our war with the Autobots. We could conquer Cybertron several times over with five of them. A whole fleet…" Starscream's optics widened at the prospect. "You know, I hate to admit this, but I'm really starting to like Megatron's plan. I do believe these creatures will be helpful in destroying our hated enemies once and for all. After that, galactic conquest! I find that I'm enjoying the sound of that particular phrase in my audio receptors."

"Hey, guys!" yelled Astrotrain over the intercom. "Get ready! I'm approaching the Zentradi flagship now."

"Well then, time to meet our new 'allies'," commented Starscream. "Come on you two. We need to meet Megatron at the middle cargo bay door."

Skywarp and Starscream walked to the main hallway when Skywarp noticed that Thundercracker wasn't with them. He looked back to see that Thundercracker was still looking out the viewport. "Hey! Get a move on, Thundercracker! Megatron wants us as backup in case the negotiations go bad."

"I'll be there in a micron," responded Thundercracker. "I just want to get a closer look at the flagship."

"Ok, if you want to have Megatron dismember you for the sake of curiosity, it ain't no paint off my nosecone."

Thundercracker heard Skywarp walk off while he continued to watch the flight through the Zentradi fleet. He then got his first glimpse of the front bow of the Zentradi flagship. "By Cybertron, it's twice as big as any of the other ships. This is madness. If we start using weapons such as these in the Great War, there won't be a Cybertron left to rebuild. Why can't any of the others see this? Is destruction all Megatron really desires after all? How can I make him understand without him scrapping me for betrayal?"

Thundercracker continued to ponder his thoughts as he walked out of the compartment, never once noticing the silent Ravage watching him from the shadows of the corner.

Breetai observed his handpicked squad of Zentradi troopers surround the Micronian shuttle on the main viewscreen of the bridge. He noted with pride that his troops had the shuttle surrounded within seconds of its arrival. If this did turn out to be a Micronian ruse, they'd find that his men were more than ready for any challenge. Even if they drew on some of their seemingly endless supply of luck and got past the troops in the shuttle bay, they'd find that the entire ship was on full alert and ready to deal with infiltrators. The situation was well in hand.

Still, Breetai found himself feeling troubled over this proposed meeting. The Micronians had never before offered any overtures of truce with them, especially when it concerned Zor's battleship. If anything, the Micronians had shown themselves capable of any action necessary to keep Zor's ship in their possession. There was a missing element here in this meeting and Breetai just couldn't figure out what it was.

Exedore noted the look on his commander's face. "Are you, by chance, wondering what the Micronians are planning with this truce, Lord Breetai?"

Breetai frowned at his advisor. "Are my expressions that easy to decipher, old friend?"

Exedore cleared his throat. "I'm merely wondering if you are as troubled by this truce as I am."

"Quite. I do not know why, but I feel Khyron may be correct in his assumption that this is some devious ploy of the Micronians."

"They have shown themselves to be quite unpredictable."


"Still, you have to admit that this is quite exhilarating. It will be fascinating to observe how the Micronians negotiate."

"Agreed. Have Bron, Lon, and Pierce meet us in the conference room. Their experience with the Micronians will greatly aid us in the meeting."

"Already done, my Lord."

Breetai nodded with satisfaction, turning his attention back to the main screen. The side hatch of the giant shuttle opened with a sharp hissing sound as the air pressure inside equalized with that of the Zentradi bay. It slowly lowered itself until it become a functional ramp to the bay's floor. Breetai's men tensed as they trained their weapons at the shuttle's opening.

"There is no need for this," remarked an assuring voice from within the shadowed interior of the shuttle. Megatron then stepped out on to the ramp, his arms spread out and his hands open to show that he carried no weapon. "We come here in peace to offer an alliance with you," he declared. Soundwave and Starscream then stepped out slowly and stood behind Megatron, both mimicking his gestures.

"Amazing," breathed Exedore. "These are three entirely new mechs that the Micronians have developed. I've never seen a race as inventive as this one."

"Yes," agreed Breetai. "Interesting that they decide to meet us while piloting these new mechs."

"Obviously, they wish to convey to us that they are meeting with us as equals."

"That is my thought as well. Very well, let them come to us feeling comfortable. It will change nothing if they attempt to betray us."

"As you say."

"My name is Megatron," stated the silver robot. "I am leader of the Decepticons." He pointed to the blue robot. "This is Soundwave, my communications officer, and this is Starscream, my second in command," he added while gesturing to the white robot. Starscream frowned at being mentioned after Soundwave.

"My word, it doesn't seem possible, but the Micronians have built a way for their mechs to convey emotion," commented Exedore. "This is astounding! It's almost as if these are actual sentient beings rather than machines piloted by the Micronians."

"Indeed," agreed Breetai. "As you say, they are an inventive race."

"I don't believe you quite understand, my Lord. This displays a knowledge of technology that possibly surpasses even that of Zor."

"Greater than Zor's?" asked Breetai incredulously. Before he could ask his advisor to elaborate, he was interrupted by the squad leader in the shuttle bay.

"Lord Breetai, what are your orders?"

"Hmmm, yes, the Micronians. Order them to leave their weapons with their shuttle and escort our 'guests' to the conference room. Leave your squad to guard the shuttle. Our scanners shows that there are more mechs within it. Another squad is waiting in the corridor to see you to the conference room."

"As you command, Lord Breetai."

"Now Exedore, come along and let's discuss this latest development with the Micronians."

"As you command, my lord," replied Exedore, falling in step beside Breetai as they made their way toward the conference room.

"You once mentioned a legend warning us to avoid contact with Micronians. Could this lend further evidence to your belief that we should leave this star system."

"Affirmative. We have seen many incredible feats performed by the Micronians. They are a remarkable race, even more so when you consider that they appear to be in relative infancy compared to our own race. Conceivably, they could rise to challenge the Robotech Masters and the Invid for control of the galaxy in time."

"Could this be why Zor sent his flagship to this world?"

"It's a possibility. Few were closer to Zor than you and I. Still, Zor remains an enigma to us both. Could either of us truly understand anything Zor has done?"

Breetai fingered the faceplate that covered the right half of his face. The faceplate covered the scars of his most bitter defeat, the day he lost both Zor and his battleship. Now, his redemption in finding Zor's ship was being thwarted by a race that continued to amaze him. This was a troubling situation, but one he was determined to overcome. He would find a way to retrieve Zor's ship from the Micronians. It was his duty.

Exedore quietly watched his closest friend as they walked down the corridor. He knew well Breetai's shame and his desire to retrieve the ship, but Exedore continued to have his doubts about their dealings with the Micronians. They had seen so many wonders from them: their ability to mingle men and women together, the Micronian with the ability to slay Zentradi with his bare hands, the kiss. Exedore shuddered. Memories of the two Micronian prisoners kissing still troubled him. He wasn't sure if Breetai had noticed, but Lon, Bron, and Pierce had been exhibiting bizarre behavior since their return from their spy mission onboard Zor's ship. The three were no longer dedicated Zentradi. They seemed more uncomfortable with every attack on the Micronians. He would have to keep a close watch on them. Exedore then found his reverie interrupted upon their arrival at the conference room.

Breetai's good eye narrowed when he got his first look at the three Decepticons waiting for them. The leader, Megatron, was standing confidently at the end of the table. This troubled Breetai. Megatron obviously wanted them to think that he was in control of the situation. He admired the courage to assume such a stance, but also resented the fact that this Megatron decided to do it within the heart of his power. Breetai and Megatron stood at opposite ends of the conference table, each attempting to take the measure of the other. This is a being who understands true power,realized Breetai. However, his arrogance will be his downfall if he doesn't realize the true supreme power within this star system. "I am Commander Breetai." Breetai gestured to Exedore. "Exedore, my advisor."

Megatron continued to stand at his end of the table, watching Breetai. He smiled contemptuously at the Zentradi commander. The sheer audacity of it rankled Breetai, but the Zentradi commander just stared back at the Micronian who obviously didn't realize just how close to death he actually was. Finally, Breetai ordered, "Take a seat. Let's get this meeting started."

"We prefer to stand, Commander Breetai," replied Megatron.

"As you wish," replied Breetai, remaining standing himself. "You mentioned that you a means of delivering the Micronian ship to us with minimal damage. I have granted you this audience with me. Now then, state your plan."

Megatron smile broadened in response to the command. The authoritative tone of Breetai's command was unmistakable to Megatron. Breetai was a commander who expected his command to be followed. He also didn't flinch at Megatron's attempts to intimidate him. Breetai was a true leader and he knew how to use his power. This was a pleasant surprise. The sheer thought of the glory that would come from proving himself the superior being over such a formidable opponent excited him beyond his expectations. "Very well Breetai," stated Megatron, after he gauged that a sufficiently appropriate period of silence had been observed. "I'll get right to the point. We can infiltrate the ship and capture it before the fleshlings know what is happening."

"Fleshing?" asked Exedore.

"What you call 'Micronians'," answered Megatron.

"Why should I trust you?' asked Breetai.

"Because your only interest in this world is the ship. I have other plans for this world that this conflict threatens. Once you have the ship, you will leave and I will be free to continue my own agenda."

"I see, you desire our departure so that you may conquer the planet for yourself."


Breetai felt disappointed. This Megatron was nothing more than a petty dictator willing to deal with the enemy of his world to gain power for himself. There was no honor in that style of combat. He preferred conquest to be a test of strength and skill. "You say you have a way of infiltrating the ship. Once again, I ask that you state your plan."

Megatron turned to Soundwave. "Show them," he commanded.

Soundwave immediately transformed to his cassette player mode and landed in the center of the conference table.

The assembled Zentradi gasped at the display.

"Amazing, they have mastered spatial transformation as well as modular transformation," stated Exedore.

"Hey, that looks like a Micronian device," added Bron.

"Hey, you're right," responded Lon.

Breetai looked carefully at the shrunken Decepticon on the conference table before him. It did indeed resemble some of the artifacts that the Zentradi spies had brought had brought back with them. This was an interesting development indeed. The possibilities of posing as the very items the Micronians used as tools provided tremendous opportunities that simply could not be ignored. He looked back up at Megatron. "Tell me more."

Megatron smiled triumphantly. All was going exactly as planned.

Chapter 7

"Attention all Veritech pilots! Attention all Veritech pilots!" boomed Lisa's voice over the ship's intercom. "This is a code red alert! Zentradi ships are on an intercept course with the SDF-1! Report immediately to the fighter bays and launch! Repeat, report immediately to the fighter bays and launch!"

The pilots in the Mandarin Dragon rose suddenly and began to run out of the Chinese restaurant. Rick and Max, being towards the back of the restaurant, were among the last to finally squeeze out. They found jeeps and taxis full of pilots already squealing down the roads back to the base.

"Man!" exclaimed Rick. "Now what do we do? We have to get back to the base and launch!"

"Hey! There's a motorcycle!" exclaimed Max. "Let's take that!"

"Do you know how to drive one?" asked Rick as the two of them ran to it.

"We're hot shot pilots. How hard can it be? Get on behind me."

"I don't know about this," said Rick nervously

"You're the one who said we have to back to the base." Max turned the ignition key and jumped on the crank. The motor roared to life. "Ha ha! That's the way baby! Now let's go!" Max turned the gas handle as far as it could go. The motorcycle immediately zoomed forward, it's front wheel high in the air.

Rick grabbed Max around the middle and held on for dear life. "What are you doing, you maniac?" he screamed fearfully.

Max answered with wild maniacal laughter.

Rick ran through the rest of his preflight checks while his veritech was being wheeled to the elevator. Heartbeats were still pounding in his chest. He never knew fear like that before.

Max appeared on his comm vidscreen. "Hey buddy, you okay over there. You still look a little pale."

"I wonder why that could be, Max?" asked Rick irritably.

"Hey, did you or did you not want to get back here in a hurry?"

"Like that's some sort of justification for jumping the perimeter fence?

"We saved 5 minutes."

"It's 20 feet tall! We could've been killed!"

"This is the fearless stunt pilot who won eight championships for stunt flying?"

"That's different! I was in control then."

"So you don't trust me. I'm hurt."

"I don't care. Besides, how do I know that your little stunt wasn't some way of getting rid of me so you can take over as Skull leader?"

Max laughed. "Damn! Now that you think of it, I missed a pretty good opportunity there."

Rick laughed back. "Ok, plot your little coup later. Let's get up there and take out those incoming Zentradi."

"Right. On my way."

Rick gave the deck officer a thumbs up to show he was ready to launch. The deck officer responded with the launch signal. Rick gave the engines all it had and shot out to do battle.

"Our veritech fighters have engaged the enemy units, Captain," reported Vanessa.

"What about those cruisers?" asked Gloval.

"They're coming in range now. Sir! They're firing their main guns!"

The bridge shook as incoming Zentradi fire erupted all around the SDF-1. The bridge bunnies screamed as everyone held onto their stations to keep from being thrown under the onslaught.

"All batteries, return fire!" bellowed Gloval when the first wave of fire subsided. "Claudia, give me a status report."

"Decks 15 and 23 are reporting heavy damage. Decks 11, 7, 31 have suffered some minor damage. Everything else seems to have been protected by the pinpoint barriers," stated Claudia. "I don't understand sir, why are we still only using 2 pinpoints barriers? We would take much less damage if we were to employ the barrier protecting sector 5G as well."

"Yes, Claudia, I am aware of that. I have my reasons for it to remaining there these past few attacks. Please trust me in this. Lisa, how are our veritech squadrons doing?"

"They are starting to take heavy casualties," answered Lisa. "The enemy seems to concentrating all their forces in a full forward assault. In such a confined area of fighting, the Zentradi fighters are losing many more fighters, but our pilots don't have as much room to maneuver. Their losses are starting to pile up too."

"I see. Very well then, order all remaining forces to the front lines."

Lisa and Claudia both turned around. "Sir?" they both asked.

"You heard me. Give the order."

"But Captain, that will leave us completely defenseless from a rear assault," interjected Lisa.

"Commander Hayes, issue the order. I am well aware of how that will leave us," barked Gloval harshly.

"Yes sir," answered Lisa.

"Kim, open a channel on wavelength 156.85."

"Sir, that's not one of our normal…"

"Must all of my orders be questioned?" asked Gloval immediately.

Kim gulped audibly. "No sir! Opening channel now sir!"

"Attention Trojan Horse. We have left the back door wide open."

"Affirmative," answered a deep metallic voice.

Lisa smiled. She should've known the captain wouldn't leave them defenseless. She wondered what sort of nasty surprise he had in store.

"Megatron, the Zentradi have succeeded in drawing all the human forces into battle in front of the target," reported Soundwave.

"Excellent," exclaimed Megatron. "Let the slaughter begin!"

The Decepticons hiding beneath the waves of the ocean immediately burst forth, briny water glistening as their forms raced towards the rear of the SDF-1. Thundercracker lead the assault with Starscream and Skywarp trailing on either side of him. In addition, Dirge lead another flight with Ramjet and Thrust. Megatron, Soundwave, Astrotrain, and Blitzwing tagged behind them to hit the SDF-1 after the 2 flights performed their initial strafing runs.

Megatron smiled. Nothing could stop him now.

A beam of energy suddenly ripped through Thundercracker's wing. "Yowtch!" screamed Thundercracker, transforming to robot mode to keep himself from crashing. The other jets immediately started peeling off their attack vectors, beams of energy narrowly missing them as the firing continued.

"Those rats are firing at us from space!" exclaimed Astrotrain. "I'll take care of that." His shuttle's boosters fired as he zoomed upwards to meet the new threat.

"Continue the assault Decepticons!" ordered Megatron. "This changes nothing!"

"Captain, a small group of mechs are behind the ship!" reported Vanessa. "It seems like they are under fire from an orbital position."

"Hmm, yes. Very well then." Gloval pressed a button on his command chair. "Marissa, you may move the pinpoint barrier from the assigned position now. Protect the rear of the ship."

"No!" screamed Megatron. "It can't be!" The bubble of energy had moved itself to reveal Optimus Prime and his band of Autobots.

"Give it up Megatron!" shouted Prime.

"Never Optimus, that ship will be mine! Decepticons attack!"

"Autobots, protect this ship!"

The Decepticons swooped down on the Autobots positions, laser cannons blazing beams of death at their hated enemies. The Autobots, returned fire to drive the Decepticons from the sky. The Decepticons transformed to their robots modes and landed behind some of the SDF-1's structures to provide them with cover while they prepared to assault the Autobots. They froze in shock when their cover disappeared.

"Perfect! They fell for Hound's illusions!" remarked Prime. "Let them have it, Autobots!"

The Autobots peppered the Decepticons with laser fire. Many of them immediately took off into the air in a desperate attempt to escape.

"Cowards!" screamed Megatron, still defiantly standing against the Autobots' barrage. "Come back here and fight!" Suddenly, a powerful blast of energy struck him in his midsection. Megatron's pain receptors nearly overloaded as his fell to his knees.

"Surrender, Megatron!" commanded Prime, his ion rifle still smoking. "Your troops are leaving and you can't get away!"

"N…never," gasped Megatron.

A small green and yellow robot transformed into an off road jeep and sped towards Megatron. "Megatron's down! I'm going to give him the knockout punch!" he yelled to the others.

"Brawn! No!" yelled Prime.

"Don't worry Prime, I'm going to knock his block off good," boasted Brawn, flipping his jeep mode up into the air and transforming back into robot mode. He landed neatly in front of Megatron and threw a powerful right cross.

Megatron deftly rose up, the punch missing him by inches.

"What?" squawked Brawn, the force of the punch throwing him off balance towards Megatron.

Megatron grabbed the whirling robot and yanked him towards himself. Suddenly, Brawn found himself in a headlock.

"If you think this can hold me," gasped Brawn defiantly, straining to break the hold.

Megatron pointed his fusion cannon at Brawn's head. "Cease your pathetic struggling at once, Autobot, or you'll lose your head." He stood and turned towards the rest of the Autobots. "I have one of your soldiers hostage, Prime. You and your troops drop your weapons immediately or see him scrapped!"

"Lower your weapons, Autobots," ordered Prime. "Do not drop them!'

"You doubt my intent, Prime?"

"You will not destroy the only thing keeping you from deactivation, Megatron."

"It appears we have a stalemate then."

"Shoot him!" screamed Brawn. "This is our chance to get rid of Megatron!"

"Silence, Autobot, or I'll give you the death you seem to crave," threatened Megatron.

"You have only one way of getting out getting of this functional, Megatron," stated Prime. "Let Brawn go and surrender."

"I don't think so. Let me have the ship and I'll let him go then."

"No," said Prime calmly, aiming his rifle at Megatron.

"What are you doing?"

"I cannot let you have this ship."

"You're mad. You could hit your own soldier."

"If that's what it takes to keep you from having this ship, then so be it."

Megatron started to hover off the deck. "Very well then, Prime. I'll leave, but I'll take this pathetic Autobot with me here as insurance that you'll not shoot me as I go."

Prowl turned to Optimus. "Prime, if Megatron gets away with Brawn…"

"I know," answered Prime, still aiming at Megatron, looking for an opening to fire. He watched helplessly as Megatron continued to rise up, keeping Brawn in front as a shield.

"Heads up, Megajerk!" came a cry from above both of them.

"What?" asked a startled Megatron, looking up towards the source of the yell. A small red Porsche launched itself from the bridge tower on an intercept course with him. On its way down, the hood split into two to reveal robotic feet. That was all of the transformation that Megatron saw though, as one of those feet planted itself across his optics. Taken by surprise, Megatron inadvertedly release his hostage.

"All right!" whooped Cliffjumper, propelling himself off Megatron. He performed a nice acrobatic backflip before landing on the deck. Brawn's landing was less graceful as he landed on his side. For a full second, the other Autobots and Megatron froze, both sides processing what had just happened. "What are you waiting for, guys? He's wide open!" yelled Cliffjumper.

This snapped everyone back to reality and the Autobots began to fire at Megatron, who proceeded to zoom away from the ship at top speed.

"Sorry about that, Prime," said Brawn meekly as he watched Megatron's speed from view. "He got away because of me."

"You were only deceived, Brawn, nothing more," said Prime reassuredly.. "Megatron has used that ploy many times against unsuspecting Autobots. Just remember next time that Megatron never goes down that easily."

"I will, Optimus," replied the tiny robot, brightening up a bit upon hearing that he wasn't the first to fall for Megatron's tricks. He flexed his muscles. "Next time, I'll be prepared and knock his block off for sure."

"And I'll be there to bail your tailpipe out of the mess you'll get yourself in again," mocked Cliffjumper.

"Tell you what, how about you help me kick Megatron's tailpipe? How's that?"

Cliffjumper gave Brawn a thumbs up. "Sounds like Megatron better watch out for 'Team Supreme'."

"Thanks, buddy."

"Anytime, pal."

"Prime, the humans are vastly outnumbered by the Zentradi forces," reported Prowl. "Their defenses will not be able to hold them for long. Should we assist them?"

"Negative," answered Prime. "Order all Autobots back to Point Alpha One. Blaster, report to the bridge that we have successfully beaten back the rear offensive. He may begin his counter offensive in 2 minutes."

"Minutes?" asked Blaster, "What in the name of Cybertron are minutes?"

"Just report it, Blaster," barked Prime. "All Autobots hurry! We have two clicks!"

"Captain, I have a transmission coming in on that open channel," reported Kim. "Hey all you humans listening in on this broadcast, the Decepticreeps have been sent packing. Prime says you are roger and willco to go on with your operation in two minutes, whatever that means."

The entire bridge crew stopped and turned towards Kim.

"Hey! Don't look at me like that!" yelled Kim defensibly. "That's what he said!"

"Confirm receipt of the transmission, Kim,' ordered Gloval. "Lisa, Claudia, prepare to fire the main cannon in two minutes. Marisa, I'm going to need the pinpoint barrier back in sector 5G before we fire the main cannon."

"Aye aye!" came the trained response from all crew members.

"What is happening?" demanded Khyron. Things were not happening the way that he envisioned. He had successfully drawn all the Micronian's defenses forward. All that was needed was the rear attack to divert their attention back behind them and then his forces would swoop in crush them in their moment of confusion. However, the Micronians remained focused on his forces. Did Megatron not attack as he promised? Was this a ploy to lure his forces in a trap?

"Lord Khyron," called Grell over the radio. His voice was laced with fear. Khyron seethed at the shown cowardice of his second in command. "The Micronians are powering up their main cannon."

"What? All battlepods, return to your cruisers. Cruisers, spilt up and take evasive action. Make the Micronians choose their targets. Retreat!"

"Captain, the enemy cruisers are moving away from each other. We will only have a good shot at one of them," reported Claudia.

"Very well then, aim at the nearest cruiser," ordered Gloval.

"We have target lock on the nearest cruiser now," replied Lisa.

Gloval smiled as he normally did when Lisa appeared to read his mind. "Fire the main cannon!"

Everyone on the bridge shielded their eyes from the brilliant flash of light that accompanied the firing of the main cannon. A river of energy lanced forth from the booms of the SDF-1 and speared the target Zentradi cruiser neatly through the center of it. The ship shuddered violently for a few seconds before the explosion in its midsection ripped it apart.

"Target destroyed," reported Lisa.

"The other cruisers are retreating into space, Captain," added Vanessa.

"Let them go. We've bloodied their nose for trying to bully us. Let's leave it at that." Gloval stood up slowly from his command chair and walked towards the door. He paused before it. "Lisa, please send all casualty reports to my office."

"Yes sir, at once."

"By Primus," exhaled Bumblebee, his CPU still disbelieving what his optics had seen. His reaction was echoed by the other Autobots, who had seen the destruction of the Zentradi cruiser via Hound's holographic projector.

A large white robot who was nearly the twin of Ironhide walked up beside Prime. "I've never seen a weapon like that before. If Megatron ever got his hands on it…"

"I know, Ratchet," answered Prime.

"With the capabilities of that weapon, Megatron could level every city on Cybertron in a matter of cycles," calculated Prowl.

"That's why we must remain vigilant in our duty to protect this ship. The fate of the entire universe lies in this." He turned toward Ratchet. "Old friend, I need you to check everyone out. We'll need everyone at full combat readiness for this mission."

"You got it, Prime. As your chief medical officer, I'm ordering you to be part of this check-up."

"Agreed, but first I need to discuss matters with our allies. We took Megatron by surprise this time, but he'll be fully prepared next time. We need to discuss strategy now. I'll be your last patient."

"Just as long as you don't forget that."

"You won't let me forget, old friend."

Ratchet laughed. "No, I suppose I won't at that. Get going, I'll take care of things here."

"Prowl, get Jazz and come with me. I'll need input from both of you."

"At once, Prime," replied Prowl.

Optimus watched Ratchet begin his examinations with Bluestreak before leaving. The Matrix protect us in this time of crisis, he prayed.

Khyron yanked off his helmet and threw it out of the cockpit of his command pod when the canopy rose. "What in Dolza's name happened out there?" he ranted, yanking the protective straps off himself. "Why was there no attack by our allies? I'd have crushed the Micronians once and for all had they done their part!"

"We did do our part."

Khyron leaped from his battlepod. He drew his sidearm upon landing on the deck and pointed it at the source of the voice. Before him stood the large Decepticon that Breetai had described as Starscream. Khyron's eyes narrowed as he tightened his finger on the trigger of his gun.

Starscream smiled nonchalantly. "There's no need for that," he stated casually. "I'm here to talk."

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't order you vaporized on the spot."

"Because I can help you get rid of Breetai."

Khyron lowered his weapon, surprise evident on his face.

"Of course, I'll want your help in destroying Megatron," added Starscream.

Khyron holstered his weapon. "Very well, Decepticon, you have my attention."

Chapter 8

Following the guidance of the service tech, Rick wheeled his veritech into its parking slot. He shut it down when the tech signaled that the plane was in place, and removed his thinking cap. It was strange sometimes how it felt as if he was disconnecting a part of his body. He wasn't the only pilot to experience this phenomenon. All the pilots did. It was almost intoxicating. Rick certainly understood now why Roy could never quit the military after signing onto the Robotech Academy.

Rick felt a stab of sorrow upon remembering Roy. The wound was still raw. He had to deal with it though. He was Skull One now. That title came with more responsibilities than he imagined. How'd you do it and maintain your sanity, big brother? Rick shook his head violently. He didn't have time for this. He had to make his report for Captain Gloval.

Looking around the vast interior deck of the Prometheus, he noticed that Max was already getting out of his cockpit. The blue haired ace noticed him glancing his way and gave him a thumbs up. Rick unfastened the straps of his seat while the canopy slowly rose up to let him out.

"Welcome back, sir," piped the tech who had guided him in. "Was it rough out there?"

Rick started climbing down the ladder. "It's always rough out there."

"Couldn't have been too rough. You brought her back with hardly a scratch on her. Again."

"I got lucky. Besides, Commander Fokker would come back from the dead to personally kill me if I let anything happen to her."

"That he would, sir," replied the tech, laughing as he climbed the ladder to perform the routine diagnostic of the cockpit's controls.

"Made it back in one piece, I see."

Rick turned to face Max, who had come up from behind him. "More or less. Even managed to bring my wingmen home."

"That's good. We got caught in a hot pocket of enemy fighters. Bergman got his plane shot up pretty badly, but he managed to get it back to the Prometheus."

Rick's eyebrows furrowed with worry. "Is he all right?"

Max shrugged. "I don't know. He looked fine and claimed he was fit as a fiddle, but I ordered him to report to the sickbay for a checkup."

"Smart thinking, we don't want to lose anybody else the way we…" The words caught in Rick's throat.

"I know," answered Max. He already knew the rest. The way we lost Roy.

That particular incident was truly tragic. It was a standard Zentradi attack, except that one of them decided to take on Max personally. He had some sort of supped up battle armor that moved liked greased lightning and had about ten times the firepower of a standard battlepod. Commander Fokker had ordered Max back to the SDF-1, but that guy really wanted him dead. He got inside the ship and trashed a good portion of Macross City before Max was able to drive him off the ship. It was during that duel that Roy's veritech had come under heavy fire. Many of the Prometheus' crew had been called in to help fight fires in the city and rescue civilians when the veritechs came back. It was hours later when blood was discovered in Roy's cockpit. By then, it was too late. Roy has already passed away. The medics found Roy, with Claudia clutching his lifeless body, on her couch sobbing uncontrollably. It was a shock to everyone on board the SDF-1. Roy Fokker seemed invincible. It was still hard to accept that he was gone.

Max saw Rick's head start to droop. Uh oh. Rick's starting to take a bad trip down memory lane. Better do something to cheer him up. "Hey buddy, what do you say you and I go to the Upper Deck after we finish our reports. I wouldn't mind drinking a few while watching the sun set."

"I don't know, Max," answered Rick hesitantly.

"Come on, Rick. Look, I'll even buy the first round, okay?'

Rick's face brightened a little. "You make a very compelling argument, Sterling."

"Then it's settled. Let's go."

"Excuse me, Lieutenant Hunter and Lieutenant Sterling?" interrupted a young ensign, saluting both of them.

"Yes, what can we do for you, ensign?" asked Rick while he and Max return the salute.

"Captain Gloval wishes to see both of you in Bay 17. He's there now, waiting for you."

"Thank you, ensign. Well Max, it looks like we'll have to catch the sun set some other day."

"Them's the breaks," remarked Max. "I wonder why the captain wants to see us in the docking bay."

"I don't know, but we better hurry. The ensign said he's waiting for us."

"Should I get a motorcycle?"

"I have enough stress in my life, thank you very much. There's a jeep. Get in. I'm driving."

"We'd get there faster my way. Your way will lead to a court marshal to taking too long to report to the captain," taunted Max.

"I'd rather risk court marshal than get on another motorcycle with you driving it." Rick and Max laughed as Rick gunned the jeep down the main corridor to the ship.

Oh man, what a circus! thought Rick as he and Max entered docking bay 17. The circus consisted of a group of majors yelling at Captain Gloval, Commander Hayes, and Lieutenant Grant. Rick had been on the receiving end of the disapproving look Lisa had on her face to know that she was furious. Claudia was rolling her eyes in exasperation. Captain Gloval simply stood there, quietly listening to the ranting officers before him.

"Oh boy," muttered Max. "It's going to be one of those meetings."

"Looks that way, buddy."

"Hey there, Rick and Max!"

They both turned around and saw lieutenant Alvarez approaching them. "Hello, Luis," greeted Rick.

The lanky Hispanic walked up quickly to join them. "Any idea what this is all about?"

"Not a clue, though it does seem that the majors are complaining to Captain Gloval."

"Again? What is it now?"

"With them, it could be anything," remarked Max. He pointed to another entrance to the bay. "It looks like we aren't the only ones summoned either. There's Lieutenants Boman and Beck."

"Hmm, it seems that all the squad leaders are being summoned here," observed Rick. The trio continued to walk towards the gathering of officers. Rick could now pick up the shouts of his superior officers.

"I want to know if these reports that you ordered all our mechs to the front lines are true!", yelled Major Westfield.

"You needlessly exposed us to great risk!" shouted Major Thompson.

"What if we had been attacked from behind!"


"Gentlemen, please," pleaded Gloval, raising his hands defensively to calm the complaining officers down. "I will answer all your questions and concerns presently. I merely wished for the veritech squad leaders to be present, since I am going to need their help as well as yours in the trying times ahead."

Rick glanced at Lisa. She gave him a weak smile. Not a good sign, decided Rick.

Just then, a rumble filled the vast chamber. Startled, everyone turned towards the source of the sound. There, they saw a red semi truck pulling a gray trailer with blue and white racing stripes decorated along its sides. Following it was a wide and colorful assortment of automobiles.

Rick heard Alvarez whistle behind him.

"Look at that," whispered Alvarez excitedly. "There's a Porsche 911, a Lamborghini Countach, a Mazarati, a Datsun Z28, even an original Volkswagon Beetle. Most of these models were wiped out during the Global Civil War. This collection must've cost a fortune."

"Just what is the meaning of this, Captain Gloval?" demanded Major Westfield irately. "Surely you didn't call us here to show us an antique car collection."

"Quite correct, Major Westfield," replied Gloval. "Quite correct. First of all, I must inform you that an attack did indeed occur when I ordered all units to the front lines."

"What?" cried Major Thompson incredulously. "Your report makes no mention of a rear offensive by the Zentradi."

"Precisely. We were not attacked by the Zentradi. We were attacked by the Decepticons."

Peripherally, Rick saw Alvarez stiffen. Rick knew how he felt. He knew the Decepticons would return and wasn't at all looking forward to a rematch with them.

"That's preposterous," declared Major Westfield. "It was bad enough when Lieutenant Hunter reported these bogeymen to us, but now you're starting to report this nonsense too. Have you lost your mind?"

"Let's see him face a bogeyman and see how he likes it," growled Max menacingly.

"Easy, Max," whispered Rick. "He'll learn soon enough."

"Captain Gloval," shouted Alvarez.

"Yes, Lieutenant Alvarez, what is it?" asked Gloval.

"Sir, we barely beat them back last time. How did you manage to do so again?"

"Excellent question, lieutenant. Actually, I was just about to get to that. You see, I've enlisted the aid of our new allies." Gloval gestured to the assembled vehicles. "Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, the Autobots."

"These cars are our allies, Gloval?" mocked Lieutenant Thompson. "You're not only mad, you're unfit for command."

"Autobots, transform!" boomed a deep metallic voice. Before the stunned assembly of humans, the cars began to twist, turn, and spin their bodies until they stood revealed as robots. The red semi transformed into a robot that stood nearly twice as tall as the rest of his companions.

Rick could only gape in awe as he looked up at the massive red robot, with his powerful legs and massive fists offset colorfully in a rich shade of blue. The robot's face was silver, set in a blue head. Blue eyes glowed brightly over a silver mask where a human's nose and mouth would be located. The sheer power of his presence held the attention of everyone in the docking bay. Rick realized that the only times he ever felt this intimidated was the time he, Ben, and Max had fought that Zentradi commander with the faceplate, and when he, Ben, and Lisa had been questioned by the Zentradi leader, Dolza. The bewildered look on Lisa's face suggested that she was thinking the exact same thing.

The giant took two steps forward, the vibrations of his footsteps shaking Rick back to his senses. He bowed before the humans reverently before speaking. "I am Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots."

"Autobots?" inquired Major Kremmer. "I don't understand, Captain Gloval. Is this some new weapon that Dr. Lang is developing?"

"I'm afraid not, Major Kremmer," answered Gloval. He pulled out his pipe, lit it, and took a quick draw. Upon exhaling a stream of smoke, Gloval faced the entourage of officers. "The Autobots are the enemies of the Decepticons. Their war has been raging on their planet for millions of years."

"You can't be serious," snorted Major Thompson.

"His statement is correct," stated Prime. "The Great War has been fought on my planet of Cybertron since the end of the Golden Age, some eight million of our solar cycles, similar to what you humans call years."

"Eight million years? Impossible!"

"I wish you were correct, but the Great War has ravaged my planet to the point of depleting all of its resources. Roughly four million solar cycles ago, I led this small band of Autobots on a mission to find new energy resources. That mission led us to this planet. I am sorry to say that in my desire to end the Great War on my planet, I inadvertently led the Decepticons to your world. They ambushed us on our approach to this world, intent on destroying us and then plundering your world's resources. I couldn't allow that, for the sake of your world and that of the universe itself. I ordered our ship on a collision course with this planet when it became clear that they were winning the battle that day. Our ship has been buried beneath one of your volcanoes, dormant until a recent eruption reactivated the systems on our ship. Our main computer, Teletran One, began repairing us, adapting our forms to what it mistakenly assumed to be the indigenous life forms on this world. Unfortunately, the crash had damaged its ability to distinguish between Autobot and Decepticon. I'm afraid that Megatron and his band of Decepticons are now free on this planet, and that you face a peril unlike that which you have ever known."

"You're asking us to believe that you're sentient machines alien to our world?" asked Major Kremmer.

"That's exactly what he's asking you to believe," answered Dr. Lang. "What's more is I believe him. Optimus Prime was kind enough to allow me to examine him. It's really quite extraordinary. His internal systems are like nothing I've ever seen before, in Human or Zentradi science."

"So their technology is different from ours. Big deal! That still doesn't mean that I have to buy their story about them being sentient robots. Suppose they're just robots being controlled remotely."

"Just robots?" yelled Cliffjumper angrily. "Can't you see what's real right in front of your optics?"

"Chill out, Cliffjumper," reprimanded Jazz. "You can't expect them to believe us right off the bat."

"Why do we need them anyway? I say we let them deal with Megatron and we find a way to get back to Cybertron."

"No, we can't do that!" shouted Bumblebee passionately. "It's our fault that Megatron's here! He's our responsibility! We can't turn our backs on the problem at hand, even if it means never seeing Cybertron again!"

Cliffjumper whirled and lunged at Bumblebee, sending both bots crashing hard onto the deck. Cliffjumper started shaking Bumblebee forcibly. "Don't you ever say that again! We will make it back to Cybertron!"

"Hey! Leave Bumblebee alone, Cliffjumper!" screamed a green robot whose torso resembled the front of a military jeep. He yanked Cliffjumper off of Bumblebee and used his size to restrain the angry robot.

"Let go of me, Hound, or I'll start thrashing you too!"

"Throttle down, Cliffjumper!" barked Optimus. "These are our allies now! We will not abandon them!"

"What is the exact nature of this alliance, Captain Gloval?" queried Major Thompson.

Captain Gloval took another puff from his pipe. "I have agreed to ally the SDF-1 with the Autobots in their war against the Decepticons."

"Are you crazy?" shouted Major Kremmer. "We have a duty to protect Earth from the Zentradi! You can't involve us in another war when we're still fighting the Zentradi! That's plain madness!"

Uh oh, that one got Lisa ticked, thought Rick, watching the commander clench her fists in irritation. Rick didn't blame her. He felt like throttling the major himself. Amazingly, Captain Gloval seemed unfazed to all of the major's insults.

"Major Kremmer, you want me to ignore this war when the Decepticons have already involved us? They have attacked us twice now. They clearly want this ship."

"Ok, I'll concede that point," admitted Kremmer. "However, why should we ally ourselves with these alien robots? We have no idea of their true intentions."

Captain Gloval sulked forward, his eyes becoming haunted. "Commander Hayes, please read the communiqué we received from RDF headquarters last night."

Lisa quickly glanced at Rick, worry visible in her eyes. She then cleared her throat and read from a sheet of paper in her hand. "Analysis of Zentradi activity indicates a complete interest only in the SDF-1. Effective immediately, the SDF-1, with all crew and civilians on board, is to lead the Zentradi fleet away from Earth in an attempt to divert their attention away from our planet. It is believed that once the Zentradi possess the SDF-1, they will lose interest in Earth and allow us to carry on in peace. We wish you luck, SDF-1. Signed Admiral Hayes."

Rick's head started to spin. Lisa's own father ordered her away from Earth?

"No, it can't be," muttered Major Kremmer, clearly stunned by the communiqué.

All through the bay were whispers of astonishment and fear. It wasn't confined to just the humans either.

"They would sacrifice their own people to save themselves," asked Ironhide incredulously.

"Logically, it makes perfect sense," replied Prowl.

"You agree with those scumbuckets, Prowl?

"No I don't, Ironhide. My point is that the human leaders are weighing the cost of a few lives against the survival of an entire planet. Taken in that context, the decision makes perfect sense. My own plan would be to remove any innocents from the ship first, since not doing so is simply a waste of life. Of course, once the Zentradi have the ship, they could still attack the Earth, rendering this gesture completely worthless, but…"

"That's enough, Prowl," interrupted Prime. "I'm sure Captain Gloval has already gone over the different scenarios of this dilemma. What do you intend to do, Captain?"

The entire bay quieted down promptly to hear his answer. Rick wondered how Captain Gloval didn't wilt under such intense scrutiny as this.

"I have no choice," answered Gloval gloomily. "I am a RDF officer. It is my duty to obey the orders of my superior officers, regardless of how I feel about them." Gloval paused to take another puff from his pipe. "This is a grave situation for us, Optimus. When you offered an alliance with your forces, I leapt at the chance, because it is also my duty to protect the good people of Macross City. This alliance gives us a chance, however small that may be, at survival. I simply had to take it!"

"I understand, Captain Gloval," remarked Prime empathically. "We Autobots have also taken vows to protect the innocent. Moreover, Megatron definitely wants this ship for his own plans. We cannot allow that to happen. We will stand with you until we find a way to solve both our problems. Our survival and yours depends on it."

"Thank you, Optimus." Gloval turned to his assembled officers. "Do any of you have any objections to this alliance?"

A hushed silence fell over the crowd. Even Majors Kremmer and Thompson could offer no criticism. Rick found his thoughts wandering on the impact of the latest developments. It's amazing! he thought. In 1999, we were all alone in the universe and now, twelve years later, we've come in contact with two separate alien races, each distinctly different from our own. It's fantastic, and more than a little bit scary. He looked up at one of the Autobots, a blue robot who resembled Prowl, only that his chest was the front chassis of a Z-28. It's enough to make one feel almost insignificant, living amongst giants and giant robots.

"Very well then," remarked Gloval after no one voiced any objections. "We will finish resupplying the ship tomorrow at 21:00. I will inform the civilians at 17:00, before we take off. I do not anticipate a positive reaction. I need you officers to inform your squads of the recent developments and then help to calm the populace as best you can. Remind them that our top priority remains their safe return back to Earth. All of you have served me faithfully through our many trials. I know I can depend on each of you as we seek a solution to this newest crisis. Dismissed."

Murmurs began rumbling from the officers as they started heading for the exits. Many of them glanced back at the Autobots, worry and wonder both evident in their eyes. Rick wasn't sure what to make of all this either. Alien sentient robots? It seemed so unreal, and yet, he had already faced the superior flying skills of one of them already. A hand clasped firmly on his right shoulder, shaking Rick from his reverie.

"Hey buddy, you all right?" asked Max.

"Yeah, Max, I'm fine. I'm just trying to figure out how to break this to the men."

"I know what you mean. We'll figure something out."

"Ah, Lieutenant Hunter and Lieutenant Sterling," stated Gloval, as he strode his way to him, Lisa attending him at his side. "Good, you're still here. I'd hoped to talk to you about another important task that Optimus Prime and I both feel is vital to the success of our alliance."

"Uh, sure Captain Gloval, what do you need us to do?" asked Rick, somewhat hesitantly.

"We need officers to act as liaisons for us. The purpose of this is to teach the Autobots of our ways while we learn of theirs. You two and Commander Hayes spent a few weeks amongst the Zentradi, making you three the closest thing I have to an expert on alien culture.

"I would hardly call us experts, Captain. We were their prisoners after all."

"True, but I feel that your experience among the Zentradi will assist you in this endeavor. Commander Hayes will work with myself to trade tactical information that both sides have accumulated, and to figure out how to best incorporate the Autobots into our defensive formation. Dr. Lang will work with the Autobot engineers in an exchange of technology and ideas that may give us the a technological edge that neither of us could possibly achieve on our own. I want you two to show the Autobots around Macross City, to show them who we are protecting and why. We also need you to learn about them as well."

"We also feel that the two of you working with the Autobots will help both the soldiers and civilians accept the alliance quicker," added Lisa. 'You two are well known and liked by the populace. The initial level of suspicion and distrust will tremendously decrease if the people see both of you trying to get to know them."

I'm beginning to hate being double teamed like this, thought Rick grumpily. However, he saluted Gloval and Lisa and stated, "You can count on us!"

"Excellent!" exclaimed Gloval. "Come then, I'm sure you're anxious to meet our new guests." Gloval started leading Lisa, Rick, and Max toward Optimus Prime, who was standing with four other Autobots.

"Hello, Captain Gloval," greeted Prime. "Are these the officers you mentioned before?"

"Yes, Optimus, may I present to you two of our best pilots, Lieutenant Rick Hunter and Lieutenant Max Sterling, and my second in command, Commander Lisa Hayes."

"It's nice to meet you," said Rick.

"Welcome aboard the SDF-1," added Max. "I hope your stay here will be pleasant."

"Thank you," replied Bumblebee. "I'm looking forward to learning about your people. By the way, my name's Bumblebee."

"He's the one who suggested this idea of learning about one another," interjected Prime. "He will act as the Autobot liaison with you." Prime then motioned to the other three robots with him. "This is Jazz, my second in command, Blaster, our communications officer, and Hound, our reconnaissance scout."

"Hey cats! How's it hanging?" chimed Jazz brightly.

"Man, this place is outta sight! I can't wait to take a look around," added Blaster.

"Umm, yeah," said Rick hesitantly.

"Don't worry, you'll get used to those two eventually," said Hound. "I myself had hoped to explore more of your planet, but this opportunity to learn about your culture couldn't be ignored either. In any case, I hope this will require some exploring."

"We'll try our best to show you as much as possible," promised Max.

"Sounds good to me."

"Optimus Prime suggested that Bumblebee and Hound to accompany you two when you explain the situation to Skull squadron," said Gloval to Rick and Max. "Getting them to meet our allies will help the transition run more smoothly, I believe."

"Yes sir," replied Rick and Max sharply.

"What about us?" demanded Blaster.

"You and Jazz would be of greater assistance in determining how best to use our individual strengths to complement each other," stated Prime.

Both Jazz and Blaster both slumped forward, each visibly disappointed.

"I am not going to get used to emotional robots," whispered Max to Rick.

"You and me both," answered Rick.

"Don't worry, you two," soothed Prime. "You'll get plenty of opportunities to learn about the humans soon enough. However, our first priority has to be the integration of our forces to maximize the effectiveness of this alliance. This provides the best chance at keeping the SDF-1 out of Megatron's hands so that you may learn about the humans."

"All right then," piped Jazz. "What are we waiting for?"

"You two are dismissed," said Gloval to Rick and Max.

"As are you two," added Prime to Bumblebee and Hound.

"Come on, Hound," said Bumblebee excitedly, transforming into a yellow Volkswagon Beetle. "Let's go meet the rest of the humans!"

"Right behind you, little buddy," replied Hound, transforming himself into a green military jeep.

Bumblebee rolled up to Rick and opened the driver side door for him. "Get in!" his seemingly disembodied voice said. "I'll take you there personally."

"You can ride with me," offered Hound to Max.

Max gave Rick a nervous look, which Rick answered with a shrug before climbing into Bumblebee.

"Just tell me where you want to go and leave the driving to me," stated Bumblebee.

"Umm, okay, head down that corridor," said Rick.

Hours later, Rick and Max were walking back to their quarters after their briefing with the remainder of the Skull squadron. "I gotta tell you, Rick, this has been one bizarre day," spoke Max.

"I know what you mean, Max," replied Rick wearily. "It isn't every day we find that there are intelligent robots in the universe."

"Or that they're our new allies," added Max.

"Or that we've been exiled from our home world."

"What about that transforming ability of theirs. I asked Hound if it hurt. He just laughed and told me, 'Not a bit.' Actually, he thought it was strange that we couldn't change forms like he could."

"I couldn't get Bumblebee to stop asking questions," exclaimed Rick. "He wanted to know about everything, like the city, the people, the machines we've 'enslaved' as he put it."

Max laughed. "It took me a while to explain to Hound that our machines aren't sentient too. I guess I'd see it their way if I found myself on a world where machines ruled and the humans were just tools for them.

"I suppose you're right. I'd probably be a little bit uncomfortable in that situation. I didn't get a feeling though that Bumblebee was at all uncomfortable. He seemed much more excited than anything."

"Well, ask yourself one question, Rick, how does it feel to talk to the first alien who doesn't try to blast you to atoms first?"

"I actually really enjoyed it, Max. I wish all out encounters with alien races went this way."

"I hear you, buddy," remarked Max, clapping his hand on Rick's right shoulder. He stifled a quick yawn. "Oh man, I'm wasted. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Good night, Max," said Rick. He watched his best friend slowly stumble towards his room. A quick yawn of his own signaled that it was time for him to turn in as well. Pausing only long enough to take off his boots, Rick collapsed on his bunk. Rolling over, he stared up at the ceiling. I'm glad Bumblebee and Hound were there when I told the rest of Skull Squadron the news about us having to leave Earth. The pilots are all great guys, but being told your own home world doesn't want you around anymore hurts. Still, Bumblebee helped lift their spirits just by asking questions about us. It's almost like he has this endless well of optimism that you just can't ignore. Heck, even I feel better about what's happened to us lately. What really astonished me though was Hound's holographic projection of Cybertron. It's almost too much to believe that there is actually a planet of metal where a race of giant robots live. It's almost like that old Sci Fi show Pop used to tell me about, 'Twilight Area' or something like that.

Rick's eyes reflexedly closed. Oh man, I'm pretty beat. It's been a busy day. I'll deal with everything tomorrow. Rick fell asleep on that last thought.

Chapter 9

Over the next week, Lisa marveled at how life had changed on the SDF-1. The announcement of the discovery of a new alien race and Gloval's alliance with them sparked a positive reaction from the citizens of Macross City, much to the surprise of the RDF officers expecting a riot. Of course this was due in large part to the speech delivered by the Autobot commander, Optimus Prime. Lisa never imagined she could ever be moved by such a passionate plea for the two races to cooperate in this desperate time of tribulation. Lisa had found herself standing to applaud Optimus with the rest of the press corps covering the biggest media event on the SDF-1 since the Miss Macross Contest.

The feeling of goodwill couldn't last forever though, as Captain Gloval stepped back to the podium to make his second announcement to the citizens. The news that the RDF leadership denied the citizens' return to Earth produced the hostile reaction feared by the RDF officers. Many of the press corps lost their journalistic integrity and began demanding irately what Captain Gloval intended to do about the situation.

Fortunately, Lynn Minmei, there as the current Miss Macross, rushed to the podium and impassionedly reminded the people that what happened was not the Captain's fault. She reminded the citizens of how everyone on board the vast ship had pulled together during the difficult times and appealed to them to back the Captain once again. Her declaration that she was and always would be a proud citizen of Macross City caused many of the angry people who were shouting angrily at the Captain just moments before to shout apologies to the man who had done the best he could to protect them.

"Wow," exclaimed a computerized voice behind Lisa. "Who is she? She's amazing."

Lisa turned and looked backed at the small Autobot named Bumblebee. He was staring at Minmei with a look on his face that she had witnessed on many of the men on board who found themselves in Minmei's presence. Lisa replied, "That's Lynn Minmei. She's sort of a, um, goodwill ambassador of the SDF-1."

"She certainly is very good at her job," remarked Bumblebee breathlessly.

Lisa turned away from Bumblebee disgusted. What was it about Minmei that gave her this power to affect the men of two different species? No man, or robot for that matter, ever looked at her that way before.

Claudia Grant, sitting on Lisa's left, saw the scowl on Lisa's face and leaned over to whisper, "Wondering how the little tramp does it, aren't you?"

Lisa jumped, startled by Claudia's comment. "I most certainly am not."

"Really? Take a good look at Lieutenant Hunter and tell me that again."

Lisa eyes immediately glanced over at Rick Hunter, who was appeared to be applauding the Captain with the rest of the room, but his eyes were fixated on Minmei the same way as Bumblebee's were. Lisa's mood turned extremely sour.

"Oh the look on your face," commented Claudia. "I suspect our dear Miss Macross had better not find herself alone with you in a dark alley. I see that calculating mind of yours working, Lisa dear. What's the plan? Gonna tear her hair out by the roots so she looks like Sinead O'Connor?"

"I'd never do something like that, Claudia."


Lisa smiled maliciously. "No, it'd look so much worse to leave clumps of it in."

"Atta girl," complimented Claudia.

Throughout the rest of the week, the command crew of the SDF-1 and the Autobots coordinated the best way to incorporate the Autobots' varied capabilities into the operation and defense of the SDF-1. Lisa found herself amazed at the wide range of the Autobots' talents.

Blaster, as communications officer of the Autobots, was chosen to be the Autobot's liaison with the bridge during battle. Lisa's hand immediately raised when Optimus told Blaster that he was to be present on the SDF-1 bridge during all battles. "Begging your pardon sir, but Blaster is many times larger than any of us. How do you propose he fit on the bridge, much less get there?"

Blaster smiled. "Stand back and be amazed, pretty lady." He immediately transformed to his boombox mode before the astonished humans.

Lisa stared from her seat in shock. Blaster was now one fifth her size, easily capable of fitting in the bridge. They wouldn't even have to bring in an extra chair.

"Pretty neat, huh?" exclaimed Blaster's voice through the speakers of the boombox. "This is the form I need to assume to transmit to the Autobots anyway, so I think your space problem is solved. Wouldn't you agree?"

"Uh huh," muttered Lisa, still staring at Blaster's alternate form. A sudden thought came to her. "Blaster, are you mobile in this form?"

"Nope! I need to be carried to my position," stated Blaster matter of factly. "I'm also very vulnerable in this form, so I'm gonna have to rely on you to protect me, 'kay?"

"Um, sure," answered Lisa. "How much do you weigh in this form?"

"I'm not sure really. I haven't had a form this small before."

Lisa rose from her chair and walked over to the table where Blaster was on. "Do you mind if I try to lift you?"

"Not at all. I'd enjoy being handled by a total babe like you."

Lisa blushed furiously at Blaster's compliment. She could hear Vanessa, Sammy, and Kim giggling behind her. She coughed nervously. "Blaster, while I appreciate the, er, compliment, could you please keep your opinions of me to yourself?"

"Sure thing, foxy lady!" replied Blaster.

Lisa face got even redder as the giggling from the Bridge Bunnies intensified.

"Blaster, behave yourself," admonished Optimus.

"Yes sir, Optimus," answered Blaster.

Lisa could almost swear that the boombox suddenly tried to stand even straighter on the table than it was. She cleared that thought from her head and put both hands on the handle of the boombox. She then lifted Blaster easily off of the table. It was wonderous. Blaster had not just decreased his size but his weight as well.

"Amazing," remarked Captain Gloval.

"Wow, that's incredible," said Vanessa.

"You said it, Vanessa. I bet he'd be great at parties," added Sammy.

"And just think, if someone gets too rowdy, Blaster can just transform and squash him," followed Kim. The three Bridge Bunnies then started another fit of giggles.

"Name the time and place ladies, and I'll be there," chimed Blaster enthusiastically. "This bot sure ain't no square."

Optimus and Gloval simultaneously raised their hands to their faces and shook their heads in chagrin.

Optimus assigned positions for the rest of the Autobots throughout the ship based on their talents and skills. He was aided in this by Prowl, who was extremely gifted in handling the job selection of the Autobots, placing each where his talents would be most effective. The effect was immediate as the Autobots lent their abilities to the operations of the ship.

Cosmos was an excellent scout. He discovered a Zentradi Cyclops spy vessel on his first outing. His sensor readings of the Zentradi fleets gave the crew much more time to prepare for their assaults.

Huffer's natural engineering abilities, with assistance from Brawn, Windcharger, Gears, and Ironhide, greatly increased the ability of the crew to repair any damage to the SDF-1. Not that there was much. Optimus Prime, and his second in command Jazz, proved to be tremendous field commanders, incorporating the RDF Battloids with the Autobot warriors to form a lethal fighting force.

During their first battle, a particularly large contingent of Zentradi broke through the front lines, having destroyed the White Ox squadron. They were starting to pick apart Ghost squadron on guard duty with the Battloids when the area around the ship suddenly became a Zentradi killing zone.

Lisa marveled at how the Autobots worked together to confuse and annihilate the enemy. Hound produced holograms of Battloids to confuse the Zentradi while Trailbreaker shielded the real Battloids with his force fields. Sunstreaker, Sideswipe, Cliffjumper, and Bluestreak were untouchable as they sped through the battlefield, picking off Zentradi at will. Lisa smiled when the Zentradi command pod exploded for no apparent reason. Blaster confirmed her suspicion that Mirage had used his invisibility to sneak up on him. The loss of their commander panicked the remaining Zentradi troops and thus were dispatched quickly under Autobot, Battloid, and Veritech fire. Amazingly, the damage had been kept to a minimum, and not a single Battloid had been lost. Upon witnessing the tremendous effectiveness of the Autobots as a defense force, Captain Gloval realized that he could send more Veritechs to the front lines. Thus, with more pilots to watch out for each other, the average number of Veritechs lost during battle dropped substantially. This made Lisa feel much better, seeing how she always worried that she'd lose Rick whenever he led his squadron against the Zentradi. When the next two scuffles with the Zentradi both ended in total routs for the RDF defenders, morale soared on board the ship.

Lisa and Captain Gloval spent particularly large amounts of time with Optimus, Prowl, and Jazz. Prowl also proved to have a knack for uncovering patterns in the Zentradi's attacks on the SDF-1. Jazz, on the other hand, seemed to always dread the conferences. He always wanted to try out whatever new Human tradition he had learned about in his excursions into the city. Lisa remembered the painful moments if their last meeting when he demonstrated his love of karaoke. Still, Lisa had a growing respect for the robot, whom she realized reminded her of Lieutenant Sterling in his daring and skillful maneuvers in the battlefield. Lisa chuckled at the memory of Jazz's response to her comparison to Lt. Sterling with a simple, "FAR OUT!" Apparently, Max Sterling and Rick Hunter were becoming something of a cult figures among the Autobots, especially after stories of their first encounters with the Decepticons were told. "Ain't too many out there who actually have survived a Decepticreep sneak attack," answered Jazz, when pressed on this by Lisa.

The Autobots were extremely personable and easy to get along with, but what surprised Lisa even more was the growing amount of respect she was beginning to have for Optimus Prime's opinion. She began to value his opinion the same way as she did Gloval's. In fact, she surmised the two shared many of the same qualities that engendered the tremendous amount of loyalty from their respective crews. Lisa had always felt fortunate to have served under Captain Gloval. Now, she added serving with Prime to her small list of life's blessings.

Unfortunately, Blaster hit it off big with the Bridge Bunnies, especially when he revealed his ability to eavesdrop on conversations. When one of Lisa's more private chats with Claudia about Rick was broadcast on the bridge, Lisa reminded Blaster just how vulnerable he was in his alternate mode, and vowed to dropkick him out the nearest airlock if she ever found he had taped her again. Blaster immediately promised he'd never eavesdrop again, on her at least. Lisa saw the glances pass between the Bridge Bunnies, knowing that no one else was safe with this promise. She decided to drop it until later though, when she could appraise Optimus of Blaster's current activities.

Rick and Max were assigned to spend much of their time with Bumblebee and Hound. Both were tremendously curious about humans, and Bumblebee in particular viewed them with respect. Rick and Max tried to explain things in human terms as best as they could, but they both had to admit, it was tough to explain to a robot what it means to be human. Still, the four were soon inseparable, exploring different areas of the ship together. Rick often wondered late at nights how Roy would've taken to their new friends. Probably would've shown them a great time right off the bat, he guessed. It was actually kind of fun being on a first name basis with aliens from another world, even if they were robots.

On their few moments alone, Rick and Max would compare their impressions of the two and both soon realized that they viewed Bumblebee as a sort of little brother. Bumblebee wore the title like a badge, as well as one other: Minmei's #1 Fan. Bumblebee couldn't believe his two "big brothers" were personal friends with Minmei. He pestered them for two days before Rick finally consented to introduce him.

Actually, Rick had been trying to set up a meeting as a possible means of getting her to notice him again, but none of her agents would even let him talk to her. That is, until Rick finally managed to mention a possible photo op with one of the Autobots. Suddenly, Rick found himself inundated with phone calls by press agents trying to be the ones to set up Minmei with the Autobots.

The event turned out spectacularly. Minmei greeted both Bumblebee and Hound with her usual enthusiasm. Hound, annoyed at first because of Bumblebee's nonstop praise of Minmei for several days, was immediately charmed by the coyishly bright star. The press oohed and ahhed when Bumblebee lifted her onto his shoulder and she hugged his head. Bumblebee's face even blushed causing all to chuckle at the little guy. Minmei then sang a couple songs for the crowd while Hound provided holographic images of Minmei singing across the room. After a thunderous round of applause for her impromptu show, Minmei posed for pictures with the two Autobots. Yes, the show was a huge hit. Nearly everyone on the SDF-1 tuned in to see Minmei and the Autobots. All in all, everyone loved it, except Rick.

Rick wasn't allowed anywhere near the stage. He wasn't even allowed backstage. The second the agents saw the Autobots, they shoved Rick out of the way and escorted them to the stage. Rick was forced to watch the entire show from the back of the room, feeling a huge gulf between him and the girl he loved grow wider. His perfect plan shot to pieces, he was in a sour mode riding in Bumblebee on the way back to the base.

"Oh man, oh man, oh man," gushed Bumblebee excitedly. "I can't believe I actually met Minmei! I can't believe my luck!"

"Yeah," moped Rick.

"She's so talented. Those songs of hers really warm my chassis. We didn't have anything like singing back on Cybertron. You humans are so lucky to have someone like Minmei."

"Yeah, we're lucky all right."

"You didn't tell me she was so friendly. I can certainly see why everyone on board the SDF-1 likes her. It must be impossible to hate her."

"Yeah," replied Rick, desperately wishing Bumblebee would just shut up and let him sulk in his misery.

Unfortunately, Bumblebee rambled on and on about Minmei, never realizing the that Rick wasn't in the same spirit of things as he was. Rick tried to calm himself, telling himself over and over that it wasn't Bumblebee's fault that he got shunted into the background yet again. However, his temper finally took hold when Bumblebee asked Rick for the fifth time if he had seen the autographed picture Minmei had given him.

"Just shut up about Minmei, will you?" snapped Rick.

Bumblebee screeched to a halt. "Huh?" he asked, perplexed by the apparent sudden change in Rick's behavior. "I thought you liked her too."

"Did you see me anywhere near the stage, Bumblebee?"

"Oh no, I was so wrapped up in Minmei, I… I"

"Didn't even notice I wasn't there. Look, just leave me here. I'd like to be alone for a bit." Rick opened the car door and stepped out.

Bumblebee transformed. "Wait Rick! I'm sorry. I should've noticed you weren't there."

Hound rode up to them in his jeep mode. "Is anything the matter, guys?"

"No," answered Rick. "Nothing much. I just need to get a little air. That's all."

"Rick, I'm so sorry," babbled Bumblebee.

"It's not your fault, Bumblebee. I suppose I should get used to being ignored by her. I mean, it happens often enough." Rick saw Bumblebee sulk even more with this statement. "Hey big guy, don't do that! I don't blame you for falling for her. Ask any guy on the ship, they all have. I'm just having trouble sharing her. It's my problem, okay?"

Bumblebee slowly nodded yes. He still looked terrible.

"I don't blame you, Bumblebee," Rick reiterated. "I just need some time alone. It's a human thing. I'll see you guys tomorrow at the usual time." Rick turned and walked down the street towards the base.

Hound transformed and walked up next to Bumblebee, who was watching Rick walk away. "Come one, little buddy, let's give him the time alone that he wants."

"He didn't get to see Minmei, Hound."

"I know. There's nothing we can do about it now though. He'll deal with it in his own way. Come on." Hound transformed back into his jeep mode. "I want to ask Max a few questions. I have a feeling we don't know the whole story between Rick and Minmei."

"Well, you were correct in not knowing the back story on Rick and Minmei," said Max, after Bumblebee and Hound tracked him down at the base.

"So tell us," pressed Bumblebee.

Max took off his blue tinted glasses and wiped them off. Putting them back on, he looked back up at the robots reluctantly. "Well, Rick and Minmei have known each other for a couple years now. Rick saved her life when they first met. They spent 2 weeks alone, lost in the lower levels of the ship. During that time, Rick and Minmei became close. They've been friends ever since. Rick even lived for a time at her uncle's restaurant. I'm pretty sure Rick is completely in love with Minmei. However, she's so focused on her career that she's blowing Rick off."

"Love?" asked Bumblebee. "What's that?"

"Hoo boy," remarked Max. He paced around trying to figure out how to describe love to his Autobot friends. He remembered hearing the stories from Rick and Lisa of how the Zentradi also asked about this seemingly human concept. Dang! Why do all giant aliens have to ask about love? Worse, I have no one to demonstrate the concept the way Rick and Lisa did.

"Well?" asked Hound impatiently.

"It's difficult to explain, Hound. Truth to tell, I've never experienced true love myself, so all I have to tell you is what others have explained to me."

"So start there."

"Okay," replied Max, taking a deep breath. "Well, I guess that it kinda begins as a dull ache. I have felt that before. I've desired women who did not return my affection."

"Huh? I don't understand?" stated Bumblebee.

"It only starts out that way," replied Max. "I can say though that it is possible to love someone without them returning the love. Loving someone who doesn't love you can be painful. That's really what Rick is going through right now. He loves Minmei, but she hasn't been noticing him. It kinda like being stabbed in the heart."

"If it's so painful, then why do humans love?" asked Hound.

"Good question. I guess we just can't help it. Everyone at one point of their lives has fallen for someone. It grows until all you can do is think of the person you're in love with. It's weird, but they can just kinda take over your life. For example, there's this one girl in particular that I'm nuts about. The strangest thing is I have no idea what her name is. I've spotted her around the ship at times. That's another thing, some people claim there's such a thing as love at first sight. I guess they're right, because I can't get this woman off my mind. All I want to do is be close to her, to know everything about her, to let her become everything in life to me."

"Why haven't you yet?" asked Hound.

"Every time I see her, something comes up before I can introduce myself. Twice, Zentradi attacks have happened just when I'm about to say 'Hi!' to her. It drives me a little bit crazy, but I know she's somewhere on this ship. I'll find her someday."

"So, that's love?" asked Bumblebee. "Wanting more than anything to be close to someone?"

"Well, it's a little more complicated than that," answered Max, "but I guess that's a good enough definition for now. Maybe Rick can fill you in on it more later."

"Okay, thanks Max,"

"No problem, Bumblebee," replied Max. "I hope I didn't confuse you both too much."

"Nope, I think I got it," answered Bumblebee brightly.

"Okay, just let me know if you need anything else explained," offered Max.

"We appreciate you taking the time to explain love to us Max," said Hound.

"Anytime fellas. Well, I need to get some sleep now. Good night fellas. Don't worry too much about Rick, Bumblebee. He's been this way before. He'll be all right tomorrow. You'll see."

"Okay, Max," said Bumblebee. "Thanks for your help."

"Anytime," yawned Max. "I'm off to bed. See you guys later." Max walked back towards the barracks after waving one last time to Bumblebee and Hound. Please God, let them go to Rick when they find out about sex, pleaded Max inwardly as he headed towards his room.

Hound and Bumblebee watched Max enter the barracks before transforming and driving away. "Did you understand any of that, Bumblebee?" asked Hound as they sped down the near empty streets.

"Yep," answered Bumblebee. "As a matter of fact, things are a lot clearer now. I've never realized it before now."

"Realized what?"

"I'm in love with Optimus!" shouted Bumblebee gleefully.

Chapter 10

Optimus Prime walked into the large engineering bay where Wheeljack had taken up shop to work with Dr. Lang on developing new weapons based on human and Autobot technology. Thus far, true to form for Wheeljack, there had been few successful tests. However, Dr. Lang, being somewhat less resilient than the enthusiastic robot, managed to dissuade Wheeljack from testing the more volatile weapons. Thus Wheeljack was spending far less time in the repair bay, of which Ratchet was particularly grateful.

Prime was grateful too for the little extra time he was able to spend with Ratchet. Both had known each other a long time now, since before the war. It was nice being able to spend time with his best friend, talking about the humans and reminiscing about the Golden Age. Prime quickly refocused his mind back to the present. Wheeljack urgently wanted to speak to him about something.

Dr. Lang and Wheeljack both looked up from their joint project. "Optimus, thanks for coming," said Wheeljack.

"What have you two come up with?" asked Optimus.

Dr. Lang cleared his throat. "Well, you see, Optimus, you Autobots use energon to fuel your systems. Our own machines run on an extremely efficient form of energy, which I am starting to believe is this protoculture that the Zentradi want from this ship."

"Basically, we've been trying to find a way to convert the protoculture into energon, possibly creating a form of super energon, if you will," added Wheeljack.

"Yes, I see," remarked Optimus. "Tell me, have you had any success in this endeavor?"

"Well, we think so, but..." mumbled Wheeljack, trying to find the words to continue his report.

"What my esteemed colleague is trying to say," interrupted Dr. Lang, "is that we're not sure if we've actually done that. Wheeljack wants to test the energon on himself. I, myself, stress that we have not done enough tests to actually determine that energon will be safe for Autobot systems."

"Dr. Lang is correct, Wheeljack," said Optimus. "There's too much at stake here for any of us to take unnecessary risks. We cannot afford to lose a valuable soldier because of impatience."

"Oh, I understand, Optimus," replied Wheeljack, "except that we really don't know how to test the energon short of asking for a volunteer. If we were back on Cybertron at my lab, this would be simple, but human science just isn't on par with ours."

"I'm afraid he is quite correct," admitted Dr. Lang. "It has been a complete joy discussing scientific theories with Wheeljack. His comprehension of abstract thoughts and probabilities would take me a lifetime to completely understand and even then, I'm sure I would have much more to learn from him. It is simply astonishing the level of scientific advancements your race, as well as the Zentradi, have made. Why, I feel like a child at Christmas, thinking of all the theories I've been able to prove in these past twelve years. Why, just the other day, Wheeljack explained to me this theory on quantum physi..."

"Is this train of thought going in any particular direction, Dr. Lang?" asked Optimus.

"Oh, pardon me, Optimus. I guess I got a little carried away there."

"Don't worry about it. Actually, you remind me of someone I know back on Cybertron."

"He does seem an awful lot like Perceptor, doesn't he?" remarked Wheeljack.

"Indeed, but you two were explaining the difficulties of testing the new energon," stated Optimus, bringing the conversion back on subject.

"Oh yes. Well, you see, we can't test the energon because we don't have the equipment necessary to do so."

"I see, so you would like me to allow you to volunteer yourself for the test. Is that it, Wheeljack?"

"Um, yeah."

"I'm sorry, Wheeljack. I'm afraid I cannot allow that. We need you to continue to work with Dr. Lang. If something went wrong with the test, there would be no one to replace you."

"How about if I volunteer?" spoke someone behind Optimus.

Optimus turned to see Bumblebee standing in the doorway to the lab.

"I'm sorry, Optimus," apologized the tiny robot. "I was on my way to give you my report on what Hound and I have learned about humans this week. I didn't mean to eavesdrop on your conversation."

"That's alright," accepted Optimus. "It wasn't your fault."

"So, will you let me volunteer?"

"I don't think so, Bumblebee."

"Come on, Optimus, I'm expendable. You and I both know this."

"Now wait a minute," piped up Wheeljack. "Expendable? Where did you get that crazy notion?"

"It's not crazy," snapped Bumblebee. "I'm not a warrior like Optimus or a scientist like you. I'm a spy, only I can't do much spying when we're traveling in space. You can afford to lose me."

"Think about what you're saying, Bumblebee," soothed Optimus. "I cannot afford to lose any of my crew. We may be the only Autobots left. I cannot sanction a project that puts even one of my crew at undue risk."

"Yet you'll let the others go into battle. Isn't that an undue risk?"

"There is risk involved in all combat, but those Autobots I send are highly trained warriors. They are performing their function."

"Don't you get it, Optimus? I'm not able to perform my function. I'm as useful on this ship as a fifth wheel."

"That's not true. You're our representative with the humans. I rely on your observations of the humans to help me understand them and comprehend their customs."

"All of which can still be done by Hound if something happens to me. Just think about it, Optimus. What if this new form of energon is the key to victory over the Decepticons? Wouldn't that then be a reduction of risk to our fellow Autobots? Isn't the possibility of ending this seemingly endless war justification enough to take the chance?"

Optimus Prime thought about Bumblebee's argument for a few microns.

"Come on, Optimus, let me contribute," pleaded Bumblebee.

"You raise some very good arguments, Bumblebee," conceded Optimus. "Very well then, I'll allow you to volunteer to test the new energon."

"All right!" whooped Bumblebee.

"However," continued Prime, "first I want Ratchet to look over a sample of it. He knows Autobot physiology better than anyone and I'll not sanction the test until he gives me his okay."

"Roger that, Optimus," Wheeljack acknowledged. "Come on, little buddy, we better have old Ratchet take a look at you too so we don't have any nasty surprises pop up during the test."

"You got it, Wheeljack," agreed Bumblebee.

"You'll be alright here alone for a while, won't you, Dr. Lang?" asked Wheeljack.

Dr. Lang stood there, seemingly not even noticing Wheeljack's question, all the while looking up and around the ceiling.

"Dr. Lang, is anything the matter?" asked Prime.

"I sense something," answered Dr. Lang. He continued to scan the ceiling. "There's something unnatural in this room. Something that doesn't belong here. "

The Autobots quickly readied their weapons as Dr. Lang continued to look about the lab.

"There," yelled the scientist, "in the shadows."

The Autobots trained their weapons in the direction the scientist pointed. They saw a pair of yellow glowing eyes looking back at them, whilst the rest of its form was shrouded by the darkness in that corner of the lab. It waddled forward into the light boldly, as if it had nothing to fear from being discovered.

"It's Laserbeak!" exclaimed Wheeljack.

The intruder immediately leaped from its perch and zoomed out of the lab, before the startled Autobots could act to capture it.

"After him," ordered Optimus. "Don't let him get away." He, Wheeljack, and Bumblebee immediately ran from the lab to chase after the bird.

Dr. Lang ran to a nearby telephone and quickly dialed the bridge's number. "Commander Hayes, this is Dr. Lang. The Autobots and I have uncovered a Decepticon infiltrator here in the lab. It is in the shape of a large metallic bird. It's heading is Sector G-16. We must not let it escape."

Lisa Hayes quickly sprang into action upon the news that the Decepticons had somehow infiltrated the ship. Several of the crew were now calling in with sightings of the creature. It was trying to escape with who knows what information it had of the SDF-1's interior, its defenses, its weaknesses, their plans, anything and everything could be compromised. They had to capture that Decepticon.

The Autobots immediately split up to join groups of humans assigned by Lisa to assist in the search. Their orders were to only search for the creature, not to engage it. That's what the Autobots were for. Their previous encounters with the Decepticons had taught Lisa to not put any of her crew at undue risk. She also immediately ordered Skull squadron and Cosmos into the air to patrol for any incoming ships. She then ordered the SDF-1 on full alert status. Those crews not involved in the search were to immediately report to battle stations.

"Isn't that a little excessive, Lisa?" asked Claudia.

"No, it isn't, Claudia," answered Lisa. "Think about it. We've just uncovered their agent. They probably have some contingency for that possibility. I'm not ruling out an attack by Decepticons and Zentradi as one of those plans. In fact, I'm betting on it and I want to be ready for it."

"SDF-1 command, this is Cosmos reporting," crackled the voice of Cosmos over the radio.

Lisa hit the respond button on her console. "This is Commander Hayes, Cosmos. Report."

"We have a fleet of Zentradi cruisers coming in, three heavy, five light. They're being lead by in by Decepticons. Vector 9B-2F-5C"

"Thank you, Cosmos, all squadrons launch. Enemies approaching from vector 9B-2F-5C. I repeat: enemies approaching from vector 9B-2F-5C."

"Do you ever get tired of being right all the time, Miss Hayes," asked Claudia.

"Right now, I wish I wasn't," replied Lisa harshly. "Blaster, contact Optimus and tell him we have Decepticon trouble on the way."

"Righto," replied Blaster. "Hey Op, Cosmos reports Decepticreep trouble on the horizon and Commander Hayes requests that you and the rest of the boys get out there and swat these pesky buggers off our backs, over."

"Acknowledged," responded Optimus. "Have Jazz assemble our usual strike team at the bridge area outside. We must protect that area over all others. Also, dispatch Steeljaw to assist Bumblebee and Wheeljack in the search for Laserbeak."

"You got it, boss." Blaster opened the tape deck cover on his boombox mode to let out a yellow cassette tape. The bridge crew watched in astonishment as the tape grew in size, changing itself until a metallic yellow lion with wings stood amongst their midst. It growled savagely, almost as if irritated at being bothered. "Don't give me that attitude." barked Blaster. "I let you out every once in a while."

Steeljaw roared back at the boombox.

"Okay, okay, I'll take you on a walk when I'm off duty. Now go help the others hunt down that overgrown robo-turkey."

The lion growled once more as if to imply that Blaster had better not forget his promise before springing out of the bridge and down the corridor.

"Wow, that brings new meaning to the phrase 'having kittens', huh?" remarked Kim.

Vanessa and Sammy quickly acknowledged her with giggles.

"Okay, ladies," admonished Claudia. "That's enough. We have work to do."

"Yes ma'am," replied the bunnies simultaneously.

"All right boys, we have Decepticon and Zentradi bandits heading for us," reported Rick Hunter to the men in Skull Squadron. "Those Decepticons took us by surprise in our first encounter, but we know their dirty little tricks now. No one goes solo against them. Understood?"

"Yes sir!" replied his men back sharply.

"Good, now let's take them!" Rick smiled as his men maneuvered to their defensive positions. Commander Hayes had personally attended the meeting he had with Skull Squadron to explain why none of them would repeat Rick's earlier mistake. It wounded his pride, but his men did get the message. Wingmen stayed with their wingleaders as they engaged the enemy.

Fortunately, the Decepticons couldn't lead the attack with Dirge and Thundercracker, since the vacuum of space rendered their sonic based attacks useless. Rick was relieved to hear that would be the case in their space encounters with the Decepticons. He wasn't sure how else to counter their specialized attacks on psyche and electronics. For the most part though, the Decepticons avoided engaging the RDF fighters, instead relying on the Zentradi to distract them while they zoomed towards the SDF-1. Rick figured it would be so. If what was being reported from the SDF-1 was true, this was a rescue operation. The Autobots were being mobilized to counter them. Hopefully, they could deter the Decepticons a second time. Meanwhile, Rick and his squad concentrated on eliminating their Zentradi escorts.

"Here they come," yelled Cliffjumper as he spotted the Decepticons bearing down on them.

"Let's kick their tailpipes in," shouted Ironhide, taking up position behind an armored barricade specially built to help the Autobots defend vital areas of the SDF-1.

The area immediately became saturated with Decepticon laser fire. The Autobots crouched behind their cover waiting patiently for a lull in the rain of lasers to begin their counter-offensive. There would be no surprises this time. It was a straight frantic assault by the Decepticons in the hopes of dislodging their eternal foes from their cover. The Autobots returned fire as best they could, but the Decepticons were successful in timing their waves perfectly to keep the Autobots mostly diving for cover.

"Man, this bites," yelped Jazz, firing at the retreating afterburners of Ramjet before Starscream's group strafed his position.

"Don't lose hope. We've been in much worse positions than this," remarked Prime.

"I know that, but I still hate being on the receiving end of a laser barrage. I'd rather be dishing it out than taking it up the camshaft."

"Our opportunity will come Jazz. It just requires patience." Prime quickly fired a shot across Thrust's nosecone, causing him to veer suddenly away from his attack vector. "And a little luck. Hit them now, Autobots!"

The Autobots quickly seized the initiative in the brief break in the strafing to fan out and started firing a treacherous web of anti aircraft fire. They did not scored any major hits, but the Decepticons were now flying frantically to navigate the maze of Autobot laser fire unscathed.

Wheeljack and Bumblebee heard the roar and the opposing screech before they reached the shuttle bay. Once inside, they saw Steeljaw attempting to corral the ever elusive Laserbeak. Both were small, fast, and nimble and neither could quite get an advantage on the other, though Steeljaw's job was more difficult since he had the additional task of making sure the Decepticon bird didn't just run.

Bumblebee started to take aim with his pistol, when Wheeljack grabbed the barrel. "What are you doing, Wheeljack?" asked the tiny Autobot.

"We can't shoot while Steeljaw's engaged with him. Look at them. They're zipping around too fast. We may hit Steeljaw," explained Wheeljack.

"But we can't let him get away."

"I don't intend to. You stay here and keep that thing from flying back into the ship. I'll cover the exit into space. Don't fire unless you're absolutely sure Steeljaw's out of the way."

"You got it," answered Bumblebee determinably.

Wheeljack dashed to the airlock and took up a firing position and watched the duel.

The two tiny metallic animals were really going at it now. Several times now, Steeljaw seemed to have Laserbeak within his jaws before the Decepticon would juke just enough to save himself. Conversely, the bird would zoom into a strafing position, but Steeljaw's sheer agility always allowed him avoid Laserbeak's counter fire.

Laserbeak found himself now being chased again. He zoomed upwards and lasered a chunk of an I-beam free and zoomed under its falling form. Steeljaw immediately stopped to keep from being crushed. Laserbeak seized the chance to come around and fire at the lion. Steeljaw managed to avoid most of the fire, but one of his wings was clipped. Laserbeak screeched in triumph. Now, there was no way for Steeljaw to keep up with him.

Wheeljack and Bumblebee immediately began firing at Laserbeak. It looped around several times to take in the situation and then veered directly at Wheeljack, both barrels of its laser guns pulsating with a constant stream of laser bolts tracing their way to Wheeljack. Wheeljack screamed and threw himself to the side to avoid the strafing run. Laserbeak screeched in triumph once more as it zoomed out into space.

Bumblebee fired a few more futile shots at Laserbeak while running towards the shaking form of Wheeljack. "Wheeljack, are you okay?"

"Y..yeah," answered Wheeljack weakly.

"What's wrong? You dived out of his way and now you're shaking."

Wheeljack stared at his right hand, shaking uncontrollably.

"Wheeljack, what happened?" asked Bumblebee.

Wheeljack closed his optics and willed himself to calm down some. After a few micron's time, he finally felt the shaking begin to subside. "Sorry about that Bumblebee," he apologized.

"It's not like you to panic in a battle, especially against just one Decepticon."

"I know, but he was the one who crippled me when we lost our first battle on this world. When he charged me, I feared he was going to do it again, so I jumped out of his way and let him escape."

"By Primus," gasped Bumblebee.

"Enough of that now, you have to warn Prime and the others that the Decepticon made it off the ship."

Bumblebee looked out the opening of the airlock. "I think it's too late for that. Look."

Wheeljack stood up and looked to where Bumblebee pointed. He could see the Decepticons retreating with only minor damage evident on their hulls. "Only way that Decepticons would retreat is if they were getting pounded by our fellow bots."

"Or if they completed their objective," finished Bumblebee.

"I can't believe I just panicked like that and let him get away."

"Don't beat yourself over the head with this, Wheeljack. We all make mistakes."

"But this one is huge."

"Maybe not, we don't know how much he actually had."

"Just that conversation in the lab is bad enough."

"All the more reason why we have to complete the protoculture energon formula as quickly as possible. You're the only one who can do that. You need to stayed focused, or you'll be handing another victory to the Decepticons."

Wheeljack stared down at Bumblebee in amazement. He hadn't heard a speech like that from the little guy before.

Bumblebee suddenly started shifting uncomfortably. "What is it? Why are you looking at me that way?"

Wheeljack was startled. Did Bumblebee not even realize what he had just said? "Well, I was just startled to hear a morale speech worthy of Optimus coming from you, that's all."

"You're joking, right?"

"Not at all, little buddy. I think you have a gift of leadership. Look at me, I'm no longer shaking and now am more determined to finish my formula than ever, and it's all due to you."

"Aren't you just exaggerating my contribution just a bit?"

"Aren't you just allowing yourself to think you're not important because of your small size? Or did you think I'd soon forget about the 'I'm expendable' speech you gave in my lab?"

"But I'm not big like you, or strong like Brawn, or tough like Ironhide, or fast like Cliffjumper. I'm certainly no Optimus Prime."

"No, you're correct. But you are sneaky, which makes you our best spy. On top of that, you're actually a very eloquent speaker. I've only now just realized it, but you were able to logically out-debate the robot you admire the most. That, my friend takes a talent that I do not possess. After all, you're the volunteer of my formula now, not me."

Bumblebee just stood there, absorbing all that Wheeljack just told him. The little guy still didn't seemed to believe what he had just heard. "You mean, Prime and the others don't just keep me around because they pity me?" he asked.

"Nope! You ask me, Prime recognized the potential you have and kept you close to nurture that talent."

Steeljaw nudged his head into Bumblebee's hand and growled softly.

"It appears Steeljaw's agreeing with me," said Wheeljack.

Bumblebee instinctively began petting Steeljaw's head, causing the robotic lion to start purring. "I never thought of myself that way before. I never thought I was contributing much to the defeat of the Decepticons."

"Just because you don't get to blow up the occasional Decepticreep doesn't mean you're not contributing. I think I see now why Prime asked you to be our liaison with the humans. I also see now why Prime feels losing you would hurt us in understanding them."

"Wow," exclaimed Bumblebee. "Thanks, Wheeljack."

Wheeljack laughed. "No, it's me who should thank you. I'm now determined to creating that energon formula that will allow us to defeat Megatron's band of tin tyrants once and for all. What do you say we get back to work on it? I believe you have an appointment with Ratchet."

"OK!" yelled Bumblebee enthusiastically.

Chapter 11

"You can't be serious!" yelled Lisa.

The face of her father grimaced on the viewscreen before her. "I am quite serious, Lisa. With the SDF-1 exiled from Earth and now this preposterous alliance of Captain Gloval's with these so-called Autobots, I don't want you on that ship!"

"I am not leaving my friends alone in the jeopardy that you yourself placed them in!"

"Lisa, think about what you're saying. You're committing suicide!"

"Not if you and the RDF leadership council change their mind about this decision to exile the SDF-1."

"We've already been over this, Lisa. Out experts assure us that the Zentradi's primary focus is the SDF-1 itself. Every moment that SDF-1 remains on Earth, we face possible invasion."

"That's no reason to exile the citizens of Macross City too."

"We can't allow the rest of the populace know about the true threat that the Zentradi pose. There will be global anarchy. We have no choice but to keep the civilians of Macross City on the SDF-1."

Lisa crossed her arms defiantly. "Then since you had no choice, I have no choice but to follow your orders to the letter. You ordered the crew and civilians of the SDF-1 to space, and thus here, my duty calls me to stay."

"Now Lisa, stop being unreason…" The screen went black was Lisa cut off the transmission. Lisa fumed as she angrily walked from the vidphone in her quarters. How dare he! He doesn't call for weeks, doesn't ask me how I've been, doesn't wonder about my life here, doesn't even wonder how I've suffered with the rest of the citizens here. He just calls and makes demands, like he always does! The vidphone started ringing. Lisa grabbed her jacket and ran from her quarters.

She decided to walk to Macross City to take her mind from this latest emotional trial. As she walked though, she could only look in sadness at the citizens of Macross City trying to maintain a normal existence in the midst of this war they never signed up to fight. It just isn't fair, she thought as she watched a mother chide a disobedient child. The people here never wanted this war, and yet it has been thrust on them from even the military that had sworn to protect them. I can't believe my father would ask me to forsake that very vow. Can't he see that this is wrong?

Lisa spent many more hours wandering the city, thinking about all that she and everyone there had been through before finally returning to the anticipated number of irate messages from her father on her answering machine.

The next morning, Lisa was summoned to Captain Gloval's office. When she entered, she found the Captain staring out the window, while smoking his pipe. She saluted and announced, "Commander Hayes, reporting as ordered sir."

Captain Gloval swiveled his chair until he faced his subordinate and returned the salute. "Good morning, Lisa," he greeted. He breathed in more smoke from his pipe and exhaled slowly.

Oh crap, thought Lisa, fully aware of Gloval's tendency to only smoke when he was stressed. This wasn't going to be a pleasant conversation.

Gloval slowly stood and held a sheet of paper out towards Lisa. "This came in for you this morning. It's from your father."

Lisa took the sheet and read over it quickly.

Commander Hayes,

You are hereby ordered to report to Edwards Base in Alaska. You have been reassigned, effective immediately, to the operations personnel of this station.

Admiral Hayes

PS I expect my daughter to be able to follow her duty as a RDF officer.

Lisa choked back tears. That bastard! she fumed. He'll stop at nothing to get his way. "Of course, I won't accept this order," she told Gloval.

Gloval sat back down and turned the chair back towards the window. "I suspected that you would respond in this manner. I am well aware of how attached you have become of this ship and its personnel. I would ask you though to reconsider."

Lisa stood in shock, not believing what the Captain had just said. "Sir?"

"Think about this decision very carefully. You are still at the start of your military career. You still have not yet reached the potential that I know you possess."

"Be that as it may, sir, I feel that if I were to abandon my friends now, then the guilt of this would haunt me the rest of my life. I seriously doubt I could reach any such potential then. My place is here, by your side."

Gloval stood once more and walked towards Lisa. He placed his hand on her right shoulder. "Dear Lisa, I am touched by your loyalty. May I speak with you frankly on this matter?"

"Of course, sir."

"Thank you. I understand the nature of this order, because I understand a little of what your father is going through. I too have come to view you very fondly. You have become like a daughter to me."

"Th…thank you, sir," replied Lisa, a little surprised at the Captain's candor.

"I actually have become quite fond of all the bridge crew, but of you in particular. I take tremendous pride that you have learned the lessons that I've tried to teach you so earnestly. I could not ask for a better protégé."

"And there's still so much that you can teach me, sir. That's another reason why I shouldn't leave."

"No Lisa, I believe that you have learned all the lessons that I can teach you. I know you will make a fine Captain one day, and I mean to see that you have that opportunity."

"So, you're going to order me to leave?" asked Lisa incredulously.

"Yes, I am," replied Gloval determinedly.

"Once again, I refuse. I don't care if this is the end of my career or the end of my life. I have too much at stake here. I will not leave!"

"Does this have anything to do with your feelings for Lieutenant Hunter?"

Lisa was transfixed in place. "You know?"

Gloval chuckled gently. "Lisa, I may be old, but I do remember what it's like to be young and in love. I sometimes wonder if Lieutenant Hunter is blind to not be able to see what to everyone else who knows you so well is obvious."

Lisa hung her head and actually felt a tear run down her cheek. "I fear he only has eyes for another," she said sadly.

"Yes, the ever coyish Minmei, whom he spent much of his first months here on the SDF-1. I suspect that he actually has feelings for you in return, though I do not know him as well as I know you. Your chances may not be as dim as you believe. Tell me, does he know how you feel?"

"No sir."

"I see, then this re-assignment will be that much more difficult for you."

"You still mean to see me accept this order then?"

"I do, but not just because of how I feel for you. I have another assignment for you as well."


"This exile of the citizens of Macross City is deplorable. You and I both know that. I need you to go back to continue to speak on their behalf."

"Then surely we can send someone back to Earth in my place who can perform the same task. I want to stay."

"I do understand your feelings Lisa, but think about this opportunity. Earth has actually asked for one of us back, and the very person selected is one of our most diplomatic and highest ranked officers. The citizens of Macross City deserve the best chance of going home that they can get, and you, Lisa, are it. Only you have been requested to return and only you have the clearance and the diplomacy to speak to the Leadership Council on the citizens' behalf. As a RDF officer, you have sworn to protect innocent lives when you could, despite whatever hardships you may endure, emotional or otherwise. If you will not accept this assignment on your behalf, then accept it on theirs. You are now the only chance they have left."

Lisa felt the heavy burden of duty placed on her by Gloval. He stared at her intently, clearly wanting her answer. "Very well then," she whispered. "I accept."

Gloval opened his arms. Lisa fell into them and wept bitterly.

"She's what?" exclaimed Rick.

"She's going back to Earth," answered Max. "Isn't that great news?"

"Yeah, I guess," replied Rick.

"Well, that was a rather weak answer. What's the matter pal? I thought you'd be happy at this news."

"I'm not sure, Max. I thought I would be too."

"Well, I'm happy," piped up Bumblebee. "I know what it's like to be far from home. I'm glad one of us gets a chance to go home."

"I am glad that she's going home Bumblebee, but at the same time, I'm sad. I don't know, I guess I just all of a sudden realized that I'd miss her."

"Whoa, have you got it bad," taunted Max.

"Now wait a minute, what the hell does that mean?" snapped Rick.

"I think you know."

"It ain't like that!"

"I do believe you are, as they say, protesting a wee bit too much."

"What in Cybertron's name are you two arguing about?" asked Hound.

"Oh sorry, Hound," said Max. "Allow me to fill you in. Our friend, Lieutenant Hunter just discovered that he has feelings for the commander."

"Feelings?" inquired Bumblebee.

"It's like that talk about love we had a while back."

"So this is another human thing?" asked Hound.

"Yep," answered Max. "So, are you going to tell her or not?"

"I keep telling you, it ain't like that, Max," retorted Rick defensibly.

"And I think that you're ignoring the obvious. Come on, pal, you two would make a great couple. You two have even kissed."

"You already know why we were kissing, Max!"

"So you both claim. How do I know that the two of you didn't just make up that story to keep me in the dark?"

Rick angrily stared at Max, who gave him his most innocent inquisitive look. "I ought to assign you to latrine duty," threatened Rick.

"We're the same rank now, or have you forgotten my recent promotion?"

"Do you know what they're talking about?" Hound asked Bumblebee.

"No, but it sure is entertaining," answered Bumblebee, chuckling.

"Seriously though, Rick, you should tell her," advised Max. "I think she'd like to know how you feel."

"I'm not sure how I feel, Max," admitted Rick.

"Well you better figure it out quickly. She leaves this evening."

Rick wasn't sure why, but the day seemed to get a lot gloomier.

Rick excused himself early from the others. Max said he understood, though Bumblebee and Hound were confused by this latest bizarre Human behavior. Rick wished he could have explained it better, but he just couldn't. Was Max right? Have I been falling for Lisa? He thought back to when he first met her, so to speak. He even called her an old sourpuss. Their bitter hatred for one another had unexpectedly blossomed into a wonderful friendship. Was it becoming more than he expected?

He mulled over this while walking along the balcony that overlooked the giant viewport to the vastness of space just beyond its boundary. Suddenly he spotted Claudia, standing there at the railing, looking out at the stars wistfully.

"Hi, Claudia," he greeted as he approached.

"Oh hello, Rick," answered Claudia, coming out of her trance.

"What brings you up here?"

"I could ask the same of you.

"I asked first."

"Very well then, Mr. Hunter." Claudia gestured towards a nearby bench. "Let's have a seat and share each other's thoughts."

They walked over and sat on the bench together. Claudia looked up. "Roy and I used to come here often. We'd walk and talk for hours out here. He'd point out star constellations to me, and tell me what it's like to fly in a vast void where you feel insignificant. He'd tell me all the joys he felt while flying and about how much you and he shared those joys. He always was proud of you, Rick. He loved you like family."

"He was like family, Claudia. I still remember the hurt that Pops and I felt when he went off to fight in the Global Civil War. Pops always taught us both that fighting never really solves anything. Pops had been a fighter pilot once, a reluctant mercenary actually, in a country called Asran, which was in the midst of a bloody Civil War. He told me that it was the worst time of his life, and he lost many friends in it. It's mainly because of that war that he really wanted to shield Roy and me from it horrors. I understand why he taught us this now, since I have lost friends in this war, but I also understand Roy's position too. Roy always saw clearly that he was a protector. I never realized that until I took my place at his side."

"Roy felt tremendous sorrow at never being able to mend relations with your father before his death, Rick. He always said it was his biggest regret. He was glad though that you and he patched things up."

"I know. I'm glad too, and somehow I know Pops welcomed Roy into Heaven with open arms. He really did love Roy like a son."

They sat there looking out the window at the perpetual night sky, each lost for the moment in their memories of Roy. Finally, Claudia turned to Rick. "Well, you have that lost look about you as if you've lost your best friend."

"Well, I guess I'm about to."

"Yeah, I'm going to miss her too. Have you said goodbye yet?"

"No. I don't know what to say either. I really am confused because this is hitting me harder than I thought it would."

"And that surprises you?"

"Yeah, a lot. I guess I never really realized that she meant so much to me before."

"Hmmm, sound to me like you better find her and tell her this before she leaves."

Rick hung his head. "I don't know. I'm just so confused. I mean, I've been hung up on Minmei for so long, I don't what I'm feeling."

"You know, there's something I never really understood about you. You never seemed the type to go for someone who acts so young. I always pictured you falling for someone more mature."

Rick gave Claudia a sideward glance. "You mean Lisa, don't you?"

Claudia stood up from the bench and looked down at Rick. "Did you hear me mention any names? All I said is that I think a real woman is more your type, that's all."

"I still don't understand."

"Well, don't take too long. Take it from me, you never know what life is going to throw your way. If you don't take a chance every now and then, you may miss out on something wonderful. Just think on this, sometimes love is so close that people miss it completely. It can happen to be your next door neighbor, the girl down the street, or even…," Claudia playfully winked at Rick, "your superior officer. Have a pleasant evening, Rick."

Claudia turned and walked down the street, leaving Rick more confused than before.

Lisa walked towards the shuttle trepidaciously, quickly looking back at the ship she was leaving behind. She had been packing all day long for this journey, and now that it was upon her, all the doubts and fears crept back to the forefront of her thoughts. Could she convince the RDF leadership council to reconsider their decision to exile the SDF-1? Would this be the last time she saw this ship or any of her friends alive? Mostly though, she wondered if she would ever see Rick alive again. She feared losing him most of all.

When she reached the boarding ramp she looked back. Of the entire bridge crew, only Captain Gloval had accompanied her to the shuttle bay. It was really best that way. The farewells on the bridge were tearful. The bridge crew had been her circle of friends for several years now. Saying goodbye hadn't been easy.

Gloval saluted Lisa when he saw her looking his way. She returned it and turned to board the shuttle.

"Lisa!" called out a familiar voice.

Lisa immediately smiled and turned to see Rick running towards the shuttle. She wiped a quick tear from her eye as he approached.

Rick was breathless when he finally reached the shuttle's loading ramp. He huffed and puffed a few seconds to catch his breath. "Thank goodness I made it in time," he finally managed to say.

Lisa smile grew brighter. "Thanks for coming to see me off, Rick."

Rick straightened up. "It's the least I could do for a friend."

"Well, I'm off. Take care of this ship for me."

"I will. You be sure to take care of yourself so you can come back to us. Sammy's nowhere near as good at bossing me around as you are."

Lisa laughed. "Goodbye, Rick."

Rick saluted. "Goodbye, Lisa."

Lisa returned the salute and walked up the ramp. At the top, she turned back and waved at Rick. Seeing his wave in return, she entered the shuttle.

Lisa strapped herself into the passenger seat. She watched from the viewport as the shuttle wheeled out from the shuttle bay to the launch deck. The pilot informed her that they now had clearance to launch. She looked out the window for one last look at the SDF-1 before they launched. She felt the inertial forces as the shuttle took off and wondered what it was like for Rick, at the controls of a veritech. Though she knew the shuttle was flying at top speed, it seemed to Lisa like they were floating. She then saw a veritech zip by.

"We're in safe hands, Commander," reported the pilot. "Lt. Sterling and Vermilion Squadron are escorting us to Earth's atmosphere."

"That's nice," replied Lisa, though she secretly wished Rick was watching over her. She regretted not saying more to him in the shuttle bay, but was glad to at least have had the chance to say goodbye. She thought about everyone she was going to miss for the next twenty minutes, as the Earth slowly grew larger. Suddenly, the emergency harness clamped down over her.

"Our apologies ma'am, but we have a squadron of Zentradi converging on our position," announced the pilot. "Things are probably going to get a little rough."

Figures, thought Lisa. Why do they always try to nab me when I leave the SDF-1?

Max looked fearfully at his radar at the number of Zentradi fighters bearing down on their position. They and the shuttle hit their afterburners when they detected the first group, but soon found another group in front of them. There was no choice now but fight. The odds were not good. There were forty fighters, and Max's escort group was only 5. This fight wasn't going to be easy.

Max called up his squad on the viewscreen. "Ok team, we've got bandits wanting to take our commander from us. Protect her ship at all costs, and try to watch out for each other."

"Roger," replied the pilots smartly.

Max then dialed up the shuttle's comm. "Space shuttle, this is Lt. Sterling. Stay as close to us as you can. We're your only protection out here. You try to make it on your own, and they'll take you for certain."

"Copy that," answered the shuttle pilot. "Sir, do you think that the SDF-1 is sending help?"

"I know they scrambled fighters the second we radioed them," replied Max. "Don't worry, help will be here before you know it. For now, just concentrate on staying close to us until then."

"Yes sir."

Max cut off communications to the shuttle and thought, There's no way we're getting any help in time. We're simply too far out. He swerved to avoid the initial laser bolt fire from the Zentradi pursuers. We're on our own.

Rick ran to his veritech the second he heard the scramble alarm. He didn't even pause to admire the new armor that the tech crews had finished installing on his veritech. He was running on the adrenaline of possibly losing Lisa and nearly leaped into the cockpit from the deck. He quickly strapped himself in, yanked on his helmet and started wheeling his veritech towards the launch bay. He tapped up the bridge on his comm link. "Bridge, this is Lt. Hunter. What's the situation?"

"Lt. Hunter? You're not supposed to be on duty right now," stated Claudia.

"Just give me the situation. I'm here now, so I might as well help. Lisa needs my help out there."

"Ok Rick, they're in vector 11 Alpha Sigma," piped in Sammy.

"Vector 11 Alpha Sigma? Where the hell's that? I don't know what you're talking about," yelled Rick.

"Sammy, didn't you get Lt. Hunter a new code book yet?" asked Claudia indignantly.

"Sorry, he wasn't on duty so I didn't give him one yet," answered Sammy sheepishly.

"Never mind that, use the old code!"

"Oh yeah, she's in, hold on please, let's see, here it is, vector Gamma Niner Beta."

"Copy that, Gamma Niner Beta," acknowledged Rick. "Somebody give me the specs of this new armor, quick."

"The new armor is designed to give you five times more speed than the average veritech, and ten times the missile capacity," answered Claudia. "But Rick, it's still untested."

"Then this is as good a time to test it as any. I'm the only one who can reach them in time. Request permission to take off."

"Permission granted," stated Claudia. "Good hunting, Lieutenant!"

Rick punched the output to maximum burn and felt himself being nearly crushed by the force being applied on him at the launch. Hold on just a little longer, Lisa, I'm coming.

Max juked suddenly to avoid the shot of another fighter and blasted it away. He had taken 7 out already, but the Zentradi had taken 2 of his squad in return. At this rate, even he wouldn't be able to last long against so many.

He engaged a couple more fighters as they converge on his position. He avoided their shots, but saw in dismay that he was being corralled towards 3 others. It didn't look good. Suddenly the three in front erupted into fireballs and a white streak flew across his path. "What the hell?" wondered Max, spiraling his veritech upward to fully escape the two chasing him before.

"Sir, what was that?" asked his wingman.

"I don't know Allen, but it seems to be on our side."

"Look at it go!" whooped Allen.

Max followed it on the radar and whistled in admiration. That's some machine. It's already cut the Zentradi forces in half and is picking them off fast in their confusion. "Come on boys, we can't let him have all the fun!"

Between the new arrival's sudden appearance and the skill of Max's remaining Vermilion members, the remaining Zentradi fighters were quickly dispatched.

When the action finally died down, Max flew up next to their savior and saw the Jolly Rodgers on the tailfins. "Rick, is that you?"

"Hi there, pal. Are all of you okay?"

"I am, but I think Colbey got himself shot up a bit."

"It's nothing major, sir. I'm fine," remarked Colbey.

"Maybe you are, Colbey, but I think Max and I would both feel better if you got yourself back to the SDF-1 to make sure," said Rick.

"Yes sir."

"Max, you and Allen escort him back, just in case he needs help getting back."

"Roger that, but what about you? Will you be okay guarding the shuttle by yourself?"

"No problem Max. This new armor's amazing. Besides, I don't think the Zentradi will be back after we bloodied their noses so badly."

"Ok, you're the boss. See you back home. Let's go, boys."

Rick watched his men fly off before pulling up next to the shuttle. "This is Lieutenant Hunter. How is everyone there holding up?"

"A little shaken, but everyone here reports that they are fine. Thanks for the save, sir." answered the pilot.

"My pleasure. Can you patch me through to Commander Hayes please?"

The emergency harness released Lisa from its protective embrace. Lisa exhaled a breath of relief. That completely terrified her. She couldn't imagine how Rick manages to control his fear in actual combat.

"Commander Hayes, just to inform you, we were saved by Lieutenant Hunter," announced the pilot. "He will be escorting us the rest of the way to Earth. He's requesting to talk with you, ma'am."

Rick! He came to save me! Lisa's heart leapt with joy. She quickly donned the headset. "Rick?"

"Hello, Lisa," answered his beautiful voice. "How are you doing in there?"

"I'm was very frightened, but now I'm feeling much better, now that you're here."

"Glad to hear that! Listen, Lisa? I have something I want to tell you, but I don't want to say it over the radio."

"Rick?" inquired Lisa.

"Just look out your window," answered Rick.

Lisa took off her headset and peered out as instructed. There she saw Rick's veritech pull even with her viewport. His landing lights began flashing. "That's Morse code," she whispered. "Sorry to see you go. Like you lots. More than just friend. Take care. Will miss you." Tears welled up in her eyes. She put the headset back on, sniffed, and said, "Thank you, Rick."

"My pleasure, Lisa. Well, this is as far as I can take you. Come back to us soon."

"I will, Rick. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, Lisa."

She saw Rick's veritech angle upwards as the metal shutters closed shut over the viewports in preparation for entry into the Earth's atmosphere. The protective harness came back into place for the bumpy ride back into the Earth's gravitation embrace. She barely felt any of it. She felt like she was floating on a cloud. My prince doesn't ride a white horse, he pilots a white veritech, she cooed sappily. After a while the shaking stopped and the shuttle continued on its flight towards Alaska with only the occasional air turbulence. A young woman walked down the aisle towards Lisa.

"Hello, Lisa," greeted the woman.

"Hello, Sue. How's the flight going?"

"Just fine. I just wanted to take a break from my co-piloting duties. I told Bob I was coming back here to check on you."

Lisa smiled. "Well, he won't here the truth from me." Then Lisa noticed the headphones hanging around her neck. "Were you listening to some music?"

"Yeah, I needed to release some of the stress of the situation. I figured some music would help soothe my soul."

"Good idea." Lisa finally got a glimpse of the walkman attached to her belt. "Is that a walkman?" asked Lisa incredulously.

"Yeah, who would've believed that one would still exist in this time?"

"I haven't seen one in over 10 years. May I see it?"

"Sure!" Sue handed her the small device.

"Where did you find this?" asked Lisa.

"I didn't. It appears that I have a secret admirer. I found this and a couple of tapes for it in my locker. I'm not sure what to make of the gift, but you have to admit, it is different."

"Wow," exhaled Lisa. The two ladies giggled a bit, both caught up in the their own romantic euphorias. Lisa looked over the walkman. "That's strange. I can't seem to find a brand name."

"I know what you mean," replied Sue. "I could only find this identifying mark." She pointed to a purple symbol on the cover. "What do you think it means?"

Lisa looked carefully at the symbol. Suddenly, she recalled Alvarez's remarks of the Decepticon's jet with a purple emblem. She looked again the symbol and immediately saw its similarity with the Autobot's symbol. She stood and threw the walkman as hard as she could.

"What are you doing?" shrieked Sue.

A tape immediately flew from the walkman, transforming into a small human sized red robot. It caught the tape deck gently in its hands. "That wasn't very nice," he stated.

Another tape popped out and transformed into a blue twin of the first. "Yeah, now we gotta get rough." He slapped Lisa hard, knocking her into unconsciousness.

Sue screamed and turned to run. She discovered a black metallic jaguar snarling menacingly at her at the other end of the aisle. She slipped and skidded rather unceremoniously on her rear.

The blue robot lifted her up and shoved her into a seat. "If you know what's good for you, you'll sit there and shut up," he threatened.

Sue timidly nodded agreement.

"Whaddaya know, a smart fleshling," quipped the blue bot. "Frenzy, you and Ravage watch her. I'll take care of the pilot."

"Hey, why do you get to have all the fun?" yelped Frenzy.

"Because if you don't do as I say, I'll thrash you!"

"You've never been able to beat me, Rumble!"

"Oh yeah, bring it on!"

"Rumble, Frenzy, cease your bickering," ordered the walkman. "Rumble, secure the pilot. Frenzy, fly the shuttle. Ravage can watch the fleshling alone."

"But Soundwave," whined Frenzy.

"Now!" said the walkman angrily.

"Ok, but next time I want to clobber some fleshlings too!"

Sue watched the two robots walk towards the pilots cabin. She heard a brief cry of pain and soon Rumble appeared with Bob's body slung over his shoulder. He placed him another seat. Sue could see his chest rising then and felt some relief that he wasn't dead.

Suddenly, she heard the tapedeck transmit, "Megatron, this is Soundwave. The objective has been accomplished. The fleshling shuttle is ours."

"Excellent," replied a malevolent voice.

Sue shook fearfully upon hearing the sinisterness of the voice. Ravage snarled at her and Sue finally mercifully fainted.

Chapter 12

"Where the hell is my daughter?" demanded Admiral Hayes irately over the vidphone.

"I assure you, Admiral, I am in the dark in this matter as much as you are," replied Captain Gloval meekly, attempting to cool the ire and rage of the superior officer.

Unfortunately, it was having the opposite effect. "That isn't good enough! Your orders were to deliver her to Edwards Base here in Alaska. This was your responsibility! And now you're telling me that she has simply vanished? What game are you playing at, Captain?"

"Please sir, I am as concerned about Commander Hayes as you. I truly do not know what has happened here. My last orders to her were to report to you in Alaska. She was the only one with enough clout to appeal your appalling decision to keep 50,000 innocent civilians in the line of fire."

"Is that what this is about? You want me to allow the people of Macross City to come back to Earth despite the massive hysteria that they would cause the general populace and I get my daughter back? I thought you above this sort of underhandedness Captain. I guess I shouldn't be surprised though, seeing as you were formally of the Russian Federation."

"Don't be ridiculous, Admiral!" barked Gloval. "I would never do anything of the sort! Furthermore, baseless accusations such as this are counterproductive towards what we both want, namely the safe return of Commander Hayes. I share the same pain as you do, Admiral."

"This is my daughter we're talking about, Captain. Do not presume to speak to me of the pain I feel," spoke Admiral Hayes menacingly. "If I find out that you had anything to do with this, I will have your head."

"This is getting us nowhere, Admiral. We need to cooperate to have any chance at finding Commander Hayes, as well as Lt. Petrova and Lt. Jackson. The last we saw of any of them was when they entered Earth's atmosphere."

"Why wasn't there a fighter escort following her in?"

"Because our standing orders are that none from the SDF-1 can return to Earth without your approval."

"Are you saying this is my fault, Captain?" asked Admiral Hayes incredulously.

"No sir," answered Gloval. "I'm saying we did as much as we could."

"She was under your protection. I trusted you with that."

"And she received it or have you not yet read my report on the Zentradi attack on the shuttle?"

"I have," replied Hayes. "Convenient timing for an attack, wouldn't you say?"

"Troubling would be the word I would use, Admiral."

"So you deny having advance knowledge of why the shuttle veered off course once it entered the atmosphere?"

"I do," answered Gloval.

"You also deny that you have no idea why the shuttle landed in the Australian outback and was found completely empty with no trace of the pilots or Lisa?"

"That's also correct."

"I find that very hard to believe," stated Admiral Hayes.

"Nonetheless, it is true," replied Gloval succinctly.

"This isn't over yet, Captain. I will find out what's going on."

"I sincerely hope you do, Admiral. Gloval out." Henry quickly punched the disconnect button of his vidphone and the screen went black. He stared at it for a few moments longer, the feeling of loss and worry nearly overcoming him. What happened to her? Could the Zentradi have somehow abducted her again. Henry quickly dismissed that notion. The Zentradi are many things, but they just aren't sneaky. No this is something else. Suddenly, a thought struck Gloval. He strode to his file cabinet and opened some of the initial personnel reports of the Decepticons provided him by Optimus Prime. Two of them were about Decepticon master infiltrators. Already one of them, identified by the Autobots involved as Laserbeak, had succeeded in seeing at least the top level security labs of Dr. Lang and who knew what else.

Could the other one, Ravage, have come with it?

Gloval dashed back to the vid phone and dialed the hanger bay where Optimus Prime and his Autobots had taken up residence.

Jazz appeared on the screen. "Oh Captain, my Captain! How's it hanging?"

Gloval glared at Jazz in response. Jazz actually flinched at the sternness of the stare. "Forgive me, Jazz, but this is a bad time for levity. It is imperative that I speak with Optimus Prime at once. Is he there?"

"Um yeah, hold on just a micron," replied Jazz timidly. "Yo, Optimus! Captain Gloval wants to talk with you! It sounds urgent!"

The view on the screen changed from Jazz to Optimus. "Prime here. How may I be of assistance, Captain?"

"I wish to speak of the Decepticon spies you warned us about. Three of my crew, including Commander Hayes, have turned up missing and I wonder if the Decepticons could have been involved. Can you tell me more about their spies?"

"That is troublesome news," said Prime empathetically. "The Decepticons are certainly capable of abducting someone leaving little to no trace. Laserbeak and Ravage are their two best operatives, but certainly not their only ones. Soundwave is the true mastermind behind all of the Decepticons' covert operations and an abduction is something he most certainly can achieve. I hope they are not in their hands because most Autobots whom have been abducted by Soundwave have ended up terminated."

Gloval tried desperately to suppress a shudder and failed. "Tell me, is there anything you or your Autobots can do to track them down if they have been captured by the Decepticons?

"I am afraid not."

"Alas, that is most unfortunate. Still we do not yet know if they are their prisoners. This is just conjecture on my part. However, the problem of Decepticons infiltrating the SDF-1 must be addressed. How can we protect ourselves from further incursions?"

"I can only promise that we will do all in our power to help you detect and neutralize the threat. Unfortunately, Soundwave and his operatives are without peer amongst all the Cybertronians in the art of spycraft. Ironhide has spent most of his career trying to improve Autobot security to counter their efforts, but the solution has thus far eluded him. They remain one of Megatron's top weapons against us. They are the primary reason why Megatron has been able to stay one step ahead of us in the Great War."

"It may also be that my own security forces have relaxed in their duties," speculated Gloval. "This hasn't been something we've had to deal with in our encounters with the Zentradi. It hasn't been a worry because of the impossibility of concealing a 50 foot giant onboard this ship. With these Decepticon infiltrators though, I will have to have my security forces coordinate better with Ironhide so that we may perhaps thwart future attempts to infiltrate our ship."

"That would be satisfactory," said Prime. "Another thing I can do is dispatch a team of Autobots to investigate the disappearance of your crewmen. Decepticons are skilled at covering their tracks, but my crew may be able to find a clue that humans could miss."

"Thank you, Optimus. That would be helpful. I'll send a report to you with all the pertinent

information within the hour. Gloval out."

The screen went dark again and Gloval walked slowly to his office chair, pulling his pipe out. After lighting it, he inhaled deeply the smoke from the pipe in an attempt to calm his troubled spirit. It bothered him that he seemed to need to do this more and more, but the pressures of this command post seemed to magnify daily. Here he was, a veteran of far too many battles on Earth, caught up in the middle a war of annihilation with two completely different alien races. I used to wonder if war was all that Earth would ever know and now I find that war isn't isolated to Earth but an epidemic that infects the entire universe. As it stands now, the Human race is standing on the precipice of extinction by forces we cannot possibly hope to match. What are we to do?

Henry Gloval sat silently for the next half hour pondering this question, doubts tearing at his confidence. After sending Optimus the information he promised, Henry returned to the bridge, seeking solace amongst his vivacious young crew from his dire and foreboding premonition of the future.

"But sir, weren't you just here this afternoon?" asked a nervous guard standing at the gate of Edwards Base.

"Where I go or what I do at any time is none of your concern! Do I make myself clear, ensign?" growled Admiral Hayes.

The guard snapped to attention and saluted. "Yes sir! Sorry sir!"

"Then open the damn gate already!"

The guard gulped audibly before raising the gate up to allow Admiral Hayes and his driver though. Admiral Hayes saluted the guard and motioned to his driver to drive the six wheeled jeep through.

The guard watched the vehicle drive away while his partner walked up next to him. "Nice job, William. Not only do you have to get on the bad side of an Admiral, but you pick the one with the nastiest temper to boot."

William scratched his head nervously. "I know, I know. It just didn't make any sense though. He was just here a few hours ago. Why come back?"

His partner just shrugged. "Who knows why admirals do anything? It's not like they're ever to tell shlubs like us anything. Best thing to do when they're around is to just shut up and hope they don't notice you."

"Yeah, you're right, Mike. I can't believe I did that. But something still bothers me. Did you notice anything strange about that vehicle?"

"No man, it was a standard jeep."

"I know it looked like one, but the sound it made was different, almost like it was a completely different vehicle.

Mike shook his head and laughed. "So it needs a tune up. Geez, William, next thing you know you'll be telling me that it wasn't really Admiral Hayes that drove through here, but some sort of spy."

William laughed with Mike. "Yeah, I guess it is kinda silly. I guess I watched too much Sci Fi channel growing up."

"Yeah, you and your crazy aliens amongst us theories. Come on, bud, back to work. I'll buy you a beer when we get off duty here. You need one."

"Nice work, Blaster," complimented Hound, driving towards the hanger where the SDF-1 shuttle was being stored. "If I didn't know any better, I'd have sworn that Admiral Hayes was actually speaking."

"Nice job yourself," responded Blaster. "It was your hologram that convinced the guards he was actually there."

"Ah yes, but making a hologram is easy compared to the improve acting job you had to pull when that one guard started questioning our presence."

"You like me, you really like me," joked Blaster.

"I knew it was a mistake showing you that Oscar ceremony highlight vid. I swear you've become more boisterous than ever."

"All kidding aside, have you any idea what we're going to do if anyone's in the hangar?"

"No I haven't," answered Hound. "I'm hoping Captain Gloval was correct in assuming that we'd only have to avoid the occasional guard this late at night. It's too bad Jazz or Bumblebee couldn't come along as well. This type of work is more their specialty than ours. I'm not that good at thinking on the fly."

"Maybe not, old chum, but they don't have your illusions or my voice altering abilities. Besides, outside of Bumblebee, who else knows humans better?"

"Ok, ok, quiet now. That's a hangar that Gloval says the shuttle should be in. I'll park along the side in the shadows." Under the cover of darkness, Hound dropped the illusion he was maintaining of the standard UDF jeep and both bots transformed.

"See or hear any natives?" asked Blaster.

"Nope, it seems Captain Gloval was right. The hangar seems empty. Still, I think eyes on the inside are called for here. Boost Eject up to the open window there and I'll hand you to him. Once you verify that no one is around, you can open the hangar door to let me in."

"And you claim you aren't good at this. I feel like Maxwell Smart here," quipped Blaster.

"Who?" asked Hound.

"Remind me to let you watch the 'Get Smart' vids Vanessa lent me when we get back." Blaster popped open his chest and removed a cassette tape. "Ok Eject, time to get in the game."

Eject transformed in Blaster's hand. "Ready to play, coach."

"Quiet now, sparky, the opposing team can't know we're here or there'll be a flag on the field. Once in, make sure the defense isn't aware then prepare to receive the ball."

"Ah, pass option. Good, gets them every time. Ready to go on three." Blaster lifted Eject up to the window and he silently slipped inside.

"What sort of code was that?" asked Hound.

"Sports talk," answered Blaster. "Eject's nuts about human sports. He can't get enough of it. It took me weeks to learn even that bit of the lingo. You should hear him when he really gets going. It's enough to drive a bot mad. Luckily, he's made friends with a few humans who are also sports fans who were able to explain some of it to me. Most of it is lost on me though. They absolutely worship something called 'Air Jordan'. I still can't figure out what the slag that is."

"Hmm, all of a sudden the loneliness involved with being a scout doesn't seem so bad anymore."

"I've got a good enough crew to manage, but they sure can get weird sometime."

"Speaks the bot who tried to get me to listen to the entire Backstreet Boys song library."

"Hey, Kim assured me they were the Earth's greatest band ever. Cut me some slack, jack."

Hound chuckled and noticed Eject waving from the window. "Ok, there's your micro. You ready to go?"

Blaster transformed to his boombox mode in response. Hound gently caught the small device in his palm and lifted Blaster up to Eject. After Eject grabbed Blaster and disappeared from view, Hound transformed back to his jeep mode. He quickly reconstructed the illusion of the six wheeled jeep around himself and drove to the hangar door. The door opened just enough to allow him in and he entered the main bay. Blaster closed the door quickly and Hound transformed back to robot mode.

"All right, we're in with the humans none the wiser," said Blaster. "Let's see what Steeljaw can tell us." A yellow tape ejected from Blaster's chest and entered the shuttle. After a few minutes, Steeljaw emerged from the shuttle and bounded back to Blaster.

"What's the scoop, pussycat?" asked Blaster.

Steeljaw snarled in response. Blaster listened intently to him as he growled his report.

"What has he found?" asked Hound.

"Nothing," answered Blaster. "The shuttle's been wiped clean. There's nothing to detect there at all. No human scents, no Decepticreeps, nothing. It's classic Soundwave. Only he and his crew could erase all trace of themselves so thoroughly."

"But that's still just a guess. We have no proof they were actually here."

"No, we don't. Sorry Hound, it seems this was a waste of time."

"Let's not give up just yet," stated Hound. "Let's try checking the floor before we go."

"Checking the floor?" asked Blaster.

"You've forgotten my main function as a scout is to be able to accurately pinpoint enemy locations. This means I have to be able to draw accurate maps for Prime to rely upon. That includes topography." Hound aimed his hologram gun at the shuttle and fired a wide beam through its side. "Hold on, I think I've found something."

"Well, don't keep me in suspense. What is it?

Hound formed a hologram of the shuttle's interior between the two of them. "On the surface, it appears that the shuttle is as it was before leaving the SDF-1. However, look what happens when I fill in minor indentations on the floor with green."

Blaster gasped. There were clear rectangular footprints in the cabin, leaving trails up and down the aisle. "Whoa, looks like this was a nest of Deceptivipers."

Hound nodded. "This clinches it. They were here alright and now Commander Hayes is in their hands."

"If they hurt one hair on her head," snarled Blaster.

"I know," empathized Hound. "But there's nothing we can do now. We have to report this back to Prime. Let's go."

A few minutes later, Hound and Blaster were back on their way to the rendezvous point where Cosmos was patiently waiting for them. They left a couple of very relieved guards behind, until the real Admiral Hayes arrived at their gates ten minutes later. After getting chewed out a second time that evening for inquiring too much into the business of an admiral, a very confused William sighed at his misfortune, let the admiral back into the base, and wondered if his sanity was really this fragile.

He fainted outright when Cosmos decided to buzz Edwards Base minutes later in his U.F.O. mode.

Chapter 13

Ratchet checked the readings he was getting of the energon refined from the protoculture that Wheeljack and Dr. Lang had supplied him carefully, analyzing it for any impurities that would cause internal damage to Autobot internal fuel conversion systems. "By all indications, this is a viable power source," he stated as he looked at a sample through his magnifier again.

Optimus Prime stood behind his friend, watching him as he looked over the sample over and over again. "What aren't you telling me, old friend?"

Ratchet stood and looked back at Prime. "Is it that obvious that something is bothering me?"

Prime simply nodded.

Ratchet sighed. "Yeah, I never could hide anything from you. I don't know how to answer that question though, Optimus."

"What's the problem?"

"That's just it, I can't find one. This proto-energon sample is amazing. The power readings are off the chart. A single cube could possibly power up all of Iacon for a whole solar cycle. I've never seen anything like it. No wonder Wheeljack is so excited about this stuff. It could bring about another Golden Age easily."

"And yet you are troubled," observed Prime.

"Yeah. I can't put my finger on it, but I have severe misgivings about this stuff. I don't know, almost like it's too good to be true."

"Wouldn't too much power overload our systems?" asked Prime.

"The thing is that this protoculture isn't so much as producing a bunch of power at once, but more of producing power efficiently. It's almost like a bottomless pit of pure energy that any of us could draw upon for megacycles."

"I'm not hearing where the problem lies, old friend."

Ratchet paced back and forth before Prime, trying to figure out how to put to voice his concerns about the super charged energon he had been studying. "I don't know what to say Optimus," he finally admitted. "I have nothing bad to report about the proto-energon. I just have this feeling in my combustion chamber that I've missed something."

Prime put his hand on Ratchet's shoulder. "You've studied this sample for several cycles now. I trust your opinion Ratchet. Do you need more time or more samples to study to resolve your misgivings? I've already stated that this test will not happen unless you sanction it. I mean that. If you think this proto-energon is that dangerous, I will cancel the test."

"Optimus, near as I can tell, this stuff is the real deal," answered Ratchet. "But I'm as limited in my ability to study the product as Wheeljack is. Until we find a way back to Cybertron, we're stuck with what we have salvaged from the wreckage of the Ark. It wasn't much. I'm sorry, there's nothing more I can tell you. Wheeljack's right, the only way to study this proto-energon further is to study its effect on Bumblebee."

"Despite your misgivings?"

"I'm afraid so. Fortunately, you've chosen the perfect candidate for this test. Bumblebee's systems are much more efficient than everyone else here. We can use much less proto-energon for this test than we would have to use with anyone else. That limits the potential for any internal failures."

"I see," remarked Prime. "And Bumblebee checked out ok?"

"As healthy as a scraplet. As eager too."

"I know. He feels like he's not contributing. He has a point, but…"

Ratchet only nodded in sympathy with Prime. "I feel the same way about the little guy as you do, Optimus. We all do."

"You see no other way?" asked Prime almost pleading Ratchet to give him an out.

"Unfortunately no. I can find nothing wrong with the sample."

"Then I must honor my part of the agreement. The test will commence in the hanger bay at 0800 human time tomorrow."

Lisa paced back and forth in the Zentradi cell. She figured that she, Sue, and Bob had been their prisoners for several days now. Sue was resting Bob's head on her lap, stroking his head gingerly as he lay there in severe pain. Soon after they had been abducted, the small Decepticons had dragged Bob away and kept him for days it seemed. The burn marks on his body looked precise. Thus far, Bob was in too much pain to answer anything more than a Decepticon had done this to him and that he had given up everything he knew about the SDF-1.

Fortunately, he didn't know much beyond his duties, but he did mumble something about holding out as long as possible before he revealed how little he really knew to protect Sue. Sue seemed genuinely touched by Bob's bravery, but Lisa was a little bit disgusted. "Damn them! Torturing my subordinate like that!"

Sue looked up at Lisa with concern in her eyes. "Commander, you know this isn't your fault."

Lisa growled and kicked the wall. "That doesn't mean anything! I'm the commanding officer here. I should be protecting both of you, keeping this sort of thing from happening."

"Lisa, that would only delay the torture, not stop it. You know that as well as I. Sooner or later, they…" Sue gulped audibly. "They're coming for all of us."

"Then we better figure out how to get the hell out of here before they do."

"But how? I know you told us about how the Zentradi react to kissing, but they have those Decepticons to send to get us instead. I don't think the same trick will work on them. How do we get past them? How can we escape?"

Lisa walked the perimeter of the cell, checking again for any holes or tears in the near seamless room. Again there was nothing that she could see that they could force open or squeeze through. This time, it seemed the Zentradi meant to hold them for good. "I don't know Sue, but we better figure something out, or we're next on the list to be…"

Before Lisa could complete the sentence, the sound of large boots marching down the hallway could be heard. Sue and Lisa held their breaths collectively, anxious and fearful that their captors were coming for them now. Sure enough, the boots stopped before the door to their cell and the door was opened. Lisa briefly considered having them make a break for it, but Bob was in no shape to flee. She braced herself to demand to be the next one taken.

Instead, to the shock of her and Sue, the Zentradi kneeled down before them and lowered a trio of humans in his hand gently into the cell. The shortest of the men turned to the Zentradi and said, "You wait for us outside the cell until we call for you."

"Yes sir," replied the giant as he stood, left the room, and closed the cell door. Lisa exchanges glances of confusion with Sue. Humans ordering around Zentradi? What's going on here?

The smallest of the men, obviously the leader of the trio, approached Lisa and inquired, "How is he doing?"

Lisa ignored the question. "Who the hell are you?" she demanded. She just couldn't shake the feeling that she had seen these three men before.

"My name is Lon," answered the short man. He pointed to a burly man with short brown hair. "This is Bron." Bron waved cheerfully at Lisa. Lisa glared at him. "That's Pierce," stated Lon, gesturing towards the skinny man with long green hair. Pierce bowed before Lisa and Sue formally.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"We're here because Commander Breetai is concerned about the prisoner that was interrogated."

Lisa gasped at the mention of Breetai. Memories of being in his and Dolza's presence still gave her nightmares. Suddenly, she remembered where she had seen these three men before and gasped. "My God! You were there! When Breetai and Dolza questioned us before! You three are Zentradi!"

Suddenly, Lisa started shaking uncontrollably with fear. She had never suspected that the Zentradi could shrink themselves down to their size. Looking fearfully at the three Zentradi before her, she noticed how they were indistinguishable from humans. With a city of civilians, enemy Zentradi agents could be anyone in the city. She had walked Macross city before in complete oblivious confidence that no Zentradi could infiltrate them. After all, how can one hide in the city when he's the size of a battloid? This changed everything though. Were there any Zentradi on board the SDF-1, spying vital systems and creating sabotage? If so, how many?

Sue actually whimpered at the pronouncement that the three humans before her actually were Zentradi. She clutched onto Bob tighter, in an attempt to either shield him from the enemy before them or to reassure herself that something human was still with her.

The trio of Zentradi exchanged a glance between them. Lon said, "I didn't realize that we had captured one of our previous prisoners again. You did look familiar, but it is hard to for us to distinguish the differences between you humans when we're bigger." Lon held out a bottle to Lisa. "This is for the prisoner who was interrogated. It will ease his burns."

Lisa took the offered bottle from Lon and brought it over to Sue. Sue opened the bottle, poured some of the lotion within on Bob's burns, and rubbed them in. Bob seemed to relax a little bit more in relief, but still groaned a little in pain. "Thank you," said Sue genuinely.

"What are you going to do with us now?" demanded Lisa.

The trio of Zentradi looked down guiltily before answering. "I'm afraid it's to be more torture for you," replied Lon. "The first human didn't have much information about the battleship you occupy, but the Decepticons are tenacious interrogators. The one called Buzzsaw did this to your friend. It almost seemed like it enjoyed torturing him. I never seen anything like it before, the way it would push him to his limits of pain, never quite allowing him to relax or sleep, just meticulously pushing him further and further until he just started screaming out every little thing he knew, just to end his torment."

Lisa jumped when Bron slammed his fist into the wall suddenly. "But it didn't," he exclaimed angrily. "That sadistic bastard just kept hurting him. I've never seen anything so damn cruel!"

"We were told that they were just experimenting on him to find out how long a 'fleshling' as they called you could last under his treatment," added Pierce. "It seemed more like the freak was actually hurting him for his amusement. It was only by Breetai's order that it didn't kill him."

Sue gasped and clutched Bob to her closer. She started weeping in despair.

Lisa gritted her teeth and grabbed Lon by his shirt in anger. She started shaking him violently and screamed, "You tell your superiors that I am in charge of my men! From now on, I demand to be in their place instead! They don't know anything! I'm the God damned one you want!"

Bron quickly grabbed Lisa away from Lon, lifted her up against him, and clapped his hand over her mouth. Lisa struggled to get free and tried to scream, but the massive man was just too strong and his hands muffled all her screams to a mere whisper. "Please stop that," he pleaded. "We're here to help you."

Lisa immediately froze when she heard that.

Bron continued. "We don't like how the Decepticons are treating you. If I let you down, will you listen to us quietly?" he asked.

Lisa nodded and Bron gently let her down. Lisa looked around at the three and saw that Pierce was slowly letting go of Sue as well. She must have tried to come to Lisa's aid when she was being held by Bron. Sue looked at Lisa quizzically. Lisa again looked at the three Zentradi, this time examining them for any trace of deception. "It's ok, Sue," assured Lisa. "I don't think they are here to hurt us."

"That's right," responded Lon. "We…" Lon hesitated and looked at his comrades. They both nodded at him. "We're defecting."

Sue gasped and Lisa felt the room start to spin. "Defecting?" she asked numbly.

"Yes, it's too painful to follow our orders. We don't like causing you or any other Micronian any pain. We want to become Micronians, like you."

"Excuse me, I have to sit down," stated Lisa, quickly setting herself down alongside the cell wall. The revelations of human sized Zentradi was dizzying enough, but learning that they also yearn to defect and become human? "Why?" was all she could muster to ask.

Pierce approached Lisa and knelt down before her. "We spent a number of weeks amongst your people on Zor's battleship, what you call the SDF-1. We got to learn a lot about your people, your culture, and most importantly, your songs. It's all unlike anything we've even seen or experienced."

"Yeah, the songs make us feel alive somehow," added Bron.

"We can't stand to follow our orders anymore because we're afraid that we will destroy Minmei," added Lon. "She's shown us what you call beauty and the thought of destroying that beauty is more than we can bear. We can't do it anymore!"

Lisa could only look at the faces of the Zentradi baring their souls to her one by one. She saw the resoluteness in their faces, the desire to no longer fight. For the first time in many months, she started to hope. Imagine that, she thought. There are Zentradi who desire peace after all. Maybe finding a end to this senseless war isn't out of reach. She thought about how Bumblebee had been charmed by Minmei as well. Dammit! I hate to admit it, but Minmei might just well have been the best, damned thing to happen to us on board the SDF-1. It seems that little tart can charm any male in the damn universe effortlessly.

"Ok, let's say I believe you," declared Lisa. The three Zentradi agents immediately beamed with joy. "I'm guessing you have a plan to get off the ship and to the SDF-1?"

"Indeed we do," replied Lon. "Us and a small contingent of Zentradi whom we've shared the joy of Minmei with are ready to slip back into the SDF-1 during the next attack. Lord Breetai has figured out a flaw in that attack you do when you ram into one of our ships and cause it to explode from within."

"A flaw in the Daedalus maneuver?" asked Lisa.

"I'm not sure what you call it, but when you punch into a ship, you fire the forward guns to clear the space before your missile units to give them the time to get into place and fire, destroying the battleship from within. It's been an effective tactic, but now Breetai has figured out how to counter it. Breetai plans to double the allotment of battlepods per battleship to be used in the upcoming battle, so that your people do not suspect what we are attempting to do by a diminished number of pods. The extra battlepods will be inside each battleship, hoping to lure your people into doing your, what did you call it?"

"The Daedalus maneuver," answered Lisa.

"Right. We have placed the extra pods behind whatever we could place before them, old machinery that has broken down, walls and doors that aren't needed anymore, anything we could grab. The pods will hide behind the debris, which will take the brunt of the assault by your forward guns and when your missile units come forward…"

"They'll be wiped out by the battlepods and the SDF-1 will be boarded," gasped Lisa.

"Correct. We intend to be a part of that assault force and slip away in the confusion of battle. It's risky, because we will have to avoid your defenders long enough to get out of the pods and lose ourselves in the city like we did before. Also our survival will depend on your people's ability to repel the assault within the ship. If your people lose this fight, we'll be executed as deserters. However, it's the only chance we'll have of getting on board."

"Is there a way that you can contact my people ahead of the assault?" asked Lisa.

Lon shook his head. "Not without giving away our intentions. This operation relies on sheer secrecy. That hasn't been easy. Exedore already suspects something is wrong with us and is watching us very closely. A radio transmission would confirm his suspicions and Lord Breetai would surely execute us then. No, I'm afraid your people have to do their part on their own."

"I see," said Lisa sadly. She wanted to be able to warn the SDF-1, but if what Lon said was true, they didn't have much to work with. Suddenly, she perked up. "Maybe not, do you know the size of the assault squad and what they will target once inside the city?"

"Of course," responded Lon.

"Good, I happen to know the frequencies the bridge of the SDF-1 use during battles. Once the assault begins, we can transmit that information along with a code that Captain Gloval will recognize as a message from me. My people might get caught by surprise initially, but if the Captain knows where the assault squads will go after that, then he can organize a counter attack at that location. Also, we can inform him of which routes that you and your people intend to take, so that my people will not take action if they happen upon you. I know a good location in the ship that we can all disembark into the custody of my people."

"Excellent idea!" exclaimed Lon.

"Lisa, what are you doing?" asked Sue.

"I'm working on a plan to get us out of here," replied Lisa.

"You're going to give them specific frequencies that we use and detailed routes inside the ship?"

"I don't know why Sue, but I believe them," responded Lisa. "I think they really do want sanctuary."

"That's right," said Bron. "We can't stand to fight anymore."

"However, there's one thing I want you to know first," said Pierce. "We are still loyal Zentradi soldiers. We may not want to fight, but we will not betray Lord Breetai."

"Correct," interjected Lon. "We will not willingly give you information that will harm our people. We come to you in peace and wish to live among you so."

"How can you demand that?" yelled Sue. "Look at what you have done to Bob!" she started screaming hysterically. "He's seriously hurt and it's all your fault! We didn't want to be prisoners! Bob didn't want to be tortured! Look at him! Why should we treat you any different after what you've done? Look at him!"

The trio of Zentradi looked away in shame.

"Look at him!" screamed Sue again.

"Sue," said Bob weakly, gingerly raising his hand to stroke her face. "That's enough."

"Bob?" sobbed Sue.

"It's ok, I've been listening to them. I agree with Lisa." He coughed coarsely. "They told the tale of my torture correctly. They wanted to stop once they got the information from me. It was the damned Decepticon that wanted to keep hurting me. We have to get out of here before…"

"Shut up," said Sue, clutching Bob tightly against her. "Just shut up already."

"Man, I wish I didn't hurt so badly. I really want to enjoy this."

Sue abruptly laughed and rubbed her arm against her eyes to wipe away tears. "Well, too bad, mister. Once you get better, I'm going to ignore you all over again."


Pierce walked towards them and knelt down. "I won't betray Lord Breetai, but you have my word as a Zentradi warrior that I will do all I can to speak with Lord Breetai and Exedore on behalf of your people. I know Breetai is curious about you. Maybe we can make him see reason and end the fighting that caused this misery."

Sue looked down at Bob, whom nodded his agreement to Pierce's statement.

Bron stepped forward and added, "And if that ain't enough, we three will even stand trial amongst your people for our part in your friend's torture."

Sue stared at the three Zentradi standing before her for a few moments, looking each one in the eyes. They stood before her stoically, allowing her to silently judge them and their announced intentions. Sue then nodded her agreement.

"Now that we're settled," continued Lisa, "We need to start planning. Lon, when does the assault begin?"

"In roughly 10 hours," answered Lon

"Not a whole lot of time. Won't Exedore be suspicious of you talking with us right now before the major assault?

"Possibly, but Pierce, Bron, and I are the chief interrogators and Micronian experts on board the ship because of the time we spent on board your ship. We told him that we wanted the opportunity to interrogate you ourselves, without the Decepticon. I think he only accepted our request because he too did not like the way the Decepticon treated your friend."

"Hmmm, perhaps we can use that to our advantage too. I'll give you false targets that are actually out of the way of any vital systems of the ship and shelters for the citizens. Hopefully, that will cut down on the number of casualties. Tell Exedore that we gave up sensitive details willingly because we are afraid of more torture."

"Another good idea," admitted Lon. "You know, I'm starting to understand why Exedore fears you."

"Fears us?" asked Lisa.

"Yeah, I hear him advise Breetai to be very careful in dealing with you when he thinks no one else is listening. Something about a legend of a race of Micronians, such as yourselves, being the downfall of all Zentradi. Despite that dire warning, both of them have become fascinated with your race."

"I see." Lisa shook her head in wonder. They have millions of ships and can reduce Earth to dust in mere seconds, and they're afraid of us? "Do you have something to write on?" she asked.

"We have brought some of your parchment and writing utensils with us," said Pierce, revealing paper and pens he had brought with him to Lisa.

"Good," replied Lisa, taking the offered gifts. She started drawing rough sketches of the SDF-1's interior. "Here's what your people are going to have to do."

Chapter 14

Bumblebee could almost not contain his excitement.

"Stop squirming already," grumbled Ratchet, placing probes and sensors all over Bumblebee's body.

"Sorry Ratchet, but I'm too excited to sit still," apologized Bumblebee.

"Well, the more you twitch like a blasted Kremzeek, the longer you'll have to wait to start the test."

"Okay, I'll sit still." Bumblebee forced himself to sit absolutely still as Ratchet finished his work. It was only a couple of clicks, but to Bumblebee, it felt like the entire Great War had been fought once again while he waited. Patience Bumblebee, he admonished himself. Soon, you'll be the first to test Wheeljack's super fuel. If this works, it'll be the key to winning the Great War. You'll be a hero!

"Ok Bumblebee, I've got everything set up to monitor your internal systems while the proto-energon, as Wheeljack and Dr. Lang have named their fuel, courses through you. Don't be afraid to tell us if anything feels weird. The idea is to see if this stuff really works. Every bit of information you can give us, good and bad, will help tremendously."

"Don't worry, Ratchet. I know how vital even the most minor detail is. I'll share everything I can," replied Bumblebee brightly.

"That's good to hear because we're going to need all the information you can provide us," remarked Wheeljack. He stood with Huffer, Optimus Prime and Dr. Lang in an open cargo bay with a make shift obstacle course that Huffer had designed to measure Bumblebee's abilities while powered by the proto-energon.

"We're ready," said Ratchet, turning towards Optimus Prime.

"Well done, old friend," remarked Prime. "Dr. Lang, Wheeljack, you may proceed with the test."

"I have a really bad feeling about this," remarked Huffer.

"Oh give it a rest, will you," replied Ratchet irritably.

"Oh sure, but when something goes wrong, just remember that I warned all of you that this is a bad idea."

"Huffer, that's enough," admonished Prime.

"Thanks, Optimus," remarked Wheeljack, walking towards Bumblebee with a fuel siphon. "You ready, little buddy?"

"Hurry up already," answered the excited young robot.

"Ok then, go ahead and deactivate so that Dr. Lang and I can siphon the energon from your system. Then we'll flush your fuel systems to remove any excess energon there. We want this to be a test of pure proto-energon without tainting any of it with the energon we currently use. When you awake, you will be running off of proto-energon."

"Ok, powering down now," Bumblebee gave the internal command to switch off all his systems. He slumped forward as he deactivated.

Huffer, Ratchet, and Prime watched Wheeljack and Dr. Lang work to remove all traces of energon from Bumblebee's fuel systems. "I can't believe we're actually going to go through with this," complained Huffer. "You do know that this is a bad idea, right?"

"Is it absolutely necessary for you to complain all the time?" asked Ratchet.

"Only when I have a bad feeling," responded Huffer.

"Which is every micron of every solar cycle by what I've observed."

"That's enough, both of you," reprimanded Prime.

"Sorry, Optimus," both robots said. They went back to watching Wheeljack and Dr. Lang work in silence.

"Ok, that should do it," said Wheeljack finally after finishing a second flush of Bumblebee's fuel systems. "There should be no energon left in his systems." He walked to a chest in the cargo bay, opened it, and extracted a small vial of liquid that was glowing bright pink. He strode back to Bumblebee, opened the small robot's fuel access port and poured the liquid in.

"Oh, now we're in for it," remarked Huffer.

"Shut up!" yelled Ratchet.

Suddenly, alarms started blaring. "This is a condition one alert! Repeat! This is a condition one alert! Multiple Zentradi warships on intercept course! All personnel, battle stations! Repeat! All personnel, battle stations!" ordered Claudia over the loud speaker in the cargo bay.

"Slag!" cursed Wheeljack. "Of all the times for the enemy to strike."

"Protect Bumblebee's body, Wheeljack," ordered Prime. "Huffer, you assist. Ratchet, we'll need you in the repair bay."

"On my way, Optimus," responded Ratchet.

"Do I have to stay?" asked Huffer.

"Yes, Huffer," answered Prime. "You and Wheeljack must protect Bumblebee while he is deactivated. He's our most important priority now."


"Those are your orders, Huffer," interrupted Prime quickly. "I'm needed elsewhere." Prime transformed and drove out of the cargo bay.

Huffer watched Prime drive away and grumbled, "Ordered to protect the very thing that's going to destroy us all in the end. What a slagging way to go."

Wheeljack rolled his optics upward.

Lisa, Sue and Bob heard Zentradi boots quickly running towards their cell immediately after hearing an announcement over the Zentradi intercom system. Lisa looked over at Bob, who was leaning heavily on Sue. "How you holding up, pilot?"

"Better, Commander" answered Bob. "The meds that our buddies supplied really helped. I'm not at 100%, but I can limp my way to freedom if it comes to that." He smiled as gamely as he could and gave her a thumbs up.

"That's the spirit," complimented Lisa.

"Don't worry about having to limp, mister," replied Sue determinedly. "I'm not leaving your side until we're home."

The door opened then, allowing a large Zentradi in. He was carrying Lon in his right hand. "The attack is about to begin. We have to get to the front section now. Are you ready?"

"Absolutely," responded Lisa. The Zentradi knelt before the humans and allowed them to climb onto his open palm. He then placed all four gently in his jacket pocket. Lisa immediately felt a sense of déjà vu as she recalled Max doing the same with her and Rick the last time she was a prisoner of the Zentradi.

2The Zentradi soldier quickly made his way out of the cell and joined other Zentradi running towards the forward sections to board their battlepods. Lisa and the others suffered a little from the bumpy ride, but all were willing to put up with the relatively small amount of abuse to escape the torture that the Decepticons would surely administer to them if they stayed. Finally, the soldier arrived at his destination.

"Whew," exclaimed Bob. "After a bumpy ride like that, I could almost prefer to limp."

"We can always have them take you back to the cell," teased Sue.

"No, no, I'm good. Great ride. From now on, I only travel Zentradi Express!"

The four humanoids shared a laugh at that, which suddenly struck Lisa as odd. She had only known Lon for several hours and he was already feeling like a friend. She had always had trouble making friends on Earth due to her strong focus on her career. Could it be that she now had friends amongst two alien races? Maybe the universe isn't as strange and dangerous as it seems, she pondered. Perhaps friendships can blossom amongst all the races and peace can indeed truly exist.

They could see Bron and Pierce waving at them from a battlepod. It appeared that they had about a dozen Zentradi with them to help pilot the battlepod in their tiny forms. An announcement boomed over an intercom speaker above them. Lisa looked at Lon, who answered her unasked question, "Zor's battleship is taking the bait. It's on route to our location. It's warning us to brace for impact and prepare to commence the counterattack. We have about 75 seconds."

"Then let's get going," responded Lisa.

"My thoughts exactly."

Suddenly Lisa felt herself being snatched from the rest of the group by cold metallic claws. A loud screech could be heard by all the shocked humanoids as Buzzsaw started to zoom away from them with his prize.

"Lisa!" screamed Sue.

"Do your duty!" yelled Lisa back. "Follow the plan!"

Sue tried to run after Lisa before being restrained by Bron. "We have to go, the attack is about to begin!" he yelled as she struggled to free herself from his grasp and give chase to the fleeing Decepticon.

"We can't leave her behind!" bellowed Sue.

"We don't have a choice, Sue," replied Bob. "Captain Gloval needs to know where the enemy is attacking. The lives of everyone in Macross City depend upon us getting him that information. Lisa wouldn't want us to sacrifice the SDF-1 to save her."

"No! Lisa!" screamed Sue again, redoubling her efforts to free herself.

"Help me out here," yelled Bron, doing his best to keep her restrained.

"Forgive me," said Pierce. He delivered a hard blow to Sue's stomach, forcibly driving the air from her lungs and causing her to gasp for breath. Sue immediately collapsed in Bron arm's, struggling more now to catch her breath than to free herself. The big Zentradi used that opportunity to move her quickly into the battlepod where the others were waiting. Lon closed the hatch behind them and he and three others latched it. Bron gently set Sue on the floorboard of the battlepod to give her as much space as possible as she coughed hoarsely to recover from Pierce's blow. Bob limped over to her.

"I did not want to that," said Pierce remorsefully. "In fact, I am willing to let you…"

"Don't do that," interrupted Bob angrily. "Don't say anything that will make me do something I will regret later. You did what you had to. Leave it at that."

"We…*wheeze*…we can't…*cough*…leave…*gasp*…Lisa," sputtered Sue, still struggling to regain her breathe.

"We don't have a choice now, Sue," answered Bob. All of a sudden everyone lurched forward.

"This is it!" yelled Lon. "The Micronian battleship is attacking! Everyone, brace yourselves!"

The battlepod shook violently as laser fire from the Daedalus' forward guns streaked past them. The occupants could hear battlepods exploding as they were vaporized because of inadequate protection of some of the makeshift barricades from the barrage. Then, just as suddenly as the attack began, it was deathly quiet. The assembled humanoids could then hear the forward ramps of the Daedalus open to deposit the Tomahawk battloids that would unleash their missile payloads to destroy the ship. When they heard the thud of the ramp impact the floor of the ship, battloids emerged from their hiding spots and unleashed their own barrage of laser fire. Not expecting an ambush, the Tomahawks were annihilated before firing a single retaliatory missile.

Grimly watching the slaughter that his comrades were bringing upon the humans, Lon announced, "The way is clear, here we go!" The battlepod began to run gracefully through the now clear opening onto the SDF-1, joining the throng of battlepods already swarming into the Daedalus.

Bob was hugging Sue protectively through it all. Finally, Sue pushed him away. "Get away from me, you stinking coward," she spat out with contempt.

"Coward?" asked Bob. "Why? Because I couldn't do anything else but follow the mission despite the fact that Lisa got left behind? Fine! Then I'm a coward! But our orders are to get on the horn with Captain Gloval and tell him where the enemy is going so that he can kill them! Without us, that's not likely to happen and everyone dies! Did you hear our friends dying just now? Lisa ordered that, so we could bring back these Zentradi defectors! Do you understand that? Lisa ordered us to let our friends die so that we can bring hope to the future, to let Captain Gloval know that there are Zentradi who don't wish to fight, that there are Zentradi who are willing to risk everything to create peace! Call me a coward if you like, but I'm a soldier first. Now get on the horn with Captain Gloval and inform him of the enemies counterattack!"

Sue blinked in surprise at Bob. She wanted to slap him silly for talking to her this way, but instead she directed a Zentradi to hold down the talk button of the battlepod's radio. "This is Lt. Susan Petrova, issuing an infiltration alert to Captain Gloval, Priority Red Alpha One, Command Authorization Kappa Rau Iota Beta Epsilon Rau. Repeat, Command Authorization Kappa Rau Iota Beta Epsilon Rau. Come in SDF-1 bridge!"

Captain Gloval was already getting reports of Zentradi infiltration and directing Claudia on where to deploy battloid forces to mount a counter attack on the invasion force when the call came in to Blaster.

"Captain Gloval," announced Blaster, "I have a transmission coming in on frequency 1709 from Lt. Petrova."

"Lt. Petrova? She was part of…" Suddenly Captain Gloval stood up and shouted, "Did you just say frequency 1709?"

"Yes sir!"

"Is there an authorization code?"

"Yes sir, Kappa Rau Iota Beta Epsilon Rau."

Henry almost swooned in mixed emotions of surprise and relief. "Put it through, immediately!"

"Yes sir," answered Blaster.

Henry grabbed his phone and asked, "Commander Hayes, is that you?"

"I'm sorry, sir," answered Sue. "I'm afraid she was re-captured in our escape attempt, but I can fill you in on those details later. Now you have a problem with invading battlepods. They've infiltrated the Daedalus and are on their way to Macross City now."

"We have just become aware of the situation, lieutenant. I must try and fix that now."

"There's more you need to know, sir," replied Sue quickly, fearing that Gloval was about to hang up. "We know where they're heading."

"What?" asked Gloval.

"Lisa gave them false information once she learned of the enemy's plans to lead them away from critical systems and population shelters. If you send the bulk of your counter attack to locations Beta Nine One and Gamma Seven Two, you should be able to destroy the invading force."

"Claudia, direct the battloids to Beta Nine One and Gamma Seven Two."

"Sir?" asked Claudia.

"Lt. Petrova has informed us that the invading Zentradi forces are heading to those sections on Commander Hayes' false information."

"Clever girl," stated Claudia proudly. "Defense forces, please be advised. Zentradi forces are heading towards Beta Nine One and Gamma Seven Two. Regroup to those coordinates and engage the enemy."

"Also sir, you should know that another group of battlepods is heading to Sigma Seven Five. Please sir, order our troops to leave this group of battlepods alone."

"Captain, we're getting reports from our engineering corps of battlepods heading along the outskirts of the city," reported Claudia. "Something's strange though, they are not attacking."

"Are they heading towards Sigma Seven Five?" asked Henry.

"Hold on, I'm checking. Yes, they are. How'd you know, Captain?" asked Claudia.

"Send a squad to that location, but order them not engage that group of battlepods unless they fire first," ordered Gloval.


"Lieutenant Petrova has requested us to not engage that group," explained Gloval. "Can you explain this please, Lt. Petrova?"

"Yes sir," replied Sue. "They wish to defect and are seeking asylum aboard the SDF-1. Sir, they helped us escape. They are not a threat."

"Lieutenant, please inform them that they should gather at Sigma Seven Five and to remain there. Instruct them that our battloids will not fire upon them unless they are fired upon first. We still do not have any other way of determining friend from foe and our men will assume that any battlepod in that area that fires on them is a hostile."

"The Zentradi understand that, sir. It was their hope that the Defense Forces would notice that they weren't attacking. They'll fight to defend themselves, nothing more."

"If we survive this fight, we can then discuss their asylum request. Good work, Lt. Petrova."

"Thank you, sir," answered Sue.

Henry hung up the phone and turned to Claudia. "What's our progress, Claudia?"

"Enemy has been engaged at Gamma Seven Two. Our defense forces were able to successfully ambushed them there. Our men there report that attack force has been contained."

"Excellent. What of the other group advancing on Beta Nine One?"

"It will take several moments for our forces to arrive at that location. Fortunately, it's an isolated section of the ship."

"True, that should leave them confused if they are expecting specific targets and there is nothing…" Henry's voice suddenly trailed off.

Sensing something wrong, Claudia turned around and looked at him. His face was white as a sheet. "What is it, sir?"

"Beta Nine One. It's where I granted Wheeljack and Dr. Lang the space for their proto-energon experiments. They are there now as we speak"

Claudia immediately leapt to action, calling for the teams to respond and get to Beta Nine One. However, no one in that location was responding. "Sir, I'm not able to raise anyone in that vicinity. It's like we're being jammed all of a sudden."

"I can't reach anyone down there either, Captain," reported Blaster. "It's a communications blackout. That can only mean one thing."

"Decepticons," replied Gloval.

"Prime, come in," broadcasted Blaster. "We have Decepticreep trouble inside the ship."

"I'm a little busy trying to keep more from entering right now, Blaster," responded Prime on his communicator.

"But the creeps are closing in on our supercharged buddy. If those bums get their hands on that super energon of Wheeljack's…"

"Dispatch your squad immediately and head there with them. Wheeljack and Huffer are already there. We'll join you when we can."

"Yes sir," replied Blaster. The door of his boombox mode opened and out popped a yellow cassette, which quickly transformed into Steeljaw. "Sorry to abandon post, Captain…"

"Go, Blaster," ordered Gloval. "We'll be fine here."

"Take us to our little buddy as fast as you can, Steeljaw," ordered Blaster. Steeljaw growled his agreement, grabbed the handle of Blaster's boombox mode with his jaw, and scampered out the bridge.

"Captain, should we pull some of our outside forces and send them to that location too," asked Claudia.

"Negative, we are spread dangerously thin in this battle and we need to insure that no more Zentradi or Decepticon forces enter the ship. Optimus sent the only reinforcements that we can spare at this time. The Zentradi and Decepticons are waiting for us to show weakness right now. It is imperative that we maintain our strength, if for no other reason than to put doubt in their minds that their invasion plan is working. We must win the outside battle first and pray that our interior forces can repel the intruders or at the very least contain them long enough for us to win this battle. Now, let's show them that we are still in command of this vessel. Target the nearest Zentradi cruiser and fire the main cannon."

"Aye aye," replied the bridge crew.

Gloval watched his crew work out the preparations, proud of the way they carried on their duties despite the uncertainty of the situation inside the ship. Gloval quickly thanked God for the strength of the soldiers who served him and prayed for the Blaster's success before refocusing his attention on the battle he now had to win as quickly and as decisively as possible.

Chapter 15

"This ain't good," remarked Wheeljack. He and Huffer could hear battlepods approaching long before they actually saw the first one enter their area. The battlepods were making no moves at stealth, preferring instead to sow as much chaos as possible by shooting everything in sight. Thus, Wheeljack and Huffer had plenty of warning. Now, if only they could figure out what to do before they arrived and started blasting them.

"We're going to die, aren't we, Wheeljack?" asked Huffer, listening to the sounds of destruction and death grow louder as the battlepods came closer.

"We ain't slag yet, Huffer," responded Wheeljack.

"Why don't we just take Bumblebee and get the heck out of here?"

"We can't take the chance that those battlepods wouldn't catch us out in the open. We can protect ourselves." He pointed to Dr. Lang and his staff taking cover in the far corner of the lab. "They would be mowed down in microns. This area here is at least defensible."

"For all of the 3 microns it's going to take for them to blast us to the pit," stated Huffer morosely.

"No way, these walls are 12 inches of reinforced titanium, the same as the outer hull of the ship. They'll last at least 30 microns."

"An extra 27 microns to contemplate our impending doom. What a bargain."

Wheeljack ignored Huffer and open his communicator stored on his wrist once again. "Wheeljack to Optimus Prime." Static answered. "Wheeljack to Blaster." More static. "Wheeljack to anybody, we need help down here." Still nothing but static.

"Oh, give it a rest. We're alone down here and no one is coming to save us. We're going to meet our maker."

"Maybe not," said Wheeljack, looking over at the deactivated Bumblebee. "We do have reinforcements right here."

"Oh no, don't even tell me you want to reactivate Bumblebee while he's carrying around your super energon inside of him. There's no telling what'll happen. He could even explode."

"Have you got a better idea?" asked Wheeljack. When Huffer didn't respond, Wheeljack walked over to his workstation. "That's what I thought. Well, we wanted to test the new energon, I guess we'll have to test it in combat. Here goes nothing." He pressed the button to reactivate Bumblebee's systems.

Bumblebee remained slumped in his chair.

Wheeljack pressed the button again. "Come on, work!" There was still no response from the deactivated Autobot. "Slag! Why isn't he reactivating?" Wheeljack pressed the button a few more times, clearly growing more agitated with each failure to wake Bumblebee.

Huffer placed his hand on Wheeljack's arm. "It was a valiant effort, Wheeljack, but it clearly isn't working."

Wheeljack slumped forward in defeat. "I thought we had covered every angle."

Dr. Lang walked up to Wheeljack. "You know we could not. This was why we needed a volunteer to begin with." The room shuddered. The battlepods weren't far away now. "It seems company is about to arrive. Take cover and protect us as best you can. I will continue to attempt to revive Bumblebee."

"No, Doc!" protested Wheeljack. "You'll be exposed."

"Yes, but it is a chance that I have to take. I and my staff cannot cover you. You and Huffer can cover me. This is the way it must be."

"He's right, Wheeljack. We're probably already scrap, but this way gives us at least a chance," added Huffer.

"All right," agreed Wheeljack. "You continue to try to wake Bumblebee while Huffer and I will do our best to cover you. Good luck."

The room shuddered violently. "They're here," yelled Huffer.

Wheeljack and Huffer ran to opposites sides of the entrance and started firing out at the battlepods. A couple of pods exploded from the Autobots' counterattack. Wheeljack and Huffer immediately dodged behind the wall as the battlepods returned fire on them.

"I counted 30 of them, before we took out those two," said Wheeljack.

Huffer winced behind his section of the wall as multiple blaster shots started eroding it. The Zentradi were well trained. They hammered at the entrenched Autobots with alternating waves of salvos. However, the Autobots were possessed with enhanced processors capable of detecting the nanoclicks in between the salvos which gave them just enough time to counterattack and destroy a few more battlepods. It became a straight desperate matter of which would happen first. Either the Zentradi battlepods would break through the wall that remained the Autobots' only shield against their attacks or the Autobots would whittle enough of the Zentradi force down to face them directly.

Suddenly both Autobots could hear the hum of energy behind them. "What the?" asked Wheeljack.

He got his answer when a bright yellow VW bug barreled out of the lab, straight for the group of Zentradi battlepods.

"Bumblebee! No! Fall back!" ordered Wheeljack. "There are too many!"

It certainly seemed that way to Wheeljack, but Bumblebee was weaving so quickly through the Zentradi fire, that none of them could draw a bead on him. He plowed into the legs of the closest battlepod, causing it to topple over.

Wheeljack gasped. It didn't even slow Bumblebee down.

Huffer looked over at Wheeljack, amazement evident on his face. "Is that Bumblebee?"

"Yeah," answered Wheeljack. "But it won't be for long if we don't get out there and give him some cover." Wheeljack ran from behind his cover and charged the assembled battlepods.

"Oh, I hate these glory charges," yelled Huffer, joining Wheeljack.

Of course, neither of them could have realized that it didn't matter. The Zentradi were out-matched by the speeding Autobot. He weaved and dodged their fire effortlessly, looking to all watching him like a small yellow pinball bouncing between targets. He bashed the Zentradi war machines mercilessly, turning the group into his own personal demolition derby. He smashed through one of the pods that he had downed like it was made of tin foil. When Bumblebee emerged on the other side, he was covered in blood. It almost made him look like Cliffjumper.

Wheeljack and Huffer were horrified. "Bumblebee's killing them!" remarked Wheeljack. "We gotta stop him!"

"Wait a minute. Are you telling me that instead of saving Bumblebee from the Zentradi, we now have to save the Zentradi from him?" asked Huffer.

"He's not stopping! He's killing Zentradi that have already been taken out of the fight! This isn't a battle anymore! It's a slaughter!"

Suddenly, they heard the sound of Dirge's jet engines. A wave of fear swept over them. Already horrified by Bumblebee's actions, they were more susceptible to Dirge's psychological attack and found themselves numb with terror.

Dirge flew into the cargo bay and surveyed the situation. "Hey, check it, Soundwave, we got a couple of still targets down there."

Soundwave ejected himself from the Dirge's cockpit and transformed on the way down to the ground in front of the immobilized Autobots. "Time for termination then," he declared, opening fire on the two helpless bots. The point blank shots rendered both Autobots inoperable.

Starscream then zoomed into the area. "Oh dear. It seems I missed out on the fun."

"Negative," answered Soundwave. "One Autobot yet remains."

Starscream transformed and landed next to Soundwave. They were soon joined by Dirge. "Oh thanks," said Starscream. "You left the weakest Autobot for me." They watched Bumblebee continue to devastate the Zentradi. "Poor Zentradi fools. They are even weaker than I imagined if they can't handle the puniest of Autobot spies."

"I don't know, Starscream, I've never seen Bumblebee act like this before," stated Dirge.

"He's a pathetic little bot, not even worthy of my time. Soundwave, dispatch Ravage and Laserbeak to save our 'allies'."

"Ravage, Laserbeak: eject," ordered Soundwave. Two cassettes ejected from Soundwave's chest and transformed into a black metallic jaguar and a red and gold condor. "Mission: destroy the Autobot."

Ravage and Laserbeak growled and squawked their replies and sped into battle. Laserbeak led the charge, laser blasts lancing forth toward Bumblebee.

Bumblebee transformed to his robot mode and sidestepped the blasts.

Ravage then pounced. There was no way Bumblebee could avoid his tackle. He had timed it perfectly. However, he failed to see the uppercut that diverted him straight up into Laserbeak. The two Decepticons landed hard, both entangled with each other.

"What?" cried Dirge.

Bumblebee started running towards the three powerful Decepticon warriors then, quicker than any of them had ever seen him move before. By the time Dirge even thought about trying to evade, Bumblebee had grabbed his legs and was now exerting an impossible amount force from someone so tiny. Dirge found himself being whirled around by the small Autobot. Bumblebee let him go and sent him flying uncontrollably across the bay and crashing into the far wall.

"Rumble, Frenzy, eject," ordered Soundwave. "Stop him!"

Rumble and his twin brother both ejected, morphed their arms into piledrivers, and struck the floor. Shockwaves shook the room and everyone in it. Bumblebee didn't budge. Instead, he double ax-handled his fists onto the ground, sending shockwaves of his own back towards Rumble and Frenzy. The two demolitionists suddenly found themselves being rocked back and landed on their backs.

"What the slag just happened?" asked Frenzy dazed.

"No way. We got outshook by Bumblebee?" wondered Rumble.

Something is seriously wrong, thought Starscream, taking off and positioning himself behind Bumblebee. "This ends now!" he declared, firing his null ray at Bumblebee. Starscream's aim was true and the null ray struck him square in the back. Starscream laughed in triumph. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Pathetic weakling! You may have surprised the others, but I am your superior! None can stand against my…" Starscream's eyes widened. Bumblebee turned around, seemingly unfazed. "Null ray?"

Bumblebee leapt up at Starscream, fast as a lightning bolt. "That's impossible!" screamed Starscream. "What in the pit are you?"

Bumblebee's answer was a fist to Starscream's chest, sending the mighty Decepticon tumbling backwards to land unceremoniously upon the floor.

"Enough. You will be defeated," stated Soundwave, firing at Bumblebee as he landed beside Starscream.

"Not a chance, creep," yelled someone behind Soundwave.

"What?" yelped Soundwave in surprise as he was tackled from behind.

He heard a growl in response from whatever was still on his back. Suddenly a yellow and red boombox transformed into the accursed Blaster, his counterpart amongst the Autobots.

"Ha ha, we got the drop on you now, Deceptibum," declared Blaster, aiming his rifle at Soundwave's head. "You're our prisoner now. Prime's gonna flip when he sees you in our clutches after all the trouble you've caused us."

Bumblebee started walking towards Blaster methodotically.

"You ok, little buddy?" asked Blaster. When Bumblebee didn't answer, Blaster glanced back at him. "Hey, Bumblebee! What's the matter? Are you injured?"

Bumblebee reached over and ripped the leg off of one of the battered Zentradi battlepods in response.

"Bumblebee?" asked Blaster.

"Warning, Autobot is berserk!" declared Soundwave.

Blaster turned back to Soundwave. "That's enough out of you." It turned out to be a big mistake. Bumblebee charged Blaster then and slammed Blaster with the battlepod leg, sending him flying across the cargo bay.

"Hey, I'm on your side!" yelled Blaster, transforming himself into his boombox mode. Steeljaw bounded off of Soundwave, sped across the bay, and caught the boombox neatly in his jaws. Blaster transformed back into robot mode. "Nice catch, pussy cat," he complimented.

Steeljaw growled at Bumblebee, reminding Blaster why he needed rescuing in the first.

Blaster pressed a button on his stomach to open his chest compartment. "Right, get our little buddy back under control and then we'll figure out why he tried to bash my face in. Come on out, guys." Out popped three cassettes, which transformed into twin warriors and a bright red metallic rhinoceros.

The blue warrior looked up at Blaster. "What's the play, coach?"

"I don't know, Eject," answered Blaster truthfully.

The rhino snorted and charged Bumblebee.

"Ramhorn! No!" yelled Blaster. "Don't hurt him!"

Ramhorn wasn't listening. Instead, he sped up, intent on goring the bot responsible for trying to hurt him and his friends. Bumblebee didn't even attempt to move. Ramhorn lowered his head.

Bumblebee caught him by the horn, pivoted, and slammed the rhino hard to the ground. He twisted his hand and Ramhorn roared in pain. Bumblebee dropped Ramhorn's torn horn onto the deck.

"Player down!" yelled Eject, firing on Bumblebee. He, Rewind, and Blaster continued to fire on Bumblebee, drawing him away from their fallen compatriot while Steeljaw charged him.

Bumblebee charged the group, dodging bolts with minimal effort. Steeljaw attempted to tackle him, but Bumblebee ducked under him and grabbed him by the tail. The others quit firing then, afraid to hit Steeljaw, providing Bumblebee the opportunity to dash at them and knock Eject and Rewind aside using Steeljaw as an improvised club. He leapt at Blaster and shoulder tackled him to the ground. Climbing on top of Blaster, he bashed both of his arms into Blaster's chest compartment, strained, and succeeded in ripping off the door to Blaster's chest compartment.

Blaster cried out in agony, near helpless now before the unexpected power of the tiny titan. He wanted to plead with Bumblebee, to beg him to stop, but his vocal circuits appeared to have fused, rendering him speechless. One look up into the optics of the crazed Autobot revealed to Blaster that it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Bumblebee desired his demise.

Suddenly, Bumblebee was struck from behind by a crimson ray. He shuddered momentarily. Another bolt hit him. Bumblebee started to sway. Another bolt. Bumblebee dropped to his knees, but he still attempted to stand back up. Finally, he succumbed to a final bolt in the back, slumping forward off of Blaster and collapsing on the deck next to him.

Starscream walked over to the fallen Autobot, his null ray cannon smoking. "You may be able to shrug off one hit, but enough hits can stop even you." He then pointed his laser rifle at Blaster's head. "Now to deal with you."

Black energy enveloped Starscream's arm, forcing his arm away from Blaster. Starscream's point black shot hit the deck besides Blaster head.

"What the pit just happened?" screamed Starscream. He glanced around the room and gasped. One of the humans was glowing with the same black energy that had just prevented him from destroying the accursed Autobot. The other humans around him started firing their primitive weapons at him. Bullets bounced off Starscream, not even denting him. "Pathetic fools!" he screamed. "Die!" He fired at the group of humans.

Black energy flared around Dr. Lang, forming a barrier that diffused the energy bolt.

"Starscream, desist!" ordered Soundwave.

"Why?" questioned Starscream.

"The Autobots and the Humans have succeeded to driving off our combined Decepticon and Zentradi forces outside. Optimus Prime and the other Autobots will be here shortly. We must escape."

"Very well, Decepticons, retreat!" ordered Starscream. He picked up Bumblebee's inert body. "We will study this one back at Breetai's warship to find out how he got so strong." He pointed towards the Dr. Lang, whose black energy field was still flaring wildly about him. "As for you, I'll deal with you later."

"We shall see," stated Dr. Lang coldly. He watched Starscream transform and zoom off with the rest while carrying Bumblebee away.

"I don't understand sir, why didn't you stop him from taking the Autobot?" asked one of his assistants.

Dr. Lang sighed and the black aura disappeared from around him. He dropped to his knees in exhaustion. "Because," he wheezed. "It took everything I had… just to stop his attack." He then passed out.

Chapter 16

"I'm sorry, Optimus," apologized Wheeljack weakly.

"Hush up now," ordered Ratchet. He was working on Wheeljack in the makeshift repair bay that he had set up from the limited amount of open space that Captain Gloval could provide him. "Let's get you fixed back up, and then we can figure what happened and what to do about it."

"How's it coming along, Ratchet?" asked Optimus Prime.

"Slowly," grumbled Ratchet. "Wheeljack and Huffer took point blank laser blasts to their chassis's." He motioned over at the deactivated body of Blaster on another repair table. "That's nothing compared to what Blaster and his crew went through. I haven't seen brutality like that in ages."

Optimus looked down at Dr. Lang. "And you say that Bumblebee is the one responsible?"

Dr. Lang nodded. "Yes, Optimus Prime, that is quite correct. It seems that the proto-energon that Wheeljack and I developed does indeed provide tremendous advantages, but at the cost of losing one's self control. Quite unfortunate."

"Unfortunate?" yelped one of his technicians. "The damn word is scary. Bumblebee went psycho and attacked everyone he saw. It didn't matter if it was friend or foe. I'm gonna have nightmares thinking about what would have happened if he hadn't been stopped before he saw us."

Captain Gloval coughed nervously. "Thank you, Mr. Witwicky. That will be all."

The technician with the nametag that identified him as Spike Witwicky didn't budge.

Captain Gloval raised an eyebrow. "Is there anything else?"

"Yes sir. That proto-energon is dangerous. It turned one of the nicest people, er robots, I had ever met into a crazed maniac. I hope you aren't thinking of continuing this experiment. I don't know if the next volunteer could be stopped."

"Do not fear," replied Optimus Prime. "I will not allow anymore Autobots to participate in this program. We have already lost too much. It clearly was a mistake to allow this in the first place."

Captain Gloval placed his hand on Optimus' leg in sympathy. "Part of this is my fault too, Optimus. We both made what we felt was the best decision at the time. But this isn't the time to go over what we could have done differently. What's done is done. Now, we must concentrate on getting Bumblebee and the proto-energon back. I shudder to think what damage the Decepticons could do with it."

"Oh, I do not think that will be a problem," stated Dr. Lang.

Captain Gloval turned to the scientist. "Explain."

"If I am correct, the Decepticons will lack a vital element to make the proto-energon work. Without this, I doubt they can access the limitless power that the proto-energon provides."

"And what is this element?" asked Gloval.

Dr. Lang smiled eerily. "Me."

Megatron looked down at the inert Autobot prisoner that Starscream had brought back with him from their latest failed attempt to capture the Humans' ship. At first, he laughed and scoffed at Starscream's claims that the puny Bumblebee subdued a squad of his mightiest warriors. It just wasn't possible. But Soundwave was corroborating Starscream's story, claim by claim. Megatron knew Starscream frequently altered details of events to cover his mistakes, but Soundwave always provided accurate reports. Soundwave was really the only Decepticon that Megatron actually trusted.

"Is there any explanation for this, Soundwave?" he asked. "How can Prime's weakest soldier suddenly gain the strength to defeat all of you?"

"Unknown," replied Soundwave truthfully. "Perhaps this is the result of the experimental fuel that the Autobots and Fleshlings were working on that Laserbeak reported."

"Yes, I remember that report now. So you think the Fleshlings and Autobots were successful in creating a fuel source that provides tremendous strength."

"If they succeeded, it was at the cost of self control. Bumblebee was attacking allies and enemies alike."

"Was he now? He actually attacked his friends?"


"How very interesting," mused Megatron. "Drain the fuel from the Autobot and analyze it. See if this is indeed the source of his berserker strength."

"As you command, Megatron," replied Soundwave dutifully.

Megatron left Soundwave to his task and joined with Starscream. "It seems that I misjudged you, Starscream. Soundwave confirms that the small Autobot is responsible for the damage that you and your squad incurred. You did well to bring him back intact."

"I always serve you well, mighty Megatron," stated Starscream smugly.

Megatron scowled at the Starscream's sarcastic reply. It annoyed him that Starscream was enjoying this so much. Still, it was a small matter if he did indeed bring back a potential weapon to use against the accursed Autobots.

"There is a matter that does need to be discussed though, Megatron," stated Starscream.

"And that is?" asked Megatron.

"Why our plan to infiltrate and take the Fleshling ship failed."

"On that, we agree. Let us confer with our allies."

"Oh, this will be fun."

Breetai and Exedore were discussing the details of the various reports they had received from the few warriors who did manage to escape from the SDF-1. Breetai's shock was evident. "Desertion?" he asked Exedore incredulously.

"Yes, Lord Breetai. A faction of Zentradi apparently has defected and joined with the Micronians."

"How could something like this have happened, Exedore?"

"I am afraid that is my fault, Lord Breetai."

Breetai looked down at his advisor. "I find that hard to believe. Explain yourself."

Exedore shifted nervously under his commander's scrutiny. "You see, my lord, I believe the faction that defected to the Micronians was led by agents Lon, Bron, and Pierce."

"Our spies? Why would they abandon their duty?"

"I had been keeping a close eye on them since their return from the Micronian ship. They were acting most peculiarly since that mission, holding secret meetings with other members of the crew. Still, I didn't bring it to your attention because they were still performing their duties. Obviously, I misjudged the impact that exposure to the Micronians had on them. Clearly now, I can see that they found life amongst the Micronians preferable to their own duties. This was a possibility that I had not foreseen though."

Breetai sighed. "You are not to blame for their actions, my friend. No one could have expected Zentradi to ever contemplate abandoning their posts to live amongst Micronians. This is yet another conundrum posed to us by the Micronians. Once again, they surprise us with their abilities."

"We have personally observed their skill, determination, inventiveness, and tenacity in the heat of battle," observed Exedore. "They have been unyielding in battle, despite the overwhelming force we bring before them. Now, we find that they are exceptional at psychological warfare too."

"Once again, I am reminded of the legend you first mentioned to me when we found this world, the warning to our race to avoid contact with any Micronian races."

"As am I, my Lord. I still have no doubt that we will indeed regain Zor's battleship, but these Micronians are proving to be more fearsome than anticipated."

"Indeed," agreed Breetai.

A Zentradi soldier entered the dais that overlooked the Zentradi warship's bridge, bowed to his commanders, and stated, "The Decepticon leader has demanded an audience with you, Lord Breetai."

Breetai frowned. "Has he now?"

"Indeed I have," answered Megatron, calmly walking into the dais flanked by his crony, Starscream.

Breetai scowled. Megatron had just walked uninvited onto his command bridge, the very seat of his power. Even Khyron wouldn't have been so bold. The implication was unmistakable. Megatron was positioning himself as Breetai's equal. "Have a care, Megatron, you are here at my sufferance," uttered Breetai menacingly. "You may request my time, not demand it."

Starscream's eyes widened with disbelief. Megatron calmly put his arm across Starscream's chest to restrain his subordinate. "Forgive me, Lord Breetai," said Megatron apologetically. "It was a poor choice of words. I merely wished to impart the importance of this discussion, nothing more."

Breetai looked down at Exedore. His advisor looked as stone faced as he, but Breetai could read the subtle body language of his old friend. He was worried. Megatron was making subtle moves to challenge Breetai's leadership while appearing to his soldiers as benevolent. These Decepticon allies of theirs were cunning as well as powerful. "No need for apologies," he stated. "We are allies. Of course, we need to discuss the failure of our joint venture to retake Zor's battleship."

Megatron's smile slipped a little, almost imperceptibly. "Of course," he murmured. Breetai allowed himself to feel a small sense of victory. By getting to the point of the conversation rather than focusing on Megatron's minor insult, Breetai had taken back the leadership role.

Behind Megatron, Starscream smiled smugly at his leader. Breetai looked down again at Exedore. A slight nod of his head confirmed the he had caught it too. Perhaps there was some dissention in Megatron's ranks.

"What have you determined?" demanded Breetai.

"The information garnered from the fleshlings was incorrect. It is most likely that they lied to us to prevent us from capturing vital areas of the ship," answered Megatron.

"Agreed," replied Exedore. "The few number of surviving Zentradi warriors reported finding nothing of importance at the locations given."

"Why wasn't this information confirmed before hand? This battleship was a Zentradi warship at one time, was it not?"

"Indeed it was. However, it was lost to us in its maiden voyage. The Zentradi serving as Zor's personal guard were the only Zentradi to actually have been on board, and they were lost with the ship."

"Incorrect, you had put spies on board the ship."

Breetai and Exedore exchanged confused glances. Neither had informed Megatron or any of the Decepticons of their attempts to spy on the Micronians.

Megatron smiled at their obvious confusion. "I have my ways of finding out secrets, gentlemen. Now, back to my question, why wasn't the information provided by the fleshlings corroborated by your own spies?"

"You already know that it was, Megatron," barked Breetai irately. "Just as you know that the real reason behind the false information is the defection of those very same spies."

Megatron feigned surprise. "Defectors? Amongst your own troops?"

Breetai's men shifted uncomfortably on the bridge. Breetai wasn't pleased. "Yes, as you well know. It was your own agent who recaptured one of the Micronian females attempting to escape with the defectors."

"Yes, it was one of my Decepticons who discovered the defectors, wasn't it? I hope this doesn't affect the morale of your crew. I mean, it can't look that good for you that a group of your own troops managed to defect before you could detect their insubordination."

Breetai's single eye narrowed. "They will be dealt with," he stated flatly.

"Oh?" asked Starscream. "And how do you propose to deal with a problem that is safely out of your reach."

"They are not out of my reach. I have another spy on the ship," revealed Breetai.

"Another spy?" asked Megatron.

"Yes," replied Exedore. "Her name is Miriya Parino. She is one of our most capable warriors. She will deal with the traitors swiftly. I guess your sources missed this information." Megatron's face soured at the revelation. This new piece of information that his spy network had missed shifted the power balance back towards Breetai.

Breetai decided to press the advantage. "On the subject of leadership, what would one think of a leader whose best troops were defeated by what both he and his soldiers described as the 'smallest and weakest Autobot'?"

This time, it was Starscream who got angry. "Don't forget that it was I who defeated him."

"From our reports, by shooting him in the back," interjected Exedore. "A most cowardly act."

Starscream sputtered incoherently for a few seconds with rage. "Cowardly? I am not a coward! He was slaughtering your troops!"

Breetai crossed his arms. "We never claimed to be vastly superior to your ancient enemies. Yet, for all your claims, the Autobots continue to defeat you in combat. I am beginning to wonder if you are capable of defeating them at all."

"Watch what you say, Breetai," warned Megatron.

"No," interrupted Breetai. "This is my bridge! You do not come here and accuse me of incompetence here when your own inadequacies are evident to all present!" Breetai turned around and waved his hand in the Decepticons direction. "You are dismissed. I will summon you when I wish to speak with you again."

Starscream raised his arm to aim his laser rifle at Breetai's back, but Megatron batted it down. Breetai's men had all drawn their weapons at Starscream's action. A group of Zentradi security personnel had rushed in as well. The Decepticons found themselves surrounded by Breetai's troops in seconds.

"Very well," stated Megatron. "We will leave. Come, Starscream." The Decepticons exited the bridge, escorted by Breetai's security team. Once they walked to the first junction, the squad took up guard positions, allowing the Decepticons free to walk off alone.

"Why did you stop me?" asked Starscream once they were out of earshot. "They could not have hurt us."

"Correct," agreed Megatron, "but we are not yet ready to seize control yet. The Zentradi commander you put me in touch with has promised to back us, but we need the support of the others before we can move against Breetai. As long as he garners the loyalty of the troops in his fleet, they will most likely vaporize this ship in retaliation the micron after we kill Breetai. Are you sure this Khyron can convince the others to back us when we are ready?"

"I don't see why not," replied Starscream. "We promised him Breetai's fleet and flagship if he did."

"Good. Bring him here to the flagship. There is a possibility we can move sooner than expected if he is here."

Starscream smiled brightly. "Yes, the others will probably not fire on us if it were perceived that Khyron took Breetai's place as commander rather than us."

"Exactly. It is clear now that Breetai must be removed as soon as possible. Now go." Megatron waved his hand to dismiss Starscream.

Starscream bowed. "As you command, Megatron." He walked away towards the airlocks.

Megatron walked back to where he and the other Decepticons had been allowed to gather on Breetai's ship. As he entered, he barked, "Soundwave! What have you discovered about the energon?"

"The study of the energon drawn from the Autobot continues, though it is clear that the energon sample is vastly different from our own sample," answered Soundwave.

"In what way?"

"An organic compound has been added to the energon. It will require further study to determine if this energon sample is the true cause of the Autobot's strength increase."

"I see. Before you do that though, I want you to examine the Autobot's structure. Look for anything else that might otherwise explain his berserker rage. If nothing seems out of the ordinary, then revive him and have Laserbeak interrogate him. Find out what he knows concerning the true nature of his increase aggression. If it is the fuel, perhaps he knows something of its manufacture."

"As you command, Megatron," said Soundwave obediently. He started to walk back towards Bumblebee's inert body when Megatron grabbed his shoulder.

"I have just thought of a task for Buzzsaw. Have him interrogate the fleshling female he captured." Megatron's eyes started to glow bright red with malevolence. "Let him have some fun. It doesn't truly concern me if we learn anything, as long as she suffers."

Chapter 17

Rick and Max had been helping out with the cleanup effort on the Daedalus when they received a summons by Captain Gloval from two MP's. Reluctantly, they left the Daedalus and followed the MP's to a conference room with two heavily armed guards standing at attention at the doorway. They saluted the guards as they walked in. Inside were Captain Gloval flanked by Majors Kremmer, Westfield, and Thompson. Dr. Lang was also present, scribbling notes furiously on a clipboard. Behind him stood Prowl and Jazz. All of them had their attention focused on three peculiar men joyfully eating apples at a conference table.

"By Breetai's single eye, I had forgotten how good these taste!" exclaimed the large man with shaggy brown hair.

"And to think, Micronians get to eat his every day. Brothers, this is paradise," added a skinny, young man with long green hair.

"I want more of this, what did you call it, orange juice?" asked a man smaller than the other two with light purple hair, pointing to an empty glass.

Rick looked over at Max, puzzled. Max could only shrug in response. The three men were clearly being guarded by a small squad of guards on either side of the conference table, but they didn't seem to notice or care.

The small man asking for orange juice suddenly spotted Rick and exclaimed, "Look Brothers! Isn't that the Human we questioned? How do you do? Do you remember us?"

"Remem…" muttered Rick when suddenly he recalled them, not as humans, but as the 50 foot tall Zentradi soldiers who had been at the interrogation of Lisa, Ben, and himself. "You three? What are you doing here? How the heck did you get so small? What's going on here?"

Captain Gloval walked over to Rick and Max. Max saluted sharply, but Rick was still too stunned to even acknowledge that the Captain was there. "Good afternoon, Lieutenants Sterling and Hunter. I can see that you have figured out why you were summoned, Lt. Hunter. You are correct, these three men are indeed Zentradi. Their names are Lon, Bron, and Pierce." The three Zentradi waved as they were introduced.

Max looked confused now. "Zentradi, sir? Are you sure? Last time I checked, you needed a veritech to look a Zentradi in the eye."

"It's true, Max," replied Rick breathlessly. "They were there, when Lisa, Ben, and I were being interrogated by their leaders. I don't know how, but it definitely is them."

"Correct," confirmed Lon. "It was Lt. Hunter, was it not?"

"Yeah. How?"

"I was getting to that point, Lt Hunter," interrupted Captain Gloval. "You see, these three are the leaders of a group of Zentradi that has defected from the Zentradi and have asked for asylum here."

Major Kremmer harrumphed at the statement, clearly showing his opinion on where he felt the three former enemy combatants should be placed. By what Rick could observe on the faces of Majors Westfield and Thompson, they agreed with Kremmer. Rick found he couldn't blame them.

"Are you sure about this, sir?" Rick asked. "These three are probably pretty high up in the Zentradi hierarchy if they were meeting with Breetai and Dolza."

"Actually, we were Lord Breetai's top spies," said Pierce. "Our job was to gather as much intel on your species as possible. To that end, we had even undergone the micronization process to shrink ourselves down to your size and observe your customs firsthand for several weeks."

"Amazing," exclaimed Dr. Lang.

"How can you not see how irrational this is, Captain?" asked Major Westfield. "These are enemy spies whom may have been the very ones to supply the intel for the Zentradi to board the SDF-1."

"Correct," agreed Major Thompson. "We should be holding tribunals to determine their culpability in the various war crimes of their people.

"I find that I cannot agree to that," argued Captain Gloval. "Despite the fact that they were enemy combatants less than 10 hours ago, they have come to us seeking asylum and peace. I intend to grant them their wish."

"Sir, these men, by theirs and Lieutenant Hunter's own words, hold valuable tactical intel on the Zentradi," said Major Kremmer. "Shouldn't we be doing everything we can to get that information, for the safety of this ship, its people, perhaps the Earth itself. Besides, can you be absolutely sure that this isn't a ruse of some sort?"

"The majors do present compelling logical arguments, Captain Gloval," added Prowl. "To what degree can we actually trust them?"

"I understand the concerns that all of you have brought up," replied Henry. "However, this is still a vessel of the United Defense Force. We have laws concerning those whom ask for asylum."

"For Humans, Captain Gloval," countered Major Kremmer. "We do not have laws concerning the treatment of Zentradi."

"Quite correct, Major Kremmer, but nonetheless, I feel it is appropriate to extend the law to cover these Zentradi and their comrades."

"Yeah, so chill out Major dudes, unless you have a problem with alien types," snapped Jazz irritably.

Captain Gloval and Prowl both glared at Jazz, whom immediately looked chagrined under the intense scrutiny of his peers. Captain Gloval cleared his throat. "Anyway, as I was saying before I was interrupted, they have already proven worthy of some amount of trust by rescuing a couple of our people that were being held prisoner by the Zentradi and tortured."

Rick's heart leapt at the announcement. "Sir!" he cried out sharply. "Is that true? Have these Zentradi rescued Lisa, I mean Commander Hayes?"

As one, the three Zentradi found themselves unable to look up at the Humans. "I'm sorry," answered Lon. "We tried to rescue all of your people, but Commander Hayes was recaptured by the Decepticons during the escape attempt."

"There was nothing we could do," added Bron. "It all happened so fast. One moment, we were all there, ready and determined to make our break. The next second, she was snatched by Decepticon known as Buzzsaw."

"That rotten robo-turkey!" blurted Jazz.

Prowl elbowed Jazz roughly.

"What? I can't call a Decepticreep a name?"

"We're trying to be serious here," growled Prowl.

"Ah, pull your computational unit out of your exhaust port! I'm ticked off!"

"Shut up, you two!" yelled Rick at the Autobots. The entire room looked at Rick, shocked by his outburst. He turned back towards the three Zentradi. "You'll help us rescue her though, won't you? You can tell us where she likely to be. What the weaknesses of your ships are, how to slip past your sensors…"

"Yeah, and tell us where those dirty Deceptibums took our pal Bumblebee," added Jazz.

The three Zentradi glanced at each other, each one pained. Finally, it was Lon who informed Rick, "I'm sorry about your friend, but we will not betray Lord Breetai by giving you Zentradi military secrets."

Rick slammed his hand on the conference table. "Why the hell not?" he screamed.

Bron stood up angrily in response. "We're Zentradi warriors! You expect us to betray our own people?"

"Yes! Seeing as you came crawling to us to escape them!"

"That doesn't mean we're willing to betray them!"

"Lieutenant Hunter! Stand down this instant!" thundered Captain Gloval.

"I will not!" bellowed Rick. "These creeps know where Lisa is and they don't want to help? The hell with that! Sir!"

Bron bristled. "Creeps? Come over here and say that to my face!"

Max vaulted out of his chair and placed himself in between the angry men, arms outstretched to both in an attempt to placate them. "Take it easy, guys."

Rick ignored Max. "How the hell did you manage to only leave her behind?" he accused.

"What the hell are you saying, that we left her there on purpose?" responded Bron.

"What else could it have been?"

"We didn't want to leave her behind! She got recaptured!"

"What? Brave enough to break her out, but not brave enough to fight when she's recaptured?"

"I've had enough of this! I'm gonna tear you apart!" Bron lunged forward towards Rick.

Rick snarled something in cohesive in response and dashed forward. Neither made more than five feet. Pierce and Max, both expecting this, intercepted their pals.

Pierce managed to trip Bron, sending the large Zentradi crashing loudly to the floor. Pierce then expertly grabbed Bron's right arm and pulled it back behind his back at a sharp painful angle. Bron yelped in pain. "Take it easy, big guy. We're not fighting another war today," said Pierce soothingly.

Similarly, Max tackled Rick as he tried to rush past him. They wrestled for a few brief moments before the guards pulled Max off and restrained Rick roughly on the ground.

"Let go of me!" roared Rick, struggling against his captors.

"Get him up off the ground!" ordered Captain Gloval. The guards jerked him up, each still tightly grasping his arms as he struggled. Henry glared at Rick, whom matched his fierce glare. "Lieutenant Hunter, since you are incapable of following my direct orders, you are to spend the next 72 hours in the brig! Think about what you almost did today and then think on this: No one wants Commander Hayes returned safely more than I! Cool your head and stop acting like a lovesick idiot! Take him to the brig!"

Rick nearly wilted in the guards grasp as they pulled him from the room. As they left, Pierce let Bron up. "I'm sorry for my behavior, Captain Gloval," apologized Bron while rubbing his sore shoulder.

"There is nothing to forgive, Bron. Lieutenant Hunter started that altercation, not you. It is I who should apologize to you. I expect better of my officers."

"No apologies are necessary, Captain Gloval," answered Lon, returning his seat. "Given the hostilities between our people, it wouldn't have been a surprise to us for more reactions like that to our presence. Our people aren't exactly on peaceful terms."

Captain Gloval sat opposite Lon and folded his hands before him on the table. "That is what I wish to discuss, Lon. Can you see any possibility of a peaceful settlement between your people and mine?"

"Not without you surrendering Zor's battleship," conceded Lon.

"That presents us with quite a dilemma, seeing as fifty thousand citizens of my world call it home. In addition, it remains my homeworld's only weapon against invasion. What guarantee could be provided that my homeworld would not be attacked now or in the future?"

"None I'm afraid, Captain Gloval. Even if the Zentradi decided to leave you in peace, there is more than a good chance that you will be invaded by another race."

"That is a problem then."

"We understand your position, Captain Gloval," interjected Pierce. "However, you do need to realize that my people have orders to retrieve this ship at all costs."

"Why is it so important?" asked Henry.

Pierce looked over at Lon anxiously, seemingly not wanting to reveal too much. Lon nodded at him to continue. "Because we are in the middle of a war that we are losing. Zor's battleship may be the key to winning that conflict."

Max gasped. "You have a vast space fleet, and you're losing?"

"The Invid are twenty times our number," responded Lon solemnly.

Max swayed at the revelation. By the looks of it, he wasn't the only one. All the major officers paled at the news. "Twenty times?" asked Major Thompson weakly.

"Yes," responded Bron. "We're losing a war of attrition. What's more, they hate humanoids. If they found out about this planet, they'd invade it immediately. At best, your people would be slaves. At worst, they'd wipe you out altogether."

Captain Gloval looked ashen. "Would your people consider an alliance? What if we join forces and fight the Invid with you?"

The three Zentradi looked at each other. Finally, it was Lon who spoke, "It's generally not the Zentradi way to form alliances, Captain. Simply put, we conquer. We have for centuries. Zentradi are grown to believe that it is our destiny to conquer the galaxy. All we strive for, all we dream of, all we work for is that one goal."

"And yet, there is an alliance between the Zentradi and the Decepticons.

"That Lord Breetai formed an alliance with the Decepticons shows how desperate he is to retrieve Zor's battleship. To put aside traditions that have been our way of life for thousands of years? It is pretty much unheard of."

"Just a guess, but isn't the same true for defecting Zentradi?" asked Max.

Bron smiled brightly. "Good point. I guess we are also acting a little less Zentradi."

Lon tried to smile with Bron, but couldn't quite make himself. "Look, I don't mean to sound so gloomy here, but the simple truth is that it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a true peaceful resolution to the conflict."

Captain Gloval grimaced. He realized that he had been getting his hopes up about a peaceful ending to the fight leading to Lisa's release. "I see, gentlemen. That isn't the news we wanted to hear."

"I realize that, Captain," replied Lon, "but it is true nonetheless. I'm afraid there is actually very little we can do for you."

"I wouldn't say that, Lon. You're insight into the Zentradi's motives is quite informative. We now know why the Zentradi want this ship. Also, your presence and actions provide hope, however slim, that peace is possible between our races."

Lon rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Though the future looks dim, we mustn't lose hope," added Captain Gloval.

Lon nodded in agreement. "I couldn't agree more, Captain. I will speak on your behalf to my superior officers. I can only hope they listen."

"Say, Prowl," piped up Jazz. "What do you think of them? They on the up and up, or what?"

"They certainly appear to be, Jazz," opined Prowl. "I believe they are sincere in their desire."

Pierce looked up at the two Autobots. "These new mechs that you Micronians have developed are incredible, Captain. I almost swear that these two robots are alive."

"That's easy to explain, dude, because we are alive," quipped Jazz.

The pronouncement shocked the three Zentradi spies. Bron looked up at them. "You're kidding, right?"

"No, they are not," answered Dr. Lang. "These are the Autobots, a faction of highly evolved mechanical beings from the planet Cybertron."

"Living machines?" gasped Lon.

"Correct," stated Prowl. "We came to this world seeking to replenish the energy of our world, ravaged by millions of years of war. Our foes, the Decepticons, are conquerors bent on universal domination. They seek to strip this and any other world they find with energy resources completely, regardless of whom suffers. We fight to prevent that. Megatron wants this ship to use as a weapon against us."

The three Zentradi exchanged worried glances. "This explains their erratic behavior, brothers," stated Lon.

"Right," agreed Bron. "I always knew there was something odd about them."

"You mean, you thought we were just plain robots?" asked Jazz agitatedly.

"We mean no offense," apologized Pierce. "We have had no contact with a purely mechanical race. To be honest, it never even occurred to us that it was even possible."

"A faulty assumption," said Prowl. "After all, your own bodies can be classified as organic machines, with a heart acting as a fuel pump, blood vessels as wires, and brains as CPU's."

"I never thought of us that way before," admitted Lon. "But then again, we have been bred to fight, rather than examine."

"Sounds like a Decepticon philosophy to me," stated Jazz.

"Human history is filled with warfare as well gentlemen," interjected Captain Gloval. "Conflict and war seem to be evils of all our races."

"I really don't know how much of that is true," said Lon, "but you have shown us kindness when it would have been understandable for you to execute us. We will not betray our people, Captain, but we swear to you that we will not betray yours either. We wish to live with you in peace. To that end, we vow that we will speak with Lord Breetai in the hopes that he can be persuaded to enter peace talks with your people."

"That would be most appreciated, gentlemen," replied Captain Gloval, moved by the personal vow of the Zentradi spy. "Do you not agree, Majors?"

The three Majors conferred for a moment. "Yes, Captain," answered Major Kremmer. "We concur that this course of action is the wisest course. It now seems that negotiation may be humanity's only chance for survival. We're with you, sir."

"Very good. What about you, Lieutenant Sterling? Have you any thoughts?"

"The pilots trust you implicitly, sir," replied Max. "We always have."

"Excellent. Prowl? Jazz?"

"Though the odds of success are low, this wager for peace must be taken," proclaimed Prowl.

"That's his way of saying 'Go for it'!" said Jazz. "Besides, the Zentradi need to learn about the grime stains that they have allied themselves with."

Captain Gloval nodded in approval. "Let us take a few hours to rest then before making plans on how to proceed with peace negotiations with the Zentradi. We'll re-convene again at 1500."

Later that evening, Rick was pacing back and forth in his cell, chastising himself angrily with every step. "Stupid! Idiot! Moron! Picking a fight with political refugees? That's definitely one of my biggest boneheaded moves. How could I have been so stupid?"

An MP suddenly appeared outside his cell. "Lieutenant Hunter, you have visitors," he announced.


"Hey, buddy," greeted Max. Beside him walked Lieutenant Petrova. "Sue and I wanted to check on you and see how you were doing."

"Alright, I guess, considering I almost started an interplanetary incident," replied Rick sheepishly. "How did things go after I was dragged away?"

"Actually, pretty well. The Zentradi were pretty much understanding, considering you tried to fight one of them."

Rick couldn't stop himself from expressing surprise. "Really?"

Max shrugged. "Yeah, they're a warrior race. Perhaps heated discussions leading to fights are a norm with them."

"Hmm, thinking of it that way, that does seem to make a weird sort of sense."

"You actually got off lucky," observed Sue. "You might have regretted starting a fight with one. They hit pretty hard."

"You're probably right. I just now remembered how easily one tore my battloid in half. Still, I don't know what happened in there. I just lost my head. Why am I so angry?"

Sue scrutinized Rick for a few seconds. "You really care for Commander Hayes, don't you?" she asked suddenly.

Rick paused briefly at Sue's question, unsure how to answer. "Of course I do, she's a good friend," he replied carefully.

"She talked about you often while we were in the Zentradi's care, told us about how you two met. Did you really call her an old sourpuss when you first met her?"

Rick flushed with embarrassment. "Um, yeah," he answered sheepishly.

Max whistled. "And you accuse me of living dangerously?"

"I'm so sorry, Rick," apologized Sue abruptly, tears forming in her eyes.

"For what?" asked Rick.

"That we failed in escaping with Commander Hayes. I feel so guilty that Bob and I got away, but she didn't. I still wonder if I could have done something more to prevent it. Why her? Why not me?"

Rick reached through the bars of his cell and took Sue's hand. "It's ok, Sue. Sometimes things just happen. It wasn't your fault."

Sue squeezed Rick's hand. "That's nice of you to say, but I still feel guilty."

"Forgiving myself for surviving is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, Sue. Lisa really helped me when I struggled with it. If you need someone to talk to about it, I'm always ready to lend an ear. Heck, at the moment, I'd kill for someone to just talk to break up the boredom."

Sue laughed. "Thank you, Rick, that's generous of you. I see that Lisa was right about you. You really do care for the people around you. She told me that she considered it one of the best things that ever happened to her, getting to know you and earning your trust."

"The trust was earned both ways. She's a remarkable woman."

"I don't think I've ever met anyone as courageous as she is."

Rick smiled brightly. "I couldn't agree with you more."

"Don't worry guys. We'll find a way to rescue her," assured Max. "You'll see. Captain Gloval won't rest until she's back here safe and sound."

Rick nodded. "If there's any justice in the world, he's already rescuing her so that she can lecture me on my most recent immature outburst while I'm still in the brig."

Laughter erupted from the trio of officers. They continued talking about Lisa, with Sue doing a passable impression of Lisa lecturing Rick that left Max and Rick in stitches. After about 45 minutes, the MP re-entered the room. "I'm really sorry to break up the party, sirs, but I'm afraid your time is up."

"Thanks for coming by and cheering me up, guys," said Rick

"Our pleasure," answered Sue. "Lisa really did think of you a lot, Rick. She really does care for you. I know she would want you to know that."

"Thanks, Sue, I'll remember that."

"Anytime, Rick. Take care."

"You too. Tell Bob hi for me."

"Will do."

"I need to get going anyway," said Max, looking down at his watch. "I've finally tracked down that woman I've been telling you about and got her to agree to go out with me tonight. I'm meeting her in the park."

"That's great, Max," replied Rick. "Good luck tonight."

"I won't need luck. You watch, tomorrow, I'll be introducing you to the future Mrs. Maximillian Sterling."

Chapter 18

Hound ran into the docking bay that had been serving as the Autobots temporary headquarters on the SDF-1 excitedly. "Guys, guys!" he cried out. "Wait 'til you hear what happened!"

Jazz, Blaster, Prowl, Ironhide, and Cliffjumper stopped and looked at their frenetic comrade.

"What's going on, Hound?" asked Prowl. "Are we under attack?"

"Not anymore," exclaimed the scout excitedly.

"Huh?" remarked Jazz.

"Ok, let me start from the beginning. Earlier this evening, I ran into Max. He was dressed differently than normally. It's almost like he tried as hard as he could to make himself look like Sunstreaker."

Jazz whistled. "Sunstreaker spends hours every day making himself look as good as possible."


Cliffjumper shook his head. "Wait a minute. Isn't that unusual for Max?"

"That was point I was making," said Hound. "It didn't make much sense to me until Max told me that he was going out on what he called a date."

Prowl frowned. "What does a time reference have to do with Max upgrading his appearance? That doesn't make any logical sense."

Hound laughed. "I was confused at first too, Prowl. In this case, Max explained that a date is part of the courting process for humans. Pretty much, it's a promise to spend time together, to get to know the other person, and perhaps fall in love."

"You know, I still haven't figured out that love stuff," said Ironhide gruffly.

"You don't have to hear Vanessa, Kim, and Sammy gossip about it all the time," injected Blaster. "Those three can talk your audio receptors off on that topic."

"Seeing it in person doesn't help," stated Hound.

"Wait," chimed Cliffjumper. "You mean you went on the date with Max?"

"Yep, I pestered Max with so many questions while he was getting ready, that he just blurted out that it would be better for me to just observe him on his date. He did make me promise to keep my vocal transponder shut down though. He didn't want his date to be spooked by an uninvited chaperon."

"Wait a gosh darn click," interrupted Ironhide. "I thought you said he was going on a date, not to be with a date."

"To be honest, it's confusing to me too, Ironhide," conceded Hound. "But we're getting off track on what the Humans call things. Let me tell what happened on the date."

"Alright already, just get on with it," complained Ironhide.

"Ok, I drove Max up to Macross Park, where he got out and started waiting by the fountain. He seemed really nervous because he kept checking his watch every 10 nanoclicks. Suddenly, he was ambushed from behind."

"What?" exclaimed the assembled Autobots.

"Yeah, apparently, his date was a Zentradi spy sent to destroy him."

"Well, that answers Captain Gloval's concerns about more Zentradi spies on the SDF-1," remarked Prowl. "We're going to have to keep a sharp lookout for others."

"Yes we will," agreed Hound. "This one was deadly. She had timed her strike perfectly, while his back was to her. He turned fully around to face her and she lunged at him with a knife in her hand. She seemed as shocked as I when Max sidestepped her, causing her to miss him completely. That's when I transformed. I had to protect Max."

"So you caught a Zentradi assassin?" asked Cliffjumper.

Hound shook his head. "No. The Zentradi woman was really angry. She spouted off something about his bodyguard being unable to stop her from regaining her lost honor. Then Max did the strangest thing I ever saw. He actually stepped in between us and told her that I was there as a friend, not a bodyguard. He then turned towards me and asked me not to interfere."

"What?" exclaimed Blaster. His chest compartment suddenly opened, and Eject and Rewind jumped out.

"Ooo," Eject cooed excitedly. "Was it a heavyweight classic like Ali versus Frasier?"

"What happened next?" asked Rewind.

"I'm getting to that," stated Hound. "The assassin called Max a fool for turning his back to her again and dove at him. This time, Max caught her by wrist and twisted it until she dropped the knife."

Cliffjumper whistled. "Wow, I knew he was a great pilot, but I didn't know he could fight too."

"You don't know the half of it, Cliffjumper. Max is a great fighter. After disarming the young woman, he actually let her go."

"He what?"

"Yeah, I was confused too, but he kept telling the assassin that he didn't want to fight her. I think he was trying to calm her down."

"Did it work?" asked Prowl.

"No, Prowl, it didn't," answered Hound. "The assassin got angrier, screaming at him that he had dishonored her for the last time. She pulled another knife and swiped at him. I think that surprised Max. She actually managed to cut his shirt."

"Did you stop her then?" inquired Ironhide.

"No, Max started dodging her thrusts, always managing to stay just ahead of her strikes. The two were so close together that I don't think I could have separated them without hurting Max. The really amazing thing about the duel though is that Max wasn't fighting her, only dodging her attacks."

"I bet that made her angry," injected Cliffjumper.

"You aren't wrong," confirmed Hound. "She was furious, calling him a coward. Max just kept his cool though, concentrating on trying to disarm her again. It almost cost him his life. The assassin was as good as him. She actually managed to cut him a couple of times. That's when he jumped back to get some distance."

"Is Max ok?" asked Prowl.

"He's fine, Prowl," stated Hound. "I'm getting to that."

"Yeah, let him finish the story," chimed Rewind.

"So, Max jumped back to get some distance between him and the assassin," continued Hound. "It was nearly a fatal mistake. The assassin threw the knife perfectly. If Max hadn't sidestepped at the last possible nanoclick, it would have split his skull. As it was, it embedded itself into the tree trunk behind him. I think that's when Max knew that she really did intend to kill him."

"You mean, getting cut before wasn't enough?" asked Cliffjumper incredulously.

"I think Max actually underestimated her a bit at first," explained Hound. "You see, he wasn't even fighting back against her until she really pressed him. He seemed to realize then that she really could kill him. He ran to the tree to grab the knife that was there. The assassin went back to recover the knife she dropped before. Suddenly, both of them were circling each other. I've never seen two beings move as fast as these two. It was almost hypnotic, the way they parried each other's strikes perfectly. There were at least five times that I was sure that Max was dead, but he'd dodge or block the killing strike at the last nanoclick. Suddenly, he just struck out, faster than my optics could follow, and the assassin's blade landed 20 feet away from them."

"Whoa," exclaimed Blaster. "It sounds like you got to see one hell of a duel."

"Win by TKO!" added Eject.

"So, Max took her prisoner?" asked Prowl.

"No, he didn't," answered Hound. "The assassin dropped to her knees and begged him to end it quickly. He dropped his knife then."

"He what?" exclaimed the Autobots as one.

"He dropped his knife and lifted her up off the ground and pressed his lips against hers. I was too stunned to actually note how long they did press lips, but it seemed to last clicks. Finally, they separated and Max declared that he could never kill someone as beautiful as she. He then asked her to marry him and she said yes."

"What does marry mean?" asked Cliffjumper.

Hound shrugged. "I don't know. That's exactly what she asked Max."

Captain Gloval stared dumbfounded at the young Zentradi woman that Lt. Sterling had just introduced to him. He was in shock at discovering another Zentradi on his ship so soon after discovering that they could shrink themselves to human size, but it was the declaration that Max had made that rendered him speechless. "I…I don't understand," he finally managed to stammer. "H…how long have the two of you been dating?"

"Dating?" asked Miriya.

Max grinned brightly. "He means how long have we known each other, dear."

"Oh," replied Miriya. "Well, I've been hunting Max ever since we fought in our mechs inside the ship."

Henry's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "I'm sorry, hunting?"

"Yes," confirmed Miriya. "In that encounter, Maximillian bested me in combat. It was an insult that I could not let stand. I micronized myself for the sole purpose of finding and killing him."

Then Max shared the details of their first date. Henry fought hard to not demand the guards throw her into the brig immediately. The only reason he didn't was because she actually looked remorseful at her assassination attempt on Max while at the same time staring adoringly up at him.

"Can you excuse us a moment?" he asked Miriya.

"Of course," answered the Zentradi ace.

Captain Gloval motioned to Max to follow him into the hallway. Once they were outside, Henry signaled to his guards to watch the young woman carefully. When the doors to his office closed, Gloval rounded on Max. "Have you taken complete leave of your senses, Lt. Sterling?"

"Sir?" asked Max bewilderedly.

"That woman just admitted to not only being a spy, but an assassin here on a quest to kill you."

Max nodded. "Yes she did, and you also heard her admit that she almost succeeded. However, she now realizes that she was wrong and wishes to defect, just like the other Zentradi we have accepted."

"That was different. None of them have tried to kill anyone since coming here. This one has."

Max shrugged. "Look, she had plenty of opportunities to kill me when we spent the night at her quarters last night. She didn't. I believe her when she says that she wants peace."

Henry blanched at the revelation that Max and the Zentradi had gotten so intimate. "You do realize that you cannot reveal any military secrets to her."

"Of course, Captain," replied Max. "I don't see that it's going to be much of a problem though. She wants to join the RDF as a pilot."

Captain Gloval felt a strong impulse to light up his pipe. Ignoring it, he simply removed his cap and pinched his nose to try to alleviate the headache he could already feel coming on. "Oh, the majors are going to love to argue about that one."

"I imagine they would, but we are short on pilots and she is simply the most incredible pilot I have ever seen. We need her to join."

Captain Gloval put his hand on Max's shoulder. "Lt. Sterling, I understand your position. You think you are in love with this woman. However, from my perspective, she is still an assassin who tried to kill the best pilot we have. Only my trust of your judgment has prevented me from throwing her into the brig immediately. I'm still tempted to do just that!"

Max stared intently into Captain Gloval's eyes. "Believe me, Captain, the last thing I expected to be doing this week is introducing you to my alien fiancé. But I do love her and I trust her. She can fly with me. She and I would actually prefer it if we could fly together."

"You're asking me to go out on quite a wobbly limb here, Lt. Sterling," remarked Captain Gloval.

"I know. However, we've been on many limbs ever since this ship made its first jump to Pluto. This is just the latest."

Captain Gloval shook his head. "Yes, you do have a point there. I half expected a mutiny on my hands just for allowing the Autobots on board the ship alone."

"Well, this might help," said Max. "She's willing to help us plan a rescue for Commander Hayes."

Captain Gloval looked up at Max incredulously. "She is?"

"Yes. She's willing to give us intel on the Zentradi ships so that we can plan a rescue mission. She's even willing to go with us on that mission. She wants to prove herself to you, Captain. She wants to make amends for the actions she has taken. She desires peace, but she is willing to fight her own people if necessary."

Captain Gloval rubbed his chin thoughtfully. It was an intriguing development. "Very well, let's hear what information she has."

"I have a condition, Captain," stated Max.

Captain Gloval raised his eyebrows. "You're already asking a lot of me, Lt. Sterling."

"I want Miriya to know about the other Zentradi defectors. I want us to try to their plan first. She has to see that we are dedicated to finding a peaceful solution to this conflict first. If she sees how hard we are working to prevent both Human and Zentradi casualties, I believe she will be able to influence a great number of Zentradi to quit fighting us. According to her, she's an extremely well respected warrior. A plea from her to end the conflict could be the key to a peaceful solution."

Captain Gloval thought long about Max's request, looking at the current situation from all angles. In the end though, Lt. Sterling had made quite a case for his new fiancé. "I see no problem with that request," he said. "Take her to see them now."

Lisa was dragged into her cell by Rumble and roughly dropped on the cold metal floor. "Don't get too comfortable, fleshling," quipped the human-sized robot. "The Zentradi commander may prevent Buzzsaw from having his full fun, but sooner or later, we'll find out just how much you can scream."

Lisa slowly raised her hand and flipped him off.

Rumble laughed at her pathetic gesture and slammed the cell door shut.

"Lisa," whispered Bumblebee from the adjacent cell. "Are you ok?"

Lisa couldn't respond immediately. Buzzsaw had caused her to feel so much pain. She started sobbing quietly in the dark of her cell.

Bumblebee heard her crying and remained silent. Few knew the true depravity and cruelty of the Decepticons as he did. As a spy, he saw the results of many of their atrocities. The devastation and pain that they caused almost overwhelmed his logic circuits every time he witnessed it. Nothing he could remember though caused him as much despair as hearing Lisa's muffled sobs. She was one of Rick's friends and very important to him. Bumblebee understood now what Rick saw in her. She was strong, friendly, and intelligent, but there was also a vulnerability to her. Bumblebee wished he could comfort her, to protect her, but here, he was powerless.

Lisa finally stopped crying and crawled as close as she could to the wall adjoining her cell to Bumblebee's. "I'm doing as well as anyone of us," she rasped.

Bumblebee gasped. Lisa sounded terrible.

Lisa heard it and softly laughed. "I guess I sound as bad as I feel, huh?"

"I'm sorry this had to happen to you, Lisa," apologized Bumblebee.

"I know."

"I wish we had never come here, that we had never brought the Decepticons here. If we hadn't, you wouldn't be tortured right now."

"This isn't your fault, Bumblebee. In case you hadn't noticed, we were doing quite well in getting ourselves into trouble long before you or the Decepticons showed up."

"I still feel so guilty."

"I know. That's why you're such a good Autobot."

Bumblebee lowered his head. "A good Autobot would have busted you out of here already," he whispered.

Lisa laughed out loud.

"What's so funny?" demanded Bumblebee.

"You are," replied Lisa. "I thought I had issues."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that you are focusing on the wrong thing. You're focusing on your faults instead of tackling the problem, namely busting out of this hellhole."

"You want me to find a way to break free?" asked Bumblebee.

"I want you to try!" rasped Lisa. "Stop feeling sorry for me and yourself and fight any way you can!"

"But I'm not as big or strong…" started Bumblebee.

"The hell with that," interrupted Lisa. "You have every bit the amount of courage and intelligence of the best of the Autobots."

Bumblebee was shocked at the anger in Lisa's voice. "I…I'll try," he promised.

"Good," said Lisa, comforted a bit by the reassurance. "Soldiers may find themselves in rough situations, but good ones always look for opportunities to turn the tables."

"Do you have any ideas?"

"Not a one," wheezed Lisa. "Still looking."

For some reason, Bumblebee started laughing. He couldn't help himself. Just the absurdity of that statement after her lecture hit him as humorous. Lisa joined in, though she soon was moaning again.

"Ouch," Lisa complained. "I didn't realize that laughing could hurt this much."

"I'm sorry, Lisa," said Bumblebee. "I couldn't help myself."

"Don't be silly. It's good to laugh. It reminds us that we still can feel happiness and joy. Hope can thrive with reminders like that. It actually reminds me of the last time I was a prisoner here."

"You were a prisoner to the Zentradi?"

"Yeah, they devised a plan to lure a scout plane out of the SDF-1 and I was on that plane. Rick, Ben, and Max risked their lives to rescue me."

"Ben?" asked Bumblebee, unfamiliar with the name.

"He…," Lisa hesitated for a second. "He was one of Rick's friends. He died not long ago."

"Oh," mumbled Bumblebee. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Thank you. Anyway, we managed to escape, but Rick and I were separated from the others. While making our way through the ship, we came upon a viewport that showed the size of the Zentradi fleet. I immediately pulled out my camera and shot footage of it to add to my report. Rick asked me why and I replied that it was my intention to escape and make that report. We only had the slimmest of chance of making it back alive, but that bit of continuing to fight kept me going."

"Wow," exclaimed Bumblebee. "Rick was right. You are strong."

"Rick said that about me?" whispered Lisa.

"Yeah. He told me that you were one of the most capable officers he ever had the pleasure to serve with. He also told me that he was a complete dunce for not seeing that from the very beginning."

Lisa giggled. "Well, to be honest, Bumblebee, we kind of started off on a really bad foot. That happened to be the day the Zentradi attacked Earth. I had ten million things going wrong on a day that should have been Humankind's proudest moment, and some snot nosed punk named Rick Hunter started giving me attitude. Worse, he did it right in front of everybody. I lost my temper at that point. It was only afterwards that I found out how noble, strong, and kind he could be."

"Like when he came to rescue you?" asked Bumblebee.

"Yeah. I got to know him much better when we were prisoners together."

"How did you escape then, if you don't mind my asking?"

Lisa blushed.

"Lisa, are you ok?" asked Bumblebee worriedly at her sudden silence.

"I'm still here Bumblebee," replied Lisa. "It's just that it's a little bit embarrassing."

"What is?"

"How we escaped. You see, we found out that Zentradi freak out when they see a man and woman kiss."

"Really? How did you discover that?"

"I ordered Rick to kiss me," mumbled Lisa.

"Excuse me?"

"Look, they wanted to know about human mating rituals. I had Rick and Ben to choose from. I chose Rick and ordered him to kiss me."

Bumblebee shook his head. "Wait, I remember now Max mentioning something about this. I don't know much about Human mating rituals yet, but isn't a kiss a way for a man and woman to express their affection for one another?"

"Typically. In that case, I either had to kiss someone or be squashed. I chose to kiss Rick."

"So, you actually do not want to kiss Rick normally?"

"Yes! No!" exclaimed Lisa hurriedly. "Maybe, I don't know. Rick is a great friend, but he's in love with another woman, so I don't think he's noticed that I might be available to him."

"I didn't follow any of that," said Bumblebee.

"The point is that Rick and I probably will never kiss again."

"From the way you just said that, I'm guessing you want him to?"

Lisa stared incredulously at the wall separating her from the Autobot scout. "I didn't know I was that easy to read, Bumblebee."

"Have you told him?"

Lisa shook her head. "No."

"Then that is our new mission," exclaimed Bumblebee. "I promise that I will do all I can to help you get back to Rick so that you can order him to kiss you again."

Lisa guffawed loudly and nearly immediately regretted it. Despite the sharp pangs of pain she felt in her sides, she just couldn't stop laughing.

"Do Humans normally laugh this loud when friends make promises?" asked Bumblebee, more puzzled than ever.

"I…I'm sorry, Bumblebee," wheezed Lisa. "It doesn't quite work that way normally, but I do commend you for giving me a goal to focus on. Very well, Autobot warrior. I accept your mission. Let's find a way off this God forsaken ship."

Chapter 19

Bron was relaxing peacefully in the quarters that he shared with Pierce and Lon. The burly Zentradi enjoyed this sensation of just resting, not worrying about when some high ranking officer with an agenda of increasing their own rank would pull a surprise inspection or drill.

He heard the door chime. "Come in," he muttered lazily.

"Hello, Bron," greeted Max Sterling. "Catching up on some Z's?"

"Don't know what Z's are but if that's what I'm doing, then it feels great."

"Looks to me like you're lounging like a raw recruit, soldier," replied a female in a sneering tone. "I'd have thought that one of Commander Breetai's crew would be far more disciplined."

Bron shrugged. "So what," he responded nonchalantly. "It's not like there is a Zentradi officer around to report…" He looked up then and noticed for the first time whom he was talking. Fear and sheer shock suddenly griped his insides. "Mi…Mi…Miriya Parino?!" he yelped. He tried to stand up suddenly, but from his prone position, ended up landing sprawled on the deck.

"Are you ok?" asked Pierce, walking into the main area to investigate the noise that his large buddy had just made. Seeing Miriya, he jerked to straight attention and saluted her. "Commander Parino, we didn't expect to see you here, Ma'am!"

"Did you just say Commander Parino?" asked Lon, walking out of the bathroom while drying off his hair. Then he saw her and jerked to attention as well, unfortunately dropping his towel in the process. Bron quickly joined his friends at attention.

Max whistled appreciably. Miriya had told him that she was very well respected and feared amongst the Zentradi. Apparently, that was true, given that these three Zentradi reported to Lord Breetai himself.

"That's better," replied Miriya. "You may relax, and in Lon's case, cover up."

Lon yelped and retrieved his towel.

"What are you doing here?" asked Pierce.

"The same as you three," replied the Zentradi ace. "I no longer wish to fight."

"But why were you here to begin with?" asked Lon. "We certainly didn't include any Meltran in our findings sharing the secrets of the Micronians. How could you have learned about their culture?"

"I learned it by coming here myself."

"I don't understand. Why would you come here? Why would Breetai and Azonia even allow that?" asked Bron.

"My mission wasn't espionage, but assassination," answered Miriya. She put her arm around Max's waist. "I came here to kill the pilot who had bested me in combat."

As one, the three Zentradi spies felt queasy.

"I…need a drink of water," said Pierce, filling a glass from a nearby pitcher.

Bron sat down in his seat. "Miriya Parino, defeated by a Micronian? Is that even possible?"

"It is possible," stated Miriya. "What's more, it did happen. Maximillian defeated me in a duel."

Max blushed a little as the three Zentradi looked up him with looks of awe and wonder, like he was a god appearing before his devotees. "Hey guys, it wasn't easy. She's a hell of a pilot. She nearly killed five times during that duel."

"Seven, dear," said Miriya jokingly.

"I wasn't including the fight in the park, hon."

"Nor was I." She leaned forward and impulsively gave Max a kiss.

Bron passed out.

After a few seconds, Max gently pushed Miriya back. "As much as I enjoy spontaneous PDA from you, darling, maybe we should refrain from expressing our affection." He pointed to the unconscious spy. "Your friends still suffer the occasional bouts of culture shock."

"Sorry," apologized Miriya meekly.

Pierce and Lon looked at each other incredulously. "Now I've seen and heard everything," said Pierce.

"Indeed, brother," agreed Lon. "I have to admit that there were times I wondered about the course of action that we had chosen for ourselves."

"I know what you mean. What we have done is something no other Zentradi had ever conceived of doing."

"Exactly. I wondered if somehow we were weak in spirit, that somehow by choosing this path, that we were turning our back on what it means to be Zentradi."

"But now we can clearly see, we are not weak."

"This is amazing!"

"Why are you guys getting so excited?" asked Max.

"Allow me to explain, my dear," said Miriya. "Lon and Pierce had doubts about the power of Micronian culture, but now it is clear to them that it is powerful enough to affect all Zentradi."

"It is?"

"Yes, Lt. Sterling," said Pierce. "Miriya is the fiercest pilot in the entirety of Lord Breetai's fleet. There is possibly no one amongst my people with greater skill, courage, and daring than Miriya Parino. She is a hero. All fear and respect her."

"There is no greater warrior in the fleet," added Lon, "save perhaps Lord Breetai himself."

"Her victories are legend. Her stories will be told for generations. She could even potentially lead the Zentradi one day."

Max looked over at Miriya, the enormity of what the others were telling him sinking in. She had told him that she was an important person in the fleet, but he had no idea that she was this important. He felt woozy. "Whoa, now I need to take a seat," he said, quickly plopping down in the nearest chair.

"Are you ok, Maximillian?" asked Miriya concerned.

"Yeah, hon," replied Max. "I hadn't realized that I had proposed to the Zentradi's version of Joan of Arc."

"Joan of Arc?"

"She was like you, a strong warrior woman who led armies. She's a well respected person in human history."

"Are you beginning to grasp the magnitude of what we just realized?" asked Pierce.

"I think so. You're saying if Miriya can be persuaded to live peacefully with us…"

"Then all Zentradi can," finished Lon. "For the first time since our defection, I feel a real sense of hope that we can bring your culture to our people and convince them to stop this war."

"Wow," exclaimed Max. "That's some revelation."

"Tell me about it! That's why I'm so excited now!"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," cautioned Pierce. "We've still have a pretty big hurdle of actually convincing our people to experience Micronian culture."

"There's a more pressing issue than that," interjected Miriya. "Maximillian has informed me that the Zentradi are holding two of his friends prisoner. I have vowed to assist him in freeing them. I request your assistance in this."

Pierce and Lon exchanged concerned looks. "Commander Parino, surely you understand that as Zentradi warriors, we cannot betray Lord Breetai."

Miriya looked sternly at the two former spies. "I do not. You are no longer Zentradi warriors. You gave up that claim, same as I, when you decided to join with the Micronians. Our allegiance is to them now."

"I'm sorry, Commander," apologized Pierce. "I do not feel that way."

"You cannot be serious."

"I am. I have vowed to negotiate for their release. However, we will not give the Micronians intel that they can use to kill our people."

Max shrugged. "He brings up a good point, Miriya."

While maintaining her steely gaze on her compatriots, Miriya responded, "No, he misunderstands his position and the realities of what is going to happen. I will free your friends, Maximillian. You know some of what I capable of. These two know more. When I say I will free them, they know that there is precious little they or anyone else can do to stop me. That is the reality that they have forgotten."

Lon gasped, "You would kill everyone on Lord Breetai's ship?"

"I would if necessary, because I have vowed to rescue Maximillian's friends."

"She can do it too, brother," stated Pierce. "You know she can."

Lon hung his head in shame. "I do not want to betray Lord Breetai," he said miserably.

"You already have, Lon," snapped Miriya angrily.

Pierce sat down next to Lon and put his hand on Lon's shoulder. "She's right, you know. We betrayed Lord Breetai when we defected. We could have stayed and tried to convince him that the Micronians deserve to live. We could have asked him to let us go and live amongst them. Instead, we fled because we were afraid that he would kill us. What's more, we provided the Micronians the intel to repel Lord Breetai's attack on Zor's battleship. We are already traitors."

"You are a soldier, Lon," said Miriya. "Soldiers do not delude themselves with falsehoods to avoid responsibility. They must look at the reality of their situation and act accordingly. We have all sided with the Micronians. Until Lord Breetai stops his actions against them, he is our enemy."

Max reached out and tenderly grabbed Miriya's arm. "I think you made your point, Miriya. Don't rub it in."

"It's alright, Lieutenant Sterling," said Lon. "All she did was force us to accept the truth that we had been unwilling to admit to ourselves before now."

"So you will provide us the intel to rescue Maximillian's friends?" asked Miriya.

"Of course. You know us better than we know ourselves. You knew once you made it clear that you would be leading the rescue effort, we'd have no choice but to cooperate to minimize casualties."

Pierce chuckled. When Lon looked quizzically at him, he responded, "This is what Commander Hayes must have felt like when we asked her to do the same."

Lon blinked and then laughed a little himself. "You're right. I hadn't thought we'd ever be in her shoes. It's kind of uncomfortable."

"And she didn't hesitate."

"That's one hell of a woman," said Lon with genuine admiration.

"Now you can see why we want her back," said Max.

"Alright, Commander Parino, we're with you," declared Lon. "Lieutenant Sterling, would you please inform Captain Gloval that we'd like to start planning a rescue operation at his earliest convenience."

"I'd be happy to, Lon," said Max joyfully. "Thank you." He and Miriya took their leave then.

Within seconds of their departure, Bron woke up. "Oh wow! You won't believe this guys! I had the wildest dream that Miriya Parino came into our quarters and kissed Lieutenant Sterling!"

Lon and Pierce chortled heartily.

Several hours later, Rick Hunter was led from his cell to a conference room. The guards brought him before Captain Gloval. After Gloval dismissed the guards, Rick asked, "Not that I mind the early reprieve, Captain, but why have you let me out early?"

Captain Gloval smiled in response. "I think you learned your lesson in there. Am I wrong?"

Rick shook his head. "No sir! Thank you sir!"

"Relax, Lieutenant Hunter. A lot has happened in the two days you spent in the brig. It would take far too long to explain everything, but what you need to know is that the Zentradi defectors have agreed to provide the intel we need to help us find a way to rescue Commander Hayes and Bumblebee. I want you here to help us plan that rescue."

Rick stood rooted, dumbfounded at the news. "Is…is that true, sir? Are we really going to save Lisa?"

"I thought you might like that news." Gloval gestured to the conference table where most of the participants were already seated. Lon, Bron, and Pierce were seated on one side with a beautiful young woman with green hair that Rick didn't recognize. What seemed strange to Rick was that Max was sitting next to her as if he was part of the Zentradi delegation. On the opposite side sat Claudia, Major Kremmer, and Luiz Alvarez. Also joining them in the room were Jazz and Prowl. A vid screen showed Optimus Prime's face.

Before taking his seat, Rick marched over to Bron. The large spy stood up as he approached. "I want to apologize for the harsh words I used in our last meeting. I was wrong to say those things. What you and your compatriots did was very brave and I should never have implied that you were cowards." He held out his hand. "Can you forgive me?"

Bron took it eagerly and placed his other hand on Rick's shoulder. "Hey, I said some things I shouldn't have too. You were worried for your friend. I can understand that. Let's forget the whole thing ever happened."

"Thank you," said Rick appreciably. He then went back around the table and took his place.

"Now that everyone is here, let's discuss options for rescuing our captured comrades," said Captain Gloval.

"I first would like to start off by asking if this is an operation that we should divulge precious resources to," started Major Kremmer.

"What?" exclaimed Rick angrily.

"No offense, Lieutenant Hunter, but you know the extent of the injuries that Second Lieutenant Baker suffered while at the hands of the Zentradi and the Decepticons. There is a chance, a fairly strong one by my estimation, that Commander Hayes and Bumblebee have already been killed."

"That ain't true!" yelled Jazz.

"Jazz, settle down," admonished Prowl. "He brings up a good point. Even allied with the Humans and Zentradi defectors, we are few in number compared to our enemies."

"Exactly," agreed Major Kremmer. "I know how dear Commander Hayes and Bumblebee are to each and every one of us, but we have to consider whether we can risk assets we still desperately need to protect this ship to rescue two prisoners."

"So you want to give up on them?" asked Rick incredulously.

"Lieutenant Hunter," interjected Captain Gloval. "Major Kremmer is thinking of the whole picture, which we as protectors of the citizens of Macross City, have to do frequently."

"You're not thinking of just leaving them there, are you, Captain?"

"We are here to consider all possibilities. Major Kremmer has served under Admiral Hayes for a good portion of his career. He's known Commander Hayes for many years now, both personally and professionally, but he also knows what our duty is. We can't lose sight of that either."

"I guess that's going to make what we have to add that much harder to hear," said Lon remorsely. He pointed to the largest ship on the detail of the ship layouts on the conference table. "Your friends are being held on the flagship of Lord Breetai's fleet. It's the most advanced ship of the fleet. Sensors will detect anything coming close to it and it has many laser fortifications that can vaporize that object before it gets there. Asteroids, debris, fighters, anything. There's almost no way to sneak up on that ship undetected."

"We did it before," commented Rick.

"While the ship was in the middle of an asteroid field," responded Lon. "There were too many objects to keep track of and you slipped in."

"Meaning we'd have to lure that ship into another asteroid field," said Max.

"Or take the battle to them," interjected Pierce. "By engaging the fleet, a small strike team could infiltrate the ship in the resulting chaos of battle."

"To do that would put the entire ship at risk," stated Captain Gloval.

"Neither plan seems likely to produce results with acceptable losses," said Prowl.

"Results, Prowl? Acceptable losses? Is that what Bumblebee is to you?" asked Jazz.

"Jazz, please calm yourself," said Optimus Prime. "Prowl is voicing the concerns that must be aired. Can we risk everything to save two?"

"Bumblebee would do it for us," said Jazz.

"Not if I ordered him not to," answered Prime. "You know that."

"So that's just it? We give up on them?"

"Negative. Now we look for options."

"Alright!" whooped Jazz. "That's the Optimus I know!"

Despite Jazz's renewed enthusiasm though, the next few hours produced no viable plan that either Captain Gloval and Optimus Prime could accept. Captain Gloval called an end to the meeting since it was clear that progress was not being made. He gave a directive though to all in attendance to give the matter their full attention when they could.

Rick felt so frustrated, that he wanted to scream. Lisa and Bumblebee were in trouble and even with the full cooperation of their new allies, they couldn't figure out a way to rescue them. It was maddening how helpless he felt.

Max and the strange Zentradi female he noticed earlier approached him. "Hey, Rick," greeted Max.

"Hi, Max," responded Rick.

"How are you holding up?"

"Not well. It's driving me crazy that we know where our friends are and can't do anything to save them."

"I know, buddy."

"Do not despair, Micronian," said Miriya. "I have pledged my darling Maximillian that I will help you rescue your friends. Fear not, I will find a way."

Rick smiled. "I like the enthusiasm. Did she just call you 'darling', Max?"

Max blushed furiously. "Um yeah, Rick, I'd like you to meet my fiancé, Miriya Parino, Zentradi ace."

Rick's eyes nearly popped up in surprise. "Zentradi ace? Fiancé? You're going to marry a Zentradi?"

"That is what I meant when I introduced her as my fiancé."

"Um, congratulations, I guess." Rick pulled Max away from Miriya and whispered, "Buddy, are you sure about this?"

Max pointed at Miriya. "Look at her, Rick. She's beautiful!"

Rick looked over Miriya. "Ok, she's very pretty. I'll grant you that, but are you really sure about this?"

"For the last time, yes! There is no one I'd trust more with my life than her! She is everything to me! She and I are destined for one another and we've been drawn together because we are soul mates! I feel this with every fiber of my being! We complete each other!"

Rick was taken aback by the passion shown by his best friend. He had never seen him like this. He realized that Max meant every word. What's more, he could see it in Miriya's eyes when she gazed at Max. Everything Max said was equally felt by her. They were truly in love. He started to laugh enthusiastically.

Max looked at Rick quizzically. "Are you going mental on me, Rick?"

Rick threw his arms around Max and Miriya's shoulders, drawing them close to him. "Not yet, pal! You're really in love with each other, aren't you?"

"I adore Maximillian as he does me," answered Miriya.

"Well then, who am I to say otherwise?" yelled Rick, laughing wildly. "My best friend's getting hitched! Woooo!"

"Excuse me," interrupted Lon, whom had wandered over toward them. "I heard you say that Lieutenant Sterling and Miriya Parino are going to be married. Can you explain to me what that means?"

"Sure," said Rick enthusiastically. "It means that these two lovebirds are going to join together as one!"

"Join together? You mean literally?"

Max chortled. "No, it's not like that. Marriage is a sacred tradition amongst our people where a man and a woman agree to love one another for the rest of their lives together. It's more of a joining of two spirits or two lives together."

"A joining of two lives, huh?" Suddenly, Lon grinned brightly. "So, it's like an alliance, the formation of a whole of what used to be separate parts."

"Give the man a cigar! I think he's got it!" joked Rick.

"That's it!" yelled Lon.

"What is?" asked Max.

"The answer we've been seeking. I know how we can distract the Zentradi fleet and plead for peace, all at the same time."

Rick and Max's jaws dropped. Then, they glanced at each other and grinned as goofily as Lon had. "That's such a crazy idea, it just might work," stated Max.

"I'll go get the Captain," yelled Rick, happily sprinting away.

"Do you really think that could work?" asked Miriya.

Max pulled in her tightly and kissed her fiercely. "Even if it doesn't, wouldn't it be fun to introduce the entire Zentradi fleet to Mrs. Maximillian Sterling?"

Miriya kissed him back. "If you're going to kiss me like that, it definitely would, Mr. Miriya Parino."

Chapter 20

"Quit squirming, will you?" said Cosmos.

"I can't help it," replied Jazz, stooped over trying to get comfortable in the small cockpit space of Cosmos' spacecraft form. "It's cramped in here."

"Apologies for not being as spacious as Omega Supreme," remarked Cosmos irritably. "Need I remind you that you begged to be on this mission?"

"I thought I'd at least be able to stand up in here. I don't like having to hunch over."

"So sit down."

"I don't want to," said Jazz. "I'm too restless."

Rick shook his head as he and Pierce listened in to their conversation from the cockpit of his veritech. He and Cosmos were parked just outside of detector range of the Zentradi fleet's sensors. "Is Jazz always like this before a mission?"

"Pretty much," replied Blaster, his radio mode sitting in Pierce's lap. "Though the real problem here is that Jazz likes to move and be free. Don't worry though, when the mission starts, there's no one better at beating the odds than him."

"Good to know," replied Rick. "We'll need all the luck we can get. This operation already has too many factors that can go south for us."

"It is the only plan that we could think of that even has a chance of success," interjected Pierce.

Rick sighed. "At least some chance is better than no chance."

"Don't worry, Rick. We'll rescue Lisa and Bumblebee. You'll see," reassured Blaster.

Rick's steely gaze watched the Zentradi fleet determinedly. "Yes we will," he said resolutely.

"Better get ready, guys," said Cosmos. "The SDF-1 is transmitting to the Zentradi fleet now."

"Good," replied Jazz. "That means we can go."

"Not yet," replied Rick. "Let's let the Zentradi get focused on the ceremony first. We want as many of them looking away from their sensors as possible before we fly in."

"Is this plan really going to work?" asked Cosmos. "We're both fast and maneuverable, but if they detect us, there isn't much we'll be able to do to avoid capture or destruction."

"It should work, Cosmos," answered Pierce. "Human culture is highly shocking to the Zentradi."

"That's been my experience as well," added Rick.

"But don't the Zentradi get used to culture after a while the way the Zentradi who have defected have? It seems some of your people have been studying us for a while?" asked Blaster.

"True," replied Pierce, "but every time we saw something unexpected, it would frighten us tremendously. I can recall so many things that scared us at first: Lieutenant Hunter kissing Commander Hayes, Minmei's singing, the man who can kill giants by shooting lightning from his hands…"

"Wait, the what?" asked Rick as Jazz and Blaster simultaneously asked, "Wait, Rick kissed who?"

"You dog!" accused Jazz. "I never knew you and Lisa were a couple."

"We're not a couple," snapped Rick defensively. "I was ordered to kiss her."

"You mean women can order men to do this?" asked Pierce in a shocked voice.

"No!" said Rick reflexively. "It's just that time. We were prisoners and your superior officers had demanded Lisa kiss somebody. She chose me. That's all there is to the story."

Blaster whistled. "I know she has it bad for you, but I never knew she actually managed to get you to kiss her."

"That's right, Lisa and I are just…," Rick paused, the meaning of Blaster's statement reaching his brain just at that second. "What do you mean 'she has it bad for me'?"

"Hey, guys," interrupted Cosmos. "Is this really the time?"

"You're right, Cosmos," said Rick. "Get ready, everyone." Rick looked down at the video screen showing the live feed being broadcast to the Zentradi fleet. Hang in there Lisa! We're coming to rescue you.

Khyron strode confidently onto Breetai's bridge. When he was before Breetai, he saluted sharply. Breetai nodded in acknowledge. "Lord Breetai, thank you for granting me this audience," said Khyron.

"I trust you will not waste my time, Khyron," replied Breetai.

"No sir. We need to discuss the recent defection of Zentradi to Zor's battleship. The morale of the Zentradi soldiers is falling every day with the stories being told around the fleet. Despite all my efforts to root out the ones spreading the rumors, I have only managed to capture a handful of the Zentradi responsible for this seditious talk."

Breetai cursed.

"Once again, the power of the Micronians continues to vex us," remarked Exedore.

"The power of the Micronians?" exclaimed Khyron incredulously. "The Micronians have no great power. I could have eliminated them all months ago if you had let me."

"You know full well that you would have damaged Zor's battleship in the process," snapped Breetai. "We need that ship functional for the war with the Invid."

"The Robotech Masters can repair any collateral damage to the ship. We need to eliminate the Micronians. It's outrageous that we have not already crushed them under our heel."

Breetai glowered at Khyron. "Are you positive the Masters can repair the ship? Zor was the genius of their kind. None of the other Masters even understand half of Zor's accomplishments. It would take longer for them to repair the battleship than it would for us to capture it intact."

"Can you not see what is happening amongst our crews, Breetai? The Micronians are using the power of their culture to infect the Zentradi. We have already lost some of the weaker willed Zentradi. Others are spreading any news of the Micronians amongst their comrades. This is dangerous. We must destroy them before they can affect us all!"

"Sir, we are receiving a signal from Zor's battleship," reported a communications officer. "The message is coming to us in Zentradi."

"Put it on the screen," ordered Breetai.

An image of Lon appeared on the screen. "My brothers, we are broadcasting this message on all Zentradi and Micronian frequencies in the hopes that all of you might hear our message. We wish to bring an end to the conflict between us and the Micronians."

"Treachery!" yelled Khyron. "Turn this image off. There is nothing this traitor can say that we want to hear."

"Belay that!" ordered Breetai.

"What?" bellowed Khyron.

"That is Lon, one of our former spies," replied Exedore. "Obviously, the Micronians wish for him to speak directly to us."

"And why should we listen?" asked Khyron.

"Think, Khyron," said Breetai. "Lon has informed us that this is being transmitted on all frequencies. Every Zentradi near a screen will be watching this. We need to know what he will tell them."

Khyron waved his hand dismissively. "I don't care what that traitor has to say, and you should not either. Jam all incoming transmissions. Protect your soldiers from this traitor's lies."

Lon continued speaking then. "To genuinely demonstrate the nature of our declaration, we invite you to share in the celebration of the marriage between Miriya Parino and Maximillian Sterling. Please enjoy!"

Breetai turned to Exedore. "Did he just mention Miriya Parino?"

Exedore nodded. "Yes, my liege. It seems Miriya is either a prisoner or has joined the ranks of those whom have joined the Micronians."

"Impossible!" declared Khyron. "He's bluffing. Miriya would never allow herself to be captured. It's a trick! It has to be!"

"Let the Micronians continue to broadcast this signal," ordered Breetai. "We must find out what has happened to her."

"Yes, Lord Breetai," answered the communications officer.

The gathered officers on the bridge then started rapturously watching the ceremonial proceedings outside the SDF-1 begin.

"Hey!" yelled Rumble to a group of Zentradi watching the wedding proceedings on a vid screen. "Buzzsaw requests that one of you go down and bring the prisoners to him. He's got more questions for them."

The Zentradi didn't even bother to look away from the screen as he answered. "Go get them yourself, small one. We're busy," answered one of the larger Zentradi.

"Wait, did you just order me to do your job?" asked Rumble.

The big Zentradi turned away from the screen in irritation. "I take my orders from Lord Breetai. You are the interrogator's errand robot. If you want the prisoners, I suggest you get orders from Lord Breetai for me, or get the prisoners yourself. I don't care which. I'm busy." He returned to watching the video screen.

Rumble was stunned at being spoken to in that matter. He considered showing the big bruiser the business end of his pile drivers, but Megatron had specifically ordered his troops to not start any fights with the Zentradi until he gave the order. In fact, Megatron had looked at Rumble directly and threatened to rip his arms off personally if he disobeyed that order. Steamed, the small robot stomped out of the guard room and headed down towards the prisoner cells.

"Of all the lousy, rotten developments…" he grumbled. "I can't believe that stupid fleshling talked like that to me. Me! I outta rip his head off for that."

Rumble grinned at that thought. "Yeah, I'm going to rip his head off, once Megatron gives the order to end this stupid alliance. Enjoy your time feeling smug, you jerk. You're on Rumble's list now." Rumble stopped in front of the cell door that held Bumblebee. He flew up and turned the lock on the door and started to open it. "And Rumble always pays back…"

The squeal of tires of the only warning he got, as the door suddenly was flung open by a force from inside the cell. The momentum of the door carried Rumble backwards and slammed him against the metal walls of the corridor. Rumble fell down, dazed from the impact, and landed hard on the deck. He barely was able to register a yellow vehicle transforming into a robot before that robot punched him into stasis.

Bumblebee rubbed his knuckles gingerly. "I can't believe that worked."

"Bumblebee?" asked Lisa weakly from her cell. "Is that you out there?"

"Sure is," replied the Autobot happily. "I'm free. Hold on, let me get you out now." He jumped up to grab the keys from his cell door, swung over to the door handle on Lisa's cell door, and opened it.

Lisa looked up and grimaced as her eyes tried to adjust to the sudden increase of light coming in from the hallway. Bumblebee gasped as he saw her. He knew from talking with her that Buzzsaw had tortured her mercilessly. The reality was worse than he imagined. Lisa's uniform was sliced in numerous locations, exposing the cuts and burns caused by the sadistic Decepticon. There were gaps in Lisa's scalp that appeared to be where Buzzsaw pulled her hair out. Lisa couldn't even stand, as the bones in her left leg were snapped in several locations.

"By Primus, Lisa, I'm so sorry," whispered Bumblebee.

"Enough of that," rasped Lisa. "We have a window of opportunity. Let's get the hell out of here."

"Right," responded Bumblebee, transforming into his vehicle mode and opening the door for Lisa.

Lisa crawled toward the open door as quickly as she could, trying to ignore the agony of the snapped bones in her leg rubbing together due to the lack of materials to make a splint and set them. Bad as it was though, she knew Buzzsaw would hurt her even worse if she didn't escape. She had to get away from him.

Bumblebee silently watched as Lisa pulled herself into his interior. He wished there was something he could do to relieve Lisa's pain now, but he knew the only way to really help her was to get her the medical attention she needed. All he had to do was figure out how. When she finally managed to pull herself all the way in, Bumblebee wrapped her in seatbelts as gingerly as he could. Lisa sighed in thanks.

"Any ideas where to go from here, Commander?" asked Bumblebee.

"Afraid not," replied Lisa. "We had help from Max last time and I never really got a chance to get our bearings. I never thought I'd be back."

"Rumble came from the left, so it's probably a safe bet heading right."

"Can't argue with that. Let's go."

Bumblebee started driving slowly down the hall, equally not wanting to draw attention to himself and jostle Lisa. Every small bump brought out a sob from Lisa. Bumblebee's heart broke each time he heard that sound. The sounds steeled his resolve to get Lisa to safety, no matter what it took. After that, he'd then throw his entire effort into destroying the Decepticons once and for all. They were going to pay for what they did to Lisa.

"There!" said Pierce, pointing to an airlock on the Zentradi flagship. "That's the airlock closest to the prison level."

Rick shifted his veritech from jet mode to battloid mode and gently guided it in until it was able to grasp a hand hold next to the airlock.

Pierce quickly draw a sequence of symbols on a notepad and showed it to Rick. "Enter this sequence into the airlock control. The code is likely unchanged."

"I hope so," remarked Rick. "It would be a shame to get this far without raising any suspicion and have to start making noise now." He deftly maneuvered the fingers of his mech to enter in the code Pierce gave him. The airlock door opened. "Alright, we're in."

Rick entered first while Cosmos opened his hatch to allow Jazz to climb out. Rick quickly surveyed the interior of the airlock and signaled to the others that it was clear of Zentradi. Jazz and Cosmos entered, Cosmos transforming on the way in and closing the airlock door behind him. Once sealed, the airlock automatic controls began to pump in breathable air.

Once the air in the small compartment was breathable to Rick and Pierce, Rick converted his veritech to guardian mode and opened the canopy.

"We've reached our destination guys, time to come out," said Blaster. In response, four cassette tapes popped out of Blaster's cassette compartment of his radio mode and transformed into Blaster's team of minibots: Steeljaw, Eject, Rewind, and Ramhorn.

"Team's ready to play, coach," stated Eject. "What's the call?"

"Eject, Rewind, and Ramhorn are staying here with Cosmos to guard our exit. Steeljaw is to come with the rest of us to act as our advanced scout. Maintain radio silence unless you are discovered."

"Good game plan, boss. Hopefully, we'll score before the other team even realizes they fumbled the ball."

"That's the idea."

Steeljaw sniffed around the door that led to the interior of the ship. He purred softly.

"Steeljaw isn't detecting any guards beyond the door," reported Blaster, transforming to his robot form.

Rick closed the canopy and transformed his veritech back to battloid mode. He and the rest of the infiltration team tensed, ready to fire as Jazz opened the door. Steeljaw slowly peered out and looked around. He purred again.

"It's clear," said Blaster. "Which way, Pierce?"

"Head left," said the Zentradi defector. "At the first intersection, turn right."

"Ok, here's how we do this," stated Jazz authoritatively. "Steeljaw, you run ahead of us and check the rooms and intersections for Zentradi. Stay in sight of us at all times. We're deep in enemy territory, so we stay together. Blaster, you're next, then Rick, then me. We do this slow and quiet. If Steeljaw spots Zentradi wandering the halls, we try to hide. The margin of success for this mission decreases dramatically if the Zentradi find out we're here. Clear?"

The others nodded their agreement.

"Alright then, let's go," ordered Jazz.

Khyron was infuriated at the images he was seeing. He had expected to see the Micronians give Miriya Parino a warrior's death fitting for a Meltran of her stature. Instead, they seemed to be honoring her and equating her with the blue haired Micronian she flew in on one of the Micronians' fighter craft. Of course, he recognized the fighter as that belonging to Micronian ace that had killed so many Zentran and Meltran pilots. Could it be that they actually intended to show their superiority to the Zentradi by making Miriya submit to the Micronian whom bested her in combat? If that was the case, why then did Miriya looked so pleased? Had the Micronians brainwashed her so completely? It made no sense whatsoever.

Breetai and Exedore were equally perplexed at the images, as well as the commentary from Lon, whom was eagerly reporting his feelings on the ceremony.

"What we are witnessing is an unprecedented event in the history of the Zentradi, the union of a Meltran with a Human. It is not only the joining of two people, but a symbolic gesture of what is possible for all of us."

Breetai turned to Exedore. "What could he possibly mean by union?"

Exedore shrugged. "I am just as bewildered on this situation as you, Lord Breetai. It could be something similar to how the Robotech Masters form a triumvirate. However, nothing we have seen of the Micronians suggests they have the capability of melding with other members of their race. It is quite a puzzle."

They continued watching as the blue hued fighter landed. The cockpit canopy opened, allowing Max and Miriya to disembark. Max was wearing an all white tuxedo with a light blue cummerbund and bow tie. Miriya was dressed in a dazzling all white wedding gown, her long green hair covered by a thin white veil.

"Oh my!" gushed Lon on the video feed. "Look at the bride everyone! Doesn't she look beautiful?"

Every member of the crew on Breetai's bridge couldn't move. They were transfixed by the sight of Miriya in her wedding dress.

Finally, Breetai managed to whisper, "She…she looks…so…"

"Regal," breathed Khyron, finishing the sentence.

"Yes, this is moment I will always remember, my brothers," reported Lon. "What an exceptional beauty is our Meltran ace. Maximillian is a fortunate man to be marrying such an exquisite beauty."

"What is this marrying and marriage he keeps mentioning?" asked Breetai.

"I do not know, my Lord," answered Exedore. "I can't seem to recall anything I have learned on the Micronians at the moment."

Khyron seemed to shake himself out of the collective trance that gripped the gathered crew. "What did you say?"

"I am having a hard time focusing my thoughts."

Khyron grabbed Breetai and shook him. "Can't you see what is happening? This is a Micronian trick!" Breetai didn't even look down at Khyron. It was unsettling. How could the Micronians manage such a trick. "Lord Breetai!" yelled Khyron, shaking the Zentradi commander.

That seemed to do it. Breetai started shaking his head and turned away from the screen. "What?"

"Lord Breetai, you have to order a full strike on the Micronians now! They are trying to turn us the way they turned the defectors! You have to see how dangerous this is! Destroy them before they infect us all!"

Breetai shook his head. "Our orders," he mumbled weakly. "We have to retrieve the battleship."

"Damn the battleship! We're in danger of losing the whole fleet!"

"Lord Breetai!" yelled a crewman on the bridge. "Look!"

Breetai and Khyron both looked. Miriya had her arms tightly around Max's head, pulling him eagerly to her as she passionately kissed him.

"The mating ritual!" screamed Exedore in fright. "The Micronians have convinced Miriya to mate with one of them!"

A chill went up Breetai's spine. It was impossible. It had to be. Miriya was one of the toughest Meltran ever produced. He looked around his bridge. Everyone was astounded at the image of the toughest Meltran ever produced kissing a Micronian. "If they can infect Miriya Parino…"

"Then they can infect any one of us," finished Exedore. "The power of their culture is frightening."

"We can't let them live! They'll destroy us!" urged Khyron.

"Aye," agreed Breetai. "You have finally convinced me of the threat they truly are, Khyron. Sound the attack order! All ships, engage and destroy Zor's battleship!"

"But Lord Breetai…," objected one of Breetai's officers.

Khyron shoved him aside and turned on the interfleet comm. "Move, fool! This is an attack order to all ships! Destroy Zor's battleship! I repeat, Destroy Zor's battleship! Kill the Micronians! Kill them all!"

Chapter 21

Bumblebee was in the middle of a long Zentradi hallway when the alert sounded. "Uh oh, it looks like they've discovered we've escaped."

"Try to find some place to hide," ordered Lisa.

Just then a Zentradi soldier opened a door and started running towards them.

"Too late now," yelled Bumblebee, gunning his engines and charging the lone soldier.

"What the…?" was all the soldier managed to say before Bumblebee zoomed past him. At the next intersection, Bumblebee took a hard right turn, his tires squealing from the forceful sudden turn.

"Ow ow ow ow ow ow!" yelped Lisa, being jostled painfully in the sudden movements.

"I'm so sorry," apologized Bumblebee.

"I can deal with it," grunted Lisa. "Get us out of here!"

Bumblebee suddenly sped into a large storage room with many boxes stacked unevenly throughout the room. He quickly found a mound of what looked like mangled battlepod parts and parked behind it. "Are you ok, Lisa?"

Lisa moaned in agony. "I'm…fine," she said weakly. "It's preferable to torture. I know you're not trying to hurt me."

"Well hopefully we lost that Zentradi…," Bumblebee started to say before they heard footsteps of a Zentradi running towards the room where they were hidden. "Scrap! So much for that idea."

Lisa braced herself as best she could in Bumblebee's interior. "I'm ready this time. Do what you must to get us out of here."

"Ok, but I don't like it." He prepared to start his engines.

"You there!" barked a Zentradi. "What are you doing?"

"I saw something suspicious, deck officer," replied another Zentradi voice. "It looked like a Micronian vehicle, sir. I believe it came down…"

"I don't care what you think you saw. We have an attack order from the Commander. Get to your battlepod and launch!"

"Yes sir!"

Bumblebee and Lisa both listened to the sounds of a pair of Zentradi running away from them and sighed in relief.

"What was that about an attack order?" asked Bumblebee, after translating the conversation they overheard to her.

"They must be attacking the SDF-1 again," answered Lisa. "That's good luck for us. There will be fewer Zentradi on board."

"But fewer ships to borrow."

"All we need is one."

"Shall we move on then?"

Lisa shook her head in the negative gesture. "Not just yet. Let's grant the Zentradi a few moments to allow them to deploy."

"And you can use a little bit of rest too, right?" asked Bumblebee

Lisa giggled. "You're getting better at reading in between the lines," she complimented.

"Thanks," beamed the young Autobot brightly. "I had some good teachers. Rest now. I'll watch for trouble."

Lisa gently stroked the steering wheel. "My hero," she said softly, relaxing her body to rest before they would need to move once more.

Jazz, Blaster, Steeljaw, and Rick in his battloid hunkered down in a prison cell as the alarms blared. Jazz held the cell door slightly ajar and was peeking out into the hallway to see if anyone was coming.

"Can you tell what's going on, Pierce?" asked Rick to his Zentradi passenger.

"The announcement was an order to destroy Zor's battleship," replied Pierce.

"They're attacking the SDF-1 now? Why would they do that?"

Pierce shrugged. "I haven't the slightest idea."

Jazz relaxed a little, though he maintained a watch through the door. "Ok, so it means they haven't discovered we're on board yet."

Blaster nodded in agreement and pointed to the unconscious body of Rumble that they had dragged in from the hallway. "Unfortunately, it seems our little buddy chose this moment to bust himself and Commander Hayes out. Pretty gutsy when you think about it. I didn't know the little guy had it in him."

"And that's why he always surprises the enemy. No one sees how resourceful he actually is," said Jazz.

Steeljaw growled in agreement.

Blaster looked down, surprised at his subordinate's appraisal. "I didn't know you were a fan, Steeljaw."

Steeljaw snarled, annoyed at Blaster.

"I assume that means 'we don't have time for this now'?" asked Jazz.

"Um, yeah," replied Blaster sheepishly.

"I wish we could get a quick message to our back-up and tell them to stay put. I don't dare break radio silence though until absolutely necessary."

"I have an idea," said Rick. He started tapping a series of short bursts on his communication screen.

"What's that?" asked Pierce.

"Morse code," answered Rick. "I just recalled that Lt. Alvarez told me he was going to try to teach Cosmos morse code. Let's hope he got around to it."

Just then a series of bleeps answered back.

"Well, good job, Luiz," complimented Rick. "Cosmos reports that they are still hidden and holding steady."

"Good," said Jazz. "Tell them to stay ready. The whole ship is on alert now. This just got a lot more interesting."

"You and I have a different definition of interesting," muttered Pierce.

Jazz ignored the comment and turned to Blaster "Does Steeljaw have their scent?"

"Yes," replied Blaster. "He also says their scent is still pretty strong. They were just here not 10 clicks ago."

Jazz peeked out the door one last time. "Ok, coast is clear, let's move out."

"Soundwave, report!" barked Megatron.

"The Zentradi are launching a full scale assault on the fleshling battleship," replied the communications officer. "Their orders are destruction of ship and termination of passengers."

"What? Why would they order that? They want that ship as badly as we do."

"Unknown. Zentradi communications are in complete disarray. A significant portion of the fleet is refusing to launch. Breetai has ordered the elimination of any Zentradi who fail to follow orders. This order too is being rejected by a large number of the crew."

"So, Breetai has lost control of his fleet," said Megatron thoughtfully. "This could be the perfect time for us to remove him from power."

"The timing seems optimum, Lord Megatron," agreed Soundwave.

"Have Starscream contact our agent, the time to execute our plan is now."

"As you command, Lord Megatron."

"This is all your fault!" bellowed Khyron at Breetai.

Exedore looked disapprovingly at Khyron. "Have a care, Khyron," he warned.

Breetai put out his hand to silence the advisor. "No, let him speak," he calmly said.

"I warned you that this was a Micronian trick," accused Khyron. "No one here can deny that."

"No one is denying anything, Khyron."

"Yet you allowed them to poison our fleet with their disgusting culture." Khyron pointed to the screens showing battlepods being blasted by veritech fighters. "Now look at what is happening. Less than half our fighters have deployed and those that have are so demoralized by what they have witnessed, they are being overrun by the enemy. We are losing!"

Breetai turned away from Khyron and looked at his crew. They were watching him closely, unsure of their course for the first time that Breetai could ever think of. He bowed his head. "We aren't losing, Khyron. We have lost."

"Wh…what?" stuttered Khyron in shock.

"Look at the screen," said Exedore.

Khyron took a closer look at the fighting happening on the screen. "It can't be," he whispered. The Micronian fighters were deftly outmaneuvering the Zentradi battlepods and disabling them with precision shots to each pod's power regulator. The implications of the act numbed Khyron. Only Miriya Parino could have revealed this weakness to the Micronians, but the fact that the Micronians could exploit it so effectively meant they truly had beaten the Zentradi. "How… how could this have happened?"

"We underestimated them," answered Breetai. "I underestimated them. The fault lies with me alone." He turned to Exedore. "Order our troops back. This fight is over."

"No," said Khyron fearfully. "Lord Dolza will see us as contaminated. He'll order the fleet to incinerate the system. We'll be destroyed."

"Yes," said Breetai stoically. "Dolza will have no choice but to try and kill us."

"We must ally ourselves with the Micronians," added Exedore. "It's our only chance of survival."

"No," said Khyron defiantly. "I'll not fight with them."

"We have no other option to survive, Khyron," said Breetai.

"We can run."

"You'll be hunted. Dolza won't rest until you're dead."

"At least I will outlive you, Breetai," spat Khyron. He turned and left the bridge.

"Lord Breetai, is it wise to just let Khyron go?" asked Exedore.

"I never wanted to rely on his help regardless," answered Breetai.

Exedore nodded in agreement. "Then let us now plan our next move."

Bumblebee wheeled cautiously down a seemingly abandoned hallway of the Zentradi battleship. Though he and Lisa had managed to remain undiscovered by any more Zentradi, they were also very much lost. No matter where they turned, they were unsuccessful in finding anything that even remotely looked like a shuttle bay.

"Where can it be?" said Bumblebee in exasperation.

"Don't lose hope, Bumblebee," said Lisa soothingly. "It's a big ship. We'll find something eventually. The important part is that we're still free."

Bumblebee sighed. "You're right. I just wish I could tell how close or far we are. These hallways all look the same. It's hard to tell which way to go."

"As long as we're moving away from our cell, it's a vast improvement."

Suddenly, they heard a screech of outrage behind them. Bumblebee trained his sensors behind him to reveal Buzzsaw zooming down the corridor towards them. They had been discovered.

"Scrap!" cursed Bumblebee, gunning his engine and taking off as fast as he could. Lisa groaned loudly at the sudden inertial change, but the look on her face confirmed to Bumblebee her desire that they escape capture at any cost.

Despite Bumblebee's best efforts though, Buzzsaw easily maintained pursuit of the pair, firing his lasers on occasion to force Bumblebee to juke wildly in the direction he desired his prey to run. Less than a minute into the pursuit, the Decepticon managed to corrale the escaped prisoners into a dead end. Buzzsaw screeched in triumph as he hovered before the trapped duo, his eyes glowing to shoot them if they attempted to run again.

"Transform, Bumblebee," ordered Lisa. "Fight him."

"I can't!" said Bumblebee hopelessly. "You're still within me. The transformation process would crush your body."

"Fortunately, I don't have that problem," declared a voice Lisa had never been more glad to hear.

Buzzsaw whirled around to see who had said that just in time to see a large metal fist coming straight at him. The surprise was total, as Rick's battloid had rocketed the distance between him and Buzzsaw faster than the Decepticon could react. With a powerful right hook, the battloid smacked the Decepticon condor loudly from the air and sent it flying uncontrollably into the wall.

"Rick Hunter, is that you?" asked Bumblebee, surprised at his sudden appearance.

"Sure is, Bumblebee," replied the pilot happily. His battloid gestured down the hallway where Bumblebee could see Jazz, Blaster, and Steeljaw running up to them. "I brought some friends with me. We're here to rescue you."

"Jazz! Blaster! Steeljaw!" exclaimed Bumblebee happily. "Am I glad to see you guys!"

"We finally managed to track you guys down," said Jazz. "Your escape attempt threw a real monkey wrench in our rescue operation."

"Sorry, guys," said Bumblebee, suddenly chagrined at the prospect of causing his comrades extra trouble.

Jazz smiled. "Don't worry about it. We're just glad we were able to get to you in time."

"Where's Lisa?" asked Rick.

Lisa slowly pulled herself up. "Right here," she replied in a raspy voice.

The assembled group grasped when they saw Lisa's condition. Steeljaw started to growl angrily.

"Who did this to you?" demanded Rick.

Lisa pointed slowly to the stunned Decepticon lying in a heap at the end of the hallway. "That's the creep who did this to me."

Buzzsaw squawked in protest.

Rick didn't hesitate. He guided his battloid over to the downed Decepticon, slammed the barrel of its gun pod against Buzzsaw's head, and pulled the trigger. Buzzsaw's body twitched for several seconds, not yet recognizing the sudden loss of its head.

"Whoa," said Jazz. "That was hardcore."

"Do you disagree with my decision?" asked Rick.

"I don't," said Bumblebee angrily. "He deserved it."

"Guys, sorry to interrupt," interjected Blaster, "but you should know that Buzzsaw managed to broadcast a panicked plea for help."

"Do you mean…?" asked Jazz.

"Yeah, the Decepticons likely know we're here. We have to get out of here. Now."

Khyron walked urgently down the hall towards the docking bay where his shuttle was parked.

Starscream suddenly rounded the corner and smiled as he saw him. "Ah, Khyron, good. We have decided that now is the time to make our move and place you at the head of the Zentradi fleet."

Khyron shoved Starscream aside. "Out of my way, fool, I have no time for this now."

Starscream stood rooted in shock for a moment before running up to catch Khyron by the shoulder and spun him around. "What are you doing? This is the moment we've been waiting for. You can get rid of Breetai and rule this fleet as you rightfully should have all along."

Khyron roughly shoved Starscream's hand off of him. "That doesn't matter now. This fleet is doomed. The only thing I can do now is escape before Dolza comes and blows us all to atoms. Now leave me alone."

"What are you talking about?"

"The contamination! Dolza is going to destroy this fleet because we have lost our will to fight the Micronians. Dolza will incinerate this entire solar system to eliminate the source of the contamination, and those who have been contaminated. I have no time to waste. Surely now, an agent of Dolza is sending a report to him about the state of our fleet. So stay here and take over the fleet if you wish. You won't survive the purge that is coming." With that, Khyron turned and walked away, leaving a dazed Starscream behind.

Starscream turned on his communicator. "Lord Megatron, I think we have a major problem."

"Report," commanded Megatron.

"Khyron isn't going to help us."

"What? You said he was willing to aid us."

"He was, but something has him scared. He was rambling about a contamination that will cause their leader, Dolza, to lead his fleet here and destroy everything in the entire solar system. He's running before they get here."

"I don't understand. What does he mean…"

"Megatron," interrupted Soundwave. "Buzzsaw has been terminated."


"Buzzsaw sent message that Autobots are here. The transmission ended abruptly. Violently," said the communications officer angrily. "His spark has gone offline."

Starscream heard the sound of Megatron slamming his fist into a wall. "Blast it!" screamed the Decepticon leader. "The Autobots will pay for this insult! Soundwave! Alert the others! I want every Decepticon hunting down those miserable Autobots now!"

Starscream smiled. With the current chaos of the Zentradi and now the sudden arrival of the Autobots, Megatron was severely distracted. Could this the opportunity he had been seeking to depose Megatron once and for all? Yes, let the others seek out the Autobots. He would wait in the shadows, watching, waiting patiently for the perfect opportunity to strike.

Chapter 22

Jazz sped down a corridor in his Porche 911 form, followed closely by Bumblebee still in his Volkswagon beetle mode, and Rick Hunter's fighter now in its guardian mode. Steeljaw ran alongside Bumblebee, easily keeping pace with the others.

"Shouldn't we call for Cosmos?" asked Blaster, sitting in Jazz's passenger seat in his radio mode.

"Not yet," replied Jazz. "I'd rather not broadcast to the Decepticons our position until absolutely necessary."

"Hey!" yelled a voice from behind them. "There they are!" A volley of laser fire followed the pronouncement, causing the group to juke wildly to avoid being hit.

"Rick, swap places and catch Blaster as you pass," ordered Jazz. He spun in place and popped open his doors.

"Roger," responded Rick, causing his veritech to hop over the speeding Bumblebee and zoom past Jazz. As Rick was racing past Jazz, Blaster ejected himself out of Jazz's open door and was caught deftly by the outstretched hand of Rick's veritech. "What are you doing?" asked Rick.

"Something I've wanted to try since Wheeljack installed this a few weeks back," replied Jazz as Bumblebee went past him. Jazz popped open his trunk and swung out two enormous speakers. "Let's groove, baby!" he yelled as decibels of loud music pounded down the corridor.

The effect on the two Decepticons, whom Jazz recognized as Thrust and Ramjet, was immediate. They clasped their hands over their audible sensors, the intense decibels levels of the music being broadcast from Jazz's oversized speaker units causing them pain.

Rick fired a quick burst from his gun pod at the distracted Decepticons. The combined annoyance of the loud music and bullets forced the two Decepticons to retreat down the corridor around the nearest corner.

Jazz slid the speaker units back into his trunk. "That worked better that I thought it would."

"But I'm pretty sure the Decepticons know where we are now," said Blaster. "One of those creeps was Thrust. He'd never attack unless others were close behind."

Almost prophetically, Laserbeak banked around the corner that Thrust and Ramjet has just taken refuge down and fired his lasers at them.

Jazz wildly reversed himself to avoid the shots and spun around. "Let's go!" he barked, tires squealing as he accelerated as quickly as he could. "Cosmos, this is Jazz, come in!"

"Cosmos here," replied the scout.

"We've got Decepticon heat coming down on us hard. Is there any way you can come to us?"

"My sensors show you are pretty deep within the ship. Near as I can tell, the air lock we came in is your faster route off the ship."

"I'm afraid I must concur with Cosmos' assessment," agreed Pierce. "There aren't any closer airlocks or shuttle bays to this location."

"Well then it's a good thing that I love a race," said Jazz. He lifted the wheels on his right side to avoid another volley from Laserbeak. "Tag, on the other hand, is a game I don't always like."

Steeljaw snarled in agreement and ran harder towards Rick's veritech. When he got close enough, he bound up onto the speeding guardian.

"Hey, watch it!" protested Rick, fighting to keep his veritech flying straight from the sudden weight increase.

Steeljaw whined an apology as he turned to face the pursuing Decepticon. He carefully aimed his side mounted wing guns and fired a few short bursts of his own.

Laserbeak deftly avoided the fire from the winged lion, but the counter fire was preventing the Decepticon condor to get a bead on the Autobots he was pursuing.

"Nice work, Steeljaw," complimented Jazz. "That's a creative way to cover our retreat."

The chase continued for several more corridors until Rick saw a forked intersection up ahead. "Which way, Pierce?" he asked.

Before the Zentradi could answer though, a shape suddenly materialized in the rightward path. Rick needed only a second of observing the black winged robot with purple and silver highlights to recognize Skywarp before shooting a few bursts sending the Decepticon diving for cover. Rick, satisfied that the threat was temporarily subdued, led the group on the leftward path.

"Um, Rick," said Pierce hesitantly.

"Don't tell me. We should have gone right?"

Pierce nodded.

Rick sighed. "Well we can't go back now. Can we still make it to Cosmos?"

"Not any time soon. I think we're heading deeper into the ship."

As if to illustrate that fact, the group sped into a large room with a myriad of mechanical machinery all around the room. Rick took a quick second to marvel at the giant gears, belts, pistons, and arm bars moving in rhythmic motion as they performed duties Rick couldn't even begin to guess at. The dimensions of the room were almost staggering. I haven't felt this small since the time Minmei and I got lost on the SDF-1, thought Rick. The sudden increase of space provided Rick an ample opportunity though. "I'm going to head up and get a bird's eye view of this room," he reported.

"Good idea," remarked Jazz. "Stay in sight of us though. See if you can find a way to shake our pursuers and get out of here."

"Roger," replied Rick, boosting the jets located in his veritech's feet to lift it above the machines his friends were driving through. It proved to be a nearly fatal mistake.

A tan colored tank perched on a catwalk spotted Rick's veritech and started turning its turret in Rick's direction. Rick cut the feed to the foot boosters, causing his veritech to drop just as the tank fired. An energy bolt just narrowly missed vaporizing Rick's veritech as it dropped.

"What happened?" asked Jazz watching Rick suddenly come back down.

"Tank!" answered Rick, his guardian skidding down next to them.

"Slag!" cursed Jazz. "The Decepticreeps forced us to go right where they were waiting for us!" He careened wildly amongst the machinery, occasional fire from above lancing down at their position any time Decepticons would manage to catch a glimpse of the group.

"Up is out of the question," assessed Rick.

"So is behind," added Blaster.

Jazz spotted a shadowed area and led the group there. "I'd wager with Blitzwing waiting for us here that the way forward is blocked off too."

They suddenly heard Astrotrain call out ahead of their position. "Where are they, Blitzwing? I thought you guys were driving them toward us."

"They're hidden somewhere in here," responded Blitzwing.

"Did you see how many of them there are?"

"I counted four."

Blaster jumped from the hand of Rick's veritech and transformed to his robot form. "That's some good news for us. They don't have an accurate count yet. So what's the plan?"

"The plan stays the same, rescue," answered Jazz. "Blaster, Steeljaw, Rick, and I provide the distraction. Bumblebee, you take Commander Hayes, rendezvous with Cosmos, and get out of here."

"No!" protested Lisa.

Rick popped open the canopy. He guided the robotic hand of his veritech to the cockpit. "Pierce, go with them. They'll need your knowledge of the ship to get to Cosmos."

"I'll do my best to lead them to safety," replied the Zentradi spy, climbing onto the hand.

"I said 'no'!" yelled Lisa louder. "You will not do this! That's an order!"

"Sorry, Commander," apologized Rick, "but Captain Gloval put Jazz in charge of the operation. In this case, he outranks you." Rick lowered Pierce down to Bumblebee. "We'll draw their attention. You three get to the extraction point and get out of here. Understood?"

"Don't do this, Rick," pleaded Lisa. "There's so much I want to…"

"I know, Lisa," interrupted Rick. He closed the canopy of the cockpit and shifted his veritech to battloid mode. "Keep her safe, guys." Rick then piloted his battloid across the room toward a large motor that was emitting steam, firing as he moved. Laser fire rained down around Rick and Lisa gasped in horror, but none touched Rick as he made it safely to cover. His battloid gave the group a thumbs up gesture.

Jazz then took off, running in the direction opposite Rick. As the Decepticons fired on Jazz, Rick and Blaster fired quick volleys to draw attention back to them.

Lisa could do nothing but watch helplessly as Steeljaw and Blaster then ran from their position, deftly dodging laser fire while Jazz and Rick did their best to cover them. It was working. The Decepticons were focusing on the four as they ran from cover to cover. Soon, she lost sight of them. The sounds of lasers confirmed the at least some of the group still lived, but she winced every time there was an explosion.

Pierce pointed to a shadowed area away from where the fighting was happening. "Bumblebee, slowly move along the wall back towards the entrance."

Bumblebee did as requested, wheeling as quietly as he could. They heard a number of Decepticons run past their hiding place, heading towards the fighting. When they went as far as they could in the shadows, Pierce got out and peeked from their cover to see if the coast was clear. Surprisingly, there was no one between them and the door leading back to their freedom. The diversion the others were creating worked. Pierce got back in. "Ok, no one is around. Get us out of here."

Bumblebee sped out of the room.

Lisa's heart pounded furiously. Terror gripped her heart like no pain she ever felt before. "Please, don't leave them," she pleaded.

"Jazz gave me an order," responded Bumblebee.

"The hell with that!" yelled Lisa. "Bumblebee, those are three of your friends throwing their lives away! I've heard all of you speak of home. I've heard more than one of you express a fear that your band of Autobots might be the only Autobots left in the universe. Can you just let three of your friends just die?"

Bumblebee braked hard. "No, I cannot," he replied.

"Guys, we can't fight the Decepticons," stated Pierce. "There are just too many of …" Pierce suddenly gestured down the corridor. "Bumblebee, head that way as fast as you can."

"We just told you that we're not abandoning our friends," objected Bumblebee.

"Do you want to save the others or don't you?"

"What do you have in mind?" asked Lisa.

"The only thing I can think of," replied the spy. He gulped audibly with nervousness. "I'm going to beg for help."

Starscream watched Bumblebee speed out of the room. It appeared that he was transporting two of the fleshlings. Was that what the Autobots were doing here? Trying to rescue their friends? It was almost pathetic. Megatron and the others were furious enough to kill the three Autobots that stayed behind and their fleshing ally.

The Decepticon air commander shook his head amusedly. The Autobot concept of sacrifice never failed to astound him. It wasn't even a fair trade too. Three Autobots for a small spy and two fleshlings? Sheer madness.

Oh well, the young Autobot and his puny friends were of no matter to him. They certainly could do nothing to stop the slaughter of those they left behind. Starscream started moving stealthily among the machinery, seeking a good vantage from which to strike a fatal blow to Megatron should the chance present itself and earn his place as leader of the Decepticons once and for all.

"Lord Breetai," yelled a communications officer from his post. "Several of the crew are reporting that they can hear the sound of pitched battle."

"Where?" asked Breetai.

"It appears to be the main engine room, sir."

"Send a squad down to investigate."

"Yes sir!"

"What do you think it could be?" asked Exedore.

"I was about to ask you that, old friend," replied Breetai.

"Surely the Micronians haven't launched an attack on us."

Breetai turned to the Zentradi manning the hyper-space detection system. "Any sign of an attack from the Micronian ship?"

"No sir," replied the crewman. "It's been clear since the battle."

Exedore rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Do you suppose the Decepticons are up to something?"

Breetai frowned. "It is possible. I've never really trusted them despite their resourcefulness."

"True. The Decepticons have proven to be valuable allies, but it is hard to trust anyone whom would betray their own kind. It is almost of if they view the other Micronians as insignificant."

"Agreed. What could their ultimate purpose be?"

"Lord Breetai," interrupted the communications officer. "We have another communiqué coming in. Sir, he claims to be Pierce, your former spy."

Exedore walked urgently over to the communication station. "Did you say Pierce?"

The officer handed his headset to Exedore. "Yes sir. Here he is."

Exedore put the headset up to his ear. "Pierce, this is Exedore."

"He…hello, sir," stammered Pierce. "Is…is Lord Breetai there?"

Exedore pressed several buttons on the communications panel.

"This is Breetai. Why are you contacting us?" demanded Breetai.

"Well, you see, sir, I'm calling to ask you for help."

Breetai's brow furrowed with confusion. He briefly glanced at Exedore and found his advisor was seemingly equally unable to grasp the meaning of Pierce's comment. "Explain."

"Lord Breetai, I am on the ship with a contingent of Autobots and Micronians," blurted Pierce

"You are here?" exclaimed Exedore.

"Yes, we came aboard to rescue the Micronian and Autobot prisoners. The prisoners are with me, but the rescue team that came with me is fighting for its life as we speak with the Decepticons."

"You led a hostile contingent of enemy forces onto my ship?" asked Breetai incredulously.

"Yes sir," replied the former spy meekly.

Breetai was furious. "You dare to bring enemy soldiers onto my ship and then demand that I save them from the destruction they deserve?"

"I demand nothing, Lord Breetai. I am pleading for mercy."

"Mercy? For traitors?"

"No, mercy for my friends. If you do this, my lord, I will willingly turn myself in to you and submit to your judgment."

"What?!" screamed a pair of voices over the communication channel.

"You can't be serious, Pierce," commented a voice that sounded like a female Micronian to Breetai.

"Do you have a better idea?" asked Pierce.

"He'll kill you!"

"If that's the price it takes to save our friends, then so be it."

"What the hell is wrong with all of you? Can't somebody think of a plan that doesn't require sacrificing themselves?"

"If that sacrifice means the capture of our friends instead of their destruction, one life for four seems fair to me."

"Fine, see if I care if he decides to squash you like a bug," said the woman sourly.

Breetai felt a sense of indignation. He would never just squash anyone like a bug, even a traitor. Sure, he would likely have Pierce excuted for treason, but to dispatch a Zentradi warrior so casually was a suggestion that was beneath him. "Now see here," he objected. "I will not be squashing anybody!"

"Oh so sorry," replied the female sarcastically. "I guess I missed the point of you being civilized through the hours of torture you subjected me too."

"What are you talking about?" demanded Breetai. "I ordered an end to that days ago!"

"Then I guess you're not as in control of your ship as you thought. The only time they ever stopped torturing me was when I passed out from the pain. They don't even ask me questions anymore."

"Why would your own kind treat you in this manner?" asked Exedore. "Do they hate you that much?"

"Whoa," injected another voice that sounded young and tinny. "The Decepticons aren't humans. They're Cybertronians, like me."


"Correct. We're from the planet Cybertron, not Earth. We were stranded on Earth many solar cycles ago. If the Decepticons told you they were Humans, they're lying to you."

Exedore looked excitedly at Breetai. "This explains everything, your Excellency. It all makes sense now!"

"Indeed it does," said Breetai angrily. "I detest being misled. Get me Megatron this instance!"

"The Decepticons are ignoring our hails, Lord Breetai," stated the communications officer.

"Then open all channels on the ship!" When the communications officer nodded that it had been done, Breetai said, "Attention Megatron and all Decepticons! This is Lord Breetai! Answer my summons at once and explain yourself to me, or face the consequences!"

"Have a care, Breetai! I dislike threats!" responded the Deception leader immediately over the PA system.

"And I dislike being lied to! Stand down at once!"

"We will not! The Autobots have killed one of my crew! They will pay for this insult with their lives! Decepticons, keep firing!"

"I am in command of this ship, Megatron! You and your Decepticons will stand down or I will order my soldiers to fire on you!"

"So be it," replied Megatron irately. "The time for deception has ended. Now we will conquer. Decepticons, destroy everyone and take control of this ship!"

Chapter 23

"And I thought things were interesting before," remarked Jazz in regards to the order Megatron had just made. As if on cue, squads of Zentradi began to poor into the engine room. The Decepticons opened fire on them immediately, killing dozens before they could get to cover. The survivors returned fire, but their weapons would only cause the Decepticons minor discomfort, while the weapons fire from the Decepticons proved lethal to the Zentradi warriors.

"They're getting slaughtered," observed Blaster. "Do we help?"

"Of course we help," responded Jazz, firing upon Astrotrain, causing him to dive for cover. "I'm not about to stand by and let someone else fight my battle for me."

"Just be careful, guys," interjected Rick. "They might be fighting the Decepticons right now, but that doesn't mean they won't fire on us too."

"That complicates things tremendously," said Blaster.

"Then we'll have to deal with it," barked Jazz. "I will not let the Decepticons kill anyone while I have a chance of doing something about it. We are soldiers. So are they. This is as much our fight as theirs."

"Then I suggest we fire on the Decepticons closest to the Zentradi," counseled Rick. "Give them cover fire. Let them see we mean to defend them."

"Do it!" yelled Jazz as he broke cover. The others followed him, trying their best to force the Decepticons to cover or draw their fire away from the Zentradi soldiers. The tactic worked, providing the Zentradi the opportunity to regroup. They started coordinating their attacks on single targets, as they noticed that combined fire was managing to actually cause the Decepticons minor damage. Between the two groups, they managed to make the Decepticons closest to them seek cover.

A Zentradi officer looked quizzically at Rick. Rick guided the right arm of his battloid to give the officer a thumbs up gesture. The officer frowned with confusion, but he seemed to understand that Rick and the Autobots weren't firing on them.

Unfortunately, the same was not true of the Zentradi just arriving on the scene. A squad of Zentradi spotted them as they ran into the room and fired immediately. Rick and the others juked to cover, just barely avoiding getting hit.

"Remind me to explain to you in full detail why I detest your concept of interesting if we survive this," complained Rick to Jazz.

"What? This is fun!" laughed Jazz. "Just remember, guys, don't fire on the Zentradi. They don't know we aren't their enemies."

"I wish we could convince them that we aren't intruders," said Rick

"Actually, we are intruders," reminded Blaster.

"Not what I want to hear right now."

Steeljaw snarled at Rick, causing Blaster to laugh.

"Out with it," demanded Rick.

"He said 'if it were easy, any Decepticreep could do it'."

Rick found himself chuckling despite the desperation of the situation. "Right. You know, sometimes it sucks doing the right thing."

"Try doing it for 4 million solar cycles," quipped Jazz.

"If I survive the next hour, I'll take you up on that."

Pierce pointed to the airlock hatch that hid the remainder of the Autobot squad. "There it is. That's where we left Cosmos and the others."

Suddenly, two shapes on either side of the hallway started expanding and growing to reveal the red mechanical rhinoceros known as Ramhorn and the black and white robot known as Eject.

"Bumblebee!" exclaimed Eject. "Are we glad to see you!"

"Likewise," replied Bumblebee warmly.

Eject pounded on the airlock door. "Open up, Cosmos. It's Bumblebee."

The airlock opened, revealing Cosmos and Eject's blue colored twin, Rewind.

Bumblebee opened his passenger side door. "Cosmos, I need you to take Commander Hayes back to the SDF-1. Rewind, Eject, please help Commander Hayes get into Cosmos. Be gentle. She's been through a lot."

Cosmos transformed into his spacecraft mode and opened his door to allow Blaster's minions to load Lisa in his passenger bay. "It sounds like you're not coming back with us."

"None of us are. I need Ramhorn, Eject, and Rewind with me. We're going back to save the others."

"Last minute substitution at the end of the game," said Eject. "It might just work."

"Not to be a downer, Bumblebee, but you four don't exactly have overwhelming firepower," observed Cosmos.

"The least likely…" started Bumblebee

"Can be the most dangerous," finished the assembled Autobots in unison.

"Yeah, we've heard," said Rewind mirthfully.

"I guess I do say that quite a lot," replied Bumblebee sheepishly. He then noticed that Pierce hadn't gotten out of the driver's seat. "You're coming too, Pierce?"

Pierce nodded affirmatively. "I have an obligation to turn myself in to Lord Breetai when this is done."

"I still don't like this idea."

"You respect Optimus Prime, don't you?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Lord Breetai was my commander. It hurt a lot to abandon my duty to him to join the Micronians. I want to explain why and maybe change his mind about them. Lord Breetai will listen. I know he will. Whatever he decides after that, I'm at peace with."

Bumblebee pondered that for a second. "Ok. I see your point. You're with us too. Let's go, guys."

Rewind and Eject closed the airlock door and climbed into Bumblebee's backseat.

"Godspeed to you all," said Lisa over the radio. "Go save our friends."

Bumblebee took off towards the battle, Ramhorn easily keeping pace with him. "You got it, Lisa. Don't worry. We'll come back alive. All of us."

"That's all I ask, soldier."

Blaster marveled that they still functioned. Sure, the Decepticon forces were split in engaging both them and the Zentradi, but they were still heavily outnumbered. It had taken them pulling some crazy and drastic stunts to keep the Decepticons at bay.

However, their reserves of skill and daring were running dry. They could run, but there really was nowhere to go. By the time Cosmos could return with a rescue mission, the Decepticons likely would have full control of the ship and perhaps the fleet with it. Cosmos and the others would never have a chance at rescuing them.

That meant trying to help the Zentradi, but they simply didn't have the necessary firepower to overcome the entire Decepticon force here. As if to underscore this point, a fusion cannon blast tore through a thin bank of machinery a couple of Zentradi were using for cover and vaporized them. Blaster winced. Once Megatron focuses all his forces against us, how could we possibly stand against that? he pondered.

That's precisely when Rick informed them that he had run out of ammo.

Starscream grinned brightly. The chaos of the three way battle was glorious. No one was paying any attention to the shadows he carefully moved through. He was finally in position, behind the small group of Autobots doing their best to fend off attacks from two fronts. Ahead of them, Starscream had a perfect vantage of Megatron, gloriously leading the others. Starscream had to admit that the full glory of Megatron in combat was an inspiring sight. He truly was a masterful dealer of death and destruction.

And now it was time for this magnificent warrior to meet his ultimate fate by Starscream's hand, as Starscream always knew it would happen.

The bolt lanced forth from his arm laser and scored cleanly through one of Megatron's only weak points, his right optic. Smoke immediately started pouring from Megatron's eye and mouth. Then before all the shocked combatants, the Decepticon tyrant fell, his suddenly inert body filling the engine room with an ominous gong as it crashed upon the floor.

"What the slag just happened?" cried Jazz.

"I don't believe it," replied Blaster. "I think someone just killed Megatron."

"Megatron, no!" yelled Soundwave mournfully.

"The blast the killed him came from the Autobots," yelled Astrotrain.

"Oh slag!" exclaimed Jazz.

Blaster saw something then that frightened him more than anything his processors could recall, the normally calm Soundwave was quivering with rage. "Decepticons, target the Autobots!" ordered the Decepticon Communications Officer. "Mission: Annihilation!"

"Transform and roll for it!" yelled Jazz, already leaping from cover as he shifted his body to his Porsche mode. Rick converted his veritech to its guardian mode and jetted after him. Blaster was caught neatly by Steeljaw as he transformed himself to his radio form.

Suddenly Starscream was standing right before them. "Fear not, my fellow Decepticons. I, Starscream, your new leader, will avenge Megatron's death!"

The impromptu speech was just precisely the opening Rick needed to spin his veritech around wildly and deploy some chaff.

"Yeargh!" screamed Starscream, suddenly blinded by the flares. He heard the Autobots and Rick speed past him and fired blindly in a wild attempt to stop them. Curses from his fellow Decepticons to watch where he was shooting informed him that he wasn't even close. His audio receptors caught the screech of Laserbeak chasing the Autobots though. Doubtless, Soundwave had sent his other minions after the fleeing Autobots as well. It was a shame his seekers were too big in their jet modes to fly safely in the cramped corridors, but the main purpose of the Autobots had been met.

His plan had worked after all. None of the other Decepticons knew whom Megatron's true assassin was.

Jazz swerved to avoid a laser fired from Laserbeak. "It feels like we've been here before."

"Well at least now we're running away from the Decepticons instead of towards them," remarked Blaster. "It's only Laserbeak and Ravage to deal with at the moment."

"That's true." More laser fire from the pursuing metal bird harassed them as they sped down ship corridors. "I'd like to fight, but the other Decepticons likely aren't far behind those two."

"Hey, is that who I think it is?" asked Rick.

Jazz looked down the corridor to see the familiar yellow VW bug speeding towards them with Ramhorn running beside him. He also spotted Eject and Rewind leaning out the windows. "Make room for counter fire," barked Bumblebee.

Jazz and the others swerved to the sides of the corridor, leaving Eject, Rewind, and Ramhorn an open space in the middle to fire on the pursuing Decepticons. The two Decepticons stopped firing immediately to concentrate on dodging the fire from the Autobot reinforcements and beat a hasty retreat. They were prepared to pursue a small group of Autobots, not deal with a group that suddenly doubled its size.

"Nice timing guys," complimented Jazz. "That bought us a few microns to regroup."

"I wish," replied Blaster. "Look!" The others trained their sensors down the corridor to see Laserbeak and Ravage coming back with Decepticon reinforcements riding on the Astrotrain's locomotive mode.

"Well I'll be," remarked Jazz. "That's actually pretty clever."

"This is no time to be impressed! Roll!"

The Autobots took off once more down the corridor as the Decepticons started firing. They gave chase down several corridors, turning blindly as they did so. Astrotrain wasn't great at handling corners, but he made up for that with better speed on the straight ways. The Autobots couldn't shake their pursuers.

"We can't keep running," observed Rick.

"I'm open to suggestions," said Jazz.

"I think I have one," stated Pierce. "Since we can't lose the Decepticons, we lead them into an ambush using the bulk of Commander Breetai's forces. Working together collectively, we might just be able to defeat the Decepticons"

Jazz thought about it for a second. "It might just work. How do we set it up?"

"Steeljaw, throw me into Bumblebee," ordered Blaster. Steeljaw deftly tossed the radio and Blaster landed abruptly on the passenger seat.

Pierce picked up Blaster. "Ok Blaster, the frequency…"

"Negative, we've got Soundwave listening in on all frequencies," interrupted Blaster, popping open the cassette deck of his radio mode. Rewind transformed into his cassette mode and inserted himself into the deck. Blaster closed it and started recording. "For this to work, you need to give us the plan. Steeljaw will get us to Breetai and we'll convince him to set it up."

Pierce nodded in agreement. "Ok, here's the plan."

Soundwave carried Megatron's lifeless body to the makeshift laboratory he had created in the lower depths of the Zentradi ship. He monitored the progress of the Decepticons pursuit of the Autobots with frustration. The Autobots irritating ability to outrun Decepticon revenge vexed him somewhat, but he also remained confident that they would eventually run out of places to run. He had bigger problems than that now.

Gently, Soundwave placed Megatron's body on a table and examined the gun shot wound through Megatron's optic. The shot had been perfect, cleanly scoring a hit on Megatron's internal central processing unit in his head. No known Cybertronian technology could save Megatron now.

Soundwave glanced at the sample of energon they had removed from Bumblebee after they had captured him. He had been studying the sample for some time now. At first, it was inert, as if Starscream's null ray had completely depleted the energy within. However, slowly over time, the sample seemed to regenerate its energy generating capacity. The readings were off the chart. It intrigued both his scientific curiosity and Megatron's desire for useful military application. The only thing that brought them pause on using this super energon was the behavior of the Autobot spy on the human ship. Soundwave had seen firsthand the power the small Autobot had wielded as well as the berserker rage he had been operating under.

Soundwave's recommendation was to save it for tactical use if the Decepticons ever required a suicide mission to accomplish their long term goals, such as an assassination or the destruction of a highly fortified Autobot base. Now Soundwave pondered whether this energy could revive the fallen leader.

In a matter of nanoseconds, his processor went through the possibilities of possible reactions the foreign substance could have on Megatron. Most likely, nothing would happen. Megatron might have already ceased all function already. However, if any spark of Megatron remained functioning, Soundwave was duty bound to do all he could to save his leader.

It was the sense of duty that caused Soundwave to reach for the vial, open it, and pour it down Megatron's throat.

Then he waited.

Chapter 24

Breetai frowned as he heard confusing reports of strange vehicles chasing each other throughout his command ship. "What's going on?" he demanded. "Have our forces engaged the Decepticons?"

The crew could only receive reports that they were hearing from stations around the ship. The crew of Zentradi was scattered, unable to give chase to the faster Cybertronians. They were requesting orders from Breetai, but no matter how the communications officers tried to establish a link with others, they failed. It was like someone wanted them to hear the chaos occurring in the ship, but cut off their means of issuing commands.

It was actually fairly frightening to Breetai how effectively the Decepticons had cut him off from his men. It was quite devious, the way they marginalize his power with a single stroke while letting him hear the chaos they were causing. Psychologically, it was extremely disconcerting. Breetai was reduced to sending messengers to give orders. If they couldn't get find a better way to communicate with his crew fast, the Decepticons could take over his ship with very little effort.

Suddenly, a very nervous Zentradi soldier entered the command deck and saluted Breetai. "Lord Breetai, we have brought you a prisoner with an unusual request."

"What do you mean 'an unusual request'? asked Breetai.

"A couple of the invaders have surrendered to us on the condition that they speak to you. They claim to have an urgent message from the traitor, Pierce." The soldier shook a little. "To be honest, sir, they caught us by surprise and could have killed us easily. I wanted to call you, but we were cautioned that calling you first would be a very bad idea and that they would have to subdue us if we tried."

"Are they are outside, soldier?"

"Yes sir. We had trouble receiving orders from you before they arrived. One of the invaders claimed that the Decepticons are responsible and that they can help us get rid of them now. I don't know if I trust them sir, but he played part of the message. It does seem to be from Pierce. I decided to bring them to you. You may shoot me now, sir, if you think I showed bad judgment."

Breetai shook his head. "These are unusual times. I will show latitude this one time. Show them in."

The soldier sighed in relief and gestured to his squad waiting outside. Three Zentradi warriors walked in flanking a yellow metallic beast carrying a curious small box in its jaws. "Thank you for agreeing with our request to meet with you," addressed a voice from the box to the commander respectively. "With your permission, I'd like to play a message to you from Pierce. He has a plan to help both of our people against our mutual enemies, the Decepticons."

"Proceed," commanded Breetai.

Blaster began to play the message he had recorded within Rewind's memory banks. "Lord Breetai, please listen to these Autobots whom I have sent to you. They represent the best opportunity for me to outline a plan to you to help us join forces against the Decepticons. First, let me inform you that the Decepticon leader is dead."

"Is this true?" asked Breetai.

"Absolutely," answered Blaster. "Someone got a clean shot at Megatron and shot him through his cranium. I'd say he's definitely offline. I can answer any more questions you have in a little bit, but please listen to the remainder of the message. The lives of your crew and my friends may depend on it."

"Very well," responded Breetai. "Continue."

"Even with this surprising development, I doubt the Zentradi crew on board have the firepower to drive the Decepticons from the ship," continued Pierce's recorded message. "I propose that you combine forces with the Autobots to help you drive off the Decepticons."

Breetai scowled. "I find this suggestion distasteful," he declared. "It is not the Zentradi way to seek assistance from others. We fight our own battles. We may fall to worthy foes, but we can and will meet them as Zentradi."

"That's not going to work. They'll slaughter you," countered Blaster.

"Even if that is true, I do not know you. Why should I believe that you don't just wish for us to remove the Decepticons so that you may strike at us yourselves?"

Blaster transformed and stood before Breetai. "Don't judge me by my words, Breetai. Judge me by my actions." With that, Blaster handed Breetai his gun. "It's an electro-scrambler gun. Fire this at any Cybertronian, Autobot or Decepticon, and he'll lose control of his motor functions."

Breetai looked startled as he held the weapon. "Why would you disarm yourself?"

"Because Pierce is correct, none of us have a chance of defeating the Decepticons by ourselves. Only working together do we have a chance at victory. Pierce told us he would trust you with his life. I'm betting my friends' lives on his word."

Breetai handed the weapon to one of his officers. "An interesting gambit, trusting the word of someone whom betrayed his own kind."

"All I can say is he's proven his trust to me. I owe him."

Breetai pondered this for a moment. "This is most unusual. In my lifetime, no other species has ever put their trust in a Zentradi warrior."

"It is unprecedented," remarked Exedore.

"Agreed," said Breetai. "And yet I detect no deception in his discourse."

Blaster shrugged. "Deception is a Decepticon's game. I'm not with those robo-turkeys."

Breetai's one good eyebrow rose on the colorful turn of phrase. "Ordinarily, I would not trust you, but I feel compelled to agree to help one whom would willingly put their life in a Zentradi warrior's hands. Very well then, share this plan with me."

"Stellar!" exclaimed Blaster. "Ok, here's what Pierce had in mind."

Soundwave anxiously monitored the offline form of Megatron. It had been several clicks since he had administered the super energon sample to Megatron. Thus far, the commander of the Decepticons remained sparkless.

Soundwave wouldn't leave his commander's side though. He had been Megatron's most loyal soldier for so long. He truly believed that Megatron was the one to bring about Cybertron's future glory in conquest. The Decepticon cause could not survive without its founder. There were simply too many factions that would tear the army Megatron had spent millions of solar cycles forging apart. Without the unifying leadership of Megatron, the Decepticons were lost.

Suddenly a finger on Megatron's right hand twitched. Soundwave stood expectantly, watching the hand to see if he would show more signs of life. Slowly, the fingers curled into a fist and then stretched out. This repeated several more times before Megatron's left optic started glowing with an ominous crimson glow.

"Mission objective: successful! Megatron lives," rejoiced Soundwave.

Megatron slowly sat up and surveyed the area around him. Sensing no one else but Soundwave, Megatron got off the table where he had been resting and started walking towards Soundwave.

Soundwave got down on his knees and bowed before Megatron. "Soundwave remains loyal. Command me, Lord Megatron," he implored.

Megatron kicked Soundwave across the room. Soundwave's internal diagnostics nearly overloaded his processor with the multitude of systems that had been crushed by the kick and needed immediate repair. Soundwave looked up at his leader silently and calmly walking towards him and knew he'd never get a chance to repair himself.

Despite that, Soundwave was still overjoyed to see Megatron operational again. He could see that Megatron had transcended mere ordinary Cybertronian limits. Now he was truly unstoppable. The Autobots would never know what hit them. The universe truly belonged to Megatron now.

As Megatron aimed his fusion cannon at Soundwave, the loyal communications officer saluted the leader he followed for so long. "Decepticons forever," was the last thing he ever said before his processor was atomized.

Frenzy dropped his gun and started screaming. Ravage collapsed in mid stride and nearly got run over by Astrotrain. Laserbeak careened wildly and smacked violently into the corridor wall.

"What's happening?" demanded Starscream, lifting Frenzy up and shaking him.

Frenzy numbly gazed up at Starscream. Starscream gasped at the sight of lubricant leaking from his eyes. "It's Soundwave," Frenzy replied softly. "He's been destroyed."


"We felt it. Something just terminated Soundwave."

"How is that even possible?" asked Starscream. "We have been chasing the Autobots the whole time. Surely the Zentradi couldn't have done it."

"Are we sure?" asked Thundercracker. "We haven't seen many Zentradi in our chase of the Autobots. Perhaps they ganged up on Soundwave while we were chasing Autobots."

"Impossible. I find it hard to believe that any Decepticon would fall so easily to fleshlings."

"Then what?"

Starscream's internal fluids chilled. Only a few possessed the power to eliminate Soundwave so casually. Of those, only one was actually on the ship: Megatron. Could he still be alive? No, it was impossible. His shot that had extinguished Megatron's spark had been perfect.

Hadn't it?

"I don't like this," exclaimed Thundercracker.

"What?" asked Starscream.

"I can't explain it. Something feels wrong. It seems that several times now the Autobots should have given us the slip."

"It isn't like there are that many places for the Autobots to hide."

"That's just it though. They could have split up, tried to divide our forces, anything other than stay together. It's like they aren't even trying to escape. It's almost like they want us focused on them, all of our forces together so that they could lead us into a…"

Thundercracker didn't get an opportunity to complete the sentence as suddenly Rick Hunter had just flew up upon entering a large chamber ahead of the pursuing Decepticons and deployed all of his remaining chaff. The rain of flares coming down at the entrance to the large room they were coming upon overloaded all the optic sensors of the Decepticons.

As Astrotrain surged blindly into the chamber, there suddenly was a deluge of weapon fire. As the Decepticons' optic sensors polarized to counteract the effects of the flares, they saw a multitude of Zentradi battlepods firing on them.

"No!" screamed Starscream fearfully as he started to succumb to the barrage. "It isn't possible."

The Autobots transformed and added their firepower to the Zentradi's. "Anything's possible, Starscream," stated Jazz. "Let them have it, guys!"

Starscream always knew that a single Zentradi battlepod wasn't a match for a Decepticon warrior, but he and the others were learning a painful lesson that a legion of them targeting them were another matter altogether. To make matters worse, the Autobots were adding their firepower to the mix. How in the name of the pit had the Autobots managed that?

Starscream didn't have much time to ponder the question. He troops were massively outnumbered. They might be able to win the conflict, but there was no way they could do it without casualties. Suddenly he recognized the chamber as a fighter launch bay. There were a multitude of exits in the chamber. "Astrotrain! Transform and get us out of here!" he ordered. "Decepticons! Retreat! Retreat!"

The triple changer immediately altered his mode from train form to shuttle form and opened the side door to his cargo bay. Decepticons piled in as fast as they could. When all Decepticons had boarded, Astrotrain fired his rockets and took off down one of the Zentradi launch tubes.

As the Decepticon contingent fled the field of battle, a cheer arose amongst the Zentradi warriors. As most of the warriors celebrated their victory, a squad of armed Zentradi approached the Autobots. "We thank you for your assistance," said the leader of the squad. "Now please disarm yourselves and surrender yourselves to us."

Jazz set his weapon down on the ground and backed away with his hands raised. "Of course. Do what he says, guys," he ordered.

The other Autobots quietly followed suit while Rick converted his veritech to its guardian mode and opened the canopy. He calmly stood up and raised his hands.

"Ok, we surrender," stated Jazz. "What now?"

The Zentradi gestured to the prisoners to follow him. "Now, Lord Breetai would like to speak with you."

Rumble finally recovered from the shock that had awoken him from unconsciousness. His processor still couldn't compute what he felt. Someone had offed the boss. Rumble didn't know what to do. Soundwave had always been there from the moment his spark first went online.

He had always been part of something special, one of Soundwave's operatives. Under Soundwave's leadership, Rumble and the others were part of Megatron's elite. Rumble knew that without Soundwave, he was just another grunt in Megatron's army. Worse, Rumble had gotten used to mouthing off to the other Decepticons, confident that none would dare speak back for fear of Soundwave. The other Decepticons didn't like him and now he had lost his protection.

Rumble then heard a fluid curdling scream of terror from down the corridor. He quietly opened the door of the cell Bumblebee had left in him and crept to the corner. He could hear what sounded like a Zentradi pleading for mercy. A squishing sound abruptly ended the Zentradi's helpless mewling. Rumble peeked around the corner.

He saw Megatron standing over the body of a Zentradi twitching in involuntary motions. Megatron's purple energy flail hung from his right arm, the spiky weapon coated in the blood of the Zentradi he had just murdered.

Rumble knew he should call out to Megatron, but something stopped him. He couldn't say what exactly, but something wasn't right.

Rumble's suspicions were confirmed when two Zentradi warriors coming to investigate the screams arrived. Megatron struck without saying a word, kicking one of the soldiers into the wall before his companion could even utter a word of surprise. Then Megatron whipped the energy flail upwards and caught the other warrior on the chin with it.

The Zentradi whom had been kicked tried to feebly pull himself away from Megatron, his legs not working. Megatron turned to him and Rumble got a good look at his face. Megatron's right optic had been destroyed. The left optic burned brightly with a ferocity Rumble had never seen. He gasped when Megatron stomped down on the crawling Zentradi, ending his life.

Megatron looked directly at Rumble.

Rumble squeaked and ran back into the cell. He could hear Megatron running down the hallway towards his hiding place. It was time to get desperate. Rumble altered to his cassette form in one of the shadowed areas of the cell. Megatron punched his way into the cell, pieces of the door narrowly missing Rumble as they flew through the room. Megatron looked around, confused to see the room was seemingly empty. Rumble was never so glad to have such a small disguise as now. It was his only chance to survive.

After looking around briefly for several microns, Megatron left the cell to check the cell next door. Rumble listened carefully to the sounds of Megatron's footsteps stomping down on the hallway. Even after he stopped hearing footsteps, Rumble still waited several clicks before transforming and running in the opposite direction. He had a pretty good idea now of what happened to Soundwave. His new goal now was to find some way off this ship before Megatron found and killed him.

The way he was going to find and kill everyone else on this pit forsaken ship.

Chapter 25

Jazz and Bumblebee were quietly led to the command center of Breetai's command vessel. Bumblebee cupped his hands in front of him to provide a place for Rick and Pierce and stand on as they were marched to meet Breetai.

"So you worked for this Breetai joker, right?" Jazz asked Pierce.

"Yes I have," confirmed Pierce.

"What's the scoop?"

"He's the second most powerful Zentradi whom has ever lived and a warrior without peer."

Rick nodded in agreement. "That second part I can confirm."

Jazz glanced at Rick. "You're no slouch in a fight. Are you saying he's better than you?"

"Let's put it this way, the only time we fought, he tore my veritech to pieces with his bare hands."

Jazz whistled. "Sounds like one tough hombre."

"I still have the occasional nightmare about him."

"I wondered how you and Lisa ended up prisoners of the Zentradi before," said Bumblebee. "I hadn't realized that the Zentradi commander himself had a hand in it."

Rick shuddered involuntarily. "I'm not looking forward to seeing him again."

"Tell me about it," muttered Pierce, also visibly shaking as Bumblebee brought them closer to the leader he respected and feared the most. He had no delusions that Breetai would spare him. Breetai could not. Pierce had challenged his leadership by defecting and then collaborating with enemies of the Zentradi. The penalty for treason was death.

Pierce swallowed and gathered his courage. He had made a promise to Breetai though and meant to keep it. His only hope now was that before Breetai sentenced him to death, he might be able to reason with him and convince him to spare the Humans and Autobots whom had befriended him so earnestly. If he succeeded in that, Pierce would gladly accept Breetai's judgment.

They entered the command center, noting Blaster and Steeljaw being closely guarded by a half dozen soldiers. The guard whom had led them brought his fist to his chest and reported, "The prisoners, Lord Breetai, as you requested."

"Thank you, soldier," said Breetai, looking over them in turn.

Jazz looked up at the face of Breetai. "You neglected to mention that he's as big as Optimus Prime," he whispered to Rick.

"Sorry," growled Rick back. "My perception of very large and flipping large is a little skewed on those over forty feet in height."

Breetai looked down at Rick. "I remember you, Micronian. You seem to have a knack for sneaking onto my command vessel."

"I wouldn't have come back if you hadn't taken Commander Hayes prisoner again," said Rick defiantly.

Breetai chuckled and turn to address Exedore. "I will say this about Micronians, they do display the same courage in captivity as they do in battle."

"They have been terrible and implacable foes," replied Exedore in agreement. "As worthy an adversary to fight the Zentradi as ever we have faced in our history."

Rick bristled. "This worthy adversary is also standing in the room."

Pierce placed his hand on Rick's shoulder. "Please, Lieutenant Hunter, this isn't helping."

Breetai's good eye narrowed as he looked upon Pierce. "And you, one of the ringleaders whom convinced your fellow Zentradi to betray all they have known, what am I to do with you?"

Pierce stepped before Rick. "We both know what you must do, my Lord. Before you pass judgment on me though, I ask only one single boon of you." He gestured to the Autobots and Rick. "Please let these warriors return to Zor's battleship and seek peace with the Micronians."

"You dare ask this of me?" Breetai snarled angrily. "You would have me spare enemies whom have been caught trespassing on my ship, whose very presence is an insult to my authority on this ship?"

Pierce shrank back. He had seen Breetai's anger before, but seeing it as a Micronian made him realize just how terrifying the Zentradi seemed to Micronians. Nonetheless, he swallowed the lump that threatened to choke him back and stepped forward again. "Yes, because you yourself just mentioned that the Micronians possess courage that the Zentradi can respect. They have more than that, my Lord. They have a capacity of emotion that is astounding and terrifying. We fight for duty, power, loyalty, and because we believe it is our legacy to conquer. They fight for all these reasons and so much more. Some of them are like us, warlike and fighting for the love of warfare, but most of them fight for others, to protect that which they find dear. They fight for each other and it gives them a collective strength that we lack."

Pierce turned to address Exedore. "Chancellor, you sent Lon, Bron, and I amongst the Micronians to discover their secrets. I returned with only a small fraction of understanding, but one thing had been made clear, the very thought of destroying this world filled my heart with despair. That's why I returned to them, to learn more of what they have to teach us. This mission you gave me never ended. Sir, I can't even begin to tell you of all I have experienced there."

"And what of these Autobots," demanded Breetai.

"They I have known just a little while, but I would trust the very ones in this room with my life as I have already done several times today."

Pierce knelt down on one knee before Breetai and placed his fist over his heart in salute. "My Lord, I recognize that you must show your authority here and I place myself before you as I pledged to do to stand judgment for my actions. I led the Autobots and Micronians here and helped them free your prisoners. I will not lie to you, Lord Breetai. We did not desire to harm any member of the crew, but we would have killed any of them if they jeopardized the mission."

"A frank admission," replied Breetai.

"But true. I volunteered for this mission, leant my knowledge of you, your crew, and this command ship to provide them the best means of success. Without that knowledge, they could not have done as well as they did. They may be your enemy, but I am your betrayer. So let their actions be my burden. Let me be the one you pass judgment on as you must."

"Enough of that jive turkey talk," snapped Jazz. "We're in this together."

"Indeed you are," agreed Breetai. "You may have wronged me more than the others with your betrayal, Pierce, but the fact remains that your allies are still enemy combatants who invaded my ship. That also is cause for severe punishment."

Breetai turned to the Zentradi whom lead them to his command center. "Give them back their weapons."

"Sir?" questioned the Zentradi.

"Give them back their weapons," repeated Breetai tersely.

Pierce looked up at Breetai, puzzled at the pronouncement. "I don't understand, Lord Breetai."

"I don't feel like explaining it to you," stated the Zentradi giant flatly. He turned to Blaster. "From the descriptions provided by the Decepticons, I am guessing that you are the Autobots communications expert, the one called Blaster, correct?"

"Yes it is," confirmed Blaster.

"Then I need you to open a channel to your commanding officer, Optimus Prime I believe it is." Breetai looked down at Rick. "I would like to speak with your commanding officer too. Can you provide me his name?"

"It's Captain Henry Gloval," responded Rick.

"Connect me with Captain Henry Gloval as well, if it is within your capabilities."

Blaster converted to his radio form. "One conference call coming up! Just watch and be amazed!" Blaster made the necessary adjustments and started broadcasting. "Yo! This is Blaster calling the SDF-1! Can anyone hear me over there?"

"Blaster? Is that really you?" asked Kim hopefully on the other side.

"Sure is, cutie! Listen, I have the Zentradi big cheese here. He wants to speak to the Captain and Prime. Can you help me set it up?"

Breetai's eyebrow raised at the colorful description of himself and Jazz shook his head in chagrin. "Blaster," admonished Jazz, "diplomacy?"

"Oh. Sorry. I mean I have the Zentradi commander here and he wants to speak to the White Hat and the Big Red Machine."

Kim giggled. "I have the Captain and Prime here now, Blaster. Go ahead."

"Greetings, Blaster," greeted Optimus Prime. "It pleases me to hear your voice."

"Feeling's mutual, boss," answered Blaster. "I have Lord Breetai here with me and all the others. It seems to me that he wants to genuinely talk to you."

"This is Lord Breetai, the commander of the Zentradi fleet. I greet you, our honored foes," stated Breetai.

"Well spoken, Lord Breetai," responded Prime. "I am Optimus Prime."

"And I am Captain Henry Gloval, commander of the SDF-1," replied Gloval. "I assume that you wish to discuss terms with us concerning your prisoners. Are they alive?"

"They are," answered Breetai. "You are correct that I wish to discuss terms."

"We are listening."

"First, explain why you initiated a culture attack on us for the purpose of rescuing the Micronian and Autobot prisoners on our ship."

"As long as you hold my people hostage, I will try and find ways to free them. We will also continue to protect ourselves from any aggression shown towards us."

"So we have seen," said Breetai. "It appears that our defectors have provided you valuable information."

"Information that saved lives of your soldiers today," countered Gloval. "We have no wish to kill any more of your kind."

"The Autobots share this desire to cease hostilities," added Prime.

"I have gleaned the meaning of your actions," stated Breetai. "Your soldiers do both of you credit, displaying courage and honesty worthy of any Zentradi warrior. However, I am afraid that the conflict will not end."

"What?" exclaimed Jazz. "Are you seriously going to continue to fight us?"

"You have missed the meaning of my statement, warrior. I am offering my assistance to you."

"By the stars!" exclaimed Pierce, the meaning of Breetai's statement coming clear. "Dolza knows we've been contaminated! He'll vaporize this entire solar system."

"I don't understand, what do you mean?" asked Gloval.

"Sir, I think he's talking about the fleet of ships that Commander Hayes and I observed those weeks we were prisoners of the Zentradi," said Rick numbly. "A fleet larger than any I've ever seen is coming here, that's it, isn't it?"

"You are correct, Micronian," answered Exedore. "Dolza will view the defection of this Zentradi fleet as an affront to his authority, one he will have to squash to quell the idea of rebellion before others get the same idea. He will bring the full might of his armada here."

"How many ships?" asked Gloval.

"Six million," said Exedore solemnly.

Even though Rick had seen the size of the vast fleet, the number still shocked him. "How can we fight so many?"

"The same way you fought us," responded Breetai. "With courage and tenacity."

"Your ships are capable of space jumps though, right?" asked Jazz. "If you know he's coming, why stay and fight?"

"Because running would do us no good. We would eventually be chased down and destroyed. Also, Dolza's target isn't just us. He is coming to destroy your world too. If I am to die, I'd rather die fighting beside you than running like a coward."

"And how do the Decepticons feel about this decision you have made?" inquired Optimus.

"I do not care what they think. With the help of your warriors, we have driven them off my command ship."

"Is this correct?" asked Gloval to Rick.

"Yes sir," answered Rick. "This mission went all sorts of sideways, Captain. I can fill you in on all the details later. The quick summary is that Megatron has been killed and the Decepticons have fled the Zentradi battle fleet."

"That is indeed good news, if true," remarked Prime. "I find it hard to believe that Megatron has met his end though. Are you certain that he has been terminated?"

"I witnessed the shot myself. Someone shot him through the eye. The Decepticons were as shocked as we were."

"Thank you, Lt. Hunter, I am satisfied."

"Now we need to discuss our strategy of dealing with Dolza," stated Breetai, bringing the conversation back on the more immediate danger.

Bumblebee lost interest in the conversation at this point. He set Rick and Pierce onto a console so that they could more easily contribute to the tactical discussions. As everyone concentrated on the strategy discussion by the commanders of three races, the young spy edged his way towards the exit of the command chamber. Once confident that the guards' focus was on the entrancing historical proceedings happening before them, Bumblebee slipped out.

He didn't know why he was sneaking away. If anything, Bumblebee had always dreamed of being more important to the Autobot cause. Being a part of a summit of three races should have piqued his interest immensely, but something was drawing him away. It was a sensation unlike any he felt before, one he could not ignore any longer since first feeling it clicks ago.

It was a sense of trepidation, like being behind enemy lines with a full battalion of Decepticon seekers looking for him. Every instinct he had told him to hide, but also drove him to seek whatever else was on the ship. It wouldn't do to tell the others he had a bad feeling. He needed to know what is out there.

And why it is so angry.

Bumblebee quietly crept through the ship's corridors, keeping all his sensors on full alert. Several times, he had to hide as Zentradi soldiers went about their business.

About 30 clicks into his search, he spotted the first Zentradi body, beaten until it was nearly an unrecognizable mass of tissue, bone, and blood. The bloody footprints leading away from the body were unmistakably Cybertronian.

He froze when he heard the sound of a fusion cannon firing. He ran towards where the sound emanated from, eager now to confirm what he somehow already knew, Megatron was still alive.

Suddenly Bumblebee felt a need to dive forward. He did so and rolled forward as a large piece of machinery burst through the corridor wall just behind him. Through the makeshift opening that had just been created emerged Megatron, his single functioning eye blazing with menace and power.

Bumblebee understood then that Megatron was under the influence of the proto-energon that had been siphoned from his systems when they captured him. The same energy that granted Bumblebee immense strength and an uncontrollable fury now drove Megatron.

He was standing alone against the Autobot's greatest enemy, whom was now an uncontrollable engine of destruction.

Chapter 26

"OhPrimusOhPrimusOhPrimusOhPrimusOhPrimus!" muttered Bumblebee in a flurry that none but Blurr could have understood as he looked upon Megatron's scowling face. His optic circuits recorded every minute detail of the giant Decepticon leader emerging from the jagged hole in the corridor he had just created in his attempt to crush the small spy.

Megatron's silver body was smeared with blotches and splatters of Zentradi blood from the soldiers whom he had already slaughtered. The burned out hole that had been Megatron's right eye amplified the sense of menace he was projecting as he snarled angrily that one had escaped death thus far.

Bumblebee understood then what Megatron was feeling. As Bumblebee was drawn to Megatron, Megatron was being drawn to him. Megatron's right hand retracted into his arm and his energon flail was activated.

Bumblebee sensed immediately his momentary reprieve was over. Before Megatron could take a single step, Bumblebee shifted to his Volkswagon from and shined his high beams directly into Megatron's eyes.

That action proved crucial as Megatron dashed forward nearly impossibly fast and swung his flail down upon the Autobot and narrowly missed as Bumblebee drove backwards to avoid the energy weapon. Megatron, enraged that this insignificant speck of a life form had escaped termination at his hands twice now, began to pull back on the deck floor, tearing a chunk of twisted metal free and threw it.

Bumblebee shifted back to his robot form, leaped over the flying wreckage, kicked off the wall, and landed back on the corridor in his car mode. Tires squealing, he accelerated away from Megatron. As he sped down the corridor, he felt more than saw the build-up of energy in Megatron's fusion cannon and took a quick detour down a side corridor just as the Decepticon leader fired. A violet colored mass of focused energy zoomed past where Bumblebee had just been and detonated in a massive explosion that jarred the young Autobot fiercely even though he wasn't even in the same corridor any more.

"Blaster, this is Bumblebee! Come in!" yelled Bumblebee frantically.

"Bee? What the heck?" answered Blaster over the radio. "Where are you?"

"No idea, but I have a big problem by the name of Megatron right on my tailpipe."

"But we all saw…"

"I've already heard all that, Blaster! Someone pumped him full of the proto-energon that made me go crazy though and he's back!"

Bumblebee thought he heard Blaster shudder. "By the Matrix, he could kill us all without breaking a sweat."

Bumblebee felt something behind him and quickly swerved. Megatron brought his flail down where he had just been. "Right now, he is just focused on me."

"We're coming, Bumblebee, just hang on," assured Jazz.

"No! Don't come here!"

"What? Why?"

"Somehow, I'm able to anticipate his actions," explained Bumblebee. "I'm not sure why, maybe something to do with the proto-energon I used, but it's the only thing keeping me alive. You don't have this advantage. He'd slaughter you for sure."

"Do you have a plan then, Bumblebee?" asked Optimus Prime, whom had been listening in.

"Yeah, lure him outside. Maybe then the Zentradi fleet's laser bombardment cannons can put him down. All I need is a clear path," Bumblebee interrupted himself briefly to quickly swerve into another side passage to avoid a quick succession of blasts, "someone to direct me, keep crew out of our way, and an open door to space."

"Pierce here," said the Zentradi spy. "I'll be your guide. Breetai's already ordering crew to avoid engaging Megatron if they can."

A pair of Zentradi emerged from a door way just then. Bumblebee could do nothing for them as Megatron vaporized them with a single blast. The momentary distraction allowed Bumblebee to put a little more distance between him and Megatron though. He felt a little guilt over that, but he logically told himself that any sacrifice was necessary to stop the rampaging Megatron. Another Zentradi soldier unlucky enough not to get out of the way quick enough also died as Bumblebee drove on.

Bumblebee winced at the sound of an energy flail tearing through flesh, wishing it didn't remind himself so much of what he himself had done under the influence of the proto-energon. No matter what it cost, this nightmarish mixture of energon and protoculture had to be destroyed, if for no other reason than to keep it out of the Decepticons hands for good.

"That was humiliating," complained Blitzwing, wincing as he gingerly touched a spot on his arm that had been scorched in the conflict with the Autobots and Zentradi.

The other Decepticons grumbled in agreement as they watched Starscream pace back and forth in the interior chamber of Astrotrain's shuttle mode.

"Enough of that," snarled Starscream. "We have suffered terrible losses this day, but I swear we will have our revenge."

"That's easy to say," interrupted Skywarp, "but let's face it, we're vastly outnumbered and we have lost Megatron. What are we supposed to do now?"

"Megatron was a weak fool, trusting his alliance with the fleshlings. That brilliant plan lead us right to the predicament we are in now. It's all their fault."

"It wasn't the fleshlings that killed Megatron. It was the Autobots."

"It was their ship in the middle of their fleet. It was their incompetence that allowed the Autobots to sneak aboard and kill our compatriots. They are as much to blame as the Autobots and we will destroy them, as we do all whom dare to challenge us."

As the other Decepticons pondered this point, Ravage entered the central chamber and approached Starscream. He nudged Starscream's leg and indicated to him to follow.

"Excuse me a moment, my fellow Decepticons," said Starscream. "Ravage seems to need something." He quickly followed the svelte robotic feline out of the room. It felt good to get away from the feeling of worthlessness that every Decepticon seemed to be feeling. Why couldn't they see that a new dawn of Decepticon greatness was upon them under his glorious rule?

When he and Ravage approached the rear of the shuttle, the sight that beheld Starscream's optics stunned him momentarily. There was one of his most loyal lieutenants opening the side bay door.

"Going somewhere?" asked Starscream.

Thundercracker jumped in surprise at hearing Starscream's voice. He looked guiltily behind him. When he spotted Ravage standing beside Starscream, he laughed. "I suppose it was foolish of me to think no one would notice my departure."

"I don't understand, Thundercracker. Why would you leave now? Under my leadership, you would be one of my top officers."

"Yeah, what a treat that would be, a top officer of a dying movement."

Starscream actually sputtered in outrage. "Dying movement? Under my leadership? Now that Megatron is gone…"

"You don't get it," interrupted Thundercracker. "Megatron was the unifying force behind the Decepticons. Without him, we will fracture into competing factions. The Autobots won't have to fight us anymore. We'll be too busy destroying each other. No thanks. I'm out."

"If you think for one micron…"

"Save the speech. I don't fear you the way I feared Megatron. I have no reason to stay."

Starscream gently placed his hand on Thundercracker's shoulder. "I'm not threatening you, Thundercracker. I just don't understand why you would walk away from all the glory you'd gain by staying on with me."

Thundercracker calmly lifted Starscream's arm of his shoulder. "No offense Screamer, but murdering fellow Decepticons from the shadows isn't my idea of achieving glory."

Starscream gasped.

"That's right, Screamer, I witnessed who really shot Megatron," confirmed Thundercracker. "I have no intention of telling the others. You did me a favor. I'm free of all of you now. But if you try to force me to stay, I will tell the others."

Starscream turned his back to Thundercracker. "Go then, you traitor."

The only answer Starscream received from Thundercracker was the sound of transformation to his jet mode and him flying out of the shuttle at top speed.

Starscream turned back and watched the rapidly fading plumes of jet fire from Thundercracker as he sped from the Decepticon shuttle. "Not even a good-bye. I thought we were closer than that," whispered Starscream before closing the portal.

Ravage whined at Starscream was they started walking back to the central chamber.

"The traitor made his choice. We'll inform the others that I have dispatched Thundercracker on a special mission for me, one that will take however long as it takes for the others to forget about him."

Ravage growled assent.

"I suppose I need a new spy master now that Soundwave is scrapped. I can think of no better a candidate for the position than you, Ravage."

Ravage purred in appreciation.

"This, of course, means you will keep secret that which Thundercracker revealed."

Ravage nodded.

"Good. I'm glad we have an understanding. Now let's go back and start expanding the glory of the Decepticons under my rule."

Rumble moved cautiously from room to room, keeping every audible sensor tuned to his surroundings so he wouldn't be caught unaware by anyone. He didn't fear being discovered by the Zentradi of course. He could take any of them any time he wanted. Any Autobot too for that matter. However, this was the first time since his creation that he was ever truly alone. Soundwave had always been there, as a leader and as a protector. He always depended on the fact that nothing could truly hurt him because Soundwave would always be there.

But now he was gone. Somehow, Rumble knew it was Megatron that did it. It didn't make sense, but he saw with his own optics the homicidal impulses that were dictating Megatron's actions. It frightened him.

He'd been occasionally transmitting an emergency distress beacon from time to time, but thus far there had been no answer. Rumble was puzzled. He couldn't figure out what happened in the time that Bumblebee had knocked him offline. Did Megatron slag all the others, he wondered. It doesn't seem possible, but what else could have happened to the others?

Rumble pondered this as he peeked around the corner.

Ramhorn snorted in his face.

"What the?" screamed Rumble as he backpedaled quickly from the corner. The surprises didn't end though. A low growl sounded behind him. When Rumble whirled around, he saw that Steeljaw had crept up behind him.

"Well, well, well," sounded a voice Rumble was disgustedly familiar with. Sure enough, Jazz followed Ramhorn as they both rounded the corner. "It seems Blaster was right, there was a Decepticon signal coming from this part of the ship. Nice work tracking down the rat, kitty cat!"

"Aw nuts," exclaimed Rumble throwing his hands up into the air to indicate his surrender. "What are you guys doing here?"

"We were just in the neighborhood and thought we'd stop by to the let the locals know they were fighting with the wrong side. They agreed and kicked your buddies off the ship. Looks like you got left behind. Stellar pals you have there, Rumble."

"Those dirty, rotten…"

"Decepticons?" offered Jazz helpfully.

Rumble shot Jazz a dirty look. "Look, I don't want to fight you guys, but we got to get off this ship. It's Megatron."

"We already know," interrupted Jazz. "Someone pumped the proto-energon into Megatron and he's going on a killing spree. We're already working on it."

"You can't work on Megatron!" said Rumble exasperatedly, gesturingly wildly. "You haven't seen what he's doing! He's unstoppable! He'll kill us all unless we get off this ship!"

At this point, Ramhorn had heard enough and lunged forward. Hooking his horn just under Rumble's arm, he slammed the Decepticon several times into the corridor wall.

"That… was… mean…" mumbled Rumble before going into stasis once more.

Jazz rolled his optics upwards at the display. "Remind me to talk to Blaster about your temper, Ramhorn."

Ramhorn snorted in irritation.

"Well, what's done is done," replied Jazz, lifting Rumble's inert body. "Jazz to Blaster. We found the source of the Decepticon signal. Turns out it was Rumble. We've taken him prisoner. Please have Commander Breetai advise us on a good place to store this robo-turkey."

"Roger," responded Blaster.

"How's Bumblebee doing?"

"Remarkably well. The little guy is putting on a display on how to avoid getting killed by unstoppable killing machines thus far. That ability of his to anticipate Megatron's actions sure has come in handy."

"Where are they now?"

"They just entered the hanger bay that Pierce directed him to. I hope Bee has a good plan to lure him…"

The sudden stop in Blaster's speech spooked Jazz. One thing Blaster was known for was his ability to keep talking no matter the situation. "What happened, Blaster?" he demanded.

"It's Bumblebee," stated Blaster distressfully. "He just gunned it as fast as his engine could go and launched himself into space."


"He drove off the ship and is now hurtling wildly off the starboard side of the command vessel. Megatron has flown out after him. That little creep! He was planning on using himself as bait the whole time!"

"By Primus," cursed Jazz. "Bumblebee, what in the name of the Allspark do you think you're doing?"

"I thought that was obvious, Jazz," responded Bumblebee. "This was the only way to get Megatron off Breetai's ship."

"Of all the glitch prone programming…"

"It's exactly the type of plan you would have come up with."

Jazz sputtered. "I pull crazy stunts, Bumblebee, not suicidal! I always have a plan to get away! Tell me you have a plan to get away!"

Bumblebee laughed. "I guess that's why Prime never selects me for this type of mission."

"That isn't funny! We have to get you out of there!" Jazz paced back and forth rapidly, straining his processor for some miracle idea to get his friend out of danger. "Slag it! How can we get him out of this?"

"How about if we help?" offered a new voice over the radio.


"Woo hoo!" exclaimed Blaster excitedly. "It's Max! He just swooped in and snagged Bumblebee!"

Jazz pumped his fist triumphantly. "Max? Not that I'm complaining, but what are you doing here?"

"Captain Gloval had Miriya and I prepped in super veritechs in case you needed help getting off the Zentradi cruiser," reported Max. "When he and Optimus heard Megatron was on the rampage, he ordered us to double time it here. Fortunately, we made it in time to help."

"Careful Max," warned Blaster. "Even though your girlfriend is giving Megatron everything she's got, he's still coming for you."

"Yow! That was a close one," exclaimed Max. "Thanks for the heads-up. And for the record, the term now is wife."

"It's me he's still after," realized Bumblebee.

"Well, he's going to have to go through me to get you," promised Max.

"No wait! I have a better idea. Transform to your jet mode while I climb on top. Good. Now jet that way at your top speed. Don't worry. I'll hang on."

"Ok, run like a rabbit and draw the enemy away from the fleet. I take it we're leading him to a fleet bombardment?"

"Even better," said Bumblebee. "Captain Gloval, please tell me you're tracking our movements."

"You have never left our sights once we spotted you leaving the ship," confirmed Gloval.

"Good, get that main cannon of yours prepped to go. It's the biggest gun we have and I mean to destroy Megatron with it."

Jazz whistled. "That's a good plan, Bee."

"I thought you'd like it," replied Bumblebee

"Captain," reported Vanessa. "Sensors show that Commander Sterling and Bumblebee are too close to the target. If we fire, they will be destroyed as well."

"Not they," stated Bumblebee. "Just me."

"What?" exclaimed a chorus of voices over the radio.

"Bumblebee, what are you doing?" exclaimed Max. "You've just disconnected the cockpit from the veritech. I can't control it anymore."

"I know. You were the one who taught us how to detach the cockpit from the veritech in case we needed to save a pilot," explained Bumblebee. "That's what I'm doing. Miriya, catch!"

"He just threw the cockpit containing Max away!" stated Blaster. "He's still on the veritech, riding it, drawing Megatron further away!"

"Bumblebee, it doesn't have to be this way," cried Prime.

"Yes it does, Optimus," said Bumblebee solemnly. "We're linked somehow, Megatron and I. As long as I live, he'll keep coming. I can't even outrun him on a rocket boosted veritech. However, that allows me to put him in place for you to destroy him."

"We will not sacrifice you to destroy Megatron!" declared Prime.

"I know. Vanessa, are we clear of everyone?"

"Yes," confirmed Vanessa.

"Good. Good bye, Optimus Prime. Good bye, my friends. 'Til All Are One!"

"By Primus! Bumblebee just launched himself off of the veritech!" exclaimed Blaster bewilderedly. "He's diving straight at Megatron."

"Bumblebee! No!" shouted Prime.

Jazz felt a chill in his internal pump as he heard nothing but silence for the next few microns. "Guys?" he finally implored.

"It's over, sir," sobbed Vanessa. "Bumblebee has been killed."

"Main Cannon, fire!" bellowed Gloval furiously.

Jazz pounded on the wall. "No no no no no!" he raged. "Not Bumblebee! Primus! Why did it have to be Bumblebee?" Steeljaw nuzzled Jazz's leg sympathetically.

"Sensors detect no sign of the target, Captain," reported Vanessa tearfully. "Megatron and… Bumblebee… have been destroyed."

"Thank you, Vanessa," said Gloval solemnly.

"Why did he do it, Prime?" asked Jazz. "We risked our lives to free him and he just sacrificed himself."

"I know, Jazz," replied Prime. "We always knew defeating Megatron would come at a great price. Now that price seems too high."

"My condolences to you, Optimus Prime, for the loss of your warrior," said Breetai. "Know that the Zentradi will sing songs and tell the story of his valiance in battle for all time. His sacrifice will never be forgotten."

"My people will honor him as well, Optimus," added Gloval. "He truly was one of the best Autobots I ever had the privilege to meet."

"Thank you both," said Prime. "Now if you will excuse me, I must inform the others that we have lost one of our own today."

"Of course, Optimus," replied Gloval. "Go grieve with your fellow Autobots. I will handle negotiations with Lord Breetai until you can join us again."

Jazz fell to his knees in despair. Bumblebee was their spring of eternal optimism, the one whom always believed in the Autobot cause when things seemed their bleakest. How could they ever carry on without him?

"Are you guys ok?" asked Rick sympathetically.

"No, Rick, it hurts," answered Jazz truthfully.

"I know it does, pal. He was one of my best friends. I'll miss him."

"I wasn't that close to him," admitted Jazz. "There was always some mission, some secret project to oversee, some tactical meeting to attend. Besides, you tend not to want to get too close after losing friends."

"I hear you. Just remember that Bumblebee went out on his terms." There was a short pause. "That's more than some get," Rick whispered.

"Sounds like you've traveled this road too," commented Blaster.

"I have," confirmed Rick. "Tell you what, guys, when we get back to the SDF-1, let's all get together, drink to our lost friends, and tell each other their stories."

"You have a deal," agreed Jazz.

"Sounds like a plan," added Blaster. "Jazz, Breetai says he's sending some soldiers your way to guide you to a cell where you can drop off Rumble."

"I see them now, Blaster. And thanks Rick. I can see now why Bumblebee regarded you one of his favorite humans."

"Coming from an Autobot he looked up to more than most," responded Rick, "I'll take that as a compliment. See you soon."

Claudia Grant watched Cosmos gently fly into the shuttle bay. She waited impatiently as the bay doors closed and air was pumped into the room. Once the green light signifying that it was safe to enter lit, she ran ahead of the paramedics to the opening door of Cosmos' vehicle mode. "Lisa!" she cried out.

"I'm here, Claudia," replied Lisa weakly. "Boy, is it good to hear your voice."

Cosmos had warned everyone that Lisa had been damaged pretty severely, but seeing all the burns, bruises, and broken bones that Lisa suffered brought tears to Claudia's eyes. "Oh dear, sweet Lisa, what did they do to you?"

"Never mind that," snapped Lisa. "I can heal from this. "Do we know anything about Rick?"

In spite of herself, Claudia laughed. Of course, Lisa would demand answers before taking care of herself first. It was just so like her. She hadn't realized how much she missed that until that moment. "Rick's fine," said Claudia.

"Oh thank God," breathed Lisa in relief. The paramedics arrived then and started looking over her. "Tell me what we know," Lisa ordered.

"Well, it's kind of a long story, but the important details are Megatron's dead, the Decepticons were kicked off the Zentradi command ship, the Zentradi have agreed to open peace negotiations with us, and there likely is a fleet of six million ships coming to wipe us all out."

Lisa sat up with a grimace and waved off a medic trying to hold her down. "Come again?"

"The war is over. The Zentradi fleet wants to discuss peace. However, the Zentradi overlord, Dolza, isn't going to like that, so he's probably on his way here to kill us all."

Lisa laid back down and let the medics continue their work. "It's funny. I dreamed of a day where we could talk peace with the Zentradi and now that it's here, it's going to lead to an even bigger war."

"Things never quite go as planned, do they?" asked Claudia.

"Ain't that the truth. Still, I'm glad Rick is doing ok. I was worried about him and the others. I never thought they'd be able to survive, much less kill Megatron and defeat the Decepticons. How did that happen?"

Claudia got quiet all of a sudden. "Lisa, we don't have to talk about this right now," she implored.

"What happened?" demanded Lisa immediately. "Tell me! Now!"

Claudia drooped her head down in sorrow. "Lisa, I'm sorry. I didn't want to have to tell you this now, but it's Bumblebee. He sacrificed himself to stop Megatron."

Lisa felt like the floor of the room just dropped. "No, not Bumblebee," she protested weakly.

Tears started to flow down Claudia's cheeks. "I monitored the situation from here while waiting for you. I watched him die. I'm sorry, sweetie."

Lisa started to sob uncontrollably. All those days they spent together on the Zentradi ship, all those talks the two of them shared. Bumblebee had been a lifeline that kept her going when it seemed she couldn't go on. "It isn't fair, Claudia."

Claudia grasped Lisa's hand tightly. "I know."

"We…we were supposed to escape to…together. He wasn't supposed to stay… behind."

"Commanders," said one of the medics, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but the stretcher is here. We need to move her to the hospital now."

Lisa's grip on Claudia's hand tightened. "Stay with me."

"Of course I will," said Claudia. She stayed silent from that moment on, allowing her best friend to grieve as the medics moved her from Cosmos to the ambulance waiting for them. She never even noticed as the ambulance drove away that Cosmos had transformed and started crying.

Chapter 27

From the journal of Optimus Prime:

Bumblebee. Oh Bumblebee. Why did we have to lose you? I would have gladly offered my spark to the Allspark to spare yours, my friend.

The sacrifice you made to defeat our most bitter foe was noble, but the pain of your passing threatens to overwhelm me.

The rest of the Autobots are experiencing varying degrees of sorrow at the loss of their dear comrade. Cliffjumper has taken the news the hardest, perhaps because you and he are so similar in age and model. Surprisingly, Ironhide and Gears have taken it upon themselves to cheer Cliffjumper up. It's surprising to see Gears abandon his usual tactic of acting sad to cheer the others up, but the circumstances are anything but ordinary.

Hound has stoically stepped in your old post of Human Liaison. He reports that quite a number of the Human pilots are just as saddened at your passing as we are. It pleases me that you were able to touch so many lives amongst our new allies. You truly did a tremendous service for us. Hound will do well in his new responsibilities, but you were one of a kind. The special way you had of making so many new friends amongst the humans will be missed.

It is just one of many holes you leave behind.

Captain Gloval invited us to a human tradition of remembering the dead which they called a wake. He and the other Humans gave grand tributes to you, but none was as touching as Commander Hayes. Though she only knew you a short while, Bumblebee, it was obvious to all Autobots that she felt the pain of your death as acutely as we did.

Perhaps more surprising came the announcement of Captain Gloval and his science chief, Dr. Lang. They revealed that they had been working with Wheeljack for a while on an all terrain, four wheeled vehicle that could convert to a battloid to provide a variety of military purposes, including providing close support with our own Autobot forces. In honor of you, my friend, they have decided to call this new vehicle the Bumblebee.

It is a fitting tribute. Captain Gloval has informed me that many pilots have already volunteered to test drive the Bumblebee when the prototype is completed.

The thing that comforts me the most though, my friend, is that you continue to watch over me from the Matrix of Leadership. Your optimism, hope, and courage have melded with the Matrix, which will guide me to be a better leader. The Matrix has never shown as bright as it does with you there. I know you will guide me well. You always have.

Primus be with you, Bumblebee. 'Til All Are One.

Admiral Hayes gave Captain Gloval a disapproving gaze from the vidscreen. "Captain Gloval, just because you called to inform me that Commander Hayes has been recovered from the Zentradi does not mean I am in any sort of mood to listen once again to your prophecies of our demise."

"Admiral, I would never dream of wasting your time," said Henry calmly. "We have intel that suggests the main Zentradi fleet is coming to Earth with the intention of destroying every living thing in the solar system."

"And what is the source of this intel you have gathered?"

Henry gestured to Exedore to stand beside him so that Admiral Hayes could see him. "May I present the Zentradi ambassador, Councilor Exedore."

Admiral Hayes frowned as he took a good look at Exedore. "What is this?" he demanded. "I was unaware that there were Zentradi whom are the same size as humans."

"We are indeed normally much larger," explained Exedore. "The process we use to become the same height as yourselves is one we call micronization. You see, we can…"

"Let's stick to the subject at hand," interrupted Gloval.

"Of course, Captain," said Exedore with chagrin. "Your Captain speaks correctly, Admiral Hayes. If Supreme Commander Dolza follows his usual procedure of eliminating fleets that defect from the Zentradi, and there is no reason to believe he will not, then your world is in extreme danger."

Gloval could immediately see that Exedore's announcement had the opposite effect they intended as he glowered at both of them. "With all due respect," said Admiral Hayes, "it seems that Supreme Commander Dolza is coming to eliminate you, not the Earth. If we stay neutral, there is no reason for him to attack."

"That is an incorrect assumption," declared Exedore. "The simple truth is that he will see your planet as an imminent threat to Zentradi because of your culture. He will destroy us for defecting to your world, and destroy your world because of its culture."

"I believe you trying to draw us into your civil war. I'm sorry, gentlemen, this world just spent 12 years rebuilding from the last war we had. I'll be damned if I bring war to our world on your say so."

"Admiral, we are not asking you to go to war," corrected Gloval. "We are warning you of the immediate threat that is coming our way. I implore you, don't ignore this warning. Prepare our military. It is vital to Humanity's very survival."

"Thank you, Captain," said Admiral Hayes sharply. "We will take your recommendation into advisement. Good day."

The vid screen went dark.

"That went better than I thought," commented Lisa Hayes from her seat in the corner of the room.

"But it still wasn't enough," said Henry. "I wish you could have helped us plead our case better."

Lisa gestured to the bandages that still covered a large area of her body. "You know as well as I that if my father got a glimpse of these injuries, he'd have never listened to Exedore. You and Exedore warned the Earth of what's coming. My father, despite his dismissal, still listened. He is a practical man. Though he doesn't want war, he won't ignore the warning and have the USN monitor space for any activity. Dolza, at the very least, will not catch the Earth off guard."

Gloval reached into his inner coat pocket and withdrew his pipe. Lighting it, he took a few quick puffs. "You are correct. We did what we could. The rest is in his hands now. God only knows if it will be enough."

"In the conventional sense, it will not be," stated Exedore.

"I know," agreed Lisa. "I remember the demonstration of your fleet's might quite vividly." She shuddered as she imagined Earth being bombarded in such a fashion.

"That is why I suggested we attack Dolza by means of the culture attack that worked so well with us. This will be a fight for our very survival. We will need every advantage to win."

"It's a good plan, Exedore," agreed Gloval. "Using your cruisers to broadcast our culture amplified by Autobot technology, it's inspirational when you think of it. Who could have realized that Humanity would be joining forces with two other races to defend our world."

"Or that the very idea of such a coordinated defense would come from one of those visitors to our world," added Lisa.

"Indeed. I wish Optimus Prime was here to share this moment with us." Henry turned to Exedore then and extended his hand towards him. "As it stands though, I thank you on behalf of my people for coming to our defense."

Exedore took the hand and shook, having already been taught the custom by his former spies. "In truth, Captain Gloval, we have our own reasons for standing with you. Without your culture attack, Supreme Commander Dolza would surely destroy us effortlessly. An alliance with you was the most prudent course of action."

Henry smiled at the frankness of the Zentradi ambassador. "My good sir, I rarely have the privilege of speaking with an ambassador whom speaks truthfully. Though you have selfish reasons for helping us, you also have expressed sincere appreciation of my people. I will not forget whom stood with us when we needed assistance. It is my hope that this alliance leads to genuine friendship between our races."

"That is my fervent wish as well, Captain Gloval."

The vidphone chimed at that moment. Henry walked over and pressed the button to answer the call.

The face of Claudia Grant appeared on the screen. "Captain, the Zentradi commander just radioed us. He states that the space fold sensors of his fleet are starting to register a sizable force of ships heading our way. They estimate arrival in roughly 20 minutes."

"Thank you, Commander Grant," replied Gloval. "Bring us to combat readiness, launch all fighters, and begin preparation for Project: Culture Attack at once. I'm on my way."

Lisa grimaced in pain as she used her crutches to stand from her seat. "I should come too."

"I'm sorry, Commander Hayes," said Gloval regretfully. "I need everybody in fighting shape for this battle. You're on the sidelines."

"The heck with that, sir," said Lisa angrily. "This is the fight for planet Earth! I'm not sitting for this one."

Gloval sighed. "Very well, then. Report to the shield room."

"But sir!" protested Lisa.

"Enough, Commander!" barked Gloval. "You've made your case that all soldiers need to be present for this battle. So, I want you there as backup to lead the SDF-1, in case something happens to the bridge. It is the most practical room to act as a temporary bridge should the need arise. If the enemy takes us out, I want my best officer there leading the fight. As you pointed out, this is a fight we must win, Commander. If we fall, you must lead the alliance to victory. That's an order!"

Lisa stood there, mouth gaping. "I thought you were trying…"

"I know, Commander."

"Very well, I will report to the shield room. Good luck, sir!"

"We will need it, Commander."

From the Journal of Hound

The Humans called it the Rain of Death. I can't argue with the label. The laser bombardment of six million ships upon their homeworld seemingly obliterated all life on the planet. Within a matter of clicks, the Zentradi had done to the Earth what took us millions of stellar cycles to do to Cybertron.

It almost broke us.

But then, there was a counter shot from the Earth. Somehow, the Humans had constructed a weapon within the planet capable of firing a beam of such power and magnitude, it obliterated a quarter of the Zentradi fleet. More than that though, it bolstered the Humans. The counter attack proved to them that the Earth wasn't completely dead, that there were survivors.

That knowledge spurred us into action. In the face of Dolza's depraved action of firing on the Earth, we knew that this was a battle of life or death. There would be no surrender. We fought for vengeance, we fought for peace.

We fought for our very lives.

United by Minmei's song urging us onwards to victory, we attacked Dolza with all of our combined might.

The Zentradi didn't stand a chance. Their Supreme Commander had woefully underestimated the Human's fighting spirit. His troops, already horrified that the Humans had built a weapon that had wiped out a quarter of their fleet in a single shot, succumbed to the psychological assault of Minmei's song broadcast on all their frequencies. They simply lost the will to fight and offered almost no resistance to our counter attack.

The SDF-1, flanked by Breetai's fleet, plowed through Dolza's forces as they flew towards Dolza's massive space fortress. Using Dr. Lang's pinpoint barrier system, the SDF-1 cut through the outer hull of the fortress as easily as Grimlock's electro-scimitar cuts through insecticons. Suddenly, we were inside the fortress. From my vantage point, I actually spotted the Supreme Commander. He was begging for mercy.

The Humans unloaded every last missile they carried and activated their omni directional force shield.

The resulting explosion from Dolza's fortress destroyed nearly every remaining Zentradi ship in his fleet. Even Breetai's fleet was severely damaged in the blast field. The Zentradi ships that did manage to withstand the explosion were forced to crash land on the Earth.

The SDF-1 also sustained heavy damage during the battle and was forced to land on the Earth. They managed to land it within a lake that had somehow not been burn in the Rain of Death.

Somehow, we had all managed to survive. There was no celebration though. Dolza had largely succeeded in destroying the Earth.

The Humans wailed in sorrow as they emerged from the SDF-1 to survey the damage that had been done to their homeworld. Smoke blanketed the sky as the land burned. I could understand their despair, for it matches my own when I think of what we did to Cybertron.

I volunteered to scout the area immediately. Despite all my experience with war, I've never experienced the eerie silence that overwhelmed my audio sensors. There simply were no sounds of life anywhere close by the SDF-1.

Later, as I searched the devastation and ruin of the planet, I discovered small bands of Human and Zentradi survivors, rummaging through the debris for food, supplies, anything that might be useful. Whenever I spot them, I call their locations to the SDF-1. Optimus Prime agrees that Humans might find our presence unsettling. If my homeworld had been incinerated, I'd be wary of other races too.

The Humans whom had been living in the SDF-1 have largely transferred the city they had built within the ship to the outside. I've never seen anything like it. Rick and Max told me that the citizens of Macross City are a special bunch. No matter how crazy the world gets, they just rebuild and keep living.

I can see why Optimus Prime wants us to stay and help the Humans rebuild their world. Not even the total devastation of their world seems to have dampened their resolve. We can learn a lot of them, as we already have.

As for me, I just love exploring this planet. In the months since the attack, I discovered that it isn't just the Humans whom have survived the Zentradi's planetary bombardment. I've already catalogued hundreds of different animal and insect species that have somehow managed to survive. I don't know how many of those species will survive and repopulate the planet, but if they have half the tenacity as the Humans, I suspect most will.

Whether they live or not, I will be here to protect them from whatever threats may come. I was born on Cybertron, but Earth has become my home. I will protect it with all I have.

Henry Gloval stood on the stage looking out over the gathered crowd of people, Zentradi, and Autobots in the newly built arena. It seemed that nearly every resident of Macross City had come to witness the culmination of months of diplomatic work, the official signing of the Human/Zentradi/Autobot alliance.

As usual, Optimus Prime had delivered the most stirring speech, highlighting the strengths of each respective race and how this alliance would make all races stronger in the end. Though Henry declined the position of President offered to him by the citizens, he was glad that Optimus Prime agreed to be on the joint council to would govern them through the rebuilding of their world. They would need his wisdom.

As Henry looked out over the crowd, he spotted Commander Hayes sitting next to the newly promoted Commander Hunter and holding his hand. Gloval smiled. It truly was good that Lisa finally acknowledged her attraction to Rick. He was a good man and would treat her well. He wished them the best of luck in their relationship.

Beside them sat Max and Miriya. What a miracle their marriage seemed now after all that had happened. It brought Gloval tremendous hope for the future as he saw that Miriya was already starting to show signs that she was pregnant with their first child. Now that was a sign of hope if ever he saw one.

The crowd roared as Optimus Prime finished his speech. Henry stood and clapped as enthusiastically as the rest.

The signing itself of the unification accord was almost anti-climatic in comparison. Fortunately, Lynn Minmei put on a truly inspiring show that left everyone feeling quite satisfied and hopeful for the future.

Henry puffed on his pipe as he watched the crowd start to file out of the amphitheater, for once just for the sheer pleasure of it rather than needing it to calm his nerves. Today was a great step towards peace, but unfortunately, there were already reports of Zentradi rebel bands preying on Human communities that had begun to rebuild. Also, there were several encounters with Decepticons stealing precious reserves of energy.

Those, and other threats, existed in the universe. Earth wasn't an isolated world anymore. With the arrival of the SDF-1 so many years ago, Earth and Humanity had been dragged into inter-galactic politics. Humanity could no longer assume that other races would just ignore their small world. To ensure Humanity's survival, they would have to engage the other races on their terms. Their new allies in the Zentradi have already provided valuable insight on other races, including the Robotech Masters whom had used the Zentradi to expand their empire.

Lord Breetai and Exedore both expressed cynicism that the Robotech Masters would negotiate with the Humans, but they agreed that it would be best if the Humans arrived at Tirol to talk as equals rather than wait for their arrival and potentially fighting another war on their planet that was already struggling just to survive. Dr. Lang and his scientists were already designing the SDF-2 for this purpose. Commanders Hayes and Hunter had volunteered to lead the expedition. That is what truly gave Henry hope for the future. He could not imagine two people more suited to leading Humanity into its place in the Galaxy than these two.

At the very least, they had rid themselves of the threats of Dolza and Megatron. The rest was in Lisa's and Rick's hands now.


A flat rectangular ship space folded just outside the asteroid field between Earth and Mars. Within the ship were three nearly identical humanoid beings.

Despite their resemblance to Humans, the three were very thin and tall in comparison to an average human, their skin a sickly pale white as if they had never been exposed to sunlight. This was the result of the genetic manipulation their scientists had performed on their race to create perfect bodies. Now, they relied solely on creating clones of themselves to reproduce.

All three were clad in the dark green tunics and tight pants with a purple belt that served as the military uniform of their people. Only the color of their hair differentiated the three clones. The red haired clone was named Tyrius. His green and blue haired brothers were named Hermod and Skurge respectively.

They were Robotech Masters, sent by the Robotech Elders to confirm what their sensors had reported, that their Zentradi army had been eradicated.

"Well?" asked Tyrius, his voice giving off a strange echo affect that typified members of his race when they spoke.

"Our scans are showing the same readings that the Elders read on Tirol," answered Hermod. "We have protoculture residue on a scale of a massive protoculture explosion. The only ship in the area that could have given off an explosion of that scale was Dolza's space fortress. We are also finding debris consistent with a large number of ships being destroyed as well as sensing thousands of ships stranded on the third and fourth planets of this system."

"Then it's true, the Zentradi have actually been defeated," concluded Skurge bewilderedly.

"The data we are collecting is highly consistent with that assessment."

"Are we getting any readings from Zor's battleship?" asked Tyrius.

"Affirmative," replied Hermod. "It is located on the third planet. It seems to be damaged, but we still are reading that the proto-culture matrix remains intact."

"That is good. With the loss of the Zentradi fleet, we will need it to rebuild our army and destroy the Invid."

"But we haven't the protoculture to warp our fleet to this system," protested Skurge.

"It matters not," stated Tyrius flatly. "We have reserves enough to fly our ships here."

"That will take decades."

"It's that or surrender to the Invid."

"I'm reading something strange," interrupted Hermod.

"What is it?" asked Tyrius.

Hermod created a viewing circle in the air before his two brothers for them to see. On the screen, floating amongst the asteroids, was the inert form of Megatron. "It appears to be a bipedal humanoid shaped machine. Sensors are showing that it has sustained heavy damage."

"Perhaps this is one of the machines the Zentradi reported being employed by the Micronians in this system?" posited Skurge.

"I'm also getting some strange energy readings from the machine. It seems to be protoculture, but it seems to have been modified in some fashion."

"I see," stated Tyrius. "Very well, bring it aboard. The Science Masters will likely wish to examine it."

"Already done."

"Good. Then warp us back to Tirol. We have a lot of preparation to do before launching our fleet to retrieve what is rightfully ours."


The End