From a Scream to a Whisper
From a Scream to a Whisper
by Birgit Staebler

-- Incoming shuttle --
-- Identification --
-- Running --
-- Identification positive --
-- Scans positive --
-- Opening shields --

* * *

The shuttle landed about three hours after coming out of the warp gate and Nicholas was glad to be able to stretch his legs. It wasn't his first time on Cybertron, but as always he was very impressed by the former factor planet.
"Beautiful," someone beside him said and he discovered the older woman who had been one of the few other passengers aboard.
"It sure is," he agreed. "Your first time on Cybertron?"
She nodded. Nicholas guessed she was in her fifties, the chestnut-colored hair showing first silver strings. She was expensively dressed, but not too loudly. There was something sophisticated about her, very calm and very aware of herself.
"Astoria?"
A red and silver colored Autobot stepped toward them and Nicholas recognized Powerglide.
"Hello, my friend," the woman, Astoria, greeted him. "It's nice to see you again after all this time."
Powerglide smiled and the two disappeared toward the entrance of the South Port's main building.
Walking over to the human quarters of the South Port complex Nicholas checked on everything around him, making sure he was still remembering correctly where everything was located. There were maps all over the complex to help visitors.
"Hey, Nicky!"
He groaned and smiled at Mel. "Hey, Mel," he greeted Spike's daughter.
"I didn't know you were coming here," she said.
He shrugged. "Just want to have a look at our visitor."
"Spook? Well, he's been released from med bay and currently talking with Raven." Mel accompanied him to the quarters.
"How are you and Nightmare?" Nicholas asked curiously. "Still trouble with Optimus?"
"Nah," she waved away. "He's too busy with everything else happening around here. Since the Seekers and also the Decepticons came here the two of us are no longer his main concern."
Nicholas nodded. He had heard about all of this and he didn't really know what to think of it. Seekers, okay, those he could accept. But the Decepticons? Well, he had to see.
"You want to take a look at the readings from Spook?" Mel guessed.
The engineer nodded. "Yep. Plain curiosity."
Mel chuckled. "I'll be over in med bay in about two hours as well. See you then."
Nicholas entered his quarters, dumped his stuff and immediately left again. He had some things to do.
As he walked down the Autobot-sized corridors he met several Autobots he knew and some he had never seen before. As he rounded a corner to the elevators down into med bay he became aware of a strange, tingling feeling in the back of his mind. He rubbed his neck and stopped in front of the elevator, waiting for the next one to come. Someone walked up to him and stopped as well. Nicholas looked up and was greeted by the sight of a dark blue robot with some silver highlights. A Seeker, he guessed by the symbol on his shoulder.
Silver optics met his eyes, then the elevator arrived and Nicholas walked in. The Seeker seemed to hesitate a moment, then followed. They rode silently down two levels and Nicholas exited on the level med bay was located. The Seeker remained.
The tingling feeling turned into a constant whisper and Nicholas felt a bit nauseous. Maybe he should have taken a rest after the long flight. He hadn't had much sleep lately because of his and Raoul's project. The two of them and several Autobot engineers had started to redesign certain areas of Metroplex, which was a difficult and long process of loads of work and very little sleep. Well, he'd get some of the files about Spook, return to his quarters and then do some work there. He could have called First Aid and ask him to send the files, but he wanted to see the medic again anyway.
The blue robot had not followed him and Nicholas was more or less alone on his way to med bay. The whispers had turned into a slight pressure inside his head, like an approaching headache and he sighed silently. Just what he needed. He'd get some aspirin later.
As Nicholas walked into med bay he noted how empty everything was. Rodimus had told him that Kyle and Kayla were no longer on Cybertron because their Sentinel partners had shield duties to fulfill, and no sick Autobots had apparently reported in.
"Hello, Nicholas," First Aid greeted the human.
"Hi. How are you? Looks mighty quiet here."
"The calm before the storm," First Aid replied. "I can use the breathing space to get some work done. After the latest events, an empty med bay is a gift!"
Nicholas smiled. "I won't bother you long, just as long as it takes to pick up the reports on this Spook character. I want to study them in my quarters if you don't mind."
First Aid shrugged. "No problem. But you can stay here as well as long as you like."
Nicholas shook his head. "I need to take a bit of a rest first. I had not much sleep lately and I think I'm getting a headache. I'll call you if I need more data. Thanks." The engineer took the data disk and waved at First Aid, walking back to the elevators. His head was getting worse and he felt even more nauseous. Maybe he had eaten something wrong.....
With these thoughts Nicholas returned to his quarters, took the aspirin and began to study the data files on the disk.

* * *

Optimus Prime frowned at the report and wished he had an insight of what exactly was happening out there. Every since Ralyk had been downloaded into Vector Sigma, a lot of things had changed. Subtly at first, but he changes were now getting obvious, at least for him. Something was going on here and he wanted to know what it was.
"Change of energy patterns. Suddenly refilled energy stores, which are inaccessible for us. Rerouted energy tunnels." He shook his head. "What does it mean?"
"Ask Sphere," a soft voice said.
"But I won't get a straight answer out of her, Silhouette," he answered humorlessly. "She doesn't know it either, I believe. Ralyk is changing the planet, but all she can tell me is that it is for our best, though she can't tell me what 'it' is."
"Have you tried talking to Ralyk personally?"
"No."
She cocked her head. "Why?"
Optimus chuckled. "Because I know I wouldn't get an answer."
The female Dinobot shook her head. "Queer logic. You never tried, but you think you know the answer you'll get." She leaned forward. "You and Rodimus are so much alike in this," she told him. "He always thought he knew the answer he would get from me if he asked."
Optimus smiled. "I don't think you can really compare this....."
Sil shrugged. "It works. Now, go and ask it. One straight question and you might just get a straight answer."
Optimus nodded slowly. "All right, I'll try," he said.
Sil smiled in satisfaction.

* * *

Sphere walked aimlessly through the complex and finally left the large building, feeling claustrophobic all of a sudden, as if every wall was smothering her. She transformed into her equine mode and spread her wings. She took off and flew as aimlessly over the low buildings and through the canyons of larger constructions. Her mind was awhirl with different emotions and, even though she had been reborn over one hundred years ago and had been in this body for all this time. She had accepted herself like this, but she had never met any other robot except for her team mate and brother. Starscream had teased and taunted her, insulted and fought with her, sometimes on a very personal level, but she had known him. She was his sister, she knew his innermost thoughts and he had never reacted to her like Megatron had a few hours ago......
She had seen the shock, his disbelief.... his disgust. She shouldn't have told him -- but he had asked and since they would have to work together for a long time, she had thought the truth would be the best. And she always thought that an honest question deserved and honest answer. Starscream had told her just who exactly the silver robot was and advised her to be careful with him. Maybe she should have listened to him in that regard.....
Sphere landed on a tower-like construction, folding her wings and looking over the scape around her. Everyone accepted her, she had always thought. The Autobots had not shown any different behavior to her. Maybe they were just curious because she was a different design and held a specific and important position, but never because of her heritage.
"Here you are."
Sphere turned and discovered her brother landing behind her. Starscream had been exploring Cybertron on his own for some days now. She transformed.
"Here I am," she replied. "Where have you been?"
"Here and there." He frowned. "Raven said you wanted to go out.... and you haven't been answering calls."
"Whoops," she muttered. "Must have turned off the com."
His frown deepened
Sphere sighed and sat down, pulling her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. "Can I ask you something?"
He sat down beside her. "Shoot."
"When you saw me for the first time ... what did you think of me?"
Starscream's eyes narrowed, then he shrugged. "I thought you were a pain in the afterburners." A teasing grin played over his lips. "And ignoring the discomfort of being confined inside a humanoid body, which I hated, ...."
She chuckled slightly. "No, not as a human. I mean as a robot."
He grinned even more, his lips twisting in a mock-malicious way. "The same."
"Starscream, please! Seriously! Did you think ... I mean, this body .... is it repulsive? Were you disgusted?"
The former Decepticon opened his mouth in surprise, then closed it again. "No!" he then exclaimed. "The design is beautiful, really!" He grinned lopsidedly. "If you weren't my sister I'd sure have made an advance."
She smiled weakly in return. "And what about me, a humanoid, possessing this robot body?"
"You are not possessing it!"
Sphere sighed. "You know what I mean."
"No, sis, I think that this body fits you and it belongs to you. It is you. Why?" A cold expression crossed his features. "Did those Autobots treat you badly?"
"No. It's not that. They have experience with ....this state ..... Silhouette was humanoid as well before she became a robot.... They are also open-minded enough for new life forms to get accepted."
Starscream nodded. He had heard rumors about Silhouette and had been fascinated by it, especially since she seemed to be Rodimus Prime's life partner. "So what is your problem?"
"All the time I accepted who I was because I never encountered problems. You didn't treat me different, neither did Raven or Nightmare, or the Autobot leaders... or the Sentinels. Now.... I was confronted with the reaction I evoke when someone gets to know my true heritage." She looked at the floor, her emerald optics dimming. "Shock, disbelief ..... disgust."
"Who?" Starscream demanded, his voice an icy knife.
She shook her head and turned away.
He grabbed her shoulders and forced her to look at him. "Sphere, who treated you like this?"
"That's not important."
"It is for me! No one can treat you like this!" he exploded. "Who dared to call you disgusting?!"
She smiled gently at him. "Like I said, it's not important. I knew I might have to face this one day or another."
He looked furiously at her, his red optics aflame with rage. "You might be different, but that is no reason to call you...disgusting!"
"I wasn't called 'disgusting'; I saw it in his eyes."
Starscream wanted to say something, then stepped back and transformed, shooting back to the South Port complex. Sphere watched him go, her mind telling he that Starscream was about to do something stupid, but she didn't want to stop him. Her emotional state of mind made her indecisive and so she just stayed, burying her head in her arms, her hair falling over her. She wanted to be alone.

* * *

Spook's head loomed over him like a giant snake, the golden-yellow eyes glowing softly and with curiosity. Nicholas' mind was working on automatic as he took in the basic construction and noted the differences to similar Autobots. He knew all the facts First Aid had jotted down and right now his mind was making up a perfect model of Spook on its own.
"Find anything amiss?" the half-serpent asked with a fine note of amusement in his voice.
Nicholas grinned. "No, simply adding facts to facts. Thanks for your patience."
Spook smiled. "You are an unusual human; just like Melissa Witwicky."
He shrugged. "She has the advantage of being empathic over me." He closed his mind like closing a file.
Nicholas had been on Cybertron for over a week now, catching up on the latest data and getting to know the additions of new robots to the allied forces. Spook was, beside Sphere, one of the more fascinating designs and he had spent hours asking the ancient robots tons of questions, which Spook had patiently answered.
The dark-haired man rubbed his temples. He needed some more aspirin he decided, as his headache came back, followed by the strange feeling in his whole body. Maybe he was coming down with a flu; it felt just like it.
"Are you all right?" Spook's face hovered in front of him.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, perfectly." Nicholas painted a smile on his lips.
Spook didn't look convinced and his tail moved back and forth, but he didn't say a thing. Nightmare walked up to them and nodded at the older robot.
"Optimus Prime wants to talk to you," he addressed Spook.
"Oh, the meeting I've been waiting for," Spook sighed and smiled wryly. "Let's get it over with."
Nicholas watched them go and rubbed his head. Maybe he should let First Aid check him through. If he came down with a flu he would want to get some medication to fight it. He left the room. He remembered that he had an appointment with Sphere as well. The Key had agreed to one of his question-and-answer sessions and he wanted to work on her design profile. First Aid had told him he appreciated the work Nick did because he was getting results and drawing conclusions faster than the Autobot medic. It was just the way Nicholas' mind worked. And then there was his promise to Mel to get together for some brainstorming. As an empath, limited to robot life, she had a different insight into the Cybertronians and the two rather ancient robots. It would be interesting to see what they could get down.
As he walked down the corridor Nicholas heard steps and automatically moved closer to the wall. It was something he had learned to do in Autobot City, even though all Autobots were very much aware of the smaller humans and took great care not to step on them accidentally. But Nicholas lived by the saying better safe than sorry.
It was the dark blue robot again and maybe it was his imagination, but the silver eyes held an urgent glow. Nicholas groaned and screwed his eyes shut at a sharp pain running through him. He steadied himself against the wall, feeling like the whole world was tilting sideways. The robot stopped and stared at him.
"No."
The single word seemed to lance through him, cutting his mind apart. He gasped, his knees giving way and he fell to the ground. The very floor seemed to grow all wavy and twist around him. His mind buzzed with something akin to whispers and a voice cut through. He didn't understand the voice, but it was louder than everything else.
The world around him went black.

*

Spook's eyes flashed deep golden for a brief moment, then returned to their normal color. He had felt something pass softly through him, like a confirmation, and he smiled slightly. So he had been right.
Concentrating on his meeting with Optimus Prime the half-serpent shoved the thought into the back of his mind. He had time to follow this sensation later.

* * *

Starscream streaked back to South Port like a mad bullet. He transformed and strode into the building, ignoring the startled Autobots he nearly ran over in the process. His optics glowed coldly as he searched for the person he knew was responsible for Sphere's pain. It could only be him, he thought darkly. Sphere had met with him sometimes and even though Starscream had warned her, she had continued to 'get to know him', as she had put it. And now this!
Unable to find his target he stopped one of the Autobots exiting the command center. It was the one known as Smokescreen.
"Where is Megatron?" he asked.
Smokescreen looked a bit confused for a second, then shrugged. "I think he went down to the lower levels and ...."
Starscream didn't hear him out, he simply walked away, oblivious to the surprised look on the Autobot's face. He caught an elevator down to the lower levels.

* * *

Optimus Prime entered Vector Sigma's chamber, noticing that everything seemed to be still the same here. Nothing had changed, at least nothing he could see right away. The globe housing the mega computer sat on its pedestal, pulsing faintly. Strangely enough Optimus felt no longer the awe and the respect he had felt once a long time ago. Since he had heard from Alpha Trion just what role the computer had played in their past, a lot of his behavior and believes had changed.
"Ralyk?" he called.
The globe pulsed, but it looked different than before. The honey-combed exterior seemed to ripple with energy and turned a golden blue. Something seemed to come to life.
-- Optimus Prime --
The soft voice touched him and he shivered slightly.
"Yes. I have questions, Ralyk. Will you answer?"
-- Ask --
Had that been a yes or a no, Optimus wondered. He didn't know and so he simply asked.
"I want to know what is going on here," Optimus began. "We noticed the changes, the rerouted energy tunnels, the storage units, the new circuitry."
There was a long silence and Optimus first thought he wouldn't get an answer, but finally he heard the voice again.
-- Preparing --
"Preparing? For what? The Tji?"
-- Yes --
"But what are you doing to Cybertron? What are you changing? What does it mean?" he insisted.
Another silence, then something seemed to touch him deep inside, accessing him in a way. He resisted the probing feelers.
-- Do not be afraid --
-- I won't hurt you --
"What are you doing?" Optimus asked.
-- Showing you the truth --
And then he was confronted with an array of strange images, which finally cleared up a bit. He saw a model of Cybertron, a net of energy channels crossing its surface and coursing through the underground maze. There were thick knots of energy pulsing in irregular intervals, placed in the most unlikely places, not even strategically important or likely. Several bubble-like shields appeared around Cybertron and then a model of a ship approached. Optimus thought he recognized it as one of the transport shuttles. A simulated scan brushed over the shuttle and a row of data scrolled down on the left side. A sign of approval was at the end and the shields gave way under the ship's approach. They didn't disappear, Optimus noticed with surprise. The ship's nose touched the shields one after another and it passed through, as if they were nothing but jelly, closing automatically the moment the ship was completely through.
"You are erecting shields?" he asked, surprised.
-- Yes --
-- Upgrading --
"And you scan everything approaching us," Optimus added in a mutter.
-- Affirmative --
That had been the reason for the strange reroutings, the subtle changes.
"Could those shields hold the Tji off?"
-- Unknown --
-- Third stage upgrade still underway --
"Third stage?"
This time Ralyk didn't answer and Optimus hadn't really expected one. He simply shrugged.
"Whatever happened to Vector Sigma and Alpha Trion?" he then wanted to know.
-- They live --
-- Inside --
-- Go now --
-- You are needed --
The golden-blue hue disappeared and the globe quieted down.
Optimus Prime stumbled as if someone had just released him. He blinked, shaking his head. His eyes rested on the globe for one more second, then he left the chamber.

* * *

Something exploded and showered the ruin around him with more debris and fiery rain. A shadow dragged itself over the molten and destroyed landscape. Charred tentacles and burned metal were visible. The creature had once been a Quintesson, but now it could barely be distinguished as such. Three of the five faces had been badly cut and torn, the two remaining not looking much better. Only one face still had working optics. The Quintesson tried to crawl away from the ruin of the former base, ignoring the flaming wreck of one of the motherships that had been shot down throughout the attack.
Someone stepped into his way and he stopped, swiveling his head to see who the other was. He froze as he discovered that it was a robot, a Cybertronian .... a Decepticon.
"What have we here?" the Decepticon asked and bent down.
The Quintesson stared at him, aware that even though he had survived the attack -- the only survivor as he had found out -- he was doomed nevertheless.
"Megatron will want to see you, Quintesson scum," the robot said and grabbed the Quintesson's tentacles.
The Quintesson hissed in pain, but he knew he couldn't do anything against this much stronger robot. He surrendered himself to his fate, which was most likely death.

* * *

Tornado watched the doctors work on the dark-haired human. Nicholas Cavanaugh, First Aid had called him, an engineer from Metroplex. Apparently a very high ranking one as well who had some unusual abilities. He had not asked further. The Seeker leader kept out of the way of everyone and simply watched. His mind was a whirlpool of contradicting feelings and thoughts.
It couldn't be ...... could it?
No! he decided firmly.
"He simply collapsed?"
Tornado tore himself out of his thoughts and nodded. "I didn't touch him."
First Aid smiled gently, his visor glinting. "No one says you had anything to do with it, Tornado."
But what if I have....
The thought was frightening, even more than it was disgusting.
"I'll be out of here then," he said and walked away before the medic could ask more.
As he left the South Port complex Phoenix joined him. She approached him in her bird mode and transformed gracefully.
"What is wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing. Human emergency. One of them collapsed. I happened to be there."
She tilted her head. "Okay. So why the worried expression? Is it Mel?"
"No."
"Anyone we know?"
"No."
Phoenix laid a hand on his arm. "Tornado, please.... what is wrong?"
"Like I said, nothing." His optics met hers and she nodded slowly.
"If you say so. Listen, I want to return to Skritakaar tomorrow. How about you come with us? It would be a break from daily stress."
Tornado shook his head. "No, but thanks for the invitation."
Phoenix sighed silently. "See you."
The moment she was gone, Tornado sank against a wall and wished the pressure in his head would ease up. Adding to that came the tearing feeling inside his chest.....
No! It can't be!
But what if it was true?
He felt disgust rise inside of him at the thought. Transforming he shot up into the sky, intent to get as far away from here as possible.

* * *

Smokescreen walked into Optimus Prime's office, one last time wondering if he should really report this, then settled to doing it. Whatever was going on, it involved two Decepticons who had never been on very friendly terms and if a major fight broke out between the two of them, more would follow fighting.
"Yes, Smokescreen?" Optimus asked.
Smokescreen closed the door behind himself. "I think we have a problem," he began.
Optimus Prime's optics narrowed.

* * *

Megatron gave a gasp of surprise and pain as he was slammed against the wall. Red optics blazed in anger in front of him.
"Who do you think you are, Megatron?" Starscream hissed and he had never heard such fury in his former second's voice.
"What exactly are we talking about?" Megatron snarled and pushed the other robot away.
Starscream let go of him, but only to punch him hard in the face. "We are talking about your attitude, mighty Megatron," Starscream snarled back. "Your incredible subtlety and diplomatic behavior! Something you never had! Your xenophobia and the barely present tolerance of everything organic!"
Megatron rubbed his chin. Starscream had had his fights with him in their past, but he had never been that furious. And as for organic life ... he clearly remembered Starscream's attitude toward humans in their past; he had never been fond of them and he had never seen them as his equal. He had killed humans in cold blood if it had served the Decepticon purpose and had never thought twice about it. Sure, Starscream had changed a lot and humanoids played a bigger role in the future of Cybertron now, especially the Interfaces, but still.... This accusation out of Starscream's mouth confused him.
"I don't think I can follow you," he stated neutrally, wondering if he could get away with blasting his former lieutenant.
Starscream hissed. "Can you follow me as far as Sphere?"
"You sister? Of course. A very fascinating female -- extraordinary." Megatron allowed himself a smile.
Sphere had been the object of his study for some time now. She was an intriguing character and held a very important position as a Key to the doorways. And she was beautiful, which was also a main factor.
Starscream pushed him hard against the wall again, fingers digging into the metal armor. "Then keep away from her!" he growled, his face only inches away from Megatron's. "You and your damn prejudice!"
Megatron was confused. "You lost me again. I never threatened her ...." His optics cooled visibly. "And I think the big brother attitude doesn't fit you, Starscream. Sphere is a grown 'bot. If I chose to talk to her, then it is her decision to make -- whatever we do. Or is this just an act? Maybe you hold an interest in her you want to protect?"
Starscream's red optics flared. "Watch your vocal unit!" he ground out, his fingers digging an inch deeper and penetrating the first layer of armor easily.
Megatron didn't flinch, though it was painful. He was very surprised at the strength of his former lieutenant.
"She is my sister," Starscream repeated.
"Of course."
Starscream's optics went deep red, but instead of adding a blow to the first one, he only hissed something and moved a few feet away, clenching and unclenching his hands.
"I warn you, Megatron, if I see you with her again, I'll personally rip your air intakes out! Keep your opinion about what you think of her heritage to yourself!"
"I was just surprised," the Decepticon leader started.
"Oh," Starscream mocked. "Just surprised that the female you've been stalking is actually humanoid in origin? And don't tell me you didn't try to make her a score on your 'wall of conquests'! Remember, I know you!
Megatron was now on the verge of fighting back. How could he dare ....! "Our relationship is none of your concern."
"It is! If you hurt her any more you'll find out what real pain is like!" With that Starscream transformed and took off.
Megatron watched him go, thinking back to the second Sphere had told him about her background. Yes, he had been shocked, to put it mildly, because this gentle, but strong female had held his interest for some time now. He wasn't interested in 'conquering' her. He wanted her acceptance and her friendship, but now he had blundered into a swamp he might not get out of. Sphere took her heritage seriously and he must have shown what he had felt for this one second too clearly.
Megatron would be the first to object to a humanoid/Cybertronian joining, but he had learned to accept the Interfaces because they were a far call from the Headmasters. The Sentinels and Seekers had been designed to merge with another life form, still keeping their individual minds alive and separated. That a humanoid mind could be transferred into a robot body was nothing new, but Sphere's case was very different. She had been redesigned by Ralyk, who had not been able to revive her organic body and had decided to try it with the robot form. Then there was Silhouette, of whom he had heard some interesting rumors as well.
The Decepticon leader rubbed his chin where Starscream had hit him. In former times he would have blasted his lieutenant to bits for this, but Starscream was no longer the old Starscream and he also wasn't his lieutenant any more.
"Any problems?"
The level voice let him whirl around and he was faced with Optimus Prime. He suppressed a groan. Exactly the Autobot he hadn't wanted to meet now.
"No," he answered briskly.
"What happened here?" Prime pressed on, looking pointedly at the visible indention in Megatron's chest.
"Nothing you should concern yourself with," the Decepticon told his former enemy.
Prime's optics narrowed. "It concerns me when it has something to do with you and Starscream beating each other up," he said coldly. "We have to work together, not start fighting among ourselves because of our past! I thought this is what you told your troops!"
Megatron winced imperceptibly. He had been busy beating his troops into order in the last weeks, stopping individuals from shooting down Autobots or start personal vendettas.
"This is personal, Prime, and doesn't concern our past." He tried to walk past him. "It's a mere misunderstanding."
Optimus grabbed his arm, holding him back. His blue optics glowered at Megatron. The Decepticon glowered back and tore himself out of the hard grasp without a word. Optimus watched him leave, sighing silently.

* * *

Nicholas gulped down some aspirin and sighed, closing his eyes. Damn this headache and damn his aching body as well! The pain had subsided a bit through the pain medication, but it was still there and Nicholas had yet to learn how to shut it out completely. He had managed to ignore most of it and when he concentrated on his work he felt marginally better. The doctors in med bay had checked him, told him to take it easy and report back in two days, or when he felt worse. He still had no idea what was wrong with him and First Aid's check for a virus had come up negative. He was, at least that was a relief, not coming down with a cold or flu.
"Okay," he muttered, looking at his schedule. "What is next and what did I miss?"
He had been unconscious for a few minutes and had come around in med bay soon after he had been brought here by the large, blue robot. Tornado, someone had explained to him. As he had suspected Tornado was a Seeker; the Seeker leader to be correct.
Just dandy, he thought sourly. Break down in front of the allied forces.... Hah!
He sighed and checked his schedule. Mel would come over this evening to hand over some of her papers and discuss their work. Sphere had left a message that she had heard about his blackout and if he didn't feel up to their talk she would understand it. He keyed in a message that he'd hold on to the meeting and that he'd be there. There was also a call from Raoul and a bunch of files Raoul requested he look through.
Nicholas leaned back and rubbed his temples, considering taking more pain killers, but then decided against it. He inhaled deeply, then got up and left his room. Sphere was waiting and he didn't want to keep her.

* * *

The flying fortress known as Scorponok moved on through space, its targets set and its flight vector rather random, not at all in one straight line.
It entered another star system.
"We'll be at Trbeca in five standard months," one of the robotic life forms aboard the fortress reported.
"Proceed," was the soft answer.
And Scorponok moved on.

* * *

First Aid read the file again and again, unable to come up with an explanation for Nicholas' blackout. The human was perfectly healthy, he was in shape and he hadn't complained about similar blackouts before. Like every human working for the Autobots, Nicholas Cavanaugh was checked every quarter year, mainly to make sure he didn't suffer from anything connected to Autobots. There were many things that could affect organic life. Energon radiation, exhaust fumes, a different oxygen level -- and Cybertron had a different level --, gravity changes, space travel and more. The tolerance level of every human was different, but so far Nicholas had never displayed any signs of suffering from any of the above. First Aid had even called Metroplex and inquired about Nicholas' health, but the doctor there had told him everything was really okay.
"Then what is it?" he muttered, puzzled to no end.
Nicholas complained about headaches and bodily pain, as if he was coming down with a bad cold. But he wasn't. There were no signs of organic malfunction and every test he had made told the Autobot medic that Nicholas was okay. He had talked to the human medic here on Cybertron and they had decided that it must have to do with Nicholas' tight work schedule. The human doctor had advised their patient to take it easy, to lie back and relax. Since his mind was very receptive and he was almost brilliant when it came to picking up new technologies, the doctor suspected that he might have overestimated his capacities and his body had simply shut down. First Aid didn't really agree with him, but he had only nodded.
Now he tried to find a logical explanation, but there was nothing coming up. The Protectobot reviewed everything again and then stopped, reading over Nicholas' initial answer to the question as to when it had happened.
When he had met Tornado. He had felt fine before, then he met the Seeker and collapsed because of the pain in his head.
First Aid stared at the words, then opened a line to Midnight. He needed some professional help on this theory....

* * *

Sphere was delighted to meet Nicholas, mainly because it took her mind off her own problems. Since meeting with Megatron and revealing her true origin to him she had not seen the Decepticon leader again and she really didn't want to. Starscream had helped her as best as he could and she knew he was fretting over her, even though he didn't really display it out in the open. She had finally told him in no uncertain words that he should stop worrying about her and get back to his own share of work. A short fight had followed that exclamation and since then everything seemed to be back to normal. When she had heard about Nicholas' breakdown, Sphere had been immediately concerned, but he seemed fine and even though he looked a bit tired, that was only to be expected.
They were down in the doorway chamber, where it was her shift at the alien structure. Since Raven and Cyclonus had been reunited, she had volunteered to give Raven the chance to work on their relationship, which was slightly strained. Raven had to explain too much to her partner and Sphere knew that it would take time for Cyclonus to accept everything as it was now. And Sphere didn't mind her time down here. Ralyk was here, close to her, and it gave her a curious sense of security to feel the entity near-by. Her guard duty also allowed her to be as far away from Megatron as she could be.
"So, what's the diagnosis?" she teased as Nicholas shut down his laptop.
He grinned boyishly. "You'll at least live another million years if you take care of yourself."
She chuckled.
"No, seriously," he continued. "This space inside of you, your host area, is intriguing. I wonder if you could use it for Interfacing with an organic like the Sentinels can."
She shook her head, instinctively knowing that this was impossible. "Ralyk claims that space and it always will. Someone else would only get in the way."
"I see." He made a few notes on a piece of paper. "This is great. I never had so much stuff to work on than since coming here." He smiled again.
"But you should take it easy, Nick," she advised.
He sighed. "I know, I know. There is just so much I want to do!"
Sphere smiled. "You can still do it after some sleep and relaxation."
He gave her a dark look. "Are you in league with First Aid and Dr. Maulkin? I promise I'll get some shut-eye right after I get back. Sheesh! I bet even Mel doesn't have that much trouble!"
"Mel knows how to take care of herself," a dark voice rumbled and Nightmare stepped noiselessly into the room. "Hello, Sphere."
She nodded at him.
Nicholas gave a theatrical sigh. "Okay, okay, I'm on my way to my quarters! Satisfied?" He waved at Sphere and then left the chamber.
Nightmare watched him go, smiling faintly, then turned to Sphere, his expression turning serious.
"How are you?" he wanted to know.
"Fine." She walked back to the control station and did some superfluous checks just to keep herself from looking at her friend.
"Then it must be my imagination that Starscream is treating everyone who even mentions you like a criminal. He's been glaring at each and everyone for just saying nice things about you, Sphere. What happened?"
Sphere stopped her work, considering her options. "It's personal," she finally said.
Nightmare stared at her back, sighing deeply. "I see. I've been getting the same answer from you brother and he nearly backed that up with a blow."
She flinched. She had to talk to Starscream again! Nightmare transformed and walked over to his usual post, taking over guard duties. He knew he wouldn't get a straight answer out of her anyway and he just hoped this wouldn't turn out to be worse than everyone thought.

* * *

Midnight mentally went over what First Aid had told him and had to agree. It sounded incredible, but it wasn't.
"What now?" Steve asked.
"I have to talk to him," Midnight decided.
"He won't listen."
"He will." With that Midnight left the building and transformed, shooting off into the sky.

* * *

Nicholas was on his way to his quarters to catch some shut-eye when he nearly collided with one very large robot. Spook reared back, growing a bit taller because of it, stretching his wings.
"Uh, sorry," Nicholas mumbled.
"Nothing happened." Spook lowered his head. "You look tired."
The human sighed. "That's what everyone's telling me."
"Maybe you should listen."
He grinned. "Believe it or not, I was just on my way to my quarters."
Spook moved out of the way, his serpent body making no sound on the metal floor. "Then I don't want to keep you."
Nicholas nodded and walked on. Spook watched him disappear, sighing very softly. He had read the sensation correctly. It had happened.

* * *

Tornado trembled badly and he knew something was deadly wrong and would get even worse before he could hope for it to get better. He clenched his hands into fists and slammed them against the wall.
Nonononooooo!
He had to stop it -- somehow -- some way.... Maybe it wasn't too late, maybe he could change it.
He heard thrusters reversing outside, then someone touched down. Tornado moved away from the entrance and wished he could make himself invisible.
A figure stepped into the room, silhouetted against the brighter light outside.
"Tornado?"
The Seeker groaned as he recognized the voice. Midnight! Damnit, why did he have to search for him? There was no scheduled appointment, no conference, no nothing!
"What do you want?" he ground out.
"Talk." Midnight stepped closer.
"About what?"
"About you and what happened maybe?" A fine smile played over the Sentinel's lips.
"Nothing happened," Tornado managed, but the painful contraction in his chest contradicted him.
No! he whispered. This can't be happening. Not to me. This can't be happening. It became a chant in his mind and he tried to ignore the pain and the dizziness, the voices in his head, the whispers and calls.
"I don't agree with you."
Midnight came even closer and Tornado suppressed the instinct to flee. He didn't want the other to see him like this.
"Tell it someone else then. I don't want to talk to you!" he hissed.
Midnight stopped. "Why deny it?"
Tornado growled. "Deny what? I have no idea what you are talking about."
Midnight sighed deeply. "Okay, you want to play it like this, fine with me! Tornado, you are on the brink of Interfacing and you are not helping either of you two!"
"NO!" Tornado cried. "I'm NOT Interfacing!"
His fingers bore into his palms and he pierced his own skin, feeling a short, intense pain, which momentarily drowned the other pain.
"Yes, you are. Nicholas Cavanaugh has linked to you and the two of you are linking even more right now, in this very second. You are not helping him by avoiding it, denying what has happened. He suffers just like you because you won't acknowledge him."
"I'm not Interfaced," Tornado said coldly. "You have the wrong Seeker."
Midnight walked closer. "You are."
"NO!" Tornado pushed him away, stumbling a bit. "No.... not me. It can't be....."
Midnight looked gently at him. "Why not? Seekers can Interface as well. Wild Card proved it. You always searched for Interface partners, didn't you?"
"The others did.... not me. It's disgusting ... unnatural .... to bond with a flesh form; to depend on it." He shuddered at the thought of another being able to merge with him, to be close to his mind.
The Sentinel leader looked a bit confused. "You do not depend on him to live, Tornado. You merely become more.... much more. He doesn't take over, if that is what you are afraid of."
Tornado pushed himself away from the wall. "I'm not concerned about anything related to humans, least of all Interfaces, because I'm not Interfaced."
Pain seared through him and he felt like hit with a electro-whip. He clutched his chest, the white-hot pain concentrating there, pulsing, demanding. Gasping, the reached out for the door frame, steadying himself.
"Tornado...." Midnight said softly, touching him.
Tornado pushed the helping hand away. "Keep away from me!" he shrieked and transformed, flying unsteadily off.
Midnight sighed deeply.
"Wild Card was an easier patient than he is," Steve said with disapproval. "Why won't he acknowledge what has happened? He will destroy himself and Nicholas with this refusal to meet his fate."
Midnight nodded slowly. "But he is also very much afraid. Not the way Wild Card was afraid. Wild Card wanted to protect Jeff, but Tornado never wanted to Interface. He was always very scared of the effects on him as an individual, his dependence on an Interface's presence to keep him from hurting, from feeling alone. He's terrified."
"And horrified," Steve added with a sigh. "He thinks merging is disgusting. You heard him."
Midnight took off as well. "I know. But this will kill them both eventually if he doesn't face it."
"What now?" Steve asked.
"Secret weapon."
"Huh?"
"Let's send out Phoenix and Nicholas to meet him."
Steve was baffled for a moment. "Mid, do you think it's wise? He could hurt him...."
"He won't. He couldn't. And Phoenix is close enough to him that he won't hurt her either." Midnight landed in the yard of South Port. "Let's get them there and then see if we can't make him see the truth."

* * *

Sphere had kept herself busy throughout the week and she knew that sooner or later something would happen. Starscream was close-mouthed and his optics held a steady, angry fire. She knew he had 'talked' to Megatron and she knew their animosity was held up by Starscream alone. She sighed. Sooner or later he would give it up and return to being the normal pain-in-the-diodes. But until then -- it was hard working with him and he had taken off back to his exploration plans earlier this week. Nightmare had sighed in relief.
Someone stepped into the doorway chamber. She whirled around and her optics narrowed.
"What do you want now?!" she asked coldly.
Megatron approached her, holding up his hands..
"Leave," she snarled. "Before you find yourself scattered between here and the doorway!"
"Try it," he replied.
With an angry fire in her green optics she faced him. "This is no idle threat, Megatron," she said, her body going through the first stage of activating her defenses.
"I just want to talk."
"But not me. Leave. Your last warning."
Megatron took another step forward -- and found himself flat on his back the next second. Sphere stood above him, her face framed by an energy crackling mass of white hair. She was holding some kind of bo-staff, which had one nasty spear-like end and a very nasty blunt end.
"Leave," she repeated.
Megatron got to his feet, very impressed by her fast movements and her ability to take him by surprise. "Very impressive," he said.
"I'll impress more on you if you don't get out of this room in two seconds!"
He twisted his lips into a smile. Temper, temper, he thought, but he moved away from her.
Her icy cold optics followed him. Sphere only relaxed when he had disappeared, sinking back against the ring structure. She set the staff beside her, sighing deeply, hoping Starscream didn't hear about this. The last thing she needed was an overreacting brother.....

* * *

Nicholas was dizzy and felt like packed in wool. His head seemed to be three sizes too large and his body didn't really belong to him. Only with an immense effort was it possible for him to coordinate his movements and he was afraid that he would lose all control the next step. Sleep had not helped, neither had the pain medication. This was only getting worse, not better. And then Midnight had come to him, explaining what was apparently going on. Nicholas was, to put it mildly, utterly shocked, but he also knew that if neither of them acted, both of them would eventually die. And so he had agreed to this.
He was aware that Phoenix was close and the female Seeker had been very gentle with him. She was extremely worried about both him and Tornado.
"Are you sure?" she asked once more.
"Yes," he managed. "Mid said if we can confront this alone we might get somewhere. Your presence might only tick him off more. You are my back-up in case something unforeseen happens." He smiled humorlessly.
"He won't hurt you," she said with conviction.
Nick nodded slowly as if he was afraid his head would fall off otherwise. "Let's hope so."
He walked into the large hangar.

* * *

Megatron sat in what had been declared his quarters, fingers steepled and his optics fixed on nothing specific. That was the way Cyclonus found him in when he entered.
"She is a very impressive female," Megatron said into the silence of the room.
"Mighty leader?" Cyclonus was very much confused because he had no idea what Megatron was talking about. Raven, sitting on his shoulder, shot him an inquiring look.
"Sphere."
Cyclonus frowned. "She is," he finally said.
Megatron looked up and smiled. The smile let the lieutenant shiver slightly. "She managed to surprise me and I think I underestimated her."
Cyclonus was even more confused. Raven sent a silent message of equal confusion.
"We received a transmission from Charr," Cyclonus finally said. "The team sent out to go through the ruins of Quintesson bases has reported back. They found a survivor."
Megatron's interest was aroused. "A survivor?"
"A Quintesson. Dirge said he is almost gone, but they are keeping him alive until you are back." Cyclonus looked neutraly at him.
Megatron smiled. "Then we will return to Charr immediately," he decided. "Prepare our departure."
"Yes, mighty Megatron." Cyclonus left the room. "Any idea what he was talking about before that?" he asked his partner as they walked down the corridor.
"None."
The second-in-command shrugged, deciding he would find out sooner or later. Now they had to get back to Charr.

* * *

Tornado was hurting and he had never felt so much pain before, not even when Braintrust had once nearly killed him. This pain was everywhere, in every cell, and it felt more like he was missing something than a physical injury.
Nononooooo. It couldn't be. He denied the very fact, the possibility. Every other Seeker could Interface as far as he was concerned, but not him. Something coursed through him, touching him gently and reassuringly, and for the first time in days he felt better. He lifted his head as he thought he felt someone coming closer. As he discovered who it was, he felt a flicker of panic turn into a full fire.
Nicholas Cavanaugh.
The human looked terribly. He was pale, with huge circles under his eyes, his skin almost translucent. His face was drawn and appeared haggard, his eyes feverish bright. A strange sense of emotional pain at the human's sight crossed through him and he squelched it.
Not him. He hadn't Interfaced. No.
"Hi," Nicholas said, his voice weak and shaky. "You look like I feel."
Tornado didn't answer, concentrating on shutting out those feelings of care and longing.
"You know, this is just as hard on me as it is on you, and I'm not talking about fever, headaches and general nausea all day long," Nicholas went on. "I'm talking about he fact that my mind is suddenly a part of something called Interfacing."
"No!" Tornado hissed. "It is not!"
Nicholas raised an eyebrow. "No? How do you know?" He walked closer. "You feel it as well and even though I understand your denial because I feel the same, there is nothing we can do to undo it! Damnit, I could have imagined better things happening to me! I was content the way I lived! Do you know what this means for me? My life? Damnit, I had plans to maybe get a family and settle down, to raise kids! Now? Impossible! I'd see my wife and kids grow old, die and get buried. Same with my grand-children and every other relative! Do you think that's fun?" Angrily he turned away. "I'm a human with the usual fear of growing old, to die, but that is normal! I'm not cut out to be immortal."
"You are not immortal," Tornado pointed out.
"Oh, sure, yes! You plan to get killed the next few centuries? Millennia? Anytime soon?" Nicholas' voice was dripping with sarcasm.
"No," Tornado answered weakly, feeling Nicholas anger inside of him.
The link.
NO! No link. It wasn't there.
"I know Interfacing because I studied it. I know how long all the Interfaces and their partners are together! I didn't get to choose," the human went on. "It happened because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, goddamnit!" He was breathing heavily, rubbing his temples. "And you make it even harder by denying it! What do you think to accomplish with it? Undo the link? Fine, try it! I studied this stuff. It's impossible!"
Tornado shook his head, sinking to the ground. He knew it as well, but a good part of him still denied the link furiously. Nicholas approached him, his grey eyes wide with pain and despair.
"I know you hate this as much as I do and I won't even force you into anything you don't want. Midnight said we need to acknowledge the link, then we could go on from there. Merging is not required. I know you hate to think of a creature like me being linked to you, but I promise I won't invade, I won't hang around and I sure as hell won't phase, okay?"
Tornado was shaking and his silver optics were flickering badly. He felt repulsed by the very thought of having this human touching his mind, but a new feeling conquered the disgust. Nicholas appeared so fragile, so much in pain, that he was reaching out to protect him. Wild Card had told him about his Interface with Jeff and Tornado had seen the care he felt toward Winters in his eyes. Wild Card had also confessed that these protective feelings were part of it, their fate, their intention, to keep them both safe.
Nicholas closed his eyes as he was hit by another wave of nausea and he clenched his hands into fists as he fought the bile rising in his throat down. Everything seemed to swim around him and he lost touch with reality for a second, losing himself in the sensation being far, far away. He came back to the feeling of someone holding him .... gently, carefully. He reached out blindly for support and found it in form of cold steel.
Tornado had instinctively kept the human from falling, cupping his hands around him. Now he became aware of the huge pressure in his mind, of the need to open up and link.... He fought against it, but his defenses were crumbling. He sobbed silently as the last wall was destroyed.
Everything turned white.

*

Phoenix was worried and walked into the hangar. She found Tornado lying on the floor, his optics dead. Nicholas lay beside him, his position telling her he had to have been in Tornado's hands when he had collapsed. Phoenix didn't hesitate. She called med bay.

* * *

Spook felt the sensation again and this time it was very clear. It was over -- at least concerning the link. All the other problems had just begun.

* * *

Nicholas lay unconscious in one the treatment rooms and Steve was pacing outside, waiting for the doctors to give them the news. Tornado, who had regained consciousness only a few minutes ago, was examined by First Aid; and Midnight was talking to Optimus Prime, who had come into med bay the moment he had heard about the whole disaster. The Sentinel leader looked tired and worried.
"I'm not sure it's really over, Optimus," he answered Prime's latest inquiry. "I've seen two Interfacings in my life. One was Wild Card, equally a Seeker in his past. Nick and Tornado didn't merge, which is normally the first thing happening when the link is established, even if it is only for a moment. Either Tornado denied Nicholas this chance or both didn't want to."
"What will happen now?" Prime wanted to know.
"Depends on Nicholas and Tornado. I know he hates to be Interfaced and I suspect he only gave in to linking because eventually not acknowledging the fact would have killed them, but they are far from being really Interfaced." Midnight looked deeply worried now. "But they can't go on like this."
Optimus let his optics wander through med bay. Phoenix stood outside Tornado's treatment room and she looked as worried as Midnight did.
"What can we do?"
"Not much. I talked to Tornado before and he denied everything. I guess he'll keep on denying it to the end." Midnight sighed. "I'm not completely sure what he is afraid of other than having someone else share part of him. He doesn't have to let Nicholas inside his private thoughts; that's what shields are for."
"He's afraid of the others," Phoenix said and stepped to them. Her green optics shone brightly with barely suppressed anguish. "He believes that this makes him less than he was before. You know how he viewed his leadership position. It took a long time for him to acknowledge it, even though everyone else had accepted him. This is, for him, a major drawback."
Midnight gave a frustrated exclamation of disbelief. "Rubbish!" He paced the room. "Near-sighted idiots!"
Optimus turned to the female Seeker. "Just how would the others react to this, Phoenix?"
"They all respect him, more than they ever respected Braintrust. Braintrust was feared, but Tornado triggers loyalty in them. They stand behind him and even when he decided to ally himself with you.... they followed." Phoenix smiled a bit. "I talked to Phantom already and he said this was a good thing because it showed everyone else that they still had the chance, the ability...."
"Now we only need to convince Tornado...." Midnight muttered, sighing softly. "And that will be the hard part. He still is what he was before, even if he now has a partner."
"But isn't he a Sentinel now?" Prime asked.
"No, not really. You are what you were before and if he wants to remain a Seeker, he can be. Technically speaking he might be called a Sentinel, but many of us Sentinels are not Interfaced as well." He shrugged. "I'd be the last to force him into something like a change of party. Wild Card was a whole different chapter." He looked over to where Steve was talking to the doctor who had just exited the treatment room. "Nicholas has drifted into sleep," he said almost absent-mindedly.
Optimus was once again reminded of this unique link between Interface partners. It was as fascinating as it was scary sometimes, especially when his own second-in-command did it.
"Okay, what now?" Phoenix wanted to know.
"I want to wait until Nicholas is up and about, then see how the two of them act," Midnight decided.
Optimus nodded. "I'll be in my office if you need me." With that he left med bay.
Midnight exchanged a look with Phoenix, reading the same doubt in her eyes. This wouldn't be easy....

* * *

Nicholas was up and about two days later, feeling better than he had in the last two weeks. The headache was gone, replaced by nothing but a slight pressure behind his eyes. He could keep his food down and he also finally had an appetite. Steve had come to visit him while he was in med bay and he had explained to him what this meant for him. Nicholas knew all about Interfacing, at least theoretically, but now he was experiencing it live.... and he didn't really care. He knew Tornado didn't want it and this somehow reflected on him as well. Interfacing meant a big change for the Seeker and the fear it had ignited in him told Nicholas what he had to do. He didn't want to intrude, to be a burden, and he wanted to live his own life. So he had patiently listened to Steve and his explanations, nodded and agreed on many things, but his mind was made up. Tornado and he had linked to ease the pain, but he would not inflict more pain on the Seeker by forcing himself onto him.
The shuttle left three hours after he had signed out of med bay and he somehow felt relieved to get back to Earth. This would give both partners enough distance.
Partners....
He smiled wryly. Was he already starting to think like this? Well, when he was finally out of Tornado's way he might just get his life back to what it had been before.
Then again, it might be wishful thinking....

* * *

"He what?"
"He left Cybertron," Smokescreen reported, pointing at the approval on the screen, which showed Nicholas had boarded a shuttle and left.
Midnight shook his head in frustration, cursing softly. "Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn! This won't gain them anything!" He stalked out of the command center, infuriated.
Steve sighed softly. "They are making it so hard on themselves! Why don't they just accept it?"
"I think Nicholas has, but he doesn't want to make it too hard on Tornado. He knows how Tornado feels about Interfacing, so he made a decision -- but the wrong one!"
"What now?"
"I'll call Rodimus and let him know about the whole mess. We haven't informed him of the new Interface yet." Midnight angrily hit the door opener and then walked into what he called his office.
Minutes later he was on the line with Rodimus.

* * *

Tornado suffered through one of First Aid's checks and was finally released as okay. He left the med bay silently, just as silently as he had sat on the examination table. He had answered the medic's questions, but otherwise his mind was far away. He wondered when Midnight would find him again to talk some sense into him, as he had put it. He wasn't really looking forward to it.
The last few days had passed like a blur. He couldn't really remember what had happened, beside the fact that he had been thoroughly examined over and over again. He knew Nicholas was getting better and his own pain was nearly all gone. Still, he felt detached from the world, as if he was no real part of it. Phoenix had once caught him just before he would bump into a closed door.
Someone approached him and with an inner sigh he saw it was the one he had dreaded to meet: Midnight. The Sentinel leader seemed to radiate blackness as if it was a living thing. His green visor glowed brightly and Tornado recognized it as barely suppressed anger. Midnight grabbed him, shoved him into the next room and slammed the door shut behind them.
"What do you think you're doing?!" he exploded.
Tornado was shocked by the outbreak of emotions from the normally so calm leader.
"You are running around like a headless chicken and Nicholas is flying back to Earth as if nothing ever happened!"
"And?" Tornado asked.
"And? You ask me 'and'? Are you as thick-headed as that or are you just acting? Tornado, you two are Interfaced!"
"We acknowledged the link. What more do you want? None of us is in any danger of dying."
Midnight gave a frustrated groan. "This isn't like some kind of repair for both of you! You linked, yes, but that is only the first step! You even denied him the chance to merge, Tornado!"
Tornado stared at him in disgust, but didn't say anything.
"Do you think distance will solve the problem now? It didn't solve it before the link, it made it worse; and now it isn't the solution either! The both of you won't ever function at peak performance again if you keep shutting each other out!"
"I think that is our decision to make," the Seeker ground out.
"No, it isn't! You are a leader! Your troops need you in good shape, not mentally split in two!" Midnight clenched his hands into fists. "What are you so afraid of, Tornado? That you won't be yourself anymore? Do you see any change in me or Wild Card? We are still the same! Nicholas won't change you! He'll help you!"
Tornado turned away, but Midnight forced him to turn back, pushing him hard against the wall.
"Face it!" he hissed. "Damnit, face your future! You will destroy yourself and Nicholas with this stupid behavior! You will destroy your troops!"
"They are no longer my troops!" Tornado snarled. "I'm no longer a Seeker!"
Midnight stared at him, perplexed. "What a load of rubbish is that? You are still yourself! Wild Card became a Sentinel because he had to, if that's what you are hinting at! Phoenix said your people respect you and they see hope for their own abilities because you Interfaced!"
The blue Seeker shook his head in denial. "Why can't you keep out of it?" he demanded.
"Because you are affecting everyone, that's why! Most of all Nicholas! Don't you care about him?"
Tornado shivered slightly. That was the whole problem. He cared a great deal about a human he didn't really know and it scared him. In his long life as Seeker, working for Braintrust, later becoming his second-in-command, he had killed too many organics to count. Not that he had shot them, but he had delivered them to Braintrust and each and every one of them had died cruelly, brutally..... How could he care about a single human now? Who could guarantee him that he wouldn't kill Nicholas sooner or later?
"Leave me alone," he whispered and tore himself out of Midnight's hard grip.
"Oh, no, I won't!"
Any further words were stopped by Tornado's vicious punch and Midnight flew back against the other wall. The Seeker stormed out of the room. Midnight sat on the ground, rubbing his chin and sighing sadly.
>> That didn't work either
Steve chuckled. >> Sure didn't Then he grew serious. >> Did you see the expression in his eyes when you asked if he cared?
>> Yes. He does care, but he's afraid to admit it
>> Can you blame him after what his past was like?
>> No Midnight rose to his feet. >>But he has to face it -- if he wants to or not
Steve could only agree.

* * *

Rodimus Prime had watched Nicholas since the engineer had returned to Earth, trying to be as subtle as possible. Nicholas appeared to be healthy and attentive, but Raoul disagreed. Rodimus had let Raoul in on what had happened, which had surprised him to no end when Optimus had called him, and the older man had agreed to keep an eye on his friend. And it was Raoul who told him that Nicholas was suffering from tiredness and spells of complete disorientation. It worried them both and Rodimus knew that the longer this went on, the worse it would get.
"You can't force them to get together," Shanygn told him, watching him pace the room. "And stop running a ditch into the floor!"
He stopped, looking slightly guilty. "But what can we do? They are destroying themselves!"
"That's something I have no easy answer for." She leaned back against the window. "Tornado denies everything and Nicholas tries to help him by running off. I understand them both to a degree, but they both, especially Nicholas, should know that this is no solution!"
Rodimus started pacing again, then caught himself and stopped by force. There was no way any of them could really help. They were outsiders; everyone was. This was something between Tornado and Nicholas and no one could make their decisions for them.
"I hate it," he whispered.
She smiled. "Me too, but we can't help. Not anymore."

* * *

Another week passed and Nicholas was confident he was getting used to this strange feeling that always accompanied him. There was the pressure behind his eyes and the empty aching sensation in his chest. Shanygn had talked to him once and he had confessed to her, in private, that he was feeling not well sometimes. She had told him in no uncertain terms that this was because he was trying to deny his link. He had waved this away. He wasn't denying it; he had linked.
Working helped a lot and since Raoul had finished the modifications they had planned, Nicholas was checking everything. It looked good and Metroplex had no trouble operating with all of this. He left the room and walked over to the next work area, his mind as always a bit too far away and he had to concentrate hard to remember when to stop so he wouldn't run into a wall. He still hoped that this would get better soon.
He was too lost in his thoughts to notice the warning sign put up in front of a yard-like extension of the corridor. Nicholas simply walked past it, rubbing his head. One of the technicians saw him and started to yell. Nicholas didn't hear him.
There was a hiss.
There was a low rumble.
The floor moved.
Nicholas became aware that he was in an area where a small trial transformation of a part of Metroplex was taking place.
Something cracked under strain.
There was a short, violent pain, then Nicholas didn't feel anything anymore.

*

On Cybertron, Tornado grabbed his midsection and fell to his knees. His silver optics flared with pain and he gasped, doubling over. Phoenix gave an exclamation of surprise and knelt down beside him, taking his arm.
"What is wrong?" she asked.
Tornado trembled, his midsection burning as if he had been speared. His mind reeled and he thought he saw fragmented pictures. One picture was very clear and the comparison to a spear was not so far away.
"Nick," he whispered, trying to get to his feet.
He managed it with Phoenix's help. He began to stumble forward, intent to get away from here. The image of the human, injured and in terrible pain, was burned into his mind. Instinct took over. It was an instinct that had been awakened the moment they had linked and he knew he could never deny it. Primus, he had been so foolish! He fell against the wall, unable to walk. He was just too weak.
"Need to get to Earth!" he whimpered.
Phoenix thought she understood and called for the only help she could think of.

*

Midnight didn't need an explanation when he saw Tornado's state. Something had happened to Nick and he new that this had reflected on the Seeker. He nodded at Phoenix that he'd take over now. He took Tornado's arm and simply Gated.
One second after they had disappeared, Optimus Prime arrived. "Are they on their way?" he asked.
The female Seeker nodded. "Do you know what happened?"
Prime nodded slowly. "I called Metroplex. Nicholas was involved in an accident and it looks pretty bad.
"Oh, no....." Phoenix sighed. "They really had to make it so hard on themselves."
Optimus smiled sadly. "Let's hope it's not too late for them to make it up."

* * *

The planet's name was Trbeca and it was one of many in a system consisting of two suns, fourteen planets and thirty moons. A large asteroid belt was the main feature beside the two suns. Trbeca was the ninth planet from the twin suns and it was rich in life.
Archer sat on a hill overlooking a wide plain, watching the first of the two suns rise. Light spilled over the ground and lit up everything.
"'ow many dimes I see it, I'm still impressed," Mike de la Croix said and watched the second sun rise.
Archer nodded. "It is impressive."
Suddenly the ground beside them seemed to come alive. It looked like a part of it was morphing into a new form, finally turning into a four-legged creature with a long neck and wings. Both Interface partners were not the least startled by it. They had seen it too many times before.
"We need to get back," the dragon said softly, its body still flowing like liquid metal. Finally it settled into a silverish light grey.
"Somet'ing de matter, ma chere?" Archer asked.
IceAngel tilted her head and her neck crest rose slightly. "I'm not sure." She lifted off.
Archer shrugged and transformed, opening his door to let Mike get in. Then he shot over the plains toward the doorway, using his newly installed hover mode. Tires were not really helpful on a wild planet without roads....

* * *

Med bay was a bustle of people, mostly Autobots. Midnight had arrived seconds after Nicholas had been brought into the OP and Dr. Maulkin was now fighting for his life. A spear-like support had pierced his body close to the kidneys, nicking an artery and just missing the stomach. He had lost a lot of blood and his life was hanging by a thread.
Tornado stood outside the operating theater, his optics fixed on the closed doors. His skin had taken on a sick, grey hue and he was trembling.
"Hold him," Midnight said intently. "Look for him and hold him. Don't let him go!"
Tornado was only peripherally aware of the other's presence, but the words registered somehow and he grasped for the fading spark he somehow 'saw'. He knew that if that spark died, part of him would die as well.....

* * *

Nicholas came around to the feeling of being deep under the ocean, his world consisting of nothing but gentle movement and warmth. His mind was clearer than any day in the last weeks and even though he knew he should be in pain, there was none. His memory of the events was sharp and complete. He had walked into a transformation circle and had been injured in the process. One of the supports had broken in the trial run and he had been speared with it. Then why didn't he feel pain.
He opened his eyes.
The medical ward was kept in twilight and so it had to be night. The corridor running outside his room was brightly lit, though. He turned his head and discovered that he had a visitor. It was Tornado. The Seeker sat on the floor, knees drawn to his chest, his head buried in his arms. Nicholas somehow knew that Tornado had been affected by this as well and that he was suffering just like Nicholas was. And now he was here.
Nicholas smiled slightly.
Tornado, as if he had felt his eyes on him, lifted his head. The silver optics glowed softly in the mostly dark room. Their eyes met and Nicholas relaxed a bit, feeling a distant twinge where the support had speared him.
"How long was I out?" he asked when the silence became uncomfortable.
"Three days," was the soft answer.
"Oh."
There was another silence and Nicholas felt a strange sensation running up and down his spine, as well as a kind of probing in his mind. He wasn't sure what it was, but he surrendered himself to the feeling, drifting into sleep.
Tornado smiled slightly at the sleeping human. He remained where he was, guarding his Interface partner -- something he had finally come to accept. He drifted off into sleep himself, most of his functions shutting down, but ready to run up the moment someone entered.

* * *

She knew it was time to return and the confirmation of that thought came a second later. Firefall concentrated on her task and out of nowhere a brilliant column of light appeared. It had a suspicious likeness to a doorway. The Guardian stepped inside and the brilliant light collapsed as if it had never existed. Only the aftereffects were visible with small sparks dancing over the stone around where it had opened. Then even those disappeared.

* * *

Rodimus noticed with satisfaction that both Nicholas and Tornado were healing. Nicholas' wound had been serious and the blood loss enormous, but he had made it and Rodimus, as well Shanygn, suspected that Tornado had a lot to do with it. The Seeker leader had not moved away from his Interface's side from the moment he and Midnight had appeared in Autobot City. Both would be fine, given time and a lot of rest, mainly for Nicholas. Shanygn had volunteered to help them adjust to each other and with Wild Card coming home from another round of visiting Gatekeepers, she would have some help there. Midnight couldn't be everywhere.
"Okay, looks like normality has us back again," he told his own Interface.
Shanygn let her feet dangle from the window sill. "Oh, we can change that." She smiled mischievously.
"Don't even think about whatever you are thinking about," he told her, watching a small, avian Transformer play with some of his discarded disks. "I had enough problems lately and from what I heard from Prime, he has no easy task on Cybertron either."
"You mean the Decepticons? I guess we were lucky, eh? Blitzwing and Octane have shown no ill feelings and everyone seems to accept them."
"Yes, because they defied Galvatron long ago and have changed a great deal. Octane has been among Autobots for some time and Blitzwing's time alone did him some good." Rodimus shrugged. "But it looks as if Megatron and Starscream are starting to get on each other's nerves. I'm not envying Prime this problem."
The avian Transformer, looking like a falcon, managed to tear apart several of the old disks, chirping gleefully at its work of destruction.
Shanygn had to agree. "It will take more time and a lot more patience to make this alliance work. Even the Seekers and Sentinels have problems. Midnight said that Dagger will take every Seeker apart who dares to come too close to him. That's why Mid sent him to Alean again." She shook her head.
Rodimus sighed. He knew that even though there had been nothing extraordinary happening in the last weeks, the Tji were moving ever closer. Fewer robots than before had disappeared, mainly because Optimus Prime and Megatron had recalled their forces from the borders. He took a report from his desk. It was a short data file, mostly about the Quintessons. Their forces had been more or less obliterated in the last few months!
"More problems?" Shanygn asked softly.
"For the Quints. Looks like the Tji are out to destroy them, utterly, completely... mercilessly. All their bases are gone, their ships wrecked and the survivors have begun to flee everywhere, begging for shelter on many worlds. No one grants them any help whatsoever." Rodimus sat down on his chair. "What we heard from befriended worlds and those who had Quintesson contact, the Tji use a flying fortress." He held up a vague picture of the ship.
The falcon looked up, cocked its head and looked at the picture, deciding whether this was a new target or not.
Shanygn frowned. "What is it?"
"Scorponok," he said slowly. "The fortress The Hive built and which they took with them when they were thrown off Charr by Galvatron."
Their eyes met and he nodded as he read her thoughts in those dark blue eyes.
[You think they killed them] she asked softly.
[Yes. I talked to the Headmasters. They agree with me that none of them could serve as a body for a Tji. Like Interfaces, they are immune]
[Which makes them targets -- to kill] Shanygn shuddered.
[Exactly] He put down the report. [We are tracking its movements]
[And?]
[I think they'll soon hit us]
Shanygn was silent, looking down at the floor, eyes dark. [Where?]
[Most likely on Trbeca]
[IceAngel and Archer]
[Yes] Rodimus sighed deeply, rubbing his head. [Optimus told both doorway teams to stand by]
Shanygn only nodded, wishing the Gatekeeper and her shield good luck....
The falcon flew over to Rodimus, landing on his desk, looking questioningly at him. The Autobots' second smiled and held out one hand. The falcon hopped on it and he lifted it to his shoulder.
"Worried," it said, the voice clearly female.
Rodimus smiled and stroked her head. "A bit, Talon."
"Why?" Talon looked at the picture of Scorponok, cocking her head. "Big flying city."
He chuckled. "Yes. And full of trouble. Why don't you go out and play a bit?"
Talon considered this, then settled down on his shoulder with a certain finality. "No. Stay."
Shanygn chuckled and Rodimus gave her a dirty look

* * *

Nicholas had been allowed up after several days of being confined to his bed, which had been the most boring days in his life. Tornado had been bodily thrown out of med bay and he was not allowed to work -- not even to sign a report. Raoul had visited, as well as Shanygn, Steve and many other humans. Even Talon had appeared, asking an endless string of questions, which had tired him out and had let him sleep for some time. Now he could finally take a walk around, though it was more of a limp. Dr. Maulkin had issued him a crutch so take some weight off his left side. Nicholas sighed deeply. At least he could get out of med bay and maybe sneak into his quarters to get some work done.
The time in bed had given him a chance to think about the Interface. Tornado had not visited again, but Nicholas was clearly aware of him here in Metroplex. He had not left, but he had also not allowed him to connect. Steve had explained to him that their main problem was that they had not merged, even for a few seconds. The merging was important for an Interface; it stabilized them. Even the most lightly Interfaced Sentinel merged for a split second, bodily and in mind, with his partner. If it was possible later on had to be seen, but the first step was vitally important.
"But Shanygn and Rodimus Prime aren't able to do it either!" Nicholas had protested.
"They are not a typical Interface," Steve had explained with a smile. "They approached this from a different direction and Shan's exo-skeleton somehow denies her this ability, though we have no explanation for it."
Nicholas sighed and walked down the corridor to his quarters. Tornado had acknowledged him, but he knew the Seeker was still afraid. He was very much lost in thought when he arrived at his room and even more surprised to see Tornado waiting there, arms crossed in front of his chest.
"Hi," Nicholas said warily.
"Can we talk?" Tornado asked.
Nicholas thought about his small quarters and decided the meeting room might be better. When Tornado had closed the door after them, Nicholas gave him an inquiring look.
"How are you?" the Seeker asked.
Nicholas thought it was a superfluous question. Tornado knew exactly how he felt. "Better," he answered nevertheless.
The Seeker looked indecisive, fidgeting. "I'm not sure what to make of this...."
"Welcome to the club," Nicholas muttered.
"I never .... I mean... it's strange." Tornado gestured helplessly. "I don't want to change.... but we can't undo it and separating makes it only worse."
"I know. It changed a lot for me as well, which I can't really accept. What I told you some time ago, about a family .... I have lost the wish. I can't have a family because I would not age, I would see them die."
"I'm sorry...."
Nicholas shook his head. "No, it's not you fault. It's no one's fault. It happened...." He smiled a bit. "And it saved my life. You saved my life. Thanks."
Tornado looked embarrassed.
Nicholas thought he felt a wave of warmth course through him. Tornado was slipping in his control and from his startled expression he felt something as well. The Seeker shook his head in frustration.
"What can we do?" he finally asked, slightly desperate.
"Nothing," Nicholas sighed and slumped against the wall.
"Midnight said we have to train this ability," Tornado told him, "but I'm not sure ... that I want to. Please don't understand me wrong... but this is too much! I can't simply accept it! It goes against everything I always believed in." He nervously paced the room. "I also need to return to Skritakaar and my troops, but I know what separation will do...."
"Maybe we can train separation," Nicholas proposed.
Tornado smiled humorlessly.
The engineer grinned a bit. "Or you take me along. I'm on sick leave anyway and Raoul told me not to show my sorry behind inside the walls of Metroplex in the next weeks."
The Seeker leader stared at him, his silver eyes showing a mass of contradicting emotions. He thought of his troops and what they might think ... how they would react ... what they would do. Tornado was the first of them to Interface. Wild Card somehow didn't count.
"But I also always wanted to spend a few days with my old friends on Springwater, well, those who are still there," Nicholas went on, still smiling, as he saw the expression crossing Tornado's face. He pushed himself away from the wall. "And Shanygn wanted to show me a thing or two about mental shields, so you go off and visit your friends and I'll see what I can do about mind shields, okay?"
Without waiting for an answer he turned and left. The moment the door had closed after him, Tornado felt like banging his head against the wall, but he didn't follow.

* * *

-- Stage three proceeding --
-- Rerouting --
-- All channels open --

The globe pulsed strongly and several dead cable channels inside Cybertron pulsed with life as well. There were short bursts of power and the reactivation of forgotten parts inside the factory planet.

-- Complete --
-- Proceeding --
-- Checking shields --
-- Fully operational --
-- Upgrading proceeding --

* * *

Tornado had left. Aboard the shuttle, Phoenix watched him silently. She felt like throttling him for his stupidity. Midnight had explained to her that since the link was now stable enough, neither of them should suffer as before, but the separation would still be stressful on the freshly established connection. The older the Interface link was, the better both partners coped with separation. None of the Interfaced Sentinels or even Rodimus had any problems with their partners being somewhere else completely. Physical closeness was not required. But Tornado and Nicholas were making it hard on themselves and nothing they had done lately had helped in any way. Nicholas was on Earth and Tornado had decided to go back to Skritakaar.
Thick-headed idiot! she thought furiously.
Every Seeker was yearning for an Interface and the one who had achieved one without any outside force necessary was unhappy about it! Phoenix had talked with Phantom and he had only shook his head. They would not change their attitude toward him; they would all be happy and everyone had wanted to meet Nicholas.
Maybe, she thought sourly, if they beat his head in about it he will listen!
Phoenix had no high hopes though and Midnight had explained to her that no one could help Nicholas and Tornado now. They had to work it out by themselves -- somehow.
The shuttle changed course toward the warp gate. Tornado didn't say a word, merely watched the world outside streak past. Phoenix sighed softly and turned her attention toward other things, trying not to intrude.

* * *

"Yeow! Major light show!"
Jazz stared at the display which had lit up like a Christmas tree, as humans would say. All screens were on, scrolling down lines after lines of information, which was nothing but gibberish to him. Warning lights flashed, as did the 'all clear' signs, intermixing, creating a wild array of color.
"What is going on?" Optimus Prime demanded, striding into the command center.
"I wish I knew, man!" Jazz exclaimed. "It all happened without a sec of warning!"
Optimus Prime let his eyes survey the controls, which were acting up badly. A few images caught his eye and he watched one screen showing Moon Base One. He frowned.
And then the light show stopped, the controls quieting down. Jazz looked questioningly at Prime, who had no real answer either. He knew someone who might just have one, though. Optimus Prime nodded at him.
"Watch for anomalies, Jazz. Report them to me at once."
"Will do."
Optimus left the room and walked back to his office. He needed to check on a few things before he could ask the only entity that definitely held answers. He had just closed the door behind him when it happened.
-- You have questions -- the soft voice of Ralyk rang in his head.
Prime flinched. "Where are you?" he asked.
-- Everywhere --
-- Inside you --
Optimus flinched. Inside him? "How .... how can you talk to me? You are not using a link!"
-- Modification --
Optimus Prime felt a cold chill run up and down his neural pathways. "Modification?" he echoed tonelessly. "You played with my circuits?"
-- Yes --
It was a straight answer that gave him even more chills. "Why?"
-- Upgrading --
The Autobot leader clenched his hands into fists. "I expect to be asked before someone tampers with my circuits!" he said with barely suppressed anger.
-- It was necessary --
He forced the anger down. "Who else did you change?"
Silence greeted him.
"Who?" he demanded, anger rising once more. "Who did you 'modify' and to do what? When did you do it? Answer me!!"
-- It was necessary, Optimus Prime --
-- Everything changes --
-- You all need to change to perform your tasks --
"Who. Else. Did. You. Change?" he ground out. "Rodimus? The Sentinels? Maybe Decepticons as well? To do what? To perform what tasks?"
-- You will know when it is time for you to know --
And with it Ralyk left him. Optimus rocked slightly as the entity withdrew. He shook his head, clearing it. He had not felt Ralyk connect, but the disconnection had been so abrupt that it had been like a snapping rubber band.
Optimus hit the wall in frustration and it dented deeply under the force. What was Ralyk modifying? What was it changing beside the planet -- and Moon Base One, as it apparently had? He knew most of the changes had to do with shields, with defenses, but there was more. But what? And who had been a modification victim beside him? His mind supplied him with logical choices and he wished he had a way to confirm them. First Aid had given him a complete check only a few days ago and had found nothing amiss, so the modifications had been too subtle for the medic to notice.
He turned to his desk and activated the personal com line to Metroplex. He needed to talk to Rodimus, maybe meet with him in person. His second affirmed his departure from Earth a few minutes later. He would be on his way to Cybertron in an hour.

* * *

Ralyk felt the new doorway hours before it opened up and it felt pleased.
-- Welcome -- it whispered, pulsing softly. -- It was about time you returned, child --
Then it settled back, like a spider in its web, watching the web grow and extend, getting stronger and covering the planet and its sattelite.
-- Upgrading stage three complete --
-- Prepare for stage four --
-- Preparing --

* * *

And the fortress moved on......