Breaking Point
Breaking Point
by Birgit Staebler

This time he had really done it.
He had screwed up.
Big time.
Midnight stood on the balcony outside his office, hands curled around the hand-rail, gripping it so hard he might even break it if he tried. He stared down on the ground, watching the traffic coming in and out of the public terminal three stories below and wished he could rewind the clock and do it all over again.
He had lost his temper -- nearly completely. He had given in to his emotions surging up to meet his rational, logic mind, and he had surrendered to them. Years of pressure and pent-up frustration had hit him and he had seen every single wall crumble under the onslaught. Well, not every wall because if that had been the case, Firefall would be dead. A last barrier had remained, keeping him from killing her, but she had nearly completed the job by killing him. It had been such a close call that he still felt the remainders of the injuries, which had been multiple and severe. He had nearly died. Steve had nearly died.....
With those recent memories came, as usual, the older memories, those he didn't want to remember, those he wanted to shove into a dark corner, wall them off and forget about them. But he couldn't. His past was always a big part of him because what had happened in the past had made him what he was today.
"Hi," a calm voice said and he sighed deeply. He didn't need that right now!
"What do you want?" he asked brusquely, wondering who had broken the lock to his office door: Rodimus himself or Sparks.
Rodimus Prime leaned against the hand-rail. "Talk?"
Midnight glanced briefly at him, then continued to watch the traffic. "I don't want to."
"Why? Afraid you might accidentally spill something which you've been burying deep inside of you?"
Midnight's head came up sharply and Rodimus smiled a bit.
"Listen, we've been friends for a long time and just like you respected my privacy, I respected yours -- mainly because I was so caught up feeling miserable myself," the young Autobot leader said calmly, lips drawn into a smile. "And when I was finally kicked out of this guilt and self-doubt, we got into the next crisis and then the next and the next. I always told myself I'll get down and talk to you after the solution of one problem, but there was always something else -- or you pushed me away. Mid, you can't push any longer! This is getting too much to the surface now! You have to let it out!"
Midnight glared at him. "No, I don't have to, Rodimus! It's my past, my life, my decision!"
"No, it isn't!" Rodimus shot back. "You are the leader of the Sentinels. You are part of the Council. You can quit neither job and whatever affects you, affects those around you! I learned that the hard way and apparently, you have to do so as well! I thought you knew a bit more about it than I because you've definitely been in this position a lot longer than I!"
Midnight kept on staring at him and finally sighed. "Maybe I've been a leader much longer, but it doesn't change anything. All of this is very personal, Roddy...." he whispered.
Rodimus returned the look calmly. "No one will hear a word of what you tell me. You know you can trust me, Mid."
"I know," was the nearly inaudible reply. "You might not want to know it, though. It will shed a very different light on those you know...."
"Mid, please! I was present when you were hit by flashbacks, remember? I know it was worse than anything I might come up with, but it's also something you need to spill or your mind will go on overload."
"It already did. I nearly killed Firefall..."
"Yes, you did, and I can't blame you because what she did and how she acted was no longer tolerable." He smiled humorlessly. "She's been acting like she that since she arrived and I was close to strangling her more than once."
Midnight hissed softly. "That's no excuse."
"Mid, please, stop that!" Rodimus ordered angrily. "Too many things collided, too many unsolved problems surfaced! There is only so much a mind can take and you reached your breaking point!"
The Sentinel leader was silent for a long time. "Yes," he finally whispered. "A breaking point.... like ....like then...." He kept his eyes averted from Rodimus'.
Rodimus placed a light hand on his friend's shoulder. "Talk to me...."
Midnight hesitated. Finally he hung his head and sighed deeply. "Okay," he whispered. "Okay....." He hesitated again.
Rodimus nodded encouragingly.
Midnight fidgeted, then finally started.

.......

"We shouldn't be here," Twister muttered and looked around nervously. He didn't like this place and he hated to think what was lurking in the deep, dark shadows of the corridors and rooms.
Phantom nodded, but said no word. He looked around the large chamber, shivering slightly. He didn't want to be here either, but voicing that might result in an introduction to Braintrust's strong tail. He didn't want to end up battered against a wall, so he shut up.
Braintrust walked over to a wall full of cylinders, his bulging optics taking in the dysfunctional chambers and sighing. "All dead," he rumbled. "What a pity."
Phantom didn't know whether to feel relieved or sorry. The cylinders were stasis chambers for robots, special robots called Sentinels. He was a Sentinel, Phantom knew, at least by basic programming and construction. That he now called himself a Seeker had nothing to do with his design; it was a renaming. He had been created here as well, he knew, reminiscing sadly. Here was the Creation Chamber, here was the Creation Core. The Core was the single sign of life in the chamber, a purple energy ball, kept in a transparent security vault. No one had been here in ages, no one had disturbed the resting robot shells, and Phantom felt sacrilegious entering this tomb of so many of his brothers and sisters who had never been born.
Many had been destroyed in the first Cybertronian war, when the robot slaves had risen and driven the Quintessons off the planet. The Quintessons had had control over the Sentinels at the time, using them as bodyguards, enforcers and assassins. This had resulted in the Autobots and Decepticons targeting the Sentinels as well, storming the Creation Chamber and killing the innocent, unborn ones. It had been a massacre and those who had been able to flee, had never returned to Cybertron. Now they were back.....
Suddenly Braintrust gave a surprised growl. He bent down a bit and his tail flicked with excitement. "A live one!" he whispered.
Twister and Phantom exchanged worried looks. A live one? No!
Braintrust touched the control panel with one giant claw and rumbled in satisfaction. "This one is still functional. Call Tornado! I want it restored before we get discovered by the slaves!"
Phantom nodded and left, wishing they would get discovered so that the innocent Sentinel shell inside the cylinder would not wake into this world. But this was wishful thinking, he knew. The Autobots and Decepticons were too much involved in their little war, searching for their missing leaders who had crashed on some unknown planet, as far as their armies knew, and generally oblivious to anything except their fights.
Tornado walked straight over to the still functional cylinder and began to check the systems. After some time he straightened and nodded.
"He is still alive, my leader. We can awaken him if you want to."
Braintrust nodded. "Do it!"
"But it looks like he is one of the specialized ones," Tornado added cautiously. "A Sleeper."
Braintrust looked intrigued. "A Sleeper, you say? Hm, very interesting. Specifications?"
Tornado looked at the display again. "None given. The info sheet is blank, probably erased. Or the shell was never finished."
"Then let's find out," Braintrust growled. "Get his systems working!"
Tornado complied and Phantom watched with growing unease. The cylinder began to hum with life and the computer began to work, supplying the needed energy and programs to initiate the wake-up program. The Creation Core glowed more brightly and the purple light spilled out of the transparent cylinder it was kept in, lighting the whole Creation chamber. Finally Tornado nodded and opened the lid. He stepped back and Phantom saw him stare at the form inside the stasis cylinder with a mixture of unease and surprise. The Seeker stepped forward and was struck by the same unease. Braintrust only gave a satisfied rumble and watched how the new robot sat up. The robot was tall, but not any taller than Tornado or Phantom himself, slender to the brink of looking fragile, and from his design he had to have an aerial transformation. But that wasn't the disturbing fact. It was the deep, black color of his skin and the yellow vein-like tubes running over his upper arms and thighs. There was no other color on him but this deep blackness and as Phantom looked at him, he thought he saw the blackness shift like a living being. The green visor glowed softly and there was a confused look on the robot's face. He looked up, his face one big question mark, and stared at Braintrust. Phantom saw no fear in that young face, only curiosity and confusion.
"What happened?" the robot now asked, his voice dark and deep, but not unpleasant.
"Welcome to the world, young one," Braintrust said with satisfaction. "You have been awakened by us, to finally fulfill your destiny."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Braintrust, you leader." Braintrust smiled. "And who are you, young one?"
"My name is Midnight...." He looked at them with more confusion, then at the chamber.
"We have to leave here, Midnight," Braintrust told him. "None of us is safe here. Come!"
Midnight took some hesitant steps away from the pod, then his steps grew more confident. Phantom watched the strange robot with mixed feelings. Something told him that the awakening of this Sleeper had just started an avalanche of events no one would ever know the complete story of ......

* * *

Steven Marcus Parker, Captain, former squadron commander, now retired, was a private investigator. He specialized in accident investigations and missing ships. Parker owned a small office in the downtown area and had an apartment in the same building. The milky white glass door was lettered S. Parker, aerial investigations and led to his secretary's desk, who could do wonders with paperwork and who was, in addition to that, someone with an incredible memory. She helped him out on some cases now and then, and he appreciated her help immensely. His own office was large enough that he didn't feel oppressed by the shelves of books and files on various space ship types, previous unexplained accidents, disappearances and other stuff. Plants decorated the empty spaces between the books and a window gave him a good view over the city.
Leaning back in his leather chair he looked at his latest client with a critical expression in his eyes. "Are you sure?" he asked the man.
The dark-haired man, maybe in his early fifties, nodded. "We lost contact five days ago and it was the same coordinates again. The area is off limits for everyone, but the investigation we launched ended with either no clue at all or unexplained accidents."
"It's a Rift area, Dan. Accidents happen. People don't get back. You know that."
"Yes, but this is different," his visitor contradicted.
"Dan, I'm not really sure I can help you there," Rye confessed.
Lt. Colonel Daniel Weathers smiled. "You were the best Rift pilot in the past, Steve, and you know the terrain better than any of my boys. And I guess you still are the best....."
"The curse of a great reputation," Parker muttered, grinning a bit.
It was true that he knew the area in question. He had been stationed close to that particular spot in deep space and he knew it more or less inside out. But it had been over ten years ago and he had been a simple pilot then. A lot had changed.
"I haven't been over there for a long time," he voiced his doubts.
Weathers smiled a bit. "You'll adapt in no time. It hasn't been such a long time since you last flew into Rifts. Don't tell me you aren't tempted, Steve."
Steve grimaced. "Yeah. Have you ever been there?"
"Yes, but not inside the Rift. Very lonely piece of space. Now, will you take the job?"
Parker looked at the file again. He didn't like it, but ... "Okay," he muttered. "I'll take the job, Dan. And stop grinning!"
Weathers took his briefcase. "Thanks. I know you can do the job, Steve. Good luck."
Steve sighed deeply again and closed the file's cover. Rift flight again...well, why not. He hadn't been out there for a very long time......

* * *

He woke. Recharge was over and his mind returned to full functioning status. As always after a recharge, he wondered how long he had been out and what had happened. The recharge chamber was not fitted with a memory core and so he had to check on news and latest developments himself. He also thought that this had been done on purpose.
Midnight sat up and stared at the wall of the room he was in, frowning. He had been born not so long ago and he still had a lot to learn about his life and the others around him, but something had been very clear right from the start: he was not like them and they looked upon him with wariness and slight suspicion. He knew he was different, starting with his looks, but he also knew he was just one of them. He had no special powers and to him it appeared that his bodily construction was more of a disadvantage. Skin was too soft compared to metal and he felt slightly unwell with it.
The young robot sighed and slipped off the table, leaving the recharge chamber. As he stepped into the large, cave-like room, he was aware of some commotion. Two of the Seekers, Tornado and Phantom, were preparing for departure and Braintrust was busy giving them last instructions. Midnight walked closer, looking at the display of the surveillance computer. The machine was large and highly sophisticated, watching, spying on, recording everything happening in this part of deep space where the Seekers had their base. Right now there was a small blip on the screen, moving in what Midnight recognized as a search pattern, through the sector. The computer identified it as a small, private ship of unknown origin. Phantom and Tornado took off and Braintrust turned, looking at Midnight.
"Ah, Midnight, my young friend," he said, his voice pleasant as always, but also laced with the usual slimy coldness.
"What's going on?" Midnight asked.
Braintrust smiled, which was a gruesome sight. "We are having a visitor and I'm getting an invitation delivered."
Midnight felt sick to the core. No! He knew what it meant. He knew it exactly. Midnight had been awakened several years ago -- years measured by their internal chronometers -- and since then he had seen the horrors happening in these caves. And he could do nothing against it. All the other Seekers seemed to accept the death sentence put on the humanoids abducted by Braintrust on a regular basis and no one tried to stop him. Then again, Midnight thought wryly, there was no way anyone could possibly stop the giant robot dragon.
Now he met the yellow stare of his leader and tried to look neutral. He had too often voiced his doubts and protests, had nearly been scrapped by Braintrust just as many times, and he knew he was only tolerated because Braintrust thought he had potential .... and because he was another warrior added to his small army. Midnight had yet to encounter their enemy, the Sentinels.
"I see," he said, trying to keep emotions out of his voice.
Braintrust seemed to look right through him and the evil smile turned a few degrees colder. Then the dragon lifted his head and turned back to watching the display.
Midnight stayed where he was for a few more seconds, then left the cave-like main room and walked slowly over to the hangar. He was still there when Phantom and Tornado brought in a small space ship, clearly made for speed and maneuverability. It hadn't been maneuverable enough, though. There was severe damage to the ship and Midnight wondered if the pilot was still in one piece. He found out minutes later when the bipedal humanoid was removed from his ship, struggling weakly in Tornado's strong grasp. Midnight felt something inside of him twist painfully and he tried to look away, but his optics were drawn to the dark-haired man, who was obviously hurt but still not giving up, even against these overwhelming odds.
Tornado looked at him, scowled slightly and then carried the human away. Midnight stared after him, torn between the attempt to ignore what would happen soon and trying to prevent it. There were more prisoners, well one more, down in the cells and soon Braintrust would try out his mad experiments on both of them. It made the young Seeker sick to the core, but he didn't have the power to stop him. Courage, yes, maybe; but power?
Finally he whirled around, transformed and shot away. He had to get some distance between himself and the others.

* * *

Steve stumbled and fell to his knees, doubling over, gasping with pain and nearly losing consciousness. Something seemed to crackle into life, some kind of energy barrier, locking him inside this prison cell. He was alone. After what seemed to be a very long time he felt the pain retreat a bit. He tried not to breathe too deeply and not to move too much. Instead he tried to find out what kind of room he was in. It was not completely dark, but more twilightish. The light came from the energy bars. The room he was in had a very high ceiling and it had obviously not been constructed for humans and he might have a chance to escape if he found the weak points. Steve smiled dimly at the thought. He felt unable to even move a finger. The pain had numbed him, made his mind a bit fuzzy, but he battled unconsciousness as best as he could.
He could see a similar cell opposite his own, this one having activated energy bars as well, but he couldn't see the occupant. There was a control panel beside the cell, its display alight with alien numbers. Steve had no idea where he was, only that he hurt very much and that all he wanted to do was sleep. He was so tired!
Suddenly he heard loud, heavy steps and a minute later a gigantic, dragon-like creature stood in front of the cell, staring down on him with evily glistening, yellow eyes. Parker shuddered under the cold stare from the dragon. Maybe he should be afraid because of the creature's size, but he was more afraid of the icy, calculating look. The robot was really large, his head towering high above Parker and it had wings, which were thin and razor-sharp pieces of metal, resting on his back. The long tail ended in a sharp, scorpion-like sting.
"Welcome, human," the dragon now rumbled, voice laced with satisfaction. "To my lair."
"Who are you?" Steve asked, dragging himself up. "Why did you do this?"
The dragon smiled nastily. "Oh, call it an invitation," he purred. "To a party....." The head lowered and the evil eyes started to glow even more evily. "And you are the special event!" With that he turned and left again.
Steve shivered, slumping back against the wall. He had no idea what was going on, but he knew he wouldn't like any part of it.
"Hello?"
Steve startled and winced at the pain lancing through him. "What?"
Something moved in the opposite cell and a shape came closer to the energy bars. Steve couldn't see it all that clearly, but he thought it was humanoid like him.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"My name is Megann Shandran. I'm a prisoner like you."
The voice was female and accented, and Steve thought he could distinguish the woman more clearly now. She was about his height, had long hair and was completely human in built. He didn't see details though.
"Steven Parker," he introduced himself, feeling tired again. "Where am I? What is going on here?"
Megann sighed. "I'm not so sure myself, only that the big dragon is called Braintrust and that he seems to think we can give him something he needs. Where do you come from?"
"Akhri."
"Can't say I know it," she confessed.
"It's beyond the Rift," Steve added with a faint smile.
"Rift?"
He sighed. "I guess I've to delve deeper into this. The Rift is a rupture in space. It opens slowly and takes centuries to close completely, I'm told. We discovered the Rift and sent exploration crews in. Found out quite a lot about this part beyond the Rift...."
"A dimensional opening?" Megann asked, voice holding fascination.
Steve shook his head. "Not really. I'm not sure what the scientific explanation is, but it's not different dimensions. It's something else. Anyway, I'm a Rift pilot, or was a Rift pilot, and when suddenly people disappeared in the Rift, I started to investigate."
"And you were caught," Megann said softly.
He nodded again. "Who are those robots anyway?"
"I don't know. I've never seen them before and this part is deep space here. No one normally comes through here."
Steve tilted his head a bit. "Then how come you are here?"
"I wasn't here when I was kidnapped. They abducted me." Megann's voice shook a bit.
Parker was silent for a minute, unable to say anything to help.
"Are you hurt?" the woman now asked.
"I'll live," he answered dryly.
"But maybe not much longer," Megann muttered.
Steve sank back against the wall, wishing he had an idea how to get out of here. He knew that if he didn't return, Colonel Weathers would most likely not send anyone after him. Too many had disappeared beyond the Rift and he guessed that they had fallen victim to these robots and whatever they did with them. The Rift would be closed off and declared a danger zone until it closed. He sighed softly.
"We need to get out of here," Steve whispered with determination.
Megann laughed humorlessly. "Don't you think I tried? There were five more with me and all are gone now, Steven Parker. I've been here for too long to count and I know that when I go, it will be forever. And my only freedom will be death."
"No!" Steve snarled. "I won't give up that easily!"
Megann leaned closer to the energy bars and he saw her face in the yellowish light. It was alien. Her eyes were completely black, slightly bulging and larger than human eyes. There were strange ridges running down her forehead to her neck. Steve couldn't tell he skin color because of the energy lights dancing over her face.
"All prisoners said that, my friend. No one has managed to escape yet. We are already dead."
Steve felt stubbornness rise inside of him. "No! I won't accept that!"
"You have to," the woman said with deathly calmness. "There is no way out."

* * *

Midnight flew through the empty space surrounding the lonely asteroid the Seekers had built their base on. His mind was troubled with the images of the humanoid who had just been captured and the knowledge of what would happen to him. And he couldn't stop it. He couldn't go up against Braintrust.
Thinking of the large Seeker made him shiver, but part of him cried out in rage and wanted retaliation, wanted to fight..... though his logical mind knew he wouldn't stand a chance. Braintrust was as powerful as he was gigantic and there was no way a single individual could hope to win in a fight. He shivered. And then there was the fact that Braintrust seemed to see something in him that Midnight didn't see himself. He regarded him with those frightening cold eyes sometimes, as if he was looking for and finding what he thought Midnight had. But what? What made him special? His weird color? His skin? Nothing was of any advantage. He even thought of himself as a misconstruction because he was too slender and too vulnerable, but Braintrust apparently saw something more.
Midnight sighed and flew back to the base. He couldn't stay lost forever and if he was out too long, Braintrust would start asking questions again. So he changed course and headed home...... Home? No. He didn't feel at home. He felt alien and out of place. With another sigh he tried to think of something different, but even though these other, disturbing thoughts intruded. He just couldn't get rid of them.

* * *

The robot approached the cell and deactivated the energy bars. Megann moved away from the huge form, but the robot simply bent down and picked her up. Steve stared in horror as the dark blue robot left the cell. For the first time he had a good look at who Megann was and even though she was alien, there was one thing that could not be missed in any culture: signs of fear. She might have accepted her fate, but her instinct told her to live, to survive. She struggled in the tight hold.
"No!" Steve protested. "Leave her alone!"
He stumbled forward and connected with the energy bars. He screamed in pain as he was thrown backwards, connecting to the wall and crumbling down. Darkness descended upon him.

Not far away, Midnight flinched as some circuits contracted painfully and without a reason. He ran a self-diagnostic and found nothing wrong, except for a strange rise in energy for a second. He sat back on his chair and traced the energy surge to its origin, coming up against something he had seen before -- a strange array of circuitry inside of him. He had no idea what those circuits were or what they did. He had no direct access to them and they were useless in any way -- but they were there. Why?
Midnight shook his head and wished he had access to the computer Braintrust used. But no one had access and no one would ever get it. And why had the circuits suddenly activated and why, of all, had they relayed pain? He tried to read more out of the energy surge, but there was nothing more.....
He shook his head again. Maybe it was just a glitch.....

* * *

The alien woman struggled in the machine, but Braintrust paid her no attention. He was busy with the dials and read-outs, setting his device so it would function perfectly.
"Stop struggling," he rumbled after a time, not even glancing at her. "You'll only hurt yourself."
The woman didn't listen. She only tugged at her bonds with renewed effort. Braintrust sighed. Foolish flesh creature. If she only knew what awaited her! Interfacing was the fulfillment of his dreams and desires, his only goal in life, aside from eradicating every Sentinel he could find and reclaim Cybertron as his own one day. But first things came first, and Interfacing was top on his priority list. The machine indicated full functioning status and he gave a nod of satisfaction, turning to the helpless creature, who was so much smaller than him, so fragile, but still the only thing that would make him complete. An Interface would raise him to the same level as the Sentinels, even though not even all of them were Interfaced.
The woman stared back defiantly, her completely black eyes sparkling with a mixture of fear and denial. He had no idea which race she was from, only that her readings were promising as an Interface partner. She had psi abilities and Braintrust had found out that latent abilities enhanced Interfacing capabilities. What he didn't know was that they didn't insure it and that 'untalented' people could Interface just as perfectly well.
"Relax and enjoy it," the Seeker leader told her. "Soon you will be one with me."
The woman gave a scream and tugged at the bonds again, but she couldn't possibly free herself. Braintrust smiled and with a flick of a sharp talon, he activated the machine. It hummed to live. The woman, connected to the device by several electrodes and the bonds, which were energized now, stiffened, her eyes widening in shock. Her mouth opened to scream, then she collapsed, hanging limply in the construction. Braintrust felt something wash over him and he bathed in the feeling of being reborn, of receiving energy.
But the feeling was only so short. The machine finished the Interface program, but the subject had not phased. The woman was hanging motionlessly in the bonds and Braintrust snarled. Anger built up inside of him and he smashed his tail into the wall. A resounding boom echoed through the lab.

* * *

"You murderer! You kill innocent people!"
Midnight flinched back under the accusation. He knew the human was right and because of it, the emotional pain was even worse. He hadn't been able to stop Braintrust. Like everyone else he was too much in terror of the giant Seeker and those who had once revolted were now dead body shells.
"You killed her in cold blood! Experimented on her until she died! What kind of monsters are you?" Parker raged on, his eyes angry blue pools. He was injured and in pain, but this only fueled his rage. Midnight felt it like a living wall. "What do you want from us? Our bodies? Our minds? What are you doing?!"
Midnight wondered again why he had come down here. It was this strange feeling he had had since the human had been brought in and the feeling had not dimmed, only increased.
"Answer me!" Parker exploded and Midnight noted tears running down his face, intrigued by the sight.
"I.... I'm sorry," the young Seeker whispered, struck by the pain.
"Sorry? You want me to believe that?" Parker yelled. "You are emotionless machines! You have no idea what you are doing! I bet you like seeing a human surrender because of your oh-so-powerful weapons! I won't surrender! I will fight!"
Midnight felt the strange sensations again, but he ignored them now. "No, please," he begged, wanting the human, Steven Parker he reminded himself, to understand. "I do feel, I have emotions......"
Parker glowered at him in utter rage. "Then what is it you enjoy so much about hurting us?" he whispered with barely controlled outrage.
"I don't enjoy it. We are all victims.... Braintrust ... he ... it's hard to explain, you see...." Midnight stuttered, unable to explain it. It was really hard to relay what he had seen and heard in his waking time verbally.
"Victims? You?" Steve gave a hard bark of laughter, ignoring his broken and definitely hurting ribs.
Midnight stopped. How did he know that? How did he know about broken ribs when he had no idea about human physiology? Or the pain it caused when laughing.....? He stared at the human.
"What are you staring at?" Parker hissed, then stopped, blinking. "What ... what is this...." he whispered, stumbling away from Midnight, who stared at him in horror. Parker clutched his head and whimpered, then fell to his knees.
Midnight took a step toward the cell, stopping just short of touching the energy bars keeping him separate from the human in the cell. Emotions flooded him: fear, anger, pain, disgust, hope...... Dreams followed, chased by reality, and he was hit with what must have happened when the ship had been attacked by Phantom and Twister.
Attack.
Weapons firing.
Fear.
Get out of here!
Now!
Shields failing.
Another hit.
Pain.
Darkness.
He looked at the trembling human and when Steve looked up, he met the confused and frightened eyes, the blue iciness drawing him in. He staggered away from the cell, fear gripping him as well. Something seemed to invade him with more force and he had no idea how to stop it. He gasped and finally managed to tear his optics from the human, then fled down the corridor.

Steven Parker slid down the wall and onto the cold floor, tears streaming down his face as emotions that were not his own still assaulted him.
Waking up in an alien world -- Confusion.
What is happening to me? -- Fear.
Stop it! Now! -- Rising panic.
He knew he was confused as well, and very much afraid, but what he felt weren't human emotions. They were strange, but familiar. Alien, but still part of him. He whimpered and clutched his head, doubling over.
It had started when Midnight had appeared. No .... before that. He had just not felt it because he had been too busy being in pain. Now that the alien feeling had increased, he had really started to notice it. And when Midnight had reeled under his accusations, trying to explain, everything had surfaced.
Midnight..... Midnight?
How did he know the robot's name? He had never been told any name.....
Braintrust..... the dragon.... More information surfaced and he tried to shut it out, but it simply kept on coming. Steve was confronted with stuff he didn't want to know, but now knew nevertheless. The names of the Seekers... Seekers? He shivered as more knowledge assaulted him and suddenly he felt a tingling in his chest. He groaned as the intensity of the feeling increased. His body hurt, his ribs blazing with agony, and his head about to burst. Steve could no longer think clearly and he wished for nothing more than simply fall unconscious.
And darkness overwhelmed him.

Not far away, Midnight gasped and struggled to think clearly himself. He trembled, his body feeling weak and in pain, though he wasn't even injured. Those strange circuits inside of him activated once more and this time the energy surge was much greater. It seared through him, in turn activated more unknown circuits and generally started to change him. Memories of a life that wasn't his own surfaced and buried themselves into his memory core. He whimpered, trying to shut the thoughts out, but it was impossible.
Akhri.
What was an Akhri?
A planet ..... home.....
Midnight shivered. More memories flooded him, of a blue-green planet, of home.....
Finally there was only nothingness coming from wherever the other knowledge and memories had come from and the young Seeker relaxed a bit. The nothingness was just as disturbing, maybe even more, than the flow of knowledge, and he looked back toward where the cell block was.
Steven Parker.
With the name came more very private and intimate memories......
No.......! Midnight fell against the support of the wall, trembling in horror. No, no, no! It couldn't happen! Not to him! He remembered what he had been told about Braintrust's experiments, what they were for -- to find a suitable Interface partner to make the giant Seeker complete, to make him a match against the Sentinels, who Interfaced with ease and no problems, while the Seekers couldn't. Braintrust wanted to force an Interface, but each and every of his 'partners' had died horribly, painfully, throughout the trials.
I can't.... no....!
Desperation rose inside of him and tremors ran through him. He fled the cell block but even distance couldn't break the bond.
"Mid?"
He whirled around, nearly losing his balance, and came face to face with the only Seeker who he could call 'friend'. His name was Wild Card and he was, theoretically, Braintrust's second-in-command. Practically, Braintrust didn't need a second and Wild Card was nothing more than someone to relay orders, which he did and tried not to get into the way of the gigantic Seeker, like everyone else did as well.
"Are you okay?"
Midnight nodded, not trusting his voice box.
"You don't look okay," Wild Card went on.
"I'm fine!" Midnight hissed and felt some circuits inside of him twist painfully again. He fell against the wall with a groan.
Wild Card caught him. "You are not. C'mon, let's get you to your quarters."
Midnight wanted to protest, but Wild Card simply dragged him to the quarters. Luckily they encountered no other Seeker.

* * *

Braintrust looked at the dead female with disgust. "Weak," he muttered. "She had potential, but it was wasted. Get her away and dispose of her."
Tornado nodded and picked up the limp form from the table, carrying her away. The dragonic Seeker leader turned away, looking at his read-outs with a scowl.
"This calls for a change of approach," he growled. "And the new one shows much more promise anyway. His psi readings are high."
"He is injured. He might not make it," a new voice said.
Braintrust turned and looked at the gray and yellow robot at his side. "Oh, but he will, MetalFire. It doesn't' matter if the subject is injured or not. Injuries play no role in an Interface."
MetalFire looked doubtful, but he didn't comment on it. "You want to have him right away?"
"No. First I'll remodel the device, then we'll try out the modifications on him." The dragon smiled broadly. "It will give him some to ...recover...."
MetalFire nodded and watched him turn to his device which, in theory, should force a humanoid into Interfacing with a Seeker. MetalFire shrugged and left.

* * *

Wild Card shot Midnight a concerned look and the black Seeker looked away.
"I said I'm fine!" he snapped as Wild Card wanted to say something again.
The green and golden-brown Seeker shrugged. "If you say so, but I've to tell you, you are not." He studied his friend closely. "Something is happening to you."
"Nothing is happening to me!" Midnight insisted, but the lingering sensations in his chest contradicted the statement.
Wild Card shrugged again. "Okay. I'm leaving now. If you need something, call me on the private line."
Their optics met and Midnight was tempted to tell him what he thought had happened, then he voted against it. Wild Card was the only real friend he had, but what if he heard about the possibility of an Interface? Midnight looked away again and simply nodded. The door closed after the other Seeker and Midnight sank back against the chair's back.
He had a problem.
He had to solve it -- somehow.
And the only way to do it was to.... to see Parker again. Midnight shivered. He was afraid. He didn't want to confess that he might be on the way to do what Braintrust had tried to achieve for years..... the bond. He slowly rose from the chair and left his quarters again, walking into the great hall and looking around. Braintrust's lab was empty, so he wasn't about to launch another experiment..... He shivered again as his mind supplied him with what Steve's fate would soon be.
NO!
The black robot clenched his hands into fists. He couldn't let it happen! He turned on his heels and walked back to the cells.
He had to know.....
And even if this was just a major circuit glitch in the end and had nothing to do with a bond between him and the human, he would free Steve. It was compulsory for him now; there was no way back
Midnight stopped in front of Parker's prison. The human lay on the floor, body motionless and limp. Midnight felt concern and slight panic rise. He couldn't be dead because.... because he still felt him.
Gods, it was true!
The young Seeker reached out and deactivated the cell's energy barrier, then stepped into the for him small room. He knelt down and looked at the much smaller human, reaching out with one hand, but afraid to touch him. Steven looked so fragile, so.... vulnerable, and utter protectiveness rose inside Midnight. He wouldn't let anyone harm this human -- ever! That was the moment Parker opened his eyes and stared right at him.
Confusion.
Fear.
Pain.
Panic.
"No, please!" Midnight whispered. "I won't hurt you...."
Steve met his optics, eyes widening. "What are you doing to me?" he asked weakly.
"It's not me...." Midnight tried to explain, but once again he didn't have the words. He didn't understand the process himself either.
Parker shivered and Midnight felt great concern now, wishing he could help. He didn't want Steve to hurt! He reached out again and suddenly there was a tugging feeling inside his chest. It increased and he flinched back, his chest burning, his head exploding in white light. He heard a scream of fear and pain, then there was nothing at all.

......

"We Interfaced just then," Midnight said, a small smile playing over his lips. "I was so confused, so frightened, as was Steve. He was hurt in addition to that, and finding yourself inside another one's consciousness is nothing to help calm down or feel less pain, especially when the other is alien and a robot. It took us some time just to sort out the initial emotions. I was unable to move. I just sat there, frozen in terror and flooded with emotions and pictures I didn't know. Human emotions were so strange at the time, so overwhelming..... And through it all there was the instinct to protect him with my life, to let nothing happen to him."
Rodimus had no idea what it had been like because his Interface with Shanygn had been slow, gradual and gentle. It had taken them over 15 years to get as far as they were today and Midnight had Interfaced 100 % within seconds. And he hadn't had any help, no guidance, no one he could talk to. Rodimus shuddered. He had had a lot of Sentinels to talk to and both he and Shanygn had known what was happening.
"And then Wild Card found us....."

.......

Midnight staggered to his feet, confused and unable to catch a coherent thought. He hurt, but he also felt better than in days. Steven Parker's presence seemed to everywhere, around him, inside him .... himself. He flowed through him, partly calming, partly initiating panic. More circuits opened, welcomed the new addition to Midnight's systems. Suddenly he heard steps and turned, his face a mask of shock as he discovered Wild Card. The other Seeker stood in the unlocked door of the cell and looked at him unreadable optics.
"Feeling better now?" he finally asked, voice neutral.
"How long have you been there?" Midnight asked, voice wavering.
"Not long enough to see everything, but from the looks of it, my guess was correct."
Midnight moved away, ready to go for his gun. Wild Card smiled a bit and raised both hands.
"I'm here to help you, Mid."
"Why?"
"Because otherwise the two of you die. Simple."
Midnight stared at him.
"Only because I was born a Seeker and work for Braintrust, I don't have to like it," the golden-brown robot said calmly. "I'm sick of what is happening, but like everyone here, I don't have the power to stop him. I can only work in secret, hoping that someday someone will be able to stop him."
Midnight shook under a new energy shock running through him. He groaned, doubling over again. "How did you know?" he asked weakly.
"Because I had a look into this Interfacing business before and because I witnessed Braintrust's reactions whenever the Interfaced for a few seconds. When I saw how you looked and how you reacted, it was somehow clear to me." Wild Card looked over his shoulder. "You have to get out of here."
Midnight chuckled softly. "Yeah, but how? Braintrust will kill me the moment he finds out and he will find out pretty soon....."
"Not if you move right away." Wild Card approached him. "Are you in any shape to fly?"
"I .... I think so."
Wild Card grabbed his arm. "Then let's go."
"But.... what if he finds you that you helped me?" Midnight asked.
"Let me worry about that, okay?"
Midnight stared at him in incomprehension. "Why, Wild Card? Why help me? I mean really."
Wild Card looked seriously at him. "Because you are my friend and the only real one I ever had among the others. And because you are very special, Mid. Braintrust knows it as well. You are a Sleeper, a special design. You have powers you might not know about yet. You have to live, to survive."
"I don't have any powers," Midnight protested, confused.
Wild Card chuckled, still half dragging him along the corridor, but not toward the main cave. "You'll find out. You are Interfaced now. It's only a matter of time ... and a question of survival." He stopped and opened door, which led to the hangar. "Get out of here, Mid!"
Midnight looked at him and smiled a bit. "Thanks."
Wild Card gave him a wry smile. "Forget it." With that he turned and left.

.........

"At the time I didn't know how to keep Steve safe or what to do or that I could shield," Midnight told Rodimus, shrugging a bit. "I didn't know about my increasing abilities or the fact that I could Gate now. Everything was a mystery, too frightening to think about the consequences." The Sentinel leader smiled wryly. "I made it out, I managed to remember how to transform and then I took off. At the time we were out in space I was already losing control again and we were lucky I wasn't hit by anything floating through space."
"Where did you go?" Rodimus asked softly.
"Here and there.... we tried to learn...." Midnight sighed. "Steve was very much afraid of what had happened and I've to admit I wasn't too thrilled either."

.......

Midnight had no idea how he had managed to phase Parker out again, but he was outside and he was completely exhausted. The human was too pale, shaking and his eyes were wide with fear and incomprehension. He might just have got to know Midnight and everything else through the Interface, but he had not understood it all yet. And he was still in pain, still hurt, which made reasoning even harder. Midnight knelt down, feeling helpless. He knew little about human anatomy and even if he would, how could he help? He was several times Steve's size!
Steve winced away from him and it stabbed into the young robot like a laser sword. He sat back, feeling hurt himself, trying not to show it though. Steve looked at him, his face showing confusion but also understanding all of a sudden.
"Sorry," he whispered hoarsely.
"What for?" Midnight wanted to know, now equally confused.
"For still being afraid," Parker answered with a wry smile. "It's just... I really have to get used to a giant robot around me.... someone who isn't out to kill me."
Midnight flinched and averted his optics. Something touched him inside and he looked up again, mouth agape at the sensation. Steve's eyes met him and he shivered.
"I know now that this isn't your fault, Midnight," Parker said calmly and tried to get himself into a more comfortable position. "I saw it....."
"Yeah," Midnight muttered, disgusted by his own past.
"Don't blame yourself, okay?" the human said softly. "I don't. Not any more. What I said and did..... I was afraid, I was scared to death!"
"I know," the young robot said softly, smiling a bit as he remembered how the Interface had also shown him more of his new partner.
"We have to make the best of it."
"And that is?"
Parker shrugged carefully. "I have no idea yet. We both need somewhere to heal, to learn, to hide. Somewhere safe."
Midnight frowned a bit. Somewhere safe.... but where? He felt at a loss. "Your home planet..." he started.
Steve shook his head. "No."
The larger robot stared at him. "No? But you would have help there! You are injured and you need medical attention." He made a helpless gesture. "I can't help you..... I have no idea what to do!" He bit down the desperation, but Steve felt it nevertheless; through the link.
"I can't go back," the dark-haired man said calmly. "You would have to go with me and you don't know what would expect you. I will stay here and we will have to make the best of it. Midnight, stop looking so guilty," he told the young robot.
Midnight smiled and reached out for his new partner. This time Steve didn't flinch back. Midnight lifted him and then walked off.

.......

"Our life was like a trial and error run," Midnight sighed. "First we had to find out about the other and Steve needed to really trust me. It took a long time and I more than once offered to get him back to his people again, but he refused. I think we both knew we were already too far into this, though neither of us knew it was an immediate, 100% bond. We experimented with the new abilities. I learned what it meant to have someone share part of you, Steve learned what it was like to be a robot. We tried out Gating, which was one failure after another in the beginning and got better later on." He stopped. "And then we met the Sentinels for the first time, who only saw an enemy in me. We were hiding on a deserted space station and I was trying to find energon."

.......

Thon Roque stopped dead in his tracks. His optics widened a bit as he saw the slender form of the Seeker, equally stopping, even moving away from him. He was young, Roque saw immediately. Very young. His body was colored in absolute and complete black, but there were strange yellow veins showing at his thighs and upper arms. The visor was green and currently flashing in panic. The body of the young Seeker looked battered and bruised and he was radiating rising fear and panic. Roque wondered who he was. He had never seen him before....
That was the moment Dagger came around the corner. The gray Sentinel looked utterly mad and when he saw the young Seeker, his gun came up and he fired without warning. The black Seeker jumped out of the way with such a speed that Roque blinked in confusion.
"Stop him!" Dagger yelled.
Thon Roque grabbed the slender figure and nearly flinched back as he felt the strange skin.
Organic!
The Seeker used his hesitation and tore himself out of his grasp, but Thon Roque set after him, tackling him. They went to the ground and he landed on the slight robot, holding him down.
"Who are you?" he asked sharply.
"He's a Seeker," Dagger snarled. "That's all I need to know." His gun pointed at the black robot. "And all that matters!"
"Put that gun away!" Roque ordered.
"After I killed him!"
The Sentinel leader glared at Dagger, his red optics darkening with anger. "I said, put it away!"
The Seeker underneath him struggled to get the much heavier robot off him, but he wasn't strong enough. Roque slammed him down on the floor again -- very hard this time.
"Who are you?" he demanded once more.
A green visor stared back defiantly and Roque had to confess he was surprised by the sheer stubborn denial in there. He might just have tangled with Dagger from the looks of it and he was in a losing position, but he wasn't about to give up.
A shot went close by him and Roque's head whipped around. "What?!"
Dagger swiveled his gun and fired automatically.
"NO!" the Seeker screamed and, using Roque's distraction, managed to get him half off his chest.
The Sentinel leader grabbed him again, pushing him down hard, but the Seeker was struggling with more force, with more urgency.
"Steve, no! Get out of here!" he yelled.
Roque saw a humanoid shape, holding what looked like a gun. There was a burn mark not far away from him where Dagger's blast had missed him by only a few inch. A humanoid? What was a humanoid doing on this station together with a Seeker? There was only one reason why a Seeker would be together with a humanoid..... no.....
The black Seeker struggled more and with a last violent pull got free of Thon Roque again. He jumped Dagger, who still aimed at the human. A blast went off and wild, hitting the floor in front of the human, who was thrown back. The Seeker gave a scream of denial and staggered. Roque stared at him, then snapped out of it as Dagger elbowed the Seeker and threw him against the wall, his gun aiming at the face of the young robot. He was about to order Dagger to stop when the Seeker lunged at Dagger with an incredible speed, batted the gun aside and then kicked the gray Sentinel hard against the knees. Dagger gave a surprised yelp and went to the floor.
"Steve, run!" the Seeker cried, his voice laced with desperation.
The human stared at him, then a stubborn expression crossed his face.
"So you control him?" Dagger hissed, ramming a foot into the Seeker's mid-section. "Though not very well, it seems."
Roque grabbed the staggering robot and bent his arms onto his back. The Seeker cried out, his servos protesting. Dagger walked over to the human, gun pointed at him.
"How did you manage to wipe his mind, to control him?" the gray robot asked, hatred in his voice. "Cybernetics?"
"No!" the Seeker moaned.
Roque felt him shiver. "Who are you?" the Sentinel leader asked again. "What are you doing here? Who is that human?"
The Seeker trembled. "Let him go...." he begged.
Dagger stared at him. "So that one of your buddies can take him to your leader?" he asked acidly.
The black robot shook his head. "No! Please let him go!"
Suddenly more Sentinels appeared. Skywolf looked at the human with the gun, the blaster marks and the black stranger. "Roque?" he asked in confusion.
"Take the human, I'll handle this one," Roque ordered. "We'll solve that somewhere else!"
The Seeker struggled once more, but when Thon Roque bent his arms back further he subsided, though still shaking. He pushed him ahead of him while the human walked under his own power, glaring at them all with hatred and a bit of fear. Roque wondered what the connection between these two were. The Seeker looked strange to begin with and the human didn't strike him as a cybernetic zombie. He had to get to the bottom of this.

* * *

We are in trouble, right?>> Steve asked quietly, using the Interface link to keep the Sentinels from hearing them.
Yes>> Midnight answered softly. I'm sorry, Steve....>>
Can it, Mid! This wasn't you fault. Maybe we can convince these guys that nothing what this Dagger is telling them is true>>
Midnight snorted. Right>> He looked around his prison cell, wishing Steve wasn't separated from him. They would be able to phase, they had trained it often enough, but this was their last way out. He didn't want the Sentinels to know yet. Another wave of guilt washed over him and this time there was no stanching it. If here weren't a Seeker, all of this would not have happened. A single symbol on his wing had launched an avalanche of events, dragging an innocent human into it as well. Midnight knew that the Sentinels and the Seekers were of the same origin, but something seemed to tell them apart. Sentinels could Interface through whatever small circuitry change, and Seekers couldn't.
Then why did we Interface?>> Steve asked gently, listening to his partner's thoughts. Mid was too agitated to shield them completely.
I don't know!>> he exclaimed desperately.
Maybe even Seekers can Interface but the Sentinels know how to....>>
I didn't know.... It just happened!>>
What if that's exactly the right way? Maybe forcing it leads to failure>>
Midnight didn't know. All he knew was that he was a Seeker in enemy hands and who could tell what they'd do to him? He had read about the 'enemy' in the files of the computers at the Seeker base and he had learned quite a few things, though most of the data stored were possible weak spots, disadvantages, combat modes, weapons and things like that. He didn't know about personalities, except for what he could guess from the brief time among them now. Dagger was outright hostile and there was no mistaking his intentions: he wanted to see Midnight dead. Thon Roque, the leader, was an impressive personality, just like he was an impressive sight. The massive robot could inspire awe, but it was not what he inspired in Midnight. The black robot just wanted to get out of here and get Steve and himself to safety.
Someone approached his cell and he recognized the one called Archer. The dark green robot was holding a gun and he had back-up in shape of a female Sentinel. Midnight had no intention to make any trouble. The cell doors opened and they lead him away.
Steve?>>
Still in the cell. Don't worry>>
He smiled.

.......

"At the time I didn't know that there was a lot to worry about," Midnight told Rodimus, pacing the room twice, then stopping. "Thon Roque had decided that since there was no other way to determine whether or not we had Interfaced naturally, he had to test it."
"The virtual reality?" Rodimus asked calmly.
The Sentinel leader nodded. "The VR space. I didn't know what I was running into and I still tried to find a way to make them see that I wasn't the enemy."

.......

Thon Roque looked at the black Seeker, puzzling about where he had come from. Intelligence had never reported about this pitch-black individual and neither had he ever seen him in combat situations. He was young, granted, but that didn't mean he hadn't been around long enough to be spotted. Maybe Braintrust had kept him hidden, but if so, why? And what kind of design was he based on? Roque had never heard about organic skin and he had for sure never seen the vein-like tubes with yellow fluid. Skywolf would have to examine him closely.
"Care to finally tell us your name?" he asked calmly.
The emerald green visor met his optics and R oque felt himself shiver. This green was the only real color because even the yellow veins seemed to be surreal in the blackness. "Midnight," was the short answer.
"Fitting," Archer muttered and Roque shot him a warning glance out of the corner of his optic.
"Okay, Midnight, now what are the Seekers after on this station?"
Midnight shook his head. "I'm not a Seeker and I wasn't after anything but some energon, okay?"
"Not a Seeker?" Dagger growled. "You bear the symbol! And I never saw a Sentinel like you before!"
"Dagger," Roque said slowly, a warning clear in his voice.
Dagger snarled and settled back again, but his optics expressed undisguised hatred.
"Now," Roque went on, "why do you wear a Seeker symbol if you aren't one?"
"Because Braintrust woke me and signed me as one of his team," Midnight answered truthfully, "but I no longer belong to him! I couldn't remove the symbol without tearing my skin apart!"
Dagger made a noise sounding like a mocking 'Awww'.
"Why should we believe you?" the Sentinel leader asked.
Midnight sighed. "I don't know. Maybe because I tell the truth?"
"What about the human?"
"He is a friend."
Dagger gave a grunt.
"Did you capture him?" Roque wanted to know. "Was he a prisoner for Braintrust to experiment on?"
"No!" Midnight exclaimed, forcing himself not to erupt from the chair in outrage. "He is my friend, not some .... some... guinea pig!"
"So you know what your leader does?" Dagger challenged.
Midnight met the challenging look. "Yes, I know what he does! And it makes me sick! But none of us has a chance against him!"
"Don't tell me you didn't take part in those experiments!" Dagger snarled. "We all know that you lackeys collect humanoids and get them into Braintrust's hidden lab!"
"Dagger!" Roque thundered and the gray Sentinel flinched back almost imperceptibly.
"I never helped!" Midnight said forcefully.
Roque watched the agitated robot, frowning slightly. "The human is not cybernetically enhanced to Interface?" he asked levely.
"No, he isn't. It was an accident! It...." Midnight stopped, a mask slipping over his face as he realized that he had just let something slip.
"I knew it!" Dagger hissed. "They are one of Braintrust's experiments!"
Midnight whirled around. "No, we are not!"
"Are you Interfaced?" Roque wanted to know.
Midnight hesitated. "Yes," he finally confessed.
"I knew it!" Dagger triumphed. His gun, which he had been pointing at Midnight all the time, seemed to be threateningly closer now.
"And it was voluntary?" Thon Roque asked, voice calm.
"Yes!"
"How can we believe you?"
Midnight opened his mouth to say something, then shook his head. "There is no way I can prove it! But I never forced him! You can't force an Interface!"
Thon Roque looked calmly at him. "There is a way to find that out." He nodded at Archer. "Take him away."
Midnight resisted. "What do you want from me? I have no proof! I can't show evidence, so what do you want to do? Take me apart?"
Roque shook his head. "No, but there is a way to determine whether or not an Interface bond was tempered with, forced, connected through artificial means."
He watched how they lead the young robot away.

......

"How could they connect you to VR without your knowledge?" Rodimus wanted to know.
Midnight smiled grimly. "If someone tells you that those electrodes are only to measure the Interface energy, you would believe them, right? They put me under and then opened every circuit they needed to get me into VR. I wasn't aware of it in any way. And Steve they put under almost the same way. We both woke in VR, unable to determine what had happened before and how we got here. We simply reacted to the given situations.
Rodimus nodded. "I heard some of it...." he said slowly.
Midnight laughed humorlessly. "Some of it.... yeah....."

........

The pain was excruciating and numbed his every muscle. Every move brought more pain, but he had to move, he had to get out of here. Through the fall out of the window he had gotten away from his attackers, whose numbers had dwindled throughout the attack, for now. But two were still there, the two who were very persistent to kill him.
"He's somewhere around here!" he heard a voice and he knew it was one of them.
With a groan of pain and despair he rolled into the shadow of a building, panting. He had to do something, but what? He was losing blood, fast, and there was no way for him to get up on his feet and ward off the attack.
One of the two attackers entered the alley he had crashed in and searched for the body. He stopped close to where he lay in the shadows. Steven Parker tried to merge even more with the night, trying to hide in the darkness. But it was no use. A cold smile spread over the robotic face of the attacker and he pulled out his knife.
"Say good-bye," he crowed.
Suddenly a shadow began to move. Steve blinked, not knowing whether he was losing it completely now, whether the blood loss was making him see things, or if it was real. He decided it had to be both. The shadow of the house moved forward like lightning and struck the attacker in the back. The robot fell forward, hitting the street. With an enraged yell he tried to get up, but a blurry movement caught him short and he doubled over. The shadow turned, searching for attacker number two and found him standing at the mouth of the alley. The second robot stared at the scene that presented itself and decided to make a run for it, transforming in the process.
Steve stared at his helper, then recognition hit him. "Mid?" asked hoarsely.
Midnight bent down, touching him carefully. The young robot looked even worse, Steve thought, his thoughts cloudy and fuzzy.
"Steve?" Midnight's voice was filled with fear.
Steve couldn't answer him anymore and fell back to opening the Interface link. But even that was nearly too much to do. He was so weak.....
And then everything just went dark.

.............

Midnight stopped, his face a mask of remembered pain, his skin holding an ashen look. Rodimus stared at his friend in shock, trying to understand, to really understand what he had just been told. It was nearly impossible to comprehend, to see with neutral eyes.
"Mid...." he started.
But Midnight shook his head. "No, please?" he whispered, hands clenching and unclenching.
Rodimus wanted to tell him that if he wanted to stop, he would understand, but he also knew that Midnight had finally opened up enough to let someone enter and Rodimus had to work with it. If the young Sentinel now closed up again, the pain would be even worse.
"I can't really tell you what it meant, Rodimus," Midnight said softly, voice trembling. "VR is very real when you don't know you are in it. For me and Steve it was pure and undisguised reality."
Rodimus nodded, keeping silent, though, letting Midnight do the talking.
"At first it was nothing major, just some explorations into our past, to get to know us or whatever." A wry, humorless smile creased his lips. "In a way it was like the day we Interfaced. I relived Steve's past, he got to know mine. All over again. It wasn't painful, it wasn't all that bad, just curious." His expression darkened. "And since they couldn't find anything pointing to a forced Interface but enough evidence of Braintrust's influence on me, they went further. They started to confront us with different situations...."
Rodimus leaned back against the wall, wishing he could say something comforting, but there was nothing at all. He could only listen.
"They.... they tried to find out how close we were.... how much it would take to make me confess that it was just a loose bond, something forced and unstable.... but it wasn't, Rodimus!" Desperation laced his voice. "It was 100 % and very, very stable! They messed with something intimate and personal!"
The Autobot second understood. He knew what it meant. He was Interfaced as well, though not like a Sentinel, but it was still a bond. He tried to imagine what it would mean to be confronted with separation time and time again, and it made him sick. He had experienced close calls as well, but never inflicted in VR space or on purpose -- by friends!
"The situations.... what I told you... it was mild compared to everything that was to follow," Midnight whispered. "They killed us in VR space, watching our reactions! They delved into our minds, destroying layer upon layer of shields, exposing us. I don't think any of them had any idea what they did..... not really. They were just watching."
Anger rose inside Rodimus Prime, anger at the Sentinels. He knew he couldn't blame them now. In a way those Sentinels he knew today were not the ones of Midnight's past. But still.... This was an act of cruelty he couldn't understand, not even start to comprehend. Midnight trembled and rubbed shaky hands over his face.
"And then I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't let Steve suffer. I didn't realize it was all just virtual reality. All I knew was that I had to get my partner away from there, to safety....."

........

He was a in a steamy jungle. Large trees grew all around him, blocking out a lot of the sunlight with their leaves. Animals cried far away and noises could be heard. He turned, frowning. How had he arrived here? Why was he here?
"Welcome," a voice floated over to him.
He looked at the woman in surprise. She had straight, long red hair, a tanned skin and dark brown eyes. Her exotic facial features revealed a smile. She was dressed in some kind of robe and wearing a headdress made of plants. In her left hand she held a scepter.
"To my kingdom," the woman finished the sentence.
Steven moved away from her as she closed the distance between them, growing with each step. She was a giant, several times his height and suddenly her features turned into those of a robot, the scepter becoming a weapon.
"Steve!"
He looked up and saw a black jet streaming toward him. The red robot gave a growl of anger and started to fire an energy weapon at Midnight. The black jet evaded the blasts and Steve felt a tugging, the initiation of the Interphasing. He jumped.
The joined team confronted the attacker and the female robot laughed in anticipation of a good fight.
"And welcome to your doom!" she whispered.
Steve felt himself merge with Midnight, lifting them both to the complete Interface level, full battle-readiness. He forgot everything around him, even that he was not inside his own body but using a robot's. The body was familiar to him in many ways. It felt too much like his own; there was no difference now. Midnight's whole energy and concentration was focused on the female opponent in front of him as he countered every strike and blow with one of his own. Steve reacted out of instinct and the self-trained abilities. He did what was necessary, what reflexes and his own mind told him was right. He flowed through circuits, rerouted power, cut down the energy output in those circuits not needed for the fight.
Drawing all his power into one blow, Midnight hit the female with an uppercut and then rammed his flat hands into her chest plate. She was thrown back against a tree and gave a groan of pain. Midnight's hands left two dents into her chest armor, but the robot seemed to recover very fast.
She laughed, mockingly, loudly. Then she pointed her hand at her enemy and an energy bolt lashed toward the Interfaced team. Midnight jumped, performing a flawless somersault and landing gracefully several feet ahead in a crouch.
"You won't get me that easily," he whispered.
Steve sent a message that everything was well under control and that Midnight could do whatever he wanted to, he had enough energy for all his systems. Their opponent attacked again and claws flashed from her finger tips. Midnight jumped back, but the talons still caught him, leaving not very deep cuts on his upper arm. He ignored them, blocking more blows. His skin was steel hard and she wouldn't get through to his veins unless she had a bit more bite to her attack.
And then she put some more bite behind her attack. The female sprouted several weapons, a stronger armor and an all-over vicious look.
Midnight screamed as the claws suddenly plunged into his chest as if it was nothing but foil, burying themselves deep in is circuits. Steve echoed the scream, reacting out of survival. He sent an energy surge at the intruding claws while Midnight grabbed the female and tried to get her away from him. Her hands slipped out of his mangled chest with a sick crunch and he connected his fist with her head. She was spun around, nearly toppling.
Steve?!>>
Steve answered weakly, still trying to get Midnight's circuits back on-line while he himself was getting weaker.
Steve, no!>>
Go get her!>> Steve whispered, doing his best.
Midnight gave a yell of outrage and lunged at the attacker, his fury taking on a new tone and only when his own systems protested did he finally stop. The female robot was nothing but scrap.
Steve?>> he asked hesitantly, shaking badly, alarming reports from his vital systems nearly overwhelming him.
....>>
Silence.
Deadly silence.
Deathly......
No!
Midnight cried out in emotional pain as Steve slipped and he couldn't hold him.

The black Seeker's signs became more erratic, spiking and fluctuating madly, and Skywolf frantically tried to get the VR world toned down. Some part of him told him that it was already too late for that. Even if he got Midnight out of there, he was too deep in it already. He was living it live! The dark robot twitched faintly and his visor flashed once, twice, then turned dark again.

Midnight felt his skin tear off and heard his own cries of pain.
Steve's blue eyes met his optics and he saw panic and fear in them.
"Get out of here!" he told his human partner.
The world exploded into pain.

"Warning!" the computer voice said calmly. "Circuit overload. Brain activity above tolerance level."

Braintrust's claws ripped Steve apart.....

Skywolf shook his head in desperation. "Too much activity! He's no longer asleep, but he's not really awake either! At least not on this level! He woke in the virtual reality!"

The Interface link broke. Only darkness reigned. Coldness threatened.
"Give in....."
"No!"

"How? What's going on?" Jill asked, audibly afraid. Skywolf felt her fear through the link.

Alone.....

"He crossed the line between reality and illusion, Jill," Skywolf whispered. "He's broken the program encoding and now he is the program! Gods, the Interface is so strong that he is trying to save Steve even if it kills him, and he doesn't even know that!"
Jill paled. "Oh, no! It was voluntary, right?"
The medic nodded and looked over at where Thon Roque had just entered. The Sentinel leader stared at the two individuals connected to the VR world and his optics relayed what he felt. They had made a grave mistake!
"Disconnect him!" he ordered.

Don't leave me!
Icy coldness.
Pain.
Fear.
Seperation.

"We have to get him back to sleep first," Skywolf explained nervously. "He is living it right now and if we get either of them out, it might drive the other over the top!"
Roque looked at Midnight. "But ......"

Don't let them hurt him any more!

Before Roque could finish the sentence, Midnight suddenly screamed in agony and sat up, tearing the bonds and ripping out the connections. Part of the machinery wailed in alarm. Fluids from broken tubes gushed out. The young Seeker stared at the two Sentinels and the two Interfaces with them, then his optics fell on his still connected partner.
A gun appeared in his hand.
Midnight's hand was shaking, his visor bright green now. His yellow 'blood' pooled on the table.
Skywolf raised his hands immediately to tell the confused robot he wasn't about to shoot him. "Midnight...." he began.
"Stay away from me!" Midnight hissed and his voice was shaking as he slipped off the table. He was trembling even more and edged slowly over to Steve's bed.
Thon Roque watched him, only his head moving, his body stiff, but ready to jump into the way of a shot should it threaten either humanoid in the room. Midnight's free hand stretched out toward Steve. It was trembling badly and his visor flickered with what Roque identified as pain and desperation, fear and agony. He didn't touch the human, but instead Steve suddenly dissolved. Roque heard Ray's gasp and he had to confess he was likewise impressed.
"Midnight?" he finally said calmly.
Midnight's head whipped over to him, the gun following swiftly. "No!" the black robot cried hoarsely.
"We won't hurt you...."
Roque could never finish his sentence because the door opened and Dagger charged in. The gray Sentinel must have either seen or heard what was going on and, Thon Roque sighed silently, acted the wrong way! Midnight whirled around, his gun now pointing at Dagger. The Sentinel was faster and shot at the confused Seeker. The shot hit his left shoulder and spun him around.
"Dagger, no!" Rogue's voice boomed through the room.
Midnight transformed and shot out of the room. The hot blast from his thrusters singed Dagger, and Jill and Ray went for cover. Thon Roque shot Dagger a glare and then ran after the fleeing Seeker.
Contact the others and tell them to stay the hell out of his way!>> he told Andersson, who acknowledged. And don't let anyone follow me!>>
But.....>>
No one, Ray! Understood? We already did too much damage!>>
Ray sighed softly through the link, but acknowledged this as well. Thon Roque then transformed into his vehicle mode and roared after the jet.

*

Midnight was in the worst condition ever. He was weak and shaking, his skin cut in so many places that he didn't even care to look at the damage reports. He knew he had lost a lot of fluids and his circuits were either fried, down or working below effective levels. When he had exited the VR world he had torn too much to bother with and all he wanted to do was get out of here. Steve was safely within him and more than 50% of his available power was rerouted to keep his Interface partner shielded and alive as well. Even if Midnight died, Steve would survive. Steve was traumatized and Midnight knew he wasn't that far away from shock and the following shut-down himself as well. But he had to keep going. He had to! The black robot whimpered softly as he fell against a wall, pain erupting from the injured shoulder. His knees were weak, his energon supply disastrously low.
Suddenly he heard the low rumble of an engine and he nearly panicked. The Sentinel leader! He had found him! Midnight pushed himself away from the wall and staggered toward what looked like an old building, but he never made it. Lights blinded him and he threw up his hands, his optics screaming at him. Everything was over-sensitive through the VR nightmare. He stumbled away, once again connecting to the wall and going down on his knees.
Thon Roque transformed. He was unarmed and his compassionate optics bore down on the trembling form. Midnight whimpered again, trying to get away, but he was too weak to move. The larger Sentinel held up his hands.
"I won't hurt you," he said calmly.
Midnight stared at him and if he could have, he would have laughed. They already had hurt him; there was nothing they hadn't violated, tortured, torn apart or mangled.
"Don't kill Steve," he whispered.
Thon Roque drew back, his face displaying shock. "No!" he exclaimed. "We wouldn't!"
"He's not to blame," Midnight went on, drawing on his last reserves of strength, visor feverish bright. "It was my fault! He was a victim."
Inside of him, Steve stirred, woken by the guilt Midnight felt. He protested weakly, but the young Seeker ignored him.
"If you want to kill me, do it, but give Steve a chance...." Midnight pleaded.
"We won't kill either of you!" Roque protested. "All of this was a misunderstanding, Midnight! We thought the Interface was a forced one, an experiment."
"And you would have tortured me until you found out?" Midnight asked sarcastically.
Roque sank down beside him, face displaying his misery. "No, Mid, no. The VR world is normally completely painless and would have tested you and your link. We wanted to know whether or not Steve had been forced into you, maybe changed to be accepted and to accept the link. But we didn't count on your 100% link." He smiled sadly. "You were so protective that your systems started to mirror the VR world and you thought everything was really happening, enhanced a tenfold. It suddenly was out of control....."
Midnight stared at him and he felt Steve's confusion. He was so weak, so tired, but there was enough fighting spirit left not to fall for this explanation right away.
"Surely you saw we were linked 100%," he stated bitterly. "And if that isn't a clue...."
"It was... but, you see, Braintrust experimented with a lot of things and you wouldn't believe what ideas he came up with to force a link. We were afraid you might be a positive result."
"And what if it had been like that? Would you simply have separated us?!" the young Seeker demanded.
A second later he doubled over as white-hot pain seared through him. He cried out, his world turning into one of fiery agony darkness. When he could see clearly again, he was leaning heavily against the taller Sentinel leader, trembling badly, his oxygen pump beating wildly, his energon supply dwindling further. He didn't even try to get away from Thon Roque. He no longer had the power.
"We wouldn't have separated you," the Sentinel leader said softly. "That would be murder."
Midnight shivered. His visor glowed weakly and he could only stare at Roque. The large Sentinel smiled gently.
"Against what you might think of us, we are not monsters. I made a mistake, Midnight, and I stand behind my mistake. I know that an apology is not enough, but I hope you will trust me enough to believe me when I tell you that nothing will happen to either of you. You have go back and let Skywolf treat your injuries."
"No!" Midnight moaned desperately, now struggling to get away.
"No one will hurt you, I give you my word. Midnight, Steve needs help. You need help....."
Midnight drew a ragged breath, his oxygen filters rattling, failing more and more. They were clotted with fluids. "I won't let you kill him," he breathed.
"No one will kill either of you!"
He shook from the tremors running through his abused system. He knew that if Thon Roque wanted to, he could lift him up and force him to come along. Steve was already fading inside of him again, consciousness all but gone.
"Mid?" Thon Roque probed.
"Okay," the younger robot whispered, barely audible.
Roque rose and gently pulled him up. Midnight bit back a cry of pain, but couldn't suppress a moan. He couldn't even protest when the Sentinel scooped him up and carried him back. His systems simply began to shut down from the strain. It was over.

*

Thon Roque watched Skywolf fuss over the unconscious form of the young Seeker and felt something inside of him clench painfully. Midnight's chest was open, his innards accessible for the medical team. The organic skin had been opened along already existing cuts and injuries, drawn back and then covered with a blood stanching fluid Skywolf had come up with. Roque felt even more sick as he stared at the skin that what made Midnight so much more different from any other robot he knew. The skin was ashen and looked ghastly. Tubes and cable were connected to the body and a machine was showing weak life signs, as well as a steady energy flow through the Interface circuitry. Skywolf's expression told him more than anything the medic could say. It was very serious. F/X joined to him. His young face was drawn in worried lines and his optics shone darkly. Aurora was at his side, equally displaying worry, maybe even more than the taller Sentinel.
"Will he live?" F/X asked.
Thon Roque sighed. "I hope so," he said softly. "He has to."
The Sentinel leader tried to forget what had lead to this, but he couldn't. Midnight's trembling form, his utter fear for Steve, which had been his only worry, were burned into his mind. Aurora stepped at his side and lightly touched his arm in a gesture of support.
"Can we separate them?" he asked Skywolf.
Skywolf shook his head, trying to clean the wounds while simultaneously keeping the blood flow in check. "If we separate them now, he will go into shock. Roque, I never saw an Interface that strong. He has wrapped shields upon shields around Steve's presence inside of him and if I cut one of them, he might go on with more shields until he dies! He has to stabilize first, then trust us enough to surrender his Interface partner."
Thon Roque looked at the still form, wincing. Trust.... How could the young robot ever trust them again?
"He trusted you when he let you get him back," Ray Andersson said silently.
Roque looked at his Interface partner. "Yes, maybe, but that was only a small step. He was almost gone and I could have brought him here if I had wanted to. But after what we did to him and Steve, what would make him trust us with Steve's life?"
"His survival?"
The tall Sentinel looked at Midnight again. "Maybe."

........

"I woke hours after they brought me back and I was very confused, very scared and on the brink of trying to escape once more." Midnight sat back against the table top. "Skywolf talked to me and the presence of so many humanoid partners let me hesitate. I didn't want to hurt them by trying to force my way out, but I also didn't want to surrender myself to their experiments again. It took Kyle and Skywolf a long time to convince me and even then the only argument that really hit home was that Steve might die without their help."
"And you phased him out," Rodimus said quietly.
Midnight nodded. "At the time my survival had second rank to his. And it will always be that way." He smiled a bit and Rodimus mirrored the smile. He knew what he meant. "So I initiated the separation."

.......

Steven Parker appeared beside his Interface partner, standing on his own two feet, but he broke down immediately. Kyle was at his side in no time, calling for the necessary medical help. Kayla and Jill helped out and they carried the unconscious human away. Midnight tried to sit up to see where they were taking him, but Skywolf laid a calming hand onto his shoulder, pushing him down.
"Shhh," he said softly. "We won't hurt him."
The expression in the green visor let the medic shudder. They had said the same before .... and it had been a lie in the end. Midnight lay back again, but he didn't relax. His stubbornness and his devotion to his partner's safety astounded Skywolf once again. There was much more to those two. Much, much more.
"I promise," Skywolf added, trying to put as much sincerity in it as possible.
Midnight just looked at him, but he didn't try to get up again. The visor dimmed a bit and Skywolf smiled. He got out his scanner and ran a first check on the young robot. Midnight tensed.
"It's just a scan," the medic told him. "You might want to know a few things about yourself as well, or don't you?" Skywolf smiled again as he saw the interest light up in the green visor. "And you could help me by telling me a few things about yourself and your experience with this body."
Midnight sighed. "All right."

*

Knight approached the slender figure, careful not to scare him. Midnight looked fragile and very, very vulnerable. His skin had an unhealthy, ashen look and she saw all the patched-up places where Skywolf had closed the open wounds. He looked up as she approached and there was pain in his visor.
"Am I disturbing you?" she asked.
"No," he whispered. "What do you want?"
"Just keep you company."
"I don't need it."
Knight nodded. "I knew you'd say that." She sat down beside him nevertheless. "And I know you must hate us all, but you also need to be with company. I'm so sorry about what happened."
His face was a mask of anguish, then it turned cold. "There is no reason to apologize," he said harshly. "You had a reason to do it and so you went with it!"
Knight looked down, unable to meet his optics, though he couldn't possibly read her facial expression since her face was hidden behind a half-mask.
"Are you in pain?" she asked.
Midnight gave her an unreadable look. "Why do you want to know?"
Knight sighed again. "Listen...."
Midnight rose, anger brightly visible now. "Leave me alone, okay? You already inflicted enough pain, all of you, to last me a life time!"
He walked off with fast strides and Knight stayed back. She knew there was no getting through to him and she wondered if what they had done to him might not have scarred him for life. Someone stepped to her and she looked up at the large form of Thon Roque.
"He is hurt and in pain, Knight," the Sentinel leader said softly.
"I know. And we did it....."
Pain flashed over Roque's face. "Yes."
"How is Steve?"
"Still in a coma. Kyle is treating him and he keeps him under artificially to insure healing." Roque shook his head. "We nearly killed them, Knight..... There is no excuse for it, none at all."
"What will you do now?"
He sighed deeply. "I'm not sure. He is no Seeker and Braintrust is out to kill him and take Parker as his own Interface. He still has to learn a lot about what his abilities, his new abilities are, and we could teach him. He is Interfaced 100 %, a rare and special occasion. He is special in more than one way, Knight, and I'd hate to lose him....."
The two Sentinels stood together in silence. Finally Thon Roque broke the silence.
"I'll see if I can come up with a solution to this dilemma. Until then, give him space, don't force him to do anything. He is strong, but right now he is as vulnerable as he can be."
"Will do. I'll also tell the others." She smiled as she saw his expression. "And I won't tip-toe around him either, don't worry."
Roque smiled back.

* * *

"Find him!"
Braintrust's bellow echoed through the cave and everyone ducked as if it had been a physical blow. And in a way it was.
"We already searched everywhere....." Wild Card started, but Braintrust's roar stopped him. The dragon's wings were outstretched now, glinting dangerously in the artificial light.
"I want him and the human found!" the Seeker leader screamed in rage. "Treacherous little Sleeper!"
Wild Card flinched back and winced as the strong tail smashed into some machines and scrapped them.
"Find him! Alive! And the human!" Braintrust ordered with a hiss.
The Seekers nodded and fled the room. Braintrust was left alone, seething with rage.

* * *

Dr. Kyle Scott walked quietly into the medical ward, not at all surprised to see a familiar, dark figure sitting on the floor. Midnight looked up and Kyle gave him an encouraging smile. Kyle knew that Skywolf had performed a miracle with this young robot and it was another miracle that he was already back on his feet.
Stubbornness, Kyle thought. Sheer stubbornness. And worry. How could we all be so wrong? They are so close.....
The doctor turned his attention to his patient, Steven Parker. The dark-haired human was still deeply unconscious, kept under by artificial means. An IV stuck in one arm, firmly kept in position by tapes. A dressing had been applied to the laceration above his right eye. A monitor showed his heart beat and the rhythm of breathing.
Kyle checked him and made some notes, then turned to Midnight. "He is getting better."
Midnight nodded wordlessly.
"Can you feel him?"
"Yes," was the soft whisper.
"Good. It means the bond is not affected."
Midnight looked at him again. "It never was." Anguish crossed his face again and a tremor passed through his body. He averted his optics.
Kyle tried to say something, but then didn't. There were no words to ease what Midnight had to feel. He sighed softly and, after a last look, left the room.

* * *

Steve woke with the mother of all headaches and he wished someone had an aspirin handy. Something seemed to creep into his head, but it wasn't something scary; it was gentle and familiar.
Hi, Mid>> he whispered.
Steve felt the worry and fear radiating from his partner.
I'm okay>> he told him. What happened?>>
Midnight hesitated. It's a long story. Later, okay?>>
That bad, eh?>>
Someone approached, Steve heard, and he opened his eyes. A slender woman with white hair looked at him, her eyes alight with relief. "Hi, Steve. My name is Jill McKennan. How do you feel?"
"You got an aspirin or two?" he asked, his throat feeling dry.
She smiled with more relief. "Sure. I'll call Dr. Scott."
Steve grinned a bit. "You need a doctor to give me an aspirin?"
She laughed as well and Steve liked the laugh. He still wondered how he had come to be in med bay. His memories were fuzzy and nothing but weird fragments. He knew he had been brought to a lab to test his Interface, but that had been nothing major, or had it?
Mid? Talk to me!>>
Midnight shielded himself and it worried Steve all the more.
What's wrong? What happened? An accident?>>
Something like it>> was the soft reply.
Mid!>> Steve groaned. Spill it!>>
I said later>>
Steve sent an angry lance through the bond and felt Midnight flinch. It wasn't painful, more like a kick in the behind.
Ey, ouch>> Midnight muttered.
Talk>> Steve growled.
Midnight hesitated again. It's not easy. Do you remember anything at all?>>
Not much>>
Maybe that's better then>>
"Midnight! Talk or I'll make you talk! I'm no longer a beginner at mind links! Either you talk to me now or you'll find you got a shadow hovering over your shields until you slip!>>
Midnight sighed deeply and opened his mind, letting Steve in.

.......

"Steve was shocked, naturally, but he dealt much better with it than I did," Midnight said with a soft smile. "I'm not sure whether to call it human nature, but he was the more open-minded of us and accepted that they had made a mistake. Okay, so did I, but I was still closing that part off, trying to forget it."
Rodimus nodded.
"It was so hard for me, Rodimus. They had done something to me that was worse than killing me. They killed my soul...... over and over again. I tried to be alone a lot while Steve tried to get me to meet the others and talk. Most of the time I hid out in the library." A wry smile passed over his lips. "I learned a lot about myself and the others that way, as well about the universe in general."

.......

Thon Roque found who he had been looking for in the library -- as suspected. Midnight stood between the giant shelves full of files. He was coming down here on a daily basis since he had arrived here half a year ago, Roque knew, and read what he could. Skywolf had told him about it. The young robot was keeping apart from everyone else and he was very close-mouthed. Roque didn't like it. Steve had been angry and yelling at some people for the first time, but Midnight was quiet, and now and then he thought he saw too much age in the young face. Midnight had grown up in too short a time, without the advantage of having a youth, a time to find himself.
The old Sentinel sighed deeply. We made a mistake and he is paying for it and always will. He won't open up willingly.
Midnight looked up and stiffened a bit as he discovered him. Roque felt sadness well up inside of him. He hated to see the fear in those optics.
"Hi," he said.
Midnight put down the file. "Hi," he said warily.
Roque again wondered whether or not coming here with the offer he had was such a good idea. Then again, Midnight was a robot full of potential and abilities. He just had to use it! One of these abilities was the Gating. Thon Roque had been astounded by this revelation and he had wondered why Midnight had no Gated out of the station, taking Steve with him. They could phase perfectly and Gating seemed no problem. It took a lot of energy, but the moment he was inside a Gate tunnel, he moved freely. And Aurora had told him about several encounters between the other Sentinels and their young friend, and how Midnight had slowly come out of his shell in conversations with Roque's life partner. He was still training and several of the Interfaced Sentinels had approached him on how to initiate certain functions. Voodoo and Kyle, as well as Spellbinder and Kayla had started a kind of small trainee group, trying out stuff and Midnight had opened up around them. Skywolf was taking part with Jill as well and he had told Thon Roque how easy it was to work with Midnight.
"He's a gentle person," Aurora had told him once. "And very protective of his partner. And he has leading abilities."
Roque nodded. He knew it only too well.
"He is very young," she had added, "and he had never had the chance to learn. He had never been given a chance to be himself, to develop. It shows. He is only now going out of his shell and I know he had more to give us than we think."
"I know, Rora," he had told her. "And I want to see that he does."
That had been several days ago and Thon Roque had only now found the time to talk to Midnight
"Can we talk?" Roque asked now.
Midnight nodded. "What about?" he asked, his expression neutral.
"You."
The young robot flinched a bit.
Roque smiled. "Please don't think that you did something. At least nothing negative. I heard you helped out on a few things when you weren't hiding down here."
Midnight stared at him. "Well, I was around," he mumbled.
Thon Roque smiled. "If you are around a bit more, I guess you could help out a bit more." He looked expectantly at him. "You could help me a bit...."
"Help? You? With what?"
The massive Sentinel shrugged. "Stopping Braintrust's deals? He has intelligence everywhere to find suitable new partners and we can't stop him..."
Midnight's face hardened.
Roque allowed himself a secret smile. Gotcha! "You know him, Midnight. You know how he works, you spent time with him and the others. We could use your knowledge. I know I can't force you and I know I can't offer you anything but my sincerest word that what happened will never happen again -- but I hope you decide to help us. It would insure the survival of many innocents."
Midnight looked away, visibly drawn between two places. He had not left them, even after Steve had healed completely, which Roque thought was a very positive sign. He had also established fragile bonds of friendship with a few Sentinels. But he had also learned not to trust and he was different.
"But you know him as well," he said.
Thon Roque's face displayed pain for a second and his optics darkened. "Yes, I do," he muttered. "Only too well."
Like him, Braintrust was a first generation Sentinel, one of the very first to wake in the strange new world of Cybertron; one who had watched as more of their kind were created. Braintrust had been a one-robot attack force to break down slave defences and slay them all. Thon Roque and many of his surviving Sentinels and the Seekers under Braintrust's command had been more of an infiltration force. When the Quintessons had been overthrown by the slaves, the Sentinels had fled. Thon Roque remembered the time they had all stuck together, but when the first of them had Interfaced, Braintrust had gone over the edge. He had tried to Interface by force and he was still trying.
Midnight looked stricken. "Uhm, I didn't want to wake any bad memories," he mumbled. "I'm sorry."
Thon Roque summoned up a smile. "Not your fault, my friend. It happened all before your time." He looked intensely at the black robot. "And now you can help to stop it!"
Midnight battled with his own feelings. "I .... I ... Okay," he finally said and Roque felt like cheering.
"Thanks," was all he said instead.

........

"You should have seen the work load," Midnight chuckled. "I thought I was drowning in paper work and 'important things to do'. It was incredible. But I learned a lot through it and the others learned to trust me more. Thon Roque didn't let me catch a clear thought and I slipped into my new position with an ease that I found astounding when I later looked back on it. Steve made friends with the Interface partners and I think his open way of approaching things, his human nature, made a lot easier for as well. Your partner reflects back on you, if you feel it and want it or not."
Rodimus nodded. "I know," he said with a smile. The whole situation reminded him of himself, when he had still been Hot Rod and very much in doubt of himself. Optimus had to kick him a lot as well and it had taken him a lot of time to gain that much needed self-confidence -- but at least he hadn't had to battle the odds his friend had taken on.
Midnight chuckled again. "We did interfere greatly with Braintrust's operations and even though the Sentinels knew where his base was, they had never tried to attack it head-on. Mainly because of possible hostages in form of abducted humanoids. When the Sentinels started interfering, Braintrust stopped receiving test subjects and Thon Roque planned an offensive move. He wanted to destroy the lab and drive Braintrust away."

......

Midnight shook his head and sighed silently. "You can't attack like that. He'll pick you out of the sky."
Roque looked at him and his optics displayed amusement.
"What?" Midnight asked, knowing that look. He had learned to interpret the different expressions on the serene Sentinel leader's face throughout the years of staying with the small group. This one said, So tell me what you think, kid. Come on and surprise me.
Thon Roque smiled. "And your idea?"
Midnight looked at the holo display and frowned. He had a few ideas, one of them involving sneaking into the base, securing part of it with half of the team and rigging the rest to blow it up. The other half would lure away the Seekers. He explained his idea to Thon Roque, who nodded thoughtfully.
"I don't want to kill them in cold blood," Midnight finished calmly.
Thon Roque met his optics. "They would not be that gentle with us."
Midnight didn't evade the calm optics of his leader. "Yes, but we are not them, right?"
Roque smiled. "Yes."
"And even if this sounds wrong to some ears, I had friends there. Braintrust is a cold-blooded, ruthless killer, but I am not. I won't gun them all down for the symbol they wear."
The Sentinel leader's smile broadened. "I never said that, Mid."
Darn, another one of his traps! Midnight thought with disgust and shook his head. "That's what you wanted to hear, right?" he growled.
"In a way, yes," the larger robot confessed. "But I also wanted to hear your ideas. And this one sounds very good. I'll run it by the others and see what their reaction is, then we'll plan our move in detail."
Midnight sighed. "Don't tell them it was my idea," he said.
"Why?"
"It loses its appeal then."
Roque frowned. "You know that's not true, and stop listening to what Dagger says. You are one of us, Midnight. You belong to this group and I value your help, your expertise and your resourcefulness."
Midnight had taken a lot of work off his shoulders and he was slowly but surely gaining a very firm position with the Sentinels.
"And because of me Braintrust has started to actively pursue you," Midnight mumbled and sighed.
Roque placed a huge hand onto his shoulder. "It's not your fault, kid. It would have happened sooner or later. We always tried to interfere with his experiments, but we never got to him like now. I think he is finally feeling a sting and if we continue, he will also feel the pain."
The black robot nodded slowly.
"Trust yourself," Roque added.
"I do," Midnight sighed. "I know where I stand and where you stand, but being different doesn't exactly help."
"You are not different. Young, maybe, but not different."
A humorless smile passed over his lips. "One hundred percent Interfaced, organic skin, unnatural black color, strange abilities. No difference, yeah, right."
Roque chuckled, which was a low rumble from depth of his voice box. "Midnight, you are not different. You only think you are. Lose that thought -- quickly."
Midnight met his optics and smiled. "Okay."
"Now for that plan......"
The younger robot sighed. "You really took me seriously?"
Roque grinned. "Yes."
"Geez ....."

........

"Roque explained the plan to the others and some ran immediately with it, some wanted to change stuff. Well," Midnight shrugged, "in the end they agreed on it and we had our first offensive move against the Seekers. It worked, I have to say. It worked almost perfectly and the base was destroyed. I can't tell you how I felt when I saw it go up in flames."
Rodimus nodded. "I can imagine."
"Well, it changed a lot. We were now in an open war and everything was suddenly a lot more hectic. Roque told me that it would have happened sooner or later and he wanted it sooner because it now saved so many lives." Midnight smiled at the memory. "I also started to feel right at home. Except for Dagger, the others started to treat me normal and Dagger was a longer anyway. Until much later I didn't know why. I didn't know he had lost an Interface partner shortly before Interfacing and that it had been Braintrust killing him. I just didn't know and no one ever told me at the time."
"I understand."
"And then Shanygn joined us. F/X found her and brought her back. I suddenly had something to worry about beside myself and Roque left it more or less to me to take care of her. At the time she was nothing like the woman you know now, Rodimus." Midnight shook his head. "I never found out what had happened to her in her past, but after a while she opened up and we got to talk about a lot of things. It helped me and I think it helped her as well, though at the time I could only guess."
Rodimus hesitated and then finally took his courage together. "How did you end up leading this crazy bunch?"
Midnight looked at him for a long time, then sighed deeply. "In a way the same you did. Thon Roque died and though we have no Matrix of Leadership to define who is next in line, something had made Roque appoint me as his successor. The Sentinels had accepted that the day he announced it, something I never understood, but at the time I didn't think he would pass so soon." His optics stared at the wall behind Rodimus, slightly unfocused. "I was with the Sentinels for about fifty years when it happened and through some mysterious and dark ways I had risen to something like a second-in-command. It wasn't that I commanded that much but whenever Roque wasn't around, everyone came to me."
"Oh, I know that feeling," Rodimus muttered with a grin.
Midnight chuckled, then turned serious. "Well, what happened to change that status quo was a Seeker attack. Braintrust wanted me and Steve and you know he never gave him."
Rodimus nodded.
"I was on some backwater planet with Roque and some others, checking on resources, when it happened. And that was when I discovered there was more to my aura than I had always thought."

........

Midnight saw Thon Roque rock under the heavy fire and suddenly something exploded out of the large Sentinel's back, spewing his innards all over the place. The lights in his optics died and he fell back, crashing to the ground. Strata grinned evily and added another volley straight into the dying Sentinel leader's chest, which resulted in another explosion from inside. Midnight screamed in denial and felt something inside of him wake. It was something terrible, something hungry and dark; something feeding on his anger and rage, his feeling of helplessness. Midnight was in no state of mind to ponder what it was, he simply grabbed it and used it.
And his world went dark.
Cold.
Icy cold.
Blackness.
All devouring.
All enveloping.
Slick darkness.
Kill him!
Midnight's focus was on Thon Roque's attacker, his killer, the hapless Seeker called Strata. The bulky robot tried to get away from what was coming his way, exploding into his direction with a speed that was inhuman. It was a wave of absolute blackness with an even darker spot at its center, which was Midnight.
He never had a chance.

Skywolf had never seen anything like it before and he was sure he would never see anything like it ever again. He transformed and touched down outside what seemed to be utter darkness, a black hole of ice, a hungry blackness. Aurora landed beside him, followed by Voodoo. They all stared at the spectacle, unable to do anything at all. There was nothing they could do!
"Great gods!" Aurora whispered, hugging her body as if she were cold. "What.... Wolf?" She shot him a questioning look.
"I think," the medic said slowly, "we are witnessing what powers hide inside our young friend."
"Midnight is .... he is that?" Voodoo exclaimed, his normal calm shaken.
"Yes."
Strata's death scream echoed over the plains and Voodoo winced. Seconds later the darkness retracted, pulling back to the center, which formed more and more into the known shaper of Midnight. The young robot stood stiff and erect, visor bright green, arms slightly away from his body. The blackness slipped back into him, finally nothing more than the usual strange aura around him. And Midnight broke down to his knees, catching his fall with his hands.
"Roque!" Aurora exclaimed and ran over to the fallen figure of their leader.
More Sentinels arrived, but Skywolf didn't stop to see who it was. He raced over to the prone robot as well, but a first look told him there was nothing left for him to do. Aurora fell to her knees with a cry and touched Roque's arm. There was no reaction. Midnight still knelt at his side and his expression was one of utter desperation, mixed with guilt, fear and sheer exhaustion to a point where the slightest breeze could topple him, make him shut down. But he was still functioning and the determination readable in his face bordered to stubbornness.
"Wolf?" Aurora now asked, her voice calm and composed.
Skywolf did a diagnostic nevertheless, but there was no chance. He shook his head.
"He is dead," he said softly.
Midnight's head whipped around and his visor flashed. "No...." he whispered hoarsely. "He can't....."
Skywolf felt the same pain, maybe even more because he knew what the younger Sentinel was going through, but he didn't show much of it.
"Too many circuits were destroyed. He died immediately. His brain unit was cut off from support and even without a scan I can tell you that the data are erased. He's dead."
"What about Ray?" Voodoo asked shakily.
"He... wasn't with him," Midnight whispered.
They stared at him but Midnight didn't say anything else. Skywolf decided to take the initiative.
"We have to get him back," he told the others.
Then he turned to the stricken Midnight and laid a hand on his shoulder. He felt the soft skin, which was once more a reminder of the younger Sentinel's strangeness, and he felt the tremors running through the slender body. Midnight was close to a shut-down and Skywolf wished it would happen. That way at least some of the pain would fade. But Midnight got to his feet, swaying, but not shutting down. The stubbornness increased and there was a decisive light in his visor. Skywolf sighed softly.
"Let's go home," he only said.

.......

"It was the first and the last time I killed someone with the aura," Midnight said levely, face hard. "At the time I terminated Strata's life, I had no idea what I was doing. I found out only afterwards what had really occurred. I was frightened, disturbed.... angry...... My aura was always there, it had always kept people away, but now it had killed and I had no idea what to do about it." He lowered his optics. "I started to get even more secluded, tried to work on self-control." He shuddered slightly. "This aura is like the dark side of me, Rodimus. It can develop a life of its own if not kept under tight control. Emotions trigger it, and anger and rage fuel it."
Rodimus nodded, knowing exactly what Midnight was talking about. Firefall had nearly experienced what it meant herself. "You have learned to control it, though."
Midnight smiled wryly. "You think so? I nearly killed Firefall."
"Nearly, Mid. Nearly. That's the important word. You still had control. I know she would be dead if you had wanted to kill her. And don't tell me your rage was any less than at the time you killed Strata."
The Sentinel leader sighed. "Yeah, maybe."

........

Midnight stood at the edge of the canyon and stared into the depth. A small river flowed steadily through the narrow corridor it had washed into the stone for thousands of years, then his optics rose up and studied the slowly darkening sky. A cold wind whipped around him. That was exactly how he felt. Dark and cold.
Icy blackness leaving him.
Oozing out.
Touching life.
Feeding on it.
Killing.
He whirled away, shaking at the memory. The moment he had accessed the strange power inside of him he had turned into a killer. He had killed Strata. Midnight had never felt so devastated before. He had killed one of the Seekers and Thon Roque had been killed by the Seeker! And he couldn't save him! He had had the power all the time but .....
"Midnight?" Steve asked softly.
Midnight looked at his partner and winced as he saw that Steve knew exactly what he was thinking.
"It happened," Steve went on. "You can't blame yourself."
"Maybe not, but I feel .... cold.... evil.... That thing is inside me.... and it could surface again. Damn, Steve, what keeps this thing to come back?"
"You," was the silent answer. "That 'thing' is you and you are that thing."
Midnight looked questioningly at him.
"Train it." Parker smiled. "I don't believe that it can control you, but you can control it. It's an ability like Gating and you just need enough control to keep it from slipping out of your grasp. Oh, and don't kick me out the next time. I think I can help you."
The black robot smiled ruefully. "Sorry."
"Stop protecting me, Mid. We are partners, we are equal."
Midnight sighed. "That's hard....."
Steve gave him a mental kick again and Midnight answered with a mock yelp.
"Ey!"
The dark-haired human laughed. "C'mon, Mid, I'm grown up, I know what we are and I can handle it. We are a team."
Midnight looked seriously at him, but then a smile creased his lips. "Yes. We are."

The funeral had been short but emotional and Skywolf had noted the absence of one particular robot: Midnight. The young Sentinel hadn't been around much since Roque's death and Dagger wasn't making it any easier by telling everyone that this would not have happened had Roque had back-up. The situation had escalated and Skywolf had lost his temper with Dagger, telling him in no uncertain terms that if he didn't shut up, Skywolf would shut him up! Since then, Dagger had suddenly turned more calm.
Midnight had left to wander around the library deep inside the planet or through the canyons most of the time. He wasn't around much and neither was Steven Parker. Skywolf knew that it most likely had to do with what had happened, both Thon Roque's death and the sudden explosion of a new talent. Midnight had to deal with a lot, more than before, and he had yet to come to terms with what had happened before Roque's death. He was eating it all up, walling this vulnerable part off, and Skywolf knew that none of them was making it any easier for him to talk.
"Wolf?" F/X soft question startled him.
"Yes?"
"What now?"
It was a straight-forward question and there was a straight-forward answer ready, but Skywolf had doubts that it would meet ever meet everyone's approval.
"You know and I know," he said calmly.
F/X sighed deeply. "Some won't like it and you know Midnight won't accept it."
"He will. Thon Roque chose him as a successor and he is a leader, F/X. A good one. Maybe he is young, but there is something very old inside of him and that is the part Thon Roque always saw." Skywolf rubbed his optics. "We all know what he is capable of. Thon Roque put several responsibilities on Midnight's shoulders and we saw the results. He was born to be a leader, F/X. He has all the potential."
"And now he needs a good kick?" F/X asked with a humorless smile.
"In a way."
"Well, whose foot will it be?"
Skywolf chuckled. "Well, before we have to pull straws I'll volunteer."
F/X nodded. "He trusts you," he told the medic seriously.
Skywolf nodded slowly. "And I hope he trusts me enough to tell him that what I say is the truth." With that he turned and left, looking for their young friend.

* * *

They are blaming me>> Midnight whispered.
No! They are just in shock!>> Steve contradicted, silently cursing himself for telling Midnight they should return to the base. They had run straight into Dagger.
Now Midnight walked aimlessly through the base, shaking his head. He knew they blamed him because he was with Thon Roque at the time and he had had the power, as he had displayed later on, to save him. Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks.
Oh, no!
A slender, golden and white colored female stood not far away, her optics fixed on him. Midnight knew her well. She was Aurora, Thon Roque life partner and one of the few other Sentinels he had learned to truly trust. And she was one of those he didn't want to meet now.
"I missed you at the funeral," Aurora said, her voice calm and level.
"Ah, I, it was not my place to be there," Midnight muttered.
Aurora approached him and he tried not to flinch back. She was maybe half a head smaller than him. "Nonsense!"
He tried to find the right words and finally only stuttered, "I'm sorry, Aurora!"
She shook her head. "It's not your fault, Midnight, it never was. We lucked out and we paid the price."
He winced and looked away.
Aurora touched his arm. "It was not you fault, understand? It happened. The Seekers had us out-numbered and the trap had been set. We walked in and we are lucky to have survived at all."
"Thon Roque didn't...."
She smiled sadly. "No, he didn't. And I feel the same pain, maybe even more, but life has to go on. You have a job to do, Mid."
He stared at her in shock. "What are you talking about?"
"Thon Roque appointed you his second, right? Roque is dead now and you have risen to leadership position."
Midnight shook his head and moved away from her. "No, no! Skywolf is the new leader!"
Aurora took his arm again and stopped his 'flight'. "No, Midnight, you are. Thon Roque made it quite clear." She took his other arm and forced him to look at her. "You have it in you. You have a lot of potential and you showed it in the last years."
Stop being confused>> Steve said with a slight smile.
But...but ...>>
Go with the flow. You'll manage>>
"Aurora, I have no idea what to do.... And most of the others don't even trust me. I'm weird, I'm alien,.... I'm a Seeker!"
An angry light lit up her optics. "You are not a Seeker any more. You are a Sentinel, Midnight! You might be of a different design, but you are not weird. Have some self-confidence! They do trust you! Your proved yourself repeatedly in the last years!"
Midnight opened his mouth and then closed it again.
"And Skywolf will help you," the female Seeker added with a smile.
"I'll try," he finally muttered.
She shook him. "No, you will do it, not try. No half-hearted attempts! You are a leader and you can lead!"
Their optics met and Midnight nodded wordlessly.

.........

"Well, that's what happened," Midnight sighed. "Ever since I'm stuck with them and this job."
Rodimus smiled and leaned against the wall. "I know that feeling," he chuckled.
Midnight looked at his friend. "So, what do you think about the others now?" he wanted to know. "I think if the other Autobots ever knew about what they did, they'd fall back onto their old beliefs."
Rodimus shook his head. "No, but they will also never hear about it. Not from me."
Midnight smiled. "I know. Thanks for lending me an ear, as the humans say."
"You are welcome. Since I spilled my troubles over you all that time ago, I think it was time you retaliated. Feeling better?"
Midnight shrugged. "Strangely enough, yes. It will take some more time to get it all past me, but I think it helped. Thanks."
Rodimus pushed himself away from the wall. "Are you going to be okay?"
Midnight nodded. "Yeah, I guess so. Keep Firefall away from me for some time and I'll be perfect."
The Autobot leader grinned. "How about several years?"
Midnight laughed softly. "Sounds good to me. Now I better pick up Steve and hope he won't give me a lecture about how long he's been trying to tell me to talk to someone."
Rodimus gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. "You should have listened."
Both left Midnight's office and Rodimus felt a soft poking against his mind shield. It was Shanygn. He grinned a bit.
"I know." Midnight looked into the night sky. "Thanks again and let's hope it will never happen again." With that he transformed and shot off.
Rodimus watched him, aware that
Shanygn had joined him.
[He finally talked] she said.
[Yes, he did. And I don't know whether to be angry or disgusted] Rodimus confessed. He looked at his Interface partner.
Shanygn returned the look neutraly. [That's for you to decide]
[I won't judge them] he told her. [It is not my place to do so, but I wish I'd really understand them, Shan]
[That's like trying to understand Vector Sigma or Ralyk. Too many twists and turns]
[True] He sighed. [Well, what's on your schedule tonight?]
Shanygn shrugged. [Dunno. You?]
[Dunno]
She grinned. [Then let's see what we can come up with together]
Rodimus transformed and opened his door. "Hop in," he said aloud. "Before someone sees me and finds something important for me to do or sign or listen to."
Shanygn climbed in and the brightly colored truck left Autobot City.