( Bother - I goofed the initial upload. Here's the entire first chapter. )

Hopeless
Chapter One

She felt like she had a full-body hangover.

Caitlin Danvers, seventeen years old, knew hangovers, though she really wasn't supposed to. Having older friends made drinking easy and proved that she was adult. Though in the middle of the hangovers, she sometimes questioned that.

She was lying on a metal table. It made her back hurt. Mere air pressure made the rest of her hurt, and some leftover hallucination made her feel like she had at least two extra arms, which also hurt. Her head she could understand, but pain all over was new. At least it was quiet and the lights were low.

It occurred to her that she had been awake for some minutes now, but she hadn't blinked yet. She blinked. Light-dark-light, quick like that.

Caitlin wondered where she was. She didn't feel restrained, which was promising. She turned her head to one side and saw a sheet of purplish metal directly by her head. There was one on the other side as well.

She tried blinking again. It looked wrong. It went too quick, like flicking a light off and on. She never saw her eyelids close.

Caitlin blinked slowly. The room grew darker, went black, then lightened. Like a dimmer switch. Eyelids never came into it.

Through the haze of the pain of her body – it felt like a cross between a headache and the painful part of pins-and-needles on every bit of her skin – she realised there was a discomfort that was missing. Her mouth felt dry and the thirst was there, but other things weren't. She couldn't feel her teeth with her tongue because both teeth and tongue were missing.

Caitlin screamed and sat up, bringing her hand to her mouth. Her fingers scraped against her lips, then against the inside of her mouth.

She didn't notice the figure on the other side of the room until he turned and snapped, "Calm down this instant!"

Against all logic, Caitlin calmed down. Now she could see where she was. It was a large room that looked like a cross between a computer lab and a science lab in an artificial cave. The other person had been standing beside an alcove in the wall that held something that looked like a coffee machine. And the other person …

… was Dracula?

By the time he walked over to her table, Caitlin realised that he wasn't human at all, and she had only seen a human because she expected it.

He was a Transformer. She had seen them on news reports, and had been expecting something taller. This one was probably about her size, with eyes like a red bar across a silver face covered with lines that made him look old. He was mostly black, with pinkish-purple arms and patch on his chest, and rust-coloured bat-wings. There was also a purple emblem like a face with a crown on his chest. Caitlin didn't know much, but she knew what that meant.

"My name," he said, and Caitlin's first 'Dracula' impression carried when she realised he had a Transylvanian accent, "is Mindwipe. You were brought here because I needed a subject for an experiment."

"M-me?"

"Oh, not you specifically, Keatranierdenyrarz. All I needed was a human."

It stung a little to know she was picked randomly instead of chosen. "That isn't my name," she sulked. "It's Keatrai. No, wait …" She concentrated. "Caitlin. I'm Caitlin."

He scowled. "I said that."

"But …" No, he did. It was an … an accent or something. And his scowl brought her back to reality. "Um. Can I ask what the experiment will be?" Caitlin thought of herself as tough, but realising that she was facing down an evil alien scientist had robbed her of the last of her bravado.

"The difficult part is over, anyway. You've survived this long," said Mindwipe. "Look down, but please, no screaming."

Reluctantly, Caitlin looked down. She didn't want to affirm the suspicions that had been turning over in her mind since she woke up. Her body was strange and metal, mostly black and maroon with rust-coloured gloves. There was a panel of red glass in the centre part of her chest, the part that looked like a squared-off jet nosecone. The Decepticon symbol was stamped on it. She managed not to scream.

"A terribly common body, of course, for ease of finding replacement parts," Mindwipe explained. "Now stand. Speak your thoughts."

Even if she wasn't terrified, Caitlin had to obey. She managed to slide herself off the table. It scraped. "I feel heavy," she said. "Like I'm wearing a suit of armour. But not heavy heavy – I know it's heavy and I can feel it, but I can carry it easily. And I feel like I'm wearing a full backpack, but it's glued to me … I have wings?"

Mindwipe nodded. Caitlin continued. "It's hard to balance. I've worn heels before, but this is worse. I can feel the floor. It looks like I'm wearing high-heeled boots, but I can feel the floor like bare feet. Only they don't squish down like feet. Looking down makes me feel dizzy. Everything's scaled to my height, but I know that I'm way farther off the ground than I should be. My eye-level is, I mean. Why am I wearing the same colours as you?"

"Because I like them. Continue."

She held the edge of the table and twisted a bit. "I can't move like I used to. And I can hear it when I move because bits scrape against each other. I can't turn at the waist. When I turn my head, these panels keep getting in my way. I have to turn my whole body to look at something beside me. Now that you've told me I have wings, I keep trying to find them. I can feel where they attach, but actually feeling them, like I feel my arms, keeps slipping away from me. It's like my mind's not letting me really look. And …"

… And I haven't said a word in English since I got here. The realisation that she had been fluently speaking a language she didn't know hit her, and found she couldn't speak it any more. Once she noticed it and tried to use it, she couldn't. It was like looking at a word repeated so many times that it lost its meaning.

Mindwipe caught on to her distress. "Do not think, simply act. Walk to the next table and back. Continue to describe what you feel."

Walking was a lot more difficult than she expected, and concentrating on staying upright distracted her from the fact that she was speaking a strange language. "Heel-toe, heel-toe … these feet are hard to balance on, and the floor's cold. Why don't I have ankles? It's like trying to walk in ski-boots – ski-boots with high-heels. At least the front part of my feet are flexible, so it's not exactly like ski-boots. And my legs bend wrong. If I want to turn my foot to the side, it turns at my knee instead of at the ankle or hip …"

He worked her for what felt like hours. Pick this up. Sit down. Stand up. Tell me what you see. Do you hear this? No? Listen again. Describe this colour. Describe the texture of this. Jump. Tell me what this device does. It was mostly like a physical check-up, with some psychiatry thrown in on top. No single task was difficult, but taken all together it was tiring. Eventually, Mindwipe let her rest and went back to one of his computers.

Caitlin slumped into a low-backed chair. "I'm … hungry," she said.

Mindwipe turned away from his computer and did something with the thing that looked like a coffee machine. When he turned back, he handed her a glowing pink cube, about the size of her head. Caitlin took it. It had looked almost solid, but holding it, it felt sort of liquid and sort of insubstantial and strangely heavy. The word 'ectoplasm' came to mind, and she rather wished it hadn't.

"Well?" asked Mindwipe. "Drink it, unless you expect me to feed you."

Okay, it was a liquid. It was glowing gasoline. The thought would have turned her stomach if she had one any more and if her body didn't crave the stuff in the cube. She could feel it – the cube was increasing her feeling of hunger. Caitlin raised the cube to her mouth, tipped it back, and nothing happened. Cautiously, she turned the cube over a few times. There weren't any openings. It was an alien juice-box without a straw.

Caitlin nipped at a corner and felt it give, but when she pulled it back to look at it, the cube was whole. This time, Caitlin bit off the corner, sealed her mouth around the hole she could feel was there, and tipped the cube back. The strange fluid filled her mouth, and she realised she didn't know how to swallow.

She coughed out of reflex, or tried to. The fuel was spat out, but the actual air of the cough came from lower, out of the vents on her chest.

At least she managed not to drop the cube, still holding it in her left hand. Mindwipe shook his head. "Hold still," he said, and Caitlin had to obey. Mindwipe took her right hand, opened a panel on the back of Caitlin's arm, pulled a tube out of it, and plugged it into the cube as Caitlin stared in horror.

"My arm is open."

"It was the easiest siphon for me to reach," Mindwipe said impatiently. "Or did you want to collapse from lack of fuel?"

"My arm is open and you pulled a tube out of it."

"Yes."

She couldn't do anything but watch as the liquid in the cube drained into her body. Mindwipe had told her not to move, after all. After a few minutes, Caitlin realised that it didn't actually hurt. She could feel that her arm was open and it was creepy, but it wasn't actually painful. Caitlin calmed enough to wonder if this was what an intravenous drip felt like, and panicked herself again when she realised she could taste the fuel in the tube.

She had nothing to compare it to. The best she could come up with was thinking it tasted like warm, thick water.

Days passed like that. Sometimes Caitlin slept, because she thought she should, even though Mindwipe told her she didn't need to. Sleeping was strange. There were no dreams and no way to tell that any time had passed. For all she knew, Mindwipe would let her sleep for five minutes, then wake her up and claim that eight hours had passed. Somehow she didn't think so. Somewhere within herself, Caitlin knew that exactly eight hours passed when she slept.

At first, Caitlin was a bit nervous about sleeping in the laboratory, leaving herself helpless. That passed quickly. Mindwipe had already put her in a robot body; after that, anything else he could do didn't seem all that frightening. And he didn't seem interested in harming her, just asking questions and testing her physical reactions.

Mindwipe wasn't always around. Often Caitlin would wake up and find the laboratory empty. She always tried the door when this happened, though it was always locked. Sometimes she thought about just smashing everything in the room, but could never bring herself to try it.

At least Mindwipe left things for her to do when he was out, though at first Caitlin found them insulting. They were like toddler toys – magnetic blocks and little shape puzzles and large, brightly-coloured beads. She decided they were probably some kind of psychiatrist's test; if she built a little fort out of the blocks, it meant she had repressed memories or something. Mindwipe certainly seemed interested in the results. The alternative, which Caitlin didn't like, was that she was given baby toys because Mindwipe thought of her as a baby.

Sometimes he gave her math problems, generally algebra. She wasn't sure what the formulas were for, but they seemed familiar, like she had seen them before but forgot. Caitlin first wished she had a calculator, then realised that just thinking about inputting the numbers gave her the answer in her head. Still, she could only manage the easier problems – she might have had a built-in calculator, but that didn't mean she could understand the methods needed for the more complex questions.

Of all the tasks Mindwipe set for her, Caitlin was determined to master drinking. After a week, she was able to use the feeding tube in her arm by herself. She didn't like to, but she preferred doing it herself to needing to ask Mindwipe to do it. She would have really preferred to be able to drink normally.

"I've seen you drink with your mouth," said Caitlin. "Why can't I?"

"You can," said Mindwipe. "But you do not believe that you can."

"I do. I always forget that I can't. I'm used to being able to swallow."

"You still can."

She had seen him drink. Mindwipe just lifted the cube up to his mouth and drained it. But Caitlin didn't have a throat. She had examined the inside of her mouth with a mirror and there was no hole at the back of it. There had been a bit that looked like a closed iris, but she couldn't get it to open, even when she prodded it with a finger. Maybe this was all a test. Maybe she couldn't drink like he could and the test was to see if she'd get the sense to give up and stick with using the tube in her arm.

Caitlin held up the cube, glaring at it. She tried her nip-off-a-corner-and-drink technique again, which filled her mouth with fluid she couldn't swallow. She didn't cough this time, but she still had to spit it out.

"You need to want it, Keatrai," said Mindwipe.

"I do want it!" Caitlin yelled, frustrated.

The scientist frowned at her. "The body is yours. It must obey your commands. Force it to obey!"

She held the cube in front of her face. Okay, body, I command you to drink this.

Her body didn't do anything. Of course, that technique never worked on her human body, either. Maybe this one had instincts, or something like them. Caitlin kept her gaze fixed firmly on the cube and thought about how hungry she was.

Without warning, her mouth opened and she threw up her oesophagus.

Caitlin shrieked and panicked, painfully biting the tube in the process. It snapped back into her mouth as soon as her bite released it. Mouth empty, she could form words again. "What the hell …"

"That," sighed Mindwipe, "is your primary fuel-siphon."

"Why didn't you warn me?"

"What kind of experiment would this be if I told you what to expect?"

She almost wished he would laugh at her. She would prefer being bullied to being treated like a lab rat. Furious, Caitlin put the cube to her mouth, jabbed her siphon into it, sucked it dry, and glared at Mindwipe in triumph. As usual, he didn't seem to care.

Mindwipe was the only person she ever saw. Or, at least the only one she ever saw in person. Sometimes he would call up friends or fellow scientists or whoever they were on his viewscreen, and once in a while he would let Caitlin talk to them. Most of them asked the same kinds of questions that Mindwipe did, though the one Mindwipe talked to the most – a purple one with no mouth named Bugly – tended to ask her about her religion. Caitlin couldn't answer his questions very well.

After about a month, Mindwipe gave her a new toy – something like a computer tablet. He hooked it up to one of his computers, the one with the biggest screen. It was pretty obviously an art tool. "What do you want me to draw?" asked Caitlin.

"Anything."

Well, he wouldn't get any good pictures, anyway. Art was never one of Caitlin's strong points. She scribbled a bit to get used to the feel of the pen. It worked like a marker. The lines were black, and got thinner or thicker depending on how hard she pressed on the tablet. Not sure what else to do, she drew her dog. Not very well. It was recognisable as a dog, anyway. Remembering her art classes from school, she tried drawing her hand. It was easier than she remembered, though that might have just been because her robot hand was simpler-looking than her human one. Caitlin doodled a bit more – trees, rabbits, a vampire in a cape like bat-wings. When she ran out of space on the screen, she found she could scroll it over by pressing the pen down near the edge of the tablet. When Mindwipe came back, he didn't say anything about any of her drawings, just looked at them, and Caitlin could practically see him taking notes in his head.

Every time she thought Mindwipe couldn't surprise her any more, he did. During the second month, he said, out of nowhere, "I would like to test your weapons. Fire on me."

Automatically, Caitlin half-raised her guns before realising what she was doing. As soon as she noticed, it all slipped away and her guns hung uselessly from her arms. "I can't."

"If you can incapacitate me, you will be able to escape," said Mindwipe. "All you need to open the door is my energy signature, and I will retain that for a time after death. Fire on me!"

He wasn't lying. She knew, in that same weird way that she always knew what time it was, that her guns were fully charged and that a good hit on Mindwipe could at least knock him out. She could escape.

If she could figure out how to fire her guns.

Maybe it's like drinking, she thought. Maybe I have to want to do it enough, have to hate him enough … Caitlin focused on that. How dare this alien monster take her from her family and perform experiments on her day after day and he'll probably kill her when he's done and he didn't even let her say good-bye …

With a screech, Caitlin threw herself at Mindwipe, guns forgotten. He sidestepped her lunge, letting her crash into a table. "You're using the wrong emotion, Keatrai."

"You've been playing your games while everyone I know is worried sick about me!" Caitlin attacked again.

Mindwipe leapt back out of range, pulled a small device out of the air, and threw it at her. Caitlin ducked and brought her arms up to avoid it.

The device exploded in a flash of light.

Caitlin slumped back against a computer, hatred forgotten, never taking her eyes from the spot where the explosion happened. "I did that? What was that?"

"A battery pack. If it had hit you, it might have chipped your paint."

"I thought it was a bomb … wait." Caitlin frowned. "The emotion I had to use was fear?"

Mindwipe nodded. "A much more sensible emotion than hate, really."

Nine seemed to be an important number. For nine days straight, Mindwipe brought her nine coloured dice, which she would toss nine times. However, the dice had twelve sides, and three of the dice had symbols instead of numbers. She recognised the Autobot and Decepticon symbols, but not the others. She would throw the dice, and Mindwipe would get his note-taking expression.

He always seemed a bit impatient with the process, but that was because it wasn't his idea. On the first day, Caitlin had cast the dice and asked, "What does this test?"

The scientist had made a face. "Bugly asked me to do this, so now he owes me a favour."

"Is it a test for psychic ability?" Caitlin used to try to influence dice back in her black-magic-goth phase in when she was fifteen.

"No. For life."

Which didn't make any sense as far as Caitlin could see. At least Mindwipe didn't seem to think it did, either.

After a while, Caitlin discovered she could make the electric pen change colour by wanting it to. She wasn't sure how it happened – she had wanted red and suddenly there was red, or any other colour. With a bit of practice, she could draw a solid line in a rainbow gradient. Mindwipe spent a couple hours asking her about colours after that – why did she use this colour here? What did this colour mean to her? Why did she only draw in black and white to start with? Draw anger for me, or fear, or joy.

Sometimes she worried that Mindwipe was somehow going to try to use the things she told him to help take over Earth. She couldn't figure out how, though. Her liking dark red didn't seem like something an alien conqueror could use.

One day, a little over four months since Caitlin woke up as a robot, Mindwipe said, "I'm finished with you. You may go."

"Are you going to put me back in my real body?" Caitlin asked.

Mindwipe shook his head. "Your human body is dead."

She scowled. "You're lying."

The scientist shrugged, went to a section of wall, and pulled it out. It was like a drawer without sides, and sitting on it was a jar filled with greenish liquid. It was small enough that she could have cradled it in one hand. The naked body of a girl floated in the liquid, upright but unmoving. There weren't even any tubes or wires going into it.

Caitlin bit back the sound of a sob and bent down for a better look. It was her body – the birthmark on her shoulder, the scar on her elbow from her first bicycle accident, her twisted second toe from a poorly-set break. From her new size it looked like a fragile doll. Its nakedness made her uncomfortable, but it also showed that her body was unmarked – Mindwipe hadn't tried to dissect it, which she was thankful for. Caitlin knew she wouldn't have been able to take seeing just bits of herself. Beside the jar, her clothing and everything she had in her pockets was neatly laid out and labelled.

Until now, Caitlin had held the hope that somehow she was just wearing her robot body, that she could simply find the hatch and climb out of it. Or, at worst, that her body was just in a coma somewhere. But her body was dead. There was no breathing, no heartbeat, no life.

Behind her, Mindwipe said, "There is no deterioration – I saw to that. In theory it could be made to function again, but I cannot guarantee that you would survive a second transfer. I could make the attempt …"

"No! No, that's okay." She did not want to be put into a dead body.

Even though that meant she was going to be stuck as a robot for the rest of her life. "What are you going to do with it?" asked Caitlin.

"I intend to keep it."

For a minute she considered challenging him, telling him that this was her body and it was her decision what to do with it, except she wasn't sure what that would be. Her instinct said to take it with her and give it a proper funeral, but … but she couldn't bring herself to do it. It was just too strange. She touched the glass, lightly. "Just … just don't cut it up. Please."

"It will be left intact."

"Thank you. Um. Can I take my things?"

He looked her in the eye. "No."

That was all right. Caitlin wouldn't be able to carry the tiny things anyway. At least she knew where they were, and she wasn't going to need those clothes again.

The laboratory door opened. "Follow the lit tunnels. Nothing will harm you. If you stray into the darkness, the only penalty is that you'll get lost and I'll have to come rescue you. I would rather not need to go through the bother."

That was it, then. Caitlin decided to be a good girl and follow the lights. There were plenty of side corridors stretching off into the darkness. The place was probably a maze. She walked slowly, thinking. The first thing she was going to do was figure out where she was. Then she was going to kick up such a fuss that the Autobots would have to come – they were the good guys after all, right? She could tell them what happened and they'd deal with Mindwipe. Then she could go home. She wasn't sure how she was going to explain things to her parents, though.

Eventually she reached a door. Caitlin stepped outside and into the twilight of an alien city.

Somehow, she had expected that she was still on Earth. Caitlin took stock. Okay, she was a robot. She was big and strong and the wings on her back and the rockets on her feet meant she could fly, and the guns on her arms and the symbol on her midsection meant that nobody would mess with her. She could figure everything else out as she went along. She picked a random direction and began walking.

She had to get back to Earth somehow. She knew that everything would be better if she could just get back home. Her parents were there. Autobots were there. Mindwipe would pay for doing this to her.

The Transformers seemed to be able to get from one planet to another. There had to be spaceships somewhere. She could … well, maybe she could quietly book passage. Caitlin certainly couldn't fly a spaceship, and she didn't want to try to hijack one. Anyway, she would see what her options were when she got there. She had to find a spaceport first.

Caitlin stopped. Unless she found a map with a clearly-labelled spaceport, she would never find it. She glanced back the way she came, thinking of Mindwipe, and decided she couldn't ask him. He'd kicked her out after all, and she didn't want to ask the one who got her into the whole situation for help. He would turn it into some kind of test, if he was inclined to help at all.

She heard the noise of the engine too late to duck into an alley and hide. Something like a stunt-car appeared around a corner. Instead of just passing by, it transformed into a blue and cream-coloured robot, smaller and bulkier than she was, with wheels on his arms. He was looking around, though thankfully he didn't seem interested in her.

He wore a Decepticon symbol. Caitlin took a chance and hoped he wouldn't somehow realise she was human. She approached him and asked, "Where's the nearest spaceport?"

She needn't have worried. He barely gave her a glance and grunted, "Jekka." Before Caitlin could ask how to get there, he had ducked into one of the buildings.

If it was the name of a place at all. For all she knew, 'jekka' was an insult. Even if it was a place, Caitlin had no idea if it was a street, a city, or even a country.

Mindwipe had kept her too busy to think about her problems. It was just sinking in now that she was trapped on an alien planet in a body she could barely use. She had no money … she didn't even know if Transformers used money. And if they did, she didn't know how to get any. Caitlin had considered herself worldly and independent, and was starting to realise that she had been deluding herself. Watching action shows and playing video games didn't mean she knew how to fight. A high school education was worthless on Cybertron, even if she had been any good at her electronics or science courses, which she hadn't. She hadn't even taken a shop class in two years, and then she had been terrified of the sparks that came off the spot-welder.

She had no job-skills. She had spent a summer sorting files at a friend's parent's office, and she sometimes baby-sat in her neighbourhood. Caitlin wondered if Transformers had children.

Caitlin realised that she didn't know anything about the planet she was on. She saw Transformers on television often enough, but she had never really paid any attention. She knew the names of the faction leaders, had heard a few other names, knew that the Autobots liked humans and wore a red symbol while the Decepticons were trying to conquer Earth and wore purple symbols. But it was like watching footage of any other foreign war on the news – it wasn't her problem and it didn't affect her.

She knew that she looked like a Decepticon, but she had no idea how one should act beyond not liking humans and wanting to take over planets.

Mindwipe had created her, done some experiments, and then he abandoned her. Caitlin ducked into an alley, sank down against the wall, and fought back tears until she remembered that she couldn't cry.


Caitlin realised she must have fallen asleep when she was awakened by a rough kick to her shin. She looked up into the face of a being who looked like he had a pink jet for a shirt and a brown tank for pants.

"What are you doing sitting around out here?" he demanded. "Get back to the barracks! What's your name, soldier?"

She was too startled to lie. "K-Keatrai."

The pink-and-brown Decepticon waited, obviously not buying it. Caitlin thought, All the ones I've seen on TV have had names like Jazz and Starscream and Bumblebee. She had no idea what 'Caitlin' meant beyond that it was a variation of 'Catherine', so she took a wild stab and used her e-mail name, minus the numbers. "Darkstar?"

"Fhn. Whatever. Get up." He kicked her again. Darkstar neé Caitlin got up.

"I … I don't know where the barracks are," Darkstar admitted.

He had no visible irises, but Darkstar knew that he rolled his eyes. "Dumb jet. You new or just drunk?"

She seized an option gratefully. "I'm new."

"Come on."

He led the way. Luckily, the place was close enough to walk to. Darkstar might have had wings, but Mindwipe never taught her how to fly. They soon reached a place that was obviously a military base – it was surrounded by a high wall with spikes and gun turrets on. Her guide led her past the guards and to what looked like the main building.

Darkstar found herself marched up to what she figured was the security desk. An irritated purple Decepticon with wings glared at them from behind a computer. "What do you want, Flywheels?"

Flywheels shrugged and gestured to Darkstar. "I found him out on the street," he said. "He says his name's 'Darkstar', but doesn't seem to know anything else."

Darkstar was about to protest that she was a 'her' rather than a 'him', and decided not to. She wasn't sure if there were any female Decepticons, and if there were, it might be even worse to be thought of as one. The officer on duty tapped a few keys on his computer. "I've got nearly two-hundred Darkstars listed. He's not one of them."

"I'm very new," Darkstar tried. "I-I was built by Mindwipe. He'll tell you!"

The duty officer looked sceptical. Flywheels shrugged. "He's wearing the kook's colours, anyway. Give it a try. Worst he'll do is hypnotise you."

"Shut up." The red light in the duty officer's eyes went out.

If that meant he was blind now, it didn't seem to affect him. A few more taps at the keyboard, and a familiar voice came through the speaker: "Yes?"

"Look at this." The screen was swivelled around so that it faced Darkstar. Mindwipe had his face resting on his hands so his mouth was covered, but Darkstar was certain he was smirking. The duty officer turned the screen back around to face him. "We've got a Seeker here with no identification who claims you built him," he said.

There was a short chuckle. "Ah, him. Yes, I built him a few months ago. See if you can find something for him to do, would you? Prepare to receive the necessary documentation." The connection cut. The duty officer's eyes lit up again.

Darkstar's relief lasted less than a second. Mindwipe doesn't know my name. I didn't start calling myself 'Darkstar' until after he threw me out. He's going to call me 'Keatrai' and they're going to know something is wrong … But I called myself that first, so maybe Flywheels will believe me …

The duty officer's frown grew deeper the longer he looked at the screen. Darkstar tensed. Eventually the duty officer snapped, "Didn't that idiot give you any useful skills at all?"

"Better than him being another silly mystic like his creator," chuckled Flywheels.

"Oh, here's a note at the bottom," growled the duty officer. "'I have created Darkstar as raw materials to be shaped and moulded by his experiences.' Thanks a lot, Mindwipe! Ugh, just stuff him in with Discard's crew. He won't need any skill for that."

Flywheels cocked his head slightly. "There's an opening there?"

"I'm pretty sure. If there isn't, just wait a skirmish."

The two Decepticons laughed before Flywheels motioned Darkstar to follow him. She hadn't liked the way they talked about where she was going. Still, it was currently the number two priority in her mind, underneath, How did Mindwipe know what to call me?

Third on the list was, Why did he bail me out at all? Near the bottom were such questions like, 'Mystic'? I thought he was a scientist, and, What did he mean by that 'raw materials to be shaped' line?

Flywheels led her through various corridors and down two floors before they reached their destination. Flywheels tapped the door control and walked in unannounced.

The room was … a room. It was rectangular and made of bare metal. There were five beds – or shelves, they were flat metal as well – arranged around the perimeter of the room. There was a large table with a flatscreen computer monitor and keyboard on it. There was a chair in front of it. It was the only chair in the room. "Got a new one for you. Mindwipe sends his love," said Flywheels.

There was also a person sitting in the chair, who snorted. "The jets are next door, Flywheels."

"Yeah, the three jets," Flywheels retorted. "You ever try to tell a Seeker trine to take on a fourth? You're down one, anyway. You get the jet. His name is Darkstar, and he's absolutely useless. He'll fit right in."

Flywheels left, leaving Darkstar and the other Decepticon looking at one another. "Are you Discard?" asked Darkstar.

"'S me. I lead this group," he said, standing up to walk over. "You're allowed to disagree with me, s'long as you like looking for your own head."

"I'll … I'll obey you."

Discard was ugly. He was a little shorter than she was, but twice as broad. He made Darkstar think of a troll made of junk. Nothing about him matched. His tires all looked the same size, but were of different makes. He had two cannons on his back, one bigger than the other. He had patches all over, and even his eyes weren't the same. One was yellow and the other was red, and shaped differently. Only his hands seemed to be a matched set. They were huge, like gorilla hands, and probably as strong.

Relatively, she meant. Things were so confusing …

He noticed her staring. "So I do my own repairs and upgrades," he said. "I don't trust the techs."

"S-sorry. I shouldn't have been staring …"

"Enh, go ahead, Jet. You'll get your share of it – you're the prettiest one to join this crew in ages."

Darkstar took a step back. "You … you can tell I'm a girl?"

Discard looked confused. "You look like a jet to me."

"Jets are female? But Flywheels and the other one kept saying …"

"Jets are jets." Discard seemed to squint. "Oh, I see. So they decided to give me another crazy one. Fine. Why not? Keep 'em coming."

"What?"

"You'll meet the others whenever they come back. Your berth is that one," said Discard, pointing at the shelf opposite the door. "You can check the storage compartments if you want, but we already cleaned 'em out. If you put stuff in 'em, we won't steal it until after you're dead. Come over here and hold out your hand."

She did. Discard took Darkstar's hand as if to shake it, but instead there was a flash between their palms and a pain in her head. She stumbled back. Discard nodded. "You're up to date on the codes now."

Darkstar was about to protest when she realised she did understand. Level Twelve military clearance, and these were the numbers you had to say to get past the sentries and these were the numbers you had to say if someone demanded you identify yourself and these were the numbers to and these were the numbers to. It was like a memory, but crystal clear.

Uncertain what else to do, Darkstar sat on her bunk. Right. She was in the army now. Hopefully they would get posted on Earth, and she could escape at the first chance. Mindwipe seemed to be a recognised person, but it was probably a bad idea to name-drop him unless she was desperate. She couldn't count on him to help her again.

She still had a body she barely knew how to use. But now she had a name, a job, and identification. Legally, she was a Decepticon citizen.

To be continued.