TRANSFORMERS: Dark Storm Rising

Chapter 1
Expelled

EARTH DATE: JANUARY, 2037

LOCATION: UNKNOWN

Galvatron privately counted twenty-five Earth years. Twenty-five years of drifting, Decepticons fighting among themselves, searching for a way back to Cybertron. But with each space gate that slipped through their fingers, Galvatron's patience grew shorter until he snapped and murdered Mindwipe and Skullgrin with his own two hands. (Well, it was their fault for being there at the time!) He injured thirteen others (fools!) before Cyclonus managed to calm him down. It was all their fault, anyway. The lot of them were losers. Warriors indeed! Hoodlums, thieves, power-hungry opportunists, more likely. Galvatron didn't lead an army, but a host of gutless, depraved cutthroats.

He fumed, staring into the emptiness of space with cold red optics. This whole situation was intolerable! There were Autobots out there who longed to die! There were worlds waiting to be conquered, places which needed to be stamped with the Decepticon symbol of power. And where were they? Dancing through the stars like a lot of robo-pixies! Surely the Autobots were laughing at them, patting themselves on the back, making a toast to the eventual demise of their age-long enemies. And among them, making the loudest noise would be Optimus Prime.

AND HE WAS ALIVE AGAIN!

Galvatron thudded his head so hard, had anyone else been there, they would have cringed. It had to hurt.

It did hurt. It hurt a lot and the great Decepticon leader wished it would dwarf all his other pain. How pathetic! They were the might of the galaxy! They were superior to all other life forms in every way and where were they? Drifting like a group of homeless bozos!

Galvatron slammed his fist into the wall-into the living part of Scorponok itself. He heard it groan. He liked it. He punched it again and the groan turned into a growl. He laughed and punched it again and again and again and again and again and again and again-

"Mighty One, perhaps there is another piece of furniture offensive enough to challenge your-"

"SILENCE!"

It was automatic. His arm swung and Cyclonus went flying through the air, crashing into the wall. That felt good. Someone else was hurting as much as he. Someone else felt the pain and frustration, unable to do anything about it. Galvatron's shadow covered Cyclonus when the doors whooshed open and a trembling Sweep stepped in.

And the blow that would have been (purposely accidentally) missed by Cyclonus went directly for the Sweep, blowing its useless head clear off its shoulders. Its body fell limp and . . . it was just funny. The body fell with a very agreeable THUMP. The head rolled-oh that was precious! It rolled just like a little ball and it kept on rolling all the way down the corridor. Just kept rolling even after the Sweep's companions went chasing after it and . . . it was just funny!

Galvatron laughed and laughed and laughed even when no one else was laughing. So no one else had a sense of humor, SO WHAT? It was funny to him and that's really all that mattered. Galvatron trained his cannon on another Decepticon-Horri-Build or whatever his name was supposed to be. Galvatron hated him because he was a headmaster. And Galvatron really hated Headmasters. Disgusting things, allowing fleshlings to cohabit their bodies, sweating and snotting and drooling and-aarrgh-waste excrement! IN THE CEREBRAL REGION, NO LESS! Foul, putrid, slimy, squishy things! Even Gobots were a slight improvement over flesh creatures! At least Gobots were mostly mechanical, not suffering from sweat and slime! (Of course, Gobots weren't exactly on Galvatron's list of favorite creatures either, not with ORGANIC brains! REVOLTING!)

The Decepticon leader smiled in anticipation of seeing the Headmaster's head roll just like the Sweep's.

BBLLLLAAAAAAAMM!

Everyone slammed into one another and they into the walls along the north side. Groans and whining filled the corridor. Angry shouting and accusations came next. The Decepticons shoved each other away, repelled as though they couldn't stand touching one another. Galvatron shouted obscenities in seven different languages and kicked Horri-bull in the face, punched Swindle three times before giving him a blow, sending him several yards away and fired a harmless shot at Motor Master.

Cyclonus recovered enough to pull his wits together and made sure three other Decepticons stood between he and Galvatron. "Scorponok must've crashed into something."

"RRRRRaaaaagggghhhh! Scorponok! Report status!"

The lights went out, the city no longer moved. Galvatron kicked Motor Master in the rear-end and pointed his cannon at Scourge. "You two! Find out what happened! I want a full report!"

They wasted no time fleeing the scene. Motor Master grumbled something incoherent, limping as he left.

Cyclonus figured Galvatron had cooled enough to talk. He emerged from the shadows and watched as the others pulled themselves together, stepping on selenium eggshells as it were to get away from Galvatron. "It would seem, Mighty One, that the Decepticons are on the verge of mutiny." He warned.

Galvatron pierced him with a glare. "And you would be in the middle of it, Cyclonus. You and Scourge. Humph! Warriors! They can all be recycled or replaced! Right along with this substandard doll house! And what's taking those fools so long! Hurry!"

"Perhaps . . . they have found something of interest and are not willing to share it, my Lord." Cyclonus suggested. He wanted to get Galvatron out of cramped quarters. Perhaps a little room would ease his leader's temper for a while. His ploy worked and he followed Galvatron out of the crashed complex and onto a barren asteroid.

Their boots met a dusty grey ground. The rocky outland groaned under smashed and pitted debris brought by meteors and other space junk. All stood as silent as the windless moment before a great storm.

Scourge approached, his face set with irritation. "It looks like we might be stuck here for a while. Scorponok's navigation controls locked onto a magnetic disturbance here and Zarak is trying to repel it."

Galvatron set his hands on his hip plates. His optics dimmed, but miraculously, he said nothing. He glanced at the desolate surroundings, finding nothing of immediate interest. Nervously his minions watched as he paced alongside the great city in a slow deliberate fashion. He was assessing the situation for himself; one of those rare moments when Galvatron actually seemed more than half-way sane. He returned to Cyclonus and Scourge, his own face set with a calm anger.

"Cyclonus, I want more information on our location. See if there are places around us with useful materials."

Scourge shook his head, "But Mighty Galvatron, Scorponok took readings just before entering the system. He found nothing."

It was not a good thing to say. Scourge found that out the hard way as he went flying through the air and smashed against Scorponok's side. Galvatron's face grew hard. "If I wanted a second opinion from you, Scourge, I'd 've GIVEN it to you! FOOL! I AM IN CHARGE HERE! DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE THE BRAINS REQUIRED-"

"Uh, Galvatron?" Cyclonus intervened.

Galvatron spun around, outraged. "WHAT!" He snapped.

"Uh, I think I've located an energy source. With your permission, I should like to-" Cyclonus saw that 'look' in Galvatron's expression, the type that told him the Decepticon leader had just lost whatever moments of sanity he had and was ready to strike out at anyone, any moment. Cyclonus just momentarily glared at Scourge. He was so stupid! What was it with Scourge, anyway, daring to contest Galvatron's own touchy temper? Rather than continue his sentence, the Decepticon lieutenant took off, hoping his time away would allow him time to think.

Galvatron turned back to see Lord (ha!) Zarak emerge from the giant Transformer. The Nebulan's body walked a bit awkwardly as though the humanoid inside was still unaccustomed to walking. Zarak gazed wordlessly around first then shook his head at the sight of the dent Scourge's body made with the impact.

"Galvatron, the damage to Scorponok is minor. It can be repaired in two to three hours. In the meantime, I think we need to discuss a few things-mainly your behavior of late."

Galvatron's optics narrowed dangerously. He really hated Zarak, but tolerated the miserable flesh creature only because Zarak was Scorponok's brain and Scorponok was indeed a fine piece of work-but Galvatron still hated Zarak and wondered how he could get away with killing the humanoid without creating a fuss among Zarak's loyal friends. "Hah! I am not here to listen to your whining, Zarak." The Decepticon leader snarled. He turned away, aiming for the city entrance.

The doors shut, locking him out entirely.

Galvatron snapped back at Zarak. "Open the doors, Zarak." He growled.

"This is not debatable anymore." Zarak folded his arms in defiance. "From here forward, you will do as I say. I am in command, now Galvatron. You are nothing short of a liability. I have grown tired of your childish behavior and you will cease, or I will be forced to take extreme measures."

"Heheh! Extreme measures! Heh! You!" But Galvatron glowered dangerously. "If it weren't so funny, Zarak, I might have taken you seriously!"

But Zarak wasn't laughing. "It's because of your blatant stupidity we crashed into this asteroid, Galvatron. It's because of your idiocy that we ended half way across the galaxy, light years from Cybertron. It's because of your faulty judgment that we are stranded with no resources. The fault lies with you, Galvatron. I will tolerate this no longer."

"Then, you won't have to." Galvatron aimed and fired at Zarak. He half hoped to see blood spurting from that robotic suit. He hoped to hear Zarak scream in agony, in realization that he made a mistake by crossing the leader of the Decepticons. Galvatron fired again and again until something hot and sharp bit him behind his left shoulder. He turned and found Needlenose's gun, Zigzag, smoldering from ionization. Zigzag meant to hit him in the back, but missed, singing Galvatron's arm instead.

That set him off. Galvatron bellowed incoherently and just shot his cannon, hitting one Decepticon right after another, blowing some warriors in the face, others in the chest. Down went Apeface, down went Mixmaster and Ruckus and Breakdown and they were unceremoniously followed by Ramjet and Tantrum.

He was so busy taking and giving hits, the leader of the Decepticons did not see Scorponok transform behind him, towering in his scorpion mode like a god in judgment. Some of the Decepticons backed fearfully away, but Galvatron didn't notice until they stopped firing at him altogether.

"GALVATRON."

He turned, his face of madness and anger melted to one of awe and terror. Then anger and arrogance took over again and Galvatron stepped back, staring at the gigantic one-hundred and fifty-foot Transformer. And he remembered momentarily the terror he felt as Unicron transformed all around him. He was a flea on a body the size of a god. A flea! And he was treated like one and the pain-oh Primus, the pain!

And here was someone else, some wanna-be moron who came to replace Unicron in Galvatron's mind. But Galvatron held his own resolve and smiled like a cat. "Scorponok, why didn't you say you wanted to play? Like a male fleshing craving copulation, I would have come. All you had to do was ask!" The smile on Galvatron's face died. His smoldering frame stood straight and proud. "I knew the day would come when my own would turn against me, fed from the hands of traitorous retro-asses like you, Scorponok!"

"We are all tired, Galvatron. We have grown weary of your ranting, your mad ideas and your endless attacks. You are so self-absorbed, you do not see that we all suffer as do you. We will end this . . .today."

"WE! WE! AND WHO ARE WE!" He rested his fists on his hip plates, his chin held high in the air, showing off as only Galvatron could. Then he turned his back on them and walked away.

The giant transformer shifted to his robot mode, each move glided as smoothly and quietly as a snake shedding its old skin. Scorponok aimed one cannon and fired. Galvatron sailed through the air from impact, flying much like a doll tossed in play. As though in cue, other Decepticons followed Scorponok's example and fired their weapons at the former Decepticon leader, then others. At first, some, like Soundwave, Scourge and the Constructicons who considered themselves loyal to Galvatron found themselves in the minority. First Hook fired, then a couple of his partners. Scourge followed their example, deciding who was going to be more worthy of his loyalty. Finally, and perhaps reluctantly, Soundwave copied.

Seconds dragged on into an eternity of thunderous explosions, falling like silent lights in the vacuum of space. One by one, the Decepticons ceased fire, watching as radioactive dust settled, blanketing the land. All optics stared, waiting. Towering above them, Scorponok stood poised like a flesh creature holding its breath in great anticipation.

From the distance, between billows of settling dust, the Decepticons faintly heard scratchings of Galvatron's demented laughter. One step. Two. Some of the Decepticon host drew back in horror as their former leader emerged from the smoke and ashes of what was to be his grave. Battered, scarred, torn and marred, Galvatron came to them as one who had emerged from the furnaces of Torments.

One functioning red optic flashed cold. His mutilated face twisted horribly as he tried to smile. Exposed circuitry snapped and crackled. One optic had shattered. The lower left side of his face had been blown away entirely so that all that could be seen were the inner workings of his intake valves and support clamps. One arm hung from a few wires, no hand was attached to it. The exostructure of his left leg had melted into the circuitry, leaving a smoldering, blackened mess. He was the shadow of a creature that refused to die. His mangled body still defied the fact that he was rejected and by remaining alive, he mocked their pathetic efforts to destroy a body created by a god. Galvatron said something. The part of his lip components that still functioned moved up and down, but no sound came from his vocal units. He pointed a broken finger at them. His silent accusations gave them all the surges.

And then, as if that sight wasn't gruesome enough, Galvatron laughed.

Silent. He could make no noise at all, but he kept laughing.

Tantrum fired first, his cry mingled with the sound of his laser blasting one shot after another at the mad Decepticon who refused to terminate. He started a chain reaction, leading the host into another bombardment on the former Decepticon leader. Some of the braver Decepticons (or maybe angrier) moved forward in their attack. The area, once naught more than rocks and dust, did not stand. Bombs thundered, lasers whined. Rockets screamed before shattering the air and muttering on the ground. Eventually, Scorponok ordered a cease-fire. The dust took forever to settle, drifting like filthy snow. The Decepticons, exhausted, angry, stared, waiting once again with breathless impatience, wondering whether or not they attained their objective.

Was he gone?

And when the dust finally calmed, the air cleared, there was naught left but the cannon and its mount. Rumble ambled over debris, marking the blackened land with his tiny footprints. He hesitated a moment then touched the damaged cannon. His mouth hung open in wordless awe. The cannon, dented and blackened by the onslaught, lay like an ugly, weather-worn skull. He reached over and touched it, feeling warmth left by all the radiation and laser burns. With his mouth still agape, the little creep gazed over at his comrades.

"He's-he's gone. Vaporized."

The Decepticons all glanced at one another. Galvatron was dead.


EARTH DATE: UNKNOWN.

DESTINATION: UNKNOWN

Self-consciousness without form. Thought without perception. Hate without memory. Anger without objective.

Loneliness without comfort.

No darkness. A swirling colorful mist drifted all around. And here, for once, not one other soul existed. For once, there was life without substance. How could such a thing be? How could one exist without form?

What was the term? Sentient life? Was that what this was?

His self-consciousness contemplated this for a time he could not account. Life without physical form.

DESTINATION: UNKOWN

EARTH DATE: UNKNOWN

Agony. Excruciating pain and darkness. Parts of his body he didn't know he had ached. But his head hurt the worst. He felt as though he were being eaten alive, something devouring him one tormented molecule at a time. His body trembled with shock, his exostructure burned and languished with dents and radiation poisoning. He longed to shut down completely and permanently. Why hasn't he passed out yet? And where was the . . .

Galvatron's optics activated. Whatever starlight there may have been all came jumbled and fuzzy.

What the hell was he doing alive? Why was he still alive? Pain pulsated in the back of his head and traveled to every part of his body, washing over some areas like a dull throb, slicing him like a laser scalpel in others.

He had plunged. Down. Down. Down. He was anticipating oblivion, that frame of non-existence he knew would eventually sweep him aside from the universe like so much negligible space dust. All his life, he knew and believed that once he died, that would be the end of it. Death was final and time after time, he avoided death one way or another, sending death to others as a sort of offering, promising Death all the lives it craved so long as it would not swallow him with them.

And it worked. All those millions of years as Megatron, now himself anew. Autobots and flesh creatures alike were gifts to the ghost of Death. Galvatron even sacrificed his own to appease Death. And here, laying face down, he had once again escaped Death. Death released him from his obligation.

Pain bit him again, clamping its jaws over his back and chest. Galvatron's body convulsed only enough to create more pain through the rest of his systems. He arched his head, opening his mouth but no sound came. He tried to scream and could not! With the one functional hand he clawed at the dust beneath him and tried to use his military training to control the pain. But it eluded him and played over his body. It danced over his legs, snapping the electrical workings then it jumped up and struck his side and again the great Decepticon leader wreathed, creating more opportunities for pain to attack him elsewhere. At that point he learned to lay still, helpless.

Pain continued to toy with him, but now not as badly. His systems seemed to calm slightly, leaving Galvatron's frail mind to wander, return to the present situation then reflect. He remembered being in this predicament before-two, three, four times, in fact and it all seemed so absurd how no matter how much pain one could learn to tolerate, pain always seemed to . . . hurt. He remembered his fight with Optimus Prime and the resulting pain that only allowed him to drift aimlessly through space. He remembered Unicron's torture and how evil that thing was, one of few creatures Galvatron recalled that was craftier and meaner than himself. He really was hoping to gain some kind of alliance with the Autobot Hot Rod, perhaps attain some moment of common understanding as he did once or twice with Prime. But that all fell with another mental attack from Unicron. Then Unicron died and with it, all Galvatron's connection to an endless source of power and because of the link between he and Unicron, the behemoth's death took Galvatron's sanity with him.

Arrogant over-sized . . . Galvatron could not think of an insult cleaver enough for Unicron. He was too big, too horrible.

But in the end, even Unicron was forced to succumb to the power of death.

Inwardly, Galvatron laughed. He loved Death. He worshiped it, enjoyed dishing it out. He loved to watch as the life of a creature's optics died, swallowed by the black embrace of Death. It fascinated him. He laughed and laughed and laughed time and time and time and time . . .

And time. . .

He stopped laughing.

It really wasn't that funny.

Nothing was ever that funny.

He was the joke.

It dawned on the Decepticon just how utterly alone he was. No friends. No one to come looking for him. They didn't know where he was. He didn't know where he was. Was he on that asteroid where Scorponok crashed? What happened to Cyclonus? Where were the others? Did they try to kill him then just take off?

Galvatron vainly tried to get his automatic repair systems on line to no avail. He was far too gone. His broken form had taken too much damage. No one was around to see what a pitiful sight he really was.

No one cared-why would they? They didn't like him, didn't trust him. Not that he'd really blame them. Galvatron didn't trust Galvatron. But when it all came right to the moment of truth, when Galvatron had to face the facts as they stood, he realized the Decepticons would not be looking for him. They would not bother seeking a former leader.

Baahhh! Screw them too! Cutthroats! Scoundrels! The Autobots were better allies than any of them!

Darkness settled over his optics and Galvatron could not tell if his sight, what little he had, was malfunctioning, or if the area's 'daytime' was coming to a close. Pain danced a bit harder on his backside and the Decepticon longed to moan. Inwardly he did. And to his disgust, he found it wasn't just the pain that distressed him so, but the helplessness of the entire situation. He was going to lie there until either he terminated, his systems came back on line and he could repair himself, or someone had enough pity (heh, stupidity) to help.

But why would anyone want to help him? Galvatron knew the instant he had the chance, he'd betray them, their trust and their friendship, just like any good Decepticon would. You don't dare trust anyone, stab them before they stab you, as the saying might go. No one was trustful enough to be his friend. But now thinking it over, that was his attitude all his life. 'Ha!' he would inwardly scoff, 'fools! I am (Mega)Galvatron! I am better than you! Nothing more than scruff marks under my boots!' And that, he realized, is why he was never close to anyone. Soundwave, possibly. But Soundwave was an exhaust-kisser. A real friend would have told him how wrong . .

Cyclonus.

And why? Why was Cyclonus so willing to go to such lengths? Was he a glutton for punishment, an idiot, or . . . did he see something in Galvatron that Galvatron didn't see . . . himself?

With all his power, with all his arrogance, with all his might and sense of superiority, Galvatron realized how alone he truly was. Rejected. Dumped here like a blot of molten slag, left to cool in a reject pile, only to be recycled again.

But this time there was no Unicron to come along and give him a new purpose.

No purpose. The Decepticons had all rejected him. They rejected his power, his potential. His goals of interstellar rule. And all for what? For Scorponok? He was a pansy! A yellow-chromed flesh-brain with an IQ of a maintenance robot! What did Scorponok have that he, Galvatron, Leader of the Decepticons didn't? What was Scorponok offering them that Galvatron did not?

Ah! Here comes death! Oh at long last, sweet death. A dark love came to take Galvatron from all his agony, from the darkness and the loneliness. Galvatron would now join the continuum of the universe. His consciousness would be lost forever to a deep black void. No one would ever remember him. No one cared.

And Prime would rejoice.

EARTH DATE: UNKNOWN

DESTINATION: UNKNOWN

I WAS GIVEN PERMISSION TO ALLOW YOU TO REST SO THAT YOU COULD PAY ATTENTION.

It was the first thing he heard and Galvatron heard it with perfect clarity. His optics came on line but all he found was a shapeless figure of light. It sat and stood and knelt in front of him. It walked around his mangled form and talked with a soft non-gender voice.

I AM HERE TO OFFER YOU ANOTHER CHANCE TO LIVE. I AM HERE TO OFFER YOU A CHANCE TO LIVE A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT LIFE. IT'S ENTIRELY UP TO YOU WHETHER OR NOT YOU WANT IT.

If Galvatron had human eyes, they would have rolled back in annoyance. Now he was hallucinating and/or going quite mad. It was the pain, right? No one could possibly-

GALVATRON, I AM SPEAKING TO YOU. PAY ATTENTION!

It shook him enough to realize that whatever being was there, was quite real and could read his mind. He quailed, remembering another being with the same ability. He was mean, meaner than . . . yes, Galvatron reminded himself, he had been around that circle of thought just a few minutes (hours, days?) ago. The creature/being paced before him.

I AM HERE TO OFFER YOU ANOTHER LIFE. A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT LIFE. I WILL NOT CHANGE YOUR PHYSICAL FORM. THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE ANY OF THE DEEDS YOU HAVE COMMITTED IN THE PAST. YOU WILL BE A DIFFERENT PERSON . . . EVENTUALLY. NOT THAT YOU ARE CAPABLE OF CHANGING YOURSELF. YOU DON'T POSSESS THAT KIND OF POWER. BUT I HAVE BEEN WATCHING YOU, YOUR KIND FOR QUITE SOME TIME AND I . . . FOUND SOMETHING OF VALUE IN YOU, A STRENGTH NOT PARTICULARLY KNOWN OF YOUR SPECIES. YOU UNDERSTAND DIRECTION AND POWER, A DETERMINATION TO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. AND SOMEWHERE, VERY, VERY DEEP, I FOUND THE SMALLEST OF SPARKS.

The entity paused here and Galvatron tried to fathom and follow where It was leading. What was all this excrement for anyway? What was It driving at, as the Autobots would say? The unnamed entity squared itself right in his face plates. I'M OFFERING YOU A NEW LEASE ON LIFE. BUT RATHER A LIFE OF GREED AND DESTRUCTION, POWER WROUGHT OF FEAR AND HATE, I'M OFFERING YOU A LIFE SURROUNDED BY FRIENDS, A LIFE WHERE TRUST IS GIVEN AND TAKEN. I'M OFFERING YOU A LIFE OF UNCERTAINTY AND PAIN, BUT ONE OF FULFILLMENT.

If he could have, Galvatron would have snarled in Its face. What was in it for him? What was in it for the Entity before him? What was the big deal? Wasn't there someone else better than he? And what was this slag about trust and friendship? He was Galvatron, he needed no friends!

The Entity laughed.

It laughed at him!

IT LAUGHED AT HIM!

YOU ARE EVEN MORE PATHETIC THAN MY COLLEAGUES HAVE WARNED ME! YOUR ARROGANCE IS CERTAINLY MORE THAN EXCESSIVE! IF YOU COULD SEE WHAT A MESS YOU ARE, YOU WOULD NOT BE SPEAKING OF SUCH THINGS, DECEPTICON! HALF YOUR BODY IS MISSING! BY ALL ACCOUNTS, YOU SHOULD NOT BE ALIVE! BUT THIS IS JUST A PART OF YOUR PUNISHMENT.

Galvatron wanted to growl. What punishment? Fool! What was the Entity implying?

GALVATRON, YOU HAVE BEEN SENTENCED TO LIVE A LIFE OF AGONY UNTIL THE END OF TIME. THAT'S ONLY THE BEGINNING. THERE ARE FAR WORSE THINGS IN STORE FOR YOU. AT THIS MOMENT, YOUR SANITY HAS BEEN RESTORED. BUT SOON IT WILL BE TAKEN FROM YOU AGAIN AND YOU WILL REMAIN HERE, ISOLATED. YOU WILL NEVER SEE ANOTHER LIVING CREATURE-EVER.

Galvatron did not believe It.

WELL, WHETHER YOU DO OR NOT IS INCONSEQUENTIAL. YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN A CHOICE. I WILL LEAVE YOU NOW TO THINK ABOUT MY OFFER. REMEMBER, ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS ACCEPT. THAT'S IT.

And that was it. The Entity left and once again the Decepticon fell into a chasm of darkness in his mind. Pain came back and he soundlessly wreathed and whined, longing for rest and release. His mutilated form twitched and jerked with reflex motility. And with each tremble came another jolt of pain just as though someone took a hot blade and seared his circuitry with it.

For a long time Galvatron's body repeated the pain process. every time the body reacted to stabbing pain, more pain would erupt, spreading from head to boot, if he had them.

And the worst of it was that he was unable to help himself.

And bit by bit Galvatron came to admit to himself that he was to blame for his predicament. He should have been more considerate of his people, rather than wallowing in self pity. He put himself here because had he not tried to play king of the mountain, he would still be with . . . Cyclonus.

The Decepticons abandoned him, but he put himself here.

He was responsible, just like Scorponok said. He was responsible.

EARTH DATE: UNKNOWN

DESTINATION: UNKNOWN

"ATTEND."

It was all that had to be said. He knew he had no choice other than obedience. But the Presence was not so crass and god-like as Unicron. Not so . . . dirty. He concentrated on light, soft at first, then dark until he realized where he was: Cybertron. He also recognized it as the so-called Golden Age before the Third Cybertronian War.

Some 'Golden Age!', he thought. Riots, invasions, rise of sentient guardian robots and the battle between the Decepticons and a species calling themselves the Rock Lords. To this day, the Autobots still have no record regarding that war. The Rock Lords claimed to have purchased a piece of Cybertron meganiums ago, but (and here Galvatron still laughs about it) they had no receipt!

Here he stood on the lip of a platform overlooking Level Nine. Stretched out before him lay Prifix, a great Decepticon city once annihilated by the Autobots and their then-leader Impactor.

"What's this?" He asked the Presence.

"YOU'VE ALWAYS WONDERED WHAT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN LIKE HAD THERE BEEN NO AUTOBOTS. I THOUGHT I WOULD OBLIGE YOU."

"Ahh. Before you cast me into oblivion. Is that it? You would taunt me with what my life would have been like had I not been the corrupt and obsessive machine I am now?"

"OBLIVION, MEGATRON?"

"Don't trifle with me. I'm no idiot."

"IF YOU THINK THAT LIFE ENDS WITH THE DEATH OF THE BODY, YOU ARE AN IDIOT. ONLY LOWER LIFE FORMS TRULY DIE. YOU ARE HERE TO WITNESS A POSSIBILITY."

Galvatron watched as the city's streets and flyways opened and the Decepticon army passed in review. Shock troops and seekers, scouts and infantry marched, rolled or flew with pride. Galvatron smiled. It was a beautiful sight. So much power, so much enthusiasm as the warriors marched by the citizens. Their colors shined bright in the city street lights.

"YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS?"

"Yes. Tempest's troops. They were the finest in all the world. Cybertron's very best. I managed to recruit some of my finest warriors from there. That was shortly before the battle-the war against Iacon."

"YOU MET STARSCREAM THERE, DIDN'T YOU?"

He did not answer. It was also the place where Optimus Prime suddenly and abruptly appeared. No warning, no preamble. He just suddenly appeared. Megatron would have flattened Iacon and made a greater place for himself in the Decepticon ranks had it not been for the sudden rise of a new and very powerful Autobot leader. Where the new Prime had come from was anyone's guess. But Megatron suspected that traitor Alpha Trion had something to do with it.

"HERE, THERE ARE NO AUTOBOTS, MEGATRON. HERE, THEY CEASED TO EXIST ALMOST TEN VORNS AGO."

Galvatron's power core skipped a vibration. "What-what happened to them all?" For some odd reason, he honestly felt concerned. Life without the Autobots was a strange concept. He hated them, that was all too evident. But . . . none?

"YOU'RE STANDING ON THEM."

The words chilled his soul. Galvatron glanced everywhere. All the buildings, all the parapets, the ledges and dells. The patios and walkways. The tunnels and the bridges. He was standing in a city made into a morgue.

No Autobots?

Humph. "We are a prosperous people. I knew they were wrong, anyway."

"FOR NOW." The presence did not reflect anything good or indifferent to Galvatron's quip. 'BUT TIME PROVES ALL THINGS RIGHT OR WRONG. NO AUTOBOTS, NO MATRIX OF LEADERSHIP."

"No Decepticon can use the Matrix!" Galvatron's anger swelled. "The Matrix means nothing to me, to us as a people! What does It think it is, choosing one side over another? Is Autobot programming that much better than we? They, who are weak and cowardly?"

"NOT EVERYONE'S PLACE IS IN BATTLE, GALVATRON. WHO FED THE TROOPS? WHO ADMINISTERED REPAIRS DURING THE WAR WITH THE QUINTESSONS? WHO INVENTED WEAPONS AND DEVISED STRATEGIES? WHO BUILT THE CITIES YOU DWELL IN, THE BUILDINGS YOU INHABIT? WHAT DECEPTICON ADMINISTERS KINDNESS TO THE SOUL? WHAT DECEPTICON OFFERS KINSHIP WITHOUT BEING CONSIDERED WEAK? WATCH, AS TIME PASSES. YOUR PEOPLE, THE TROOPS AND THE CITIZENS BEGIN TO FEED OFF ONE ANOTHER, CRAVING FOR A COMFORT THEY CANNOT GIVE EACH OTHER. COMPETITIVE, ARROGANT SOULLESS CREATURES WHOSE ONLY CONCERN IS DUTY AND OBLIGATION, WHOSE ONLY DRIVE IS TO HUNT AND FIGHT. WHERE IS THE BALANCE, GALVATRON?"

He watched as the scene turned dark. The Decepticons fell to a society locked in politics and greed. They preyed upon all races weaker and different from themselves. They battled fiercely with the Z'taxans and lost thousands of lives. But madness had eaten away at the top and insane leaders sent their troops on suicide missions. The leaders would end up either executed or assassinated by their own, replaced with other minds filled with the same greed, hostility and madness as was before and no end came.

Not until four great rulers took power and in fighting among themselves, they literally divided the entire planet in four pieces and went their separate ways. The Quintessons found each of them and subjugated the entire race a little at a time.

Galvatron scowled in disgust. "This is stupid! The Quintessons are fools and weaklings! They have no power!"

"YOU ARE NOT IN ANY POSITION TO JUDGE SOMEONE WHOSE AGE IS GREATER THAN YOUR OWN PLANET'S. YOUR PEOPLE KNOW SO LITTLE ABOUT THE QUINTESSONS, IT'S A WONDER THEY HAVE TOLERATED YOUR ATTITUDE AS LONG AS THEY HAVE. REMEMBER, FOR MEGANIUMS, THEY ENSLAVED YOUR KIND. THEY SOLD YOU TO OTHERS OF EQUAL POWER. THEY FORCED YOU TO BELIEVE YOU WERE MERELY MACHINES. WHAT POWER IS REQUIRED TO BRAINWASH AN ENTIRE SPECIES, MEGATRON?"

He could not answer. He knew the Presence knew he had no argument. The great Decepticon leader fell disturbingly silent. He watched as the possible history continued to flash before his optics, demonstrating how the Quintessons created new machines out of the wreckage of their Decepticon prey and enslaved them and sold them for merchandise and/or scrap. Cybertron was gone. The great Decepticon empire diminished like so much dust. Entire planets that toiled under Decepticon power fell to the Quintessons and like a domino effect, entire solar systems fell to the enslavement of the five-faced freaks. And there, those people, all races and nations, suffered ever worse fates than what the Decepticons put them through. Plaques and tests, genocide of whole species of peoples and mutations of nameless horrors were inflicted upon the Quintesson's victims.

He looked away, unable to withstand the burdensome sight. All that power, that might, gone. "We are a proud people." He said to the Presence. "We would not allow such . . ."

"ATROCITIES? ISN'T THAT WHAT WAS ONCE SAID ABOUT YOU?"

He glared at nothing.

"AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO PREVENT THIS?"

"Ha! How do I know this would even come to pass?"

"NOW IT'S MY TURN TO SAY 'DO NOT TRIFLE WITH ME.' GALVATRON, PERHAPS YOU NEED A LITTLE MORE TIME TO CONSIDER THIS. REMEMBER, THEN. AND CONSIDER.

TIME ESTIMATION: SEPTEMBER, 2038

DESTINATION: CENTRAL CITY, OREGON

The year crawled on along at a pace that made torture a sweet thought. The summer was an eternity of long warm days followed by nights of tested patience. School started up again and Rusti found she had no reason to look forward to a year without the presence of a friend. Optimus assured her she could make it if she would give herself time. Cody had filled her days with humor and mental challenges. Now with the event of his tragic death, a void burned her soul. Rusti supposed it would have been far worse if either Optimus or Rodimus had died instead. But the thought did not comfort her much.

She traveled in saddened silence down the hall toward Mr. Walter's math class. Although she knew a 'stunt' was going to be pulled today, the idea did little to lift her mood. It was the last idea Cody gave her before the Quintessons took him away.

With a final sigh, she entered the class, head held high. Her peers knew she had skipped all last semester, taking a private tutor to keep up her studies as she tried to emotionally mend. She couldn't be more thankful all the counseling and grieving was nearly behind her.

She took her seat, opened her books and produced her homework.

Mr. Walters strolled in on a pair of extra-long legs. A funny fluffy moustache tickled the top of his mouth and a shiny bald spot smiled from the top of his head. His thin-framed glasses slipped down his nose, allowing his dark eyes to scrutinize every student that sat in his class. He set three thick books on his desk, customarily checked the chalkboard behind him and set his hand on his boombox.

Rusti tried to keep a straight face, knowing what was inside the boombox.

"Good morning, mathematicians." he greeted. "I trust you are in good health, that you are mentally prepared to resume your exploration on the subject of Delta?"

As usual, he received no answer and he expected none. Walters ordered all homework to be passed forward and his assistant handed back the papers from the day before. He turned to the chalkboard and scribbled out a long-ass equation and the longer he made it, the more students groaned in despair. Beneath it, he assigned the homework chapters and their problems. Then he turned around, bouncing the piece of chalk clutched between his thumb and forefinger, "Tomorrow I will begin giving you six story problems. These may take the quarter to answer. The student who answers before the end of the quarter will receive a special prize. Remember, this is just one step below quantum physics. I am seeking that student who would be worthy of my special attention. Now, turn to chapter two, page fourteen and do exercises one through four and we'll discuss it."

His finger inched for the tape player and Rusti's heart raced with anticipation.

He pressed it and the silence killed her.

The room exploded with the violent sounds of Metallica. A guitar screeched and base drums shattered all attention. Walters was so upset, he had a hard time finding the stop button. He managed to shut off the nerve-shattering music and fumed while the room rocked with laughter and students applauded the anonymous prankster.

Rusti only smiled. The joke would not have been pulled off if Steel Jaw had not volunteered to help.

Yup. It was going to be a better day.

Math class came to a close and Rusti exchanged books from her locker. History was next. A test was due today, now that she remembered. She shuffled assignments in each their perspective folders and quickly refreshed her make up. She dreaded school anymore. She missed Cody's help and companionship. He was smart, really smart. It made her wonder how her life was going to turn from here. The girl faltered, pausing in mid motion. What was she to do with her life and time now? She had no real friends outside Fortress Maximus. Most of the girls her age were frilly things with compressed air for brains. Too many of them that she did know on a name basis were preoccupied with dates and clothes and what guy was next on their 'hit' list. Sasha Comprells, for example, bragged to her about sleeping with five guys in one week.

That was three weeks ago, before Sasha discovered she was pregnant.

Dumb broad.

The five-minute bell sounded and Rusti slammed her locker shut and calmly made her way to class. A sea of faces passed her by in a blurred haste, leaving her feeling more like a number in a cash register rather than an individual.

Rusti frowned and suddenly felt very lonely. Every now and again some yo-joe would come her way and try to talk to her, looking more into 'getting her' than actually getting to know her. After turning several of them down last spring, most boys just ignored her. Now it seemed most students ignored her altogether and Rusti began to wonder if in fact it wasn't because of her affiliation with the Autobots.

She entered her history class and took her seat, carefully stowing her belongings beneath her chair. Her necklace slipped out from under her shirt and gently struck her nose. She smiled, feeling silly. Miss Tau began to pass test papers and ordered two giggling girls to be quiet, or be dismissed from class. Rusti straightened just as the teacher's assistant set her test face down on the table. Onda eyed Rusti's necklace, recognizing the Autobot symbol.

Rusti pretended not to notice Onda's stare and pulled a pencil out of a pocket in her back pack.

Miss Tau tapped the erase-a-board with an ink pen. "Twenty minutes." She clipped. "Hand the papers in face down and leave when you are done. Go."

Rusti flipped the test over and scanned the first page with a scowl. The Napoleon Era. The girl wondered why Tau was so obsessed with the French Revolution. Tau wasn't an easy teacher. Rusti had to memorize some of the victims of the Revolution, the artist that was famous during that time and all the events leading up to Napoleon's execution of rioters. Rusti found learning easier than other students somehow. She had a knack for picking up information and recalling it at a much later time.

Ten minutes later, Rusti turned her paper in and Tau gave her a dismissal slip to leave class early.

Rusti felt several envious eyes follow her out the door. She was sorry so many other students had to study harder. But she couldn't help what she was.

Her folks, and Aunt Delphra, kept trying to explain that her association with the alien robots made her seem too weird in the eyes of her peers. She should be going out with boys and making friends with other girls her own age, not strapping on a specialized exo-suit and playing football with the Dinobots. She should be haunting malls and spending money on movies or collecting teen magazines rather than spending entire afternoons in Optimus Prime's office just contentedly drawing.

She really couldn't help it. Not really (or was she making an excuse?) She liked to be near him. She felt better being around him and Roddi as they did their paperwork. Seldom did either Autobot leader speak to her while they worked, it just seemed a 'given' that she did her 'thing', they did theirs. But it was being there that seemed to matter. Rusti laughed to herself; if only more people knew what Optimus was like in private! They would be amused to discover that he talks to himself, to his computer, to the digipads, sometimes to the weather! It wasn't that he was intentionally ignoring her, he would just forget. Medical reports, field reports, mission logs, structural integrity reports, personnel files, notes and requests and everything and anything else that made a society run smoothly sat on his desk day after endless day waiting to be read, remembered, reported and filed. Every now and again Optimus would sigh aloud and wonder how he ever managed to do it all without Rodimus.

Third period bell rang. Rusti was already at her locker preparing for art class. She took up painting this semester to allow herself some 'goof-off' time during school. But lately she had found the more she did artwork, the more she enjoyed it and although Rusti had drawn all her life, seldom had she taken her artistic side seriously. But now she had found an outlet for all the darkness that had invaded her soul. The paintings she'd been working on reflected the very things she saw while trapped in the Matrix. Of course, no one knew what they were and she'd just explain she was goofing around, so as not to frighten them. But what she painted was real and scary and with the scenery being so dark and disturbing, she felt adding the monster virus would be far too overwhelming.

Rusti carried her supplies down two halls and again marched and meandered in another ocean of people. She was about to go through the double doorway when something hard hit the back of her head. She didn't cry out, but glanced around and locked eyes with Garth Strommers, Jerk Number One and pro-human activist. Somehow he knew she was affiliated with the Autobots and lately he rarely missed an opportunity to harass her. She glared dangerously at him, again saying nothing and moving on.

Once she stepped into the class room, Rusti made eye contact with three girls who considered themselves God's gift to the art community. One, Lorraine Namblam, glowered at her. But again Rusti just ignored her and went about her business laying out her materials and easel. She set up the canvass, now mostly finished except for the webbing which she recalled had things dangling in its throws. She plucked up a brush and studied the painting, trying to decide what kind of light to use on the topmost part.

The light. It was cold, dim. Cold. She smiled and remembered as a child she once fell sound asleep in Optimus' office, waking much later to find him scrutinizing her with his large blue optics. No words had passed between them, but she could tell he felt suspicious about her nature.

"Why?" He asked, not needing to say anything more.

She rubbed her eyes sleepily and tried to think of a way to explain her attraction. At the time, however, being only six years old, she didn't have the means to answer him. Now she knew. An unknown energy attracted her, like sugar for ants. She couldn't stay away and felt very depressed when not around it, which would explain why as an infant her mother would have to leave her there in Autobot city just to get some peace from all of Rusti's crying.

The girl took a step back from her painting, carefully critiquing her own work. She shuddered to think that an outside force might have tampered with her DNA. She thrived on the energies produced by the Matrix. She communicated with it, dumb and unrealistic as it sounded. And why her? Cody might have figured out the why of it. He kept trying to tell her she had a special relationship with the Matrix . . . but here Rusti still shook her head at the whole affair. Of all people, why would it happen to her? What did she have that someone more qualified did not?

She frowned at herself, knowing that denial would not erase the reality of her position and situation. She loved Optimus and Roddi and was grateful that she was one of the few people capable of comforting them. The Autobots as a whole were idiots. They had absolutely no clue what Optimus and Roddi went through for them day after day. Rusti was certain there were some things even she wasn't aware of. Often she would pick up quiet gossip, someone complaining how they didn't understand Optimus'/Rodimus' mood, or why their leader snapped at them all of a sudden or why Optimus/Rodimus won't just enjoy themselves very often.

Sometimes, just sometimes Rusti would be working on a drawing and she could feel Optimus stare at her and she could sense the stress levels in the room take a dive. It was bizarre, really. When he and Rodimus would allow no one else in their office, she would be there sitting in some remote corner. Not that she was allowed to stay during personal meetings. She always took care not to overstep her boundaries or to use her relationship with them to her own advantage. She felt it an unspoken understanding that she could stay as long as she behaved herself, causing no trouble.

All in all, Optimus and Roddi seemed to be doing well. Well, on the surface, anyway. The two leaders were certainly less moody than before, Roddi was less prone to bouts of temper, Optimus to bouts of severe depression. They still acted odd. Roddi seemed a little more impulsive, sometimes taking light situations and making a big deal out of them. It annoyed Kup to no end, insisting the problem at hand was no problem, but Rodimus took everything with serious care. Optimus kept in constant close contact with Earth, checking in as often as every other day if he suspected something was wrong.

Not that he was ever wrong about something being wrong. It never ceased to amaze Rusti how sensitive Optimus was at times-even when she would have a nightmare the night before, he'd call and specifically ask to talk to her. This peeved Kup, and the crotchety old fart would complain that Optimus would spend precious resources and power to call and comfort 'a child'. But never did Optimus pay attention to him.

Rusti smiled to herself thoughtfully. Even that far away, Optimus still considered her a part of his life.

Rusti glanced at the clock and cringed. There never seemed to be enough time to paint! She washed her brushes and began putting things away. Somewhere in the background she could hear Lorraine whisper to friends and giggle. One girl said something else and from the corner of her eye, Rusti could see them glancing in her direction.

The first bell rang and her classmates began clean-up. Rusti was already out the door and aimed for her locker. The day was going by far too slowly, one wearisome class followed another like a dull throbbing headache.

She opened her locker and wondered when her pain was going to go away. She wondered when she would ever feel confident enough about herself, or safe enough to be friends with someone else. Of course, she remembered, Cody's death was not her fault. In fact, the Quintessons kidnapped her incidentally-she was an eye witness and they didn't want to leave any loose ends.

Rusti hauled out her English book and portfolio and paused, wondering why she had been thinking so much on the Quintessons of late. They really hadn't been on her mind much for the last couple of months, but the past few days have made up for it.

She shrugged, closed the door to her locker and turned away. A brilliant light flashed before her and she blinked.

AS INDICATED, WE HAVE FAILED TO INFILTRATE THE NEW BARRIER.

IT WOULD SEEM, TOK DRAV'DARON, THAT FOR EVERY ATTEMPT WE HAVE MADE TO MANIPULATE THE TIME LINES AND EVENTS CONCERNING CYBERTRON AND ITS CREATURES, THE MATRIX HAS SUCCESSFULLY THWARTED US.

NONSENSE. HOW COULD IT? IS THE MATRIX ALIVE?

IT IS KNOWN TO CHOOSE ITS BEARERS. THAT EXPRESSES VOLITION AND SELF CONSCIOUSNESS. IT CHOOSES AUTOBOT LEADERS WITHIN SPECIFIED PARAMETERS. THAT INDICATES MENTALITY. A NINETY-NINE POINT TWENTY-FOUR PERCENT POSSIBILITY REMAINS THAT THE MATRIX ACTIVELY PROTECTS THE AUTOBOTS. THE DESTRUCTION OF UNICRON, THE SURVIVAL OF OPTIMUS PRIME AFTER CRASHING FOUR MILLION YEARS AGO, THE OBLITERATION OF THE HATE PLAQUE ARE AMONG THE MIRIAD EXAMPLES.

THE HUMAN FEMALE-

And it was gone. Rusty sank to her knees, and rubbed her face. What was that? Who were the voices? What was she listening to? The girl remembered abruptly that she was still in school and glanced all around her. No one was in the hall, thank goodness. But the vision left her a bit paranoid and she thought for sure someone was watching her. The girl gathered her books securely about her and kept glancing around. Not one soul met her eyes. She sighed and cleared her mind, closing her eyes. She stretched around herself, mentally searching the immediate area. Whatever was there, vanished, but sloppily left a trail. The trail ended, as though a door had suddenly slammed shut.

Rusti squeezed her books more tightly and hoped she was only day dreaming.

Concentration had left her in English. Rusti could not keep up with what the teacher was saying about "The Count of Monty Cristo." Not that it really mattered. All she needed to do was finish reading the last three chapters . . . but her mind wandered again and Rusti feebly shook her head. Whatever had happened, left her mentally disoriented. She weakly pulled her hair behind one ear and let her arms drop on the desk. Someone's finger stabbed her hard on the shoulder and Rusti met Mr. Ehlers' angry gaze.

"Miss Witwicky, if you require sleep, I suggest you find a place outside my classroom."

. . . outside my classssssroooom. She batted her eyes again, fighting exhaustion. IT WOULD SEEM, TOK DRAV'DARON, THAT FOR EVERY ATTEMPT WE HAVE MADE TO MANIPULATE THE TIME LINES AND EVENTS CONCERNING CYBERTRON AND ITS CREATURES, THE MATRIX HAS SUCCESSFULLY THWARTED US.

WE HAVE MANIPULATED THE TIME LINES . . .

MANIPULATED THE TIME LINES . . .

The bell rang and shook Rusti out of her daze. Class was over already?

Her jaw dropped. She wasn't sitting in English, but in Home Ec! She stood, a bit shaken by this sudden shift. Roddi? she thought. Something's wrong. Roddi?

But he only gave her an acknowledgment, indicating he was very busy. Her heart pounded. She had to get back home immediately! She gathered her things as swiftly as she could and left the room. She made her way across two halls, just one hallway short of the parking lot.

From the opposite end of the hall tromped Garth Strommers. A whole pack of his groupies stared at her, arms crossed. She only had to read their faces to figure out what they were there for. She turned around and aimed for the other exit leaving that part of the school and entered the language and arts section.

But no sooner had she entered that hallway when she found Garth had anticipated her move and met her at the mouth of the hall. The other exit stood at the drama department. Her heart began to race. She did not want to confront these jerks! She turned back and found another girl standing behind her, purposely blocking her path. Rusti did not look Lorraine in the eye.

"Well, seems we have a robo-freak in our school, people." Garth sneered. "Perhaps we should find out if she has any microchips in her brain or not."

Laughter met his crass comment.

Rusti lifted her chin and squared her shoulders. Steel Jaw had left during fourth period so as not to be missed. That was alright. She could handle Garth as long as he did not try to get ugly.

"So, little girl, think you're too good t' be with real people?" he challenged.

She wanted to say something, but decided to keep her mouth shut. Perhaps silence would discourage him. Garth chomped his gum. His followers all stood around like a pack of wolves hungry for a kill.

"Perhaps you're just confused about your place in the galaxy."

She suffered torment at the hands of the Quintessons and survived. She lost a dear friend and survived. Her family fought against her right to choose and she still survived. This boy was a punk. "Garth, don't pick a fight with me. It wouldn't be fair."

He raised a brow and stopped snapping his gum. "You threatening me, little girl?" he warned. "You think you're a robot, 'r something?"

"No." she replied calmly, though her skin itched with anxiety. "I just don't want any trouble."

Lorraine beside her shifted her weight and folded her arms in front. "Shoulda thought of that before you became a traitor."

Rusti glared at her in surprise. What did she know? Rusti Touched something more magnificent and beautiful than anything any three of these people had seen or experienced in their lives. She had also experienced terror more deeply than they. She shook her head. "I just don't want any trouble, that's all."

The books were slapped out of her hand and before she could react, Rusti found herself slammed into the lockers, Garth's knee planted firmly against her crotch. One hand clamped tightly over her mouth, the other choking her.

"It comes down to this, little girl: You're a traitor to your own species. I've seen you with them, those tin cans. I've seen how you talk to them, as though they were some group of gods, better than we. But here's the thing: WE are better by far. We don't have to scrounge for food or parts. We are far more adaptive. And you are threatening to destabilize our existence by meddling in the affairs of these creatures. So you're going to have to be taught a lesson."

He started by deeply kissing her, pressing his mouth against hers and one hand firmly over her breast. At first the shock left her unnerved. Disgusted, she thought she was going to suffocate or choke to death. Her first instinct was to falter and hope he'd let her go on default. The second thought was that he might try to rape her.

That woke something inside . . . she bit his tongue as hard and deep as she dared, tasting his salty blood.

He screamed and released her. Blood poured from his mouth. Two of his buddies moved to protect him and deliver retribution.

The fellow on the right aimed to give her a right-cross and Rusti ducked, delivering a turbulent blow to his stomach, pressing upward. The wind was knocked from him and he fell.

Shaking, she stared silently at the two wounded opponents.

The other boy kicked her feet out from under her and Rusti fell hard. He was taller than she, better built than Garth or the First Flunkey. He grabbed her by the collar, swept her up and slammed her hard into the lockers again. The impact stunned her momentarily. He groped her, shoved his knee up her crotch. Then he grabbed her by the hair, yanked her around and slammed her against the floor.

The force knocked the wind from her and dazed her momentarily. The cold floor bit her face hard and the girl tried to reorient herself. He yanked her back up and she jabbed him hard with her elbow, permitting enough space between she and her attacker so that she planted herself firmly on the ground and flipped her opponent over her shoulder.

He landed with a groan.

Lorraine hissed in a shiver, but not from the body slam. Something sharp sunk into Rusti's left shoulder, the shock forced her to her knees. She tried to reach over and pull an ink pen out of her shoulder but Garth gripped her face hard between his fingers, his eyes burned with rage, his mouth still dripping with blood. "Is this what you didn't want, little girl? Is it? You got it anyway, you know that, don't ya?"

Pain restricted her breathing and concentration left her. Voices came into her ears and all she could think of was what her parents would say about the situation. No! She had survived through too much to allow this insignificant bastard to threaten her like this! Jerk!

She slapped his hand aside and shoved him away, knocking him off balance. Before he tried to recover, she rammed him again, just the way she would playing football with Grimlock. She slammed him hard into the wall.

He made a clumsy attempt at a left cross just before campus security arrived. One idiot grabbed her from behind and pinned her arms. She cried out, her shoulder unable to take the rough treatment. The security officer shoved her onto the floor and another did the same to Garth.

"She's crazy!" Garth whined. "She attacked me, calling me a Pro-Human Activist! You've gotta put her away, man! She's nuts!"

Rusti remained silent. Dazed and in pain, she felt it better just to let someone else do the talking. The two were cuffed and dragged away to the principal's office.

Yup. It was going to be a great year.

The nurse attended Rusti's wound with the grace of an ox. At first she tried to be gentle but after several minutes of silence from the student, the nurse seemed to need to hear something. She admonished Rusti for getting involved in a fight. Rusti ignored her, knowing she would hear the same rebuke from her folks, from Roddi and probably Optimus.

The nurse poured disinfectant in Rusti's wound and was amazed that Rusti did not so much as flinch. "Goodness, girl. You've got nerves of steel." was the comment. But Rusti merely frowned. After what she had gone through in the last ten months, a little disinfectant amounted to little more than a bee sting. She silently waited, staring off into space while the nurse cleaned her face, checked her bruises again and filed a report before sending her to the principal's office.

Rusti walked like a zombie and felt like one. All she really wanted to do was find a nice little corner somewhere, anywhere and curl up for a nice long nap. She wasn't sure how this little meeting was going to turn out. She wasn't in the mood to argue with anyone. What was their problem, anyway?

Voices muttered behind the glass door of Mrs. Pollins' office. Rusti's mother, Netty, her father Daniel and 'dear' Aunt Delphra all waited for her.

Rusti stole a moment to compose herself, not emotionally prepared to face them. They would blame her for this fight, she just knew it. With a deep breath, Rusti entered while her parents and Mrs. Pollins chattered on.

Rusti nervously bit her lower lip and met eyes with her father. Daniel Witwicky stood tall and stern in his body armor. The awkward moment forced the girl to smile sheepishly. "Hi, Dad." she greeted.

Daniel Witwicky looked hard at his daughter and wiggled his finger for Rusti to approach. Then Netty, a tall brunette with deep set eyes and a firm jaw, took over. "We were all called off work because the school said you were found fighting with someone." Netty's not-so melodious voice echoed in Rusti's head like nails on a chalk board.

"I didn't start the fight." Rusti meekly replied. The fight had left her even more drained than the vision. She fought off the exhaustion, repeatedly trying to control herself. She knew she should contact Rodimus, but he was still in a meeting. She closed her eyes for a moment, oh, one precious moment and snapped out of it when she thought she was going to lose her balance.

Daniel shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Then who did? The boy you fought with said that you started it because of a comment he made."

"He's lying."

"He says you're lying." Netty swiftly rebutted.

"He's lying again. Rusti's gaze shifted from one adult to the next. "Why would I start a fight? I mean, there were more than one person there--"

"The boy said there was just he and his two friends." Netty argued.

Rusti rolled her eyes. "No. There were six. It was Garth, his two flunkies, two other guys and Lorraine." Disbelief reflected in their eyes and she wanted to swear. "It is unwise for one person to start a fight when he is outnumbered five-to-one. I mean, come on!"

Mrs. Pollins shifted papers on her desk and scribbled a note. "The one boy you bit will have to have six stitches on his tongue."

"Good!" Rusti snarled. "It'll be the last time he tries to molest me!"

"Resonna!" Netty's voice rang with shock.

"Look at me!" Rusti's voice level matched her mother's. "They shoved me into the lockers twice, one guy body-slammed me on the floor and another stabbed me with an ink pen and she's worried about stitches on Garth's tongue?"

Delphra, who had been amazingly quiet until now, took to her feet. To Rusti, her movements were stealthily spider-like. "You probably upset them somehow, Dear. Did you say something to them?"

"No." Rusti's eyes bored holes into Delphra's face.

Delphra smiled, reminding Rusti of a Quintesson. "Well, I'm sure they had their reasons. I mean, they must have known you're . . . pro-robotic."

Rusti struggled to maintain a sense of control. "I am pro-sentient life, Delphra. Unlike some people, I'm not so pin-headed as to think that Humans are the only sentient species in the universe."

Netty stomped her heel on the hard floor in protest, "Resonna! You should not talk to your aunt like that!"

Mrs. Pollins intervened, "I think we're getting off the subject here. The problem is, a fight occurred on school grounds and it is the policy of this district that fighting is punishable by expulsion--"

"I didn't start the fight!" Rusti stared at the bitch in as pleading a look as she could muster. "I was attacked. What would you have me do? I mean, Garth could have raped me--"

"Then if you were innocent, you should not have tried to defend yourself." Pollins replied deadpan.

Rusti stared at her in shock. She turned from her to her mother who shrugged.

"It's school policy, Resonna." Netty echoed.

She turned her back to them all. Why were her parents backing up Mrs. Pollins? Didn't they even think of her at all?

Pollins sighed. "Well, I'll have the papers drawn up--"

"No!" Rusti exploded. "You can't do anything until you talk to my legal guardian!" Thunder exploded in her ears and then next minute, Rusti's left cheek caught on fire.

No. She had just been slapped by Delphra. Pollins jumped to her feet in protest.

"Now see here!" the principal shouted. "There is no call for-"

She was cut off by a gesture from Delphra. Delphra forced Rusti to stare into her eyes. "You are surrounded by people who care about you, young lady. You must learn to respond to your own species. Otherwise, what those boys did to you was exactly what you deserved."

Rusti's heart was caught in her throat. She gazed from her mother to her father but neither of them could look her in the eye. She had done it. Delphra had convinced them that she was right. Delphra had them under her influence. There was no way Rusti could ever convince them how wrong she was.

The girl's body would not stop trembling but she refused to cry in front of Delphra. She would never give this bitch that kind of pleasure. Instead, Rusti's right hand clenched into a tight fist and she struck Delphra. Delphra practically flew across the room, landing among the chairs. Rusti didn't bother to gape at her own strength. But the other adults did, all three jumped to their feet, staring at an embarrassed and unruffled Delphra Leeman, then at Rusti herself. But Rusti was too busy softly rubbing an injured shoulder.

Netty shook her head in horror and opened her mouth to say something. But Rusti did not stay to listen to their pettiness. She stormed out of the office and off the school grounds.

Rodimus set the digipad down for a moment and tried to reorient his head. For the last week sensations of urgency disrupted his concentration. Something was terribly wrong, yet he could not quite grasp whatever was bothering him. It had something to do with the city, that much he knew. He had maintenance check and double check and check again but they continually came up with nothing.

He contacted Prime on Mars three times yesterday just to see if anything was nagging him. But Optimus seemed more or less dismissive, working intently on getting Mars' defense system up. Rodimus leaned back in his chair for a moment, staring out the window into the east. Green forest hills met his gaze, tall pine trees swayed in the autumn breeze. Subconsciously he scowled, staring off into nothing, wondering in passing why things had been so quiet of late.

He flinched suddenly. Something bit his left shoulder. He rubbed it, without giving it a second thought. Anger tugged him. No. Not from him. He wasn't angry at anything.

What was wrong?

Rodimus took to his feet and felt confused. He sensed anger and impending danger at the same time. The city. Fort Max was in danger.

The comline bleeped and Rodimus staggered back and pressed the receiving button. "Prime." he replied in monotone.

"Yo, Boss!" Blaster's ever cheerful voice sang over the line, "Gotta call from Cascade High."

It was enough to pull Roddi from his daydream. "Patch me in, Blaster."

"Hello?" It was Mrs. Pollins' annoying loud voice.

"This is Rodimus Prime, Mrs. Pollins." he answered. "What's wrong?"

"Well, I thought you might want to come up here and sign some expulsion papers for Resonna Witwicky."

"Rusti?" he inadvertently corrected. "What happened?"

"She got into a fight." Pollins swiftly brushed. "We could get this done and over with quickly, if you'd just come up here-"

"Is Rusti there? I'd like to speak to her."

"I-I'm afraid not, Mr. Rodimus Prime. Rusti walked off the school grounds an hour ago . . ."

Her voice melted into a alien frequency. Two frequencies. Four. Communicating all at once and to one another. Rodimus unintentionally hung up on Mrs. Pollins in order to hear the sound more clearly.

Voices. He was sure of it. He knelt on the floor. He lay on the floor. He laid his audio receptor to the floor.

Not good enough.

Roddi jumped and dashed outside as quickly as he could. He didn't bother with the elevator. He leapt down three flights of stairs, rebounded and made a run for the outer court. There, by the fountain, he dropped and pressed his audio sensor to the ground, trying desperately to block out all the noise around him. He listened for a scratching, a voice, a call, anything to indicate there were real sounds beneath the ground.

But as if the noise-makers knew he was on to them, the noise stopped. He heard nothing now. It was all so strange. Rodimus sat up and stared at the metal flooring in annoyance. For the moment, he remained completely heedless of all the stares from other Autobots and humans.

What was it? It nagged him like a dream he could almost remember.

It was as if . . .

No, he really couldn't guess.

Perhaps Rusti felt--Rusti!

Rodimus jumped to his feet again and activated his internal comlink. "Magnus, I'm heading out. Something's up with Rusti."

"Will you be long? We have that meeting with Ambassador Abdani from Theates."

"Yeah." Rodimus droned. "I'll be back soon." For once, just once, Rodimus wished Ultra Magnus would take the initiative to do things on his own.

Roddi found Rusti five miles outside the city limits. He stopped by the roadside. She did not laugh as he drove while she walked. Her gait was slow and all her books and back pack were swung over her right shoulder.

"Hey!" he called. "I'm looking for hitchhikers. Know any?"

"Not in this reality." Rusti growled.

"Rusti, get in, will ya'? I look like an idiot out here."

"That's alright. I feel like one. We make a great pair." Not one ounce of humor touched her voice. She was pissed.

"What's wrong?" he asked as she continued to walk. His scanners told him she had cuts and bruises on her face and a deep wound in her shoulder.

"Nothing!" she sang sarcastically. "Look, everything's great! The school staff are happy, the students are happy. The truant officer is happy, the principal is happy. The birds are happy, and the trees are happy. Everybody is happy so how could there be anything wrong?"

He rolled ahead a few feet then turned sharply and opened the passenger side door. "Rusti, get in."

It was not a request. Rusti knew better than to argue or pull any stunts with Rodimus. She sighed angrily, tossed her books in and sat with her arms folded. The door closed beside her and Rodimus drove on. He remained silent for a couple of beats, knowing she needed to cool down before saying anything rational.

He paused at a stop sign and took a right, heading toward the national park where Fort Max was located. "Rus," he called softly. "What's wrong?"

"I got into a fight and they want to expel me." she replied swiftly.

"Did you . . . get into a fight with one of the girls?"

"No." she snorted. "I didn't even start it, Roddi." her voice softened, indicating she was cooling down. "I tried to avoid it. I even gave him a warning, but he slammed me into the lockers and . . ." she couldn't finish it. At least Roddi was willing to listen to her. She bowed her head. "Delphra was there." she grumbled.

"Delphra watched the fight?" he asked innocently.

"No." she sighed impatiently and stared out the window into the forest of pines and redwoods. Even without the sound of her voice, Rodimus could tell the girl was in pain and very tired. "She was in the office with Mom and Dad."

"I see. And she started something."

"Yeah. Now they're going to expel me for something I didn't do."

"No they're not." Rodimus took a left toward the artificial lake. "I'll straighten things out, even if I have to call Mrs. Pollins up at two tomorrow morning."

She smiled mischievously. "Roddi, you wouldn't."

"Might." he corrected.

She didn't answer him, sinking further and further into a dazed state. Her shoulder hurt, her face hurt. Her heart hurt.

Rodimus parked under a tree, overlooking the large lake providing hydroelectric power to the city. Rusti realized that he really should be working on reports and meetings and other administrative business. Slowly, she pulled her fragmented mind together. "What're we here for, Roddi?"

"A reality check, lady-friend."

She got out and he transformed and scanned the lake. Everything here seemed perfectly normal. No vibrations or noises. He gazed back at the city past the football stadium.

He set his hands on his hip plates and groaned. Nothing. Notta. Zip.

"Probably nothing." he grumbled to himself.

"What?" Rusti asked, watching him pace like an impatient lion on the hunt.

"Ahh, nothing. Nothing at all."

"You mean you hear the underground noises, too?"

He stared a her, startled. Then the comline bleeped. Ultra Magnus had lost his patience.