TRANSFORMERS: CYBERTRON SAGA

CHALLENGE OF THE GOBOTS #5: GOBOTS IN SURPRISE.

byline: Anubis C. Soundwave

Scene: 1

At the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Turbo glares up at Puzzler, watching as the multicolored car gestalt...laughs at him.

"Kids, huh...?" seethes Turbo. "Then it's high time somebody gave them a spanking!"

His Power Suit, GB-02, failed to comply with Turbo's request, citing a safety lock.

"Forget it, Turbo." Leader One glares at Puzzler. "Only GB-04 is operational. We have to retreat."

"Ah, come on!" Turbo spits.

"Regrettably, the Renegades have won this round. Guardians, return to base!" Leader One flies off to Guardian Headquarters, with other Guardians following.

Turbo disengages GB-02, sending the damaged suit to dock onto Courageous' main wing (flying on autopilot).

"You will go down--I guarantee it!" Glaring at Puzzler one last time, Turbo flies away.

Scene: 2

Leader One sits at a computer console in his office, scowling dully at the latest failed simulation.

"Careful," quips General Newcastle. "A fly might short you out."

"Our physiology's a bit more robust than that," counters Leader One.

"Granted. Is your ego as resilient?"

"General, my ego is fine."

"Then ask the Autobots for help. They know this endogestalt business forwards and backwards."

Leader One scoffs at Newcastle's comment. "It only took, what, five thousand or so tries--and over twenty thousand dead--for Cybertron to get it right?"

"None of which changes the fact that they know how endogestalts work."

"We've already tried to obtain that information from Bonecrusher; all it did was get Turbo hurt."

"Maybe it was the fact that the Guardians kidnapped Bonecrusher. My understanding is that endogestalt components get...clingy."

"One of the reasons why Rest-Q is leery of the plan. However, with the Puzzler's victory over us last month, we can't afford to eschew risk any longer."

"At least call in the Aerialbots. You don't even have to deal with Optimus Prime if that's your concern." Newcastle pinches the bridge of his nose.

"While I like the Aerialbots as individuals," counters Leader One, "subversives are subversives. I can't fight one set of subversives and collaborate with another set."

"That second set is the only thing standing between our planets and Megatron."

"Are you about to give me another United States history lecture?"

"Let's just say Americans can relate to the Autobots, the Decepticons and the Renegades. The Guardians and regular Gobot society don't always make sense."

"I understand the Autobots and the Renegades," says Leader One, "but the Decepticons?"

"Human history can relate to the Decepticons."

"The United States?"

"Manifest. Destiny. Thankfully, we stopped at the water's edge. We just wanted our slice of North America."

"That doesn't make our chances look good, if your analogy's sound."

"I know." Newcastle frowns. "We won."

"This Gobot will fight more, forever--without Autobot assistance." Leader One takes out several datapads, putting them on his desk. "Between these doc files and our exogestalt technology, the Guardians will have the ultimate counter to Puzzler and any of Megatron's monstrosities--if we ever have to face the Decepticons."

"I pray to God that you're right, Leader One." Newcastle leaves Leader One's office.

Scene: 3

Leader One, Turbo, Scooter, Small Foot and Van Guard file into UNECOM's main launch bay, where Courageous' components seem to stand watch around the main wing.

"I'm going to ask this again, sir: why us?" scowls Turbo.

"We're already familiar with Courageous," answers Leader One.

"As machine components," Turbo counters.

"What you're talking about," adds Scooter, "involves us being familiar with each other."

"We already know each other," notes Small Foot.

Turbo grimaces. "We know a few things about each other--no different than any other Guardian." The red car mech grits his dental chips. "Puzzler works because the six components are brothers--there's nothing they don't know about each other. We can't wedge them apart."

"Yeah, we tried," says Van Guard.

"To the point of making Hans' wife a kidnapper." Scooter scowls at the older Guardians. "Like Jigsaw isn't confused enough about right and wrong."

"My point," continues Turbo, "is that the level of intimacy between the five of us would be more than what's between our own families. Three of us don't have that issue; two of us do."

"Acknowledged. This conversation's good, actually." Leader One studies his four subordinates. "Scooter, you're an orphan, correct?"

"Yeah; that's not news. Youngest Guardian ever, genius engineer from District Sixteen, rough neighborhood." Scooter rolls his optics.

Van Guard looks at his fellow Guardians, wincing uncomfortably. "I'm...not like you guys."

"We know you're a special case, Van." Leader One grins. "I'm an orphan too, Scooter. My parents were wealthy and loving. Unfortunately, they were criminals...and were dealt with as such."

"When were they executed?" asks Small Foot.

"Summary termination, when I was...very young." Leader One loses his smile. "They never had the chance to name me."

"You don't have a name?" Small Foot and Scooter's optics widen.

"My name...is Leader One."

"You got that name back at the Academy," notes Turbo. As Leader One's lieutenant senior, he had heard many stories of his commander's Guardian Academy days.

"Yeah. It's the only thing I was ever called." Leader One turns to his younger subordinates. "Whereas you four are Naotoki, Keiko, Banryu and..." Leader One pauses, grinning at Turbo. "Taichirou."

Small Foot giggles at Turbo's native name. "...how old-fashioned. You're named after your mother."

"...I don't like either of my parents very much," Turbo scowls.

"You don't see much of them anymore, now, huh?" grins Scooter.

"Nope. They're dead."

"...yeah." Scooter opts to cheer Turbo up. "It's hard for dead ningen to check on their little Taichirou."

"Don't worry about that!" Turbo smiles broadly. "They had a way of leaving their mark on the world."

Leader One notes his first lieutenant's tensed fists; Turbo's parents were a sore issue for both Turbo and Leader One.

"And so we turn to you, Small Foot," smiles the Governor-general.

"Me?" balks Small Foot. "I'm...smart, I guess. Otherwise, I'm a Gobot from a normal Gobot family: mom, dad, older brother...." She scowls, thinking of Road Ranger.

"Aren't all four of you Guardians?" asks Scooter.

"My parents are retired Guardians. Ranger's the only other active Guardian in my family." Small Foot looks up at Leader One, bashful. "Pumper knew my first boyfriend, Juuichirou."

"No offense to Leader One," scowls Turbo, "but I've gotta ask you, Small Foot: how'd you go from a fire engine to that dumb-aft of a jetwarrior?"

"Actually," pouts Small Foot, "Skywarp and Juuichi are a great deal alike."

"So what made you break up with Juuichirou?" asks Scooter.

Small Foot winces. "He died...about an M-cycle ago."

Leader One locks optics onto the red Hilux. "May I ask how?"

"No." Small Foot starts to stand to attention. "Sir," she adds.

Scene: 4

"We all have things about our private lives we'd rather not share with each other," notes Turbo, "which is why we're bad candidates for an endogestalt."

"I can safely say--without going into details--that there's a lot about Slingshot that his teammates don't know, and Superion still works," counters Leader One.

"Superion's based on the results of Project MORNINGSTAR," says Small Foot.

"According to the record on that doc file, Morningstar was a success. What happened to that team?" asks Scooter.

"They were Decepticons...conscripted into an Autobot project." Leader One scowls. "The five planned on paying a visit to Megatron," he continues, "but Sentinel Prime redacted their copies of the doc file. It led to their deaths."

"Skywarp's angry on Starscream's behalf--despite the fact that the two can't stand each other in most cases." Small Foot winces, remembering a heated argument between herself and the Decepticon Seeker.

"...this was before Bumblebee came online, right?" asks Scooter.

"Relax." Turbo puts his hand on Scooter's shoulder. "Your little yellow hero's still clean. He's not even five M-cycles yet."

"At least you answered my question." Scooter studies Turbo, newly-confused about the mech he looked up to as a brother.

Scene: 5

"While you've all talked about Morningstar, I've studied these other doc files." Van gazes at Small Foot. "Leader One," he continues, "are you sure it's safe for all of us?"

"It has to be. Turbo, Scooter, Small Foot and I piloted the Power Suits the first time the Last Engineer introduced them." Leader One grips his datapad as he continues. "The Engineer trained you personally on the main wing and GB-04 before he returned to Gobotron."

"I know, but that was exogestalt: a simple matter of operating machines. Endogestalt LANs are closer to a dive, and according to these files," continues Van, "it's dangerous to involve Small Foot in something like that."

"That was part of the intimacy I was talking about earlier," adds Turbo. "So while the idea is great, we need a different set of candidates.

"To put it another way, Leader One: if you had posited your plan to Rest-Q--with all the info that we have; would he have agreed to this?" Van asks.

"No. With that said," continues Leader One, "the time for caution has passed. One way or another, we must act."

The other Guardians study their leader.

"I can't force the four of you or any other Guardians into this," says Leader One. "I will need your decision by tomorrow morning. You are dismissed."

"Yes, sir." The four Guardians salute Leader One and leave.

Scene: 6

Leader One walks to his Power Suit, GB-01. He strokes the suit's oval shield.

Strange. I tend to fault the Autobots for their blind loyalty to Prime, Leader One muses, and I'm correct to do so. Why, then, am I so adamant about this omnigestalt process?

It has nothing to do with my ego; that is always secondary to the Guardians. I ran the simulations, and they all failed--except for one configuration.

I don't actually fit that well into GB-01 (my legs are too big), while GB-02's canopy is too big for Turbo; the Engineer had to modify the suits for them to work. GB-03 and GB-04 work with almost any of us.

Truthfully.... Leader One winces. "The whole damn thing's a shot in the dark!" he says aloud.

I don't know if our initial exogestalt configuration will work as the endogestalt configuration, Leader One seethes silently. All I do know is that, per the simulations....

"Result: inconclusive." That's all I've got to go on. Van's right. Rest-Q would have raked me over a smelting pit in front of the Senate for such gross dereliction of duty--and excepting Zeemon, Rest-Q hates the Senate.

If they don't show up tomorrow, then I'll know this was a bad idea.

Scene: 7

Rest-Q arrives in Oregon after dark, transforming outside Autobot Headquarters.

"Identify yourself: friend or foe," orders Slingshot, on night patrol.

"How many Decepticon medics do you know?" scoffs Rest-Q.

"Oh, a Gobot. Look, orders are orders---especially from Red Alert. Are you cleared or not?" the Aerialbot demands.

"I wish to speak to your CMO."

"Didn't your CO say that you Guardians ain't supposed to hang around us subversives?" quips Slingshot.

"I pay little heed to what Leader One says," chuckles Rest-Q, "and I focus my attention on what he doesn't say."

"Eh?"

"We can't work together in any sort of alliance," the Guardian medic explains, "but Leader One never said I couldn't pay a fellow Caduceus Medical Academy grad a friendly visit. Now where the hell is Ratchet!?"

Scene: 8

"Stand down, soldier," says Ratchet, exiting the Ark, "you done good. I'll keep an optic on the Gobot."

"But I'm not done with night patrol," winces Slingshot.

"Uh-huh. And Silverbolt ain't done with you. If you want to keep your distance from him for a while...you don't have to stay at the base. Take off."

"...yes, sir." Slingshot transforms and flies off.

Rest-Q beams at the V/STOL mech. "There's much good in not needing a runway."

"Of course the kid don't need a runway," scoffs Ratchet. "Slingshot runs his mouth plenty."

"I've noticed that as well. It's a standard jetwarrior feature, I'm afraid."

"What wild scheme has Leader One cooked up for us?"

"He's tinkering with a perfectly acceptable exogestalt."

"That exogestalt just got its aft handed to it by six oversized tin pets merged into a gestalt. I don't think Leader One's going to listen to anything that ain't 'I've got an idea on how to make Courageous better'."

"Your fluency in Stubborn Leader is superb, Ratchet."

"I've had eleven M-cycles of immersion in the language, across two Primes. Can't beat that. My jetwarrior concentration is more recent, though," Ratchet continues. "It's hard as hell."

"That dialect has a multitude of moods and temperaments. Also," continues Rest-Q in the same vein, "you have to speak high-speed performance vehicle."

"Got a whole scrapyard of those. Still struggling with Lamborghiniano. Two different dialects."

"So what do you think Leader One's liable to try," asks Rest-Q, "if you were in my place, and you knew he'd withhold information to prevent you from trying to stop him?"

"First off, I wouldn't stop him. Courageous works well. If it were smaller, it'd be ideal for standard cyborgs."

"Oh, not this again," spits Rest-Q.

"Yeah, this again!" Ratchet shoots back. "Sure, you guys are neurologically cyborgs, but your bodies are all-machine--even down to your braincases."

"And thus, the Power Suits are 'redundant'."

"Which from an engineering standpoint is actually a good thing. I'm not knocking that at all, Q. You're just not taking the suits where they need to go in order to beat Puzzler: the next level."

"The omnigestalt. That's what Leader One wants to attempt."

The Guardian and Autobot medics continue to "talk shop" outside the Ark.

"Did you at least install the plugs?" asks Ratchet.

"No need." Rest-Q shrugs. "The gestalt plugs are embedded within the suits."

"See: the Last Engineer thought ahead. I'd sure like to meet him before I conk out and join the hyper." Ratchet takes out an energon cube. "I've got another in subspace."

Rest-Q raises a hand to deny Ratchet's offer. "Illegal."

"Vital medical research."

"The Senate shut that loophole two M-cycles ago."

"What about the Omega Supreme-sized gubernatorial loophole?" Ratchet quips.

"Haven't monitored Leader One's contraband disposals," muses Rest-Q.

"Come on, Q, you've really gotta cite that one. Being Governor-general's a high-stress job." Ratchet grins slyly. "You're the Guardian CMO; it's your duty to take care of your personnel."

Rest-Q nods. "That's why I'm here."

"Of course."

"Would you patch me into the main launch bay at UNECOM? I'm sick of seeing those Autobot-branded cameras ogling our technology."

"Sure, since you're as much of a voyeur as we are."

"You remember, Ratchet: I had training as an engineer before I entered the medical field. Engineers route around blockages and systems failures."

"I didn't forget. You were one of the top five grads at Caddie Med. Always driven to succeed, a perfectionist. So much so that you called Hackwrench a scatterbrain."

"She was. You've come by your character honestly."

"Oh, Hack was perfectly organized. She operated under a Wheeljack system. I remember when they first met." Ratchet smiles, remembering his late sister. "Jack had said: 'Finally! Somebody who knows how to organize their tools.'"

"She was a talented medic, and a capable soldier."

"Unfortunately, she was also a loving mother." Ratchet shakes his head, chasing away painful memories.

Rest-Q places a hand on Ratchet's shoulder.

Ratchet's optics widen at his portable viewer's screen. "Hm...what do you know...?"

Rest-Q leans closer to Ratchet to get a better look at Ratchet's portable viewer.

"It looks like your people are ready to give it a go." Ratchet smiles at Rest-Q.

Scene: 9

"Oh, this is so exciting!" Professor Von Joy twirls around with glee, his thin red arms flailing. "This is the kind of science we were born to do!"

Turbo studies the third baron of Gobotron's Daizanchou Prefecture quizzically. "I still don't like this idea."

"Come now, Turbo," scoffs the noble-born scientist. "It's not like this level of variable science is foreign to us. Or have you forgotten the King of a Hundred Beasts?"

"That's a fairy tale!" scoffs Scooter.

"And a Japanese cartoon, which was dubbed and rewritten in English," adds Small Foot, holding Dewey's Voltron action figure.

Von Joy takes the toy, marveling at its detail. "Such an accurate replica...."

Turbo stares at the Voltron toy. "Dewey's gonna want that back. In one piece."

Von Joy hands Small Foot back the toy, glum. "Anyway..." he sighs, turning to the Suits and the main wing, "to business."

Scene: 10

Turbo, Scooter, and Small Foot stare dubiously at their Suits: GB-02, GB-03, and GB-04.

"As I was saying," the professor continues, "the gestalt combining process is not new or alien to our science. Merging and interlocking variable machines into a larger machine conserves resources and adds an extra weapon to any arsenal."

"Great--here comes the ancient history lesson," scoffs Scooter.

"The early gestalt combiner was a team of drone machines, slaved to a master computer in the main wing. The whole combiner was controlled from the outside by remote."

"Like Gigantor," quips Turbo as he gently elbows Leader One.

Leader One pouts. "It's a good show. And the robot's real name is Tetsujin-28."

"Why 'twenty-eight'?" asks Small Foot.

"I don't question Earthian culture." Leader One shrugs. "Probably to differentiate between their fictional robot and the human in the red-and-yellow battlesuit."

"'Iron Man 28', huh?" Turbo grins. "It's not as corny as 'Gigantor', at least."

"But the American song's better," counters Leader One, belting out the Gigantor theme song.

"That was fuundabaru!" gushes Von Joy, lapsing into his prefecture's native Doitsu dialect.

"Even better," grins Scooter mischeviously, "that was choice blackmail material!"

"Ha, ha." Leader One rolls his optics. "Let's get back to the history lesson, minna."

"Yes, of course." Von Joy continues the lecture. "As time passed, engineers refined the gestalt process: Courageous is one such advancement from the Last Engineer's period."

"Courageous is that old?" balks Turbo.

"Not Courageous itself," says Von Joy, "only the underlying technological principles. The gestalt type was once called Battle Armor Five, and was actually in use long before the time of the Last Engineer. Our ancestors piloted similar Power Suits; Courageous is the latest variant of this antiquated design, modified for our size."

"This was before our ancestors developed the Robo, the basis of our current...bodies." Leader One winces.

"Precisely." Von Joy continues. "The Robo was developed: first as cyborg-piloted mecha to counter the Zentraedi during the Centauri Wars, then--using the AI-Autopilot OS--they became independently-operated mecha, much like the Cybertronians' ancestors."

"Like Megatron," scowl Leader One and Turbo in unison, remembering when the truth behind Gobotron's destroyed sun was revealed.

Scene: 11

Von Joy nods. "So unfortunate. In any case, the Cybertronians brought the Voltron-type gestalt process to its most logical conclusion--as I'd imagine a living robot would."

"You've got some imagination," says Turbo.

"Don't I?" Von Joy taps his foreclaws together. "So. Consider the Arwing FMs. From the beginning, they have always functioned as a unit. Rarely do you see less than three of them."

"Yeah, sure: six kinds, Classes One through Five." Turbo rolls his optics.

"Yes. The point is the initial research for the endogestalt began when one of Cybertron's Liberators conducted studies on the Arwings, as well as the Buildrons--specifically the Type-As." Von Joy finishes the adjustments to GB-02.

"We know where that research went." Leader One scowls.

"Even worse," adds Turbo, absently rubbing his cheek, "we've got no way to beat Devastator. Not even the project doc file to show for it."

Von Joy clears his vocoder. "Is everyone ready then?" he asks, wanting to change the subject.

Leader One looks around at his fellow Guardians. "We're all in?" he smiles, stretching out his hand palm-down.

"For a penny, and for a pound, sir," says Turbo, placing his hand over Leader One's.

"Aside from death or madness," chuckles Scooter as he adds his hand to the pile, "what's the worst that could happen?"

"We began the gestalt race," says Small Foot, laying her hand over Scooter's. "And with Courageous' aid, we'll be the ones to win it."

Van Guard places his hand on top of the other Guardian Power Suit pilots. "I'm with you."

Von Joy's windshield shines as the professor trembles in delight. "Zeragutto!"

Scene: 12

"What the--?" Matt listens to a frantic caller as he turns on the viewscreen in his office. "Yeah, I'm watching it.... We'll take care of it, Mayor Perkins...."

After hanging up with the mayor, Matt stares at the viewscreen in disbelief. "Gobotron's picking up the tab for this."

Matt turns off the viewscreen, then rushes out of his office, heading for UNECOM's main control room.

Scene: 13

Outside Phoenix, Arizona, Courageous' disengaged components lay in a tangled heap.

Van Guard kicks his way out of the main wing, while the other Guardian pilots struggle out of the pile of Power Suits.

Leader One winces as he realigns his neck column, popping the cervical pin back into place. "What the hell happened...?"

"You don't know what happened?" balks a woman.

"No, I--*" Leader One looks around. "Where--oh, no. We're in Phoenix. How did we get to Phoenix?"

"You flew here, then rampaged through my town like Godzilla?" frowns a teenager.

"What...?" Leader One massages his forehead. "We were testing new systems on Courageous in our designated test area--at the Grand Canyon. We're not sure what caused Courageous to--*"

"No more questions," interjects General Newcastle, shooting a hostile glance at the Guardian leader. "We will conduct an inquiry," the general continues, "and get to the bottom of this."

"Be sure to ask your robots why they couldn't test their machines on their own planet," spits a disheveled young man.

Leader One tenses his fists. "We're not ro--hey!" he hisses to Matt, who had kicked his leg.

"Pal, you're in a hole. Quit digging." Matt leaves in a jeep with Newcastle. Leader One and the other disoriented Guardians transform and follow the jeep away from Phoenix.

Scene: 14

Back at UNECOM, Leader One faces Matt, Newcastle, and General Clayton Abernathy in the crisis room.

"So you merged the gestalt..." Abernathy probes.

"Yes," says Leader One. "We merged, then plugged into the LAN."

"And after that?" asks Newcastle, as Abernathy answers the phone.

"We don't know! Look," spits Leader One, "no one wants to get to the bottom of this more than I do; I'm not hiding anything. Accusations and hysterics won't get us anywhere."

"Hysterics!?" balks Newcastle. "If you think we're bad, just wait until the media gets through with you."

"Calm down, General. I'm certain there's a logical explanation."

"You destroyed half of Phoenix! It's a miracle that no one was killed or hurt."

"How can I make up for it?"

"Leader One...I don't know. I think you can start by giving me some straight answers."

"I can't give you those answers until I know them myself. Give me a chance to sort this out with the others."

Abernathy hangs up the phone. "Senator MacKeane just finished tearing me a third asshole--after the President had torn the second. Leader One, you have one hour to either render an answer in full, or leave Earth. Newcastle." Beckoning Newcastle to follow him, Abernathy leaves.

Leader One and Matt are alone in the crisis room. "Wow. Dressed down by a four-star and a five-star."

"Abernathy's mistaken." Leader One scowls.

"How?"

"The President and MacKeane couldn't possibly tear Abernathy a new one. If Optimus Prime is correct--and in this instance, he is--Abernathy is an asshole."

"Funny, but it doesn't change the fact that you and the other Guardians in Courageous wiped out half of Phoenix. Including the basketball stadium. Suns fans will be pissed."

Leader One snorts. "I liked the Lakers, anyway."

Scene: 15

Rest-Q and Von Joy pore over datapads in the med bay at Guardian Headquarters.

"...so you see, the superconsciousness lives, and the component Guardians are stable," explains Von Joy. "The endogestalt is formed."

Rest-Q stares at the noble. "Stable? There are only three 'components', each of whom are individuals--need I remind you? They are not limbs of another machine."

"As far as Courageous is concerned," counters Von Joy, "Leader One is his right arm, Turbo's his left; and Scooter's his right leg. The gestalt is an incomplete success because the super's missing his left leg."

"Then he shall continue being the 'one-legged gestalt Power Warrior' if I have any say in the matter. My fellow Guardians' welfare is more important than an unproven alien gestalt concept." Rest-Q scowls. "Is the exogestalt fully-functional?"

"Of course it is," spits Von Joy, livid. "You're entirely too cautious. We are so close!"

"To driving our top officers insane."

"We can't afford to be timid! If we find the fourth component, Courageous will be complete. The bond will be stabilized, and the omnigestalt will be perfect!"

"You're far too close to this theory to analyze it objectively, Von Joy!" counters Rest-Q. "Even worse, you're starting to sound like that maniac Wheeljack."

Von Joy rises to his full height, indignant. "I'm honored to accept such a rich compliment! When that Autobot gets an idea in his braincase, he never lets it go until it's finished."

"And how often has it blown up in his face--never mind his faction's!?"

"We all must take risks, Kyuusuke-kun!"

"Hn. Hakase."

"Fa-su?"

"Kyuusuke-hakase. I'm a doctor, not a mad scientist."

"Fine, fine, whatever; you nattering nabob."

Scene: 16

Leader One approaches Small Foot, then sits with her on the bench inside the Headquarters' Arboretum. "Are...you okay?" he asks.

Small Foot smiles. "I'm fine, sir."

"You're...being too calm." Leader One winces, his expression stony. "I had no right to behave the way I did. I...I almost--*"

"That was one of the risks of the process, per numerous doc files."

"Granted; however, those were my thoughts."

"I understand; and I suspect those thoughts are misdirected feelings for another four-wheeled vehicle."

"Because you're attracted to an F-15 mech who's older than I am."

"Yes. But he's immature for his age, and frankly, stupid."

"Also," says Leader One, smiling ruefully, "your prospect isn't our enemy at present."

"That will change when Megatron gives the order, and I've already told Skywarp where I stand."

"Where does he stand?"

"He has his Cause," sighs Small Foot, "and I have mine."

"So the two of you aren't together anymore?"

"Actually, we are." Small Foot smiles. "I love him, Leader One. If he becomes the enemy, I'll kill him without hesitation. That's my duty as a Guardian. He'll do his duty as a Decepticon soldier."

Leader One chuckles. "Skywarp really is like Juuichirou, then."

"Sometimes too much." Small Foot stands, placing her hand on Leader One's shoulder. "Are we trying again?"

Leader One smiles. "I know you're never one to give up, and I haven't thrown in the towel on the project. With that said, I have to clear any modifications to Courageous past Rest-Q. He expects us to use him strictly as exogestalt." The gray F-15 mech stares at his left leg in disbelief.

Small Foot's optics soften with understanding. "How do you feel, sir?"

"...incomplete." Leader One stands, then leaves Small Foot alone in the Arboretum.

Scene: 17

Leader One, Turbo, Scooter, Small Foot Van Guard and Rest-Q arrive at a military compound.

Turbo transforms, then scowls at the installation. "Welcome to Dayton, Ohio."

"Come on, Turbo," says Small Foot. "This is a chance to field test the exogestalt. We won't be involved in the LAN."

"That's a relief."

"Why is it a relief?" pouts Scooter, annoyed. "As long as we make sure Leader One keeps his ganglion receptors to himself, we'll be okay."

"Actually, that's not my concern. We'd tested the LAN before we left HQ, remember?"

"Yeah, I know." Scooter looks at Small Foot, sad. "It's too bad about you being Read Only."

"No, it's not," counters Leader One soberly. "Courageous is concerned about Small Foot's safety. Also, she's...."

"You're a part of the gestalt," notes Van Guard, "but you're not a limb. You're...related to Courageous."

"It'll all make sense when we get that fourth limb," says Turbo, grinning.

"If I have anything to say about it," counters Rest-Q, "there will be no fourth limb."

"What--we're gonna fight the Renegades with Courageous the Gimp!?" balks Turbo.

"...we'll find him," says Leader One.

Small Foot gives Leader One a quizzical look. "Not to be prickly," she says, "but what makes you sure that the fourth leg's a guy? It's not me, but it could be Pathfinder or Sparky."

"No; our fourth's a guy." Turbo shrugs. "We're pretty sure."

"Is it Van Guard?"

"Not even close," Van scowls. "I'm kara: the 'void', whatever that means."

"That means you're the core of the gestalt when merged. You're in a standard Godai configuration: tsuchi-mizu-ka-fu-sora," notes Rest-Q tiredly. "Most gestalts use this configuration due to the ease of finding individuals with the core personalites of the classical--non-scientific--elements. Nonetheless," the Guardian medic continues, "we are running maneuvers in a standard, stable Battle Armor Five."

Leader One nods to his chief medical officer. "Understood."

Scene: 18

Ten fruitless, circuit-stressing minutes pass in the skies of Dayton, as the Guardian pilots' attempts to merge into Courageous fail.

"Leader One, you're coming in too fast! I can't compensate!" Van Guard, piloting the main wing, abruptly banks left to dodge GB-01.

"My speed was fine," counters Leader One. "You were too slow. You've got to pilot the jet."

"What's taking so long!?" spits Turbo. "02 and 03 are in position."

"01, 02, 03: slow the hell down!" counters Small Foot. "Main wing and 04 are out of the loop."

"What loop!?" balks Leader One.

"We're not even allowed to activate the loop," adds Scooter.

"Rest-Q's orders," continues Turbo wryly.

"The LAN," explains Small Foot as she lands GB-04. "The three of you will always be networked."

"The connection's perpetually on," continues Van. "I need time to compensate for the changes in each limb's rate of speed."

"I don't get it," winces Leader One. "Our coordination was flawless before the endogestalt modifications."

"It's too late now," announces Rest-Q from a booth within the compound. "You, Turbo and Scooter can't be removed from the LAN."

"Why the hell not?" demands Turbo.

"Because the three of you will die if your gestalt jacks are removed."

"On the bright side," scoffs Slingshot, seated on the roof, "at least you're not stuck with the low-life frag-offs in my unit."

Air Raid tackles Slingshot to the ground; the other three join the wrestling pair on the ground.

Scene: 19

Turbo stares at the wrestling Aerialbots, disturbed by the almost-sexual undercurrent in the Autobot air unit's behavior. "Scooter...?"

"If we end up like that," says Scooter, "I will indeed kill the three of us."

"You have to die last," adds Leader One. "End our suffering first."

Silverbolt draws Slingshot to him, pinning the Harrier from behind.

"This is grounds for seppuku," notes Van.

"Relax, fuck-offs," chuckles Silverbolt. "Each gestalt team is different."

"Fireflight has had less near-crashes than you guys today," adds Skydive.

"What the hell are you doing here, anyway?" asks Leader One.

"Seeing where you guys are taking our technology," quips Air Raid. "We ain't impressed."

"You don't even understand what we're doing," Leader One counters.

"You're still trying to merge the goofy old exogestalt way," answers the black F-15 with an insolent smirk. "That won't work anymore; the super won't let you."

"Courageous wants to live!" adds Fireflight.

"Eh, what do you guys know?" Turbo scowls at the Aerialbots.

"Oh, we've only had to do this for about two years straight," says Skydive.

"Yeah, we were only reconfigured to twist and shout into Super-yawn," adds Air Raid.

"Small Foot," says Slingshot, "didn't you and your brother read our doc files when you stole 'em?"

"It's all in the manual," smiles Silverbolt.

Leader One scowls at the five Autobots. "Let's try it again, minna--from the top!"

Scene: 20

"Whoa!" Air Raid stares in astonishment at the scene below. "This is epic!"

"Epic failure," adds Skydive, laughing at the tangle of Power Suits.

"Come on, guys," says Fireflight, giggling. "I'm supposed to cause those kinds of crashes."

"Actually...no, Flight--you're not." Silvebolt pinches the bridge of his nose. "Thanks a bunch, Guardians: you just gave Fireflight ideas."

"Right," spits Small Foot. "Like he needs an excuse."

"Point taken," grins Air Raid, playfully punching Fireflight's arm, "but that doesn't explain why you guys are on the ground...right now."

The Guardians exit their Power Suits and the main wing.

Leader One seethes at the Aerialbots. "I've had it with your arrogance!" he spits. "You little jack-afts think you can do a better job? I'd like to see it! Now!"

"Leader One," Van counsels, "I'd advise against--*"

"No," counters the gray F-15. "Time for 'Earth's Guardian Angels' to put up or shut the fuck up."

Air Raid mock-gasps at his Guardian F-15 counterpart. "What would Dewey say?"

"You can find all of that out after you guys crash and burn," grins Turbo crudely.

"Fine," spits Slingshot. "Rack 'em up."

Scene: 21

The Aerialbots, piloting the five Courageous components, hover in midair.

"Get a move on, Autobot Airheads--we don't have all day," Turbo quips.

"Thought you had the stuff," adds Leader One. "You're the bad-afts: show us how it's done!"

"Ah, we'll get to it when we're good and ready!" Slingshot shoots back.

Several minutes pass as the Courageous components continue passing each other in the sky.

Back on the ground, Turbo folds his arms; smug, he turns to Small Foot, Scooter and Van Guard. "This is beginning to bore me: the so-called hotshots haven't merged yet."

"Of course not," scoffs Leader One. "What made them think they understood our tech...?" The gray F-15 looks up, shocked.

"I am Superion-Courageous: Baikanfu configuration," says the Aerialbot-piloted Courageous.

"And I'm linked up nice and happy to GB-01!" adds Air Raid, pleased to be mobile during the gestalt merge. "Never seen Super-yawn look so good."

Superion-Courageous turns his head to GB-01 and its grinning Aerialbot pilot. "My appearance is acceptable given the current configuration."

"What...the...hell!?" Turbo's optics widen.

"How'd you do that!?" Leader One demands. "What did you do to pull that off?"

"Magicians never reveal their secrets," says Skydive cannily.

"The hell they don't!" balks Scooter. "You guys tooled around with our tech!"

"Maybe you guys should tool with your own tech more often," quips Silverbolt from within Superion-Courageous' torso.

"Break it down to their level, Skydive," says Slingshot, smug.

Leader One glares at the Autobot Harrier. Exiting the compound, Rest-Q and General Abernathy and join the group of Guardians on the ground.

Skydive chuckles, smiling. "No problem at all. When you networked this exogestalt's components, you made it an endogestalt--using a static Godai-config. However, the components themselves--that's you guys--don't have Courageous' limbs as auxiliary alt modes. To compensate, Courageous acts like the final stage of a nested gestalt."

"Did the Autobots get that info from the Macross' records before Jazz and Blaster sent the ship into the sun?" asks Scooter.

"Ratchet would have dismembered Jazz and Blaster if those two hadn't." Rest-Q shakes his head.

"Could this possibly get worse?" Leader One scowls.

Flip-Top, Wrong Way, Staks and several other Guardians arrive near Superion-Courageous' position; they land in front of the Guardians and human on the ground.

"Hey, Flip," asks Turbo, grinning, "how's it going?"

"Actually, Turbo...." Flip winces. "We're here to escort you guys to your court-ordered counseling sessions."

Leader One stares at the dark blue Kaman Seasprite. "What!?" he hisses.

END ISSUE 5

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Just a few questions answered today.

1. "Endogestalt"? "Exogestalt"? What are you talking about!?

Oh, come on--that one's easy. Still, here's the explanation: "endo-" is the prefix for "in"; "exo-" means "out". The gestalt, for TFCS purposes, is a large robot composed of a group of smaller robots; a fictional example of such a machine would be Voltron (Golion), that mighty robot loved by good and feared by evil. (It should be noted, though, that fiction and reality in TFCS is...cyclical.) The prefixes enter the mix due to the nature of the limbs and torso: in the endogestalt, the limbs and torso are sentient machines merging into another sentient machine (such as Devastator); while the exogestalt's component parts (for example, Voltron again) are five non-sentient machines piloted by sentient life forms (such as those WACKY humans).

2. What happened to Turbo regarding Bonecrusher?

...that's another issue of CHALLENGE OF THE GOBOTS. Patience.

3. "Dental chips...?"

(sighs) Machine teeth. I want to avoid "dentata" and "glossa" (tongue). (Incidentally, an "oral sensor array" is a given machine's tongue.) I admit my writing's pretty anthrocentric, but I'd be embarrassed if I wrote something I myself couldn't comprehend. "Chips", "arrays" and other technical items look reasonable with robots (and robotic cyborgs); while at the same time, still read well in English.

4. Why are the Gobots so fluent in (EL-HAZARD!) Japanese?

Fanfiction doesn't have subtitles. As for the names (I know that's next...), I tried to use ones that might actually be on a native Japanese speaker's tongue. I picked Sekhmet, Warlord of Venom's JPN (human) name for Scooter, Small Foot got a fairly common Japanese name; I wanted Van Guard's JPN name to point to his Gobot name, and as for Turbo's JPN name...it's connected to his mother.

5. "Juuichirou?"

Small Foot has a life, you know. "Juuichirou", by the way, is another Pumper-type Gobot; a former boyfriend who had died. How...is a mystery.

6. "Caduceus Medical Academy" is...

...Cybertron's medical school, currently shut down due to the War. Apparently Rest-Q and Ratchet have a history.

7. "Lamborghiniano"?

That's a freebie.... Also known as "Sunstreakerian" and "Sideswipese". The "jetwarrior concentration" refers to the Aerialbots (Powerglide and Skyfire notwithstanding).

8. And the idea of Courageous being "goofy" in the optics of a Transformer rears its head again (in story), but why?

From Ratchet's perspective, it's pointless for a sentient transforming machine to pilot a vehicle that becomes the limb of a gestalt; instead, the transforming machine should simply have a second (that is, an auxiliary) alt mode of the machine's limb. To the Autobot, Puzzler is the perfect example of what the Guardians should aim for.

However, Rest-Q and other Guardians see themselves as cyborgs, and have designed their machines accordingly; Puzzler is, in Rest-Q's mind, a freak of science.

9. What's up with Von Joy?

He's a technophile who gets carried away at times (as in, most of the time). Nonetheless, Von Joy knows his tech and ain't scared to use it.

10. "Doitsu"?

As in "Deutschland". Von Joy has a German/Japanese accent. However, since the Gobots' language corresponds with Japanese, the word "deutsch" is romanized (romaji) as "doitsu". Occasionally, Von Joy utters words like "sehr gut!" and "wunderbar".

(Incidentally, minna means "everyone" or "everybody". Thankfully, only Leader One tends to say it.)

11. The Guardians destroyed Phoenix!?

No; only half.

12. Who the flug is General Clayton Abernathy? He was never on Challenge of the Gobots or Transformers.

True. But Warrant Officer Dashiell Fairborne was. I'm not telling you any more than that--unless you PM me.

13. So Leader One's in trouble again, huh?

Yep.

14. Leader One has quite the temper, doesn't he?

Yes. He does.

15. Does Flip-Top have his life insurance paid up back on Gobotron? And what court order?

We should hope so. As to why Flippy and his pals are here to hale Leader One and crew to the Deanna Troi-Gobots of Gobotron: see GOBOTS #3, PICK UP THE PUZZLER PIECES for details.

Fifteen questions answered today! I hope you enjoyed the story.