1"The Black Shadow"

The constable walked slowly toward the darkened hangar, glancing continuously over his shoulder. He cursed, chiding himself for letting his fear get the better of him. Still, he couldn't help it. He had watched three fellow security officers get evicerated by the creature he was stalking. The thing struck from out of nowhere. That fact caused the veteran constable, a survivor of countless vorn of the Autobot/Decepticon conflict, to jump at shadows like skittish sensor drone.

He stopped beside the main door into the hangar and turned his back to the wall. He stared back down the road, making certain the creature had not trailing him. He was sure that it had gone into the hangar, but the others had been sure where to find it as well. Before it had doubled backed and struck them from behind. Now they were gone.

"Slag," he whispered breathlessly.

Over and over for the past two cycles, he had asked himself why they had ever gone into the ancient chamber. They had discovered it accidentally. Cybertron was littered with unseen mazes of tunnels beneath the surface, but it was a surprise it find previously unknown levels below their headquarters. One of the officers insisted on checking it out. He was young and foolish, but the constable had always liked him. Now he was worse than dead. Now he was inhabited by the creature they found lurking in those lost tunnels. It had contorted him almost beyond recognition. The others tried to reach him, to get him to fight the thing that had a stranglehold on him, but to no avail. The constable would not make that same mistake. He would destroy the creature.

If I live that long, he thought dismally.

He peered into the dark hangar and swiftly crossed the threshold. The constable's blue optics cast the only light in the room. He felt something brush against his metal arm and, panic stricken, whirled around. He fired off several shaky rounds from his blaster, briefly illuminating the hangar and casting frightful shadows along the smooth surfaces of the ships housed there.

"L-lights," he stated as firmly as he could and held his intake as nothing happened.

He cursed again and jogged towards the control room. He had to find the override and get the lights on. He didn't stand a chance wandering through the dark. The creature could pick him off its whim.

The constable kicked the door to the control room open and fumbled across the main panel. After several tense moments, he found the switch he was looking for and activated it. He breathed a sigh of relief as the lights erupted to life high above his head.

The constable cautiously stepped back into the room. Several large Autobot shuttles were parked under the sterile white lights, waiting for the time when they would lift off from the surface for some mission or another. The constable frowned. The creature had ample hiding places. The constable continued his slow march forward, optics darting around the room, hoping to spot the creature before it spotted him.

Suddenly, a loud crash shattered the silence. The constable spun and fired at the sound. He watched a diagnostic drone skitter across the room and sighed again. He lowered his rifle. The barrel of the rifle vibrated due to his trembling. He glanced around again, taking a moment to compose himself.

He did not get long.

The constable felt a tingle of energy rush down his spine, an instinctual feeling that millions of vorn of war told him that danger was nearby. He hoisted his blaster to the ready again, just as pain erupted across his back.

He cried out as he turned. He knew what would be standing there, but he still gasped at the sight. Open sores oozed spent fuel. Cracks like ancient, fatigued metal crisscrossed his body. His once bright blue eyes were a sickly yellow. The constable reminded himself that this thing was no longer an Autobot. He leveled his weapon at it.

Before he could fire, the creature lashed out its clawed hand and dragged its dagger-like fingers across the constable's face. The Autobot staggered back, clutching his face. His rifle clattered to the ground. The constable followed it.

Through his fuel-covered fingers, the constable looked up at the creature, which simply stared at him. Fresh energon dripped from its claws. The constable felt energon flowing out of his wounds on his back and face. His self-repair systems were not able to keep up with the systems that were quickly falling off-line. The constable rerouted as much energy as he could to his vital components. He had to hold out as long as he could. He had to finish this creature off now, before he fell into stasis.

The creature stalked toward the fallen Autobot. The look of menace on its face more frightening than anything the constable had seen in a very long time. In a last ditch effort to buy himself more time, he held out his arms imploringly.

"Whip, buddy," the constable stuttered. He knew there was no communicating with the Autobot it once was. That creature had already killed the young Autobot's mind. The grotesque, twisted shell was all that was left of the friend he once knew.

The creature's gait slowed, obviously amused at the effort. But the constable continued.

"Come on, man. "You have to fight this. You can't let this happen to you. We can bring you--."

He stopped. He breathed in sharply, attempting to cool his processors, which were working overly hard to distribute his depleted energon resources.

"--back," he gasped before his vocal systems deactivated.

The creature smirked at the fallen Autobot. "The Shadow wants his prize," it wheezed. The creature lunged, its claws brandished and ready for the kill.

The constable was ready for it. Just before the creature reached him, he grasped his rifle by the barrel and swung it around with all of his remaining strength. The rifle struck the creature's head, knocking the malformed mass from the creature's shoulders.

The constable collapsed, content that the creature was destroyed. Just as he activated his stasis lock systems, he gasped. A black shadow was slithering along the floor towards one of the shuttles.

* * *

Bumblebee watched the awe and horror on Carly's face as the Autobot finished telling the story. The fire dancing between them in the darkness only increased the effect. Halloween was coming up and she, Spike, and Chip had all been sharing scary stories. Not one to be left out of a conversation like that, Bumblebee decided to share the story he had told Spike and Chip the previous year.

Out of the corner of his optic, the yellow Autobot watched Spike quietly slip off the fallen tree he had been sitting on and sneak up behind her. Bumblebee's mouth turned up in a conspiratorial smile.

"The hangar that all of this happened was the very hangar that this ship," Bumblebee waved his arm back towards Autobot Headquarters in the grandiose manner, "was stored in the days before we took off four million years ago."

Bumblebee leaned in and narrowed his optics, the fire playing of his features. "The Black Shadow was never found. No trace of it has ever been seen on Cybertron since that day. Which can mean only one thing."

Bumblebee stood up, his arms lifted into the air.

"The Black Shadow stowed away on this very ship!"

At that moment, Spike dropped a hand onto Carly's shoulder. She jumped and let out a shrill scream. Spike and Chip both hooted in delight.

Bumblebee sat down again, chuckling himself. Halloween was an interesting holiday. He suspected there was something more to it than telling scary stories, dressing up in costumes, and asking people for candy. All three of the humans sitting around the fire claimed to be too old for such things. However, Bumblebee couldn't help but notice that all three had such plans regardless of this fact.

Bumblebee turned his head as one of the other Autobots sitting by the fire spoke.

"That wasn't at all over-the-top," Gears muttered.

"That story isn't true," Carly state. But then she paused, her voice dropping to a whisper. "Is it?"

"Every word," Gears grumbled. "Except for the part about the Black Shadow, the constable, the killing spree, and all of this fiction happening around HQ. Everything else happened just like he said."

"I wouldn't just pass it off like that, Gears ol' buddy," Powerglide interjected. "I've heard of some pretty strange things coming up from the lower levels. The Black Shadow, that's nothing compared to some of the stories I've heard."

"Like what," the three humans said in unison, leaning forward eagerly.

Bumblebee laughed. "Come on, guys. It's not even Halloween yet. Let's save some of the good stuff the main event."

"Well, you can count me out," Gears stated matter-of-factly, slowly rising to his feet. He grimaced as he clutched his back. "These rocks are digging into my servos. I'll be surprised if I can walk in the morning. And it'll probably take me at least a week before I stop seeing spots before my optics from this fire. I'm going to be picking pieces of ash out of them until whatever stupid holiday is next."

"Oh darn," Powerglide quipped while he pretended to wipe a tear from his optic.

Gears grumbled and pointedly limped back toward the Autobot base.

Bumblebee watched Gears as he crossed over a ridge and out of earshot. He turned back towards the others around the fire, a mischievous smile on his faceplate.

"All right, I think the plan is ready to go," he said. He turned toward Powerglide. "I got Jazz to help us out a bit. He's going to send us on a 'recon mission' tomorrow evening when we were going to take you three into town for the party. You guys just have to convince Gears to take you instead." Bumblebee looked at Carly. "Think you can do that? It'll probably be to the hardest part of the entire plan to pull off."

Carly smiled sweetly. "Oh, I think I can talk him into it."

"Alright, that's basically it. Me and 'Glide will take care of the rest. You guys just have to be convincing out there. Make it look like you're really afraid for your lives."

Three humans nodded in unison. Bumblebee smiled.

"It's almost time for Gears to meet the Black Shadow."

* * *


Carly's smile slipped as she tried her best to look down-trodden. She knew he wasn't going to jump at the chance, but she suspect that with enough prodding he would eventually concede.

"Come on, Gears. It'll be fun."

"Get Skids to do it," he said, turning around.

Carly reached forward and grabbed at his hand.

"He's on Cybertron." When Gears opened his mouth again, she added. "So is Hound."

His optics narrowed in suspicion. Carly smiled brightly at him, hoping to throw him off the scent. "Come on, Gears. I promise that even you will have fun there."

"They don't call it a fun house for nothing," Chip added.

Gears crossed his arms defiantly across his chest.

"Fun. So you think I'll have fun sitting outside in the cold. That I'll just have great big blast as I get my paint chipped by all the car doors that'll get slammed into me. That getting those strange concoctions you drink dumped on me is how I would like to close out a miserable day. Gee, let me think about it… NO!"

"Gears," Carly said patiently, "you'll come in too. They were going to let Bumblebee and Powerglide in. There's plenty of room for you in there."

"You can still count me out. I've seen what those things are like. The music they'll play is worse than anything Blaster can dredge up and that's saying something. My audios are still buzzing from just walking past his quarters earlier today. Don't even get me started on the strobe lights. It would just be easier to take a stick and gouge out my optics. It'll save Ratchet from wasting his time taking them out himself after they malfunction. And the smoke from those machines will probably just fry my energon distributor. I'll collapse into a coughing fit. I'll be deaf, optics blown out, writhing on the floor. Yee-haw. What a blast."

Carly looked at him for a second and grinned. "So is that a yes?"

Gears let out a long-suffering sigh. "Fine, but only because if I have to stand here under this light another second, my cranial armor is going to erode to nothing."

* * *

Carly watched the trees lining the desolate two-lane road leading toward Center City, waiting to see the marker that Bumblebee and Powerglide were going to leave. When they saw it, they were supposed to tell Gears to stop, explaining that they had heard a noise. Then it would be time for the two Autobots to start their end of the prank.

She looked over at Spike, who was wearing a ridiculous get-up that was supposed Michael Jackson. She had tried to explain to him that the glove needed to be sequenced, but he had just shrugged it off. She shrugged it off; it was not like anybody would be seeing the costumes anyway. Chip opted to go with a Halloween classic: a vampire. The glasses did not quite match with the rest of the ensemble, but Carly thought the fake blood at the corners of his mouth was a good touch. For herself, she decided to go with a nice white hockey mask and a fake ax.

Carly turned back towards the window, waiting to see the marker, when Gears skidded to a halt.

"Did you guys feel that?" he asked warily.

Carly looked from to Chip in the back seat. They both shrugged.

"No, Gears, we didn't," she answered.

"Oh," he said. The irritated rumble was back in his voice. "Probably just another system failing on me. Everybody out. I need to check it out."

Spike looked out the window questioningly. "Here? Maybe it would be better if we went up by that streetlight."

"And if it's the Decepticons?" Gears asked. "You think we should just make ourselves a target for them?"

"Well, no…"

"Fine." Gears threw his doors open and lowered a ramp for Chip. "Then get out."

Carly climbed out and walked over to the side of the road as Gears transformed. She looked up and down the street. She slowly turned around and stared in the forest behind her and shivered. The forest was dark. Darker than it usually looked.

It's just because it's a new moon, she thought. Quit being such a sissy.

She could hear the gentle rustling of animals deep within the forest, scurrying for cover from what they thought was a predator. A couple of birds sorrowfully sang back and forth. In the distance, other birds could be heard doing the same thing.

Carly shivered again. The whole plan was starting to sound like a mistake. It was one thing to think about how fun this would be in the comfort of the Autobot's base or in front of a warm fire within shouting distance of a dozen armed warriors. Out here on the outskirts of the forest on a very empty road, with only the light of a few stars, a distant streetlight, and the Gears' blue optics keeping away the darkness, it felt wrong.

Carly looked at the streetlight on the top of the hill and gasped.

"What?" Gears asked.

Carly rubbed her eyes and shook her head. "Nothing. It's nothing. I'm just seeing things."

"Such as?" Gears asked. Concern gave an edge to his voice.

"I thought I saw something up there, but it was probably just a tree branch or something."

Gears peered up the road towards the light and sighed. "Well, let's go and check it out."

"What?" the three humans asked simultaneously.

"You don't think I'm going actually going to drive off and let your imaginations run away with you, do you? Uh-uh. We're going up there and see that it's nothing. No way am I going to listen to you three going on and on for years to come about the phantom we saw out here. Just thinking about listening to you three gab about that every Halloween is making my head hurt. Come on."

With that, Gears started trudging up the street. Carly and the others followed quickly, not wanting to be left alone with the forest. Despite herself, Carly kept glancing into the forest as if watching it would mean that whatever was lurking deep in the shadows would stay there and not leap out at them. She gulped and looked at her two human companions. Judging by their expressions, she could tell that they were feeling much the same as she was.

Finally, they reached the streetlight. Each of them peered around them in a different direction, all of them careful to stay out from under the sterile beacon of light shining from above them, as to not arouse attention from any Decepticons that may be in the area. Or anything else, she thought before she could stop herself.

"There," Gears stated grumpily. "Happy?"

"Yes," Spike answered quickly, "now, uh, we better get to that thing, right?"

Carly frowned at Spike, wondering about his sudden change in tone. He titled his head toward the street light. Three sticks were standing straight up in the air beside a bike trail leading into the woods. It was the marker the Bumblebee and Powerglide had left for them.

It must have been one of them that walked through the light, Carly thought, relieved to have the matter resolved.

"No, wait," Chip said, in feigned alarm. "What was that?"

Spike and Carly turned toward the bike trail, playing along with Chip's act.

She heard the scuff of Gears' feet on the road as he turned as well.

"What was what?" he asked, obviously annoyed.

"I thought I saw something in there."

"Primus, it was nothing!" he shouted. "Let's just… uh… you kids better run."

Carly blinked in confusion and turned towards the Autobot.

"What?" she asked. She let out a gasp as Gears walked under the light. Gears' face was cut and grotesquely bent out of shape, energon oozing from the sores. He clutched his face desperately. New wounds opened as he did. Gears shut his optics and let out a howl of pain.

The three humans stepped back. Carly looked frantically into the forest, hoping to see Bumblebee or Powerglide sprinting out to their aid. She felt Spike nudge her sharply in her side. She turned and screamed as she found herself face to face with Gears.

The Autobot was bent over, his face mere inches from theirs. His optics were a frightening yellow instead of their usual blue. Carly breathed in the repugnant smell emanating from Gears' fresh wounds. Gears' optics focused on the eyes of each of them, before he released a sinister chuckle. Carly wanted to look away. She wanted to run. But instead she found herself paralyzed with fear.

But is it Gears? she thought. The sores. The claws. It's almost like…

Gears reached forward with one clawed hand and held it beneath Spike's chin.

"The Shadow wants his prize."

Carly's eyes grew to the size of saucers. She couldn't scream, her voice stuck in her chest. She watched in horror as Gears (No, the Shadow, she amended. That thing isn't Gears) pulled his hand away. He looked away as he scampered backward, falling onto the road. The Autobot turned toward the three humans again. The new scars cast ugly shadows down his face. His optics, however, were blue again.

"You idiots," Gears shouted, "I said run! I can't hold it back anym--."

Suddenly, the dense fall air was cut by another scream of pain from Gears. Carly jumped, shaken from her daze, and ran into the forest. Chip and Spike followed right on her heels. About hundred yards down the bike trail, they stopped to catch get their breath.

"Jesus, did you see that?" Spike whispered hoarsely. "Did he just…?" He trailed off, unable to finish the question.

"I don't know," Chip answered, "but we better find Bumblebee and Powerglide. They need to know about this."

Just then, they heard twigs snapping down the trail towards the road. As they turned their heads toward the noise, a form leapt from a tree above them and landed loudly beside, letting out a roar. The three humans screamed and started to sprint away from the tall shadow when a concerned voice called from the forest.

"Hold on a sec," Bumblebee walked out of the forest.

"Yeah, what's going on, kids?" Powerglide's familiar voice came from the dark shape.

The three humans breathed a sigh of relief. Carly resisted the urge to sit down, knowing that the need to be sprinting down the trail was still a very real possibility. She looked past the two Autobots and down the darkened trail, unable to see more than a few dozen feet before the trail dropped down from a crest of a hill. Gears could be right there.

Bumblebee stooped down beside them as Powerglide peered over his shoulder at what Carly was looking at.

"You guys look like you've seen a ghost," the yellow Autobot said.

"Worse," Chip said darkly.

* * *

"Tell me again," Bumblebee said thoughtfully.

Chip sighed. "Gears said he felt something strange and stopped to check it. We came up by the light and saw the marker. When Gears turned around, his face was deformed and scarred and he had claws on his hands."

"Like these," Powerglide said, wiggling his prosthetic fingers in the air.

"Sorta," Carly added, "but they looked, you know, real."

Powerglide gave her a hurt look. "These things are state-of-the-art. Hoist has connections in the biz."

Bumblebee ignored them. "And he told you to run?"

"Yeah," Chip continued. "But then he yelled and when he looked at us, his optics were red. Then he said, 'The Shadow wants his prize.'" He wheeled closer to the yellow Autobot. "What's going on? Gears can't be possessed by the Black Shadow, can he?"

"It's a story, kid," Powerglide said matter-of-factly.

"Well, actually…," Bumblebee said.

"'Well, actually' is not a phrase I want to hear in this situation," Carly said breathlessly. "I want to hear something more along the lines of 'This is all just a bad dream and you're going to wake up any minute.'"

"Powerglide was right the other day," Bumblebee continued. "I was an archivist before the war and I saw some of the strange log reports. There are some weird things in the lower levels of Cybertron. In the days before the war, there were cases of explorers going down there and not returning. Or bringing something back with them."

"You're not helping," Carly interjected, jumping as a gust of wind tore some of the remaining leaves from the trees.

"What does this have to with Gears?" Powerglide asked. "Are you telling me this Black Shadow business is actually real."

"Well, no. But it's based on something real. A sort of parasite that inhabits someone and feeds off them."

"And turns them evil?" Powerglide asked incredulously. The synthetic material meant to look like sores pulled tightly across his face as he frowned.

"Turns them into what the parasite is. Greedy, loathsome... like the story in a sense, but it isn't murderous. It covets things and wants them even without knowing what it does. That whole prize business, I think. It's not that well known and hasn't happened in a very long time, so some of the specifics are a little cloudy." Bumblebee looked up at the trees that towered him. "Kind of ironic, when you think about it. This parasite right after telling that story."

"Oh man," Spike muttered, leaning against a tree. "Oh man, oh man, oh man."

"But it can be reversed," Bumblebee said, obviously trying to lift the spirits of the others. "I read one report about a field medic named Ratchet who helped purge a parasite from one explorer."

"Our Ratchet?" Carly asked hopefully.

"Well, he tore the guy a new one for being foolish enough to open locked doors that basically screamed 'DO NOT OPEN'," Bumblebee answered with a shrug.

"Our Ratchet," Powerglide and Chip said in unison.

"We just have to track Gears down and get him back to base and he'll be his usual cheerful self." Bumblebee paused. "Well, self, anyway."

Before he could suggest the next course of action, a soft and sinister chuckle emanated from the forest around them. Carly spun around trying to tell where the laughter was coming from, but it seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. She stopped suddenly and looked back at a tree to her right. Someone was missing.

"Was that it?" Powerglide asked, pulling out his blaster.

"Where's Spike?" Carly asked sharply, walking over to the tree he was leaning against just a minute ago.

For several minutes, they scoured the forest for any sign of Spike, but found nothing out of the ordinary outside of the missing person. It was like he vanished into thin air. They regrouped in the clearing, huddling close together and as far from the darkness of the forest as they could, as if the trees themselves would come alive and snatch them from where they stood. Carly had no sense of how long they were standing there, but she knew that each second was another second that the thing that had taken over Gears was getting farther away.

"Bumblebee," Carly said quietly, "when that thing talked about wanting his prize, he… it was looking right at Spike."

"Spike will be fine, Carly," Bumblebee said. "This parasite doesn't want to hurt Spike. He just has something that it wants. And we'll find him." He turned to Powerglide. "You take Carly and head to the east. Chip will come with me and we'll check out the other way. Work away from the road. The parasite doesn't like light or open spaces. If you see anything or get into trouble contact us and we'll come running."

"Same for you, little buddy," Powerglide said with a serious nod. "Come on, kid. Let's find them."

Carly followed Powerglide as he strode through the trees, looking carefully all around him for any sign of Spike. Carly had never really seen Powerglide so serious. Even in the few skirmishes that she had seen, he was always a study of levity. Here though he was deadly serious. A shiver ran through Carly's body. Seeing warriors with their stern expressions always made Carly anxious.

Carly stopped as something caught her eye. She lunged forward and rapped Powerglide on the leg excitedly before drawing her hand away and grimacing. As shook she tried to shake the pain out of her hand, she pointed down at the forest floor.

"It's the glove from Spike's costume." She stooped down to pick it up. "Better tell Bumblebee that we're on the right trail."

As Powerglide activated his radio, he asked, "Wasn't he dressing up like Michael Jackson? That glove looks more like he was dressed up like a waiter. Hey Bumblebee," he said into his communicator, "this is Powerglide. The junior detective here just found a part of Spike's costume. Should we regroup out this way?"

Powerglide listened for a reply and received back nothing but dead air.

"Yo, 'Bee, you reading me?" He looked down at Carly. "This is not good."

"Should we go back?"

"No," Powerglide said slowly. "He. . . it definitely took Spike this way. If it got Bumblebee and Chip, it would have doubled back." He started walking again. "Come on. We'll find them."

Carly tucked the glove into the pocket of her jeans. Suddenly a voice from the forest surrounded them.

"Indeed you will," it said.

Carly spun around to see if the parasite was behind her. Instead, a hoarse grunt echoed from the direction she had been facing, from Powerglide. Before she could even think, let alone run, cold metal hands wrapped around her. She struggled against the parasite's grasp to no avail. It turned her around to face it. She shuddered at the sight. The sores on Gears' face were larger and more grotesque than they had been earlier in the evening.

Was it only an hour ago that this started? she thought in horrified wonder.

With an effort, she looked away from Gears' face toward Powerglide, who was being forced to the ground by Gears' other arm. Carly had never realized how much stronger he was. Or maybe it was enhanced somehow by the parasite and how it affected an Autobot's physiology.

Carly looked back at the parasite, who she refused to think of as Gears, and drew back from the intensity that it looked at her.

"Indeed you will," it repeated.

* * *

Carly looked down the line of Autobots and humans tied up in the small clearing deep in the forest. The parasite had taken them down a path that followed so many twists and turns around trees and hills and over small creeks that she was hopelessly lost by the time they had reached their destination. To her joy, she saw Spike, Chip, and Bumblebee all there, tied up but unharmed. Powerglide continued to try to fight off the parasite's grip, but found himself tied tightly to a tree with the others within minutes of their arrival. Carly tried to slip through the knots in the rope, but found it impossible. She had stopped struggling after a few minutes. Powerglide obviously had no such plans, as he continued to buck against his restraints.

The parasite was kneeling down facing Spike, looking at him imploringly.

"Where is it?" it growled. "You had it. I saw it. Where did you put it?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Spike said, almost defiantly.

"The. . .," it started, then seemed lost for words. "The white." It held up its hand. "Where is the white? Where is my prize?"

Carly blinked. He means the glove, she thought.

"I have it," she said.

With deceptive quickness, the parasite slid over to Carly, dirt scrubbing against Gear's blue legs. Carly thought she saw it grimace, but the horrifying face hovering inches from her quickly erased the thought.

"Where is my prize?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Let us go, and I'll give it to you."

It laughed. "I don't think so. You give it to me now."

Carly made a show of struggling against the ropes. "I can't reach it. It's in my pocket."

The parasite frowned deeply, as if considering its options. Then it reached out and untied Carly. "Don't run," it said as it deftly undid the knots. "I will find you if you run."

Carly reached into her pocket and pulled out the glove. She held it out to the parasite.

"There. Now untie us and–."

Before she could finish the sentence, she was swept up in the parasite's grasp again and tied up again.

"That's not fair," she screamed.

"I'm not in the business of fair," the parasite sneered, as it held the glove out triumphantly.

It walked down the line of prisoners and stopped in front of Powerglide. It looked up and down at the makeup still applied to his armor. It tilted its head to the side as it peered at the fake claws on Powerglide's hands. It looked at Gears' hands, which bore similar claws.

"You are mocking me."

"Not mocking," Powerglide said stonily. "It's Halloween. The good Autobot that you took over might know what that means."

The parasite looked down at Chip. "Would you mock me as such? Or are those sharp teeth a mockery as well, of something else?"

"You have to fight it, Gears," Chip said, ignoring the question. He tried to twist out of the rope wrapped around him and his chair. "You were able to do it before. Don't let this thing win."

Spike picked up the same argument. "You're too strong to let him do this to you, Gears. Fight. C'mon, fight."

The parasite turned around and put its hand to its head. It shook its head from side to side, like Gears was fighting it again.

"Yeah, Gears," Powerglide chimed in, fighting even harder against his bonds. "You can beat this thing. Just tell it how much your servos hurt or something. Don't let that thing do this."

Suddenly, the parasite's arms dropped to its side. Its head hung and shook dejectedly side to side. As one, all five of the prisoners stopped struggling and watched, waiting to see if it was Gears or the Shadow that turned around. Carly twisted her arm again, trying to loosen herself from the rope.

She stopped. 'Rope?' she thought. Where did it get rope?' She looked up sharply as the parasite turned around.

"I am going to ask you guys to stop your whining before my audio circuits pop right out of my head," a familiar voice said.

"Gears, you're back!" Powerglide exclaimed.

Gears shook his head and reached up to the sores on his face. . . and started pulling them off.

"I don't know how Trailbreaker even talked me into doing this. Do you know what this stuff will do to my armor? Get slapped on the back for doing a good job and not only will it knock my shoulder out of joint, but all of the armor on my face will probably crack and fall right off. Won't that be a sight. Come and watch the kiddies running away from the horrible faceless Autobot."

Carly looked down the line at the others, all of them staring at Gears in shock as he continued to peel off the synthetic material.

"But...," Bumblebee said.

"What...?" Spike replied before trailing off.

"Did you say...?" Chip asked.

Gears sighed and walked over to untie them, starting with the humans.

"Trailbreaker. Who do you think would have thought this up? Prowl? Prime?" After untying them, he stood and stretched, grimacing and putting a hand on his back. "Running through all these trees, branches trying to rip my armor off. And thanks to the stuff on my face, now they probably can tear my armor off. Great. Wonderful. And just in time to run through the forest again."

He turned and started walking away from the clearing.

"'Don't worry about the optic implant,' he said. 'It's just a temporary thing,' he said. 'Your optics will be blue again in no time,' he said. Sure they will. Right after I go blind. And after whatever powers them sends a ton of radiation into my cranial unit. Probably get out of my recharge cycle thinking I'm a drone." He put his arms out in front of him dramatically. "Beep beep beep."

He dropped his arms and turned around to look at them. There were all still standing in the same spot, still shocked at Gears playing a practical joke.

"Don't mind me. Just practicing for my future career as a mindless courier." He paused. "Are you guys coming or what?" He turned again and started grumbling under his breath, peeling the fake claws from his hands.

Carly sprinted ahead of the others, who all started laughing and excitedly talking about what had happened to them. She had a feeling that this was going to be a story told at a lot of campfires around Halloween near Autobot Headquarters. She fell beside Gears and looked up at him.

"You know, Gears, you might have a career in the movies with an act like that. You had us convinced you were the Black Shadow."

Gears grunted. "Under those lights. If these implants don't blind me, those would."

Carly smiled. "Happy Halloween, Gears."

"Yeah, sure," he mumbled.

But as Gears turned his head away, Carly thought she saw a smile.

The End.