View Full Version : [FICTION] Reckoning, Part Fourteen

2012-12-22, 08:24 PM
If you've followed the story so far you know that Reckoning follows on from Generation 2 in both story and style. As such, it's featured a fair bit of graphic robot-on-robot violence. This chapter is a bit different though, because it features more than it's fair share of human-on-human violence. I've toned it down a bit to maintain decorum and because I really have no interest in writing gore-porn, but there are still a couple scenes that are downright nasty so I thought a warning might be in order.

The story so far...

With their leader dead, a force from the Cybertronian Empire still on Earth and Galvatron on the loose, the Autobot Earthforce is in disaster mode. After Jazz's nervous breakdown and Ratchet's killing of would-be ally Shockwave, Bumblebee found himself in command of a small, disorganized group of Autobots. With no idea where to look for their enemies or what they might be planning, Bumblebee has no choice but to wait for the other side to make the first move. Meanwhile, Imperial soldiers Garboil and Howlback have forged an unlikely alliance with Galvatron and recruited the human terrorist Ga'mede as part of a plan to deny Earth and it's resources to the Autobots at all costs.

Previous chapters:
Part One: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=35760
Part Two: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=36046
Part Three: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=36295
Part Four: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=37186
Part Five: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=37454
Part Six: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=37623
Part Seven: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=38131
Part Eight: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=39173
Part Nine: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=41811
Part Ten: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=44343
Part Eleven: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?t=48711
Part Twelve: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?t=49364
Part Thirteen: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?t=50161

Transformers: Reckoning

Part Fourteen: Outbreak

Portland, Oregon: Thursday, September 21, 1995

"What's going on?"

"Keep it down," Ga'mede hissed. He looked around to make sure that no one was looking at him, then added, "I don't know what it's like where you're from, but around here if you see someone talking to their own suit jacket you back slowly away and call security to tackle them."

"If you didn't turn off the comlink augmentation we installed," Garboil told him tartly, "we wouldn't have to talk at all."

"It hurts my brain," Ga'mede told him in an annoyed whisper. "And frankly, your voice is shrill enough even when it's not being projected straight into my parietal lobe. Now shut up before you blow our cover."

Ga'mede continued to flip through the magazine he'd been pretending to read, carefully cataloguing the building's security as he did so. It wasn't lax by any means – security cameras swept every corner of the lobby and armed guards passed through regularly. If he'd been a regular visitor or job applicant he probably would have been surprised and maybe a even a little put off by it.

But then, most of the building's regular visitors didn't know about the valuable treasure hidden in the basement.

"Mr. Drechsler?"

Ga'mede looked up when the receptionist called his name. It was strange, he thought, to hear it again after all this time. But there wasn't much point in hiding anymore. After today, it wouldn't matter. Everyone in the world was going to know his name.

He casually palmed Garboil and dropped the microcassette tape down the back of the plush chair he'd been sitting in before standing up. Smiling, he walked over and met the young woman at her desk. In the friendliest tone he could summon, he said, "Yes?"

The receptionist met his eyes, blushed a little bit and brushed her red hair behind her ear.

"Dr. Jansen can see you now," she told him. "I'm sorry about the wait."

"Oh, don't mention it," he told her, flashing another smile. "I'll see myself up."

"Actually," she said, returning his smile and breaking eye contact bashfully, "I'll have to escort you up myself. Security, you understand."

As the receptionist got up and led him toward the elevators, Ga'mede took a moment to admire her long red hair and well-formed backside. He made sure to keep his expression pleasantly neutral while thinking, It's a real shame she'll be dead before I leave the building...

Magnificus hated his microscope mode.

The Decepticon scientist had never really understood why he needed to adopt an Earth mode to start with. He was a scientist, after all. He never went out in public, and he never had anything to do with this backward planet's silly natives. But it had proven useful in his research, and he had to admit that there were times when he'd been glad to have it..

This wasn't one of those times.

He was crammed inside a small paper box, which was itself jammed into a large shipping crate. The crate jostled with every step that the clumsy, sweaty human delivery person took, shaking Magnificus up far too much for his liking.

"Yo, I got a delivery for the labs." The uncouth fleshbag's muffled voice was audible through the layers of packaging that encased Magnificus, but only just. "Looks like a new crate of microscopes."

Sitting on the short bench that was the sole piece of furniture in his cramped, spartan cell, Ratchet let out a heavy sigh.

"I've been in here for almost a month. Do you really need to keep me locked up like this?" he asked wearily.

Standing on the other side of the invisible forcefield, Bumblebee glared at him. "How can you ask that? Of course I do. You've left me no choice."

"Funny," Ratchet retorted. "The last time I felt that way, I got pistol-whipped by an Omnibot and tossed in the brig."

"You're in the brig because you destroyed our best chance of protecting this planet, doctor," Bumblebee sighed. "Don't try to hang the blame on anyone else. I--" The Autobots' interim leader stopped short, frowning. "Camshaft pistol-whipped you?"

Ratchet shook his head. "The red one. Overdrive, I think?"

"I'll talk to him."

Ratchet grunted indifferently. "After what happened with Downshift, he's still got a lot of things to sort out. I think I touched a nerve."

"Betrayal is a sore point for most Autobots," Bumblebee told him with no small amount of exasperation. "Murder too, come to think of it."

"Murder?" Ratchet balked. "I know I was asleep in the Arctic for a long time, and maybe the rules have changed while I was gone. But in my day killing Decepticons was about as far from murder as you could get. It was part of our job. Hell, it was the only part of our job some days. It wasn't something we liked doing, but it certainly wasn't something that you'd get tossed in a cell for either."

"What did you expect me to do?" Bumblebee asked him, his voice starting to rise. "You convinced me that Jazz wasn't fit for command. You convinced me that I should take the lead instead. You convinced me that I was the best person to lead Earthforce against Galvatron. And then you disobeyed the very first order that I gave you because you thought that you, the almighty Ratchet, knew better than everyone around you. Just what did you think was going to happen, Doc?"

"So you tossed me in the brig to make an example out of me?" Ratchet asked, his own voice starting to become heated. "To show the others what will happen if they step out of line?"

"No, Ratchet," Bumblebee said. The smaller Autobot turned his back. "I tossed you in the brig because I can't trust you. You disobeyed a direct order. But worse than that, you deliberately killed one of your patients. The Ratchet I knew wouldn't do that. He couldn't. But the stranger I see when I look through those bars? He's not Ratchet. Or at least not all of him. What you did reminds me a lot more of someone else I used to know – someone with a bucket on his head and an oversized gun strapped to his arm."

"How dare you?" Ratchet seethed. "I'm nothing like him!"

"Aren't you?" Bumblebee shrugged. "I've read Fixit's report and I'm sure you have too. You and Megatron weren't just welded together. You were bonded, just like I'm bonded to my Pretender shell...and just like Prime was bonded to HiQ. I don't pretend to be an expert, but I call it like I see it. And right now, what I see is Megatron behaving calmly and rationally while you, Ratchet, toss aside the ethics you clung to your entire life, manipulate people into doing what you want and kill anyone who you think might be a threat to your agenda. What I see, doctor, is that a part you stayed with Megatron when you were separated...and a part of him is still with you." Bumblebee headed for the door, adding, "You're the one who said we couldn't risk having Shockwave on the team. Well, that goes double for Megatron...even if he's wearing a friend's face."

Ratchet watched him leave, but before he could get out the door he called out, "Bumblebee?"

"Yeah, doc?" Stopping in the middle of the doorframe, the weariness was clear in Bumblebee's frame as he turned to look over his shoulder.

"What are you going to do about them?" The doctor gestured toward the opposite cell, where a trio of deactivated Imperials lay in a state of extreme disrepair.

"That's not something you need to worry about, Ratchet," Bumblebee told him. "Not anymore."

"It's just...leaving them in pieces like that," Ratchet shook his head. "It's not right."

"No," Bumblebee sighed. "It's not. I know that. But they'll have to wait. First Aid has his hands full piecing injured Autobots back together."

"I know," Ratchet told him. "But I don't."

Bumblebee frowned slightly, but he didn't speak for a few seconds.

"I'll send someone down with a medical kit."

Ratchet thanked him. Then he sighed, sunk back down to his bench and tried desperately not to think about what Bumblebee had just said.

After an elevator ride that he enjoyed more than he probably should have, Ga'mede strode into the penthouse office of one Dr. Byron Jansen, CEO of Apex Pharmaceuticals. Once the perky young receptionist had introduced them and left, the two men shook hands and settled into chairs on either side of a massive, polished mahogany desk.

"So, Mr. Drechsler," the industrialist said, "what can I do for you? Your people said you were interested in a joint venture of some kind."

"After a fashion," Ga'mede told him. "I represent a group of foreign investors who've spent a great deal of time and energy developing some new gene sequences. They think they can use them to breed a new variety of wheat that can grow under drought conditions. The new genes are inserted into the wheat using a retrovirus, but they don't have the equipment to synthesize more than a thimble full of it. Enough for lab tests and a proof-of-concept greenhouse or two, but not enough to go into full production."

Dr. Jansen nodded, favouring Ga'mede with a bland smile. "It sounds fascinating, but I'm not entirely sure what you're telling me all this for."

Ga'mede returned the smile, but his was a predatory expression. "Yes you do. I'm telling you this, doctor, because you have a prototype nano-constructor in your basement."

"That's absurd," Jansen said, his voice rising in pitch slightly. "No one has that sort of technology. It's at least two decades away from being viable."

"Yes, that's what you say on camera, or to your competitors," Ga'mede agreed. "But there's just the two of us in the room here, doctor, and we both know the truth."

Jansen sighed. "Suppose for a moment that this fantasy of yours was true," he said. "So what? Even assuming we had this technology, we're not about to let anyone else use it."

"Sure you are," Ga'mede told him. "I'm going to convince you."

"And how do you plan on doing that?" the industrialist asked. "If we had something like that – and let me assure you again that we don't – it would be a licence to print money. Nothing you could offer me would be enough to buy even a few minutes of its time."

Ga'mede shrugged. "I'm not going to offer you money."



"Then what?"

Ga'mede reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue microcassette, identical to the one he'd left in the lobby. "This."

Jansen frowned. "A tape? What, are you planning to blackmail me? I won't be threatened--"

"No, and yes," Ga'mede told him. "No, I'm not blackmailing you. I don't have any videos of you snorting cocaine or ****ing your secretary. Although good on you if you are, because she's a fine piece of work." He gave the doctor another cold smile. "But I'm afraid you will be threatened."

"By what?" Jansen asked defiantly.

"You know how I said it was just you and me in here? It turns out that I lied." Ga'mede tossed the cassette at Jansen, who pushed his chair back as if he was trying to dodge some sort of weapon. That turned out to be prescient, though, because the tape unfolded on itself and expanded into a cobalt-blue feline as large as he was. Knocked out of his chair, the doctor found himself lying helpless on the floor pinned under the Transformer's weight.

"Byron Jansen, meet my friend Howlback." Ga'mede smiled. "Either you do everything we want, or the two of you will be spending an awful lot of quality time together."

Garrett Dorsey took a draw on his cigarette, letting the smoke rest in his lungs for a few relaxing seconds as he pulled his beat-up old jeep into a empty parking spot. He exhaled raggedly, then coughed as his cancer-ridden trachea rejected the fresh air that he inhaled after the smoke. Ignoring the pain, the middle-aged ex-soldier leaned out the open window and stared, dead-eyed, at the bank across the street.

"We're here," the jeep's radio announced. "Now get out of me, you disgusting bag of flesh."

Garrett scowled and inhaled deeply again, trying not to snap and fire a round or two into the dashboard. For what he was getting paid, he would take a bit of abuse...even if it came from a loudmouthed jalopy.

"It's not time yet," he said with clipped military precision. "We're supposed to wait until noon. It's only eleven fifty-six."

"So wait," the jeep told him. "Outside. Preferably as far away from me as you can get."

"No," Garrett told him. "If you think I'm messing up this op by—" he broke off, coughing again. "If you think I'm ruining things by standing outside until some ignorant rent-a-cop spots me with this funky gun of yours, you've got another thing coming."

"If I have to put up with you littering my insides with phlegm for another four minutes," the jeep told him, "the guards will be alerted by me transforming to robot mode and tossing you through the wall."

Garrett looked at his watch, then over at the big clock again. His scowl deepened.

"Fine," he said. "I'll go. But if your buddies' timelines are thrown off because of this it's your fault, not mine."

Garrett climbed out of the jeep, grabbing the strange purple-and-orange pistol off of the passenger seat on his way out. He took one last draw on his cigarette, then flicked it away and threw the bank's glass door open.

"Nobody move!" He fired the strange ray gun into the counter, which exploded sending customers and employees alike running for cover. "This is a stickup!"

Garrett was a dead man and he knew it. But the cancer was taking his life from him anyway, one cell at a time. At least this way he could go out quickly...and leave behind a suitcase full of cash for his wife and kids, courtesy of his robotic employers and their creepy blond spokesman.

It'll be over soon, at least...

Streetwise knew that most of his fellow Autobots didn't take monitor duty seriously, but he couldn't help it. He was an observer, first and foremost. He wasn't just good at watching and analyzing what was going on around him – he was great at it, and more than that he loved it. He was a detective by nature, and he was proud of what he was. So although the likes of Camshaft and Jackpot and Tracks scorned the shifts they spent watching the base's monitors for signs of Decepticon activity, Streetwise revelled in it. He and Groove, in fact, often sat together when it was the other Protectobot's turn and watched together, competing to see who could spot more interesting things in the security feeds and television broadcasts that the base's computers had patched into. But sadly, Streetwise was alone today. With most of the ship's crew dead, Groove had volunteered to shuttle up to the Steelhaven to watch the ship's sensors and run the Autobots' communications until Hubcap was repaired. He was only a radio signal away, of course, but it was hardly the same.

But company or not, when the monitor bank started beeping he swung around and tuned into the indicated channel in less than a second. Even without competition, he had his pride.

The monitor brought up a television broadcast, and Streetwise quickly determined that he was watching a breaking news bulletin.

"—Charlene Welles reporting, on the scene of the standoff. Charlene?

The camera cut to a perky female reporter who was doing her best to appear sombre, but couldn't quite hide her excitement at being in the middle of what looked like half the Portland police force.

"Thanks, Tom. I'm standing in front of the Bank of America on 14th Avenue, where for the last half-hour a madman has held two dozen people hostage at gunpoint. What started as a simple robbery has descended into a life-threatening situation, and the gunman is threatening to--"

Streetwise tuned her out, focusing instead on what he saw behind her. Dozens of police, all of them wearing flak jackets and carrying their weapons unholstered. Past them a parking lot full of vehicles, one of them pulling out.

Wait a minute... he thought to himself. He paused the playback and zoomed in on the beat-up Jeep that was pulling away, then frowned.

The Jeep had no driver. The angular insignia he saw on it's hood told him why.

Imperials. But what would they be staging a bank heist for?

He resumed the playback, ignoring the reporter's platitudes and focusing on the scene. Nothing else jumped out at him...until they showed a few seconds of grainy security camera footage of the gunman.

Streetwise zoomed in on his gun.

"Oh, hell." He lunged for the comm, shouting, "Bumblebee, this is Streetwise. You need to get down here now. We have a situation."

When the doors to the brig slid open to admit Overdrive, Ratchet winced involuntarily.

"Here to work me over again?" he asked the Omnibot acidly.

"Here to--" Overdrive's expression turned angry and his free hand balled into a fist before he got control of himself. "No, dimwit. I'm here to give you this." He placed a medical kit on the floor just outside Ratchet's cell, then stepped back and turned off the cell forcefields.

"Get in there," he gestured toward the cell that held the unconscious Imperials. "If you try to escape, you're getting electroshocked into next week. But that goes without saying."

"Got it," Ratchet responded. "And don't worry. I'm not going anywhere. It's not like I've got anywhere to go..."

"No, I have to say you've burned your bridges pretty well." Overdrive turned the forcefields back on again once Ratchet was in with the Imperials. "Try not to kill these ones, doc," he said testily. "Oh, and if they try to rip you limb from limb once they're awake...well, just don't say I didn't warn you."

Ratchet just sighed. He understood that Overdrive was still stinging after Downshift's betrayal, but from what he'd been told the other Autobot had been known for his nasty attitude since he'd gotten aboard the Steelhaven en route to Earth. How someone like that had even wound up an Autobot, Ratchet had no idea.

"Nothing to say for yourself, traitor?" When Ratchet didn't rise to the bait, the Omnibot just scoffed. "Well, good. I wouldn't want to hear it anyway." Overdrive turned and walked out, leaving Ratchet alone in his cell with three unconscious Imperial prisoners.

Ratchet took a moment to put the arrogant Autobot out of his mind, then cracked open the medkit and started putting the Imperials back together.

Ga'mede let himself enjoy the panic on Dr. Jansen's face for a few seconds before getting down to business. "So what's it going to be Byron? Either give me what I want or my feline friend here shows you what it feels like to be a ball of yarn. What's it going to be?"

"Wh...what do you want?" Jansen seemed to sink deeper into his chair as Howlback approached him.

Ga'mede sighed, then stepped forward and slapped the executive hard across the face. "Listen to me clearly, you ignorant sack of crap, because I'm not a guy who likes to explain himself more than once. Either take us to your nano-constructor or volunteer for cat-toy duty. Choose. Now."

"I'll...I'll take you!" he squealed. "J...just don't hurt me, please!"

"You're pathetic," Ga'mede told him contemptuously, whacking him again. "Now stop trying to disappear into your chair and get moving."

"Of...of course." Jansen slowly got up, then lead them toward a door built into the back of his office. He slid it aside to reveal an elevator car. "The executive lift," he told them. "This will take you right there. I'll just, uh, stay here out of your way."

"Don't be an idiot," Ga'mede told him. "The only way you're staying behind is if the kitty rips your intestines out and we watch you bleed to death. Get in the ****ing lift!"


Ga'mede shoved the businessman roughly, bouncing him off the back wall of the roomy elevator. "Shut up," he snapped. "Don't say a word, or I'll kill you myself and save Howlback the trouble."

Hearing a knock at her door, Maria looked up from her desk and smiled at her visitor.

"Buster," she said happily. "I can't tell you how good it is to see a friendly face in this metallic hellhole."

"How about four?" As Buster stepped through the door into her cavernous room, Maria saw his wife Jesse standing behind him with a baby in her arms. Her four year old daughter was standing at her side, but her eyes lit up when she saw Maria and the little girl ran over and hugged her vigorously.

"Auntie Maria!" she crowed happily. "Auntie Maria!"

The former police officer laughed, happily surprised by the child's recognition. "I haven't seen her since she turned two," she asked the parents. "How in the world does she remember me?"

"Kids," Jesse said with a shrug. "You never know with them. She remembers you, but ask her what she ate for lunch today and she wouldn't be able to tell you."

"Cookies!" the young girl exclaimed.

Maria laughed, then dropped down to one knee and scooped the child up in her arms. "Come here, Jennie," she said, lifting the girl up in the air. Try as she might she couldn't quite ignore the soft, mechanical whirring that her newly-roboticized body made as she stood up, but thankfully the kid didn't notice. How would you explain something like that to a child?

Child in hand, and moving slowly because she still wasn't quite used to the newfound strength in her limbs, Maria walked over to Jesse and looked closely at the baby. "Please tell me you didn't name him Spike," she said half-seriously. "He was a nice guy, but I wouldn't wish that name on anyone."

Jesse tittered, and Buster shook his head. "We didn't," he assured her, "not that Dad didn't try to talk us into it. But I had the pleasure of growing up as 'Buster', so I'm more than happy to give my children normal names. We called him Jake."

Maria smiled at the baby, who if if she remembered right (and she always did now she had alien nanites dug into her brain – just one more thing she needed to get used to) was just under six months old. "You have no idea how big of a bullet you just dodged, little guy."

She tousled little Jennie's hair, then set her down on the floor and smiled when the girl looked up...and up...and up toward the room's ceiling. The little girl giggled happily.

"I think she likes this place a lot more than I do."

"You're not happy here?" Jesse asked.

"How happy would you be if you'd spent the last two weeks stuck in an alien fortress without any good company?"

"The Autobots haven't been visiting?" Buster asked.

"That hippy motorcycle – Groove, I think? -- kept me company for the first few days, but they sent him up to his spaceship or something. Since then? Bumblebee stops by every once in a while to see how I'm doing," Maria admitted, "and Jackpot keeps challenging me to card games, but I know a grifter when I see one. Other than that, it's just the doctor. That is, the new doctor, First Aid, who might just be the biggest perfectionist I've ever met. At the rate we're going he might be willing to release me by the time I'm forty, and sadly I don't think you'll be able to clobber this one over the head with that cast of yours to get me out early."

Buster smiled nervously as Jesse glared at him.

"You what?"

"It's a long story," Maria told her, "but don't worry. Apparently our friend Mr. Blackrock took good care of Dr. Cohen. Last I heard he was on vacation somewhere in the Dominican."

Jesse shook her head. "This is one of those things I'm going to be happier not knowing, isn't it?"

"Probably," Buster told her. "But look on the bright side...I get my cast off tomorrow, so the odds are good I won't get another chance to whack anyone before then."

Jesse was about to say something back to him when an artificial voice echoed down the hall.

"What do you mean, I can't go? That's ridiculous!"

"Was that...Jazz?" Buster asked.

Maria nodded. "Sounds like. I wonder what's gotten him all riled up."

"He's usually a cool customer," Buster agreed. "That's not like him."

Maria shrugged. "Only one way to find out," she said, striding out into the hall and dashing off toward the sound of the robotic argument, only dimly aware that the Witwicky clan was following her.

Bumblebee sighed, rubbing his temple with his right hand as he looked down at the Autobot standing at the foot of the observation deck's chairs.

"Do we really need to go through this again, Jazz?"

"Only if you're planning on being stubborn," Jazz said. "I'm the best person for the job and you know it. You're sending Tracks and Overdrive on a scout mission and leaving me behind?"

"Tracks and Overdrive," Bumblebee told him, "can get there faster than any of us except for the Aerialbots, who wouldn't exactly blend in." He leaned forward, his body language challenging. "And I know they're not going to put human lives at risk by taking a shot at Galvatron, either."

"Ouch. Low blow, Bee."

"Maybe," Bumblebee admitted, "but I thought we both agreed that your judgement wasn't rock solid where Galvatron was concerned."

Jazz sighed. "Fine, I get that. But what about them? Neither of them are scouts and neither of them are exactly low-profile. They might not know what they're looking for."

"They'll be fine," Bumblebee assured him. "They only have to track down this Jeep and keep an eye out for any more Imperials. Blades will be there right after to watch things from the sky, Streetwise will be there inside of an hour to do the detective work. Silverbolt, Air Raid and Fireflight will be on standby in case it comes to a fight and we need extra firepower. Skydive and Groove are moving the Steelhaven into a geosynchronous orbit over Portland right now, and will be able to watch things with what's left of the ship's sensors. And once he's on-scene, Streetwise should be able to infiltrate the police barricade and listen in on their radio to find out what's going on."

"Better idea," a distinctly human voice piped in. "Send me with Streetwise and I can just ask them."

A surprised Bumblebee looked past Jazz, toward the door where three full-sized humans and two children stood.

"I don't think that's a good idea, Maria," Bumblebee told her.

"If you're worried about my safety, don't be," she told him. "I'm a cop. Being safe isn't part of the bargain."

"You're not a cop anymore," Buster told her firmly, stepping into the midst of the Autobots alongside her. "And the last time you tangled with a Transformer you ended up a quadriplegic."

Maria shook her head. "It doesn't matter. What does matter is that I know probably half the officers milling around outside that bank. They'll talk to me, and more importantly they'll listen. None of you can say that."

"Maria, I--" Bumblebee started to talk, but Camshaft cut him off.

"Sorry, Bumblebee. We've got a call coming in on Blackrock's channel," the Omnibot announced.

"Apparently it's going to be one of those days..." Bumblebee sighed. "Put him through. The rest of you, be quiet."

Once Camshaft had indicated that the call was live, Bumblebee said, "G.B., we're a little busy over here. What can I do for you?"

"You can tell me why there's a driverless truck running around downtown Portland, for one," Blackrock said without preamble. "Bumblebee, you said that you were going to keep us in the loop about things like this."

"And we will," Bumblebee assured him, "when there's anything to keep you in the loop about. Right now you know about as much as we do. A Transformer we don't know was spotted near a bank robbery. We're sending a team to check it out."

"Good," Blackrock told him. "So am I."

"That's really not necessary," Bumblebee assured him. "We'll let you know whatever we find."

"Maybe. Maybe not. But after what's happened lately, I want to hear about the situation from my own people. Do you blame me?"

Bumblebee opened his mouth ready to object to that, but found that he was too weary to bother. "OK. It's your decision, G.B. I'm not going to argue with you. But if they find anything interesting, make sure to tell us. Bumblebee out."

Once the channel was closed, he sighed and looked back to Maria. "Well," he said, "asking you to stay behind now feels distinctly like closing the barn door after the horses have bolted." Gesturing toward Buster and his family, he said, "Say your goodbyes to the Witwickies and be ready to go in ten minutes. We're leaving as soon as Streetwise is ready."

"Where did he disappear to?" Jazz asked.

"He's downstairs," Bumblebee said, "talking to Ratchet's patients."

"Need something?"

Streetwise ignored Ratchet's question, instead turning his attention to the Imperial that the doctor was in the process of waking up.

"You're Overcharge," he said firmly to the Triplechanger. "You were in command of the Imperial team on Earth."

The Transformer looked up groggily, still not quite recovered from his injuries and the long period of deactivation he'd suffered. "So I am, aren't I? You know this already, so it's not a question, is it?"

Streetwise regarded the Imperial coolly. "I don't have time for games," he said. "Lives are at stake."

"But none that I'm concerned about, I'd wager."

"You'd wager wrong," Streetwise told him. "Firstly, if you don't cooperate I'll pull Ratchet out of that cell so fast it'll make your head spin. Your troops will stay offline and you will be half repaired and in excruciating pain once Ratchet's pain-suppressors wear off."

Ratchet's head snapped up and he gave the other Autobot an icy glare. "You wouldn't!"

Streetwise continued to ignore him, speaking to Overcharge as if the doctor wasn't there. "Secondly, if you don't help us the rest of your troops that are still at large will pay the price for your stubbornness in blood."

"My soldiers have all left," Overcharge insisted. "You mean to threaten someone who's not even in the solar system?"

"Have they?" Streetwise asked, disbelieving. "That's interesting. Well, in that case I suppose this is no one you're familiar with." He tapped a button on the datapad he was carrying and a hologram appeared, showing a giant metal bird perched atop a building. "Or this," he said as the image shifted to show the driverless Jeep they'd seen on the news broadcast. "Or, for that matter, this," the last image, of a human gunman holding Galvatron in the building that the Jeep had driven past.

Streetwise smiled. "Here's what I think, Overcharge. I don't think they've gone anywhere. I think they stuck around longer than they were supposed to...and Galvatron got his claws into them. And I think they're in very, very serious trouble." He killed the holograms and crossed his arms. "What do you think?"

Overcharge shrugged. "I think if that's truly happened I'd do whatever I could to free them. But there's nothing I can do for them while I'm locked in a cell, is there? Let me out and I'll try to reason with them."

"The chances of that happening are vanishingly slim," Streetwise told him flatly. "But if you tell us what resources they have, or where their base is--"

"Even assuming I knew that," Overcharge said bluntly, "I'd never tell you, would I? An orbital bombardment isn't going to rescue them from Galvatron, is it?"

"You honestly think I'll believe they're innocent victims?" Streetwise asked incredulously. "After what you've done to us?"

Ratchet got up, abandoning his work on Overcharge and stepping close enough to the forcefield to make it sizzle. "They're soldiers, Streetwise. Not terrorists. Not murderers. Just soldiers. Don't take them all for monsters because of the bad acts of a few."

"No," Streetwise said sharply. "Let's not do that, or people might start believing that all Autobots murder helpless prisoners over a decade-old grudge." He took a step closer to the forcefield, glaring. "Sit down and shut up, doctor, or I'll have you stunned and dragged out." Ignoring Ratchet's indignant protests, he turned to Overcharge and said, "This is your last chance. If you don't help me, I can't help you."

Overcharge stood up, straightening his posture as best he could considering his general disrepair. "I won't help you wipe out my people," he said decisively. "If you decide that you're actually interested in working together to fight Galvatron, you know where to find me."

He sunk back down to the floor, drained by the effort.

"But we both know you're not interested in that, don't we?"

Ga'mede shoved Jansen between the shoulder blades, propelling the cowardly executive out of the elevator into Apex's basement laboratory. "Move it," he ordered.

The security guard posted at the door looked up at the sound of their arrival and jumped up in panic when he saw the strange man brutalizing his employer. He reached for his sidearm with one hand and vaulted for the alarm panel with the other. He didn't make it to either one.

Ga'mede grabbed a handful of the guard's jacket, pulling him close so that he could drive his fist into the other man's throat. The stunned guard tried to pull away as his bruised windpipe closed up, but Ga'mede pressed his attack. Drawing a knife from inside his jacket, he pulled the guard close again and drove the blade into his heart.

"You keep your people in line, Jansen," Ga'mede twisted the blade, then pulled it out and dropped the guard's body to the ground. "Or there'll be a lot more corpses piling up."

He shoved Jansen into the guard's chair, wiping the blood off of his knife with the executive's suit jacket before he slipping the weapon into the same pocket where he'd hidden Howlback's tiny cassette form.

A guy could get used to a partner like that... Ga'mede mused as he roughly pulled the pistol and spare magazine from the corpse's belt. Gesturing threateningly toward Jansen, he demanded, "Are you going to just sit there until I kill someone else? Open the door!"

Jansen hurried to comply, fumbling with his keys until he found the right one to unlock the secured wing of the lab. Once the door was open, Ga'mede grabbed him roughly by the shoulder and dragged him in. Holding the man in front of him as a human shield, he fired a round into a light fixture to get everyone's attention.

"Listen up!" he shouted. "Your boss and I have a deal. You do what I tell you to and no one needs to get shot. Now fire up the nano-constructor!"

There were more than a dozen people in the lab, but no one moved. Most of them were frozen in fear, but he saw a few faces set with defiance as well. Ga'mede had seen more than his fair share of hostage situations – had caused more than his fair share of hostage situations – and knew that if he didn't put an uncooperative group of hostages in it's place right away someone was bound to try and play the hero.

Better do something about that, then.

Picking one of the brave-looking ones at random, Ga'mede pointed the gun at him and demanded, "You! Get the machine started now!"

The scientist's eyes flared with anger. "I don't know who you are or what you're after, but you can go to hell! I'm not going to help you--"

Ga'mede shot him in mid-sentence, putting a bullet through the man's right lung. He watched him fall to the ground, coughing and bleeding, before turning to the next-nearest scientist and saying, "Well?"

"It'll take a few minutes to warm up the circuits," the small Asian woman said, obviously afraid that he would kill her too for daring to talk back.

"Then you'd better get started, shouldn't you?" Ignoring the woman after that, he whirled on the next-closest of his prisoners and said, "You got a new shipment of microscopes earlier today. Where are they?"

The older man was obviously confused. "Uh...well, we haven't opened them yet. They're in storage."

"Take me," Ga'mede ordered him. "And just to make sure none of you are stupid enough to call the guards while I'm gone..." He dug into his pocket, pulled out Howlback and tossed her into the air. His hostages looked at him like he was a madman...until she unfolded and landed on the ground on a threatening crouch. "My friend here will keep an eye on you. Behave, because she's much less forgiving than I am."

Just to drive the point home, he made sure to step over the dying scientist as he followed the old man out of the room.

Lee Gruber opened the door, saw who was on the other side of it and scowled.

"What does Blackrock want this time?" he demanded.

Darius Hayes smiled, knowing that the not-especially-personable giant needed to be treated with kid gloves. Not only was he hung over half of the time and well on his way to being drunk most of the rest, but he was still more than a little annoyed (and understandably so, Darius thought) about being transported to an alien planet on the first official job he'd done for his former boss. Blackrock had paid the Neo-Knights well for the trauma they'd endured – set them up for life, frankly – but the man who used to be called Thunderpunch wasn't the kind who forgave easily.

"The same as always," Darius told him.

"Then he can go hang," Gruber snapped. "I've had enough of this robot shit to last a lifetime, Hayes. I'm not jumping into it again."

Darius didn't argue. He just shrugged and said, "OK. But she is."

Gruber narrowed his eyes. "You bastard."

"Are you coming or not?"

"Fine," Gruber rumbled. "But I'm not wearing that stupid costume again." Under his breath he muttered, "It's not like I'd still fit into it anyway..."

"Got it," Darius told him. "Mr. Blackrock will make sure you're well-compensated for your time."

"Mr. Blackrock," Gruber said bluntly as he followed Darius to his car, "can go straight to hell. And so can you, Mr. Army Man."

Tracks like to consider himself an easygoing, fun sort of guy. The sort of mech you'd like to spend time with, the sort of mech that found it easy to get along with any of his comrades and made friends with anyone he spent time with. But as he spent more time with the other Autobot, he was quickly coming to realize that he'd need to amend that last statement to "anyone but Overdrive".

He wasn't sure what exactly why there was so much friction between the two of them, but he'd never even been able to have a conversation with the other Autobot that didn't leave both of them seething with rage. So of course, as some sort of grand cosmic practical joke the two of them were almost always assigned to work together.

Why couldn't Hubcap or Jackpot be the other flying car? he thought wryly. I work just fine with them.

"What are we just sitting around for?"

Tracks repressed a groan and tried to ignore the other Autobot's whining.

"I mean, we're here, right?" Overdrive continued, flashing his lights in the direction of the bank they were watching. "What are we waiting for?"

Tracks couldn't hold it in this time. "Seriously?" he asked the other Autobot incredulously. "You want to storm the place? By ourselves?"

"Why not?" Overdrive asked testily. "Look, I get that you're not very good at this 'hero' stuff, but some of us are actually trained fighters."

"And some of us don't have our heads up our--"

"Look, it's sweet how you guys pretend like Bumblebee is in charge. It really is," Overdrive snarked. "But we both know that he's soft and weak. We're alone, cut off from support in the middle of a war zone. We need to take the fight to the enemy. If he's too timid to do it, we need to take things into our own hands."

Tracks sighed. "You want the two of us to take on Galvatron by ourselves, and Bumblebee's the one who's got a problem? I don't think you've thought this though."
"No, I've thought it through plenty. And I think the best use of our time is going in there and crunching Galvatron's fenders," Overdrive snapped. "Or whatever guns have that are like fenders. Look, you know what I mean."

"I'm truly proud to say that I never know what you mean," Tracks told Overdrive. "And furthermore, I--"


Detritus reversed, pulling his bull bars out of the blue car's driver's side door. The resounding shriek of tearing metal gave the Imperial a sadistic smile as he transformed, blasting the Autobot's red partner with his phase disruptor before the idiot had even reacted to the attack.

"Oh, this is going to be fun," he said to himself. "Maybe even fun enough to make me forget how vile it was to have that human inside me."

Ratchet went back to work on Overcharge after Streetwise left, and it didn't take long for the doctor to finish his work – or at least, the work that he could do with the limited selection of tools that they'd given him. Overcharge would live, and more or less painlessly, but there were some systems that Ratchet was neither inclined nor especially equipped to fix – his weapons systems, for one. So having done all he could he moved on to the next patient in line, a small green tank that bore a striking resemblance to Warpath.

The doctor was elbows-deep in his next patient's chest cavity when Overcharge surprised him by striking up a conversation.

"What he said is true, yes?"

Ratchet didn't look up from his work, not only because of his ingrained professionalism but because he simply didn't want to look anyone in the eye as he answered...not even an Imperial Decepticon enemy like Overcharge.

"That I'm a murderer? I suppose I am. I killed in cold blood, after all. I can't deny it." Ratchet didn't elaborate for a few seconds, letting the damaged gear assembly he was working on give him an acceptable excuse to take the time to gather his thoughts. "I don't think he understands why, though. I'm not sure any of them do, not even my fellow doctor."

"But you want someone to understand?" Overcharge shrugged. "I might."

Ratchet snorted. "I doubt it."

"But if you don't tell me, will you ever know?" Overcharge got up and walked over to the cell door, looking out at the bland prison area. "From what they've said, you killed a Decepticon while he was a prisoner. While he was one of your patients. But you're repairing us. Since I'm trusting you to take apart my men, shouldn't I know why you're doing it?"

Ratchet sighed, and still didn't look up from his work. "Shockwave wasn't just an enemy," he said by way of explanation. "He was the enemy. He strung up dead Autobots like slabs of meat, enslaved humans, sliced off Optimus Prime's head and brutalized Megatron...and that's just the first few days that I knew him. He's too dangerous to leave alive. You? You're just a soldier. You did something profoundly stupid, but that's because you didn't realize what you were dealing with. You deserve a chance to learn your lesson, at least."

Setting down his tools on the nearby bench, he finally looked up with a scowl on his face.

"For the record, if Downshift was sitting here he wouldn't merit the same consideration."

Overcharge nodded. "I can't argue with that sentiment, can I? And for what it's worth, I do understand." He turned back toward the Autobot and said, "Thank you. I can't protect the rest of my people, but thanks to you at least two of them will survive."

Ratchet grunted. "You don't think the Autobots will be able to stop them peacefully, if you help?"

Overcharge shook his head. "There's no way." He shrugged. "If a bunch of Autobots show up and say I sent them, my team will assume that they've tortured the location of our backup base out of me. Regardless of whether or not they actually would."

"I don't know about that," Ratchet replied.

"I do," Overlord told him. "How would you react if my people captured your leader, then showed up here and said they were here to ask you nicely to let them help you? That would go over well?"

"I don't suppose it would," Ratchet admitted, picking up his tools and getting back to work. "I don't suppose it would."

Ga'mede glared at the old man, shoving him forward as they walked toward the storage facility. When his unwilling guide slowed to a stop, the tall blonde man smacked him in the head.

"Move it!"

"But we're...we're here." Hoping to avoid any further assaults, the old scientist reached into his pocket for his key ring and unlocked the door that he'd stopped in front of.

"Good work," Ga'mede told him sarcastically. He shoved the door open and called in, "Magnificus, are you in there?"

His answer was a resounding sigh. "Finally. Do you know how long I've been stuffed in here?"

"Sorry," Ga'mede told him, not at all apologetically. "World-class terrorism takes time if you want to get it right."

"Just get me out of the damn box already," Magnificus told him. "Before I transform and bring the room down around your ears."

"Just a second," Ga'mede told him, turning back toward the old scientist. "I've just got one last thing to take care of first."

The elderly man saw the expression on Ga'mede's face and looked back with a pleading expression. "No! I...I helped you!"

"You did," Ga'made admitted as he grabbed the old man by the neck and lifted him off the ground. "Consider this your reward. A quick, clean death is more than your colleagues have to look forward to..."

"Just tell us what you want!" one of the bank tellers shrieked. "Please, don't hurt us!"

"Shut up! Just shut up!" Garrett paced along the back wall of the bank, running his free hand through his sweaty hair as he tried to collect himself. But it was impossible. There'd been women screaming, children crying and even a couple of men dumb enough to start shouting obscenities at him, but a quick demonstration of his ray gun had dissuaded them from causing any more trouble. But it hadn't helped. His skin felt clammy and his heart was racing, and what's worse, he knew the reason why.

What he was doing was wrong. It was wrong, he knew it and he was doing it anyway.

"Sir, please!"

"Shut up!" Garrett swung toward the woman and fired a shot before his brain caught up with what he was doing.

A groaning Tracks transformed painfully into robot mode just in time to see Overdrive take a missile to the chest courtesy of their Imperial attacker. It was the last blow in what had been a very one-sided battle. In fact, considering how bullet holes, burns and dents covered the Autobot's body from head to toe while his enemy seemed practically unscathed, Tracks was inclined to call it a beatdown. The Omnibot's broken body collapsed to the ground in a heap, but even though he really, really didn't care for Overdrive Tracks found himself filled with nothing but white-hot rage.

"Do you realize," Tracks asked the Imperial peevishly, gesturing at his mangled door, "how difficult this is going to be to repair? The paintwork alone is going to take days to get right. And that's assuming we even have any more Corvette parts in storage. Did you think of that, you ignorant cretin?"

The Imperial turned to him and laughed. "And? You'll be dead soon, so don't worry about it."

"I won't," Tracks told him, hefting his gun threateningly. "You? Will."

"What, you think you're going to beat me? Really? You?"

"In a fair fight? No," Tracks admitted. "But we're not going to have a fair fight."

Before the Imperial had a chance to think over what he'd said, Tracks shot him in the face with his black beam gun.

Streetwise drove up to the police barricade, slowed and came to a stop with his lights flashing.

"Alright," he told his human charge. "Do your thing. I'll be waiting here."

"Will do," Maria told him. "I--"

She was cut off as the Autobot's radio barked at them. "Streetwise, are you here yet?"

"Yes Blades, we're here."

"Good. Because Tracks and Overdrive haven't done scrap. They got made by an Imperial right away and he's kicking their butts."

Streetwise sighed. "Were you planning on helping them any time soon?"

"I dunno. Eventually, maybe. I thought I'd wait until they'd learned their lesson, though."

The other Protectobot couldn't hold back a chuckle. "I hear you. Just don't let either of them die, OK?"

"Aw, you're no fun. You send the chick in yet?"

"The 'chick' is on her way," Maria responded a bit more sharply than she needed to.

"Well, keep your eyes open," Blades told her. "I've been watching the bank with an IR scanner. I just saw a big flash of heat, and when my scopes cleared there was one less warm body in there."

"Shit," Maria cursed. She threw open Streetwise's door, saying, "Let's hope the cops don't know that yet, or they're going to be breaking down the door on a guy with a death ray."

When Ga'mede returned to the lab with a microscope but no scientist, a hush spread over the room. Most of the scientists kept their eyes down so that they wouldn't draw his attention, as did Jansen. But the small Asian woman eventually worked up the nerve to ask, "Where's Jordan?"

"Zip it, dragon lady, or you'll join him." Ga'mede gave her a nasty smile. "And trust me, I won't snuff a pretty thing like you quickly."

As the scientist backed off with a revolted expression on her face, Ga'mede placed Magificus down on a table and asked, "Is the machine ready for him?"

Howlback nodded. "It's up to full power," she said in her usual silky-smooth whisper. "All it needs is a molecular template."

"Then that's where I come in." Magnificus transformed to robot mode, his head practically scraping against the lab's vaulted ceiling. "You, flesh-scientist," he said to the woman that Ga'mede had just terrified, "show me to the controls. I have work to do."

Darius parked a block away from the barricades and jumped out. of the car, the intensity on his face keeping the gaggle of bystanders from crowding nearby. "Lee, I need you to make a distraction. That'll let Kat slip through the perimeter and get close to the building. Hopefully she'll be able to put the gunman to sleep. If she can't get close enough or doesn't think she can control him safely, then I can decide where to do from there."

"OK, first, since we're not a couple of the dumb jarheads you used to order around in the Marines you mean that we'll decide what to do next," Gruber drawled. "Second, what the hell do you mean you need me to 'make a distraction'? I ain't decking any cops for you, Hayes. I saw the inside of a cell more that I care to remember before Blackrock hired me, thanks."

"Just do the dumb redneck schtick for them, Lee. You've got enough practice at it."

"Oh, gee, thanks."

After Gruber wandered off, Darius asked the female member of his team, "Are you sure you're up for this?"

Katrina Vesotsky – perhaps better known as Rapture – thanked him for his concern with a glare. "I might not have been working for a few years," she told him, "but don't think that I've forgotten how to make a man dream. I'll call you when I'm in position."

Hayes grabbed her arm, stopping her. "This isn't a joke," he barked. "We're not just talking about taking down a bank robber. He's working with a Decepticon, and maybe more than one. We don't know what'll happen once you put him to sleep. If his friends react badly this could get really, really ugly. Are you sure you're up for this?"

"Don't insult me," Rapture told him, twisting out of his grasp. "Of course I am. I'll call you when I'm in position."

Maria waded into the crowd, acting as if she belonged. She did a good job of it too because no one paid her any mind until she spotted an officer she recognized and approached him with a smile.

"Hey Marty!" she said. "Glad they put someone smart in charge of this mess. Fill me in."

"Maria?" The uniformed officer – his shoulders had sergeant's stripes – looked at her like he was seeing a ghost. "I, uh...what are you doing here? I heard you were...well, crippled."

"Crazy rumours," she said with a wave of her hand. "Either that or I heal really fast."

"Oh...kay..." The middle-aged cop frowned at her. "But you can't be here. You're not on the force anymore."

"Yeah, about that..." Maria gave him an embarrassed smile. "I've got a job in private security now, and my clients have some important documents locked up in a safety deposit box in there." She shook her head, feigning embarrassment. "Look, I know I shouldn't be bothering you, but they asked me to come down and find out what was going on and I'm too new to tell the boss 'no' yet."

Marty gave her an uncomfortable look before he told her, "We think he's killed one of the hostages," the cop told her. "But we don't think he's taken anything, and he definitely hasn't gone into the vaults. He's stayed in the main room the whole time, threatening the hostages. We're getting ready to storm the building before anyone else dies."

Maria winced. "You can't do that."

"What are you talking about?" Marty asked, clearly annoyed now. "Look, Maria, it was good to see you but you really need to leave before--"

"He's not carrying a gun," she told him flatly. "He's carrying a Transformer. If your guys go in there, a lot of people are going to die."

"How do you know that?" he demanded.

"That new job of mine?" Maria said curtly. "The people I'm working for have connections. They keep tabs on these robots, and know how to recognize them."

"So what do you suppose we do?" Marty asked her. "Wait until he kills a few more hostages?"

"Just trust me," Maria told him. "I'm not here alone. My friends and I can handle it."

"I trust you," The sergeant scowled, "but I can't do much. You'll have five minutes, maybe ten. But when the word comes down from the chief to go in, I can't ignore it. Whatever you're going to do, do it fast and hope that he doesn't kill anyone else in the meantime."

"I will," Maria acknowledged. "I w--"

"What the **** is going on here?" a loud, angry voice asked in a southern drawl. "Can't a man go to the bank without gettin' hassled by the pigs these days?"

"Damn crazies," Martin shook his head. "Boys, get him out of here!"

Half a dozen cops charged after the gigantic, muscular redneck, dragging him back from the perimeter. While the cops' attention was drawn away Maria headed back toward where she'd left Streetwise.

"I've bought you a few minutes," she spoke into the comlink that the Autobots had given her. "That's all. Make the most of it."

"That...might be a problem," Streetwise told her. "Everyone else is tied up trying to take down the robber's getaway car. The only ones left are you and me."

"Dammit," Maria said. "What about Blackrock's people? Are they--"

"Right here," a deep voice said behind her.

Maria looked over her shoulder and saw an unfamiliar, middle-aged black man. It took her a few seconds before she recognized Blackrock's security man.

"Mr...Hayes, right? I'm glad you're here, but I wish you hadn't come alone."

"I didn't," he shook his head. "I brought along two of Blackrock's ex-employees. Mutants."

"Of course," Streetwise said as they arrived at his side. "The big one was Thunderpunch. Who else did you bring, Dynamo or Rapture?"

"The latter," Hayes said. "If she's doing her job, she's right beside the building and ready to put the gunman to sleep."

"Good," Maria told him. She climbed into Streetwise's driver's door and gestured for Hayes to get in the passenger side. "But the shooter isn't who we're worried about. It's his gun."

"What do you..." Hayes scowled. "It's Decepticon tech?"

"No, it's a Decepticon itself," Streetwise told him. "It's Galvatron. Do you think your woman can make one of us dream?"

"I'm not his woman," Rapture said over Hayes' radio, "And I've never had a problem making you robots nap before. If I can do it to Unicron I can do it to him."

"In two minutes I'll need you to do it to the one in the bank, please," Streetwise told her.

"Okay," Rapture told him. "But only because you said please. No one ever says please."

"Thank you," Streetwise added. "When you see my signal, do it."

"What signal?"

Streetwise shifted into gear. "You'll know it when you see it."

Tracks let the blinded Detritus flail around blindly for a few moments, enjoying a momentary rush of schadenfreude at the enemy's helplessness. But there was work to be done, so he didn't wait long before he shoved his sparring partner over the prone Overdrive. Balling his free hand into a fist, Tracks got ready to pummel the Imperial into submission. But before he could, a red and white streak fell out of the sky and landed between the two of them. Chunks of tan armour flew in every direction as Blades carved Detritus into half a dozen pieces with his rotor blades.

"You were watching the whole time, weren't you?"

"I'm hurt, Tracks. You think I'd sit around and watch my buddies get shot up? I got here as soon as I could."

"You're a terrible liar," Tracks told him. "Now what?"

"Now nothing," Blades said. "Streetwise is taking care of our Galvatron problem, you two managed to valiantly get your butts kicked by some random goon and I saved the day. We're just about done."

Magnificus gestured toward the small canisters of liquid that the machinery had begun to fill, a satisfied expression on his face. "There," he said. "Fifteen more minutes and we'll have everything we need."

"Good," Howlback said softly. Then she turned on the human prisoners. "You," she singled out one of them, "where is the control room for your ventilation systems?"

"I don't know!" the scientist said, afraid. "I work in the lab, I'm not a janitor!"

"Wrong answer!" Ga'mede stepped in and pistol-whipped the researcher. Then he slipped his finger into the trigger-guard and pressed the gun up against the man's head. "Either answer the question or I decorate the wall with your brain!"

"It's...it's not down here."

Ga'mede swung around, glaring at Jansen. "That's a start. So where is it, mister corporate overlord?"

"Upstairs," Jansen told him. "It's at the top floor of the building, just above the executive suites."

"That wasn't so hard, now was it?" Ga'mede grabbed one of the vials and slipped it into his pocket, then shoved Jansen toward the door. "Get moving."


"You heard me!" Ga'mede shoved him again. "You're taking me there. Now start moving before I get bored and start putting new holes in your employees!"

"I...follow me," Jansen said wearily as he trudged toward the elevator.

Ratchet finished repairing the last Imperial, then jerked back as the white car came online and immediately took a swing at him.

"Control my patient, please!" he barked at Overcharge. "If he jumps at me like that again, I'm not going to reattach whatever parts I end up slicing off with my laser scalpels."

"Be calm, Bug Bite," Overcharge said in a commanding tone. "The doctor is here to help. Why else would he have repaired the three of us, hmmm?"

"But Bug Bite doesn't like Autobots!" the smaller Imperial retorted. "Why would we? An Autobot beat us up and stopped us from playing cars!"

"To be fair, there were people in the cars," Treads interrupted. "And they were supposed to stop you. Didn't you pay attention in the briefing?"

"The what?"

Overcharge shook his head in disgust.

"We don't have time for this, do we?" He glared at his two soldiers. "We're locked up in an Autobot prison while those idiot Cobalt Sentries are busy forging ties with Galvatron. We need to get out before any more of our people die."

"We think we should kill the doctor," Bug Bite chipped in.

"I'm not sure I see how that gets us out of a cell," Treads observed.

"It doesn't," Bug Bite shrugged. "We'd just enjoy doing it."

Overcharge started rubbing his temples with a pained look on his face. "Note to self: try to get locked up with better henchmen next time."

"I'm fairly sure I resent that," Treads responded calmly. "I simply don't see how we're going to escape when we're unarmed, our internal weapons are inactive and we don't have any tools."

Bug Bite interjected, "We think perhaps we should dig?"

"The floor is metal, genius," Treads shot the idea down.

"Well, maybe--"

"You know," Ratchet said with a disgusted tone of voice, "I'm sure you guys will think of this eventually, but this really needs to happen before the others get back from getting beaten up by Galvatron. So."

Ratchet took one of his laser scalpels in hand and deftly stabbed it through the wall, where it sliced through the power cables and locking mechanisms that controlled the cell door. The forcefields disappeared at the same time as the door cracked open.

"There you go."

Rapture kept her eyes open, peeking around the corner of the building and flattening herself against the wall to try and keep the cops from spotting her.

A lot easier now, she mused wryly, now that I don't have to wear that idiotic pink costume.

She'd never really understood what Blackrock had been thinking with that, honestly. Oh, in an abstract sense she supposed she understood – bright, recognizable heroes who can take down giant alien robots are a bigger PR win than ones who do it quietly, from the shadows. But it had made the job a whole lot more difficult. Rapture didn't like getting noticed, and her powers reflected that.

Or maybe the other way around, she admitted. After all, making people dream wasn't the first power you would ask for in a firefight. It was much, much more useful when you could sneak up on your target and take them on on your own terms.

"Then it's a good thing that he sent me here instead of Lee," Rapture muttered.

A black police car moving at a dangerous clip through the police barricade caught her eye, and she nodded to herself as it accelerated through the front of the building.

"Here we go..."

Rapture closed her eyes, splaying the fingers of her right hand across her forehead as she concentrated on the task at hand. She reached out, felt for the cluster of minds inside the bank and pushed.

Garrett felt...normal. His lungs didn't burn, his throat wasn't filled with phlegm and for the first time in his adult life he didn't feel the ever-present yearning for another cigarette.

"Am I...dead?" he asked himself. "Is this heaven?"

That didn't sound right. Garrett had done too many evil things to ever see the gates of heaven, assuming it even existed, which he'd never quite believed. Although now that he thought of that, he couldn't quite remember what he'd done that was so bad.

"Oh, don't be silly," a familiar female voice said.

Garrett turned to smile at his wife. "Wendy? What's happened?"

"The doctors fixed you, dear? Don't you remember?"

"No," Garrett admitted. "No, I don't. But it doesn't matter. Everything is alright now."

Streetwise slammed on his brakes as he smashed through the bank's glass storefront, opening his doors to toss Maria and Darius out onto the couches that were set aside for waiting customers. Once they were clear he transformed to robot mode, drawing his sidearm. Crouching so that he wouldn't bump his head into the vaulted ceiling, he crept forward.

"Do you see him?"

"The gunman's right there," Maria told him, singling out the middle-aged man with a policewoman's easy confidence. She kicked the gun out of his hand, sending it skidding toward the Autobot. "And there's your Decepticon."

Streetwise frowned. "That's...not Galvatron."

"Are you sure?" Darius asked. "Because it looks exactly like the pictures I've seen."

"Appearances can be deceiving," Streetwise told them. "It looks like Galvatron on the outside, but my scanners don't lie. This is nothing but a standard-issue photon pistol. They must have reshelled it." To prove his point, he easily crushed the fake Galvatron with a stroke of his right hand.

"That doesn't make any sense," Darius snapped. "Why would any Transformer give a human bank robber a fake Galvatron?"

"There's only one reason," Maria told him. "If someone wanted us preoccupied. Distracted so that we couldn't interfere with whatever their real plan is."

"Hmm," Streetwise frowned. "Maybe. But I'd feel better if we knew what that plan was."

The Autobot activated his comlink, and said, "Hey, Bumblebee. Is the Steelhaven in position yet?"

"They just got there," Earthforce's tiny commander said.

"I'm glad," Streetwise told him. "Galvatron isn't here. The gun was a fake. Someone is jerking our chain, and I want to find out why. Can you patch me through?"

"That's...not good," Bumblebee said, trepidation clear in his voice. "Give me a minute and I'll link them in."

Ga'mede watched Jansen suspiciously as he opened up the maintenance room at the top of the building.

He's being way too helpful, the terrorist thought to himself. He's obviously planning something. I'd better kill him once this is over with, just to be safe.

Once the lock clicked open, Ga'mede shoved the executive inside and demanded, "Where's the A/C controller?"

"How should I know?" Jansen asked. "I work in the corner office, not the boiler room. I don't even know what it looks like."

"Heh," Ga'mede grunted. "I suppose you wouldn't, you entitled piece of shit. But I do."

He looked around the room for a few seconds, then headed toward the back-left corner. "Right here," he said. "I'd tell you to memorize what it looked like, but I doubt you could." He slid the vial of chemical out of his shirt pocket, popped the stopper out of the top and poured it's contents into the air conditioner's intake. He smiled, turning back to Jansen. "I can tell you're just dying to see what happens now."

To his surprise, Jansen smiled back. "Not what you were hoping for, I'll bet," he said with a surprising confidence. "You think I'm an idiot, blondie? The building's poison alarms are going to start ringing right about..." the alarm started, "...now. The building's in lockdown mode. I don't know what you've brewed up, but the authorities will be here before anyone gets hurt."

"Really?" Ga'mede shrugged. "I doubt it, but I'll find out soon enough. You, on the other hand...won't."

"You want to kill me?" Jansen asked. "Then do it."

"I don't need to kill you," Ga'mede said. "You're already dead. You died about five seconds after I opened the vial. You just haven't noticed yet." He smiled, saying, "Or do you always bleed from your eye sockets?"

Jansen ran his right hand under his eyes, then panicked when they came away wet with blood. "What...what did you do to me?"

"The same thing we're going to do to the whole planet," Ga'mede said calmly. "And I owe you a debt of gratitude," he said, "because we couldn't have done it without you."

He punched the executive in the stomach, then shoved him deeper into the utility room. "Consider this your thanks, Jansen." Ga'mede drew his gun and shot him in the chest. "Because trust me, you don't want to see how this ends."

The terrorist stepped over the businessman's corpse, ducking into the stairwell without looking back.

Overcharge looked at Ratchet like he'd grown another head. "What?"

"Escape," Ratchet told him again. "Go. Leave. Get out of here. What part of that is hard to understand?"

"Uh...we, uh...we don't understand why you're letting us go," Bug Bite told him. "Are you joining us?"

"Don't be silly," Treads countered. "This is obviously a setup. They're letting us go so that they can kill us without breaking their Autobot code."

Ratchet sighed. "Don't be ridiculous," he said. Then he turned to Overcharge. "I'm letting you go because you convinced me that you're the only one who can put a stop to this without any more bloodshed. Now get out of here before I change my mind."

Overcharge's jaw worked for a few seconds before he managed to say, "Well, how can I argue with that?"

Groove slid his chair over to the Steelhaven's communications console and took a quick look at it before saying, "I'm not sure what to tell you, Streetwise. It doesn't look like there's anything major going on according to the police bands, so I..." He trailed off as another report scrolled across his screen. "Wait a minute, what's this? Something just triggered a level-one biohazard alert at a local genetics company," he said. "Apparently an airborne contagion has been detected and the building is in lockdown."

"That sounds like suspiciously convenient timing to me," Streetwise responded. "But it doesn't sound like Galvatron to me. Still, I guess we'd better check it out..."

"It's probably your best bet. I'm not seeing anything that fits the bill."

"I am."

Groove turned to look at Skydive, who was seated at the ship's helm. "Sir?"

"A shuttle just popped up on our visual sensors," Skydive told them. "Just our visual sensors. It's fully stealthed – no heat emissions, no communications, no active sensors of it's own. It's green and grey and headed straight for us."

"Far be it from me to tell you what to do," Streetwise said, "but you should get out of there. Now."

"Easier said than done," Skydive responded. "The ship is still limping. We can barely outrun a satellite, let alone a shuttle."

"Yes, I know," Streetwise said emphatically. "I meant what I said literally. You and Groove need to get out of there, not the ship."

"That may not be a good idea," Groove argued. "The Steelhaven is our only advantage right now. If we let the Imperials seize it--"

"It's not the Imperials and they're not going to seize the ship." Skydive pointed toward the screen that was showing the shuttle's approach. "The hatch just opened. See who's coming out?"

Groove's optics widened. "Galvatron."

"Galvatron," Skydive agreed, his voice climbing in pitch. "Galvatron, transforming to cannon mode."

"Get out of there now, you two!" Streetwise barked.

Skydive opened his mouth, but before he could say anything the ship was rocked by a hit from Galvatron's particle cannon. The ship's lights flickered and died, before being restored at half-strength by emergency power.

"There go the engines!" Groove told him. "Main power conduits are in the red and the primary cannon's barrel has been breached."

"In one hit?" Skydive asked incredulously. "Dammit!"

The Aerialbot worked his controls, a grim expression on his face. "We've still got manuevering thrusters, at least."

"You'll never outrun him on thrusters!" Streetwise told him.

"We're not outrunning him," Skydive told him. "At least, not under our own power." He keyed in a sequence of commands into the helm and the ship rocked as the thrusters kicked in, the acceleration felt more clearly than it should have been as the Steelhaven's inertial dampeners flickered and died.

"What are you doing?" Groove demanded.

"I told you," Skydive responded. "No one is seizing the ship."

"That's...you're...you're scuttling it?"

"Good idea," Streetwise said agreeably.

"No, bad idea!" Groove snapped. "What if you land on a city?"

"We're above Portland and moving southwest," Skydive told him. "If the thrusters hold out we'll hit the ocean somewhere near where the equator and the date line intersect."

"And if they don't?" Groove demanded.

"Then they might need to duck in Hawaii," Skydive said. "But I'm not letting Galvatron get his hands on this ship. We'll limit the damage he can do if we keep him contained on Earth."

"You two had better stop chirping and get out of there," Streetwise interrupted. "Before you take another hit."

Skydive glanced at the monitor and saw Galvatron lining up for another shot. "Yeah." The ship rocked again. "Well, another-other hit, anyway."

"Bad news," Groove told him. "That last hit cut off the main turbolift shafts. We can't get to the escape pods."

Skydive made a short, sharp noise. "Great." His optics tracked toward the large, thick glass window that made up the front portion of the bridge. "Well, I hope you like skydiving, Groove."

"What do you...oh, no. No way!"

"Yes way." Skydive drew his nega-gun and fired three quick shots into the window. Weakened, it started to crack from the pressure differential as the ship's air tried to push it's way out into the vacuum of space.

"But I can't fly! And I'm not built to survive an impact like that."

"One problem at a time," Skydive told him. "One problem at a time."

The Aerialbot transformed to jet mode and smashed through the window before Groove could register another protest.

Streetwise frowned as he heard the situation evolve in orbit. He quickly switched channels back to Bumblebee and asked, "Did you hear that, boss?"

"Every word," the small yellow Autobot responded. "The Aerialbots are scrambling to recover Groove as we speak. How soon can your team get back?"

"We're not coming back," Maria interjected. "Not yet."

"Ms. Santos," Bumblebee started, before pausing. "Maria. The Galvatron situation's been dealt with and the Imperial we saw isn't a threat anymore. There's nothing else we can do."

"Humour me," she said. "You remember the alarm that Groove mentioned? The genetics lab?"

"You think they have something else going on?" Streetwise asked.

"Maybe," Maria said. "Maybe not. Maybe the whole thing was a ploy to lure your ship here so Galvatron could attack. Maybe not. It's worth looking into, anyway."

Darius nodded along with her. "I agree," he said. "Mr. Blackrock is going to insist that we check it out, and I'll feel a lot safer if a couple Autobots came along for the ride."

"Get your people together," Streetwise told him. "I'll meet you out front in two minutes. Bee, are any of the others going to be able to back me up? This definitely needs to be looked at."

"Tracks, maybe," Bumblebee sighed. "He'll grumble, but his pride took most of the damage in the fight. But he's it. Overdrive's in bad shape. Blades is going to have to fly him back so First Aid can start working on him. You two are on your own until the Aerialbots get there, and they have to deal with Groove first."

"I'll make do," Streetwise told him.

Although Jazz was heading down to the holding cells to check on the prisoners, he found that he didn't have to go that far. In fact, half-way down the staircase that led to the fortress's basement he practically ran over them.

"What the--"

"Shoot him! We should shoot him!"

"We're not armed, remember?" Treads told Bug Bite. Sighing, he added, "No, of course you don't. Why would I ask such a silly question?"

Their bickering distracted Jazz just long enough for Overcharge to lunge at him. His pistol still pointed at the floor, Jazz wasn't able to get off a shot before the Decepticon swatted his ion pulse gun into the wall and drove a knee into Jazz's midsection.

"You brought me in alive," the Imperial triple-changer observed. "So consider the favour returned." He headbutted Jazz in the face, then grabbed the stunned Autobot by the back of the neck and slammed him hard into the floor. "But that doesn't mean you're not my enemy. Remember that, will you?"

He kicked Jazz in the head, hard, then watched the Autobot for a few seconds to make sure he was unconscious. Once he was sure that Jazz wasn't playing possum, he stepped over the prone Autobot and waved his two followers forward.

"Let's go," he said. "According to Ratchet the exit isn't far, and we need to be gone before this one wakes up."

Bug Bite gave him a confused look. "He's out cold. We'd be happy to finish him for you, if you'd let us."

"No," Overcharge told him firmly. "The Autobot spared my life once when he didn't have to. Hell, his leader had just died, hadn't he? The Autobot had a good reason not to spare me. But he did, so I owe him."

"But...he's right there," Bug Bite said. "We could rip his brain out through his optics for you. It's no trouble."

Behind him, Treads chuckled.

"Just...no. Do as you're told," Overcharge said wearily. "Can you do that, Bug Bite?"

"We can," the smaller Transformer confirmed, though he was clearly still confused.

"Then go."

Jenny ran her hands down the hem of her skirt as she got up from behind the reception desk. Trying to put on her most professional, helpful face, she smiled at the office workers who were trying to force open the building's front door.

"Please don't do that," she told them. "When the biohazard alarm is tripped the building goes into lockdown, and for very good reasons."

"But we've got to get out!" one of the workers said. "Before we get sick!"

"We could already be sick!" One of the others said. "Open the doors!"

"No one can open the doors,," Jenny said calmly. "Not until the environmental cleanup crew have confirmed that the air is clear of toxins. And even if you could, we don't know what tripped the alarm. If it is serious, do you want to be responsible for exposing the whole city to it?"


"Look," Jenny said, "unless you've got a rocket launcher or a battering ram in your briefcase you're just going to have to sit down and wait. Because that's what you'd need to open those doors without the keycodes. I don't like it any better than you do, but panicking isn't going to make the time go any faster."

"A rocket launcher, you say?" a gruff voice asked from the waiting area. "Are you sure?"

"Huh?" Jenny turned around, but the waiting room is empty. "Who said that?"

"I don't have a rocket launcher," the voice said.

Then one of the chairs exploded, splinters of wood, fabric and plastic flying in every direction. When the debris settled, a cobalt blue metallic bird was standing in the middle of it.

"Like I was saying," Garboil said, his beak hanging open in a mocking smile. "I don't have a rocket launcher. But I bet I can get out without one. What do you think?"

When Streetwise pulled up outside the office building, Tracks was already there.

"You made good time," the Protectobot noted.

"Would you get in the way of a car that looks as bad as I do?" Tracks asked morosely.

"It's not that bad," Streetwise said, although he clearly didn't have much sympathy for the self-absorbed Autobot.

"Not that bad?" Tracks asked shrilly. "My door, my side skirts, my fenders...all ruined." He signed. "I don't know why I would expect you to understand. You're a police car. People are supposed to smash you."

"You're something else, Tracks," Streetwise said with no small amount of resignation.

"Is he always like this?" Maria asked him.

"No, usually he's worse."

"As much fun as this chummy stuff is," an annoyed Rapture said, "shouldn't we be getting inside and checking out that alarm?"

"No need," Darius chimed in from the back seat. He was holding a small set of binoculars up to his face, which he passed up to the women. "Take a look inside the lobby."

Maria grabbed the binoculars, looked through building's thick bulletproof glass and had to stifle a curse.


"It certainly does look like a giant Decepticon condor," Darius agreed.

"Tracks?" Streetwise asked coolly. "Maybe this is the sort of thing you should have mentioned when we got here?"

"Busted sensors," Tracks said. "Didn't I mention that I'd been smashed up? It's a small miracle I didn't run over any pedestrians on the way here! Do you have any idea how hard it is to pick one of those out of your grille?"

"Oh, get over yourself," Maria snapped. "We need to get in there and take him down, before--"

But Maria's sentence was cut off as the lobby's bulletproof glass walls exploded in unison, spraying sharp debris for metres in every direction.

"My finish!" Tracks screeched.

"Can it, Tracks," Streetwise said, popping his doors open. "We've got work to do. Maria, Darius, get inside and see what's going on. Rapture, Thunderpunch, set up a cordon and keep civilians away."

Once the humans had climbed out, he transformed to robot mode and and waved Tracks forward.

"Oh, get moving already. You'll have time to sulk later.."

Howlback watched coldly as the last of the scientists fell to the ground, blood pouring from their eyes, ears, noses and mouths.

"Do you really need to watch?" Magnificus asked. "These creatures are messy when they die."

"Yes, we need to watch," Howlback growled. "Unless you want to go to all this effort and not even be sure if it works."

"I don't need to watch them die to know that my formulation works," an offended Magnificus said. "I'm a professional. I don't make mistakes like that."

"And I don't make the mistake of not checking my subordinates' work," Howlback told him. "Because I'm a professional too."

Magnificus sneered. "Whatever," he said. "They're dead, bleeding an ocean's worth of blood. If there were any other humans here, they'd already be infected."

He transformed to microscope mode, then said, "Now can you please get us out of here before I get flesh on me?"

Howlback sighed. "Oh, fine." She grabbed Magnificus in her jaws and carried him toward the elevator.

Jenny watched the news enough to realize that a giant metal bird appearing out of nowhere never led to anything good, so she ran. The young woman charged toward the stairwell, making it to the door just as the creature blew up the lobby's windows. Broken glass slashed through the back of her jacket as she started running, and cold sweat ran down Jenny's spine as her heart started to race. She quickly lost count of the flights, adrenaline drowning out rational thought. But she was running too fast and too recklessly, and she heard a snap after a bad step, her right ankle twisting under her as the heel broke off of her shoe.

"Dammit," she shouted as the fell forward, landing face-first on the stairs. Jenny's right cheek hit the edge of a stair and split open, blood dripping from the wound and pooling on the floor. She sat there for a while, trying to catch her breath as she dabbed at her bloodied face. She lost track of time for a while, until a set of footsteps coming from above caught her attention. Looking up, she saw a vaguely familiar blonde man standing over her. It took a few seconds for her to place him. "Mr...Drechsler?"

Ga'mede stared down at her, an unsettling expression on his face.

"Mr. Drechsler? Is something wrong?"

Jenny silently cussed herself out for asking such a silly question. Of course something was wrong – a giant robot had just attacked the building. But if the visitor had even noticed that something was going on, he didn't let on. In fact, he was almost eerily calm in spite of the spatters of blood that covered his suit jacket and pants.

"Is something wrong?" He repeated rhetorically as he grabbed Jenny by the arm. "No, everything is going perfectly."

As Streetwise charged toward the Imperial condor, Maria and Darius ducked under the giant blue bird's wing, glass crunching underfoot as they charged into the building.

"Make for the stairs!" Darius shouted to the younger woman, whose athletic build and fleet-footed nature would have allowed her to easily outpace a middle-aged man even without her mechanical augmentations. She hit the door several seconds ahead of him and yelled back without breaking stride.

"Check out the basement," she told Darius. "I'll head upstairs and see if I find anything interesting."

Darius did as he was asked, heading downstairs even though his soldier's instincts were screaming at him that they shouldn't split up. Although the woman was some sort of cyborg filled with alien technology, he didn't like sending someone into danger without a partner to watch their back...or going without one himself, if it came to it. But she was already gone and the basement did need to be looked at, so there was no point in second-guessing.

Charging down the stairs as fast as his ageing legs would carry him, he past two darkened, abandoned maintenance floors before reaching the building's lowest point – a steel door marked "LABS", with an expensive-looking electronic lock keeping it sealed.

"Right," Darius said between gasping breaths. "Like that'll stop me."

A younger, more technically-inclined man might have tried to pick the lock, or dusted it for fingerprints to see which numbers on the keypad people were touching. Darius, on the other hand, was happy to admit that he was a relic of a simpler age – so he just smashed the face of the lock open with the butt of his concealed pistol. Another alarm sounded, of course, joining the numerous others that were already wailing as Darius pushed the door open and walked down the bare, concrete corridor. He saw a dozen different exits, perhaps more, but ignored all of them in favour of the thick, bulletproof glass doors at the far end of the hallway.

That says 'main lab' to me, he thought grimly as he threw open the unlocked doors to find himself in a huge room filled with cooling systems, industrial equipment that he had no chance of identifying...and a dozen fresh corpses that seemed to be oozing blood from every pore in their body.

Darius quickly holstered his gun, grabbing his radio with his free hand. "We've got a problem here, people," he said grimly. "I know what they're doing, and it's not good."

Tracks transformed painfully and charged toward the building, only to be knocked off of his feet by a shot to the back. He reached around to feel his wound, and his fingers came away with an thick, green sludge that stung painfully.

"Ew," the Autobot said as he rolled over. "This is never going to wash off, is it?"

"Do you ever think of anything but bein' pretty?"

"Of course. Once in a while." Tracks turned around to face the human who'd addressed him, the one with the absurdly large hands and feet.

"Well, look on the bright side," Thunderpunch said as he gestured with one of his absurd, sausage-like fingers, "you'll never be as ugly as those boys."

Tracks looked where the man had indicated, and if he'd been a human the fashion faux pas he saw probably would have been enough to induce vomiting. A squad of four humans decked out in hideous purple, green and red biohazard suits were slowly making their way toward them. Three of them carried machine guns, and the fourth had a giant cannon that was apparently the source of the disgusting slime that Tracks had just been hit with.

"Cobra? Seriously? I always thought they had better fashion sense than that."

But Thunderpunch shook his head. "Naw, see the insignias, all scratched off or painted over like that? Not Cobra anymore. Guns for hire is my guess."

"In envirosuits?" Tracks scowled as his shoulder launchers began to track the humans. "I really don't like the sound of that."

"Overkill much?" Thunderpunch laughed. "Leave them to me. Besides, it looks like you've got bigger fish to fry," he added, gesturing at the conspicuously driverless white sports car charging toward them.

The hulking human grabbed a newspaper box and tossed it effortlessly at the hired goons, then charged at them while they were distracted. Tracks restrained a sigh at his absurd machismo, then turned his attention to the new arrival and fired both of his missiles. The car swerved enough to cause a narrow miss, but the force of the explosion tossed it in the air where it transformed before coming crashing down on it's face.

"You know, normally I'm a fairly laid-back Autobot. But you've really picked the wrong day to start a fight with me," the Autobot said as he got ready to deliver a righteous thrashing to the other robot.

Groove couldn't help but scream as he free-fell through the atmosphere, dropping like a rock as he approached terminal velocity.

"I'm never getting on a starship again!" he shouted, but the wind rushing past him drowned out the words such that he couldn't even hear them himself. "Dammit, dammit, dammit!"

"Nice view, eh?"

Groove's fuel pump almost exploded as Fireflight's voice boomed inside his head.

"What the--! Turn your comm volume down, man!" Groove looked around and spotted Fireflight falling right along side him. "What are you doing here."

"Oh, nothing really. Just saving your bacon." The Aerialbot came in closer, swinging just under Groove's outstretched arms. "Grab on and hold tight. This'll be a fun ride!"

Groove did as he was told, grabbing onto the Aerialbot's fuselage before saying, "Please tell me you're not going to..."

"I totally am." Fireflight spun so hard that a normal human jet's wings would have sheered off, doing a complete 180 before firing his engines in the opposite direction. He stalled, naturally, and without the lift generated by his wings he started to flutter down toward the ground like a leaf on the wind... but much more slowly than Groove had been falling on his own.

"Oh, for the love of Primus--"

"Oh, what, like I don't know how to make myself fall out of the sky safely?" Fireflight said with hurt pride. "I've certainly done it often enough!"

Groove groaned. "Well, I haven't and I'd rather not start now!"

"Don't worry," Fireflight told him. "I'm not your ride, I'm just the air brake. Bye now!"

The Aerialbot rolled, dumping Groove off...and letting him fall down hard atop the more spacious Silverbolt.

"Look, I don't want to be an ungrateful rescuee, but was this really the best plan you could come up with?"

"Maybe," Silverbolt told him. "Or maybe I just enjoy rattling naive peaceniks. Either way, you get to go home in one piece. In my books that's counts as a good day."

Groove tried to fire back with a witty retort, but a peal of nervous laughter came out instead.

Maria could hear the screams from two floors down.

"Let go of me, you son of a bitch!"

"Why in the world would I want to do that?" a cold, slightly accented voice asked. "You'll be dead in a few minutes anyway. My friends made sure of that. I might as well have some fun first."

"Go to hell!"

Maria grabbed hold of the handrail and threw herself up onto the next flight of stairs before the situation could get any worse, landing a few feet below the confrontation. It took a second for her brain to process the scene, and what she saw disgusted her. A slender red-haired woman, her face split open and her clothing torn in a dozen places by flying glass, was being pressed against the wall by a middle-aged platinum blond man. The man was groping her with one hand and restraining her arms with the other, using his body weight to keep the furiously struggling woman pinned in place.

Something snapped inside Maria as she watched the sickening attack unfold. As she charged toward the attacker, she remembered her police training, and all the senior officers who had drilled into her from day one that it was an officer's job to protect the public, not mete out punishment or vengeance. At the back of her mind she heard Ratchet's voice, warning her that she would have to be very careful around other humans, because her mechanical augmentations meant that she could do a lot of damage if she didn't know her own strength.

But none of that mattered because right now she wanted to do damage. Anger had been building up inside her ever since that Decepticon had crippled her, and seeing the cat's avian partner in the lobby had been enough to make it boil over. Maria wanted nothing more than to find the feline and pull it's wires out...but since it wasn't here, the young woman needed to find another suitable target for her outburst. This degenerate sack of filth, she decided, would do nicely.

The would-be rapist heard her coming and turned around to face her, a surprised expression on his face.

"How about you try picking on someone who can fight back, you worthless sack of crap?"

Before the man could answer, Maria punched him in the face as hard as her cyborg body would allow. As Ga'mede staggered back from the blow, Maria gave the young redheaded woman a warning look.


Streetwise staggered as Garboil hit him with a maser shot, but the Protectobot's momentum kept him coming. The Imperial tried to put some space between them by flying up to the lobby's ceiling, but a quick shot from a compressed air cannon knocked the flier out of the sky. Vaulting over a large (by human standards anyway) sculpture that divided the waiting area from the receptionist's desk, Streetwise dropped to the ground beside the bird just as he was recovering his senses and climbing to his feet. With quick hands, he deftly grabbed Garboil by the neck and slammed him into the floor before tossing him out onto the street through the shattered window.

In the midst of all this, a high-pitched ding sounded to indicate an arriving elevator. Streetwise turned, photon pistol snapping up to target the new arrival...which turned out to be Howlback, with a microscope in her mouth.

"Yuuuh dntth wnn shhk," she tried to say with he mouth full.

"Maybe you could try not speaking with your mouth full?"

Howlback stepped out into the spacious lobby and deposited the microscope on the ground, where it converted into Magnificus.

"How droll," Howlback said to Streetwise, clearly annoyed. "I was telling you, Autobot, that you don't want to shoot us." She smiled. "Not unless you want to be personally responsible for the deaths of every human in the city."

Darius gingerly stepped deeper into the room, doing his best not to vomit at the carnage he saw.

"What is it?" Rapture's sharp voice demanded. "A weapon?"

"In a manner of speaking," Darius told her. "Something chemical, or maybe biological. I just walked into a room full of dead scientists. They're bleeding out of holes I didn't even know a body had."

"Jesus, get out of there!" Rapture snapped. "Before you get infected!"

"I think it's already too late for that," Darius said. "Their blood – it's smoking, Kat. Whatever killed them, I've been breathing it in since I got out of the stairwell."

"So, what, you're just going to stay down there and wait to die?"

"No," Darius said, perfectly calm. Feeling a tickle on his upper lip, he reached up to scratch it. His hand came back wet with blood. "No," he repeated. "What I'm going to do is burn this place to the ground so that no one else gets walks in to their death."

Rapture was shocked into silence, at least for a few moments. As he walked toward a storage area at the back of the lab, Darius took advantage of her speechlessness to add, "Make sure Blackrock and the Autobots know what happened down here. No one makes a weapon like this just to kill off a few scientists."

"What do you mean?"

Darius smashed the lock on a chemical-storage locker, then pulled out a large bottle of alcohol and began splashing it on the corpses, ignoring the droplets of his own blood that were starting to drip on the floor and mingle with the chemicals.

"This wasn't an attack, Kat. This was a test. My guess is that they co-opted the lab to make their weapon, then tested in on the poor SOBs who were working here. If we're lucky, they restricted their test to the labs. If we're not, the whole building is a biohazard."

Once the corpses were soaked, he grabbed several other bottles of flammable liquid and threw them haphazardly on the ground, and soon the concrete floor was almost entirely covered. Darius reached for a lit bunsen burner, but fell into a fit of wracking coughs before he could reach it. Blood shot out of his mouth in thick gobs with each hack.

"Darius? Are you alright?"

"No," the middle-aged man admitted once. "No, I'm not. I don't have much time left." He took a ragged breath, then added, "Kat, it was good working with you. Lee too. You two are everything Blackrock said you were. I just wish...I just wish I 'd been able to stick around to help him a little while longer. Things are getting ugly, and he's going to need good people. People he can trust."

"I'm done with the superhero racket, Hayes. We all are. It was a bad idea then and it's an even worse idea now."

"I'm not asking you to be a hero," Darius said as he grabbed the burner. "Just a friend."

Rapture sighed, and the line was silent for a moment. "I think...I think I can do that."

"Thank you."

Darius tossed the burner into the nearest pool of alcohol, and within seconds the room was ablaze. The chemicals caught fire first, of course, but it didn't take long before the flames spread to desks, chairs, computers and lab equipment all over the room.

"Good bye, Kat."

Darius tossed his radio into the fire before she could respond, his hands shaking as blood started to push up through his pores. Falling to his knees in the flames, Darius whispered to himself, "Not like this."

His bloody hand reached into his jacket, pulling his pistol from his shoulder holster.

"Not like this," he whispered again, before he pressed the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.

A big smile spread across Thunderpunch's face as the newspaper box caught the closest mercenary in the stomach, knocking him and his giant cannon to the ground. Papers flew out in every direction, startling the other three soldiers and making it difficult for them to see where the attack came from. Not giving them a chance to get oriented, he ran toward them with his massive hands clenched into fists. He drove a heavy blow into the nearest thug's chest, and he dropped to the ground with the sound of snapping ribs.

The other two mercenaries saw him now, and as they started to swing the barrel of their guns toward him Thunderpunch grabbed the nearest of the two, broke his right arm at the elbow and held him up as a human shield between himself and the last mercenary.

I sure hope these suits are bullet-proof, he thought as the last mercenary opened fire, killing his own comrade.

I guess that's a no, he realized, wincing as he shoved the dead merc forward. But enough to help me, at least.

When the corpse crashed into the last enemy, Thunderpunch took a step to the side and punched him in the head, easily knocking him unconscious even with the heavy helmet. A brutal stomp to the chest dispatched the one that he'd knocked down with the newspaper box, and Thunderpunch dusted his hands off, congratulating himself on a job well done.

Then bullets started to fly past his head.

"What the--"

As he ducked down, the giant caught sight of another cluster of suited-up mercs coming down the street from the opposite direction, firing their machine guns in his direction.

"It's never easy, is it?"

Tracks clobbered the white Imperial in the face with a haymaker as the other Transformer was trying to get back up to his feet, then grabbed him by the ridiculous fins on the sides of his head and tossed him into a parked truck.

"You look like an idiot, do you know that? Those red patches on a white Stratos? Shudder. And what the hell is a 'Marlboor', anyway? Is that supposed to be 'Marlboro'?"

"It's—shut up!" The car threw a punch back, but Tracks dodged it.

"It's shut up?" Tracks asked mockingly. "That sense make not does!"

"Rrrr!" Although the other Transformer didn't have a face per se, Marlboor still somehow managed an angry expression as he threw another punch, catching Tracks in the shoulder. The Autobot winced, but didn't back off. Instead he grabbed his foe by the wrist of his extended arm and levered around, catching the other Transformer's shoulder with his free hand and knocking him to the ground face-first.

"You're new at this, aren't you 'Boor?" Tracks asked as he punched the Imperial in the back of the neck. "Well, don't worry. Your new friend Tracks will show you how it's done."

Ga'mede touched his face, wincing as pain flared up instantly. His nose was broken, he knew, and a sharp pain was lancing through his jawbone and cheek too.

"One punch?" he muttered under his breath incredulously. "What are you?"

"Wouldn't you'd like to know?" Maria told him coldly. Then she grabbed him by the collar and pulled him up, staring his ruined face. "Too bad."

She headbutted him straight in the broken bones, then slammed her fist into his stomach. As Ga'mede doubled over, Maria grabbed him by the arm and slammed him into the wall shoulder-first. He screamed as his shoulder popped out of the socket, and Maria tossed him to the ground.

"It's not very much fun when you're on the receiving end, is it?" She asked as she kicked him in the face. "No, I don't think you like it one bit!"

Ga'mede looked up at her, spat blood out of his mouth...and laughed.

"Let me guess," he said with a low growl, "you've been hanging out with Autobots?"

"And what if I have?" Maria asked.

"I have new friends too," Ga'mede told her. He slammed his shoulder against the wall again, forcing his joint back into the socket.

He jumped up, moving too quickly for Maria to counter as he grabbed her by the hair, yanked and swung her head-first into the guardrail. Then he gave her a swift kick, sending Maria rolling down the stairs to the next level's landing.

With blood pouring from a deep cut in her scalp, a wincing Maria climbed back to her feet and gave Ga'mede a scornful look. "You should ask them for a refund," she said, "if that's the best you can do."

"Come here and say that, you dumb bitch!"

"Do you always talk to women like that," Maria asked, "or am I just special?"

"Ask me that again after I've broken all four of your limbs and tossed you over the railing," Ga'mede told her. He smiled. "Oh, and just so you know...I'm going to do it slowly."

Rapture hid behind a parked car, unsure what to do next. She wasn't a fighter, and she wasn't very useful in a giant brawl like the one that was unfolding around her. She could put any of the combatants to sleep, sure, but she couldn't get all of them. Any ones she didn't get would kill her, and she was no good to anyone dead.

She glanced around the battlefield, looking for anywhere she could make herself useful, and saw a young redheaded woman running out of the ruined building. She was obviously both scared and injured, and more important than that she was the only person who'd made it out of the building since the attack had started.

Rapture popped out of cover, running toward the other woman and shouting, "Come with me!"

Not waiting for an answer, Rapture looped her arm around the woman's back and ushered her into the safety of a nearby shop before asking, "How did you get out?"

"There was a lockdown, and a...a Transformer, and I ran, and I..." The young woman dropped to her knees, shaking like a leaf in a strong wind as the adrenaline started to lose it's grip on her.

Rapture managed not to give her a disdainful sneer. Instead, she sat down beside the other woman and took her hands. The redhead jerked back slightly, but forced herself to calm down and look Rapture in the eyes.

"It's alright," Rapture told her. "You're out of there now." When the other woman just stared, Rapture forced a smile and said, "My name's Kat. What's yours?"

"I...I..." The readhead shivered again, closed her eyes and said, "I'm Jenny."

"Hi Jenny," Rapture said with forced patience. "I know it's hard, but I need you to tell me what happened in there."

"I'm a receptionist," Jenny said flatly, as if she was doing all she could to disassociate herself from the events. "I was working the front desk when the building went into lockdown. Biohazard alert. Some of our staff panicked, tried to get outside. They couldn't but then..." Jenny shook her head. "I'm not sure what happened next, exactly. There was an explosion, and then this robot...it attacked, smashed the foyer windows. I ran, into the stairwell, kept running until I broke one of my heels. I tripped, and then this man..." Jenny stopped, breathless. "This man who came to see Dr. Jansen, he was there. He attacked me, tried to..." She shook her head, not wanting to say it. "But this other girl showed up. This short Latina. And she just belted him, and told me to run. So I did."

Rapture nodded. "I know her," she told Jenny. "The woman who helped you. Her name is Maria. She's...a friend of a friend, I suppose."

Thinking of what Darius had done, Rapture winced at the thought of the other woman having a drawn-out fight in the stairwell. "Was she still there when you left?"

"She was beating on that asshole," Jenny said. "In the stairs."

"Thanks," Rapture said. "I think that's all I need to know." She put her hand on Jenny's shoulder and said, "Sleep now. You'll feel better when you wake up."

It looked like the other woman was going to object, but Rapture put her into a dream before she could open her mouth. Rising to her feet, she shook off the dirty feeling that she always got whenever she had to play-act the "sensitive girl" role and strode out of the shop.

Maria doesn't have a radio, she thought, and I don't have an Autobot comm. I'd better get in there and warn her about--

Her thought was cut short, though, as she heard a loud gunshot followed by a gruff, Southern-accented scream. Her head swung around and she saw Thunderpunch reeling, bleeding from a gunshot would to the chest.

"Lee!" she shouted, running toward him and keeping behind cover as best she could, Maria's predicament forgotten.

Streetwise gave Howlback a cool, sceptical look. "I'm pretty sure you're not in a position to be making threats right now," he told them.

"There's two of us and one of you," Howlback responded. "Three, if my winged partner ever gets his aft off the ground," she added sharply. "That sounds like a good position to me."

"Three on one? Heh," Streetwise said. He glanced toward the window where he'd tossed Garboil...and as if on cue the street outside exploded. Three 50mm machine guns chewed the ground up as Skydive led Fireflight and Air Raid on a strafing run, sending the dozen or more mercenaries who'd come out of the woodwork scrambling for cover. While the other two jets looped around for another pass Air Raid transformed, dropped out of the sky and landed on the ruined pavement, using both legs and one fist for support while he pointed his torque rifle inside the building.

"My math might be rusty," Streetwise observed calmly, "but I count four Autobots now. My backup is heavily armed and rested. You've got a turkey with more dents in him than the road outside and a scientist who's mincing his way to cover behind the reception desk. We can have it out if you want, but I'd be just as happy to spare you the trouble and lock you in a cell while you're still in one piece."

"No," Howlback responded, not intimidated in the least. She turned to glare at Magnificus, saying, "Show them, coward."

"I am not a--"

"Show them."

Magnificus made an annoyed sound, then levered open a panel on his right forearm. He held it open for the Autobots to see the dozens upon dozens of glass vials stored inside.

"One vial of this was enough to kill every human in this building," he said proudly. "And who knows how far it's spread since?" He shrugged. "Attack us and all of it gets released. And if that happens, even I couldn't tell you how many of these fleshy 'people' are going to die then." He looked over at Howlback, demanding petulantly, "Was that threatening enough?"

"Shut up," she growled at him.

"But you told me to--"

"Shut. Up."

"Shutting up, yes ma'am."

Streetwise adjusted his grip in his sidearm, his fingers tightening on the trigger. "So you're suggesting that I let you walk out of here with enough of a biological weapon to kill an entire city?"

"No way!" Air Raid said stepping up beside him. "You're not going anywhere."

"You'd doom a whole city to death just to stop us?" Howlback asked, her voice cool and confident. "Is that something you really want on your conscience?"

"Better that than letting you get away to poison a hundred cities," Streetwise told her. "Again, there's two ways we can do this. You can stand down and come with us peacefully, or you can put up a fight and come with us in pieces."

"Two million humans live in Portland," Howlback reminded him. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Want?" Streetwise scoffed. "You're the one who engineered a bioweapon, cougar. If anyone dies, it's all on you."

"Let her go."

Streetwise scowled at Skydive's voice crackling over his communicator. "Like hell," he growled.

"Let her go," Skydive repeated. "We'll find another way."

"No. I'll--"

"That's an order, Streetwise. We're on Earth to help these people. We're not going to let that many of them die just so we can capture a few Imperials. Let her go."

Streetwise seethed. "Fine. It's your call. But what happens next is on your head, flyboy. Remember that." Lowering his gun, he glared at Howlback and said, "Get out of here before I change my mind, tabby."

Howlback favoured him with a taunting smile and said, "I'm glad you came to your senses." Strutting forward, she nudged Garboil to his feet and headed out into the street, away from the office tower.


Streetwise kicked apart one of the reception area's glass-peppered leather couches, then sunk to his knees with a scowl on his face. Even though he knew Skydive had a point, there was nothing he hated more than watching a degenerate scumbag hurt people and walk away scot-free.

"We'll get another shot at them," Air Raid said, obviously no happier with the situation than Streetwise was. "But we've got bigger problems."

Streetwise turned to look where he was pointing, and saw flames licking their way up the elevator shafts and stairwells at the back of the building.

"And now the building is burning down," Streetwise said, not even trying to hide his frustration. "The perfect end to a perfect day." Flipping on his comm, he barked, "Maria, if you're still alive get out of there now. The building is on fire."

There was no reply.

"So how'd you get roped into this gig?"

Jerry looked over at the other mercenary and shrugged as much as his massive suit would allow. "The money ain't bad," he said. "Why else?"

"No, that's not what I mean. You were COBRA, right? So what did you do?"

"Oh. Alley-Viper," Jerry said. "You?"

"Annihilator, actually." The merc shrugged. "Destro was a bad boss, but running guns beat getting shot at with them." He gestured toward a couple of their fellow hirelings. "That guy...Rob, I think? He was a Night Creeper. And Jake over there was in a Python team, the sneaky SOB. Pretty sure the boss is the only one who's worn this Toxo-Viper crap before. No wonder they used it for punishment duty! I can hardly move in the thing."

Jerry glanced over at their team leader. "He survived the leaky suit brigade? Explains a lot. I--"

Gunfire interrupted their discussion.

"You hear that, boss?" Jerry shouted.

"Of course I did," the team leader shouted back. "I also heard you disparage Toxo-Vipers. We'll talk about that later, if you survive. Now move out!"

The team of five heavy-suited troopers stomped out of the parking structure they'd been hiding in, charging around the corner just in time to see a huge bear of a man with the biggest feet and hands he'd ever seen stomping the last member of their forward observation squad into unconsciousness.

"Take him down, men!" the team leader shouted, stomping toward the giant and brandishing his shotgun. He fired, but missed completely and wound up peppering a brick wall with lead instead.

"Nice shot," one of the other troopers said mockingly.

"I'd like to see you try and shoot someone when you can't bring the gun up to sight it!" their boss shouted back. "This is why we used to carry those slime-shooters back in the day. Shame Ga'mede couldn't round up a whole complement of them. I love splash damage!"

Jerry groaned at the incredibly lame pun, but managed to not give into the urge to shoot his C/O in the back.

As the team moved closer to the area where they'd last seen the man, Jerry saw something approaching out of the corner of his very restricted peripheral vision. He tried to duck, but the suit made him too slow and the object – a loose brick from the wall his boss had shot, Jerry quickly realized – hit him hard in the side of the head. Jerry fell to the ground in a daze and watched the rest of the fight proceed like a blurry old movie.

The giant – he practically had to be a mutant, Jerry belatedly realized – leaped out from cover while the squad was distracted by Jerry's collapse, grabbed the nearest trooper and tore apart his helmet seals. The man panicked as the helmet came loose – they'd been warned that their allies were using a bio-weapon in the area, and that anyone who was exposed would die a very nasty death. The mutant just smiled as he threw the helmet hard enough to knock down another of the men. A third closed to hand-to-hand range and threw a punch, catching the big man in the stomach. But instead of doubling over in pain, he threw a quick strike at the man's elbow and smashed it, leaving him reeling in pain.

Jerry's vision blurred for a few moments, and when it cleared again he saw the team leader falling backwards, his helmet smashed in and his neck bent at an impossible angle. The helmetless trooper was falling as well, but not from anything that the mutant had done. Blood was pouring from his eyes, ears and mouth, and he clawed helplessly at his own face as he fell to the ground.

They sure weren't lying about that bioweapon, Jerry thought to himself. But why isn't the freak dying too? He wasn't sure that he'd ever been smart enough to answer a question like that, but he certainly wasn't going to figure it out with a severe concussion from a brick to the head.

The giant whirled around, looking for anyone else to fight. He found himself face to face with the last intact member of the squad, the man he'd knocked down with the first trooper's helmet. The soldier stood at point-blank range, with his shotgun lined up for a shot at the big man's chest. He fired before the mutant had a chance to react, blowing a huge hole in his chest with a point-blank shotgun blast. The mutant took half a step back, then backhanded the last soldier hard enough to break his neck before falling to the ground himself, hemorrhaging blood.

"Nobody said there would be mutants..." Jerry muttered. As he lost consciousness, he made a mental note to never, ever work for this "Ga'mede" again, no matter how good the pay was.

Maria took a careful step up the stairs, moving slowly as if she'd been injured in her fall. The older blond man saw her caution and charged, hoping to end the fight quickly by running over an injured, scared little girl.

Things didn't quite work out that way.

Speeding up, Maria met the man half-way with a running punch to the stomach. Ga'mede doubled over in pain and she used the guardrail to vault over him, landing behind his back and kicking his legs out from under him. The man tried to grab a hold of the railing to break his fall, but only wound up jamming his left arm between two of the rail's support poles. Before he could extricate himself, Maria drove a boot into his spine and pushed him to the ground. Then she reached over the railing, grabbed his left elbow and pulled it back toward her, eliciting a satisfying scream as she snapped his humerus.

Smiling with a bloodlust she'd never known she possessed, Maria grabbed the man by his long blond hair and pulled him free. Ignoring the man's screams, she yanked him up to her level and then threw him back down, smashing his broken face into the railing.

"I could do this all day," she said, "but it sounds like we'll have to cut it short. I would tell you to learn from the experience...but you won't get the chance."

Ga'mede opened his mouth to say something, but Maria was in no mood to give him the last word. She grabbed him by the back of his suit jacket, swung him over the railing and tossed him down to the ground floor below.

"Good riddance," she said, before descending the stairs herself in a far more conventional way.

Rapture ran to Thunderpunch's side, not even trying now to hide from any enemy gunners that might be hiding out there. The man was bleeding to death, and in spite of all the horrible things she'd said to him over the years they'd known each other she'd come to appreciate him for what he was. An arrogant, sexist, redneck pig, yes, but a good man who stood up for what was right and tried to use his powers to help people weaker than him.

Not that she'd ever say that to his face, not even now.

Coming to a stop beside her fallen comrade, she took his hand and said, "Lee? Are you..."

"Not...not yet I'm not," Thunderpunch told her, his coming out as a hoarse rattle. "But I'm getting there."

"Lee, I..." Rapture looked away, embarrassed by her feelings and feeling a stab of guilt for what she was about to say. "I'm sorry. It's my fault. I...I told Blackrock we should ask you to come."

"It's OK," the big man told her. "I'm glad I did."

Rapture looked back at him, a surprised expression on his face. "How can you say that?"

"Finally got you to hold my hand, didn't I?" Thunderpunch became more serious. "And besides...if I hadn't come, you might be the one bleedin' out on the sidewalk."

Rapture felt tears welling up in her eyes. "Lee, I can't...there's no doctors coming, not in time. I can't do anything to help you...but I can make it go easier."

Thunderpunch looked confused for a moment, but his expression quickly turned into one of anger. "No! I'm not running away from this, you understand?"

"Lee...I wasn't asking."

"Don't you dare!" Thunderpunch shouted. "Don't you—"

But his mind had faded away before he could finish his sentence.

Lee Gruber opened his eyes slowly, nervously, unsure that he wanted to see what was on the other side of them. He'd lived a rough life, Lee had, and he had no illusions about where he'd end up when it was all over. And while there was no doubt in his mind he deserved it, he wasn't exactly eager to start the fire-and-brimstone treatment any earlier than he absolutely had to.

But when his eyes focused, all he saw was a bland, generic hospital ceiling.

"Well, finally," a familiar voice with a sexy accent said teasingly. "I was beginning to think you'd sleep for a week."

Lee looked toward the source of the voice and was shocked to see Rapture sitting in a chair at his bedside.

"Wha...What are you doing here?"

"Keeping you company. What else?"

"Why aren't I dead?"

"It was touch and go for a while," Rapture told him. "But the doctors...they said it was a miracle. You took a chest full of buckshot, and not one single pellet managed to hit anything vital." She smiled nervously. "I guess I'm stuck with you for a while yet."

"I...that's great news," Lee said. "I..." He yawned. "I'm sorry. Still pretty tired, you know?"

"I know." Rapture got up and rested a hand on his shoulder. "I should let you sleep some more. I just wanted to be here when you got up." She bent over and kissed him on the forehead. "I'm glad you made it, Lee."

"So am I. Believe me, so am I."

Rapture watched the life fade out of her friend's eyes, glad that she'd been able to ease his passing but sad nonetheless that she'd lost him. He'd probably died hating her, she knew, and he couldn't blame her. They'd known each other for five years, and she'd heaped scorn and abuse on him constantly since the day they'd met. He'd always treated her well, or at least as well as his naturally boorish mannerisms would allow, but she'd never made an effort to make nice with him and she really didn't know why. Now it was too late, and she'd never be able to make things right.

Rapture lost track of time as she sat there, crying cold, lonely tears over the body of a man she'd always told herself she hated.

Tracks raised his right hand high above his head, ready to deliver another blow to the Imperial he was soundly thrashing, when Skydive's voice rang in his head.

"Let him go, Tracks," the Aerialbot said. "Let him go. The fight is over for now. Make sure he leaves, then head back to base."

"I...uh, okay," Tracks said. He was confused, but the other Autobot's voice didn't leave any room for argument. "If you say so."

He stepped back and told the Imperial, "It sounds like this is your lucky day, 'Con. Leave now and I won't try and stop you."

The Imperial looked like he was going to try and argue the point, but three more Imperials arrived before he could. The feline one glared and said, "You were supposed to wait for us, not start a fight."

"I'm sorry," the mech Tracks had beaten said pleadingly. "I just...it looked like you needed help. I thought—"

"If you were meant to think, Marlboor, someone would have installed a brain. Now transform and get us out of here!"

"Yes ma'am."

The three Imperials transformed – two into cassettes and one into a microscope – and landed inside the white car. The car then immediately drove away, it's quarrel with Tracks apparently forgotten.

"Wait, so Marlboor is actually his name?" Tracks asked himself as he transformed to his battered, broken car mode. "And I thought the universe liked to pick on me..."

Maria charged down the stairs, arriving at the lobby and staring blankly into the blood-stained dent in the concrete where Ga'mede's had fallen. But in spite of spilling enough blood to drop a rhino and leaving an impact crater a small meteorite would be proud of, the Decepticon-augmented terrorist's body was nowhere to be found.

"There's no way he survived that," she muttered, but if she was honest with herself Maria wasn't so sure. He'd fallen fifteen stories straight down and landed with way more force than a normal human would, which made sense if you believed his claim that he'd been modified by Transformers like she was. If his augmentations were anywhere nearly as extensive as hers...

Would I survive that? Maria wondered, before uncomfortably admitting to herself that she probably would.

The lobby was ablaze by now, and a quick glance up confirmed that the fires had spread to the floor directly above as well. And as much as Maria wanted – needed – a chance to stop and think about what had just happened, she didn't think that even her newly-mechanized body would stand up to having a burning office tower collapse on it.

Dashing as fast as she could, she vaulted over the reception desk and dodged around a burning section of furniture before finally jumping though the gaping hole where one of the windows used to be. She looked around and saw Streetwise standing there, obviously furious even though he was doing his best to hide it.

"The scum got away," he seethed. "They threatened to poison the city, and we had to let them go. Dammit!"

Maria recoiled instinctively as the Autobot kicked a parked car, sending it skidding across the road into the median.

"I know the feeling," she said. "I ran into a human accomplice of theirs inside the building. Or at least, I thought he was human. I dropped him fifteen stories and he got up and walked away, so now I'm thinking not." She sighed, running her fingers though her sweat-soaked black hair. "What a ****ing fiasco."

Streetwise transformed to vehicle mode and popped open his driver-side door for her. "It gets worse," he said. "Thunderpunch and Darius are both dead, the Steelhaven is underwater and we have no idea where Galvatron or the Cybertronians have gone."

Maria climbed in, did up her seatbelt and closed the door. "Things are only going to get worse from here, aren't they?"

"Probably," Streetwise told her, as he slipped into gear and headed over to pick up Rapture. "Probably. But there's nothing we can do about it now but wait for the other shoe to drop. We had our chance to stop this. I'm not so sure we're going to get another."


Overcharge and his men had taken the scenic route, varying their course wildly and frequently doubling back to make sure they weren't being followed. But they hadn't seen any signs of pursuit, and after nearly a day's worth of monotonous trekking they arrived at the caverns that they'd converted into a small backup base. Transforming to robot mode, he looked around for signs of recent habitation and was relieved to see several fresh tire tracks in the dirt nearby.

"Well, it certainly looks like someone's living here, doesn't it?"

The Imperial commander led Bug Bite and Treads into the caves, moving slowly so that they didn't make any noise until they'd arrived at the metal-floored compound that they'd set up deep inside the system of caverns. It was then, and only then, that he raised his voice and snapped, "Cybertronians, show yourselves!"

Marlboor stuck his head out from one of the side tunnels first, and the expression on what passed for a face was something close to glee. "Boss!", he said. "You're back! Thank Xal. And Buggy!"

"I'm here too," a miffed Treads said.


Overcharge clapped Marlboor on the shoulder, then asked the other Transformer, "Where are Garboil and Howlback? I have a bone to pick with them, don't I?"

"They're in the medbay," Marlboor told him. "They got – hey!" The younger Transformer jolted as Overcharge drew one of his cannons of of it's shoulder mount. "Uh...that's mine, boss."

"You can have it back in a few minutes, I promise."

Overcharge gripped the gun comfortably in one hand and headed down the tunnel to the medical lab. "You three stay here," he said. "I'll be out shortly. Garboil and Howlback...won't, will they?"

Leaving the three stunned subordinates behind him, Overcharge stormed down the hall and into the medical room where he saw Magnificus repairing a badly-damaged Garboil while Howlback watched. The feline glanced in his direction casually, then bolted up with her fangs bared when recognition set in.

Overcharge returned her feral smile with one of his own.

"Why, hello," he said with false sincerity. "Imagine my surprise, finding you here. After all, I did order you to be off-planet before sunrise. After all, that was only, what, a month and a half ago?" He narrowed his optics dangerously. "You pack very slowly, Howlback."

"Is there a point buried in all that outrage," Howlback asked mockingly, "or do you just enjoy listening to yourself asking questions?"

"My point," Overcharge said, "is that you disobeyed my orders. And worse, you've started conspiring with Galvatron. Didn't you pay attention in the mission briefings, where we told you that he was a dangerous loose cannon who can't be reasoned with or trusted?"

"We don't need to trust him," Howlback shrugged. "He thinks he's using us, and we both want to deny this world to the Autobots. So for now at least we're on the same side. Besides...considering the Autobot starship that he tried to hijack is somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific and we haven't heard a word from him since it went down, we might not be hearing from him again anyway."

"A fancy justification for treason," Overcharge snapped. "Your orders--"

"-- are invalid. Cobalt Sentries aren't beholden to the whims of mere unit commanders," Garboil squawked from the table where he was being worked on.

"Your orders didn't come from me, as you'd know if you ever bothered to listen to a thing I said," Overcharge snapped. "They came directly from the Autarch, from Overlord himself. You've disobeyed our supreme commander, and last I checked Cobalt Sentries can't do that, can they?" The triplechanger took a step forward, raising his gun threateningly and using his free hand to support the barrel. "You are traitors, both the the Empire itself, to your Liege and to me personally. This madness ends now."

He brought the butt of the gun down hard on Howlback's slender, unguarded neck – only for it to come to a halt against a barely-visible energy field that sprung into being.

"Did you forget about my feedbacker shield?" the feline asked mockingly. "You're right about one thing, though. This does end now. Your command was a disgrace, Overcharge. You failed to send Galvatron through to Cybertron. You failed to protect our base from Autobot attack. You failed to contain Galvatron when he got loose. You failed to escape from Autobot custody for over a month. And now you've failed to assert your supposed authority." She glanced over at her partner. "Garboil, if you would?"

The bird opened his mouth as if to reply...but what came out wasn't words. It was shrill and booming, loud and quiet, terrifying and wonderful all at once. Overcharge was frozen in place by a welling of emotions that he couldn't even place a name on, the cannon falling from his now-limp hand.

Taking a few steps back, Howlback stood calmly as each of the multiracked missiles attached to her flanks targeted a different part of Overcharge's body.

"Consider yourself relieved, Commander."

The missiles fired, and hit, and exploded. When the smoke cleared, there was nothing left of Overcharge but a few scraps of green and grey armour.

Almost on cue, Bug Bite, Treads and Marlboor charged into the room to see what was going on. The former two stared at Overcharge's remains, stunned. Marlboor happily retrieved his gun from the debris, seemingly unaware of what had just transpired.

"Quit staring," Howlback growled to her two newest minions, "and clean up that mess!"

Ratchet expected someone to confront him over the escapes right away, but no one came to speak to him for so long that he thought they'd forgotten about him entirely. The power in his cell was still off, so he'd had the run of the brig...such as it was, anyway. The main door was locked, now, but he'd been able to walk over to the Energon dispenser behind the guard's desk and get himself a drink at least.

When he heard the main door's locks disengage, Ratchet looked over fully expecting to see Bumblebee in full-blown self-righteous lecture mode. Instead, he was surprised to see First Aid standing in the doorway instead.

"You drew the short straw?"

First Aid sighed. "No, Ratchet. I volunteered to talk to you. Not that there was all that many people lining up to fight me for it."

The younger doctor walked inside, and Ratchet had a quick glimpse of Streetwise, Camshaft and Jackpot standing guard outside the brig.

"They think I'm that big of a threat? Really?"

"Well, gee, I wonder. Do you think it might have something to do with you repairing, then freeing, three dangerous prisoners?" First Aid met his eyes with a glare. "I'd keep a close eye on you too, after that."

Ratchet sunk down onto his cell's bench, shaking his head. "I know no one's happy with what I did, but I had to--"

"Had to what?" First Aid collected the components of the repair kit that Ratchet had been given. Then he opened up his own kit and started repairing the ruined cell-locking circuits. "Had to release the three enemy soldiers that beat Jazz to a catatonic wreck?"

They what? I'm sorry, I didn't think--"

"No, you didn't." First Aid's voice was calm, and although his words were harsh there was no anger behind them. A perfect bedside manner, Ratchet reflected proudly. "You didn't think about what they might do if you freed them, just like you didn't think about what might happen if you kept us from using Shockwave against Galvatron." He finished his repair job and stepped outside the cell. "He shot down the Steelhaven, by the way."

"He what?" Ratchet bolted upright, but the cell's sensors detected the quick movement and activated the force field. A barely-visible energy gate popped up between him and First Aid. "Did he...is everyone alright?"

"Miraculously, no one died," First Aid told him. "No Autobots, at least. While he was doing that his new Imperial friends unleashed a bioweapon on Portland. The death toll is at a thousand, and still growing." First Aid closed the cell door and locked it, and the forcefield faded away. "I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me. I've got to get back to my patients."

The Protectobot doctor nodded, then turned around and headed for the door. He stopped a few paces away, though, and without looking back he asked, "Why?"

"What do you mean?" Ratchet responded. Wincing, he clarified, "I mean, there's a lot of things--"

"Why did you let them go? You can't honestly think that three Imperials will be able to throw a monkey wrench into Galvatron's plans."

"No," Ratchet admitted. "They can't. In fact, they'll probably be dead in short order."

"Then why? Why betray us? Why throw their lives away?"

"Because Streetwise wanted to know where their base is."

First Aid finally turned back, curiosity obvious in his eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Streetwise wanted to know where the Imperials were hiding, and Overcharge wouldn't tell him." Ratchet shrugged. "So I did the only thing I could to help: I fixed them up and set them free, right after I turned their internal communicators into tracking beacons. Losing the Steelhaven makes tracing them more difficult, but if Blackrock can help out with some satellite support you should be able to track them down. Assuming, that is, that Galvatron doesn't kill them first. It's not much, but it was the only thing I could do to help from inside a cell. And I know that it's not going to go over well that I decided on my own to do this, but we both know no one would listen if I suggested it."

First Aid mulled over that for a few seconds, but didn't answer. He just turned his back and opened the door, saying, "It was nice seeing you, Ratchet," before it closed behind him.

Alone again, Ratchet sat down on his bench, buried his head in his hands and finally admitted something that he hadn't even wanted to consider a day earlier. The full weight of his actions began to sink in, and the doctor's shoulders slumped. He called himself a doctor, but he'd just tried to trade the lives of prisoners for a fleeting chance at a tactical advantage. Doctors didn't do that. Doctors couldn't do that.

Bumblebee's right. A part of me is Megatron, now. And it always will be.

First Aid shook his head as he stepped out of the brig, his healer's mind simply not able to deal with how messed up Ratchet must be to do the things he'd done.

"Did you hear that?" he asked Streetwise, who was leaning casually up against the wall.

"Yep." The other Protectobot had an eager look about him as he straightened and indicated to Jackpot and Camshaft that they could go. "It's not much, bit it's a lead. That's more than I had ten minutes ago. I'll start trying to run it down." He smiled and started walking away from the brig, in the general direction of the medical bay. "And thanks. I don't think he would have talked to me."

"Probably not," First Aid admitted, as he fell into step beside his friend, "but I'm still not sure why you think I was the best person to do it."

"Who else is there that Ratchet really knows?" Streetwise asked. "Jazz is in pieces in the medbay, and even if he wasn't I don't think I'd trust the two of them in a room alone right now. Bumblebee doesn't want anything to do with him, and none of the rest of us are anything but passing acquaintances. You were the only one around that he's open up to. And you did a good job, so again, thank you."

"You're welcome," First Aid told him. "But I really do need to get back to work. Hubcap is finally back on his feet and I managed to put Tracks back together, but Jazz and Overdrive are going to need a few more days' work before they're back online." He sighed. "Not to mention the three humans we've got sitting in isolation, who somehow aren't dying in spite of being infected by an amazingly-deadly pathogen and who I need to poke and prod until I can find a cure even though I'm not remotely a biologist. Where's someone like Brushguard when you need him?"

Streetwise smiled. "Brushguard's a botanist, not a biologist," he said with some amusement. "Also, a Decepticon. Also also, dead. I don't think he's available."

"And I'm a technosurgeon," First Aid said, frustrated. "What I I know about how humans work? I'm terrified that I'll kill them just by running a few tests." He frowned. "Wait, when did Brushguard die?"

"About a month before we were posted here," Streetwise said. "Imperials mistook his research shuttle for a military dropship and blew him up from orbit. Or not, and they killed him just because they could. The investigation was never really clear on that part."

"Shame. I kind of liked him." First Aid stopped at the medical bay door, adding, "My point is, I don't know if I can do this. If there's another outbreak, I don't think we'll be able to control it."

Streetwise set his jaw. "Well then. I guess I'd better find them so we can make sure there isn't one."

Jerry woke up slowly, not because he felt rested but because his head simply hurt so much that it laughed at the concept of sleep.

"There you are!" an annoyed, accented, frustratingly familiar voice said. "Didn't they ever tell you that you're not supposed to sleep when you've got a concussion?"

"Concussion?" Jerry asked, the word tumbling awkwardly out before he could stop to think.

"You took a brick to the head at forty miles per hour," the voice told him. "You're lucky that's all you got. If your helmet wasn't in the way it would have killed you."

Jerry's foggy mind finally placed the voice. "Ga'mede?"

"Who else?"

The terrorist mastermind came into view, confirming Jerry's fears. His face was a mess of half-healed cuts and contusions. Ga'mede's left arm was in a sling, he was clearly favouring his right leg and his skin looked much paler than it had the last time they'd met.

"What happened to you?"

"Oh, not much," Ga'mede told him. "Twenty-two broken bones, two litres of lost blood and some nasty burns. Nothing that my implants can't fix, although they're taking their own sweet time."

"What about your...your bosses?"

"Don't really have anything for me to do right now," Ga'mede shrugged. "I held up my end of the bargain and now I get to sit back and watch the world burn." He giggled. "It should be fun." He looked down at Jerry. "And you're one lucky SOB, by the way. Your suit had started to leak, but I got you out of there before their poison got into your bloodstream. The rest of your friends – the ones that weren't already dead, that is – weren't so lucky. Whoever designed those Toxo-Viper suits obviously never had to wear one."

"I...thank you," Jerry said, confused. "But why? You didn't need to save me."

"It's be a shame to waste a perfectly good hired gun," Ga'mede told him. "I might need to use you again, and I can't do that if I leave to to die."

The terrorist turned his back, then picked up a bag and headed for the door.

"Your payment is on the table," he told Jerry. "The room is paid up for the next two days. That should be long enough for you to recover. After that, I suggest you get the hell out of town and stay away from big cities for a few months. What happens next isn't going to be nice."

The door creaked closed behind him, leaving Jerry alone to wonder what the hell he'd gotten himself involved in.

Maria sat on her cot in the Autobot medic's isolation room, bouncing a soft rubber ball off the wall for what was probably the thousandth time that day.

"Are you sure you can't find a better way to keep yourself entertained?"

Maria turned and looked at Rapture, a sour expression on her face. "I've told you a few times now, I'm not interested. The answer's not going to change just because you keep asking."

The Slavic woman scowled, but didn't rise to the bait. Across the room on the third bunk, Jenny just sat there staring off into space.

"I worry about her," Maria said out of the blue. "Has she said ten words since we got in here?"

"Not that made any sense," Rapture shook her head. "She's been through hell. She should be talking to a shrink, not locked in a lucite box getting poked and prodded by giant robots."

Maria didn't disagree. "That's not going to do anyone any good if the doctor starts bleeding from his eyes two minutes into the session." She sighed. "I just can't figure what's so special about us. Why aren't we dead?"

Rapture snorted. "I've got a pretty good idea." She gestured to herself, then across the room at Maria. "You and me, we're not exactly human. In my case not ever, and in yours not anymore. If this thing was engineered to kill humans and only humans, why would it attack a mutie or a cyborg?"

"What about her?" Maria pointed to Jenny. "She's not either one."

"That's what I can't figure. But I suppose if I could, I would have become a doctor," Rapture said. "Not a beggar."

Maria shook her head. Rapture sneered at her. "What, my background isn't good enough for the ex-cop? You don't want to be seen hanging out with the sort of scum you used to hassle off of the subway?

"It's not that," Maria told her, not at all defensive. "It's just something you said. You really don't think of yourself as human?"

"Humans can't stimulate other people's amygdala to make them dream," Rapture said. "Let alone do it to giant robots. I don't know what I am, but I know what I'm not – I'm not a normal human. I'm something else. Better, worse, I don't know. But different. And so are you."

Maria pondered what she had to say, then thought back to the murderous bloodlust she'd felt fighting Ga'mede in that stairwell. In the line of duty she'd gotten into a lot of fights, some with killers or rapists who were every bit as sick as he was. But she'd never let it get personal before. She'd never let her emotions take control, never taken the law into her own hands and meted out justice with her fists. She'd known more than a few officers who'd indulged in that sort of thing, but Maria had always told herself that she was better than that – that she was better than them. Now she wasn't so sure.

Her mind drifted back to when she'd first woken up from her surgeries, when she'd learned just how much of herself Ratchet had been forced to cut out and replace with metal. Over forty percent of her body was machine now. Forty percent of who she was, of what she was – gone. But what if the changes went deeper than that? What if some other, more fundamental part of her had been sliced out along with it? If she wasn't considered human anymore, then how could she say that the augmentation surgery hadn't taken away the part of her that made her human?

She didn't know the answer to that. What she knew, what she'd kept coming back do during the long hours that they'd been locked in this box, was that somewhere along the line she'd become the sort of person who'd toss a man down a fifteen-story drop and get angry when it didn't kill him. And that scared the crap out of her, because she'd dedicated her whole life to stopping people like that.

"Yeah," she muttered, to softly for Rapture to hear. "I'm something else, alright."

Maria lay back down on her cot, covered herself with her thin sheet, and turned her back to Rapture so the other woman couldn't see the tears running down her face.

NEXT: Typecast!

Thanks for reading. If you've got any comments our questions, please let me know below.

Hopefully the human-centric scenes didn't cross too far over the boundary of good taste. I've never written anything with this much human violence in it before, Transformers or not, and I found that balancing the overall G2 "feel" with a large human cast was a very enlightening experience for me. The fandom talks abstractly about the extreme level of violence that's allowed in Transformers stories but that we'd never see in toyline fiction with human characters, but it wasn't until I actually sat down and wrote this story that I fully understood why, or just how wide that gap truly is.

I also feel obliged to apologize for the punishing length of this one. I had no intention of writing something this expansive when I first sat down, but I found that there was just too much story to fit it all in without going over-length by a fair bit and I didn't want to break it up into two chapters.

2012-12-23, 09:52 AM

Human violence isn't that overblown, the fight between the cyborgs are pretty well-described and the violence actually adds tension and realism. Besides, Ga'mede had it coming. Ga'mede the terrorist is a very compelling bastard of a villain, and I like Ga'mede oh so very much. Wasn't sure when you introduced him in your previous update, but he's got great personality and carries a good chunk of the story by himself.

Of course, Maria is likewise an excellent foil and an actually intriguing original human character that puts most of IDW's human cast to shame.

Darius noooo! I liked Darius.

I was worried for a second about Skydive there when Galvatron showed up.

The Neo-Knights return in a very natural and un-forced way. Cobra being around and the little bickering about crazy Cobra types is a nice touch even though I don't understand anything. Thunderpunch's death was very sad and a little sweet...

I absolutely like Overcharge and Magnificus, and I especially like how your Magnificus is so different from Ziggy's Magnificus. Both are awesome. The Cobalt Sentries don't get to do as much this time, but they're still great. And have I told you how much I adore crazy Bug Bite?

"Dragon Lady" got a laugh out of me.

Ratchet's characterisation is a very natural and frankly pretty awesome evolution of what he's gone through along the Marvel comics and Reckoning, and it's a bit unnerving to find out in the end that he did it not to try and find a peaceful solution but rather to locate the Imperial base. Poor Ratchet...

Was Overdrive that much of a prick in previous stories? I hadn't noticed. Tracks, as always, is entertaining.

Marlboor! I was racking my head thinking of any white Decepticon sportscar in the G1-G2 era and you pull out Marlboor! You sneaky bastard.

I like how Galvatron all but cameos in this chapter but he still carries enough weight as a main villain.

Nameless scientists and ex-cobra aside, the death toll this time was uncharacteristically low, only Thunderpunch, Darius and Overcharge, but all three became very likable in the course of a chapter and I was genuinely sad to see all three go. And Detritus too, I suppose, but he was only around to beat up Tracks.

2012-12-23, 05:08 PM
Human violence isn't that overblown, the fight between the cyborgs are pretty well-described and the violence actually adds tension and realism. Besides, Ga'mede had it coming. Ga'mede the terrorist is a very compelling bastard of a villain, and I like Ga'mede oh so very much. Wasn't sure when you introduced him in your previous update, but he's got great personality and carries a good chunk of the story by himself.
I didn't expect for Ga'mede to carry so much of the story, actually. But once I got into it, I realized he had such a forceful personality that he was going to take a lead role in this chapter whether I liked it or not.

He's also the first time that I've deliberately written a character to be completely without any redeeming virtues, too. I hope that came across well without going too over the top. When someone is this violent, racist, sexist, vulgar and generally nasty, it's hard not to cross over into unintentional self-parody.

Of course, Maria is likewise an excellent foil and an actually intriguing original human character that puts most of IDW's human cast to shame.
I'm glad you like her. There's always a worry with non-canon human characters that people will just roll their eyes and skip to the next section with robots in it. I thought the two of them would contrast each other nicely. Especially the way that she was uncomfortable with her transformation and constantly unsure of what she was or what she could do...while Ga'mede embraced it wholeheartedly and dove in head-first, in the process becoming even more of a monster than he was before.

Darius noooo! I liked Darius.
So did I.

Shit, I guess it's true what they say...the black dude really does always die first. Barnett must be really happy right now that he's not the only minority in the human cast. ;)

That wasn't even on purpose, either. Usually if I do something like that I'm deliberately playing with Hollywood tropes for my own amusement.

I was worried for a second about Skydive there when Galvatron showed up.
I don't think I'd ever be able to bring myself to kill Skydive. I've got so much love for the character from my childhood, and out of all the Autobots he's probably the one who's most like me.

Groove very nearly bought it, though. I only spared his life because I wanted to highlight the very fun Fireflight in the rescue scene.

Cobra being around and the little bickering about crazy Cobra types is a nice touch even though I don't understand anything.
I basically just flipped through random types of Viper until I found one that was set up for biohazard work, and it was just a happy coincidence that the one that I settled on seemed to exist for the sole purpose of getting made fun of.

Also I had an Annihilator when I was a kid, so I felt obliged to mention them even though to the best of my knowledge they've never appeared in any fiction.

Thunderpunch's death was very sad and a little sweet...
I think that might be the most bittersweet scene I've ever written, actually. Considering the relationship between him and Rapture, I thought it was a fitting send-off.

And have I told you how much I adore crazy Bug Bite?
Bug Bite is awesome, but I actually like Treads a bit more. He's clearly the smartest person in the room everywhere he goes, but no one listens to the poor guy at all.

"Dragon Lady" got a laugh out of me.
Ga'mede is a racist little shit, it's true.

Was Overdrive that much of a prick in previous stories? I hadn't noticed. Tracks, as always, is entertaining.
What happened with Downshift has definitely had an unsettling effect on Overdrive's psyche. He blames himself, since he's the Omnibot team leader, and that's caused him to become even more of a jerk than usual.

Though Overdrive and Tracks, at least, could never get along. I would imagine that if I'd told their scenes from Overdrive's perspective instead of Tracks', we would have seen exactly the same thoughts just with the names switched. The two of them are like oil and water and should never be allowed to work together, which I why I pair them up every chance I get. :D

Marlboor! I was racking my head thinking of any white Decepticon sportscar in the G1-G2 era and you pull out Marlboor! You sneaky bastard.
Marlboor is a sign that I've run out of characters to include on the Imperial side of things. I'll be pulling out Policestreaker, RedorBlueHoist, YellowDrive or IronBlack if things drag on much longer.

At least I've managed to avoid Robot Man X and Salt Man Z... :glance:

I like how Galvatron all but cameos in this chapter but he still carries enough weight as a main villain.
That's a bit like how he was used in the UK comics, I think. Always there and always a threat, but usually kept in the background so that other characters could shine and only brought out for the big event stories.

Nameless scientists and ex-cobra aside, the death toll this time was uncharacteristically low, only Thunderpunch, Darius and Overcharge, but all three became very likable in the course of a chapter and I was genuinely sad to see all three go. And Detritus too, I suppose, but he was only around to beat up Tracks.
Ironically, this story actually has the biggest on-screen death toll of them all since we see hundreds of people horrifyingly murdered by Magnificus's poison. But I agree that it feels like a low death toll since only one character with a toy and two moderately-developed secondary human characters bite the bullet.

I wouldn't consider Detritus dead, by the way. He could be pieced back together if anyone cared enough to do so, though the Autobots probably won't make that mistake again.

2012-12-24, 05:53 AM
He's also the first time that I've deliberately written a character to be completely without any redeeming virtues, too. I hope that came across well without going too over the top. When someone is this violent, racist, sexist, vulgar and generally nasty, it's hard not to cross over into unintentional self-parody.

Oh no, the attempted rape of a shell-shocked woman who has just seen all her colleagues and friends die horribly puts him solidly in the 'complete monster' category instead of self-parody.

Ga'mede is an utter bastard and a very effective one at that.

I'm glad you like her. There's always a worry with non-canon human characters that people will just roll their eyes and skip to the next section with robots in it.

Maria felt like she belonged, to boot. The connection with Buster probably helped as well, and she's got enough personality to feel like she had been among the cast of the Marvel comics.

Not being a Mary Sue helps loads, too.

Especially the way that she was uncomfortable with her transformation and constantly unsure of what she was or what she could do...

I liked how she revelled in her newfound power and was disgusted by it later.

Barnett must be really happy right now that he's not the only minority in the human cast. ;)

Speaking of Barnett, whatever happened to him? He did survive Treads attack, didn't he? I like Barnett.

Groove very nearly bought it, though. I only spared his life because I wanted to highlight the very fun Fireflight in the rescue scene.

That was a very fun scene, which was a bit of mood whiplash since I was dreading you killing off Skydive and Groove. Mostly Skydive. I like Skydive too.

The phrase 'Skydive skydiving' is a bit funny, though.

I think that might be the most bittersweet scene I've ever written, actually. Considering the relationship between him and Rapture, I thought it was a fitting send-off.

It was fitting and quite nice as well, especially since you just made me care for a bunch of characters I had been indifferent about.

Not that I care about Dynamo (who, unlike Thunderpunch and Rapture, I forgot actually existed until you mentioned him by name)

Bug Bite is awesome, but I actually like Treads a bit more. He's clearly the smartest person in the room everywhere he goes, but no one listens to the poor guy at all.

We love Bug Bite. We love how he refers to himself as we.

What happened with Downshift has definitely had an unsettling effect on Overdrive's psyche. He blames himself, since he's the Omnibot team leader, and that's caused him to become even more of a jerk than usual.

Mmm, that makes sense.

Was it Overdrive who accidentally killed a bunch of Cobras back when Team Earthforce had just arrived, or was it Downshift?

I'll be pulling out Policestreaker, RedorBlueHoist, YellowDrive or IronBlack if things drag on much longer.

Who's YellowDrive and RedorBlueHoist?

At least I've managed to avoid Robot Man X and Salt Man Z... :glance:

For now.

In any case, though, you still haven't used Camaro, Jipe and the rest of the Brazilian Minibots. Or the Insecticon Clones. Or Glit. Or a certain subgroup I keep asking you about...

Ironically, this story actually has the biggest on-screen death toll of them all since we see hundreds of people horrifyingly murdered by Magnificus's poison.

Weren't there more people killed (technically) when the Imperials went all space invaders on Cybertron? Like when they all but nuked that city Perceptor was in charged of from space?

I wouldn't consider Detritus dead, by the way. He could be pieced back together if anyone cared enough to do so, though the Autobots probably won't make that mistake again.

Eh, since Bad Boy didn't survive Blades, I'm assuming Detritus didn't show up either.

2012-12-24, 04:26 PM
Maria felt like she belonged, to boot. The connection with Buster probably helped as well, and she's got enough personality to feel like she had been among the cast of the Marvel comics.
Glad to hear she's working for you. :up:

Speaking of Barnett, whatever happened to him? He did survive Treads attack, didn't he? I like Barnett.
Yep. He's still alive, and you'll see him again before the end. Considering the direction the story is headed, though, that might not end up being a good thing for him.

The phrase 'Skydive skydiving' is a bit funny, though.
I can't lie, that scene mainly exists because of the pun. :)

Was it Overdrive who accidentally killed a bunch of Cobras back when Team Earthforce had just arrived, or was it Downshift?
It was Downshift. And knowing what we know now about the guy, it probably wasn't an accident either.

Who's YellowDrive and RedorBlueHoist?
Random Diaclone colour schemes for Overdrive and Hoist (and I think Trailbreaker was blue too?).

In any case, though, you still haven't used Camaro, Jipe and the rest of the Brazilian Minibots. Or the Insecticon Clones. Or Glit. Or a certain subgroup I keep asking you about...
Ha! I totally did use Glit a couple chapters ago. Clench tried (unsuccessfully) to menace him while he was tending to Rage.

Weren't there more people killed (technically) when the Imperials went all space invaders on Cybertron? Like when they all but nuked that city Perceptor was in charged of from space?
Probably. You could also make an argument for the Imperials' attacks on and around Cameron, but civilian casualties aren't made explicit in either of those scenarios like they are here. Lots of people probably died, but we don't know for sure.

Eh, since Bad Boy didn't survive Blades, I'm assuming Detritus didn't show up either.
Bad Boy is dead solely because that's the worst Transformer name ever and I refused to type it for more than one story. ;)

2012-12-27, 01:07 PM
Yep. He's still alive, and you'll see him again before the end. Considering the direction the story is headed, though, that might not end up being a good thing for him.

Barnett's cool. We need more Barnett.

It was Downshift. And knowing what we know now about the guy, it probably wasn't an accident either.

Eh, I read the chapter with Downshift's change of heart before I read the rest of Reckoning, so I thought that the moment I read that chapter. Just skipped my mind.

Random Diaclone colour schemes for Overdrive and Hoist (and I think Trailbreaker was blue too?).

Mmm, e-Hobby decoes aside I'm not very familiar with Diaclone schemes.

Ooh, and Enemy. Poor Enemy's probably going to die in two paragraphs when/if you introduce the poor chap.

Ha! I totally did use Glit a couple chapters ago. Clench tri ed (unsuccessfully) to menace him while he was tending to Rage.

I lose my geek street cred!

And it's kind of embarrassing, since I remembered being scared for Glit when Clench began to threaten him.

Probably. You could also make an argument for the Imperials' attacks on and around Cameron, but civilian casualties aren't made explicit in either of those scenarios like they are here. Lots of people probably died, but we don't know for sure.

I don't remember any mentions made of Imperials killing anyone in the Cameron system, other than IIRC Windrazor's fleet killing Longtooth's giant alien whale buddy.

Poor whale.

Bad Boy is dead solely because that's the worst Transformer name ever and I refused to type it for more than one story. ;)

Transformer name? I think you mean Go-Bot name! ;)

Dunno, I like Bad Boy solely because he's got such a weird and unusual name. Which is a polite way to say bad.

2012-12-30, 09:38 PM
Barnett's cool. We need more Barnett.
And you'll get more. :)

Ooh, and Enemy. Poor Enemy's probably going to die in two paragraphs when/if you introduce the poor chap.
No, I don't think I'll use Enemy. There are only so many jokes you can use with the guy, and I think I used them all in the RPG.

I don't remember any mentions made of Imperials killing anyone in the Cameron system, other than IIRC Windrazor's fleet killing Longtooth's giant alien whale buddy.
That sounds about right. I'm sure a lot of people died in the fighting, but I didn't dwell on it since a bunch of random dead aliens weren't important to the story.

Transformer name? I think you mean Go-Bot name! ;)

Dunno, I like Bad Boy solely because he's got such a weird and unusual name. Which is a polite way to say bad.
Retroactive Transformer name? Bah, you know what I mean! But I groaned every time I wrote his name, and that's what lead to him dying while Treads and Bug Bite survived.

2012-12-31, 02:21 PM
That sounds about right. I'm sure a lot of people died in the fighting, but I didn't dwell on it since a bunch of random dead aliens weren't important to the story.

Whatever happened with Team Spinister, by the way? We still haven't heard from them since they set off to nuke the Hub or something. I like Team Spinister. I miss Spinister, Springer, Whirl and the rest.

2012-12-31, 04:35 PM
You'll see them soon. Not in the next chapter, but the one after that will centre around them.