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"Children of Cybertron: Exile"

"Let this mark the end of the Cybertronian Wars," declared Rodimus Prime, "as we march forward to a new age of peace and happiness!" It was a triumphant manifesto in the wake of what had been Cybertron’s most apocalyptic battle. The Autobots, or at least those who had survived the recent encounter with Unicron, had assembled together for an impromptu victory celebration.

Rodimus Prime didn’t know for sure where the words came from, exactly. Surely he wasn’t coming up with this stuff on his own--his declarations hinted of a wisdom and level of experience that he himself had never possessed before. He looked down at the painted flame decorating his chest armor, a shield protecting the foreign object he now carried inside his body. The Autobot Matrix of Leadership, the most cherished object in Autobot lore, was now nestled safely within his own chest cavity. He knew that it was more than simply a storehouse of knowledge, however. The Matrix itself was alive. It possessed its own life force, its own unique mental energy, and at times it seemed to be gently nudging him forward--though in what direction or for what purpose, he wasn’t always certain. He wondered if perhaps it was speaking to him, influencing his thoughts and speech on some subliminal level.

There once had been another Autobot who called himself Hot Rod. He had been a carefree, road-ripping rebel, whose lust for action had propelled him, only days ago, into the greatest planet-spanning adventure of his career. No one--least of all Hot Rod himself--could have predicted that through a series of strange and improbable events, this adventure could have culminated in Hot Rod taking a new name and declaring himself the Autobot leader. Now, he was standing before a crowd of battle-hardened warriors, many of them twice his age and possessing four times his experience, delivering inspirational speeches. Neither Hot Rod nor Rodimus Prime knew the first thing about marching forward into the new age. Had it been up to Hot Rod, he would have gladly ditched the scene entirely and gone racing through the depths of Echo Canyon.

Unfortunately, Hot Rod didn’t get a vote, because he no longer existed. There was only Rodimus Prime. The Chosen One.

It was raining flecks of metal in varying sizes upon the landscape of planet Cybertron--the remains of the body of the monster called Unicron. The shower of alloy particles came both in the form of large metallic chunks, hitting the ground like orange hailstones, as well as much finer particles that floated to the planetary surface like steel-grey snowflakes, nearly disappearing into the cool, smooth surface of the Transformer homeworld.

Unicron had been nearly planet-sized himself. His close proximity to Cybertron when his body exploded meant that the echoes left by his destruction would continue to haunt Cybertron for ages to come. Now, his disembodied head remained the only spaceborne artifact of his former existence, thanks to the fateful actions of Cybertron’s most unlikely hero.

"Till all are one!" Rodimus Prime proclaimed, and the other Autobots present repeated his words like some kind of ritualistic incantation. The words made for a clever catch phrase, one which the Autobots had been quick to adopt, but the author of those words could take no joy in their continued use. They were the dying words of Optimus Prime, the greatest Autobot leader ever manufactured.

What had Optimus Prime meant, Rodimus wondered? Whatever wisdom his words surely held had gone largely lost on the young Autobot. The loss of Optimus Prime left a void that could never be filled. Rodimus felt at least partly responsible for what had happened. Optimus Prime’s duel with Megatron outside the walls of Autobot City had been his last heroic act, and Hot Rod’s failure to intervene in time had cost Optimus his life. Rodimus took little solace in the fact that the battle had also been Megatron’s last.

Deep in his processors, Rodimus knew that if he had acted more quickly, if he had been more courageous, he could have stopped Megatron from delivering those final shots. The horrible, deadly sounds of laser fire still rang in his audio receptors, and the tragic sight of Optimus being knocked backwards by the force of the blows would be etched in his computer brain for as long as he would operate. His memory banks involuntarily played back the scene over and over again, each time as crystal clear as the last. The guilt weighed heavy on his soul, a nearly tangible burden that at times made it difficult for him to stand fully upright.

And yet, somehow, young Hot Rod had been rewarded for his tragic misdeeds. Despite the fact that a dying Optimus Prime had chosen another warrior to assume the role of leadership, Hot Rod had been chosen by an even higher calling. Hot Rod had sensed something almost otherworldly when Optimus began to falter, the Matrix slipping from his weakened grasp. On instinct, Hot Rod had reached for the small orb-shaped talisman, and he felt himself awash in its rhythmic, pulsating glow for just an instant. In that moment, without ever placing the Matrix in his chest cavity or even opening the casing, Hot Rod had felt the Matrix interfacing with him on an ethereal level, an unlikely union of non-corporeal souls that, perhaps, was never meant to be. It felt foreign, and yet strangely appealing.

The feeling had passed as soon as Hot Rod turned the Matrix over to the true heir, Ultra Magnus. For reasons no living Autobot could explain, though, Ultra Magnus had been unable to unleash the power within the Matrix to protect himself. When he and his fellow Autobots had been cornered on the Planet of Junk, Magnus raised the Matrix aloft like a sacred shield, but the Decepticons had blasted him into pieces. Magnus had been chosen by Optimus Prime; that alone should have given him access to the Matrix and its secrets. It was as if Hot Rod had contaminated the Matrix with his touch, keying it to respond only to him through sheer serendipity, and preventing Ultra Magnus from ever interfacing with it.

It was perhaps for this reason that the Autobots had come to recognize Rodimus Prime as the new Autobot leader. He was the one for whom the Matrix had responded, interfacing with his systems and manipulating his body and circuitry on a nanoscopic level. The Matrix had literally transformed Hot Rod into Rodimus Prime, a larger, stronger Autobot who was granted access to the vast power of the Matrix, enabling him to successfully destroy Unicron from the inside out. The gargantuan monster planet, now little more than space debris, would go down in history as the greatest threat the Autobots--and indeed, Cybertron itself--had ever known.

"Till all are one!" the assembled group of Autobots continued to chant. Rodimus Prime surveyed the victors of the battle with Unicron, knowing that there were so many more who had not made it through in one piece. Some of them he was quite familiar with, and even called them friends; others, he had never met. Kup would no doubt file this epic battle away in his cobweb-covered memory banks and relate the story hundreds of times to Autobots who hadn’t even been generated yet, embellishing the details every time he told the tale. Springer had already made a couple of jokes about the biggest ones always being the first to drop, and Unicron had been about as big as they got. Arcee had shown no outward indications of how events had affected her, but Rodimus knew that she had lost friends in the battle of Autobot City, and he was determined to comfort her at the earliest opportunity. Wreck-Gar was the leader of a wayward Autobot tribe whom Hot Rod had discovered on the Planet of Junk and managed to befriend, and had been instrumental in the battle, though his future with the Autobots remained unknown. Cliffjumper and Jazz, the only survivors of the crew stationed on Moon Base One, represented the last of the old guard, and among the only surviving Autobots who had served aboard the Ark under Optimus Prime. Ultra Magnus and the others, meanwhile, had been aboard the Junkion ship Mary Ann when it was ripped in two by Unicron; a shuttle had been dispatched to recover the survivors.

So much had changed in so short a time. For a race of beings for whom altering their structure from one form to another was commonplace, Rodimus Prime knew he should try to embrace the change. It was the dawn of a new age. It was the year 2005, and for better or for worse, life on Cybertron would never be the same.

***

At the urging of Ultra Magnus, Rodimus Prime had assembled a Cybertronian conference. It was time to address the Autobots and make preparations for their future. The once great city-state of Iacon, formerly the primary staging base for the Autobots, had fallen into disrepair when the Decepticon regime had forced the Autobots to flee their homeworld. The planet Earth had become a temporary home to the Autobots, though small groups of Autobots had maintained a presence near Cybertron on two of the orbital Moon Bases.

One of the unexpected results of Unicron’s attack on Cybertron was that it had enabled the Autobots to regain a tenuous foothold on their homeworld. With Iacon no longer suitable as a base of operations, and the Moon Bases consumed by Unicron, the Autobots had taken up temporary residence in the Cybertron headquarters once inhabited by Elita One and her band of female Autobots. Arcee was now one of the only surviving members of that nearly-extinct breed.

"There is much to do," Ultra Magnus explained. He was carrying a clipboard and writing instrument, and was checking off items on his list as he read them aloud. "The attack against Cybertron has left many facilities damaged or destroyed. We should consider assembling a repair crew to begin rebuilding to the affected areas. Our biggest problem will be finding raw materials for construction."

"I think I saw some big, orange hunks of metal falling from the sky," Rodimus suggested. "We could us those." He intended it as a joke, but Ultra Magnus didn’t seem to pick up on the dry humor. Rodimus held a forced smile for several seconds until Magnus met his gaze, and only then did he seem to acknowledge the remark. Was Ultra Magnus this dull and businesslike all the time? Maybe it was a good thing he wasn’t the Autobot leader. He’d probably have bored everybody into permanent shutdown.

"Then there’s the matter of the Decepticons," Ultra Magnus continued, putting a sinister emphasis on the final word in his sentence. "We should probably send a reconnaissance detachment to determine their status and whether they pose an immediate threat." He made another little check mark on his itinerary.

"Yeah," Rodimus said in mock agreement. "All those Decepticons who got turned into pancakes by Unicron might still be pretty dangerous. Let’s make sure we’ve got plenty of maple syrup." He offered another goofy smile, but this time Magnus didn’t even look up from his list.

"Last, but not least," Ultra Magnus said, "we should have a service for our fallen friends and comrades. Perhaps in light of the number of casualties, we should forgo the traditional interment in favor of constructing a memorial tomb. Something mobile that could evade the Decepticons if necessary. A spaceborne mausoleum, perhaps."

"With a big, red Autobot symbol on it," Rodimus joked.

"Hot Rod, is there anything…" Ultra Magnus began.

Rodimus offered a sideways glance.

"Sorry…Rodimus Prime," Ultra Magnus corrected himself. "Is there anything else you’d like to suggest? I don’t mean to point out the obvious, but these are decisions that you‘ll need to be making from now on."

"Look, Magnus," Rodimus said, "we both know which of us would make a better leader. You’re mature, responsible, and you’re red and blue. Plus, y’know, you transform into a truck. I think that fills all the prerequisites right there, don’t you?"

"You’re the Chosen One," Ultra Magnus pointed out.

"But Optimus Prime wanted you to take command," Rodimus protested.

"Perhaps, but the Matrix didn’t choose me. It chose you."

The words hung in the air for a moment. Ironically, Hot Rod was still accustomed to following Ultra Magnus’ commands. Magnus’ contingent had been operating separately for centuries in another arm of the galaxy until circumstances had forced Optimus Prime to finally recall their contingent to Earth. Since then, Hot Rod had quite willingly followed the commands of Optimus Prime, right up until the incident that had cost Prime his life. Both Prime and Magnus had been good, solid leaders, and Hot Rod would have gladly served under either of them. All this talk about deferring to the will of the Matrix, though, set Rodimus on edge. For some reason, he never thought that he’d be taking orders from an inanimate object.

"Great," Rodimus said. "I have to listen to a glowing disco ball."

"These are your decisions to make, Rodimus," Ultra Magnus pressed on. "I would be more than willing to help you when you need it. I can’t lead for you, though. You’ve got to decide what to do now."

"Oh, yeah?" Rodimus said. "Okay. I can do that. Let me see that clipboard for a sec."

Ultra Magnus obediently handed him the clipboard, and Rodimus carefully removed the document. Rodimus delicately grasped the document in both hands, and promptly ripped it into eight pieces. He let the pieces fall from his hands unceremoniously.

"If it’s my decision to make, then my decision is that I don’t want to deal with this stuff right now. Our entire planet almost got gobbled up like it was an oversized cheese danish, and all you can think about is who gets to sweep up the mess? We should go back to Earth! We should be celebrating!"

"Well, I suppose you have a point," Magnus acquiesced, "but don’t you think we should--"

"Hey!" Rodimus barked. "I’m the boss now, right? So what I say goes. And my first official proclamation as Autobot leader is this: Tell Blaster and Snarl to roll out the welcome mat, ‘coz it’s party time!"

***

Decepticon leader Megatron had been systematically sending shipments of energon cubes via space bridge to Cybertron almost immediately after his awakening on Earth date 1984. Although the destruction of the Autobots was always an important goal, and one which had occasionally blinded Megatron to more important tasks, the primary objective of the earthbound Decepticons had always been to accumulate a great enough energon stockpile to revitalize the nearly dead planet. Their war with the Autobots had lasted for over nine million planetary revolutions, and the countless battles between the warring factions had taken its toll on the ancient planet and its artificial resources. It had only taken around fifteen Earth years before the Decepticon Empire had amassed enough energy reserves to achieve their goal, and they wasted no time in staging the final assault that rid their homeworld of the accursed Autobots, securing their place as the rightful masters of Cybertron.

The Decepticon rulership had been overthrown in a single day.

The approach of the mobile planet known as Unicron had been detected by Shockwave and his subordinates almost immediately--though he had only possessed a single eye, he saw more than most Decepticons were capable of. It wasn’t until the planet Unicron had reconfigured into the robotic war machine named Unicron that the true threat he represented, however, became all too apparent. Though the Decepticon forces had reacted quickly and launched a pre-emptive strike within astro-seconds, their firepower had been pitifully inadequate against the might of the great chaos-bringer.

With one casual swipe of his clawed hand, Unicron had demolished the center of Decepticon operations on Cybertron. One moment, Shockwave had been shouting orders to his sub-commanders from within the control tower, but a fraction of an instant later, nothing remained of the control tower or its inhabitants but a massive crater the size of Unicron’s palm.

That had only been the beginning. It wasn’t long before Unicron was standing on the surface of Cybertron itself, his clawed feet digging into the surface of the planet, swatting at Autobot and Decepticon combatants alike. Shockwave had coordinated the seemingly futile counterattack from the planet’s surface, inadvertently sending squadrons of Decepticon airborne warriors to their deaths. Also part of this counterattack were Cyclonus and Scourge, lieutenants to Decepticon leader Galvatron. In Galvatron’s absence, they had resolved to stage a strafe attack of their own, using the great Decepticon mothership created by Unicron himself. This combat maneuver ended when Unicron managed to literally knock the ship out of the sky and sent it plummeting towards Cybertron’s surface. Unicron apparently had little regard for the new breed of Decepticons he himself had generated, given that his first act after reconfiguring to robot mode was to swallow Galvatron alive.

Cyclonus had, miraculously, emerged relatively unscathed from the smoldering wreckage of the Decepticon mothership. The ship could be repaired, in time, but its condition left the Decepticons without an immediate means of long-range transportation. With their Cybertron headquarters destroyed, any surviving Decepticons on the planet were potentially vulnerable to Autobot scavenger parties. They needed to move quickly. As Galvatron’s second-in-command, for the moment it fell to Cyclonus to take action.

Cyclonus was alerted to a transponder signal, the sign of a living robot, somewhere within the wreckage of the mothership. He tore through pieces of bulkheads and armor paneling until he spotted a blue and grey hand with pink-tipped claws protruding from the wreck.

"Scourge?" he said hopefully, grasping his comrade-in-arms and yanking him out of the debris. The other robot looked at Cyclonus with a peculiarly dull and vacant stare.

"Only a Sweep," Cyclonus realized. The template Unicron had used to create Scourge was identical to that of the foot soldiers under Scourge’s command, and as a result they were difficult to distinguish from each other. They were also nearly useless without Scourge to guide them. Cyclonus considered tossing the robot over his shoulder, but quickly aborted the notion. The Decepticon army had been decimated, and he needed allies.

"I’m picking up another transponder signal to the northwest," Cyclonus said. "Come with me." The Sweep nodded obediently and followed.

Cyclonus looked behind him at the wreckage of the mothership. It was still in one piece, though the damages to its propulsion system and star drive looked fairly extensive. The transponder signal was originating too far from the mothership to indicate more survivors who had been thrown clear of the ship before the crash. If there were survivors coming from another part of the planet, they had to be Decepticons who had already been stationed there, warriors under Shockwave‘s command. Cyclonus couldn’t help but feel that he was above these antiquated, box-shaped throwbacks. They were beyond ancient, designed by amateurs who were pioneering the field of robot design. Galvatron and his lieutenants, by contrast, were brand-new, state-of-the-art technology generated by Unicron himself. A sense of superiority over the first-generation Decepticons was, perhaps, only natural. The spawn of Unicron were more powerful than any normal Decepticon, granted the unique gift of being able to draw strength and power directly from Unicron’s own power reserves. As long as Unicron existed, his children remained omnipotent.

Unicron had been clever, though. He had promised Galvatron an army, and Cyclonus a veritable armada to command. Instead, Scourge only had a handful of Sweeps to lead, and Cyclonus had been granted a single follower. Perhaps Unicron had simply overestimated the breadth of his raw materials; only a handful of Decepticons had fallen into Unicron’s grasp, refugees from a shuttle mutiny that had left them floating in space. The group of warriors had been recreated, their personalities wiped and reprogrammed and their bodies reconstructed molecule by molecule. They were updated and improved in every way, and in exchange for their newfound power, they had become servants of Unicron, questing to find and destroy the Autobot Matrix for reasons which only Unicron fully understood.

Now that Unicron was gone, however, the once all-powerful legion was something significantly less. The nearly limitless power source that was Unicron was gone, and the once all-powerful Decepticons who had drawn from his vast resources were left powerless without a continuously renewable energy supply. Furthermore, Galvatron’s so-called army had numbered only a half dozen, not nearly great enough in numbers to retake Cybertron.

How would the Decepticons ever regain what they had lost?

From above, a sleek purple-and-grey ship with forward-swept wings came into view. It circled Cyclonus once before transforming to robot form. It was, Cyclonus mused, like looking into his own reflection. "No sign of other Decepticons in the southeast quadrant," the other Cyclonus reported.

"Shut up," Cyclonus commanded. The existence of a second Cyclonus made him uncomfortable, to say the least. Just as he had done with Scourge and the Sweeps, Unicron had recreated another one of the Decepticons using the same template as Cyclonus. The fact that there was only a single, lesser clone was somehow more disconcerting than if there had been an entire legion of followers. What did he call an army of one? The duplicate didn’t even have a unique name. He was just…the other Cyclonus.

"Look!" the Sweep said in a raspy voice, pointing to a structure just over the horizon. Its orange and grey hues clashed with the silvery sheen of the Cybertronic landscape, and the way one end of the structure terminated in several claw-like prongs was completely contrary to the old-style architecture of the rest of the planet.

The reason for this disparity in design philosophy, Cyclonus realized, was because it wasn’t a building at all. It was Unicron’s leg.

"The transponder signal is strong," Cyclonus observed. Could it be that Galvatron had survived? Unicron was a planet, and planets were meant to be lived on. Even in robot mode, Unicron had certainly been large enough that Transformers would be able to journey comfortably inside his body. His eye socket alone had proven sufficiently spacious to allow a medium-sized ship to pass through it unscathed. It stood to reason that if Unicron had been designed as a habitable battle station, then inhabitants should have been able to traverse his body whether he was configured into robot or planet mode.

The Autobots had apparently unleashed the Matrix upon Unicron. The great monster planet had warned Galvatron repeatedly that the Matrix had been the only thing that could stop him, but what he failed to articulate was how deadly this Autobot secret weapon truly was. It had radiated a diabolical blue glow, and it appeared to attack Unicron’s very superstructure, overwhelming his circuitry with deadly bolts of raw energy. So powerful was this attack that Unicron had apparently ripped off his own leg in order to excise the unholy radiation infestation emitted from the Autobot weapon. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the attack, Unicron’s body had detonated shortly thereafter. If, by some chance, Galvatron had been inside Unicron’s leg when it had been ripped from his body, Cyclonus reasoned, there was a chance that Galvatron could have survived Unicron’s destruction. A slim chance, admittedly, but a chance.

Cyclonus and the Sweep, along with the other Cyclonus, approached Unicron’s leg. Up close, even a solitary limb proved to be a gargantuan artifact, easily three times the size of the original Decepticon headquarters. It terminated at a jagged point where the leg had been forcibly torn asunder from his body, potentially granting access inside of it. Even if the inner structure of the leg were intact, though, a sufficiently thorough exploration of its depths would take days, possibly weeks.

Approaching the severed limb of the now-dead giant, Cyclonus was unable to resist the urge to reach out and place his palm on the surface. Though he knew this was impossible, he could almost feel the pulsating of energon flowing through its metal framework. It was, Cyclonus realized, nothing short of a miracle that the Autobots had managed to destroy such a powerful mechanical deity. Even Galvatron had not been powerful enough to resist the chaos-bringer. The mystical Matrix which they worshipped was more than simply a powerful weapon; it was a planet-killer.

"Cyclonus," the Sweep asked tentatively, as if afraid to speak, "how many transponder signals did you say you were detecting?"

Sweeps were a moronic bunch. They had been created from lesser Decepticons to begin with, Cyclonus mused, but also deliberately reprogrammed with more docile and passive tendencies than the lieutenants who commanded them. Whoever they had been before, the Sweeps were now entirely subservient to Galvatron’s subcommanders, which meant they now had virtually no capacity for self-sufficiency or original thinking.

"Turn up your signal receiver, fool," Cyclonus grumbled. "You’re getting echoes off the surface."

Cyclonus adjusted a control panel on his forearm, knowing with certainty that the Sweep was suffering from a feedback glitch. After Cyclonus recalibrated his sensor array, however, he realized that the Sweep had been right after all. It was not one transponder signal, but several, all emitting the exact same synchronous frequency and pulse.

"They’re coming from…there, I believe," Cyclonus said, pointing to a metal panel in the surface of Unicron’s lower leg. "Open it."

"How?" the Sweep asked, shrugging his shoulders.

"You’re the one with the big, pink claws, you idiot," Cyclonus said. "Pry it open!"

The Sweep did as he was told, straining as he sunk his claws into the seam in Unicron’s armor paneling. He placed his boot against the panel opening for support, tugging with all his might until the panel came loose. He scrambled for safety an instant before the weight of the panel would have crushed his body. It fell to the planet’s surface with a loud and hollow thud.

Inside of Unicron’s leg was a storage bay, nearly as large as the one from which the Decepticon mothership had first emerged. Within this facility was a group of several dozen robots, their feet still magnetized to the floor of the chamber. They stood in perfect formation, lifeless, like a collection of tin soldiers on display.

Apparently, Unicron had had only a limited number of robotic design templates at his disposal. Every one of the robots inside the chamber shared an identical design with Cyclonus, Scourge, or Galvatron.

"I don’t get it," said the Sweep, scratching his head. "Who are they?"

Cyclonus raised his head and replied slowly, with a dawning realization.

"My armada."

***

"Some party, eh?" Rodimus Prime said to no one in particular, greedily slurping from an overturned energon cube. The pink, faintly glowing liquid sloshed about inside the translucent container, spilling over the sides and splashing onto the pristine floor paneling of Autobot City.

"You guys having a good time?" he asked, shouting to be heard above the hard rock music coming from Blaster’s speakers. He looked in the direction of the other Autobots. Wheelie was showing off his elaborate dance routine, flipping and bounding from his hands and feet and back to his hands. Several of the Dinobots looked on in approval, their heads bobbing in unison to the beat of the music.

From across the room, Rewind and Eject offered Rodimus a hearty thumbs-up gesture, while Steeljaw and Ramhorn growled in approval.

Junkion leader Wreck-Gar was also very much into the festivities, executing a fractured dance move of his own that was part gunslinger duel and part ballroom waltz. "Make a little noise! Do a little dance! We’re gonna party like it’s 1989!" he chanted.

Ultra Magnus was propped up against a far wall with his arms folded and his face contorted into a scowl.

It wasn’t that Ultra Magnus disliked parties. He just didn’t care for loud music. Or overindulging on energon. Or dancing. Or wasting time. Or…well, maybe he didn’t like parties after all. This gathering, in his estimation, was about the least useful thing the Autobots could possibly be doing at this juncture.

Perhaps it was time to remind Rodimus that his last name was Prime.

"Uh, Rodimus," Ultra Magnus said, tapping Rodimus on the shoulder, "have you thought about…"

"Sorry, what?" Rodimus shouted, failing to hide a mocking smirk and making a deliberate show of cupping his audio receptor with his hand. "Can’t hear you!" He slurped down the rest of his energon, wiped his mouth with his forearm, and chucked the empty energon cube to the side.

"I said," Ultra Magnus began again, trying to mask his annoyance with the Autobot leader, "Don’t you think we should be making plans for the future? The commander of the Autobots should be taking on his responsibilities!"

"What a wet blanket," Rodimus replied, shaking his head and throwing his hands at Magnus in the same manner he might have shaken lubricant from his fingertips. "I’ll do it later. Don’t worry about it!" With that, he excused himself and disappeared into the crowd.

Regardless of which name he used now, Rodimus was still a reckless, inexperienced, immature hothead. And the future of the Autobots now rested in his hands.

Ultra Magnus was approached by Kup. Judging by the sour wince on his face, the grey, aging Autobot was appreciating the near-deafening rock anthem about as much as Ultra Magnus. Magnus would have to speak with Blaster about his obsession with Earth music. It just wasn’t natural for Autobots to communicate through their radios.

"Give him time, lad," Kup said, offering a consoling hand on Magnus’ shoulder. "Optimus Prime left him with some mighty big boots to fill. He just needs a chance to grow into them."

"Optimus Prime never shirked his responsibilities and threw parties," Ultra Magnus grumbled.

Kup leaned forward as if to deliver some very important news. "Are you sure?" he asked with a smile, his optic sensors twinkling with memories of the past.

***

"Hey, Arcee!" Rodimus Prime said, raising his hand to get the attention of the young female Autobot from across the room. As if on cue, the music changed to an appropriately soft and delicate instrumental piece.

"Rodimus," Arcee said, as if trying out the name for the first time. "So, how does it feel to join the esteemed ranks of the Primes?"

"Taller," Rodimus said. "But I think I got better gas mileage before I started towing that big trailer around."

Arcee laughed politely. "You know, I never did thank you for what you did up there. Inside Unicron, I mean. You saved all of our lives."

"Not really," Rodimus admitted. "The Matrix did all the work. I just sort of stood there and held it."

"Well, whatever the case, you got us out of that monster alive. Thank you." She stood up on the tips of her toes and planted a kiss on the side of Rodimus Prime’s face.

"You know," Rodimus said, "I’m pretty sure there’s an empty maintenance closet down the hall if you want to thank me some more."

Arcee turned away and blushed. "I don’t think…I mean, y-you…"

Rodimus propped his arms on his knees. "What’s the matter, Arcee? We used to be good together. What happened?"

"It’s different, now," she said, unable to meet his gaze. "It’s not that I don’t…it’s just that it would be…inappropriate. I can’t. I’m sorry."

"Inappropriate?" Rodimus repeated, dumbfounded.

"Have you seen Springer here anywhere?" Arcee asked. "He said he was going to be here."

"Uh, sure," Rodimus said. "I think he was going to go topside to try out Metroplex’s new helipad."

"Thanks," Arcee said. She turned to walk away, but then she looked over her shoulder at him for a moment. "Hot Rod…"

"Rodimus Prime," he corrected her.

"I know," she replied, and walked away.

***

Scourge stood on top of what remained of the Decepticon headquarters on Cybertron. He took a wide stance, haphazardly grasping at bits of charred and twisted metal and tossing the fragments up and over the jagged-edge wings on his shoulders. He was excavating, searching for survivors--one survivor, in particular--but the work went slowly and he found himself growing frustrated with the endeavor.

He reached down and tugged at another protruding piece of ripped, purple-tinted metal, but this time it refused to budge.

"Sweeps," Scourge called out to the two other troops assisting him, "help me with this."

The other troops, identical in appearance to Scourge, each grasped a corner of the framework and yanked on it. Their combined strength proved sufficient to shift the pile of rubble, causing a chain reaction that forced one of the Sweeps to jump back to more stable ground before the remains of the control tower collapsed in on itself. A cloud of dust billowed from the debris, and Scourge found himself involuntarily shielding his bearded face from the fine metallic particles.

When the dust settled, an entrance into the chambers below became visible. Scourge activated his head-mounted beacon, directing the red-tinted light into the depths below. The Decepticon base of operations had once stood several stories above the ground, but the facilities of planet Cybertron also extended deep within the planet, and the base had originally descended nearly 20 levels deep.

"If there are any survivors," Scourge said, gesturing towards the opening, his voice reverberating down the shaft, "they’ll be down there."

"You want us to go down there?" one of the Sweeps asked, incredulously.

"Yeah," chimed in the other, "the entire structure could collapse on us as soon as we touched down."

"Miserable cowards," Scourge intoned. "Fine, stay here and watch for Autobots, if that’s what suits you. I shall return." With that, Scourge transformed to his hovercraft mode and descended vertically into the shaft.

The Sweeps had been devastatingly powerful hunter-trackers while Unicron was alive, Scourge reflected. They had blasted Ultra Magnus into pieces! Like a plague of mechanical locusts, Scourge and his swarm had been fearless and nearly invincible. Now that Unicron was gone, it was as if all their motivation and drive had been drained from their bodies. Scourge knew that Unicron had possessed great mental powers, giving him the ability to force even Galvatron to obey his commands through the immense force of sheer willpower. Now that Unicron no longer exerted a direct influence over his creations, the true personalities of the Sweeps were slowly beginning to emerge.

Scourge, too, was beginning to grow in autonomous thought. Where once he had sworn utter loyalty to Unicron, gladly and proudly declaring himself to be little more than a puppet of the great chaos-bringer, now Scourge knew that he had been brainwashed by Unicron’s programming into subservience. A true Decepticon, Scourge had since realized, would never allow himself to be manipulated and controlled like some child’s plaything. He would never have allowed it before Unicron had entered his mind and reprogrammed him into subservience. Or, at least, he strongly suspected as much. He would never know this for sure, since the Decepticon he once had been--along with former his scruples and ideals--had ceased to exist at the moment Scourge was born.

The specter of who Scourge had once been continued to haunt him. He was aware on some level that he had once claimed another identity as his own, that Unicron had taken a Decepticon on the brink of death and imbued him with new life energy. Scourge found himself dwelling on his former identity, as if it somehow held the clues to his future. Unicron had done his job all too well, however; Scourge knew nothing of his former life, not even his original name.

A sky-blue bolt of electricity interrupted his train of thought, arcing across the walls of the chamber and making a thunderous cracking sound. The emergency power generators were still active, it seemed. The odds that some Decepticons had survived the attack were looking better all the time.

Millions of years ago, Shockwave had been placed in command of Decepticon operations on Cybertron. Years later, even after the Decepticons had abandoned Earth as a staging ground to reclaim their homeland, Shockwave had assumed a sort of default role as acting commander any time the battle fleet left the planet on a mission. With Galvatron now lost and Starscream destroyed, the next Decepticon in line for the throne would be Shockwave, assuming he was still alive.

That was what Scourge had to find out.

Nearing the bottom of the chamber, Scourge transformed back to robot mode and activated his long-range sensor array. This summoned a heads-up display superimposed in front of his normal optic sensor readouts, relaying him detailed visual and electroscopic information about his surroundings. Scourge’s special gift, given to him by Unicron, was the possession of the most sophisticated tracking and scanning equipment known to Decepticon science. If anyone could find a missing wayward Decepticon, it was Scourge.

Navigation would be difficult. The base had, for lack of a better term, been completely squished. The force of Unicron’s single blow had sandwiched adjacent chambers together completely, no doubt pulverizing any Decepticons still inside. The deeper he went, the more structurally intact the base would be, but at the moment he was still in the upper levels, and several of the corridors were collapsed onto themselves completely.

Unicron had made the snide remark that he had once considered sparing Cybertron, as if the planet was nearly beneath his contempt and hardly worth consuming. It was Galvatron who had betrayed Unicron, attempting to turn the power of the captured Matrix against the monster planet. It was this act, the height of hubris, that aroused Unicron’s ire and caused him to attack Cybertron in the first place. All Unicron had wanted, after all, was the destruction of the Matrix. Were it not for Galvatron’s failed attempt to turn the Matrix against the monster planet, Unicron would have ignored Cybertron completely. With the planet’s resources largely exhausted, it would barely have been worth the effort to eat it.

Galvatron’s hunger for power had ultimately cost the Decepticons control over Cybertron, not to mention the loss of their headquarters and countless lives. It was, Scourge ruminated, a good thing that he was gone.

Scourge spotted a Decepticon soldier, pinned to the ground by a support beam that had collapsed on top of him. He was an older model, decorated in a rather unflattering shade of green. He gestured frantically and awkwardly towards Scourge. He was articulating something with his mouth, but only a high-pitched buzzing sound emanated from his vocalizer.

Scourge recognized him as a Skyraider, an aerial warrior who had once made up the bulk of the Decepticon Battle Fleet. Other Decepticons derisively referred to these troopers as "seekers" because of the stereotype that they were so willing to serve the likes of Megatron that they would willingly seek their own deaths in the name of the Decepticon cause.

Scourge stood before him for a moment, his face involuntarily curling into a twisted scowl. The panic-stricken warrior met Scourge’s gaze and pleaded silently.

"You are the past," Scourge told him. He turned down the corridor and left the Decepticon to die.

Scourge approached a sealed doorway. That in itself was curious because--if the evacuation protocol had been initiated--all corridors would have remained open to give the Decepticons the most expedient escape route out of the base. That meant that someone had sealed this chamber after the attack. The density of the blast door prevented Scourge’s scanners from penetrating it, but there were other ways of getting through to the other side.

Plucking his weapon out of a specialized subspace compartment, Scourge adjusted a dial on the side of the rifle and aimed it at the upper corner of the doorway. The solid energy beam flickered and sparked until it managed to pierce the ancient metal alloy of the door, and after only a few moments, Scourge had traced the perimeter of the opening. With one good, swift kick, he knocked the door in.

To his surprise, a single lone survivor was operating a communications panel, his deep wounds sparking and dripping fluids, weakly supporting himself with his built-in gun-arm.

"Shockwave!" Scourge exclaimed. "Thank Deceptus!"

Shockwave’s survival was nothing short of a miracle. Finally, the Decepticon Empire had a leader once more! A leader who was his own master, not merely a subservient puppet. The destiny of the Decepticons would be in their own hands again, no longer catering to the whims of a metal-hungry juggernaut whose sole purpose in life was to decide which planet he wanted to eat next.

"I…I cannot r-reach Galvatron…" Shockwave stammered. His single yellow eye flickered faintly as he spoke, like a light bulb whose filaments were about to burst.

"Galvatron is no more," Scourge explained. "He was inside Unicron when he was destroyed."

"B-but…that is impossible…" Shockwave said. He tried to turn to face Scourge, hopping on his good leg, but he faltered and grabbed for the control panel. The keypad was covered with his oil.

"I was aboard the mothership," Scourge said, gesturing with his thumb. "I saw the explosion myself. There is nothing left of Unicron now, and anyone who was inside, but space junk."

"My calculations…indicate otherwise," Shockwave persisted. He really was a single-minded motherboard sometimes. "Observe," he said, pointing with a feeble gesture to the computer screen. "Three of our surveillance satellites…were destroyed in the encounter…but a fourth remained active…relaying data to the base."

Shockwave took a moment to rest before he continued.

"At time index 74:99:23, the spiral-shaped alien ship transmitting an Autobot frequency entered the foreign giant robot through the optical cavity…"

"Unicron," Scourge interjected. "He was called Unicron."

"…but at time index 76:04:47," Shockwave explained, calling up another recorded image, "several Autobots can be seen exiting the head module moments before his detonation."

"The Autobots escaped!" Scourge shouted, slamming his closed fist against a wall. "What about Galvatron?"

"Our instruments stopped receiving his transponder signal at time index 76:03:12," Shockwave said. "Just before the Autobots escaped."

"The conclusion is clear," Scourge said. "The Autobots killed Galvatron moments before they fled."

"N-negative," Shockwave said. "Galvatron’s transponder signal was not interrupted. We stopped receiving his signal because he was out of range."

"Out of range?" Scourge repeated. "Then he, too, escaped the explosion? Where is he now?"

"No recorded images from the remaining satellite," Shockwave said. "Its vantage point was insufficient."

"This is an unexpected turn of events," Scourge said. Shockwave possessed documented evidence that Galvatron still functioned. As heir to the Decepticon crown, Shockwave’s next step would most certainly be to mount a rescue campaign to seek and locate Galvatron.

If he survived, that is.

"Shockwave, your wounds are deep," Scourge observed.

"My internal repair systems are compensating," Shockwave explained. "I estimate that within sixteen billion astro-seconds, I will be operating at 82% capacity."

"You may want to revise that estimate," Scourge said.

"What--" Shockwave began. Whatever inquiry he may have had lined up, Scourge answered it when he thrust his fist into the shrapnel wound in Shockwave’s chest window, grasping at his internal components and yanking them out of his body in a single, swift motion.

Shockwave collapsed to the ground, his optic sensor completely dark.

"Let’s see you calculate your way out of that one," Scourge said.

***

Scourge’s climb ended as he poked his head out of the chasm to find both Cyclonuses and all three Sweeps waiting for him.

"Report, Scourge," Cyclonus barked.

"No survivors in the Decepticon base," Scourge said. "Shockwave is dead."

"Then…I am in command of the Decepticons now," Cyclonus realized.

Scourge reached out his hand, and two of the Sweeps grasped him and pulled him out of the rubble.

"What happened to you, Scourge?" Cyclonus asked, pointing at Scourge’s right hand, which was dripping with oil.

"Nothing," Scourge said. "Just a minor…miscalculation."

"I have excellent news," Cyclonus said. "Within the remains of Unicron, I have discovered the rest of the armada Unicron had created for Galvatron."

"Where are they?" Scourge asked. "Are they functional?"

"I don’t know," Cyclonus admitted. "They are emitting transponder signals, but they show no signs of self-awareness. I was unable to awaken them."

Unicron hadn’t just spontaneously generated a new army for Galvatron, Scourge realized. He had required raw materials, existing Decepticons with cybernetic personalities for Unicron to shape and mold. He couldn’t simply create life where there was none; he wasn’t a god. If he could, he never would have bothered to bargain with Galvatron in the first place; he would have simply generated his own minions, all of whom would have been completely loyal and subservient to Unicron.

If that was the case, though, then Unicron would have required significantly more subjects than the handful of Decepticons who had been jettisoned into space. His endless appetite for metallic planets gave him all the raw materials he needed to generate new Decepticon bodies, but without a life force to imbue the lifeless forms, they were worthless. Unicron had surely been aware of this. If he had indeed been planning to give this army to Galvatron, though, from whatever source he had been planning to bestow upon his creations their own cybernetic personalities, Scourge was not aware of it.

"What about Vector Sigma?" Scourge asked.

"Impossible," Cyclonus replied. "The key to activate the mega-computer was destroyed ages ago. Vector Sigma will never awaken again."

"Then we’re dead in the water," Scourge said. Just like all the Decepticons who had been destroyed in Unicron’s attack. Those poor, lost souls had died for nothing, save to quench Unicron’s appetite for destruction, and now it seemed that--

Wait. Lost souls. That was it. That was the answer. Dozens of Decepticons had been killed by Unicron in the attack, but each life essence, the very thing that made a Transformer alive, was never really destroyed. The Autobots knew about this and had even taken steps to cheat death, after a fashion. They had their precious Matrix, a sort of containment unit for the Autobot leaders who had perished throughout the ages. Commanders-in-chief from the past like Septimus Prime, Alpha Trion, and Optimus Prime now dwelled within the Matrix, supposedly speaking to the Autobots of today, guiding them and sharing their wisdom. The Decepticons, unfortunately, had no such resting place for their dearly departed; where their souls ended up after leaving their bodies was largely a mystery.

"Cyclonus," Scourge said, "I believe it is time that we honor our dead."

Cyclonus raised an eyebrow. "What possible reason could we have for doing that, Scourge?"

"So we can bring them back to life," Scourge said.

***

In his dreams, Rodimus Prime saw himself as Hot Rod once again, the youthful Autobot not troubled by the burden of responsibility or towing a heavy trailer. He loved to drive, as fast as he could, and in his dream he was speeding through the corridors of Autobot City, swerving around obstacles and other Autobots with ease, the thrill of the race exhilarating every circuit in his body.

Friends that he had thought were long gone were once again patrolling the city, the look of grim determination that was usually etched on their faces replaced today with more casual expressions. There would be no Decepticon attacks today. Ironhide rested up against a wall, using the tip of a fishing pole to clean out the built-up nitrogen deposits in his fingertip dispensers. Prowl was engaged in a friendly debate with Ratchet, arguing that it was he, not Streetwise, who was equipped with the vehicle mode that was best suited for police chases. Wheeljack had invented a harness for each Autobot to wear over his head that equipped them with a mask that flashed to a blue color when they spoke. He explained that Warpath had seemed to quite like the idea, but Brawn and Windcharger just laughed.

Hot Rod drove past the crowd and through the heart of the city. As he turned the corner, he noticed that the ground beneath him felt different, as if he were no longer traveling in the right direction. Panic set in as his wheels spun frantically. This wasn’t right; this wasn’t where he wanted to go. He desperately tried to resume his original course, but to no avail. As he began to lose traction, Hot Rod floored the accelerator, but he continued to lose control, the ground behind him rippling and gathering in an absurdly cartoonish way. He switched to robot mode and tried to run, but he felt dizzy and disoriented and was forced down onto his hands and knees. The city had become a dangerous road, and Hot Rod had to get out of the road before he was run over.

Suddenly, a huge tractor trailer appeared over the horizon, heading straight for Hot Rod. He scrambled to avoid its path, but the massive truck scooped him up impossibly, the high speeds practically pasting him to the front of the cab.

"RODIMUS!" the truck shouted over the sounds of its own engine.

"Don’t call me that!" Hot Rod shot back, growing angry now. The truck was traveling at such a high velocity that his body was practically pinned to it. Helplessly, he started pounding his fists on the roof of the cab. "Stop! Let me get off!"

"THIS RIDE ISN’T OVER, RODIMUS!" the truck promised, its horn blaring and its headlights blinding Hot Rod. The truck continued unabated, picking up speed--

Rodimus Prime awoke with a start, back in his recharging chamber in New Iacon on Cybertron. He wiped a bead of lubricant from his face and let out a long, plaintive sigh.

"Metroplex, what time is it?" he asked.

"Six thirty-two," grumbled the voice of the city. "Rise and shine."

"First day of my new job and I’m already late for work," Rodimus said, stretching out his servo-motors. "Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get fired."

Shortly before the battle with Unicron, Hot Rod had inadvertently discovered a colony of Transformers living on the Planet of Junk. These Autobots, who called themselves Junkions, had made the difficult decision to relocate from Cybertron during the outbreak of war several million years ago, but their ship had crashed and they had been forced to adapt to the local environment. The Planet of Junk had originally been constructed as a dumping ground for the local factory planets until unforeseen circumstances had forced the factory creators to abandon factory operations. The dumping ground was never intended to be habitable. Despite this, the Teletraan unit aboard the Autobot craft had made the strange but ingenious decision to adapt the crew to their new terrain by making them compatible with the rusted scrap that covered the planet’s surface. They were reconfigured into a new modular type of Autobot comprised from recycled components that were each self-sufficient, easily replaced, and even interchangeable. Junkions were nearly impossible to destroy because they were designed to come apart as easily as they could be put back together.

An unfortunate side effect of their long isolation from Cybertron was that with their communications array damaged, the only transmissions they were able to receive were the airborne transmissions sent from Earth. It was as if the entire planet, largely ferrous in composition, functioned as one gigantic television antenna, and Earth was the only local planet still primitive enough to be inundating the carrier waves with their broadcast pollution. The Junkions, unfamiliar with Earth culture and entirely unaware that the decades-old sitcoms and sci-fi flicks were completely fictional in nature--and longing to make a connection with other worlds--began to incorporate the content of these transmissions into the very heart of their society. With their circuitry degrading and their atrophied processors desperate for new data, it had only taken a few decades before the Junkions had, by proxy, been completely reprogrammed into TV junkies.

As before, Rodimus Prime had called an assembly of the Autobots, this time to officially welcome Wreck-Gar and his tribe back into the fold. It seemed like a far more important task than anything on Ultra Magnus’ ever-growing to-do list. The thought of rebuilding Cybertron or sending scout parties after the Decepticons was mind-numbingly boring. At least the ceremony welcoming the Junkions was sort of like a party. If you squinted and looked at it sideways.

Of course, when Ultra Magnus had set up the podium and sound equipment, the twisted irony of the locale probably hadn’t occurred to him. He had arranged for the ceremony to be staged in the central room of the lower level in Autobot City, a facility that, in fact, turned into Metroplex’s aft section. The fact that Rodimus Prime would formally address the Autobots of Earth for the first time in what was literally the butt-end of Autobot City seemed strangely apropos.

Rodimus stepped up to the podium and stood before the group of Autobots and Junkions. "Is this thing on?" Rodimus asked, tapping the microphone uncertainly.

"We’re already rockin’, so just start talkin’," Blaster supplied helpfully.

"Okay, uh…welcome, everyone," Rodimus said, reaching for the podium and clutching the script Ultra Magnus had supplied him. "I don’t have to tell you all that a lot has changed in recent days. We’ve lost friends and comrades, and nearly lost…"

Rodimus looked past the podium and locked eyes with Ultra Magnus. "Nearly lost our lives, Cybertron, and all that we hold dear," he supplied in a stage whisper.

"Uh…well, nearly lost everything," Rodimus finished. He set the script back down. "Look…I’m not really any good at this sort of thing. I don’t know how to give speeches, and I don’t know how to lead the Autobots. The Matrix didn’t come with an instruction book. I’m not even sure why I’m standing here now. I just…"

Rodimus paused and took a moment to meet the eyes of the other Autobots standing before him. Autobot warriors who were stronger and smarter than he was, friends with whom he’d worked for years like Springer and Kup and Blurr, were now deferring to his judgment, his guidance. Autobot heroes he’d only just met since his arrival on Earth but whose reputations already preceded them, the likes of Jazz and Cliffjumper and even Bumblebee, were now prepared to follow Rodimus Prime to whatever ends he chose. Even Autobots he didn’t recognize were now assembled before him, ready to place their trust, and their lives, in his hands.

Also amongst the crowd were a collection of Junkions, all sharing the same corroded orange and mucky brown and tarnished grey colors. The other Autobots present were giving the group a wide berth, as if the rust might be contagious if they stood too close. It was Rodimus Prime’s job, he realized, to make the Junkions feel at home.

When Ultra Magnus and his shuttle crew had crashed on the junk planet, they had scavenged through the refuse for serviceable parts to repair the ship. What they hadn’t realized was that the Junkions were fiercely protective of their homeland, and they considered the perusal of spare parts to be equivalent to theft. After Hot Rod had arrived in a separate ship and befriended the Junkions, however, they not only forgave this perceived affront, but had even repaired Ultra Magnus after the encounter with the Decepticons that had left him in pieces. They had even offered to replace the ship the Decepticons had destroyed with a Gilligan-class Junkion starship. The Junkions numbered in the dozens, and the unexpected alliance between the Autobots and the wayward Junkion tribe was, as far as Rodimus Prime was concerned, far too valuable to go left unacknowledged. New friendships were hard to come by these days.

"Hey, Wreck-Gar," Rodimus said, "Come on up here. This is your moment."

"We’ve secretly replaced Bob’s regular Autobot leader with Folger’s crystals," Wreck-Gar whispered to a female companion. "Let’s watch!"

"Fill it to the rim with Brim, baby!" she called back, blowing him a kiss.

It was astounding to Rodimus Prime that even Autobots made of junk had girlfriends.

Wreck-Gar sauntered up onto the stage with two Junkion troopers in tow. His facial expression was a jumble, looking simultaneously confident and baffled. "Once unbelievable, now unthinkable," he said, framing the air with his hands for emphasis. "The chilling classic returns!"

"If it weren’t for you and the Junkions," Rodimus said, "we never would have reached Unicron in time. You guys are the real heroes here."

"Didn’t need no welfare state," Wreck-Gar chanted. "Everybody pulled his weight. When it pours, it rains tiny pieces of Unicron! Now that’s how I spell relief!"

"Your courage and dedication have earned you our respect and admiration," Rodimus continued.

"Is he strong?" Wreck-Gar added, flexing his muscle-cables. "Listen, bud. He’s got radioactive blood!" Several of the female Junkions in the crowd swooned.

"Uh, right," Rodimus said. "Anyway, in appreciation for everything you’ve done, we want to officially welcome you back to the Autobots," Rodimus said.

"What do you get a Wookiee for Christmas when he already owns a comb?" Wreck-Gar inquired.

Rodimus Prime reached under the podium and produced an Autobot badge. Rodimus figured all the Junkions had worn them, at one point, since they were standard issue. Had they rejected the symbol when they denounced the war? As Hot Rod, he had frequently griped about having to wear his, saying that it ruined his flame décor, but he had reluctantly come to accept that wearing the Autobot symbol was a privilege. Of course, it also made him a walking target for the Decepticons, but he preferred not to dwell on that fact.

"Oooh!" Wreck-Gar crooned, stroking his metal beard as though he were grooming himself for a photo opportunity. "I should like a hat like that!"

"It’s yours," Rodimus Prime said. He approached Wreck-Gar and hesitated for a moment. Ultra Magnus had said something about the standard placement for these symbols, but Rodimus hadn’t really been listening, and the dual gun barrels protruding from Wreck-Gar’s chest precluded affixing the symbol anywhere on the front of his body. On his shoulder, maybe? Did it even matter? Finally, Rodimus reached out and stuck the symbol to the side of the Junkion leader’s chest. Good enough. Almost immediately, however, the metal-plated insignia fell back into Rodimus Prime’s hands, its adhesive surface littered with flecks of paint and rust. He tried again, this time grinding his palm into the insignia for good measure.

The other two Junkions looked on at this exchange with dim curiosity.

"They have to paint me red before they eat me," Wreck-Gar explained. "It’s a different religion than ours, I think."

"Uh, well, you get the idea," Rodimus said with a shrug of his shoulders, finally handing the slightly-used symbol to Wreck-Gar.

"We all go a little mad sometimes," Wreck-Gar said, grabbing the insignia and stuffing it into a compartment in his torso. He turned to the other Junkions. "A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere," Wreck-Gar said. I’ve been offered a lot for my work, but never everything! This program is brought to you by the Children's Television Workshop!"

As one, the Junkions erupted into a cacophony of thunderous applause. Particles of corroded metal flew in every direction as they slapped their rust-covered hands together. Several Autobots shielded their optic sensors, while the rest of them, clearly unsure of just how to react, finally responded in a polite round of overcompensatory applause.

"Well, that went about like I expected," Rodimus said, stepping off the stage into the crowd.

"Don’t give away the ending!" one of the Junkions called after him. "It’s the only one we’ve got!"

He knew Arcee was here somewhere. A bright pink Autobot shouldn’t have been that hard to spot, but Rodimus found himself sifting through the mob of Autobots, occasionally offering a polite smile to those who met his gaze. He didn’t like the level of insincere attention he was getting now. He liked being the center of attention, of course, but he had always wanted to become famous through his daring actions and reckless heroism. He wanted to be the rebel without a clutch. The fact that Autobots whose names he didn’t even know were now going to be planting kisses on his caboose just because he was the Matrix-bearer nearly made him want to regurgitate some energon from his processor a little bit.

And then there was Arcee. She had a smart mouth and wasn’t afraid to use it. She’d been making wisecracks at Ultra Magnus for as long as he could remember, voicing the group’s concerns about his leadership of the contingent that nobody else would dare articulate. Arcee was never one to mince words. She had always been sincere with Hot Rod, and if there was one Autobot that he could count on to give it to him straight, it was her. Things didn‘t have to change just because he‘d gotten a promotion.

There she was, over at the end of the westernmost corridor, the chamber that literally comprised Metroplex’s left leg. As usual, she was the center of attention, making lame jokes that everyone else still laughed at, just because she was Arcee and she had that kind of sheer magnetism.

"Hey, everybody got enough leg room in here?" she quipped, flexing her own legs as if to work out a stubborn worm gear. Powerglide chuckled heartily and Seaspray gurgled in delight. Warpath punctuated the joke with several provocative sound effects.

"Go on," Beachcomber urged. "You’ve got better things to do than hang around here with us Minibot-types."

"What are you talking about?" Arcee said, an expression of mock-pain washing over her face. "Why would I want to be anywhere else? This is where all the hip Autobots hang out. In the hip!" The resultant laughter from the group was appreciative, if brief.

Just as Rodimus Prime was about to approach, Springer turned around the corner and intercepted Arcee. His swaggering demeanor was about as transparent as his windshield.

"Hmm," Arcee pondered. "On second thought, maybe I do have some place I need to be. I’ll catch you fellahs later."

"Wham, bam!" Warpath interjected. "Bang!"

***

Ultra Magnus had planned to attend Wreck-Gar’s initiation ceremony. It was an event he would have dealt with reluctantly, since he had very little respect for an offshoot society who had forsaken the Autobots of Cybertron. Besides, they had done such a poor job in attempting to reassemble him on planet Junkion that First Aid had been required to disassemble Magnus entirely in order to undo all the "repairs" they had made. It was as if they had no idea what an energon converter was, so they’d just stuffed one into each of his arms and legs for good measure. What did he need with five separate energon converters? Ridiculous.

In any event, matters had recently arisen that required his attention. Normally, such issues would have been dealt with by the Autobot leader, but Rodimus Prime had seen fit to delegate as many of his responsibilities as possible, leaving Ultra Magnus to wonder if the very future of the Autobots itself was in dire jeopardy.

"Earth calling Cybertron," Ultra Magnus said, speaking into Autobot City’s communications array. "Perceptor, begin interplanetary link-up."

"Testing channels one through six," came Perceptor’s voice over the remote interlink. A series of tones sounded, each progressively higher than the last, indicating that each of the specific communications channel was now active.

Optimus Prime had chosen Ultra Magnus as his successor. Modesty had prevented Magnus from believing himself to be the best Autobot for the job, and it would have been presumptuous to think that anyone could ever truly replace Optimus Prime. However, Optimus Prime had replaced a great Autobot leader, and that Autobot had replaced another great leader before him. As others had done, Ultra Magnus was confident that, in time, he would have learned to adapt to the role that was required of him. He possessed traits that would have served him well--he was responsible, ethical, and he had been told numerous time that he had a gift for battlefield improvisation.

"Testing channels seven through twelve," Perceptor said.

Ultra Magnus had assumed command of the Autobots. He had led the campaign against Unicron that had eventually enabled Hot Rod‘s stolen ship to gain access to Unicron and disable the monster planet. It was not Ultra Magnus, though, who now bore the mantle of leadership. Inexplicably, the Matrix had chosen Hot Rod instead, interfacing with him and physically rebuilding him into a larger, more powerful Autobot. Ultra Magnus had great respect for the Matrix. Though he learned little of it during his brief stint carrying it, he knew its origins were steeped in mystery but that it was purported to be the life force of a powerful extracybertronian entity, and that it served as a gateway to the beyond, through which living Autobot leaders could actually communicate with leaders of the past as well as the future. When Hot Rod, now calling himself Rodimus Prime, had explained that the Matrix had elected him to command the next generation of Autobots, Ultra Magnus had had no choice but to step down.

Looking back, however, Ultra Magnus wondered if he had made the right decision.

Perhaps the Matrix was, on some mystical level, aware of traits that Hot Rod had possessed that the other Autobots simply couldn’t see. Or, perhaps the fact that Hot Rod had been the first to touch it as it dropped from the dying hands of Optimus Prime had confused the Matrix as to which Autobot it was truly meant to respond to. In any event, it was clear to Ultra Magnus that Rodimus was incapable of serving as the guiding light for the Autobots. They needed a selfless leader who would place the needs of the other Autobots before his own, a hero who made decisions for the good of all, not based on whatever whims struck his fancy. They needed a leader concerned with the affairs of Cybertron and other planets, one with the charisma to forge alliances with other worlds in the tireless fight against the Decepticons.

"All communications channels active," Perceptor reported. "Beginning data transmission and remote upload to Cybertron central computer."

If Rodimus was unwilling to step down voluntarily, there were other ways to effect a change in leadership. Ultra Magnus would never dream of forcing the issue and usurping command, but the Autobot code of conduct did allow for the removal of a commander-in-chief under extreme circumstances. All Ultra Magnus had to do was wait for Rodimus to make one poor decision, one that cost the Autobots a major victory. Such a move would force Ultra Magnus to invoke the Crisis Act, identifying Rodimus Prime as unfit for the position of leadership and revoking his privileges.

In fact, this wouldn’t have been the first time in Autobot history that someone other than the Autobot leader had carried the Matrix. Around nine million years ago, some time during the beginning of the Third Cybertron War, the reckless and unorthodox Septimus Prime had lost his life in his quest to hunt down and destroy the Decepticon leader. In his final moments, rather than electing another young Autobot to take his place, he asked his mentor Alpha Trion to safeguard the Matrix until a truly suitable candidate could be found. Alpha Trion had served as Autobot commander during the First Cybertron War, but by the time of Septimus Prime’s passing he was aged and frail. He kept the Matrix safe, and the Autobot forces remained largely leaderless until the creation of Optimus Prime.

"The uplink was successful, Ultra Magnus," Perceptor said. "Autobot Headquarters on Cybertron now has a realtime link to Teletraan II."

"Excellent work, Perceptor," Ultra Magnus said. "The first thing I want you to do is establish an archival record of all security camera logs. Access will be restricted to command level Delta."

"Do you wish to maintain logs for the security sweeps within Autobot Headquarters, or just within Metroplex?"

"Both, Perceptor," Ultra Magnus replied. "We can’t take any chances this time."

One more mistake was all Rodimus Prime would be allowed. At that point, Ultra Magnus would have no choice but to reluctantly take his place in history.

***

It was shortly after the dawn of the millennium that the Decepticons had finally managed to drive the Autobots from Cybertron. Fueled with a new form of energon and driven by a desire for victory, the Decepticons had at long last rid Cybertron of the Autobots and secured the entire planet. Their energon stockpiles, amassed through countless energy raids on Earth and sent back home over the space bridge, had proven sufficient to temporarily repower the planet‘s long-dormant facilities, at least until a more permanent source of energy availed itself.

Warfare was what the Decepticons believed in above all else. It pervaded their lifestyle, their hobbies, their religion, and their dreams. They had been created as fighting machines, and the mechanics of war in all its myriad forms came only naturally to them. One of the facets of the Decepticon philosophy that had gone largely unknown to the Autobots was the time-honored Decepticon tradition of paying tribute to their dead. Once they had retaken Cybertron, they had wasted no time in erecting a great monument in honor of the fallen warriors from the past. This was the Decepticon Crypt.

"I’ve never been here before," Scourge admitted. He stood in the doorway to the great monument, the long and imposing shadows of the Decepticon troops extending into the darkness ahead of them. The crypt was lined with ceremonial torches on the walls, causing the shadows of the memorial statues to dance as if they were alive.

Though Scourge was maintaining his composure thus far, the two Sweeps behind him were trembling in fear so much that it sounded like one of them was shaking a tool box full of loose hex nuts. They put shame to the Decepticon name. Were Cyclonus more given to emotional displays, he might have berated them for their cowardice. In any event, now was not the time for such petty concerns.

"Legend has it that these halls are filled with the spirits of those whose time has come before ours," Cyclonus said. He proceeded down the main corridor, his footfalls echoing into the blackness. "But only those with a ceremonial marker will find their way back to us. Those who were destroyed in the Unicron war have no such markers. The life force of these Decepticons will remain lost until we summon them back home."

"That’s ridiculous," scoffed one of the Sweeps. "Do you seriously think that the ghosts of dead Decepticons are going to show up just because we built a statue that looks like them?"

"Bite your tongue," Scourge admonished. "There are forces at work in this universe that you can never hope to fully understand."

The Sweep shot Scourge a look that could freeze lava, but after a moment he finally averted his eyes.

"Dozens of Decepticons perished at the hands of Unicron," Scourge pondered. "It will take too long for just the five of us to create markers to honor each of them. We need more help."

"The Constructicons are already on their way here," Cyclonus said, "and I’ve dispatched Astrotrain to Earth to recover the Combaticons and Stunticons. That should be all the help we need."

"And give up our last remaining foothold on Earth?" Scourge balked. "The Autobots and humans are working on a planetary defense program. Once we pull the troops out, there’s no getting back in."

Former Decepticon leader Megatron had been working on a twofold scheme to undermine the Autobot strongholds on Earth and take the planet from them, just as he had done with Cybertron. While the bulk of his forces were planning to take control of Autobot City, he had sent the Stunticons and Combaticons to ambush the Ark, which had become embedded within a volcano and had served as the primary headquarters for the Autobots of Earth.

Unfortunately, what should have been a foolproof scheme had turned to disaster when Megatron was fatally wounded in the campaign against Autobot City. Many Decepticons had believed things might have turned out differently if Megatron had altered his strategy and opted not to split up his forces; the presence of Bruticus and Menasor, in addition to Devastator, should have proven more than adequate to take the city. Megatron had always been stubborn to a fault, however, and his determination to follow his plans through to the end had ultimately cost him his life.

The only benefit to the Combaticons and Stunticons having been deployed to the volcano base is that it had separated them from the tragic events that followed, including the relocation of the Decepticon army to Cybertron and culminating with the devastating battle with Unicron that had left the Decepticon base in ruins. The Autobots, having forged a strong alliance with the humans, had made Earth a permanent staging ground, which meant that only Decepticons who managed to escape detection by the new Earth Defense Command could remain on that world. The Stunticons and Combaticons were fortunate in that both teams had been constructed on Earth from indigenous materials, and as a result could not be directly detected by sensor sweeps for cybertronic metals.

Cyclonus recognized the tactical disadvantage of recalling the Stunticons and Combaticons now, but they had little choice in the matter. Earth represented a plethora of natural, self-renewing energy sources, a stark contrast to Cybertron’s finite and dwindling supply, but none of those energy sources would ever do the Decepticons any good if they lacked the strength in numbers to secure them.

"It will be worth it," Cyclonus promised. "Once the new armada is operational, we will not only be able to retake Cybertron, but conquer Earth as well."

"I hear something," one of the Sweeps said, twirling around behind him towards the main entrance to the crypt.

"I do, too," said another, fumbling with his oxidation pistol. "It sounds like Autobots!"

"Turn your receptors on, you morons," Scourge grumbled. "It’s just the Constructicons."

The bright green and purple colored Earth vehicles poured through the corridor, their noisy engines rattling and their tail pipes belching exhaust fumes into the air. Cyclonus was repulsed by Decepticons who turned into ground vehicles. They reminded him far too much of the Autobots for his tastes.

The vehicle in the lead transformed to robot mode, with the other five following suit. "Scrapper and company reporting for duty," he said in a raspy voice. "We came as soon as we received your request."

Scrapper looked at Cyclonus, then at the Cyclonus clone, then back at Cyclonus again. Apparently, he didn’t know which of them to report to.

Cyclonus cleared his throat dramatically. "Very good, Scrapper," he said, trying to sound as authoritative as possible. "Your services will be invaluable. The first thing you will need to do is gather some raw materials for--"

"Just a moment," one of the other Constructicons said in a smooth, casual tone. "We should discuss terms."

"What Hook is trying to say," Scrapper said, "is now that Galvatron’s gone, the position of Decepticon leader needs to be filled. He may have just appeared out of nowhere and taken Megatron’s place, but at least he had the firepower to back up his claim to the throne. We Constructicons have served the Decepticons since the days of Deceptus. We witnessed the birth of Megatron and have steadfastly served him for millions of years. If anyone has earned the right to lead, it’s us!"

The second Cyclonus guffawed. It was an obnoxious, throaty laugh that set Cyclonus on edge. Why did his identical twin have to be so positively obnoxious?

"That’s rich," the other Cyclonus balked. "You antiquated pipsqueaks should be first in line at the smelting pool, not in command of the Decepticon Battle Fleet!"

"My dear Scrapper," Cyclonus said, placing a hand on his comrade’s shoulder, "I fear you completely misunderstand us. We are not simply newcomers to the cause who wandered in from the Dead End and usurped the throne. Scourge and the Sweeps and I were all forged in the fires of Unicron himself, you see. We were chosen by Unicron as the new breed; the next step in Decepticon evolution. And contrary to what you might think, Galvatron did not kill Megatron."

"Then what happened to Megatron?" Scrapper demanded.

"I believe," Cyclonus said, "that they have both met the same fate.

"There are other Decepticons still remaining with seniority over you," Scrapper persisted.

"Like who?" Scourge said. "Starscream has been destroyed. Shockwave is dead, too, and Soundwave couldn’t lead a marching band. Are you getting it, yet? The old ranking system doesn’t exist any longer. Cyclonus and I are in charge, now. The rest of you Decepticons, you’re nothing more than foot soldiers. You’re all expendable!"

"You also need to consider, Scrapper," Cyclonus pointed out, "that our energon convertors are infinitely superiors to your own. Come this time tomorrow, you’ll be begging for your next energon rations. As creations of Unicron, we can sustain ourselves on those same rations for weeks to come. When you come crawling on your knees, who among us do you think is capable of flying into space in search of new energy supplies? Do any of you transform into something besides dump trucks and steam shovels? Nothing with wings, I suspect."

"You’ve made your point," Scrapper sighed. "We will obey."

"Then begin gathering supplies to erect some new memorial markers," Cyclonus ordered.

"How are we going to know which Decepticons to commemorate?" Scourge asked. "The data from Shockwave’s security satellites was completely destroyed."

"I suppose, erm," Cyclonus said, "that we’re just going to have to make an educated guess. Contact Soundwave and have him do a long-range transponder scan. We can safely assume that any Decepticons who do no send a return signal have been destroyed."

Scourge lowered his voice to a raspy whisper. "Why didn’t you tell him that Megatron and Galvatron were one and the same?"

"Because, Scourge, I’m not sure if that’s entirely true," Cyclonus replied. Cyclonus was aware that Megatron’s broken body had been recreated by Unicron, if only because he was present at the time of Galvatron’s creation. He had a visual record of this physical reincarnation, though the data files were somewhat scrambled as a result of this event having taken place just prior to Cyclonus’ own recreation. Whether or not Megatron truly constituted the same entity as Galvatron, however, was another matter entirely.

Cyclonus was aware on some level that Unicron had made changes to his own mind, rewriting subroutines and rewiring pathways as Unicron had seen necessary in order to imprint upon Cyclonus his new directives. He was naturally aware that he had previously existed as another Decepticon warrior, though on the occasions when he had attempted to access those memories, the force of Unicron’s living will upon his mind had pushed him away. With Unicron now deactivated, Cyclonus found that his attempts at recalling his former existence met with failure.

Had Galvatron really known that he had once existed as Megatron, or did he believe he was a completely separate being who had taken Megatron’s place as Decepticon leader? When he promised Ultra Magnus that I, Galvatron, will crush you just as Megatron crushed Prime, was he referring to himself in the third person, or did he genuinely believe he was another Decepticon picking up where Megatron had left off? When Ultra Magnus had promised that Galvatron would die trying, just as Megatron had, was Magnus mistaken? Or had Megatron, in fact, died at the same moment Galvatron was born?

Cyclonus didn’t know why these questions seemed so important to him, but the question of his true identity was growing more prominent in his mind of late. With Unicron no longer exerting an active mental influence over his creations, they were now free to grow and learn without fear of retribution. Cyclonus couldn’t help but wonder why Unicron had deemed it necessary to block access to the information in Cyclonus’ own mind, information that would tell him who he truly was.

Destiny, the voice of Unicron had boomed throughout time and space, moments before his destruction. You cannot destroy my destiny.

Unlike Unicron, whose destiny had been inexorably ripped from his grasp, Cyclonus knew that his own destiny had yet to be fulfilled. Cyclonus now realized he had a greater purpose to fulfill. It now fell to him to give life to the armada, the army that held promise of bringing the Decepticons back from the brink of defeat and allowing them to retake Cybertron and finally defeat the Autobots. Cyclonus may have been a spawn of Unicron, but unlike his former master, Cyclonus now had total control over his future. His fate, and the fate of the Decepticon army itself, would be foretold this day. Victory was the only acceptable outcome. The Decepticons would not be denied. It was their destiny.

***

Wheelie had a deep, dark secret. He hated every single one of the Autobots.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t grateful to them. He owed them that much, he supposed. He had been the sole survivor of an Autobot scout ship that had swung too close to planet Quintessa and ended up being sucked into its gravity well. It hadn’t been long until he had his first encounter with the Sharkticons, indigenous scavengers with piranha-like appetites who traveled in packs, and who had been attracted by the ship’s crash. They had greedily devoured the ship’s power core, all the spare energy rations, and just for good measure, both of Wheelie’s creators.

The lords of the planet, five-faced freakshows who called themselves Quintessons, had taken a particular interest in capturing Wheelie for reasons which completely escaped him. On several occasions they had acted like they recognized him, or at least the badge he wore on his chest, but Wheelie had never been to Quintessa before, nor had he ever encountered these egg-shaped psychos. With no communications array and no way of contacting his colony, Wheelie was forced to fight for his survival, teaching himself how to build and use a slingshot, decorating himself with the teeth of Sharkticons he had managed to outsmart or outmaneuver.

At night, when the Sharkticons were recalled to the Quintesson courthouse, Wheelie would climb the highest mecha-vegetation he could find, curl up on a limb, and dream of his mother. During the infancy of his programming, she had sung a haunting melodic verse to him, one which he could no longer recall in detail. All he remembered was that it had rhymed. It was a sweet, beautiful rhyme. The sound of her voice continued to echo in his mind, however, and his feeble attempts at recapturing the lost verse was at once tragic and soothing.

After encountering the wayward Dinobots on Quintessa, who eventually led Wheelie to their Autobot masters, Wheelie realized he had fallen in with a group who was not only capable of piloting one of the maddeningly complicated Quintesson spiral cruisers, but were tall enough to reach the floor pedals. Wheelie had jumped at the chance to hitch a ride with them, off that hellhole of a planet and, possibly, back to his own colony.

Instead, this group of Autobots took Wheelie straight back to Cybertron, a world devastated by war, which his colony had done everything in their power to escape from in the first place. They had treated Wheelie like some lost puppy that they had taken in from out of the cold, assuming that he would be content to shack up with their merry little band of freedom fighters. When Wheelie tried to protest, they had assumed it was simply false modesty on his part, as though he were too proud to accept being a charity case. They also made fun of his tendency to express himself in verse, dismissing it as some kind of odd circuit glitch.

Well, let’s see here. They were fighting a war for millions of years that had killed hundreds of thousands of Autobots and had completely ruined the planet they were supposedly fighting to protect. Wheelie had escaped with his family to a world of peace and harmony. Who, exactly, was the one with the circuit glitch?

This was why Wheelie detested the other Autobots. They were sanctimonious, patronizing, and condescending towards Wheelie. He didn’t know whether it was due to his diminutive stature or the fact that they all apparently thought he was a little retarded, but whatever the case, he knew deep in his heart that they hadn’t brought him to Cybertron because they welcomed him as a valued friend and ally. It was because they felt sorry for him and couldn’t stand the thought of letting him fend for himself.

The Dinobots were about the only ones among them that Wheelie could stand to be around. They were as dumb as a box of rocks, admittedly, but at least Wheelie understood them. They were primitive, like the Sharkticons, which made them comfortable and familiar. Just about everyone else, though, Wheelie wouldn’t hesitate to drop in a smelter, given half a chance. There were lots of those on Cybertron, right?

Cybertron wasn’t really that bad, though, he supposed. For now, the Decepticon forces seemed relegated to the southern sectors, and the balance of power was relatively even, much as it had been some six million revolutions ago when Wheelie had left the planet. For the most part, the Autobots left him alone, allowing him to come and go as he pleased. At least he had his freedom.

Rodimus Prime, the new Autobot leader, had been the first Autobot to befriend Wheelie on Quintessa, back when he was a different color and a little bit shorter. At the moment, he was busy ordering some of the others around. Wheelie wasn’t officially part of this particular Autobot team, so he was content to sit in an unused area of the construction bay outside the Autobot base and watch while everyone else worked.

"Okay, Springer," Rodimus said, pointing an authoritative finger at the larger green Autobot, "make sure you affix those support beams securely. This thing has to be spaceworthy, after all."

"All right, already," Springer grunted. "I get it, Rod. Just get off my back, will ya?"

"This is the mausoleum that’s going to carry Optimus Prime’s body into space," Rodimus insisted, "and I’m not going to have you mess it up just because you don’t feel like doing it right. When you’re done, I want you to go back and weld each one again."

"Uh, Rodimus," Springer said, setting down the girder he had slung over his shoulder, "Once we actually launch this thing, I don’t think anybody inside is really gonna care whether or not the support columns are even."

The big, green one had a point. Dead Autobots very rarely concerned themselves with the décor of their own tombs.

A smallish, pink Autobot entered the room, lugging another support girder behind her. "Where does this last one go, Rodimus?" she grunted.

Rodimus rushed forward and grabbed the end she had been dragging. "I don’t want you to strain your circuits, Arcee," he said. "Let me get this last one for you."

"There’s no need for that," Arcee insisted. "I’ve got it just fine."

"Hey, if Roddy wants to play the gallant white knight," Springer grumbled, "go ahead and let him pop his own gaskets."

Wheelie giggled to himself. He had spent a very long time in the wilderness of Quintessa, and he’d learned a thing or two about tribal behavior. The male Autobots were obviously engaging in a ritualistic power struggle, competing for the position of alpha male in the eyes of the female. At least their mating rituals were a little more civilized than those of the Sharkticons.

Rodimus fitted the last of the support beams in place, using the exhaust pipes mounted on his arms to weld the metal structure to the ground. "There we go," he said, clapping some imaginary dust off his hands as if he’d just performed a stupendous feat of engineering and skill. "As soon as Perceptor finishes installing the auto-pilot, this baby will be ready to launch. So, who’s up for some rocketball?"

"Aw, darn the luck," Springer said in mock disappointment. "I left my rocketball back in my quarters. Arcee, want to come help me search for it?"

"Actually, Springer, you’re on work detail," Rodimus said, pointing to his chronometer. "Better report to Kup right away. You don’t want him getting cranky."

"For crying out loud, Rodimus," Springer protested. "I’ve been at this stuff all day. Give a guy a break, will ya?"

"I gave you an order, Springer," Rodimus said. His voice had taken on a stern, annoyed tone. "Would you talk back like that to Optimus Prime?"

"All the time," Springer grumbled under his breath.

"Excuse me?" Rodimus said.

"I said, ‘that would be a crime,’" Springer said. "I’ll catch you later, Arcee." He sauntered out of the room.

"You’ll have to throw me first," she called out after him, apparently sharing a private joke.

"So, Arcee," Rodimus began.

Arcee turned to Rodimus, cranking her neck to one side and shaking her head slowly. "Really, Rodimus," she said. "Do you have to be so hard on him?"

"What?" Rodimus said, a touch of childlike protest in his voice. "Ultra Magnus is the one pushing me to get this thing built. Springer’s just the best Autobot for the job, is all. It’s nothing personal."

"Are you sure about that, Rodimus?" Arcee said. "Sometimes it sure looks personal to me."

"Look…I’ll make it up to him tomorrow," Rodimus said. "I’ll give him the whole day off. See? I’m not such a bad guy."

"Yeah," Arcee said, strutting out the doorway. "A real hero for the ages."

Rodimus stood there fuming for a moment, peering at the doorway where Arcee had been standing as if he expected it to burst into flame if he waited long enough. Suddenly, he turned around and shot a stone cold look at Wheelie. "What are you staring at, huh?

"Wheelie not staring. Some thoughts I am sharing. As Autobot leader, how are you faring?"

"What do you know about it, anyway?" Rodimus said, his face contorted into a smirk. "You have no idea what it’s like to be Autobot leader."

"It’s easy to be bold and daring," Wheelie offered, "but a good leader is also caring."

Rodimus snorted and folded his arms across his chest. "First the disco ball, now I’m listening to a talking greeting card."

Wheelie could have chosen to communicate like the other Autobots did, in a plain and simple language that was as colorless and dead as the planet Cybertron itself. Wheelie had discovered that when he tried this, though, the other Autobots simply ignored him. They regarded him as little more than a lost child, one who barely came up to their knees and was hardly worth acknowledging. When he chanted his sing-song verses, though, it got their attention. He got noticed. And it was by irritating the Autobots as much as they irritated him that he was able to get their attention. It was Wheelie’s passive-aggressive revenge on the Autobots.

"Phrases in verse tend to stick in your head," Wheelie said, "like nursery rhymes when you lay in your bed."

"And the cow jumped over the moon base," Rodimus said, the rising anger evident in his tone. "This is ridiculous. You don‘t even know what you’re talking about."

"Words are just arrows, like a shot in the dark," Wheelie said. "It’s the ones that sting that have hit their mark." With that, Wheelie transformed into his cybertronic vehicle form and bounced off the platform down to the ground and, after doing a two-wheeled figure-eight to regain his bearings, zipped off into the night.

***

Blurr had originally been programmed to be the fastest, most efficient data courier in Autobot history. He was capable of whizzing across the Cybertronic landscape at the fastest land speeds imaginable, his wheels carrying him at such high velocities that he actually lifted off the ground and appeared to be flying at low levels like a rocket car. His metaprocessors were capable of downloading, decrypting, interpreting, encrypting once more, and uploading data so quickly and efficiently that your average Teletraan unit wouldn’t have even realized he had interfaced with their data banks until he had already left the room and was halfway back the way he came. He liked to joke that he was descended from a Cybertronic thoroughbred race horse, a gag he’d repeated so many times that it had somehow made its way into his official personnel files in the infocore.

The problem, he’d discovered, was that while he had been highly valued by the Autobots during the Golden Age, the demand for his services had been greatly diminished in wartime. Resources were limited, and the number of Teletraan units that were capable of processing information as quickly as Blurr had been reduced to nearly zero. As a result, even if Blurr had made it from one Autobot camp to another in record time, the time wasted trying to get their computer to catch up to Blurr’s processors was, ultimately, better spent relaying the information directly to the Autobot officers stationed there. Of course, this resulted in its share of problems, too.

Blurr’s metaprocessing circuitry simply worked at a rate significantly greater than nearly every other Autobot he’d ever met. He delivered information as quickly as he received it, but very few Autobots were capable of efficiently interpreting his speech patterns because he tended to deliver more information than their immediate short-term memories were capable of retaining. It was an infuriating and frustrating experience for Blurr that he was one of the most efficient tools ever devised by Autobot science, but nobody was able to actually utilize him in any real capacity.

As a result, he’d developed the tendency to repeat himself. He figured that anything worth saying was worth saying more than once, and since so many Autobots asked him to stop and repeat himself anyway, he figured he’d just save them the trouble. He’d fallen into the habit of being as redundant as he knew how to be, expressing the same thoughts three or four or even five times in a row. That was usually the point at which the idea seemed to click and the Autobots to whom he was speaking had finally managed to catch up with him.

Was it an efficient means of communication? Not in the least. Where other Autobots cherished one-word philosophies like "peace" or "freedom," Blurr’s personal one-word credo was "perspicuous." What was worse, several Autobots had even accused him of babbling, as if he didn’t know that he was sputtering some of the most inane drivel imaginable. Do you even listen to yourself when you talk? they would ask him. It was a level of irony usually reserved for Decepticon leaders named Megatron.

"Blurr," Perceptor said, clutching a handful of processor chips with pins sticking out of the end and carefully inserting each one into the motherboard of the mausoleum auto-pilot, "did you test the engine to ensure that its functionality is sufficient?"

"Of course I tested the engine," Blurr said, "because you told me to test the engine right after I programmed the navigation computer, and while I was programming the navigation computer, you told me the next thing we’d need to do was test the engine, so I tested the engine right after I programmed the navigation computer." He conveyed this thought in 4.9 seconds, though he suspected that most of it had gone right over Perceptor’s proverbial cranial unit.

"The mainframe appears to be functioning adequately," Perceptor surmised. "I believe that we will be ready to alert Rodimus Prime momentarily that the tomb ship is complete."

"Well, don’t count your chickens before they hatch," Blurr warned. It was time-honored advice, of course, but for Perceptor’s sake, Blurr took the metaphor a step further. "After all, if you count your chickens but some of them don’t hatch, then you’re counting eggs and not chickens, and if you’re counting on your chickens to lay eggs, then the eggs that didn’t hatch into chickens won’t do you any good since eggs hatch from chickens that hatched from eggs." 6.2 seconds.

"Er, quite correct," Perceptor said. "Blurr, have you ever considered having your timing mechanism adjusted?"

"If I needed my timing mechanism adjusted I’d have done it a long time ago," Blurr said. He was a little defensive about this subject. "Every time someone asks me about my timing mechanism I tell them, time after time, that my timing mechanism is timed just the way it needs to be timed. I really think it’s time to talk about something other than timing mechanisms, because time and time again you ask me about my timing mechanism, and this time is the last time I want you to ask me!" 8.5 seconds.

"There’s no need to become agitated," Perceptor said, burying himself in his processor chips. "It was only a suggestion."

"Well, I suggest that the next time you make a suggestion, your suggestions shouldn’t suggest that--"

"You boys almost done in here?" Arcee had popped her head into the doorway of the tomb ship. "Ooh," she crooned. "I didn’t know it was so big."

"We could have been done 19.6 seconds ago," Blurr remarked.

Arcee laughed. "Don’t worry, Blurr. I don’t think Rodimus Prime will throw a fit over nineteen whole seconds."

"Nineteen point six seconds," Blurr said.

"Hey, Perceptor, I’ve got a question for you," Arcee said.

"I may have an answer for you, Arcee," Perceptor said, "assuming that the question has a quantifiable answer that can be calculated scientifically."

"Well, this isn’t really a question about science," Arcee admitted. "I guess I was just wondering, since you’re pretty much the smartest Autobot I know…"

"An observation I would classify as accurate," Perceptor said, matter-of-factly.

"Let’s say that I…I’ve fallen in love with a certain type of energon. It’s really good energon, the high-grade stuff that makes you feel a little woozy and light in the head. You know what I’m talking about?"

"Not particularly," Perceptor said.

"The problem is, the old energon, the kind I’m used to, there’s still a lot of it laying around. I mean, everywhere I go, it’s just sort of…there. It’s staring at me, like I don’t have the right to go for a new grade of energon or something. I mean, that’s my choice, isn’t it?"

"You must elect to refuel your systems with whichever formula provides you with the best performance without overtaxing your engine," Perceptor said.

Arcee blushed. "Well, I have to admit that the performance is pretty spectacular," she said. "Even if it does overtax my engine from time to time."

Blurr paused. This in itself was a rare occurrence. If he didn’t know better, though, he could have sworn that she wasn’t actually talking about grades of energon at all.

"Perhaps you might consider alternating between the two formulas, carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each formula until you arrive at a comprehensive analysis of which formula will provide you with optimal results with minimal side effects," Perceptor offered.

"Switching back and forth?" Arcee grimaced. "No, I don’t… really think that would work." Her gaze seemed to unfocus for a moment, as if she were pondering the idea, but she quickly snapped back to reality. "No, definitely won’t work. But thanks for your time, Perceptor. Oh, and don’t forget that Rodimus wants this thing ready to launch by tomorrow."

"I have successfully retained every fragment of data I have ever assimilated," Perceptor said, wearing his version of a smile, which didn‘t look anything like one.

"Yeah, Perceptor never forgets," Blurr offered. "And he won’t ever let me forget that he never forgets, so you can forget about him ever forgetting anything."

3.4 seconds.

***

Kup was, in his own estimation, the oldest Autobot still alive. He liked to joke that he used to change Alpha Trion’s training wheels, which was a bit of an exaggeration, but it got the point across. He had been around since the First Cybertron War, though most of his memory files from that time period had either been deleted, corrupted, or overwritten with new ones. He remembered when a bunch of hotshots got together and started calling themselves "Autobots," like the name "consumer goods" wasn’t good enough or something. He remembered a time when none of his friends had ever heard of transforming, that just getting around on foot was good enough. He remembered when Megatron was just a young punk looking to make a name for himself, and the idea of flying robots was a novelty. He remembered when war was a story you told you told to young, impressionable tykes, and you could find a Guardian Robot on every street corner. He remembered when the Golden Age was a normal part of everyday life, not some long-gone era that the Autobots talked about like it was a folklore myth.

A lot of the other Autobots, particularly the youngest ones who had been born into the war without ever knowing the peaceful times, seemed to regard Kup as an ancient, nearly senile old coot whose useful days were long behind him. Hot Rod had, on more than one occasion, accused Kup of making up stories. Well, of course he made up stories. The information stored in his data banks was long past its expiration date. Autobots hadn’t been designed to last as long as Kup had. They were originally built as little more than disposable playthings, a casual interest to be toyed with and then discarded when the owners had outgrown playing with robots and moved on to the next big fad. Most of Kup’s original parts had been replaced at least twice; his brain was just about the only factory-issue component he still had. At his age, he was lucky to be able to form a coherent sentence, let alone possess anything resembling total recall. The Autobots were the ultimate example of planned obsolescence, and for Kup to have remained functional long after his data drives began dumping his memories into oblivion was nothing short of a miracle.

The stories he told were, in short, a way of filling the gaps. It was like telling someone about a dream that you’d had the night before. It made perfect sense while you were dreaming it, but once you woke up, how could you possibly explain the ramblings of your subconscious to an outsider? You’d change things and rearrange them, making them conform to your waking experience in order to communicate the key ideas. That was exactly what Kup did every day.

"Springer, my lad," Kup said cheerfully, "did I ever tell you about the time I first met Wheeljack?"

"I have a feeling you’re about to," Springer said with a wry smile.

Kup and Springer were making the final preparations to the Autobot bodies who were scheduled to be launched aboard the mausoleum. The gruesome task would have sent shivers down Kup’s support assembly at one time, but he’d become so utterly desensitized to the sight of deactivated robots that it barely affected him now. Springer didn’t appear to have quite reached that stage yet, as he was clearly having trouble even focusing on Wheeljack’s body as he polished the metal and tried to buff out as many of the blast marks as possible. Wheeljack had died instantly when a Decepticon salvo struck him inside Autobot City; he had been one of the lucky ones. The shuttle crew that had been attacked by Megatron had suffered a far worse fate, and most of their bodies had been lost when the Decepticons abandoned the shuttle and allowed it to crash into the ocean. For these few brave warriors, a memorial casket would be all that remained of them.

"It was back on Cybertron, before Optimus Prime had put together his crew for the Ark," Kup continued. A good story always helped to lighten the mood of what was clearly a somber task. "I was just a security guard back in those days, and my job was to watch one of the power plants along the Mercury River. The Autobot workers at the plant had worked pretty dang hard, collecting millions of astro-liters worth of energy, and the Decepticons would give almost anything to take it from us."

"My, how times have changed," Springer quipped.

"Anyway," Kup said, "Wheeljack was a worker at the plant. He was young and enthusiastic, full of bright ideas, and he had been working on a way to step up efficiency at the plant. Now, keep in mind that he wasn’t a supervisor or anything. It wasn’t his job to come up with ways to boost efficiency, but he was a clever robot, and these ideas just popped into his head."

"Hey, grab me another cleaning cloth," Springer said. "I’m not gonna get any more mileage outta this one."

"So, Wheeljack’s idea was that if he installed another power booster in the plant generators, it would increase the maximum load of energon that they could process. He didn’t want to bother the boss with his idea until he knew whether it worked or not, though, so he called me inside and wanted to demonstrate how it worked before he showed it to anyone else."

"This story has got ‘disaster’ written all over it," Springer predicted.

"I lent Wheeljack a power booster from my circuits so he could hook it up to the plant generators," Kup continued. "What he didn’t know was that there was a live wire hanging just above our heads, and the electrical cables they used when they built the place were never rated for that kind of energy output."

"So what happened?" Springer asked.

"As soon as he threw the switch, that cable went nuts. Sparks started flying every which way, and the cable jumped right out of its socket. It started dancing around like crazy, and it came right for me. I was up against the wall and had no place to go. That cable struck me dead center in the chest, and before I knew it, all the energy that power plant could handle was coursing right through my body. I was thrashing around like a maintenance robot with its servos on overload."

"That’s impossible. It would have killed you," Springer said.

"It nearly did, lad," Kup replied. "It nearly did. And I didn’t even have a power booster in my circuits to regulate the energy flow. Luckily, Wheeljack was a quick thinker. He knew that if he interrupted the energy flow by cutting off the supply, that would take care of the power surge. He ran over to the main generator as fast as his legs would carry him, and yanked with all his might at the master cable. The cable wouldn’t budge, and he didn’t have anything on him to cut it with. So do you know what he did?"

"What?" Springer said, thoroughly engrossed by this point.

"Why, he lunged forward and grabbed that cable with his own teeth, chomping and gnawing at it until it finally broke in two. All that energy just fizzled to a stop, and I came crashing back to the ground like a kamikaze Skyraider. All the color was drained right out of my body, but at least I was alive."

Kup looked down at Wheeljack. "I owe this Autobot my life," he said.

"Er, Kup," Springer said, "I dunno how to break it to you, but Wheeljack doesn’t have teeth. He doesn’t even have a mouth." He pointed to the steel-colored face plate that wrapped around the bottom of Wheeljack’s head.

"Not anymore, lad," Kup said. "Not anymore."

"So what do you think about Roddy?" Springer said, changing the subject. "Think he’s cut out to sit in the big chair?"

"That’s not my place to decide, lad," Kup replied. "But something tells me he’ll do a fine job. We’re all going through a period of adjustment, even Rodimus Prime. Just give him a chance."

At that moment, Rodimus Prime entered the medical bay with Wreck-Gar in tow. "I think it’s about time to call it a night, boys," Rodimus said. "Let’s pack it up."

"It’s been a hard day’s good-night, and you‘ve been working like a dog," Wreck-Gar added, "but we’ll always have plaster of Paris."

"You sure about that, Rod?" Springer said. "You don’t want to boss me around for a few more hours, just for good measure?"

"Watch it, Springer," Rodimus warned.

"Oh, I’ve been watching it for days now," Springer replied. "Ever since you took command, you’ve been on this raging power trip. I dunno, Rod. Maybe the Matrix is just too much for you to handle."

"That’s insubordination, Springer," Rodimus said.

"Wake up, Rodimus!" Springer said, unabated. "Magnus tried to tell you this, too, but when you don’t like what you’re hearing, you just shut ‘em out or shut them up. If you hadn’t stepped in and tried to fight Optimus Prime’s battles for him, we wouldn’t be in this mess now. Optimus would still be alive, and you wouldn’t be in control. Maybe this is exactly what you wanted!"

"No!" Rodimus Prime screamed, swinging at Springer with such force that it knocked the Triple Changer right off his feet. Springer flew backwards and crashed into an empty medical bed, instruments rattling and crashing to the floor.

"I never wanted this!" Rodimus shouted. "I wanted to help Optimus, not hurt him! This was all a mistake! A big mistake!"

"I’ll show you a mistake," Springer said, rising to his feet and wiping some hydraulic fluid from his lip.

Rodimus took another step towards Springer, but Wreck-Gar stepped forward, outstretched his hands and placing himself between Rodimus and Springer. "Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here!" he said. "This is the war room!"

Kup recognized the look of overwhelmed frustration Rodimus Prime’s eyes. He’d seen in before in other Autobot leaders, friends who had been thrust into the role under similar circumstances and were completely unprepared for the kind of dramatic psychological shift that was required of them. Some Autobots seemed to think that all it took to being a leader was deciding what to do and telling the others to do it. Kup knew differently, though. Even Optimus had, for a short time, experienced some difficulty adjusting to the role. The fact of the matter was that no robot truly understood what it meant to be Autobot leader until he had taken the name Prime.

Kup reached out a comforting hand and placed it on Rodimus Prime‘s shoulder. "Save your anger for the ones who deserve it, Rodimus," he said.

"Yeah…" Rodimus said. "You’re right." Rodimus turned and walked away.

"Apology accepted," Springer quipped, massaging his aching jaw.

***

Not many Autobots realized that Metroplex was a complete and separate entity, distinct from the massive complex known as Autobot City. Metroplex could interlink with the city and function as an annex of the larger structure, but he was also a fully mobile battle platform, capable of functioning for extended periods of time as an independent base of operations.

At the moment, Metroplex was stationed several miles away from the city, since Ultra Magnus was reviewing some security logs so sensitive in nature that any other Autobot even being aware of their existence represented a potential security risk.

Ultra Magnus sat in front of the multiple display monitors inside the security room, the lights from the wall of monitors dancing off his gleaming metal armor. Ultra Magnus leaned forward, focusing intently on the events playing back on camera four. The security system was already paying for itself, he mused.

"That’s your last mistake, Rodimus," Ultra Magnus said.

***

The great hallways of the Decepticon Crypt extended for mechano-miles down four separate paths. Each and every sound made inside the sacred chamber bounced off the walls and reverberated in every direction, magnifying every noise and managing to amplify it into something altogether otherworldly.

Cyclonus marched down the western hall, making his final approval of the memorial statues built by the Stunticons. He read the name plaque at the base of each statue as he walked past it. "Dirge…Ramjet…Buzzsaw."

He turned to Motormaster. "Are you quite certain Dirge and Ramjet were among the deceased?" Along with Thrust, they ranked among the most capable Decepticon warriors in the clan. Cyclonus remembered seeing them engaging Unicron at close range during the battle for Cybertron, but Cyclonus felt that he would have remembered if they’d been destroyed.

"Hey, they were on the list we got from Soundwave," Motormaster replied with a shrug. "If they show up later, we can always cross their names off the list, right?"

"Very well," Cyclonus said. Asking the Stunticons to engage in something as artistic as sculpting statues, he mused, was like asking a Skyraider to drive laps around a race track. They clearly weren’t suited for this particular task at all; the first memorial marker they’d constructed hardly bore a passing resemblance to Dirge. Or any existing Decepticon, for that matter.

He turned and entered the eastern chamber, where the Combaticons stood in perfect military formation, awaiting Cyclonus to inspect their work.

"Megatron…Reflector…Shockwave," Cyclonus said, passing by each ceremonial marker. Their work was rough, but considerably more capable than the Stunticons. The Combaticons had obviously been programmed with some degree of skill. Megatron’s likeness was at least somewhat recognizable, right down to the large fusion cannon attached to his arm.

"Kickback…Shrapnel," Cyclonus continued. The original Insecticons, Cyclonus recalled, were among the damaged Decepticons who had been jettisoned into space and later refurbished by Unicron into Sweeps. Cyclonus had spotted a handful of Insecticlones swarming around Cybertron following the encounter with Unicron, but he knew that these were mindless drones, carbon copies of the originals that had been created by Shrapnel to bolster the Insecticon forces. Usually, the clones ceased to exist the instant Shrapnel’s link to the clones was interrupted. Shrapnel no longer existed as an Insecticon, but apparently whatever still remained of him inside the Sweep was sufficient to allow these Insecticon clones to continue to exist, even if the Sweep himself was probably entirely unaware of it.

Cyclonus stopped in front of a third Insecticon statue. For some reason, he felt himself drawn to it, and he found himself lost in the crudely-etched but nonetheless familiar visage staring back at him. He wore a gladiatorial-style mask and was equipped with a pronged instrument on the top of his helmet. Cyclonus stared into the recessed eyes of the sculpture, lost for a moment, as if hidden answers would reveal themselves to him if he concentrated hard enough. He found none.

"Who is this?" Cyclonus asked.

"That’s Bombshell," Onslaught said, with more than a touch of patronizing tone to his voice. "Just like the name plate says."

"Bombshell," Cyclonus repeated. Cyclonus was familiar with most of the Decepticon forces, particularly those who had been stationed on Earth, as their exploits had been of particular significance. For some reason, though, he had absolutely no recollection of any Decepticon named Bombshell. His role must not have been very memorable, Cyclonus mused.

Cyclonus proceeded down the southern hall towards the last of the memorial markers. These had been built by the Constructicons, clearly the masters of their trade. "Thundercracker…Skywarp…Starscream. Excellent likenesses of them all." Starscream was even wearing his characteristic smirk, as if he’d just delivered a particularly witty one-liner.

"I do have one small improvement to make to this last one, however," Cyclonus said.

Cyclonus drew back and thrust his fist into the center of the last statue, sending chunks of stone flying every which way. The statue crumbled into pieces, leaving only the boots in the likeness of the former Decepticon warrior still standing.

"Hey!" cried Scavenger. "What’dja do that for? That took me four hours to build!"

"Starscream was an assassin and a traitor to the Decepticon cause," Cyclonus said. "I will not defile this sacred chamber with his vile presence. If his disembodied life essence does still exist somewhere on this ethereal plane, it can wander aimlessly for eternity, for all I care."

Cyclonus returned to the central chamber, where Scourge, the Sweeps, Soundwave, and the second Cyclonus had brought in the rest of the armada. Robots identical in design to Cyclonus, Scourge, and Galvatron stood at the center of the main antechamber. They had yet to see a single battle, their gleaming metal armor in perfect condition, looking like toy soldiers fresh out of the package. However, they lacked the life spark that made them true Decepticons. Their empty, lifeless eyes were dark. They would not become alive until they possessed a life force.

Or, more accurately, until a life force possessed them.

"All is in readiness, Cyclonus," Soundwave announced.

"We must light the ceremonial flame," Cyclonus said. He reached for one of the torches that lined the walls and lowered it into the central pit. Almost immediately, the entire pit ignited, the flames rising nearly to the top of the chamber. Cyclonus instinctively took a step back, the sweltering heat from the flame already causing the chamber to grow uncomfortably warm. All the Decepticons created by Unicron were safe, but if they remained for too long, the Decepticons made of Earth alloys would no doubt begin to melt.

After a moment, Scourge threw down the tool he’d been using to carve the statues. "Nothing’s happening," he groused.

If the legends were true and that the souls of dead Decepticons really did haunt the crypt, then it was safe to say that the affairs of mortal robots were probably largely beneath their concern. The dead, Cyclonus mused, only pay attention to the dead.

"What we need is an event to draw the lost souls back to the crypt," Cyclonus said. "Something to attract them back home."

"Like a sacrifice," Scourge added.

As one, Scourge and Cyclonus locked eyes on the second Cyclonus.

"You can’t be serious," the other Cyclonus protested. "I’m far too valuable to be used as ghost bait."

"It’s not going to work anyway," one of the Sweeps interjected. It was the same soldier who had challenged Scourge earlier. "This entire project is a complete waste of time!"

"Let’s just put that theory to the test, shall we?" Cyclonus said. He lunged forward and grasped the Sweep with both hands, lifting the Sweep up over his head. Cyclonus approached the ceremonial pit and its billowing flames, barely aware of the Sweep’s cowardly shrieks of protest. He hurled the trooper into the flame, his body becoming instantly immersed in the fires. Still screaming, he frantically thrashed, kicking his legs until the metal of his armor paneling literally began to melt away. For just a moment, the original purple and black coloring of his Insecticon bodyframe was revealed, and he kicked one final time before his core was finally consumed. The flame sputtered and jumped, its color spontaneously changing to an eerie shade of violet.

Suddenly, the air was alive with the sounds of death.

Dozens of glowing, floating orbs swooped into the room, seemingly from out of nowhere. The electronic feedback they caused in the living Decepticons present almost made it sound as if they themselves were screaming. Several of them passed into the bodies of the Stunticons and Combaticons and then back out of them, as if they were attempting to take control of them until realizing that they already possessed a life force of their own. This experience appeared to confused and disorient the troops to the point that several of them lost their balance and fell over. A handful of the Constructicons readied their weapons and trained them on the apparitions until Scrapper motioned for them to hold their fire.

The ethereal entities pierced the hearts of Unicron’s armada, causing their entire bodies to light up as if they were radioactive. As one, the soldiers of the armada came to life, their optic sensors opening wide with a red, evil glow.

Cyclonus noticed that several of the new Sweeps had taken on different colors, apparently as a result of having attempted to take control of the Combaticons and Stunticons. It was almost as if their original attempts to possess their bodies had created an imprint on their very life force that had carried over to the Sweep bodies that they now inhabited.

Several of the new troops, identical in design and stature to Galvatron, were milling about amongst the crowd of new warriors. Cyclonus had previously assumed that Galvatron was an entirely unique entity, but apparently to Unicron, the Decepticon leader was simply one of many templates he had recycled. It was disconcerting to see Galvatron alive again, let alone several of him. He had to remind himself, though, that these were only nameless troopers. There could only be one Galvatron.

Cyclonus stepped up onto the altar and raised his arms. "Decepticons of the great armada," he addressed them, "I am your leader, Cyclonus. Your mission, my Decepticons, is to destroy the enemy Autobots on Earth and take back our beloved Cybertron! Cry the will of Galvatron! DECEPTICONS TRIUMPHANT!"

"DECEPTICONS TRIUMPHANT!" the armada shouted in unison, raising their arms in exaltation.

"Decepticons," Cyclonus commanded, "transform and take to the skies!" He marched through the crypt chamber and back outside into the cool, metallic atmosphere of Cybertron. He launched into the night sky, reconfiguring into his spacefaring mode, and his new armada followed suit. Dozens of Decepticons in a wide range of colors transformed themselves into space jets, hovercraft forms, and flying laser cannons. The once-decimated Decepticon army now numbered at nearly one hundred. The new army would be more than enough to conquer Cybertron.

But first, they would destroy Autobot City.

***

He had awakened from his slumber because, despite being trapped in a non-corporeal state, he had somehow sensed the promise of new life. He was drawn to it, following an unseen light with senses he didn’t know he had possessed, until an unknown period of time had passed and he had finally found himself floating, disembodied, before the crumbled remains of a ceremonial statue.

It had once resembled him, as he had appeared in life, but now it was little more than a pile of rubble. In fact, it rather closely resembled what remained of his original body. He had discovered other ways of slipping back into the ethereal realm, however. Devious, diabolical means that involved supplanting the original life force of a body’s owner and taking it for himself. It would have required more strength of will than he had possessed in life, but the premature taking of his life had magnified his resolve to nearly limitless proportions, and his rage and desire for revenge only served to fuel that resolve even further.

Yes, Starscream would live again.

***

"Let’s do this thing," Rodimus Prime said.

The mausoleum commemorating the passing of Autobot war heroes like Optimus Prime, Wheeljack, Brawn, and about two dozen other Autobots waited patiently on the launch pad outside Autobot City, its automated systems humming quietly. It required only authorization to launch before it carried its dormant passengers into the blackness and silence of deep space, where it would remain for eternity.

Several Autobots had arrived to take part of this decidedly somber occasion. In addition to all the usual suspects like Kup and Wreck-Gar and Blurr, Rodimus also noticed that most of the surviving troops from the Earthbound expedition had shown up as well. Cliffjumper, Jazz, and Bumblebee stood at the very front of the group. Even the human allies to the Autobots had come along, with Daniel Witwicky perched on Bumblebee’s shoulder and Carly and Spike nearby, appropriately dressed in ceremonial black attire. These were the lucky souls who had worked closely with Optimus Prime and the others who were being honored today. They were more than just lost soldiers; they had been close friends.

"This might be an appropriate time," Ultra Magnus urged quietly, "to say something about the courage of our fallen comrades who sacrificed their lives so that we might be here today."

"Yeah, it might be," Rodimus Prime said, his optic sensors falling on the large, red Autobot symbol that decorated the hull of the tomb ship. What Rodimus didn‘t add was that no matter how he tried to spin it or tart it up, the fact remains that these were friends and colleagues that the Autobots would never see again, and that no amount of waxing eloquent, no matter how carefully-worded, would ever bring them back.

"Launch the mausoleum!" he commanded.

"Rodimus," Ultra Magnus said, "I‘m going to need to speak with you after this is over. I found something on the security logs that needs to be addressed."

"Sure, fine, whatever," Rodimus said, waving his hand dismissively. Ultra Magnus was always getting all fired up about one of the Minibots running down the hallways or something. He really needed to unhitch his trailer and just relax every once in a while.

Rodimus was alerted to the sound of a stray laser bolt striking the surface of the tomb ship. He whirled around, searching for the origin of the blast.

"All right," he said, "who’s the wise guy who fired that--"

He was cut off by a second and a third shot, the last of which ricocheted off the surface of the tomb ship and struck him in the arm. He spun around and zeroed in on the origin of the blast.

Above, closing in fast on Autobot City, was an aerial squadron of Decepticon jets. It was the largest formation Rodimus Prime had ever seen.

"Decepticons! It’s an ambush!" Rodimus shouted. He flipped open his wrist-mounted communicator. "Perceptor, skip the launch sequence. Get that puppy into the air, pronto."

"But Rodimus," Perceptor‘s whiny little voice came back over the comm system, "it would be prudent to--"

"It‘d be a lot more prudent," Rodimus snapped back, "if we get that thing into space before the Decepticons blast it to bits!"

"Decepticons, strike!" bellowed the lead ship. "For honor! For glory! For Galvatron!"

Galvatron? Rodimus had already defeated Galvatron, hadn‘t he? He had tossed him right out of Unicron and into space. Could the Decepticons have already located him and recovered him this quickly?

"Rodimus!" Ultra Magnus cried, panting and racing towards the podium as fast as his legs would carry him. "We’ve got to get inside the city and transform it to battle station mode!"

"And let the Decepticons blast the city to pieces while we’re hiding? Not a chance!" Rodimus replied, shouting to be overheard above the sounds of laser fire. "You go find Blaster and tell him to raise Omega Supreme. Tell him to get the Protectobots and Aerialbots back here, ASAP."

"But they’re still searching for the Decepticons hiding on Earth--" Ultra Magnus protested.

"We don’t need to find any more Decepticons, Magnus! We’ve got plenty of ‘em right here!"

The first wave of Decepticons transformed and touched down, advancing on the bridge that led to the city. Rodimus noticed that it was the big, purple Decepticon jet who was calling the shots. Galvatron was still missing, apparently. Pretty much all these Decepticons looked like the group who had strafed the city the first time, and again on the Planet of Junk. A handful of them even looked a little like Galvatron, but they were the wrong colors. Clones or something, he figured.

"March, children of Unicron!" the lead warrior cried. "Leave no Autobot standing!"

"Cyclonus," Soundwave announced, "Autobot starship launch sequence is engaged."

"Destroy it!" Cyclonus replied.

The engines of the massive tomb ship rumbled to life, expelling a thick cloud of grey exhaust before rocketing into the air. A second contingent of Decepticons led by Soundwave broke off from the pack, redirecting their weapons fire and shooting at the mausoleum.

"I need cover fire!" Rodimus Prime shouted.

Kup and Blurr whipped out their weapons, targeting the group of aerial Decepticons firing on the mausoleum.

Rodimus had to make sure the tomb ship made it safely into space. If nothing else, he owed Optimus Prime that much. He transformed into vehicle mode, a larger and bulkier version of his original race car mode, and sped towards the launch pad. His trailer module detached and he transformed again, splitting into his robot form and a mobile artillery platform. He jumped onto the top of the dual-barreled artillery piece and leaped from it, grasping the side of the airborne tomb ship as it struggled to escape the Earth‘s gravity.

From his new vantage point, Rodimus was able to pinpoint the Decepticons firing on the mausoleum. Not bothering to activate his targeting visor, he simply let loose with the laser blasters mounted on either of his arms, taking some small degree of satisfaction when his laser bolts hit their mark and each attacking Decepticon jet was knocked out of the sky.

The tomb ship was accelerating rapidly. Safe in the knowledge that it would make it safely into space, Rodimus was now presented with a new problem: he couldn’t fly.

As if on cue, Springer appeared in aerial mode, hovering alongside the mausoleum as it ascended.

"Nice timing," Rodimus said, shouting to be heard above the din of his whirling rotor blades.

"Not to rush you or anything," Springer said, "but I’m only a helicopter, not a space ship. Once you get past the upper atmosphere, you’re on your own."

Rodimus sprung from the tomb ship and grabbed onto Springer’s tail fins. As soon as they were close enough to the ground, Rodimus let go and tumbled safely down the side of a grassy hilltop overlooking Autobot City.

Rodimus spotted Cyclonus on the other side of the bridge, training his weapon on Ultra Magnus. Metroplex had begun his transformation to battle station configuration to better fend off the invaders, but Magnus was facing the ramp leading into the city. He didn’t see the Decepticon!

On instinct, Rodimus dove from the hillside, making contact with Cyclonus as he wrapped his arms around the like-sized Decepticon. Cyclonus made frustrated, angry sounds as he attempted to extract himself from Rodimus Prime’s grip.

"I’ll destroy you, Autobot!" Cyclonus finally managed to articulate.

"Not in this lifetime, pal!" Rodimus said.

Ultra Magnus whirled around, raising his laser rifle, but he seemed hesitant. Was he having difficulty locking onto his target? It was only then that Rodimus realized that he, himself, was blocking the shot.

Why did this all seem so familiar?

"Move, Rodimus!" Ultra Magnus said.

Rodimus quickly released his grip and spun backwards into a somersault. Before Cyclonus had a chance to recover, Ultra Magnus blasted him squarely in the chest. Cyclonus stumbled backwards, clutching his wound and screaming in pain. He recovered quickly, though, taking a backwards leap and propelling himself back into the sky.

"Blaster," Ultra Magnus commanded, "initiate Metroplex‘s transformation to robot mode!" The Autobots had recently conducted a test run of Metroplex’s robotic configuration, but this would be the first time Metroplex would actually engage the Decepticon forces in combat.

"Autobot City is about to get large and in charge!" Blaster replied over the communicator. "All Autobots, assume your stations and prepare for transformation!"

"We cannot allow that to happen," Cyclonus said from the air. "Scourge!"

From below, Scourge saluted, acknowledging the command. "Sweeps, transform for a flak attack!"

Scourge and a squadron of Sweeps leaped into the air and assumed their aerial configurations. The pack of Decepticon hunters sailed into the sky and completed a full loop-de-loop until they were heading directly for the city.

"Metroplex!" Rodimus shouted. "Decepticons coming at your starboard adjunct!"

An outpouring of laser fire issued from the cannons mounted beneath the city helipad, striking three of the Sweeps and sending them crashing to the fields below in a fiery wreck. Scourge’s formation was still zeroing in on Metroplex, who launched a second volley of shots but missed the formation.

"Target the reactor core!" Scourge commanded, and his squadron opened fire.

The inner core of Metroplex exploded. The horrible sound of grinding gears and twisting metal issued from the inner working of the city mechanisms, and Metroplex froze in mid-transformation before reflexively unfolding back into his city-base configuration. Several Autobots jumped out of Metroplex’s inner workings as he resumed his original configuration, knowing that to remain within the maze of shifting panels and folding walls would be to meet an untimely demise.

"Alert, alert! Metroplex is hurt!" Blaster called out. "Ultra Magnus, transformation circuits are off-line!"

"They must have hit the cog," Rodimus Prime realized. An Autobot as vastly as complicated as Metroplex was not so much one single machine as several mechanical systems integrated into one another. Though portions of the city were capable of initiating semi-transformations on their own, it was the cog that brought together the multiple systems of the networks and enabled a unified transformation from one configuration to another. Without a working cog, Metroplex was stuck in city mode and virtually defenseless.

"We’ve got to get inside and protect the city!" Ultra Magnus urged.

"Actually, I’ve got something even better in mind," Rodimus said. He flipped open his communicator. "Snarl, mobilize the Dinobots!"

A moment later, four of the Dinobots burst through Metroplex’s primary access portal, stumbling down the ramp in dinosaur mode.

"Oooh!" Grimlock said. "Me never see so many Decepticons before!"

"Enjoy it while you can," Slag replied, "because me going to melt them all into…uh…into…melted metal!"

Swoop and Sludge each contributed a shriek and a growl to the conversation before the group of prehistoric Autobots engaged the group of Decepticon foot soldiers. They used a haphazard strategy, if one could call it that, of randomly whacking their opponents with their tails, or head-butting them, or just grabbing them with their jaws and crushing them.

"Swoop," came the voice of Snarl from inside the command tower, "lots and lots of Decepticons flying above Dinobots."

"Roger, Snarl!" Swoop cried. "Me get ‘em!" Swoop flapped his pteranodon wings a few times and streaked into the air, piercing the Decepticon formation led by Soundwave. The airborne troops scattered chaotically, several of them slamming into each other and tumbling uncontrollably to the ground.

"We’re losing too many Sweeps!" Scourge cried out, scrambling out of the way as Slag’s flame breath melted two more of his warriors.

"The city is crippled," Cyclonus said. "It will be easy to destroy after we retake Cybertron. Decepticons, fall back and withdraw!"

All of the Decepticons created by Unicron transformed into spacefaring modes, and as such had no immediate need for a transport ship. Rather than converging towards a central location, the survivors simply jetted off into the sky, leaving their deactivated and wounded at the mercy of the Autobots.

"They’re heading towards Cybertron," Ultra Magnus observed.

"Blaster, radio Omega Supreme," Rodimus said, speaking into his comm system. "Tell him to forget about the rendezvous and head directly to Cybertron. Also, get Sky Lynx on the horn. Tell him we need him to be ready to leave yesterday."

"I anticipated you might be in need of my amazing services," came the voice of Sky Lynx over the secondary channel, "so I took the liberty of beginning my preflight check. I will patiently await your arrival at the docking bay."

The Dinobots transformed to their robot modes and cheered.

"Yay!" cried Grimlock. "Me never beat up so many Decepticons before!"

"We did reduce their numbers by a significant margin," Ultra Magnus said, surveying the dozens of ruined Sweeps, "but they still represent a serious threat to Cybertron!"

"Not to worry," Rodimus Prime said, wearing a knowing smile. "We’ve got a secret weapon."

***

Around four million planetary revolutions ago, at the height of the Third Cybertron War, the planet Cybertron had been more or less equally divided. Though there were notable exceptions, for the most part the Autobots occupied the north side of the planet, while the Decepticons inhabited the southern hemisphere. While the Decepticons were far more territorial in nature and probably could have secured more ground, the lack of available energy resources meant that the campaign to control Cybertron had, at that point in history, taken a back seat to the campaign to find the energy sources necessary to survive.

After the Decepticons had accumulated enough energon to not only take control of their homeworld but also give Cybertron a much-needed jump start, they found themselves with a planet, approximately half of whose facilities had been owned and operated by the Autobots. The Decepticons were no strangers to utilizing existing resources, so rather than destroying these facilities, they either used them for their own ends, or ignored them altogether. The mechanical factory buildings and energy processing plants were among the Autobot facilities they easily adapted for their own use, slapping a Decepticon insignia on the front of the buildings as a way of staking their claim on the territory. Other facilities, like recreational race tracks or car washes, were deemed too Autobot-centric to be of any real use, and were simply locked up and allowed to fall into disrepair.

Of course, Unicron’s fateful attack had inadvertently disrupted the Decepticon control over Cybertron, and in the absence of a tightly-controlled Decepticon regime, the Autobots had been allowed to simply slip in and take control of not only their original territory, but a fair percentage of what had been previously deemed Decepticon territory as well. Now the Autobots had access to Cybertron weapons manufacturing plants and military training installations that should have been as foreign to them as the Autobot vehicular body shops had been to the Decepticons, but somehow, amazingly, they found a way to use these resources to their advantage.

Were Cyclonus more given to overt displays of emotion, he would have expectorated upon the bright red Autobot insignia that now adorned the front of the main entrance to the Decepticon War Academy.

"Disgusting," he muttered, approaching the building as a squadron of Sweeps followed in his wake.

He transformed and landed on his feet, quickly surveying the surroundings before approaching the building. "Our energy reserves are dwindling," he said. "First we refuel, then we retake Cybertron."

"Most of our energon stockpiles were burned up trying to repel Unicron‘s invasion," Scourge said. "We’ll have enough to power our weapons or recharge the other Decepticons back at the crypt, but not both."

"The other Decepticons can wait," Cyclonus said. "There will be plenty of time for them to feast later. Once we regain control of Cybertron, the planet Earth will fall and we will have access to its limitless resources."

"I hope you‘re right," Scourge grumbled.

"Remember who leads the Decepticons now," Cyclonus warned him. "My strategy is sound and my armada is still nearly a hundredfold. The Decepticons will emerge triumphant!"

***

Inside the Autobot base of operations on Cybertron, Rodimus Prime felt the floor panels shaking beneath him, the disturbance on the outer surface of the planet, directly above the Autobots, causing a rumbling like distant thunder.

"Weapons fire detected on level one," reported Teletraan II.

"Sounds like the pizza delivery boys are here," Rodimus said. "Come on, Autobots, let’s go give ‘em a tip!"

Rodimus stood before the group of Autobots who were now entrusting him with their lives. They weren’t just Autobots; they were his Autobots. With every decision he made, the fate of every warrior, every friend standing in that room, hung in the balance.

It wasn‘t about who carried the Matrix. It wasn‘t about who had inherited the name Prime. It wasn’t even about who delivered the best speeches. What truly made an Autobot leader, Rodimus realized, was the ability to make the right decisions at the right time, to be able to put one’s personal feelings aside for the sake of the Autobot team. For their way of life. For freedom.

"Autobots," Rodimus Prime ordered, "transform and burn rubber!"

***

Outside, the Decepticons were littering the Autobot camp with weapons fire. Dozens of Sweeps in assorted colors were circling above the base like mechanical vultures, searching for a weak point in the structure. Near the front of the group was Cyclonus, hovering in the air, wielding one of the Galvatrons in handheld laser gun mode and barking orders to the other Decepticons.

"Weapons at maximum!" he commanded. "Concentrate your firepower! Breach the Autobot stronghold at all costs!"

"Cyclonus, Autobot rocket approaching!" Scourge announced, pointing to the sky. It was an old-style transport rocket, grey and tarnished and cylindrical, sporting a large Autobot symbol on the side.

"It‘s Omega Supreme," Cyclonus said. "Scourge, intercept!"

"Sweeps, destroy the rocket!" Scourge ordered. He and a squadron of warriors transformed and assumed an attack formation, wasting no time in opening fire on the Autobot rocket. As it entered the lower atmosphere, five Autobot jets poured out of its opening, each with an Autobot warrior straddling the top of its fuselage.

"Protectobots, ready your weapons!" commanded the Autobot perched atop the lead jet. "Return fire!"

Bright orange laser bolts issued from four of the five jets, striking several of the Sweeps in formation. One of them began to suffer from engine trouble and began to fly into the rest of the group, forcing them to break formation. The damaged Sweep fell into an uncontrolled dive, wobbling unevenly as it descended to the planetary surface.

"I thought we talked about this, First Aid," the Protectobot leader chided.

"I’m sorry, Hot Spot," First Aid replied. "I’ll try harder next time, I promise."

"Pathetic Protectobots," taunted Scourge, "forced to piggyback on top of Autobots who can actually fly!"

"I’ll show you pathetic," Blades promised, standing on the top of Air Raid’s jet mode and preparing to leap.

"Hold on, Blades," Hot Spot commanded. "We do this by the book."

Omega Supreme’s rocket module touched down on the surface of Cybertron. It relayed a signal to the launch pad, suddenly appearing out of nowhere as it completed its instantaneous journey from its point of origin through a subspace shunt. The launch pad and accompanying battle tank began to shift, change, and rearrange its components, combining with the rocket module into the Guardian Robot known as Omega Supreme.

"Decepticon flock…sighted," Omega Supreme bellowed. "Hunting season…begins!" He let loose with his gun-arm, firing deadly plasma bursts into the Decepticon squadron.

"Cyclonus, help!" Scourge wailed. "The Autobot is too powerful!"

"Cowering wretch!" Cyclonus spat. He took aim with his Galvagun and fired a concentrated energy burst directly at Omega Supreme’s face. As the glass panel covering the front of his head shattered, the gigantic Autobot cried in pain, clutching at his face with his claw and crashing to the ground.

"That is how you deal with Autobots!" Cyclonus proclaimed.

"And this is how we deal with you, Decepticon," Hot Spot announced. "Protectobots, transform into Defensor!"

The five Autobots perched upon the Aerialbot jets jumped into the air, converting into an assortment of emergency vehicles while still in mid-air. The quintet of vehicles changed form a second time, mechanically interlinking with each other as their bodies reconfigured into parts of a larger whole. The final result was a single Autobot entity nearly the size of Omega Supreme.

"Decepticons just keep gettin’ uglier," Defensor quipped as he surveyed Scourge and the Sweeps, who had transformed to robot mode and rejoined Cyclonus.

"Now, it’s our turn," Silverbolt said. "Aerialbots, unite!" The other four jets in formation quickly expanded and grew, connecting to Silverbolt as he also shape shifted into a larger, more powerful configuration.

"Bring it on, Decepticons!" grumbled Superion, pounding his fist into his palm.

The larger-than-life pair of Autobot combiners advanced on the group of Decepticons.

"Superion and Defensor?" Scourge was incredulous. "We’ll never beat them both. We need the Combaticons and Stunticons to counter their strength!"

"Even if we had the energon to spare, they would never get here in time to make a difference," Cyclonus said. "We won’t have to destroy all the Autobots in order to defeat them, though. All we have to do is get through to Rodimus Prime. If we kill their leader, the Autobots will be too devastated to resist us!"

"You’d better be right," Scourge warned him.

***

"Hey, bunny ears!" Rodimus Prime called out. "You going to stay up there and flap your wings all day, or are you too afraid to come down here and get your feet dirty?"

"I will enjoy soiling my hands with your oil," Cyclonus promised, falling into a dive and lunging for Rodimus. Cyclonus made contact with Rodimus Prime, knocking the Autobot leader down to the ground.

Elsewhere, Arcee was surrounded by a contingent of Sweep warriors. She was a highly skilled gunner, but her ability to pinpoint a target was moot when the targets were nearly on top of her. There were six or seven of them, and although she would no doubt profess that she had things under control, Rodimus was concerned about her ability to fend for herself. These weren’t just ordinary Decepticons; they were mechanical devils generated by Unicron himself. They had formed a tight chain around her, advancing with claws and weapons drawn.

He had to help her. Rodimus jerked and yanked and strained against Cyclonus, trying desperately to break the Decepticon’s grip. Cyclonus was holding fast, grasping Rodimus with one arm and lashing out at him with the other. The larger Decepticon reached for his weapon, his head, his spoiler--anything that he might be able to rip from its moorings. Faced with such a frantic attack, Rodimus was completely unable to break free in order to assist her.

Suddenly, Rodimus detected the familiar roar of whirling rotor blades. Springer made a spectacular descent, transforming in mid-air. He landed only briefly before bounding from outside the circle of Decepticons and leaping back into the air, coming down with his sword in both hands and slicing clean through the bodies of two of the Sweeps.

"Sorry to interrupt," Springer quipped, "but I just had to cut in."

"My dance card is full," Arcee replied, gunning down the remaining four Sweeps in quick succession, "but I think I might be able to squeeze you in."

***

Cyclonus swung at Rodimus and missed. He swung a second time, this time making contact with the back of Rodimus Prime’s arms, who was using them to shield himself from the blow. Cyclonus growled and lunged for Rodimus, wrapping his hands around the neck of the Autobot leader.

"Do you have any last words before I liberate your tongue from your vocalizer?" Cyclonus said.

"Just two," Rodimus Prime said. "Junk ‘em!"

Right on cue, dozens of Junkion warriors suddenly appeared out of nowhere, jumping out of hidden panels in the surface of the planet, leaping into view from behind generators and support columns, and bounding from the tops of buildings and swinging from power lines, making strangled battle cries from black-and-white serial films.

"There’s no need to fear! Underdog is here!" Wreck-Gar crowed, spinning his axe around one finger like a six-shooter. "Stop, Snidley Whiplash, in the name of the law!"

"Junkion warriors!" Cyclonus cried. "Impossible! The Decepticons have already won this war! Cybertron is ours! It is our destiny to win!"

"Frankly, my dear," Wreck-Gar said, locking in on Cyclonus with his dual barreled chest blasters, "I don’t give a Sherman Dam!"

Cyclonus, Scourge, and the rest of the Decepticon invasion were pelted by an endless barrage of Junkion and Autobot laser bolts. Superion and Defensor advanced on the Decepticon contingent from either side, raining endless firepower upon them. The Decepticons backed away as they shielded themselves with their arms in a futile gesture.

"How could you let this happen?!" Scourge shouted, cowering behind his own jagged-edged wings. "There’s no energon left to take Autobot City! If we withdraw now, we give Cybertron to the Autobots! What are we going to do? Where in blazes are we going to go?!"

"We’ll figure that out later," Cyclonus said. "Right now, either we flee or we die!"

"Sweeps, follow me!" Scourge commanded, transforming to hovercraft mode. The dwindling Sweep army attempted to follow suit, but as many were knocked out of the sky by Junkion laser fire as not.

"Come, my armada!" Cyclonus shouted, transforming to his space jet configuration. Fewer than a dozen Decepticon jets and a single flying laser cannon slipped into the skies to join Cyclonus. His once-great armada had been reduced to a paltry handful of troops.

"This wouldn’t have happened if Galvatron had been leading us," Scourge said, driving the point home by willfully and purposefully colliding into Cyclonus before rocketing off into space.

Cyclonus was loathe to admit that he had proven to be a complete and utter failure as commander of the Decepticons. His strategy had been sound, certainly, but he lacked the passion of a charismatic military commander. He had failed to account for the foolish heroism of the Autobots and the cowardice of the Sweeps. Now, the Decepticons didn’t even have a planet to call their own. His arrogant assumption that he had been worthy of replacing the Decepticon leader had resulted in the Decepticons being cast into exile.

In the back of his mind, Cyclonus was already making plans. It would be necessary to send a rescue party after the troops who were still stationed back at the crypt, and who would no doubt get the bolts kicked out of them by the Autobots once they were found. There was also the matter of securing a new source of energy, since the remains of the Decepticon stockpile had been left behind on Cybertron. More important than either of these, though, was the fact that the Decepticons had no home. Now that both Earth and Cybertron were closed to them, they would require a new staging ground. With their forces decimated and their energy reserves at minimum, however, they would be in no condition to conquer an existing population. Their only hope would be to find a planet somewhere that would offer no resistance, a world that would offer temporary sanctuary for the broken Decepticon army.

These were minor accomplishments compared to the primary goal that was percolating in the mind of Cyclonus. If the Decepticons were ever to emerge from the desolation in which they now found themselves, they would need guidance. They would need leadership.

They would need Galvatron.

***

Rodimus Prime knew there were still other Decepticons on Cybertron, but with their energy sources depleted and their strongest warriors already exiled, he suspected they wouldn’t put up much of a fight. It was only a matter of time until the Autobots would, for the first time ever, have complete control over planet Cybertron.

"Well, Stanley," said Wreck-Gar, planting his hands firmly on his hip plates, "this is another fine mess we‘ve helped you clean up."

"Much obliged, Wreck-Gar," Rodimus said. "You guys were amazing."

"New and improved Junkion warriors with extra-strength fighting power! Now in your grocer’s freezer!" he proclaimed proudly, displaying a Vulcan salute.

Springer caught up with Arcee. "You weren‘t so bad yourself, you know," he said. "Your technique could use a little work, of course. If you ask me really nicely, though, I think I could find the time to sit down with you some time and show you a few moves."

"Are you going to flap your trap all day, or are you going to kiss me?" she asked.

"Door number two!" Wreck-Gar urged. "Pick door number two!"

Springer chose the second option. The Protectobots cheered and hollered while the Aerialbots made wolf whistles.

Rodimus approached Ultra Magnus. "So, Magnus, you were saying something earlier? A security breach or something?"

"Erm," Ultra Magnus stammered, "it turns out that it was just a false alarm, Rodimus. Sorry to bother you with something so trivial."

"Are you sure about that?" Rodimus said.

"Absolutely," replied Ultra Magnus. "Everything is exactly as it should be."

THE END


Author’s Notes:

For CybCon 2007, rather than create a mass-produced kitbash of an existing Transformers toy as I have done in years past, I created a single, unique kitbash and mass-produced an exclusive piece of fan fiction. The convention organizers were then free to distribute multiple copies of a story that I would only have to write once. (Yes, I am immensely lazy.) This story, which became a 25,000-word novella, takes place in the original Transformers cartoon universe (GEEWUN ROXXORS) and takes place after The Transformers: the Movie, but before "Five Faces of Darkness," the five-part cartoon episode that followed the animated movie. There is so much that happened behind the scenes in between these two adventures that I really felt it deserved to be explored. How did the Decepticons lose control of Cybertron? What happened to Shockwave? Why didn‘t Ultra Magnus remain Autobot leader after Optimus Prime elected him for the job?

This story also addresses an animation mistake from "Five Faces of Darkness," namely the multiple-colored Cyclonuses and Sweeps that appear as part of the Decepticon group. Obviously, the real-life explanation is that these were coloring mistakes. The animation studio just wasn’t particularly careful when it came to coloring the background characters. Sometimes I think they flipped through the available color key models and picked one at random when they didn’t recognize a given character, which is why there are so many characters colored incorrectly. Even the Sweeps, fairly distinctive-appearing characters in the Transformers universe, were decorated in the color schemes of other characters like Swindle, Soundwave, Breakdown, etc. I like to take mistakes from the cartoon show and invent some explanation for why they aren‘t "really" mistakes at all. In this case, I’ve decided that the "miscolored" Sweeps are, in fact, new characters discovered by Cyclonus. I also decided that Unicron just kept using the same robot designs for all his creations, which serves to explain why a robot sharing Galvatron’s design can be seen on planet Chaar in "Five Faces of Darkness" part 2 before the Decepticons have actually rescued him.

I also wanted to explore the relationship between Hot Rod and Arcee, which seemed to be blossoming during the movie but which was non-existent by the third season, as well as the relationship between Arcee and Springer. There were lots of other elements from the movie that I wanted to address, like the existence of the second Cyclonus and whether or not the Decepticons created by Unicron remembered who they used to be. I also wanted to explore characters like Blurr, Wheelie, and Kup and get into their heads a little so that we can see what really makes them tick.

As a "Children of Cybertron" story, this takes place in the same continuity as some of my other fan fiction, and references characters I’ve invented and ideas I’ve established in previous stories. Just so you know, though, my fan fiction is not meant to be taken as the definitive word, and I’m not trying to step on anybody else’s preconceived notions. If you have your own interpretation of the characters, please don’t let my own spin on things interfere with yours. I just write because I love Transformers and I have a lot of fun exploring the universe, the interactions between the characters, and yes--even the so-called mistakes. If you found this story even slightly entertaining, though, then I’ve done my job.

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