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Shadows of the Night

In Memory of Skyflight

I try to remember the last time I was this scared, and I find that I can't.  Fear is practically a foreign concept, as alien to me as the planet we've just finished plundering after laying dormant here for so long.  Our victory should have been absolute; having tapped the near-limitless energy riches of this world, we were prepared to restore Cybertron to its former, fully-energized glory.  Instead, I am quite certain I'm about to die before I ever see home again.

A mistake.  The Autobot on board our craft takes advantage of the power struggle he's stumbled onto, but rather than seizing the opportunity to assassinate Megatron, he inexplicably sabotages our newly-constructed craft.  My comrade-in-arms Starscream compounds the problem by allowing himself to be distracted by this intruder, leaving himself wide open for a retaliatory strike by Megatron.  This is perhaps the biggest mistake, since the damages to our ship have been left unchecked; what probably began as minimal, easily-repaired systems damage has now spread throughout the flight controls, and neither Skywarp's fire extinguisher nor Soundwave's deft touch at the controls can save us now.  To the team's credit, not one of them attempts to abandon ship through the still-open side hatch.

I watch in horror as the aft fuel cells detonate, engulfing two of my brothers instantly.  I wince at their loss while praying that our precious and deadly energon stockpiles are secure, which will surely destroy every last one of us if the holding area becomes compromised.  I look for guidance, listen for my orders, but I find neither; if Megatron still lives, the billowing smoke and flames that separate us may as well span mega-miles.  All I can hear is the frustrated, tormented roar of the ship's engines, and I can tell by the way the floor paneling grows hot beneath my boots that we're entering the planet's atmosphere again in a decidedly uncontrolled fashion.

A piece of the ship's skeletal frame is torn in half as the ship begins to break apart, and plummets towards me without warning.  It tears through the center of my chest and into the wall behind me, pinning me to the hull.  Unable to speak, unable to think, I hang suspended in a momentary lapse of sentience, waiting for my destiny to overtake me.  Two of my fellow Skyraiders look on helplessly; judging by their expressions, they must think there's nothing that can be done for me.  The point becomes moot as the section of hull to which I've been attached is torn from the rest of the ship, and it and I drift away from my compatriots and plummet toward the surface of this planet--my home now for four million years and the rest of eternity.  My parting thoughts as I begin my final descent into the twilight are my prayers for the impact to kill me instantly.

***

No clear memories... only vague impressions.  Creatures that I recognize from this planet, its dominant organic life form.  Cautious, at first, their trepidation known to me though I cannot understand their strange, garbled language.  Bolder now, as they realize I am lifeless, no threat to them.  They touch my body, examine my twisted armor panels and exposed circuitry.  They try to tear off pieces of me, not realizing I am alive.  Or are they trying to free me, attempting to extract me from the section of the hull with which my body is entwined?  I cannot tell.  I am woozy, weak, uncertain of my environment.  I am unable to move or communicate, unable to even lift my head to gaze upon my own mutilated form, but knowing full well that the end is near.  My energon washes over the rocks as I drift into darkness.

***

I am awake, and for an instant I imagine that I'm home, the horrible crash and explosions just a lingering nightmare.  Instinctively, I open my communications net, awaiting the flood of internal communiques from the other Decepticons, half-expecting my brother Starlight to meet my gaze as I awake on the repair bed.  Instead, I find to my horror that there is no communication at all, that my internal systems detect no sign of other Decepticons.  A malfunction, certainly.  The notion that there are no Decepticons anywhere within range is, simply, impossible.  But there is a new problem: I'm unable to move, or even open my eyes.  There is no sensory feedback returning from my fingertips, no temperature readings or olfactory detection.  It's as if my entire body is paralyzed.  

Then, in a flash, I recall the horrible, sickening final moments of the Nemesis II.  The Decepticons have been destroyed.  There's nothing left.  I ponder for a moment how I can continue to harbor these feelings, how I can continue to exist in a state of self-awareness, if I am myself not alive.  The conclusion I reach is that my mind, my life-force, has somehow survived beyond the mortal coil.  Is this the Matrix?  Impossible.  That's an Autobot fairy-tale.

I try again, desperately trying to reboot my systems, looking for some sign of corporeal reassurance.  The darkness, the silence, the utter lack of existence is complete and absolute, and it is maddening.  I cannot even scream in frustration, in anger.  Am I cursed to spend my remaining days in a void of nothingness?  How long does a Decepticon live when there is no threat of combat, no hardware to break down, no entropy to wear away at her?  Millions of years?  Billions?  I will surely go mad in this meaningless eternity.

***

After a period of time I cannot quantify, I become aware of a presence.  Not a physical presence, for I have no physical realm to inhabit, but a spiritual one.  I realize with senses I no longer possess that there is another entity in the universe, but it is not like me.  It lacks the skills to communicate, or the intelligence to convey its meanings effectively, or both.  At first it seems to be playing with me, repeating patterns, numerical sequences, rhythms that I can neither hear nor see, yet I know are there.  I am in no mood to play this game, and yet I feel compelled to respond.  The existence of another being, no matter how utterly beneath me, is in its own way reassuring.  I recite the patterns, the strings of numbers back to it.  All communication stops.

Again, some time later, it resumes.  The patterns grow longer, more elaborate in sequence, and I mimic them easily.  Then the game changes, and parts of the sequence are deliberately omitted for me to fill in the gaps.  I do so, wondering just how long this will go on, what kind of mindless torture fate has in store for me.  Is this death?  Rattling off prime numbers and calculating decimal places?  Death, I muse, was never something to fear, as so many of my fellow Decepticon warriors had done.  Death is not fearsome.  Death is boring.

***

More time passes, if the passage of time can indeed be recognized as such, and I am called upon to perform the tricks for an audience.  I ignore the summons at first, weary of this game, refusing to amuse my spectators like some animal that's learned to balance an inflatable ball on its nose.  In my mind, I make a casual connection with the Earth creatures who had been scurrying over my broken body a lifetime ago, wondering if they have perhaps found some way to get into my head.  It amuses me to think that they are so utterly fascinated with my superior mind that even the recitation of a few million mathematical formulas is enough to delight them.  Taking pity on these creatures, I give them what they want.  They applaud uproriously.  Only later does it occur to me that I understand this act, despite the fact that I can't hear a thing.  The notion that I might be hallucinating, filling in the gaps left open by my total lack of sensory perception, is not an impossible one.  I long for my senses to be restored.  I eagerly await the day when I can see again, when I can feel the wind blowing on my face.

***

I awake from a dream.  I imagine my stomach is rumbling, but quickly shrug off the sensation.  Someone is trying to speak to me.

_HELLO, a voice says.

"Hi there," I reply casually, uncertain as to whether this is real, or whether it's the imaginings of my mind as I finally begin to lose my grip on reality.  Either seems as likely as the other, at this point.

_I TALK, the voice says.

Well, obviously you're talking.  I'm uncertain as to the intent of this message.  Is it a simple statement of fact, or is it a demand that I be quiet and allow him to speak only?  I remain silent.

_I TALK YOU, the voice beckons.

You talk, me listen?  Me Zartan, you Jane?  I don't understand any of this.  It's ridiculous.  I consider going back to sleep.

_YOU TALK ME, the voice says again.

It wants me to talk to it.  As long as the voice is shouting, sleep is impossible.  The voice is burrowing into my brain at an uncomfortable intensity.  Perhaps if I speak to it for a while, maybe do some simple arithmetic for it, it will go away.  At the same time, I've come to relish any and all interaction with outsiders.  Being the only entity in the universe is a lonely prospect.

"Okay, I'm talking.  What would you like to talk about?  How's the weather?"

_SUNNY AND MILD, the voice says, to my utter shock.

A flood of thoughts invade my consciousness, none of them logical.  In a world where nothing exists, how can the weather possibly be... ah.  I understand.  I'm being toyed with.  It's a new game.

And yet, I wonder.

"Where are you?" I ask.

_HERE, the voice responds.

"Where is here?" I press on.  Here with me?  Some place other than here?

_YOU ARE HERE, the voice says.

So, I'm speaking to a directory map.  Terrific.  I try a different approach.

"Who are you?" I ask.

_HUMAN, the voice says.  _WHO ARE YOU?

"Decepticon," I explain matter-of-factly.  "I'm Twilight, a Decepticon from planet Cybertron."

Silence, for a long time.  I imagine that my audience is probably mulling over this fact.  Races that aren't accustomed to interstellar travel always act terribly shocked when they actually meet someone from another planet, as if they genuinely had no idea that there were other races in the heavens.  It never fails to amuse me how terribly short-sighted some creatures can be.

"Speak to me," I say, finally.  "I... want to talk some more."

_NO TALK, the voice says.  _LATER.

The humans have, no doubt, begun scurrying frantically over this bit of news, busy re-evaluating their entire world view, rewriting all their historical texts and scientific manuals to account for Cybertron, reinventing their religion to accommodate my existence.  For a lifetime, the universe belongs solely to me once more, and I share it with no one.  It pains me to be alone.

***

_HELLO AGAIN, says a voice, and I am awakened once more.

"Back for more?" I ask, only vaguely amused now.

What I want, after much pondering on my part, is answers.  I possess no solid factual information about the afterlife, but it's unfathomable to me that Decepticons and humans would share the same posthumous existence.  Also, there are no other Decepticons in evidence here in my own personal void, which would not be the case were this truly a life-after-death experience.  I therefore conclude that I am not dead at all, but that leaves a fair number of unanswered questions.

"Where is Megatron?" is my first question.

"Where are the other Decepticons?" is my next question.

"Where is my ship?" is the third.

I have more, but I restrain myself, giving their primitive brains the time needed to digest my queries.  I both anticipate and dread the answer, but I must know the truth.

_WE FOUND YOU, the human says.  

Yes, I know that.  I felt you crawling all over my body like insects, probing me, hurting me.  But I don't say that.  For now, it serves my purpose to cooperate.

_WE FOUND YOU ONLY, the human elaborates.

My heart sinks.  I was the only survivor of the crash.  The Decepticon Empire is gone.  Megatron is gone.  Starscream, Skywarp, Starlight... all gone.  And now there are more questions to be asked.

"Am... am I dead?" I ask.

_WE SAVED YOU, the human says.

"I can't see," I explain.  "I can't feel anything.  Nothing's working.  Sensors, scanners, system response, nothing.  Diagnostics are off-line.  What's happened to me?"

Too much information, I realize.  I've confused them.  Their lack of response is not encouraging.  They're probably too busy digesting all the syllables.  I try again, using smaller words, more simple concepts.  Something these monkeys can actually wrap their minds around.

"Where is my body?" I ask.

_WE SAVED YOU ONLY, the human says again.  This means nothing to me.  Saved me from what?  Saved me from myself?

Then, I realize.  The reason I can't see or hear or smell is because I no longer have optic sensors or audio receptors.  I no longer have a body.  It must have been too badly damaged.  All they managed to save was my personality component.  It is, I muse, a miracle that these primitives actually knew which component actually contained my brain.  I realize later that this isn't entirely accurate.  Those hunger pains I experienced earlier... the humans, not having a clue about the technology they were facing, must at one point have been trying to reactivate my stomach.  Idiots.

"You saved..." I begin, unsure how to continue.  "You saved my mind."

_YES, the human confirms.

"You must build me a body," I command.

_HOW? the human asks.

I show him.

***

Human technology, I discover, is incredibly crude.  The metals they have to work with are soft and useless; even their strongest alloys are nothing compared to the tensile strength of Decepticon armor.  Their cyberprocessor technology is virtually nonexistent, and they lack the tools to forge true micro-plated armor, making it impossible for them to construct collapsible mechanical parts using even simple transformation technology.  The most sophisticated piece of equipment they've ever encountered, I quickly realize, is my own brain, and they're far too eager to exploit it.  They throw question after question at me about how my mind works, what parts were used in its assembly, how my power source works, and they become frustrated with me when they don't understand.  What powers your laser core?  Why, energon, of course.  Tell us, what is energon?  Why, it's concentrated energy, of course.  Tell us, how do you compress energy?  With energon cubes, naturally.  Tell us, how do energon cubes work?  They're based on a crystalline poly-alloy.  Tell us, what is that?  It goes on and on.  They begin to think I'm toying with them, just as I believed their first attempts at communication were a game.

I realize that the reason communication between us has been so difficult is that I no longer have the benefit of filtering their gibberish through my translator circuitry, which still lies within my broken body.  They're attempting to use binary language to communicate directly with my brain, and while I understand and comprehend binary code effortlessly, the crude simplicity of their messages gives me a headache.  Furthermore, any responses I provide them must first be translated back into binary code, then back again into their own cluttered, redundant language of choice.  I very much doubt that the true meaning of any of my words survives intact.

What it all comes down to in the end is that humans simply cannot construct a Transformer body.  They lack the materials, the knowledge, the skill, the tools.  There wasn't enough of my own body left to try to reconstruct it--if there had been, they'd have taken my entire form, rather than just extracting my metaprocessor.  I am unable to help them, and I tell them so.  They refuse to believe me.  They call me selfish, accusing me of withholding the secrets of my race.  What they fail to realize is that I would give anything to live again, to flex my mechanical muscles, to soar through the skies, to open my eyes and take in the wonders of a corporeal existence.  They see none of this... they are short-sighted, focusing only on how to unlock my secrets for themselves.

Eventually, as the days roll by and the seasons change, they manage to do just that.  And I am completely powerless to stop them.

***

My dreams dissipate into reality once again, but I find that I am not myself.  I discover much to my relief that I have been granted exile from my infinite purgatory, that I am once again whole, once more part of the larger universe.  And yet, I am unable to focus clearly, my eyes and mind clouded with a haze that makes my apparent restoration seem like another dream unto itself.

I have no memory of my old existence, only the new existence that has been laid out before me, and it's been done so in a most extraordinarily limited fashion.  It's as if I've been fitted with blinders, the paths I see before me determined exclusively by those who hold the reins.  My actions are all predetermined, preprogrammed, and a course of inaction--as I might elect, given the opportunity--is not one of my options.  My emotional center has been both suppressed and exploited, my former sense of isolation and despair keyed directly into my new behavioral algorhythms.  Perform as I'm expected to, and my pleasure center is rewarded.  Make any attempt to deviate from my new programming, and I will instantly find myself alone in the void, cut off from the universe once more.  I find that the sensation of a corporeal form to once again call my own is delicious, intoxicating, and I will do anything to keep it.

My body is sleek and metallic, no longer clad in the bulky, boxy armor of my former brethren.  The curves of my slender, steel-grey form are exposed, and I am both humbled and strangely aroused.  I long to show off my abilities, my combat prowess, my newfound skills of stealth.  I recognize that the technology that comprises my design is beyond obsolete, that my thin armor shell will offer virtually no resistance to attacks, that the connections between my brain and body are so tenuous, so incomplete, that I am incapable of even rudimentary speech.  I take some solace in the fact that I know my new purpose will mirror my old one.  I'm fully armed, equipped with weapons of an ancient nature but with a decided technological twist.   I am a warrior born anew.  An assassin.

***

I am unveiled before an assembly of self-impressed humans, all members of the scientific community, all patting themselves on the back for figuring out how to use the same outdated technology in new and exciting ways, having devised new methods by which to waste even more energy and pump pollutants into their atmosphere more efficiently.  Having reached the virtual apex of their accomplishments, none of them suspects that I, hidden under a silken drape, am superior than the sum total of all of their efforts combined.  They have come here expecting to find a toy, a puppet.  Instead, they shall meet a god.

They claim to have designed me, a laughable prospect at best.  The humans who built my new body conveniently fail to mention that only the shell is their design, that the entity behind these gleaming yellow eyes is light-years beyond their making.  If it amuses them to pretend that I am their creation, though, so be it.  Playing their game is a small price to pay for the reincarnation they have granted me.  My alien brain is so valuable to them, so completely irreplaceable, that they've hired some kind of robot bodyguards to protect me.  Protect me from whom, I wonder?  It seems hardly necessary, since I'm more than capable of defending myself against any of these tiny carbon-based flesh creatures.  Nonetheless, I'm quite flattered.

I try to remember the last time I was this excited, and I find that I can't.  Of course, that's largely due to the memory blockers that have been erected in my head, not necessarily due to my present circumstances having surpassed all previously exciting events.  Nevertheless, this is my proudest moment, garnering the collective attention of all eyes in the room, knowing that I have at long last embraced a destiny once denied.

I am no longer what I once was.  I am not of this world, and yet am very much a part of it.  I am no longer alone, and yet I am entirely unique.  I am neither alive nor dead, having been destroyed and then reanimated, like a phoenix rising from the flaming twilight.

I am Nightbird.

THE END

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This Page Created: 12/24/2002
Uploaded: 8/4/2003
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