Midnight sat through the dull meeting with the long-winded Nagk ambassador. His mind, far from the obese ambassadorís self-imposed exaltations, focused on more consequential matters. Mid mused over Kyle and Voodoo. He only heard half the meeting, grateful Optimus and Roddy did not prod him for input.
Rodimus and Optimus Prime listened patiently to the ambassadorís tiresome, thick dialect. Nagk business dealers were accused of hijacking a supply shipment to Nraíanou, in the Vega system. But the Nagk insisted they were nowhere near the area during the supposed attack.
Rodimus leaned back, arms folded. He wasnít buying their alibi. He gazed at Prime and could tell Optimus wasnít swallowing it either. But Optimus remained perfectly quiet until they heard the entire story.
Midnightís thoughts meandered between the meeting and Steve. Mid wasnít exactly crazy over the second trip to Chenobis. Steve insisted it was necessary to find exactly where the monsters originated; to get them off Kyleís backside. Midnight warned him against staying overnight. Of course, Parker took his partnerís objection lightly, promising to be back home in a few hours.
That was several hours ago.
Something emotionally distressing happened, or as much as Midnight could tell through the link between he and Steve. Steve wouldnít say, even when Mid gently prodded. He knew, however, that Steve was struggling to cope with the pain in his shoulder. He probably should not have gone after all. Kyle really was in no condition to be doing much of anything, let alone travel.
And that was the other thing that Midnight mused over. The doctor wasnít himself, no matter what Steve insisted. Kyle wasnít an emotional sort, or at least from what Midnight knew of him. Of course, his interactions with Kyle usually occurred at Medbay during short, to-the-point information spurts and mostly whenever Steve was in trouble. Other than that, Mid heard more about Kyle than he cared to from Voodoo, usually in the form of complaints. But of late, Voodoo said very little. At first Midnight thought it was nice not to hear the air warrior mew like a churbinese cat in heat. But when Steve said Kyle complained of Voodooís shields, Mid became very concerned.
Midnight turned back to the meeting, listening to the ambassadorís endless droning.
". . . But if the negotiations continue on this route, I insist we move the conference from Cybertron to a more neutral setting. I will not be coerced on terms I know nothing of." The ambassador snorted. Midnight realized the Nagk was staring in his direction. He sat up, trying to pretend to be interested. "What about Doyínu?" He suggested. "Thereís nothing on there but rocks and gasses.
"Doyínu is a filthy place. I can hardly stand it here. We are a clean, unsoiled people, Sentinel."
Midnightís green visor turned to the two Autobot leaders. Optimus remained impassive. Roddy shrugged.
"Emright is nothing but rock." Midnight tried again. "All weíd have to do-"
"Emright is good enough a place." The ambassador purred. "It is far away, but a good place. You bring the tables." And he stood without excusing himself and left the room.
Midnight shook his head.
Rodimus turned to Prime. "Should we bring feather dusters with us, too?"
Prime smiled with his optics. "I donít use feather dusters." He said levelly. "Canned air is the thing-"
Rodimus laughed before Prime finished his sentence.
Mid appreciated the light moment but Steve called his attention and he stood. "I have to go." He announced. "Steve wants to talk."
The two Autobots turned to him politely. "Theyíve left for Chenobis already?" Rodimus asked.
"Yeah. Iíll tell you about it later." Midnight exited and the two Primes waited until the door closed.
Optimus turned to his Second. "Whatís going on?"
Roddy shrugged. "All Iíve gotten from Midnight at this point is ĎKyle and Voodoo!" And he crossed his arms, his features imitated Midnight in a bad mood.
Prime was inclined to laugh, but did not. "That explains everything."
Rodimus relaxed and smiled. "Yup."
Midnight made his way outside, staring from the balcony six stories down.
<<You gotta see this museum.>> Steve reported. <<Itís huge and creepy and this receptionist . . . she makes the Argons look like innocent bystandars.>>
<<How is Kyle doing?>> Midnight asked.
<<So far so good. Weíre waiting to talk to this Shindriks moron-it seems everyone here is rude.>>
Midnight nodded. <<When do you want me to pick you up?>>
Steve hesitated a moment or more. <<Give us enough time to find out what to do. Mmm . . . give us about eight more hours.>>
Midnightís visor flashed a moment and he frowned. <<Steve, no over-night stays. And donít argue with me about it. Even if you have to knock Scott->>
<< I know.>> Steve replied. <<Donít worry. If Kyle gives me trouble of any kind at any time, I have a tranquilizer handy.>>
Midnight softly laughed and stared outward. He sent his friend a warm feeling, surrounding Steve with affection.
Several hours later, Midnight sat at his desk pouring over order and request forms from several departments regarding the South Continent. Some areas were already underway as far as restoration was concerned, but for the most part, South Continent was far from habitable. Much of that was due to serious radiation leaks which resulted in poisoned air. It would most likely take centuries to rebuild South Continent. Time and expense seemed almost prohibitive at this point. Midís visaphone bleeped quietly. He frowned and laid the report on a stack of many others. He pressed the acceptance button.
"Yeah." He grunted.
"Hi." Skywolf greeted. "I think you should come to Medbay."
"Whatís wrong now?" Mid growled.
"Uhm, those alien representatives that were supposed to just visit for a while?"
"They may be here for a few days. Spellbinder is in for treatment. I told him Iíd not say anything."
Midnightís green visor flashed brightly. "Iím coming."
Midnight stood in the doorway, arms crossed while Chaos applied a fresh solvent to a slight injury over Voodooís shoulder joint. Spellbinder laid on a nearby flat, parts of his right arm twitched while a mechanical arm slowly put them back together.
"Whatís this?" Midnight asked in his authoritative voice. "Wolf says you two got into a fight with the Nagk."
"Not my fault." Voodoo muttered.
"Really?" Mid threw him a look of disbelief. He never knew a fight Voodoo was involved in that he didnít start.
"Heís telling the truth." Spellbinder defended. "V didnít throw the first punch."
"Miraculous." Mid snorted. "Then who did?"
"Phoenix." The two Sentinels chorused.
Midnightís glance jumped from one Sentinel to the other in silent skepticism. "You two just happened to be in the area when she picked a fight." He assumed.
"Well, no." Voodoo couldnít look him in the eye. "I picked the fight."
"But you just said Phoenix started the fight."
"Phoenix threw the first punch. I picked the fight."
Midnight approached the brashest member of his people. "And what did you do, Voodoo, to cause the fight?"
"Well, they werenít exactly the greatest-"
"Voodoo." Midnight interrupted. "Just answer the question."
"They said a lot of things that upset me."
Spellbinder groaned from his corner of the room-and not from the pain in his arm.
"Spell?" Mid called. "Wanna translate that?"
"Well, Voodoo was right. They were saying a lot of mean things. Voodoo just . . . said a lot of things back, thatís all."
"Thatís right." Voodoo agreed. "I had a right to defend my home, Alean or Cybertron. The Nagk might be a bunch of sterile-obsessed freaks, but that gives them no right-"
"What did you call them?" Midnight sharply interrupted.
" . . . Sterile-obsessed . . . freaks." Voodoo knew he was in trouble.
"Voodoo, these people, whatever they might be, are our guests and they should be-"
"I donít like to be called a grease-infested glop of excrement." Voodoo snarled. "I am a Transformer and I deserve as much respect as they."
Midnight secretly agreed. But the methods to which Voodoo resorted was not the answer. "Look, we are trying to be good neighbors-"
"How pathetic." Phoenixís voice filtered in from the doorway. All three mechs turned to her and she smiled leisurely. "Imagine, two perfectly good warriors beaten down by a group of fleshlings in nothing but exosuits."
"Things would have been just fine if you hadnít come along." Voodoo snarled.
"Ah-hu. What about that little right-flank surprise? You know, you might have gotten off easy with the first insult if you hadnít called them Ďsubcreaturesí, Voodoo."
The corners of Voodooís mouth tightened when Mid shot him a dirty look. He was really in for it, now that Midnight crossed his arms again.
"What ELSE did you call them, Voodoo?" Mid quietly asked.
Voodoo hesitated, wishing his leader hadnít asked. "Aft-kissers." He couldnít look Mid in the optics.
"Well . . . they didnít know what that meant." He answered crossly. "And when they called us a grease-infested glops of excrement, I got mad."
"So you insulted them first and they got back at you." Mid surmised.
"Yes. No!" Voodoo corrected himself.
"Which is it, Voodoo?"
"Yes or no?" Midnight growled. "Did you or did you not throw the first insults?"
Voodoo thought hard . . . "I donít remember."
"I came in after he called them Ďaft-kissers." Phoenix added.
Midnight threw his hands in the air. He swung and pointed at Spellbinder. "And how do you fit into all this?"
"I was just there on a break." Spellbinder answered innocently.
"So you got pulled into the fight." Mid assumed.
"Well . . . no."
Phoenix couldnít hold back her smile. "He punched the guy who tried to punch me-"
Midnight held his hands out defensively. "I-I donít want to hear anything more. Iím afraid if I ask too much more about this, I will be dragged before the Council and lynched. The three of you will be reassigned for the next two weeks to flushing the sewers at Strata-Mainframe."
"What?!" All three chorused.
Mid shook his head. "No, donít argue with me about this. If I were Optimus Prime, Iíd come up with a punishment far worse than that. But I like to think of myself as a good guy."
Skywolf appeared behind Phoenix. "There you are!" He declared. "What are you doing out of your room again? Phoenix, if I have to drag you back to your bed one more time, I will resort to restraints!"
Phoenix smirked. "Just trying to help V and Spellbinder save face."
"Well," the old Sentinel replied instantly, "itís not worth it."
"Thanks, Wolf." Voodoo grunted.
Skywolf passed Phoenix, aiming directly for Voodoo. "I have that compound. It should help."
Midnight watched as Skywolf administered a shot of reflux fluid into Voodooís systems. "Whatís that for?" He asked.
"Ordysimic link feedback." Skywolf answered simply.
"Headaches?" Midnight translated. "From the link?"
Voodoo frowned. "Kyleís kept a shield up for over twenty-four hours now. Heís mad at me, but I donít know what for."
"Does he actually seem angry, or are you assuming here?"
Voodoo stared at Midnight and thought it over a little more carefully. "No." He admitted. "Kyle doesnít seem angry. But the shields are up."
Midnight stepped closer to Voodoo. "Steve said Kyle was accusing you of the same thing."
Skywolf turned and glared parentally at Phoenix when she spoke: "You think somethingís wrong?" Her optics caught Wolfís stare and she held up her hands. "Iím going!" She answered his expression. And limped back to her own room.
Wolf turned back to Voodoo. "You can go." He said quietly. "But only if you promise no more fights, donít phase for about twelve hours and no lifting for a while."
"Okay." Voodoo slipped off the table.
"Hey!" Spellbinder called. "You gonna leave me here just like that?"
"Iíll send you a get-well card." Voodoo was hard-put to suppress a smile. Spellbinder groaned
Midnight followed Voodoo down the hall. They silently passed several personnel and a couple of Decepticons along the way. They entered the elevator, still saying nothing.
"Ground level." Voodoo requested and the elevator doors hissed shut. An awkward silence drifted between the two robots until Midnight found something to say:
"Howís Kyle doing?"
"Okay." Voodoo nodded.
"Thatís good." He struggled to find something else to say but it was hard. "So . . . heís adjusting well enough?"
Voodoo frowned. "No." His shoulder joints sank.
Another moment of silence and then Midnight decided to hold the elevator. He turned to the air warrior, his face stern. "Voodoo, I know this whole thing has been hard on you. I know that you would prefer to solve your own problems your own way. But I think you should know that you and Kyle arenít the only ones affected by this whole situation. Kyle takes care of everybodyís Interface partner, has done so since he himself was Interfaced, right?"
"The Tentchi." Voodooís voice scarcely whispered.
"What?" Mid didnít catch it.
"Steve called them ĎTentchi."
Midnight pressed his lip components together. "Thereís that word again." He waited a beat. "Voodoo, I want you to remember that I want to help. If thereís anything I can do or say or make happen, I want you to tell me. I want to help."
Voodoo stared at his commanding officer for a moment, considering Midnightís words carefully. He knew all he had to do was say something. He knew that. But Voodoo needed to feel he was in control of all his own problems at all times and going to someone else for help made him feel incompetent. His head raised then leveled again as his hidden optics glanced at the elevator roof, then returned to Midnight. "Wanna hear a confession?" He asked quietly.
Midnight focused silently on the other Sentinel, his face expressionless.
"Itíll sound really awful." Voodoo warned. "And I know youíll probably be horrified of it."
Now concern crossed the Sentinel leaderís features. He studied his companion and just listened.
"Part of me is unhappy about what happened to Kyle. He has such a hard time. Itís hard for him to say anything to anybody. He doesnít want anyone to be afraid for him." Voodoo paused a moment and sadness drifted over his frame. He frowned again. "Sometimes Iíll catch him crying and heíll try to cover it up. Itís all gone, he tells me. And I get upset because I canít really help him. Not really."
Midnight nodded sympathetically. "Steve tells me a lot of things. He feels Kyle will be okay, though, Voodoo. Kyle is strong-"
Voodoo shook his head. "Kyle is strong in many areas, Mid. His entire world is here at Medbay. He is a god here. But outside, heís a child trying to deal with a world that is just too overwhelming. But I fear what Iíve done might have only added to the damage."
Midnight remained silent, unsure where Voodoo was leading him. He waited.
Voodoo couldnít look at him now. He leaned against the far wall, his arms crossed. "You know that memory-transference thing they tried a while ago?"
"Yes." Mid answered carefully.
"Well . . . not all my memories transferred."
Midnight tried to make eye contact, but could not get Voodoo to return his gaze.
"See," Voodooís voice fell soft, "I knew what memories he has. I chose them. I . . . I wouldnít let a lot of things . . . just filter through." Voodoo shrugged in shame. "I couldnít do it, not with an opportunity like this."
Mid shook his head. "Iím sorry, Voodoo, I donít follow."
"The whole thing." Voodoo answered. "All of it. The amnesia. I thought . . ." He shrugged again and fell quiet.
"Voodoo?" He carefully called. "Itís okay."
Now the Sentinel gazed at him. "You remember when Scott was found out to be Firefallís Interface partner?"
"Do you remember how she didnít want him to phase with her?"
"I thought she was a bitch. I was so mad when Kyle told me what had happened-how that poor man suffered all those years because Firefall was thinking only of herself. I was mad, Midnight because I swear I didnít think anybody could be half as mean as me. How could anybody be that mean? Iím the only person thatís capable of being that mean!"
Midnight shook his head, still not sure what Voodoo was talking about.
"I was so upset about Kyleís amnesia, Mid! I thought it was going to ruin us both! I thought we were going to go back through the whole damned Acceptance stage like we did when me and Kyle first met. But I found later that I was blessed! I was blessed, Mid, with a second shot! A second chance to make things right! I took that chance, Mid. I-I was so mean! I almost killed him. I almost killed Kyle because I was angry at the Interface and when he wouldnít conform to my standards of acceptance, I hated him. I violated my responsibility as the Interface partner-the Dokiah. I was wrong! And I nearly paid for it with mine and Kyleís life. Nobody should be that mean, that cruel and insensitive. And at first, I was upset about the amnesia but then I realized that it was a gift, a way for me to start over. And Iím gonna do it. Iím going to take care of him. Iím going to be good to him. But then I turn right around and intentionally block certain memories from him, just so that he will never know, never remember the horrible pain, the anguish I put him through. Does that make me evil, Mid? Does that make me a monster? A thief?"
Midnight was blown away by this revelation. He remembered Skywolf and Thon Roque once mentioned how Kyle and Voodoo had such a rough start. They never went into detail other than to briefly mention the fighting. But . . . this? No wonder Voodoo kept mostly to himself when he had problems! Midnight smiled kindly, thinking of his relationship with Steve and how it was hard at first, but not to the degree Kyle and Voodoo suffered. Voodoo could be brutal.
Midnight was suddenly so grateful for his partnerís thoughtfulness-Steve was very forgiving. Then the Sentinel leader put himself in Voodooís position and wondered what he would do if Steve ended the same as Kyle. Midnight shook his head. "Not at all." he finally answered. "I donít think thereís anything mean about it, Voodoo. Youíre doing the very same thing I would have done for Steve: youíre protecting someone you love. How could that be evil?"
A sad smile crossed Voodooís face.
The Nagk ambassador and his aid met with the Council again. This time Megatron, head of the Cybertronian armed forces was present. His usual caustic tones ate into the Nagk, though Megatron said nothing accusatory. He wasnít buying their alibi anymore than Roddy or Optimus.
But the Nagk glared at him. "I find your tones rather uncomfortable, Megatron." The ambassador drained his glass of Ďtworí and set it firmly on the conference table.
Megatron smiled so that Rodimus shifted nervously in his seat. "Ambassador, the best result of this situation is that weíve been able to investigate both sides of the conflict." Megatronís smile broadened when the Nagkís large rounded eyes narrowed so that they almost protruded from his face.
Midnight watched wearily as Megatron signaled to a guard at the door. In the next moment, a large sheet of metal was brought in. A serial number shone plainly across its surface. Laser marks and dents bruised its silvery surface. Mid only glanced at the metal and realized the council meeting was about to turn into a trial. If the wreckage was a piece of a Nraíanou vessel or a ship heading toward the planet, and if the laser marks resulted from the same laser frequencies as those used by the Nagk, the ambassador would certainly have to take home some very bad news.
And at this point, Midnight could care less who was in trouble. His shoulder ached, and instantly he realized it was Steve that was in pain. Mid debated whether or not to throw up a shield, although Steve had already set one up as a precaution. The Sentinel leader probed the link, gently inquiring if everything was okay. But all he got from his partner was concern for the doctor and puzzlement. But Steve would not say what he was doing.
An hour passed. The meeting dragged as the Nagk invented excuses and lies concerning their attack on six supply shipments to and from Nraíanou. Megatron kept dashing them to pieces either with time tables or eye witness accounts or shrewd questions.
By about the ambassadorís third Ďstory,í Midnight jolted in his seat as a door resoundedly slammed shut. Others around him gave him a brief glance before turning back to the trial. But Mid shuddered inside. The thunderous sound resulted in a blockage in the link. Not just a shield, a blockage. He frantically called Steve, but crossed only deadly silence. Midnight inwardly gasped and searched and pressed against the blockage. Nothing. Nothing. He nearly panicked.
"I think we will take a break here." Optimus Prime sternly suggested when the Nagkís voice shrilled that he was innocent.
The room disbursed and Rodimus caught Midnight as he parted through the doorway. "Mid, whatís wrong?"
"I-the link. Somethingís wrong."
Roddy gave him a nod toward the exit. "Go ahead and take care of it. We can handle things from here."
"Are you sure?"
Rodimus nodded. "Megatron has everything under control. Weíll be fine."
Mid gripped his arms in silent gratitude and fled. He used the elevator to the next floor so he could take off from the balcony and about leapt out the moment the doors opened when a voice startled him.
"Hey! Watch it, you overgrown locomotive! Iím not an insect!"
"Oh! Shan!" Mid nearly lost his balance and caught himself by the elevator door frame. "Iím sorry!" He nearly laughed when she firmly set her hands on her hips. "You cut your hair again."
"Hello to you too! Whatís your hurry?"
"Oh." She blinked dark blue eyes. "Isnít he on Chenobis?"
"Yeah. Howíd you know?"
"Nick . . ." She smiled like a cat. "When he finally left the hospital. He was a bit moody, wouldnít tell me what was up until I threatened to tie him to the shower and run ice water down his backside."
Mid stared at her for a long moment. Andrea Shanygn had a strange sense of humor.
Then Shan narrowed her large eyes. "Wait a minute . . . youíre going to Chenobis, arenít you?"
At first, Mid was surprised at her guess. Then he felt a bit bashful from her tone of voice, feeling more like a school boy scrutinized by his teacher. "Yeah." He answered.
"And . . . Youíre going alone, arenít you?"
He thought about it, surprised that he would be so spontaneous. "Yeah." He confessed.
"Na-uh. Steve would skin you alive. Iím coming too."
Midnight tried not to smile. "To protect me?" He joked. His remark was met with a scowl. "Alright Shan. Iíll wait for you."
If Shanygn was anything, she was punctual. However, she didnít come alone. Voodoo transformed on the patio, lowering her first then contacted the floor.
"What are you doing here?" Midnight asked.
"Cominí with you." Voodoo answered, ignoring Midís sharp tone.
Mid gave him a stern look. "Youíre just recovering from a fight. I donít think itís a good idea to take you anywhere. You might loose your temper-"
Metal feet softly pounded the floor behind him and Mid turned to face Spellbinder. "Oh, I found you-hi, V. Mid, Kayla . . . I just talked with her and she was upset and-"
Mid looked confused. "Kayla was upset . . .?"
"Yeah and I talked with her and she said Steve and Kyle are trapped inside the spaceship and they were trying to get them-"
"Well, they were looking at some files and there were these tanks-"
"Spell." Mid gripped his shoulders. "Youíre confusing me. Stop it."
Spellbinder paused a moment and regathered his thoughts. He glanced from Midnight to Voodoo and Shan then back. "Youíre leaving? Can I come?"
Midnight mutely nodded and turned to Shan. "Need a ride?" He asked wearily. She climbed onto his hand and he leapt off the patio lip, transformed and shot away. Voodoo copied and Spellbinder followed.
Chenobian airspace zig-zagged with activity. Travelers and merchants came and left the only space station in an airless dance. The space station loomed over the planet like a guardian, its umbrella-shaped top flared out and rolled back toward its stem base, then flared out again like a flower with two heads, one standing atop the other. The very base of the station welcomed all sizes and shapes of spacecraft. Lights and signs flooded entryways and advertizement lined the walls while traffikers guided the ships in one at a time and air traffic controllers assigned them a parking space.
Midnight refused the assigned parking facility, explaining he and the other two Ďshipsí werenít vehicles. It took a moment for the controllers to realize they were talking to Transformers, not merchants from Zakogos IV. The Sentinels entered the main lobby, allowing Shan to go first. She softly groaned when her eyes took in the long line ahead of them. An argument broke out at the front line and the receptionist cursed the traveler in her own language. A couple of people sniggered, but Shan merely rolled her eyes and turned to Midnight.
"I hope this doesnít take long." She moaned.
"Me too." Mid concurred. "I still canít get a hold of Steve." He turned to Spellbinder who wordlessly shrugged. Mid didnít know if that meant he hadnít heard from Kayla or if things were okay. They moved forward a few steps more.
Two hours passed.
Two hours became three.
Three became four.
Finally it was their turn and Shan approached the desk, now fronted with a fresh male clerk. He stapled a series of papers together, folded a stick of chewing gum in his mouth, took a sip of water, tapped at his keyboard and finally gave his attention to Shan.
Shan wasnít in the mood to do anything less than kill someone.<<I can feel that clear over here.>> Rodimus echoed over the link. He smiled.
She reigned in her temper and decided sarcasm was the policy of the evening. "HI." She snarled sternly and loudly to retain his attention. "My FRIENDS AND I-" here she passed her hand toward the three Sentinels. "Would like PASSAGE to CHENOBIS to pick up some FRIENDS."
The clerk batted dark grey eyes at her. His light grey lips pressed into a fine line and he wordlessly tapped at the computer. Shan thought they just might get out of there and back to Cybertron in time for a descent nightís sleep.
"Iím sorry." He returned deadpan. "We donít normally allow passage to Chenobis without prior government approval. Youíre Transformers, am I right?"
"Yes." Midnight swiftly replied. "We have friends who might be in trouble."
"I see. Well, thereís no clearance. I have to get approval."
"How long will that take?" Voodoo crossed his arms.
"About three, maybe four hours. Do you know where you are going?"
Midnight thought hard for a moment. "Yes, the Amannad Museum." he did not want to mention the excavation site in case of political objections. Steve knew going to the archaeological dig might cause problems.
"Ohhh." The clerk moaned and frowned. "Thatís in Nore. Y-e-eea-aah. That area is usually off limits. Uhm . . . let me get a hold of someone and see what we can do. Meanwhile, youíre welcome to take a seat and rest a while."
Shan glanced back at her companions. "Look, our friends might be in terrible danger. They went down to investigate the death of a woman. A friend of ours, Doctor Scott, is . . . experiencing the same symptoms-"
"Iím sorry." The clerk interrupted. "I canít give you permission without clearance. Iíll be back in fifteen clicks with an answer." And he departed. Shan moaned and turned away, frustrated.
Midnight thought about gating down to Chenobis, but he could not carry all four Tentchi back with him. Besides, it would go against protocol. They could easily detect him on satellite and that might cause some kind of an uproar. Midnight did not want to cause trouble right now.
Shan took a seat near a picture window. "I guess we wait." She sighed.
Fifteen minutes. No clerk.
Half an hour. No clerk.
Two hours. No clerk.
Three hours. Shan fell asleep. She woke with a start when Spellbinder hissed inward and gripped his right arm.
"Whatís a matter?" Voodoo asked.
"I dunno." Spellbinderís face fell blank for a moment then he shook his head. "Itís Kayla. She said itís nothing serious.
Voodoo faced Mid who shook his head, resolute to do something. "We have got to get down there." He glanced out the picture window, staring far off into space then turned back. His fists clenched. "I still canít get anything from Steve. This silence is driving me crazy."
"Try it for a few days." Voodoo dared. "Youíll really go nuts."
Midnight suddenly understood Voodooís sullen mood. Part of him was cut off. All that was left was a cold empty spot. Better than Steve being dead, he thought miserably. Anything, anything but that!
Voodoo watched as Midnight kept glancing out the window then back at them both indecisive and frustrated-a black panther caught in a barillium cage. The Sentinel quailed slightly, wishing Mid would get away from the window! Midnightís form almost disappeared into it. His darkness swallowed by the outer blackness of space seemed to make him invisible. All Voodoo could see were the green visor over his face and the soft yellow veins on his arms and legs.
"You there, party of four?" A female called their attention and Shan jumped ahead of them, attending the desk in anticipation.
"Yes!" Her eyes widened.
"Uhm, Iím sorry, but youíll have to wait another twenty-eight hours before we can approve . . . you have no passport forms-"
Shan had to cut her off here, "Weíre not looking to stay. We just want permission to fly in and pick up some friends, nothing more."
The clerk shook her head. "Well, aliens of unknown stature arenít given immediate permission."
Now she lost her temper. Shan laid one hand on the counter and pointed a finger at the clerk. "Look, this whole thing started when someone on your world asked Doctor Kyle Scott to come and examine an unknown medical case. Doctor Scott was attacked and nearly lost his life. The least you people can do is help us to solve the problem. You havenít-"
"I am not going to stand here and listen to this. We will get back to you in twenty-eight hours and not before." And the clerk sternly turned and walked away. All eyes turned to Shan. She didnít care. This was a case of serious injustice. She sighed and bowed her head.
"You tried." Voodoo said softly. Midnight and Spellbinder stared at him, surprised by his kind words.
Shanygn stared at the floor and sighed in frustration. A mask of stout determination covered her face, but her eyes stabbed the floor in fury. She tried to shield Rodimus from it, but . . . shields leak. <<Sorry.>> she answered when Rodimus wordlessly expressed pain. She looked back at her companions. "Where there is a will, there is a way." She snarled. "And I have will. Even if I have to re-rig their entire damned computer system, we are getting down there."
Voodoo met her gaze, his face also stern. "I have an idea."
The lobby emptied as the long hours of planetary nightfall forced most of the staff home. There were a few workers, but most offices and private businesses were closed. Shan managed to attain a cup of coffee as they waited for the next clerk. But she soon dozed again. Midnight and Spellbinder sat on the floor against the window. Voodoo sat near the entrance, waiting in near anxiety for the next official to grace them with his presence. Voodoo inwardly swore he and Kyle were never coming back to Chenobis-even if he had to tie Kyle down to one of those hospital beds.
Oh he missed Kyle! Voodoo berated himself for not staying with his Tentchi . . . always, always, he told himself, always stay with Kyle! The fear of death hung over the Sentinel like a cloud. Or maybe not so much of death, as it was living without the Other Half of himself. Voodoo hugged himself tightly. He could not possibly live without Kyle. He would not live without Kyle. He did not know what he would do if Kyle left him. Voodoo shook his head. He wouldnít. He wonít live. He didnít have to live without Kyle. Even in death, they would still be together, wouldnít they? Wasnít death just a cessation of the body? Voodoo believed as much and he embraced that belief, he wouldnít just drift off into oblivion. The Sentinel calmed down. He would be with Kyle even after death. Kyle wasnít going to leave him. Not really.
Voodoo smiled humorlessly. He didnít believe in an ĎInterface Heavení per se, but he believed there was another place, a good place somehow reserved. And he would be there with Kyle . . . he would be there with Kyle.
Footsteps pattered in his audios and the Sentinel spotted a woman making her way to the customs station. He nudged Shanís arm, silently waking her. Then he approached the desk.
"Hi." He introduced. "Uhm, is there any word about us yet?"
The woman in short light grey hair glanced at him with dark grey eyes. "Youíre the Transformers case, arenít you?" She asked.
"Yes. Thatís us."
"Yeeeaaaah." She nearly sang. "Iím sorry, we wonít get any word for a while yet. Might not be for another day or two."
Voodoo wasnít interested in what she had to say. He knelt in front of her and the white and light blue patterns on his skin began to move up and down, back and forth, in and out and they caught the clerkís attention. Once her eyes were glued, Voodoo rearranged the patterns and the lines brightened and darkened from one end of the light spectrum to the other in such a manner that they tapped into the womanís subconscious.
"Whatís your real name?" Voodoo asked quietly, keeping his voice silky-smooth.
"Jessalyn . . ." she murmured, unable to tear her eyes off the comfortable patterns.
"Jessalyn . . . " Voodoo repeated, his voice soft, his concentration strictly on her. "Jessalyn, what are you doing today?"
"I work. And I tally numbers. Dumb stuff."
"Do you save lives, Jessalyn?"
"No. Iím just a clerk. A cluck."
Voodoo shook his head. "Youíre not a cluck." He objected. "Such a nice lady like you. Iím sure if you wanted to, youíd do anything to help someone else in need, now wouldnít you?"
"Sure I would." And she smiled.
"Well, Jessalyn, Iím in trouble. Could you help me?"
"Of course." And her smile broadened.
"Jessalyn, I have a friend here who needs to find her friends. Their lives are in terrible danger. Can you help her find them?"
"Oh yes. I can find anybody from here."
"Thatís great, Jessalyn!í Voodoo praised. "You must be really smart! And Iíll bet you can ease your way through channels too, Iíll bet youíre a real pro, arenít you, Jessalyn?"
"Oh, sure." The clerk answered smoothly. "I know the system like the nose on my face."
"Wow!" Voodoo praised without raising his voice. "Can you find alien visitors on your world?"
"Oh, yeah. Thatís not a problem."
"And what if someone wanted to get a message to them? Is there a way to do that?"
"What about emergency situations? Can you . . . work something out under emergency situations?"
She smirked. "Well, thereís red tape. But I can get through that. No big deal."
Voodoo nodded. "So, if someoneís life was in danger, what could you do?"
"Oh, just key in the words. You know, passwords."
Voodoo nodded. "But . . . they didnít give you those passwords, did they?" He dared.
"Oh, I have them. Itís just that . . . money, you know. They want to make sure someone pays . . . you know how things all work out."
"Of course! Youíre so right! Wow, I never thought of that." Voodoo struggled to keep his voice calm and level. He was infuriated the whole red-tape business was because the Chenobians wanted them to buy their way down!
"But, of course," He added "youíre not really interested in helping anybody, Iím sure of that."
"Oh no!" The lady objected. "No! Iím good at helping people! Iíd do anything to help someone else in need!"
Voodoo concentrated carefully. "I and my friend are in need, Jessalyn. See, we have a friend who might be dying, but I need to get down there to save him. Can you help us?"
"Of course." She purred and the clerk turned to her computer and tapped a series of keys. The computer emitted a series of soft sounds and a mechanical laugh then the printer kicked in and Jessalyn turned away for the moment.
Shan silently approached as Jessalyn tore the printout then handed it to Shan with a smile. Shan felt badly, knowing they had manipulated the lady into helping them. On the other hand, they were doing nothing worse than what the Chenobians were doing: profiting from their dilemma. She smiled at the ladyís vacant expression and walked off to let Voodoo finish his business.
Voodoo felt badly too, though not as deeply as Shan. "Jessalyn, Iím going to let you bow your head, count to twenty-five and you can go back about your business. You will feel good for the rest of the day-no matter what happens. You can feel good about your home, your family and your job-and you know youíll get a better position in a few months."
"Okay." She answered softly. The clerk bowed her head. "One . . . two . . . three . . ."
With the printout in hand, Shan submitted it through the customs gatekeeper who promptly okayed their departure to the planetís surface. Voodoo grumbled inwardly, finally appreciating all the paperwork Optimus Prime did-he handled everything when Voodoo and Kyle first came to Chenobis. All he and Kyle had to do was land and check in. Voodoo was going to make no more planetary surprise visits, thatís for sure.
The three Jets and Shan descended from the space station, aiming for the second largest landmass on Chenobis. They landed just outside Nore and Shan disembarked from Midnight. She took a cab from there and an hour and fifteen minutes later came back.
"The curator was a jerk." She grumped. "He wouldnít tell me a darned thing. But he gave me directions to the site."
"I thought you said he wouldnít tell you a darned thing." Midnight answered quietly.
"I told him if he didnít tell me something, heíd have to have a manhood replacement."
"Shan!" Midnight pretended to be surprised.
They followed the coordinates and Midnight anticipated finding the small island just the way Steve described it: a short thirty miles from the mainland and approximately a hundred and fifty miles west of Nore.
The rest of it, the basic flat structure, the three or four shelves dotting below the rest of the plateauís surface, didnít seem to fit Steveís description very well. Midnight transformed to robot mode, holding Shan in his hands while he gawked in silent shock.
Steve did not mention an immense spaceship, hidden partly by a weak cloaking device and partly by a transparent holographic projection. The dark ship seemed to waver slightly in the light, the cloaking device apparently was low on power. And while the holographic projection tried to hide the wings and tail thrusters, it failed to hide all the mounds of graves piled on the shipís topside. The ship was tilted downward, as if it had crashed hundreds of years ago. The land was slowly swallowing it, now crested with a small forest of trees and long thick grasses that covered the grave mounds. The graves themselves were networked with several other sloping, rolling hills, the difference being the hills didnít have decomposed matter intermixed with the soil.
The ship stretched between the mainland and the island (almost making the island, really) a good fifty miles across from wing tip to tip. Its body streched about twenty-five miles across and at least thirty miles from nose to aft. Midnight shuddered.
"Oh, Primus. Look at that." He whispered to Shan.
"Itís a very cozy little place, isntí it?" All Shan saw was the island and the ocean.
Midnight thought she was being sarcastic.
The three of them zoomed down where Spellbinder spotted the carcass of a huge dinosaur-like creature. He landed first and examined it. Kaylaís work, most of it. But the tail . . . why the heck did she cut the tail? Spellbinder shut off his ol factory sensors to spare him the agony of the creatureís stench.
Voodoo landed nearby and took a cursory glance at the broken trees and puddles of blood. "Looks like a fight." He commented without thinking.
"Really?" Shan answered sharply when Midnight lowered her to the ground.
Spellbinder frowned. "Nobodyís here. I think weíre a little late on this one, Mid."
"Agreed. Steve said the site was on a cliff-side shelf dropping from the rest of the plateau west. Come on." He walked three steps, transformed and shot off. Spellbinder offered Shan a ride and Voodoo followed after scanning the open planes. The place felt eerily silent.
Mid landed on the shelf first, finding the automobiles and the one turned over. The tents stood lonely against the stolid landscape. He switched his optic sensors to thermo-radio frequencies to pick up Cybertronian-influenced signatures.
"I got footprints." He announced to his companions as they landed nearby. "Guess this is the place."
"Gives me chills." Shan frowned and entered Rychalís tent. "Looks like someone was here, unless one of our guys decided to ransack the place looking for answers."
"That must be the tent Kayla was in." Spellbinder answered. He knelt outside it as Shan examined the interior. "She said she was looking for a map, but didnít go into detail."
Midnight frowned and made a note to himself to hold a staff meeting and establish a system of protocol procedures for situations like this. They needed to establish better communication habits than this!
"Thereís a body over here." Voodoo announced some yards away. The other two Sentinels joined him while Shan examined the car Steve and Jill previously plundered.
"Thatís disgusting." Spellbinder scowled and turned away.
Voodoo shrugged. "Just a half-eaten corps."
Midnight left them for the cave and examined its entrance. It was originally blocked with a steel gate and sealed by government officials. The gate and the seal were downed by a single shot. Obviously it was Steve who simply shot it open and led the others in.
Midnight frowned and shook his head. "Theyíre not here." He announced. "Iím not getting anything more than footprints reading three days old."
The other two stared at him in silent fear. Midnight didnít see their expressions until he tore his sensors from the cave. Then he realized what he had just said. Three days . . . "The kill?" He asked Spellbinder, meaning the dead beast.
"At least a day and a half old." The warrior replied.
"A day and a half?" Mid echoed. He glanced at the tracks lining the tunnelís entrance. "They must be . . ."
"On the other side of the island." Shan finished as she approached. She held up a map and it flittered in the early evening wind. "Iíd hate to tell you guys this, but I just found the remains of at least six other people all laid neatly under a mound of rocks about a good half a mile from here. And guys, Iím no doctor, but I could tell you no Humanoid could leave marks like the ones I saw-not with skin shredded like string cheese. And one of them had a map in his shirt pocket. According to this, or what he was sketching, there is a ravine on the other side of the island, but itís been marked as prohibited."
"Does the map say why?" Voodoo asked.
"Nope. The poor stiff never got the chance to finish his scribble."
Midnight tried to choose between going into the tunnel himself, or simply racing across the plateau and check out the ravine.
Spellbinder moaned and shook his head. "You know, I havenít been able to contact Kayla since last night." Do you think it might have something to do with whateverís underground?"
"Possibly . . ." Midnightís phrase trailed off when he realized it must be responsible for cutting him off from Steve.
"Whoa!" Voodoo ducked as something in the wind passed over him. It veered back to the ocean side and all three Transformers and Shan witnessed a stream of blood and water racing in the air like a comet.
"What is that?" Spellbinder gasped.
"One of the dog-beasts!" Voodoo answered. It swung back around and emitted a terrible roar. Midnight stared at it in wordless awe. He stood perfectly still even when it came right up to him and hovered right in his face. The water, barely visible, rippled until a face formed. The bloodied eyes directed nothing but hate at him and it opened it terrible maw, threatening to swallow Midnight whole.
Mid remained perfectly calm. "You canít . . . touch me." He answered an unspoken question. "Go back to your grave."
It roared again and shot straight up into the air and plunged back down then skidded along the ground, aiming right for Shan. Voodoo shattered the glass window of a nearby car and tossed it like a boomerang. The glass sliced right through the beast and it shrieked so that Shan clasped her ears and fell to the ground in pain. The thing shot back into the air, still screaming in agony and plunged into the ground.
Shan recalled her helmet from subspace and wept. Midnight carefully picked her up and turned to the other two. "I thought there was only one creature."
"Thereís two of them." Voodoo answered. "I saw two of them in the old station, fighting."
"Well, what are they doing on Chenobis when theyíre supposed to be on Cybertron? How are they traveling?
"Kyle thinks one of them travels with him at all times. I donít know about the other."
"Shan?" Mid asked softly. "Are you okay?"
"Yes." She firmly answered. "Iím okay." But she trembled in Midís hands. She suddenly realized darkness was falling rapidly and a chill had settled in her bones. Shan gathered her nerves under iron control.
"Letís checkout the ravine." Mid suggested. He walked off the edge of the cliff, transformed and bolted back over the plateau, his companions joined him a moment later as the sun fell to shadow.
<<Ran into an old friend.>> she answered Roddy. <<No big deal. Iím okay.>>
<<Will you be back soon?>>
Her terse answer made him smile. They raced over fifteen miles of long grasses and rolling hills. The land seemed rather odd for a plateau, really. Or at least thatís what Shan imagined the right term would be. The plateau was still a part of the mainland by a stretch of man-made networks breaching between it and the island. Then something dawned on her: "Mid, that network below us . . . it wasnít there this afternoon!"
"I know." The Sentinel answered.
"Whaddya mean you know?"
"I mean, there are other things Iíve seen I didnít want to discuss."
Shan shrugged her shoulders, having no idea what Mid was talking about.
"I suspect thereís a lot of nasty little tales not mentioned about this place-Oh Primus! Spellbinder, Voodoo, Iíve got life readings!
Midnight dipped straight into the ravine head first. His engines stirred a white fog spurting from the stone walls of the ravine. He transformed and landed just as he spotted two figures in the distance fall from an opening and hit the ground unconscious.