Warning: Contains graphic violence!
Author’s note: This story fits into *Devil’s Dance* after chapter two. Those not familiar with Birgit Stabler’s work can get a brief glimpse of her world in *Body and Soul. However, for those readers who have read Gryph’s work, but not mine, can still read this and follow along just fine. Comments, questions and smart remarks can be aimed at T.L. Arens at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Sentinels, including Shan, Voodoo, Kyle, Steve, Midnight, Kayla, Spellbinder, Matt and Dagger are characters of Birgit "Gryph" Stabler. Her website is http://home.nexgo.de/macx/tf/tf.html or there is a link on the Sausage Links page at Torq’s Cafe.
Transformers, including Optimus/Rodimus Prime, Megatron and Perceptor are all children of Hasbro (c)1986. The Xenomorphs from ‘Aliens’ are (c) 1986 20th Century Fox, directed by James Cameron. No money is being made off this project-that’s why it’s on the Internet, not being sold for profit.
"ONE BREATH, TWO"
"Doctor Scott to E-R 2. Doctor Scott to E-R 2. Stat."
Kyle abruptly abandoned his afternoon students to attend the emergency call. He jumped down three staircases and onto E-R Level Two. An older nurse with thinning hair joined him as he passed Reception Room Alpha.
"Thank you for your swift response, Doctor Scott. We’ve placed Mr. Frasier in 119."
Kyle flinched at the name and stared at Mr. Andersen. "Frasier?" he repeated.
"Yes, sir," answered the male nurse as they swiftly paced toward Matt’s room. "Several stab wounds. The worst is located in the pectoralis minor between right four and five, slightly puncturing the right lung. X-ray shows the blade tip is lodged in the apex pulmonis."
Kyle glanced over the digipad. As they walked on, his foot contacted a sticky spot on the floor. Kyle and Andersen stopped dead in their tracks and Kyle lifted his foot. A mucus-like substance stretched with his movements and Kyle’s sighed. What was the matter with maintenance? He produced a pair of gloves from his coat pocket and wiped the nasty stuff from his shoe. Then he punched an order on the pad and sent it through the hospital’s intranet, ordering maintenance to that area.
Without skipping a beat, Kyle continued toward Matt’s room. He paged back to Matt’s chart, reading exactly what Andersen said; Matt just escaped with his lung intact.
Matt snapped his blue eyes open as Kyle stepped in. "Thought you were one of those ‘operatives’ who come in to offer a sponge bath."
Kyle tried to think of a rebuttal, but nothing came to mind. "So, someone told me you were in a fight of sorts."
"Of sorts?" Frasier bore holes into Kyle with his eyes and tried to sit up. "A fight with Tracy does not constitute ‘sorts’, Doctor Scott. I was trying to have a level-headed conversation with my former wife and before I knew it, I was defending myself against a carving knife!" Frasier turned away and under his breath declared, "crazy bitch."
Kyle heard him but said nothing. He checked the dressings then proceeded to tell Matt the bad news: "Matt, you have a knife fragment lodged in your right lung. I’ll have to remove it immediately."
Matt rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Figures." He sulked, staring at the painting to his left. Kyle remained silent, guessing Frasier was communicating with Dagger. A minute later Matt turned back, his face a little less pensive. "Dagger says you’d better be good to me."
Kyle grunted and scribbled across the digipad. "Tell him I’m a doctor, not your fairy godmother. Did Dagger bring you in?"
"Yes. Does this mean I can sue my Ex for punitive damages?"
Kyle thought the idea rather funny, but kept his composure in case Matt took it wrong. "Well, I’d certainly do something legal about it, Matt."
As Kyle spoke, Kayla slipped in, snapping on a pair of gloves. She disconnected Matt from his IV and smiled lightly when he winked at her. "Colonel Frasier, I was just informed your Dokiah is a little out of control. Medbay would appreciate it if he would stop kicking the north side wall."
Matt gasped in mock surprise. "Dagger’s having a temper tantrum? My, he must be upset!" Kyle and Kayla stared at him. Frasier told himself they were tying not to smile. He watched as Kyle handed Kayla the digipad and silently withdrew.
Kayla studied the chart until she sensed Frasier’s emotional mood. Her large gold-speckled eyes pinned him. Matt smiled.
"He loves you, you know. He just doesn’t know it."
Kayla only answered with a smile.
Four hours later, Kyle greeted Matt as he woke groggy and disoriented. Frasier rubbed his eyes and found the simple movement painful. "How’d it go?"
"Just fine," Kyle beamed. "The wound was a clean cut and we found no foreign materials on or around the fragment. Oh, and Steve said to get well fast." Just as he finished his sentence, Kyle thought he heard something scrape along the floor in the hallway. He glanced, finding nothing but an old man scuttling against a walker. The nurse accompanying him glanced at Kyle, her face burdened.
Matt sighed loudly. "I guess there’ll be no golfing for me this weekend, huh?"
"Hmm? No, not this weekend, Matt. Next week, if you’re a good boy."
Matt gave a Cheshire grin as Kayla entered the room and proceeded to take his blood pressure. "How’s Steve, by the way?"
"Behaving himself." Kyle replied quickly.
"Oh yeah?" Matt’s grin widened. "That’s never a guarantee, Kyle." He laughed when Scott ordered him to hush.
Kyle took a break then handled six more patients before starting his paperwork. The old clock on the wall struck one a.m. before Doctor Scott decided he needed to go home. Voodoo grumbled about late night traffic around Central Command and how he hated playing crowd control specialist.
[[Could be worse.]] Kyle sent: [[You could be playing babysitter to a diplomat.]]
[[Well, that has its rewards now and again.]] Voodoo thought he’d let Kyle make his own assumptions.
[[The flying?]] Kyle couldn’t help but smile as he gathered digipads and books and straightened his desk.
[[Did I saying anything about flying?]]
[[Didn’t have to. I’m sure you like to pull a few stunts just to test their bladder control.]]
[[I said nothing of the sort.]] Voodoo snorted.
[[Didn’t have to.]]
[[You think that because I have to play babysitter that I harass diplomats by flying wildly?]]
[[I do not!]]
[[I’ll bet you do.]] Kyle smiled and placed three books on a shelf.
[[Oh! So now I’m Mr. Mischievous!]]
Kyle paused and slightly shook his head. [[I know how you love to harass ‘visitors’.]] Kyle cringed when Voodoo spat a few unmentionable words. An uncommon noise from the hallway diverted Kyle from the Sentinel’s profanities. He peered out his office door and glimpsed a huge spidery thing as it slipped round the corner down the hall. Kyle reached for a weapon and activated his comlink.
[[Kyle, what’s wrong?]] Voodoo sensed his Tentchi’s concern, dumped the argument and instantly diverted his course straight for Medbay.
[[Dunno. I saw something. Hold on.]] Doctor Scott set the weapon for stung. "Security, this is Doctor Scott, Level Four, Organics. I just spotted an animal."
Kyle turned the corner but saw nothing more than late night personnel. He crept forward, scanning left to right, holding his breath as Voodoo waited. Kyle passed one door, two, three, four and a wheelchair. He about gave up when something screeched behind. Kyle turned to face an oncoming attacker, skittering along the floor on eight legs. A long tail slithered behind it, ending in a broad, deadly club. It zeroed on Kyle as he shot it two and three times. He raised the gun’s power to no affect and finally had to bolt.
It chased him down the unusually quiet hallway until Scott ran into a nurse. Her tray of hypos spilt everywhere and Kyle tried to drag her with him.
"Excuse you! What the HELL is your problem?"
She never got her answer. The creature leapt and she crashed in a tumble of arachnid, legs and a muffled scream. The creature plastered its whole body about her face and locked its legs securely around her head.
Medbay security arrived as Kyle checked her pulse.
"Get her into an exam room, right now!" He ordered.
[[Kyle, Kyle, what’s wrong?]] Voodoo demanded.
[[A Xenomorph, Voodoo. You’d better inform Central. We have a problem.]]
Perceptor stood before the council table. Armed with a pointer, he struggled to use simple language so the others could understand what was about to happen to their home world. "It’s relatively harmless. The electromagnetic trajectory is approximately two hundred and fifty million kilometers long and four thousand kilometers abroad. We estimate the ribbon will pass through Cybertron approximately two hours from now. There may be loss of power for a few moments as its tri-polar molecular synapsis has chrono-magnetic properties. These properties might cause a cessation of movement even by organic life forms due to the subatomic shift of its inner and outer antimatter axis."
The council sat there, unmoved, their faces blank. Optimus shifted in his chair. "How long will it take the ribbon to pass through Cybertron, Perceptor?"
"Calculating its speed, the angel of its descent and considering the size of its magnetic field and the hyper activity of its tri-polar synapsis, we believe it will take approximately nine point nine three four thousand astro seconds.
"Ten minutes." Steve softly translated. Midnight smiled.
Rodimus frowned. "Are there any precautions we need to take, Perceptor? Should we turn the lights off and unplug the TV?"
Shan smirked next to him and folded her arms.
"Unfortunately, Rodimus Prime, we do not know how much damage, if any, the ribbon can cause. It is a mass of conflicting molecular impulses vibrating at the speed of light to the second power."
Megatron’s red optics narrowed. "How can you claim it’s impotency, Perceptor?"
The Autobot scientist reflected shame, unable to make optical contact with the Decepticon or Tornado sitting beside him. "I don’t really know if it is or not, Megatron. What I do know is the ribbon has passed through other planets without adversely affecting them. However, those planets it has previously intersected have only been organic-based worlds.
Shangyn asked another question but Steve did not hear it. Noise from Kyle over their empathic distracted him and he realized something was wrong. He turned to his Dokiah, breathless. "Mid!" he whispered. [[Something’s wrong at Medbay.]]
The very next minute a messenger emerged into the chamber and handed a tablet to Optimus Prime. Prime turned to Rodimus and Midnight. "Trouble at Medbay." He announced.
Roddy abandoned the room with Shan tapping at his heels. Megatron left immediately after Midnight and a second later, Steve phased with his Dokiah.
Knowing Rodimus would handle things, Prime turned to the scientist. "Continue, Perceptor."
Kyle ordered the victim into a pressure chamber where she was bathed head to toe in a blue oily substance. This cooled her body temperature and kept the parasite egg, now inserted in her body, from gestating.
Kyle worked quickly to remove the egg. He needed to spare the ‘face hugger’ for study. Using a soft sonic vibrator to distract the creature, Doctor Scott carefully opened the woman’s stomach and extracted the implant, still in its shell stage.
Security scoured the hospital from room to room, seeking acid trails and other possible victims. Kyle sternly ordered all unnecessary power to the Fourth Level cut and all part-time staff sent home. Of course, Gatchel, the chief medical officer of the Organics Division, would be infuriated that no one cleared orders through him.
Dr. Scott dropped the infant alien into a flask and closed his patient. The next part was going to be tricky. Face huggers live about twenty-four hours after laying the egg inside the host.
The sonic vibrator maintained a low-key frequency wave that resembled a soft playing electric guitar. Kyle studied the creature’s outer layers, trying to detect whether or not the creature was nervous. If so, it would be difficult to remove it. However, if the face hugger was relaxed, the task would be over in fifteen seconds.
But Kyle determined the face hugger was going to play hard ball. He turned to his tool tray and chose a vial of soft brown liquid. Ziptroquapramine was a potent muscle relaxer. He poured it over the creature with a measure of care, in case the ‘critter’ decided to get cranky.
Dr. Scott waited until the liquid started to drip from creature to floor before returning to his tray and choosing another vial of soft rose. Utramin deadened the nerves from the outside. Kyle figured he’d lull the creature into a sense of false security before numbing it to the world. It was like making someone dead-faced drunk.
The creature’s legs fell limp. Kyle gently unwrapped its tail from about the patient’s neck and lifted the whole creature off her face. Kayla came to him with a glass container reinforced with a force field and he laid the numbed animal inside. Kayla closed and locked the container.
The intense hour-long operation drained Kyle. He leaned against the wall outside the room and peeled his robe.
Kayla freed her hair from its bonds as she approached. "You did a wonderful job in there," she congratulated.
He gave her a grim smile. "This is not good, Kayla. One Xenomorph usually means there must be others around."
"I know. We’ve dealt with Xenomorphs before. I’m sure security will turn up something."
"Dr. Scott?" Both turned to a lab technician with a dark velvety face and broad black eyes. "Sir, I suggest you come observe this. It is a mite out of the ordinary."
Kayla and Kyle joined Mr. Chittles in Lab 4 after three security checks. They entered a three-door chamber passing the observation room. The chamber circled a two-hundred foot radius complete with every scanner imaginable. In the center stood an island table and command computer layout. The table contained trays of utensils and digital tablets and in the center sat the same glass container Kayla used to entrap the Xenomorph.
Except there was no Xenomorph in the transparent cage.
"What in the three hells . . ." Kyle didn’t know how to finish his sentence.
"That is why I brought you here, Doctor." Chittles answered deadpan. "I was scanning and abruptly it was not there anymore. I do not know what happened. I am afraid it might have escaped. You do not think it will go after another host elsewhere, do you?"
"No." Kyle circled the table, taking note that Kayla’s lock remained intact. "Face huggers contain only one egg. After that, they die. But I don’t see how it could have escaped. No one tampered with the force field, did they?"
"No sir. I have been the only one in the room and the cameras have been on the entire time."
Kayla closely scrutinized the container and realized how odd it looked; as if it were partly filled with water. Kyle asked other questions as she stared at the glass cell. She held it to the light. Right there, limp against the glass, lay the eight legged Xenomorph. "It’s still here."
"What?" Kyle and Chittles chorused.
"Right here, Kyle. It’s still here."
Kyle examined it and noticed the bending of light and reflection. "I’ll be damned." He muttered. "The damn thing has the ability to make itself look invisible."
Cold realization hit the two Tentchi simultaneously. If the Xenomorph could disappear from the scanners in a laboratory, how much more easily could other Xenomorphs hide from security scanners?
"Crayph." Kyle spat. He patched into the security line. "This is Doctor Kyle Scott. You must evacuate the hospital at once."
"What’s that, Doctor?"
"We have a serious problem. The Xenomorphs can hide from cameras. You must evacuate the hospital."
Kyle waited three beats for an answer before he and Kayla exchanged worried looks. Then the guy at the other end responded but his voice came only as a garbled, straggling sound. Kayla raced for the exit and Kyle followed her at a slower pace. "Lock yourself in here," he ordered. "I want you to dissect that thing and transmit everything you learn about it. Is that clear?"
Kyle and Kayla exited the room and headed back. The dim corridors glowed with the eerie red emergency lighting. The Tentchi were the only two souls traversing the hallway. Chills raced down Kyle’s back. He could not recall a time Medbay looked like this, even in Voodoo’s memory.
"Where is everyone?" Kyle asked quietly.
"Evacuating." Kayla answered.
Dr. Scott shook his head. "But there’s over two thousand people working and recovering on this level alone. Why the silence?"
The Tentchi stopped dead when they found several limp carcasses dragging themselves against the corridor walls toward them. The emergency red lighting added a sense of gruesomeness to the scene. One body dropped, forming a gross limp mass. Kayla gripped Kyle’s arm in abhorrence. Kyle swallowed hard and gripped his companion fiercely before darting back. They heard something softly claw the metal flooring with a tak-scratch-tak pounding almost noiselessly. They reached a conjunction and Kyle swiftly slammed his fist into an emergency breaker.
Light flickered in their faces as the field activated. Then the field snapped with impact. Their invisible stalker screeched in protest while the force field fed it several hundred volts of electricity. The resultant shock outlined the biped alien species. Finally its whip-like tail yanked the rest of the creature away from the field and it thunked to the ground. Kyle and Kayla dared a step or two closer and stared at the creature through the dimmed lighting as it lay visible before them. A dark mottled color painted its bony structure. Its huge egg-shaped head stretched back along its shoulders. It didn’t appear to have any eyes, but the poor light made it difficult to tell. Kyle took an extra moment to note the beast’s two mouths and a nasty whip tongue flickering out like a snake. Kyle could not recall Xenomorphs using tongues before. His eyes streamed back to the fallen body, now realizing the victim’s body actually had no bones to support its structure.
Kyle did not like the theory he was formulating.
The alien before them stood, taking a moment to regain its perfect balance before its dark exoskeleton disappeared. It hissed as its head faded from view.
The Tentchi turned to one another with blank looks until Kyle dared another glance toward their new zoo. The body was yanked and torn apart by the invisible xenomorph and Kyle was never more grateful he could not see anything clearly. "Let’s get out of here and get our exosuits."
Security and staff evacuated the hospital the best they could. But the task proved a nightmare. One level was evacuated then filled with patients and staff members from the next several levels.
Shan and Steve struggled through the crowd like salmon swimming against impossible currents. They kept tabs on one another through their exosuite’s interpersonal comlines until they managed into the entrance of Ground Level: Organics Wing.
Steve caught the arm of one security officer and pulled him aside. "You can’t come in here!" The officer shouted above the roaring crowd. "We’re evacuating the hospital!"
"I’m Captain Steve Parker. I’m looking for Dr. Scott. Has anyone seen him?" Steve scanned the room stuffed with nurses, doctors, specialists and patients. He heard Midnight’s warning that Megatron was about to arrive with reinforcements.
"We’ve heard nothing from the Fourth Floor, Captain Parker!"
Both men and Shan turned as three patients from the psych ward attacked their keepers. The nurses backed off as security came to the rescue and ‘dropped’ the rebels. The three alien females were immediately bound and drugged and Steve watched one nurse profusely apologized to a security officer when one of the females bit him.
Steve’s eyes darted to the ceiling then glanced back to Shan. "They’ve cut emergency power to the fourth floor," he shouted above the noise.
"How do you know that?"
"I just do. Come on. Let’s find Kyle."
Kyle and Kayla stared up at the ceiling two corridors from his office as the dim red lighting failed them. Screams echoed from afar but the Tentchi could not tell if they came in front or behind.
[[Oh Primus.]]Voodoo swore.
[[Voodoo, we’ve lost emergency power.]] Kyle reported.
[[Yes. I can see why.]]
[[Is anyone evacuating from your side of Medbay?]] Kyle turned to Kayla. "Voodoo’s just arrived." He and Kayla produced maglites from subspace pockets in their suits and zipped the lights up and down the hallway.
[[No, Kyle. Not one living thing will be crawling out of this.]]
Kyle froze over Voodoo’s mournful voice. "What?" He asked aloud. Kayla stared at him, but did not intervene.
Outside the Medbay Orgainic wing on one of several rooftops, Voodoo knelt before a massive web like structure. He found hundreds of people, medical staff and patients alike, all caught in its lattice structure. Their forms were flattened like smashed aluminum cans. Voodoo debated whether or not to project the picture to Kyle.
"How could they have done all this in so short a time?"
"Voodoo?" Kyle called. [[Voodoo, the emergency lighting has been cut off. Can you see what’s wrong?]]
[[I’ll check on it, Kyle. But I want you and Kayla to leave Level Four. NOW.]] Even as he spoke, Voodoo watched in horror as more of the wall before him phased out, replaced with more webbing and more bodies. "What the Pitt?"
Several hisses called his attention from behind and Voodoo spotted at least twenty full-grown xenomorphs creeping toward him. Their human-sized stature did not frighten him, but when they faded from view, Voodoo started to panic.
[[Kyle, Kyle, they just disappeared!]]
Kyle and Kayla entered the stairwell and found a small crowd silently descending its steps. The emergency lighting still worked here, but it made things hard to see. [[I know.]]
[[No, I mean . . . they phased in from nowhere.]]
[[Voodoo, xenomorphs are animals. They don’t phase.]]
[[Well, they didn’t phase. Not that I could see. But the nest certainly did.]]
"WHAT NEST?!" Kyle exclaimed.
He did not hear Voodoo’s reply. Several people fell over the rail and plunged to their deaths. Their bodies slammed on the next set of stairs, pushed over by some invisible enemy. The other evacuees screamed as they plowed and pressed one another. Medbay staff struggled to calm everyone down until four more people were gutted and two others literally lost their heads.
Kyle felt the soft sensation of phasing as Voodoo called to him. But the world around him stretched in a surrealistic entanglement of reality and possibility. Kyle turned to Kayla whose expression only mirrored his. The stairwell’s structure fuzzed and the crowd’s physical composition doubled momentarily then froze.
Kyle’s next breath was denied. He struggled to regain it, finding his own form frozen in some spacial disruption. Then it passed and he fell flat, finding nothing but emptiness, cold and absolute darkness. His breath came back to him, but reality did not.
Steve pressed through the crowd and clambered up the stairs, annoying everyone he banged into. Shan followed, dreading the long-ass climb.
[[Primus, you should see the number of people coming out of the campus!]] Mid reported.
[[Uh-huh. You should be here in the middle of it.]] Steve answered lightly.
[[No thanks. Megatron’s here. They’re transporting people away.]]
Steve gasped and reached through the pressing bodies to grab Dr. Gatchel as he trounced downstairs. "What level did you come from?"
"Three!" Gatchel shouted above the crowd. "The power’s been cut. All that’s up there is emergency lighting. What the HELL’S going on in my ward, Captain?! Who authorized emergency protocols?!"
Steve did not answer. He pushed against the stream of shoving bodies, more determined than ever to reach Level Four. [[Mid, ask Voodoo where’s Kyle.]]
[[He says Kyle is on Level Four but he can’t physically get to him right away.]]
[[Tell him to phase Kyle out, for god’s sake!]]
[[Steve, Voodoo says he found a nest-and part of it just phased in from nowhere.]]
Pinpricks of light touched his skin and Steve gulped air. He glanced down at Shan who waited for him to say something. "What’s wrong, Steve?" She asked.
Steve’s eyesight froze. His body refused to move and he heard Midnight calling, trying to phase him out. Parker took one breath and watched as people around him stopped moving, stopped screaming. Dead slow music wafted and Steve shuddered. The music wasn’t really music, but breath; the breath of creatures and things unseen by the eyes of others. Shadowy figures flitted before him in a dimension not named. The music vibrated through his soul and someone, something, whispered his name.
Impacting the floor knocked the wind from Kyle and jolted him to the bone. He forgot to breathe. Doctor Scott batted his eyes to life just before he fell down, down, down. He collided with another floor and his chest took the brunt of terrible weight, slamming onto him. Irresistibly strong, invisible hands pinned him to the ground. Kyle instinctively struggled but something like teeth snapped dangerously close to his head and for a second, Kyle felt hot breath. The smell of blood came with it.
Intense light flashed from the left and Kyle squinted. Something screamed above him and small metal feet stomped the floor. The weight left him the next minute and someone hauled him to his feet.
"Kayla?" he whispered. He was dragged to a nook between metal crates where they huddled. The Kshi’s face came into view; the maglite caressed her curling horns. Her wide golden-speckled eyes reflected fear.
"I was looking for Spellbinder when I heard that thing and traced your emotions to you."
Kyle laid a hand on his chest. He was about to ask where Spellbinder was when a THUNK landed behind them. He dared nothing more than grab Kayla’s hand and dashed into blind darkness. Kayla’s maglight zipped and snapped, glimpsing at an unfamiliar world. A long winding staircase came into view and Kyle decided to take it. All the while, they heard the slap-scrape of bone and claw against metal madly pursuing them.
They tramped up the stairs, their metal-shod feet beat each step with a clang, clap, clang. Kyle counted each step like a heart beat; one, three, five, nine. The stairs twisted, leading them further along until a jolt of emotion slammed into Kyle’s mind and he slipped. His body hit the metal stairs and he slid three steps down.
"Kyle!" Kayla tapped after and dragged him back to his feet. Kyle regained his balance just as they heard the THUNK, THUNK, SCREEEETCH! Of their attacker.
"Voodoo’s in trouble!" Kyle forgot all about their own danger and turned to go back.
"NOO!" Kayla grabbed his hand and yanked him up just as they heard a KA-THUNK! They raced forward, guessing the beast behind them leapt from stairwell to the wall, bounding closer to them.
The muscles along his shoulders and back tensed. The empathy between he and Steve caused his senses to heighten in light of their danger and Kyle backed off, pressing Kayla against the wall. Kyle produced the gun from subspace and fired three times. Light from the laser impact flashed red, revealing a four-armed xenomorph. The weapon shot enough power so as to throw the creature off balance and with a shriek, it plunged from the stair rail. A sickening crack followed and a moment later, a sizzling sounded from below. Kayla’s maglight revealed an ascending cloud of gas. Kyle produced his own maglite and peered two stories down. The creature that attacked them lay dead, its body fragmented from the fall.
Kyle abandoned the scene, racing downstairs to find Voodoo. Kayla took a last glance up the staircase and found it lead straight into a wall. She wrinkled her face in puzzlement, allowing Kyle to continue without her. She followed the last few steps and laid her hand on solid wall.
Why did the stairs lead to nothing? What was the purpose of building such a construction? What idiot would make such a thing? The Kshi shook her head and descended the stairs, trailing after Kyle.
[[Voodoo!]] Kyle called over the link between he and his Sentinel Dokiah.
[[Here . . . don’t come looking for me, Kyle. You can’t help me.]]
Voodoo sounded strained and Kyle couldn’t help but panic. He ignored the statues surrounding him until he came across a frozen Human female. She stood in mid motion; a layer of bluish-tinted ice covered her figure. Her face reflected nothing but the business at hand at the time she was frozen. Kyle stared at her, speechless. If she was standing here like this, then what of the other pillars he’d failed to notice?
He flashed the maglite upward.
Hard shadows appeared in all the wrong places, filling Kyle’s vision with blocks of colored steel. Shapes stacked upon one another formed a giant immobilized figure. It took Kyle a moment to realize he was staring at an Autobot. "Oh gods." Doctor Scott breathed.
Kyle pointed the maglite elsewhere, discovering the hall once buzzed with several robots and a few humanoids. All of them stood with the same creepy discolored ice hushing their lives in a moment of time.
Urgency panicked Kyle and he startled, dropping the maglite. Voodoo was in trouble. Kyle dashed off before remembering he needed the light to see. He ran back and swept up the maglite, moving in one fluid motion.
"Kyle!" Kayla called not far behind.
But he did not slow down for her. He ran down the vast towering hall, passing figures and strangely distorted walls. Kayla trailed quickly after. He stopped at a pair of automatic doors with no wall to the left. A sign from Medbay hung suspended with no strings or pole to hold it in the air. Actually, it was only half a sign. Room and hallway numbers were missing and the tri-lingual expressions were not there. Kyle touched the plaque.
Kayla caught up but gasped just before she joined Kyle. She fell, choking. Kyle swung about and swept up her fallen form. "Spellbinder!" She gasped, clutching Kyle’s form in terror. Then gradually she calmed and batted her eyes. Kyle gently caressed the left horn curving round her cheek. "He’s okay," she reported the next minute. "He was knocked off line for a moment."
A bad feeling hit Kyle; not about Voodoo, but something else disturbed him, a cold feeling that remained intangible, like a distant dream. He said nothing of it to Kayla, figuring she already picked up his concerns. Kyle stepped onto a balcony beyond the floating sign. Part of the balcony lay broken where a bridge once stretched. A banister blocked part of the ledge. Scott glanced behind them then back.
"Where on Cybertron are we?" he whispered. Part of the place resembled one building; office-like and flat. Other parts seemed to derive from other places on Cybertron built more for free-flying Transformers. The two fused together in an architect’s nightmare. Kyle peered over the balcony. A shaft expanded before them, reached up beyond eyesight and plummeted to unknown fathoms. It was down that Kyle found Voodoo dangling from a dangerously unstable ledge three stories below. "Voodoo!" Scott cried. Abandoning all common sense, he about jumped off the banister when a [[DON’T YOU DARE!]] shouted so loudly in his mind that he lost his balance and tumbled back to the floor. Kayla caught him and peered over the rim.
"Oh gods," she mourned. "Voodoo! Transform and fly out!"
"I can’t!" the jet replied, "I’m locked in transformation paralysis. Get Kyle and you out of here!"
Kyle jumped to his feet. "No! I’m phasing in-"
"NOOO!" Voodoo’s shout caused the delicate ledge to lean a little and a chunk of metal fell to the pit below. [[No, Kyle. Some kind of machine down here is damaged. It’s leaking poisoned gasses-just let me deal with it. Get Kayla out of here!]]
Kyle was about to argue that poisoned gasses would not affect him phased into Voodoo, or either Tentchi in their exosuites. But before Scott said another word, the familiar sounds of Spellbinder’s engines hummed through the air and the Sentinel dipped and transformed, catching Voodoo as the ledge crumbled under his hands. Kayla and Kyle made room as their companions landed. Voodoo knelt and Kyle laid his comparatively tiny hands on his Dokiah.
"What happened?" Doctor Scott asked firmly. "Why didn’t we phase? How did you end up here when I ended up elsewhere and how come you came later than me?"
"Hey, hey!" Voodoo snapped. "Whaddo I look like, a physics major?"
"No," Kyle retorted. "But you know more about Interfacing than I. I’m still trying to catch up."
Voodoo lowered his voice a little: "I don’t know anything."
[[That goes without saying.]] Kyle mentally grumped.
[[Keep it up, Doctor.]]
Kayla took another eyeful of their surroundings. "Have any of you seen Steve or Matt? We were in contact before this happened."
Spellbinder shrugged. "I just got here."
The cold intangible feeling pressed against Kyle’s mind again. His dark brown eyes searched the shaft beyond Voodoo. It was his empathic abilities that spoke softly to him of distress and an unspeakable terror. Not the xenomorphs, but something of greater power, more alien than he could imagine.
A searing pain shot through his right hand like a carving knife striking through flesh and bone. The pain shot up his arm, crippling Kyle, forcing him to his knees. He could not cry out. He heard Kayla and Voodoo call to him and he felt Voodoo try to phase with him for protection. But after that, Kyle only remembered the pain and the facelessness of an unnamed life form.
Steve opened his eyes and found himself trapped in a world within a world. How did he know that? His hands brushed dark metal. Was it really metal, though? Yes. It was metal because of its biting cold, steadfast surface. A soft blue light seeped between metal panels forming a long dim corridor. The corridor ran in the shape of a pentagon rather than a conventional four-wall design.
Parker stood and touched the wall nearby. As he did so, a robotic face pressed out, consisting of millions of tiny metal fragments. Its lip components parted and a "Ssshhhhh" sounded from its vocalizer. Then the face receded again, reforming the solid wall. Steve shuddered with surprise and backed away.
Captain Parker dared a few paces forward. And while his body moved those few paces, in his mind, his form stretched across millions of centuries. Steve stood perfectly still for a moment. This wasn’t a place at all. This was a dimension consisting of abstract things; of thoughts and dreams; of hopes and designs. This ‘place’ consisted of memories and will. It was raw power built of pure thought. For each step he took, he was actually traveling over compartments in a great, unfathomable mind.
"Ah! I knew I’d find you eventually."
The woman’s voice startled him and Parker suddenly found himself in a comfortable Earth-styled restaurant complete with alien customers and a four-armed waitress at the far end, tending a drooling Wookie. The female who spoke to him was clad in silky smooth silver. Part of her resembled a humanoid appearance, other parts of her, such as her legs and arms, resembled a more Transformer’s shape; the squarish style designed for combat.
She smiled in greeting as she set a silver tray on a floating counter top and removed a lacy apron. "I felt your life forces the moment you arrived, but I could not find you through the bleeding areas.
Steve clutched his heart. A grieving pang choked him, but he did not know why. "Where am I?" he whispered.
The waitress stared at him with silver eyes. She tilted her head as though not understanding his question. "You are not wholly here. Something has divided you in half. I will make it right."
"No!" Steve did not know why he was panicking; it was clear the female was sincere in her offer, but something else was very wrong.
A terrible groan uttered from the floor and the female’s face fell white, her eyes widened. "Oh, he’s hurting again! What am I to do? What am I to do?" The restaurant melted from all around Parker so that it was only he, the female and the dark metal panels creating the insubstantial world.
Maybe I’m trapped in a dream," he thought. Maybe I’m making all this up and the female is someone I met a long, long time ago.
She stared at him, her eyes now very human. "I am not female, Interface. I am as I was meant to be. I know what I will do: I will let him die and you will replace both of them. You will not be affected by the Dark Nothingness."
As though a god touched Parker’s mind with His finger, Steve suddenly realized where he was and with whom he spoke. Sudden panic took him again and he backed away. "No!" he cried.
"Let me make you my child!" the female insisted.
"No! I don’t belong here-neither me nor Midnight!"
"It doesn’t matter. Optimus is dying-"
"You are confusing me!" The female-the present form of the Matrix- stomped ‘her’ foot. "You are confusing me! Stop your confusion! Stop your confusion! Stop!"
Steve decided to run. But it didn’t matter how far or how fast he ran, he could feel the grieving presence everywhere until a whimper echoed from above. The whimper rose to a groan; the groan into a cry, the cry became a scream, the scream became a shriek and the shriek thundered through him and Steve watched in horror as his whole body shattered like glass, fragmenting into a million pieces, all of them flickering like crystal in sunlight. The pain in his soul became unimaginably horrific so that he could find nothing in his experience to compare it to.
The pain killed him.
He lost all sense of self consciousness. He was truly non-existent.
Something brought him back.
"I am Midnight."
"I am Steve."
"We are Midnight."
And he breathed in, finding his form dressed in black, floating in a sea of timelessness.
Yes, Parker decided, there was such a place.
"Why did we pass through the Gate in the Matrix?" he asked aloud.
"I do not know. Something caught us when we passed through. We were caught up in the hands of an Entity."
"Yes! That was it! And it confused us with something we really are not, didn’t it? Are we still there? Or did it kill us?"
"We are not dead. How can we be?"
Steve did not need to answer that. He reversed his concentration: Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
And he opened his eyes.
He waited a second. [[Mid?]] he waited another beat but still received no reply for another two seconds. Then pain like poisoned needles jabbed his skin all up and down his body. Steve hissed inward, his hands sprawled as though pulled apart by an invisible force. His body wreathed and squirmed along the floor as though he were on fire. Parker imagined himself bleeding from every pore and he tipped on the edge of unconsciousness. His pain-stricken mind sought to ride above his body, separating him from the terrible sensations. At one point, his tear-filled eyes opened and he beheld a black shape, thin as a piece of paper, flitting above him. It folded and several legs spread over him, stretching to lengths he could not see.
It spoke, but not to him. Then suddenly, Midnight’s shields shot up and the pain ‘clicked’ off.
[[MIDNIGHT!!!]] Steve remained where he lay, emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted.
[[Midnight?]] Where was Mid? Steve inwardly mourned for his partner and grieved that he could do nothing to save his love.
Distantly, he heard someone call his name, but Steve did not have the strength to answer. Someone hauled him to a sitting position but still, Parker could not respond except with tears. He felt the same person gather him up and carry him away. His shoulder ached terribly and he feared for Kyle.
* * *
Midnight tried to hold onto Steve when he felt his partner momentarily torn from him. Before he could react, Midnight shuddered from instant frost. The world faded like a dream. People and sounds fluctuated and blurred before they immobilized completely. Midnight turned a three-sixty, hoping to find someone as lost as he. But no one else moved. He stretched his senses, seeking other Sentinels around him but felt nothing.
The world shifted violently and Midnight fell, landing hard on his backside. Mid rolled and pulled himself to his knees, wondering if a quake hit. But there were no quakes on Cybertron.
The Sentinel remained still as his surroundings changed. There were no people, none of Megatron’s security forces, no evacuees or medical staff. Medbay’s parking lot was gone, replaced with tall structures. He recognized those as Human-sized personal quarters. To his left stood a fragment of Medbay, as though a corner of it were torn off like a piece of a painting. Part of a department store stood arched near that. And a little ways away, Midnight thought he spotted half a playground with half-built structures, cut off like the rest of this twisted reality. The still air pressed cold about him and Midnight spotted a fountain spraying water that did not fall as though Primus had hit the ‘pause’ button in this dimension. The Sentinel leader forced himself up and examined the multi-colored structure. Mirrors and steps reflected the darkness before them, echoing the same grey darkness that bathed the world in which he now stood.
There was no sky but an eerie light from nowhere gave him enough clues to determine he was no-place, no-time.
A breath, sweet as new snow, blew through him and pain dug under his skin. Midnight circled the immediate area twice, searching for the source of the pain.
"Steve!" He cried. "Steve, where are you?"
Steve said something more but Midnight did not hear him. Pain sliced into him from all sides, burying deep into his muscle cables and side panels. Pain raked his exostructure with invisible claws of acidic ice, eating at his sensitive spots. Mid crumpled, bending over as a billion tiny lances pierced his skin and ripped it to shreds. Midnight threw up shields to protect his friend. He fought the invisible enemy, struggled to shake it and forced himself to crawl forward. But it bit him relentlessly, forcing him to remain immobile. He glanced up and faced a shapeless white cloud. Midnight thought he saw optics in that cloud.
And it whispered his name.
[[Steve, Steve,]] he called. [[Something’s here . . . something . . .]] but Midnight did not finish it before agony forced him into unconsciousness.
* * *
Kyle felt Voodoo’s finger nudge his side and he moaned to wakefulness. Scott shuddered as the poisoned needles little by little lessened their impact. He heard Kayla call several times before he could mutter an answer: "Ssssteve . . .’s here." He wearily forced his eyes open and found himself facing his Dokiah as he lay in Voodoo’s hands.
"Don’t think . . . we’ll ever get shields . . . ‘tween us . . . Kay-la."
Voodoo lowered Kyle to her and the Kshi empath took Kyle’s right hand between hers. "Shields always take time, Kyle. I keep telling you that." She stared at him intently, hoping he’d meet her gaze eventually. But Kyle merely sighed and closed his eyes again, just appreciating her presence. He wearily removed his gloves after a moment just to make sure his hands weren’t bleeding. The white rune-scar on Kyle’s right hand glowed bright. Kayla took his hands between hers, gently rubbed her thumb over and kissed them.
Kyle greeted her black and gold eyes, "Midnight," he whispered. "I’m not entirely sure what it is."
Voodoo answered for him: "Matrix energy. It’s everywhere around here. Mid’s very susceptible to its power."
Kyle stared at Voodoo, perplexed. "But . . . I didn’t feel anything from you. I didn’t feel anything until Steve arrived."
"Duh! Hello, Dummy, I’m shielding you from me!"
Kyle closed his eyes and sighed. "We’ve got to find Mid, Kay-la . . . he’s-"
"Ohmigod! People!" The sudden voice caused Kayla’s light to shoot down the twisted darkened hall. A woman in tattered clothing stumbled toward them, half crying. Spellbinder approached her and offered his hand. She practically fell onto it and curled into a tight ball, weeping until Spell returned to Voodoo, Kayla and Kyle. He lowered his hand and the distraught woman unfolded her huddled form and sniffed, struggling to regain her composure. "My name is Vanatta Rawson. We’ve been looking for help . . . those invisible things . . . we can’t see them! And they’re killing everybody!" She could not stop crying.
Spellbinder stood to his full height and turned to Voodoo. "I’ll go with her. You stay here with them." and he nodded toward Kayla and Kyle."
Voodoo wordlessly nodded but Kyle was already pushing himself off the ground. "We shouldn’t separate," he insisted. "We don’t know where we are."
Kayla jumped to her feet as he stood and caught Scott as he stumbled. "Maybe Spell can go ahead of us. We’ll just be a few feet behind." she knew it would do no good to talk Kyle into just resting. Besides, it meant they weren’t trapped in this freaky place alone.
Spellbinder led the way as the woman sat in his hand, giving directions. Kyle and Kayla followed slowly and caught up as Kyle recovered from shock. Voodoo lagged, continually checking behind them for unwanted guests. The corridor wound this way, that way, with awkwardly twisted walls that swept up like great ocean waves, shooting straight down in sharp angles. Some areas of the corridor disappeared entirely, leaving only empty space, as though the walls were there, but invisible. Even when she shot her maglight upon the empty spaces, the darkness absorbed Kayla’s light.
"What kind of place is this?" she asked out loud. Her empathy told her nothing except there were life forms around her and some kind of ‘Living Breath’, if that made any sense.
The corridor coiled several more yards until the group detected distant sounds of fighting and screaming. Spellbinder eagerly pressed forward. Kyle, Kayla and Voodoo quickened their pace behind, losing sight of Spellbinder now and again. The walls forced them around several sharp turns before abruptly opening into a wide naked area, populated with patients and medical personnel from Medbay. Toward the back end Kyle spotted Shan fighting an invisible thing. Several gashes blackened the walls and smoke trailed up from pools of acid. Five bodies dotted the room like broken furniture. Two of the bloodied forms were tugged and torn by invisible teeth and claws.
Kayla called her helmet from subspace and without a word, dashed to Shan’s aid. The invisible creature struck out and hit Kayla. She hit the wall but bounced right back, shooting thin air. A shriek bellowed from a formless throat before Shan fell under her foe. She struggled under its weight as the invisible creature lost its life. Its body shed the transparency, revealing a freakish shape with four arms and two heads; one head stacked atop the other rather than rising from the shoulder line.
Shan rebounded and attacked another invisible monster feeding on a nurse’s body. It abandoned the body and swiped at Shan.
Voodoo turned to Kyle at that moment. "What frequency would you say these things live on, Kyle? Are they warm-blooded?"
At first Kyle didn’t understand Voodoo’s question, then realized why he was asking; he could tune his optics to infrared, thermo, ultraviolet, alpha polar or negative frequencies and see the xenomorph’s shapes.
But Xenomorphs were neither cold, nor warm-blooded creatures. It would be like trying to scan rock. "I think we can use negative vision. But it’d give us Tentchi one hell of a headache."
Voodoo nodded and adjusted his scanners accordingly. He rushed forward, causing other people to swim a path for him. He merely picked up the invisible creature and slapped it against the nearby wall. A gooey mess resulted, smearing the steel surface, sizzling its molecular structure as acidic blood ate away at it.
The remaining invisible fiend hissed and two other people lost their lives when its talons dug straight into their skulls as it fled. Voodoo waited until the morph cleared the collective before zapping it clean with his laser rifle.
Dr. Gatchel emerged from hiding among a group of wounded and sick patients. He pressed his way forward, his eyes snapping from one Tentchi-Dokiah to the next until his eyes pierced Kyle. But amazingly, Gatchel said nothing for the moment.
Shan called back her helm. "Nice of you guys to come visit us. I was wondering if Gatcel and I were stuck all alone playing babysitter to thirty or more people."
Kayla kept one eye on Gatchel and the other on the gathering group. "When did you all arrive? And is Rodimus Prime here?"
Kyle’s eyes caught sight of a familiar face: "Mr. Andersen?" he called. Indeed, the nurse from Medlab stood among the crowd. He nodded as he emerged between an older woman and a man with a baby in his arms.
"I don’t know when I came. I was descending the stairs behind Dr. Gatchel one moment and the next, I’m falling out of control through . . . space of some kind and I landed here with three other people; that woman with you, Vanatta Rawson there, and the elderly gentleman next to Miss Shan."
Shanygn glanced at the old man just behind her right shoulder. She drew a heavy sigh and lowered her head, her dark straight hair slid about her shoulders, curling under her chin. "I do not know where Rodimus is, nor do I know whether or not he crossed over with me. I remember he tried to phase me out when Steve said something to Midnight, but I know nothing more than that. We all landed here, amid four invisible freaks who attacked and killed about five people.
"That must have been when . . . Miss Vanatta Rawson came to us for aid," Spellbinder surmised.
Kyle took a swift glance about them, counting at least thirty heads minus the two dead people. The walls around them resembled a concoction between a three-dimension work in cubism and melted wax. A frozen Human dressed in an ancient EDC uniform stood dutifully behind Voodoo and an Autobot walked along the nearby wall, his paces frozen as his bowed head concentrated on a digipad in his hands. A third Autobot, a femme, stood not far from a winding staircase. "I suggest we get out of the open; search for supplies or other living souls. Steve and Midnight are here somewhere but I think our first duty is to get everyone to a safer location."
Gatchel’s face brightened. "An excellent idea, Doctor Scott! I’m sure you and your little friends are more than qualified to lead us to the right place." He flashed his teeth in a vicious grin.
Kyle suggested someone needed to explore ahead for the rest of the group. Most of the people were patients of Medbay other than the three nurses and a doctor besides Gatchel himself. Shan was tired but volunteered to scout with Voodoo.
Spellbinder, Kayla and Kyle organized the group against a corner wall and tried to make the best of the situation. Kyle used an antigrav light after Shan’s finally died down. If nothing else, they had light but Kyle felt they would be better without it; the morphs might not find them quite so easily. On the other hand, the creatures would most likely find them by smell.
The next few hours were spent tending those wounded by the last attack. Kyle found several anomalies among those present. Some patients and two of the nurses were missing clothing or worse, body parts. Fingers had mysteriously disappeared, toes were gone, and one person missed a whole arm. Strangely enough, no pain came with the absent extremities. Kyle’s only sound deduction was the crossing-over of dimensions caused extractions or mutations, just as he noticed in the xenomorph that Shan fought earlier.
Dim red lighting suddenly snapped on, radiating from no known source. It cast eerie shadows where the antigrav light did not touch. Kyle and Kayla startled and the group hushed in a single moment.
Finally Gatchel spoke first: "What the hell was that?"
The two Tentchi scanned their surroundings from exosuite equipment then Kyle glanced from Spellbinder to the C.M.O. "I think there’s someone else here."
Gatchel sighed irritably in answer as the old man stepped out in front. "Should not one or the t’other of you soldiers look around?"
"The old man’s right." Gatchel agreed sternly. "We’re all in danger here and we’re right in the open-"
"No one is going anywhere until Voodoo and Shanygn return." Kyle answered sternly. He attained stern eye contact with several people until the group melted into a disturbed silence and returned to their activities. Doctor Scott and Kayla exchanged private looks of relief. A revolt was the last thing they needed.
Kyle finally sat against the wall and tried to empathically search for Steve. But so far his mind only touched on empty darkness. Steve was either out of reach, or injured and unconscious. Kyle could do nothing for him. Scott frowned and figured it best to rest while they waited.
After a few moments, Spellbinder picked his way about the lobby, examining the frozen figure of the EDC officer. Her gutsy stature told him she was on urgent business the moment time froze her motionless. The emergency lighting cast dreadful shadows throughout the room. It was bad enough the Human female was poised like a demon-owned wax figure, but the Autobots resembled metallic gargoyles standing in some ancient, forbidden storage facility. Spellbinder shuddered and returned to the quiet group. He sat huddled, but watchful, and waited.
The world dripped with darkness. The darkness devoured life, light, hope. Kyle thought he was going to drown in it and he ran across the green valley, seeking either mountain or stone on which to stand above the rising tide of death. The soft grass slished and swooshed under his feet.
There! His heart was pierced with a black blade. Oh! How it pained! He fell to his knees, now a doll in the hands of a terrible Breath. It neared him, its face rested on his shoulder. Greater than Sentience. Greater than . . . nothing Kyle could think of . . . Unicron, maybe?
Maybe . . .
It licked him and Scott wept for the black blade burned from his back to his chest.
Then Rodimus rose from nowhere, gripping a steel chair and smashed the thing behind Kyle.
And Kyle woke with a start. Sweat moistened his face as his breath paced with his heart. Everything was light, casting shadows in a dark, deadly silent world. Next to him lay Kayla, sleeping off her own weariness. He was relatively safe for the moment. The other people slept restlessly. Scott shuddered from the awful dream. Was it just this place, or was there something more than he cared to think about?
Tapping feet resounded from the nearby corridor and Spellbinder and Kyle jumped to their feet, arms ready for whatever came to them. But it was Shan that met their targets. "Kyle! We found Rodimus!"
Kyle and Spellbinder followed Shan through the corridor from where she came. A room yawned before them containing Transformer-sized computer consoles, chairs and a large table standing aside. Nearby, an Alternate Perceptor, resided frozen just like all the other Autobots they’ve encountered. Kyle eyed the Autobot with respect and dismay. Perceptor might have given them what they so desperately needed: answers.
They found Rodimus holed up inside a wall in a huge lobby two corridors from the other antechamber. Voodoo stood dutifully by and turned when Spellbinder and the two Tentchi arrived.
"He’s conscious, but he can’t break free."
Kyle gulped air seeing the impossible before him. Rodimus’ form was as twisted and contorted as the wall in which he was trapped. His form was stretched back, his mandible pulled painfully forward. One leg protruded from the wall itself and one arm was held high and fast by the wall’s melted structure. The rest of him remained buried. Kyle cautiously approached the gruesome sight and dared scan the wall and its hapless captive. "He’s inside a pocket somehow." Kyle turned to Shan who’s blue face paled with worry. "If we’re careful, we might be able to get him out-Are you alright for the moment, Rodimus Prime?"
"Well . . . let’s just say that I feel sorry for pretzels." Roddy had difficulty speaking but he was able to move his left hand. Had the situation been any different, it might have been funny.
Kyle turned away and tried to think. He was not an engineer by any means. Neither was Shan, for that matter. But maybe someone among the group of people might have some experience in matters of this magnitude.
Kyle and Shan returned to the group and explained the situation at hand. At first, no one volunteered. Two boys, both the Human, Dillon Delahoussaye and his step brother, a Dryneseium Alderite, Shadrik, insisted on seeing Rodimus themselves. But Kyle felt it less than appropriate and denied them permission.
"Why not?" Gatchel chipped in. "After all, there’s nothing we can do for the Autobot. We might as well keep moving."
"We’re not leaving Rodimus like that!" Shan shouted a bit too loudly. "How would YOU like to REPLACE HIM?!"
Gatchel looked very ugly and pointed an angry finger at her. "You know, I’ve just about had enough from you, *biknau*. I’m trying to suggest a means for our survival, not whine every time one of us ends up left behind!"
She got in his face, her dark blue eyes sparked bright and dangerous. "Whine?" her voice became dangerously level. "Whine? You’re accusing me of whining? Lemme tell you, Mister-"
"Ahem," Kyle called, "I’m sorry, but the both of you will have to settle your differences at another time. Really."
The man with the baby stepped forward, child in arms. "Um, I might be able to help a little. I’m an engineer after a fashion. But I can’t make any promises."
That calmed Shan enough to remain civil. She crossed her arms, her face hard and cynical. "So what’s your name, Mac?"
"Kamrath Darwin." I worked in Below for about six years."
Shan turned to Kyle who nodded in agreement.
Kamrath examined Rodimus and asked a few tough questions regarding his dimensions then made several calculations based on Kyle’s and Voodoo’s scans. "I think it’s possible to free him by using laser fire that will, in effect, burst the bubble. But the marksman will have to be absolutely accurate."
"That would be me." Voodoo offered.
Kamrath marked the appropriate place with a pen borrowed from a nurse. He nodded, clearly nervous himself. He, Kyle and Shan backed against the opposite wall and Voodoo fired three short powerful bursts. The twisted metal wall crumbled like so much plaster and Rodimus spilt to the ground and lay there for a moment before declaring: "Ouch."
Shan heaved a sigh of relief and ran to him. "How did you get in there to begin with?"
"Dunno. Talent. Thank you, Kamrath, Voodoo."
Voodoo merely frowned and sent his weapon back into subspace. Kamrath smiled a welcome and started back to the group. Kyle approached Rodimus, produced a medical scanner and waved it in front of him. Rodimus sat up and cracked a couple of his joints back into shape. "Thanks, Doctor Scott, but I’m fine."
Kyle snapped his scanner shut and scrutinized the Autobot. "You might not have been, were you not Interfaced with Shanygn."
"How’s that, now?"
"I think I know how we got here in pairs; the Interface life force created between Tentchi and Dokiah acted like a life-support system, protecting both from apparent danger. I think that even had Voodoo fallen, he would have been protected by the field."
Roddy gave Shan a look of gratitude, but said nothing in answer. "So! Where is everyone? Shan tells me there were more than a couple of people."
Kyle nodded. "We’ve already had casualties, courtesy of the xenomorphs."
Rodimus held up his hands. "Okay, hold the phone there, Doc. What exactly are these things that invaded Medbay and how come they came with us?"
"Xenomorphs are a hostile life form from an unknown origin. It means that when they are around, no Humanoid life form is at the top of the food chain. As for how they invaded Medbay, I don’t have any idea-except I think I remember Voodoo said something about a nest." He turned to his Dokiah who nodded.
Rodimus nodded too then looked thoughtful. "Any parties you know who are missing?" He stood and winced, saying nothing about his apparent pain.
"Mid and Steve." Kyle immediately answered. He couldn’t look at anyone’s surprised expressions. Rodimus went on, suggesting a search party for Mid and Steve while Shan bounced her maglight down the corridor. The green of plant life greeted her light and as Voodoo and Rodimus formulated a detailed plan for the search, she quietly traversed the corridor toward the plant. Kyle noticed her walking slowly from them, "What do you see, Shanygn?"
"Not sure." She didn’t bother turning back to greet his perplexed gaze. He followed her and the two Transformers trailed him, now suddenly quiet. The dim hall opened into another large room where potted plants hung in the air without support. Rodimus gave them a look of bewilderment; like many other things they’ve seen here, the potted plants were cut in half; half a pot, half a plant, suspended on neither string or shelf. Shan and Kyle pressed onward in trepidation. Red emergency light shed warm fearful shadows upon lobby furniture such as couches and chairs of differing strengths and design patterns. They squatted within sunken rest areas as bulletin boards, maps and public phones completed the arranged areas. On an ordinary day, the seating arrangements were invitingly cheerful, displaying a variety of plants and stonework against which the furniture sat. But under the emergency lighting, the plants resembled alien insects and the steps leading to the sunken rest areas were hard to see. Voodoo turned to Kyle, "Okay, this place is starting to freak me out."
"Nonsense!" Shan smirked. "It just needs a little cheering up." She produced an antigrav light and tossed it over the rest area. The sphere of light chased off the darkness, revealing an even stranger setting. A case of railless stairs divided three lobby rest areas. The stairs, leading from a platform to the ceiling, rose about forty feet above them with a single platform in the middle acting as a small rest area. Several yards from the lobby stood half a park with a swing set frozen in motion. The image of an empty merry-go-round blurred as though it too were a three-dimensional representation of a photograph. A small slide lay on its side, knocked off its foundation and torn apart. Behind the park stood two walls and a door with a plaque declaring DR. HANSON written in bold gold letters.
Shan shook her head. "Wish I knew what to make of all this." She turned to Kyle then Rodimus. "This place is creepy, but it would be far more comfortable for everyone than the other place."
What none of them dared say was how unsafe the area felt. But then, no place was safe, no matter where they were, not in any corridor, not in any small room. Kyle stared at the floor, still searching Steve’s presence with no results. "If we are to look for Mid and Steve, this would be a far more comfortable place to remain. The wounded and sick would at least have a place to rest."
"Agreed." Roddy answered. "I think you, Kayla and Shan should stay here while Voodoo and I go searching."
"I’m coming too." Shan instantly countered.
Rodimus met her stern, determined gaze. "Those people will need you here; Kyle and Kayla will need you here." He watched with a saddened expression as she crossed her arms defiantly and scowled in reluctant agreement.
* * *
Rusti woke in darkness. Some thing hammered her head with the wrath of a demon. She forced herself to roll face-down then struggled off the cold floor with rubbery arms. The girl sat on her knees and checked her surroundings, finding a lifeless dark place. Part of her demanded sleep. The other part pressed her to find help for Optimus.
She turned, but in the dark, perceived nothing. Rusti crawled about on her hands and knees, searching this way, that, not at all sure where what was. She heard nothing except the soft muffled clink-clink of her exosuit under her clothes. She paused to think logically. The hallway was huge and she could be roving about in circles. Rusti turned to the direction she thought for sure she came and crawled in a straight line. A few moments drifted aimlessly before Rusti finally got frustrated. It was dark and the floor was cold. Still, Optimus was here, unconscious, most likely badly hurt. The girl bit her lip and refused to just give up and start crying.
She crawled about for several more minutes, wondering why she didn’t remember where she was in relation to his position before she passed out.
Dammit, where was he?
Maybe she was crawling down the wrong end of the hall. Maybe she was far, far away from him . . . stupid girl, use your head! Rusti paused, sat on her knees and stretched her senses for her beloved.
She decided to trust her senses and crawled forward and on the third move, her head contacted hard surface and she flinched. Her hands groped the metal before her and sure enough, it was Optimus. His body was warm-a good thing.
Blue light flashed and dimmed as his optics activated. "Russti . . ." His voice came so quiet.
"I’m here!" She crept closer and laid both hands on the rim of his chest. "Optimus, I have to get help."
"Don’t . . . leave me."
Rusti could not control her tears. She leaned against him as the skin on her chest split as though by invisible hands. She hissed inward and touched the breastplate, finding cold metal.
No, she wasn’t wounded. Nothing passed through her suit.
No, that wasn’t her bleeding from the sides. She wiped her face and ran her hand along the warm smooth metal just under Optimus’ right optic sensor. She kissed the helm next to his optic and wiped her cheek again. "I have to get help." Oh, her voice sounded so small, so weak. She wasn’t even sure he heard her.
He remained silent, his optics did not flare or dim. Rusti assumed he was in shock. Her nose burned and more tears fell. She sniffed and searched her pockets for a tissue.
She found a used one and wiped her nose. "We need help, Optimus." she squeaked. The girl turned away, her eyes finding nothing but a great abyss that was once the hallway leading to his office. She didn’t have a flashlight. Sometimes the really important things in life get overlooked in emergencies. She’d have to grope about like a mouse in a maze, running into people. Well, she has been here all her life, she really should know her way around. But the trouble was, how could she find anyone in this darkness?
Rusti took a couple of deep breaths and decided to just venture forward. She was bound to run into someone.
[[Emergency . . . emergency lights . . . Rusti.]] Prime’s voice came so soft, she nearly did not hear him.
Rusti’s heart broke. It seemed Optimus was not aware Fort Max had lost power entirely. Otherwise, Max would have already seen to it emergency power was on. "It’s all gone, Optimus. All out. I don’t know why."
Optimus remained quiet for a long moment and Rusti wondered if he were close to shut down. He was awfully tired, that she could tell. If only Rodimus were here!
[[To the right, Russss-ti,]] he weakly suggested.
"Right of what, Optimus?"
[[Right. Panel . . . triangle.]]
She wrinkled her brows, perplexed, before it dawned on her. She kissed him again and crawled right, reminding herself every step that the hall was not the same size as the hall in the school and it would take her time to get to the wall.
She hit the cold, steadfast wall and fumbled for a triangular panel.
No, not here.
No, not this way.
Come on! Where was it?!
Not on this side.
Nope, not here, either.
Damn thing! Where?
She stood and probed, finding herself traveling further and further down. She stopped and retraced her steps, fearful of drifting too far from Optimus. Her fingers crossed a diagonal line and she traced it until it ended abruptly and slanted down then moved across-the triangle! She pressed it and red emergency lighting shot on. The girl about yelped in excitement. She ran back to Prime and hugged him.
"We’re going to be okay," she assured him. She sought his optics for some sign of agreement, but Prime’s optics only dimmed. He was in terrible pain. Rusti tried to comfort him with another hug. Her hand caressed his audio sensor.
"Optimus, I have to get us help." She paused, "I have to get help."
He did not respond. Her heart ached. Leaving him was the last thing she wanted to do. But the girl forced herself anyway, returning once to give him a final hug. Rusti crept along the long foreboding hallway, her hands as cold as the metal around her. She glanced back once again toward Prime’s huddled shape. The red lighting cast a sorrowful red glow about his body, as though his metal skin were bathed in blood. She shuddered and pressed onward.
Minutes lagged into an hour unaccounted. The girl paused, exhausted. Her head throbbed and she finally sat next to a wall. She did not want to leave Optimus. She did not want to leave Optimus! No, this was necessary. He could die. The girl forced herself back to her feet and moved on.
The hall came to an abrupt halt, as though someone had used a vibroblade and sliced the metal clean through, revealing the ‘guts’ that made Fortress Maximus. In fact, the ‘slicing’ affected a whole wall to Rusti’s right, disclosing an entire section of Transformer inner workings. Most of it looked nothing like machines made on earth. She marveled at it for a long moment before taking a second to see what stood to her left.
And that surprised her more than the wall. A moving sidewalk trailed along some twenty feet from her. She faintly heard gears and rollers moving under it but thought it strange that this thing should work when not even regular light was operational-and what the hell was it doing here on Level Four of Central Command? Rusti cautiously approached the moving sidewalk and recognized it as the sidewalk used on Upper Level for space travelers docking on the space ports either toward the tower or the ambassador suits. But this sidewalk looked different from that of Upper Level. Even in the awkward glow of the emergency lighting, Rusti could tell this side walk was not really from Upper Level at all. When she lifted her eyes, she discovered something else that did not belong: a huge turbo shaft like that in some of her Grandfather Witwicky’s picture book from Cybertron. Rusti herself had never been to Cybertron, but she knew enough about it to recognize certain things.
The turbo shaft, too, was sliced clean by a vibroblade along the side. Closer to the moving sidewalk, Rusti struggled to make out a plaque: MEDBAY LEVEL 3: MECHANICS. Her brows squished in puzzlement, making her headache worse. There was no ‘Medbay’ with a ‘Level 3: Mechanics’, not in Fort Sonix, Fort Sagittarius and not on Cybertron; that she knew of, anyway. The mystery ate her up with curiosity, but she had neither time nor strength to investigate. Optimus’ situation was not going to wait. She kept moving some fifty feet before the red light cast shadows upon unusual shapes like that of a mechanical insect, or several of them.
"What in the name of Primus . . .?" She approached the ‘insects’ and her feet crunched on sand. She jumped back like a frightened cat and tried to see clearly through the harsh red glare. It gave her no further information and she resigned to removing her gloves and touched the ground.
Sand?! From what?
And the idea hit her.
No way! No friggin way! She came closer and found half a swing set, two seats frozen in mid-motion. Nearby stood a jungle gym standing ominously apart, waiting like an empty dungeon for new prisoners.
"Is somebody here?" she called. "Is there anybody here besides me?" Her voice seemed so loud it hurt her ears.
Only the dreadful quiet met her call. It was as though the red light swallowed her words. It gave her the ‘willies’.
Well, where should she go from here? The girl gazed right and spotted other unrecognizable shapes distorted by the red light. To her left, a wall rose, standing on its own unless there was something behind it. Behind her trailed the moving sidewalk. What caused Max to lose power and where did all this stuff come from? Was someone responsible for it all? Was this merely a walking dream?
Yeah, maybe that was it and the only way she’d wake up is to move forward. But if that were the case, then which way should she take? Rusti rolled her eyes as the idea of using ‘inny, minni, mighty-moe.’ But it seemed, for the moment, the only logical way to make a decision. She sighed, setting her left hand on a hip and swore she’d never, ever confess this to Rodimus: she pointed right first and swung back and forth as she said the verse:
And ‘day’ landed on her left. That was the way to go. Rusti wearily trudged across the sandy ground as she replaced her glove and rounded the wall. She stumbled once and caught herself, again realizing how tired she really was. No, no! Move on! Don’t stop! She got up and marched toward the wall.
She was right the first time; there was nothing behind it except more metal flooring. Nothing made sense! Rusti leaned heavily against it. She was too tired for this. Her chest and arms hurt, her head ached. She rested a moment and closed her eyes.
The girl sank to her knees and it felt good to sit down.
She let her legs straighten out from under her.
It was nice to sit more comfortably. She needed to rest. Sleep called her from far, far away.
Dark. Dark. Her heart fluttered then stopped all together.
Scratch. Ssssssk. Scratch. Tip-tak, tip-tak, tip-tak, tip-tak.
Rusti’s eyes shot open and she caught her breath.
What was that?
She feebly jostled her head. A stupid dream. What an idiot! She dozed off! Rusti forced herself to her feet. She staggered and caught herself when her feet tried to fail. Her body just didn’t want to cooperate. She waited a moment, catching her breath and taking several more deep breaths. Silly girl! Whatever was wrong, she needed to just get over it and get on! Slowly she felt strength returning to her legs, though the pain in her head regenerated with greater vigor. How annoying! But now her chest hurt too, as though someone were trying to crack her sternum. Chills coursed up and down her back and she resolutely ordered herself not to listen to her complaining body.
Walking forward, Rusti came to another hall on her right and a glass barrier to the left and nothing beyond that. Her face scrunched in both puzzlement and pain. She was in no mood for this. If it were a dream, it was stupid. If it were real . . . well, really, she hoped it was not real.
And what if this were someone’s idea of a mind game?
No, there was nothing quite that powerful; at least that she knew of. However, Rusti remembered a few stories her grandfather told her of the Quintessons. But could they really cook up something this complex? And if so, why would they make her sick?
Scratch. Tip-tak, tip-tak, tip-tak, tip-tak.
She spun around with a gasp but saw nothing. "Hello?" She called, "is somebody there?" She waited about three beats, "Hellooo? Anybody?" But again silence swallowed her words and Rusti did not feel comfortable enough to say anything else. If she were alone, then why did she feel as though she were being watched? If there was someone else there, why did they not answer her calls? Without thinking about it, the girl automatically turned left and trailed down a long doorless corridor. She did not consider questioning why there were no doors down the hall, nor was she well enough to question as to why there was no ceiling above her. She kept forward, her mind slowly folding into the growing darkness about her. Red emergency light shed from no definite source as though the light were omnipresent. Her thoughts returned to Optimus, her memory grew with thoughts of her feeble attempt to prevent a nightmare. Something attacked Optimus before the world changed. Was it the cause of this living nightmare?
And what of Freak?
Freak! She had nearly forgotten all about the imaginative figment that haunted her. The memory of it caused her chest to spaz in sharp pain and she gasped and slipped again. Her breath left her and no matter what she did, Rusti could not get her breath back. She wanted to scream and it too failed her. She squeezed her eyes shut and would have grasped the metal under her fingers, if she had that kind of strength.
Then her breath came back and she gasped, but it hurt like hell to breathe. Her eyes watered as though she wept and her nose ran.
Did she just have a heart attack? Was that how one felt? She sat on her knees and her breath came in another gasp as she heaved and began to sob. What was going on? Why was she having so much pain? Why was she so sick lately? It seemed she was always sick and everyone insisted it was all in her head, that she was a hypochondriac. Well, no. That wasn’t entirely true. People acknowledged she was sick, they just didn’t know with what. One doctor gave a wild guess, but even he wasn’t so sure.
Rusti threw her head back and took several deep breaths, insisting her body do exactly as she told it. This was not the time to whine like a baby. She forced herself up and allowed her hand to trail along the wall for added support.
Then the hall ‘broke’ off. Except for a door to her left, there was no more hallway. No, there was no wall to end the hall, there just wasn’t anything there at all.
"What the . . .?" Rusti dared a peek off the edge and found nothing but abysmal darkness. She stretched her hand and found nothing more than air. She shuddered and that was when she realized she now had a fever. Well, she could deal with a fever; it was better than a heart attack.
The door next to her caught her attention but the girl was indecisive at this point. If the hall came to such a sudden end, then what could the ONLY door in the hall provide? Was there a room there? Or would the door open to nothing? Would it open to a brick wall? Maybe the dream would show that the door was her means of waking and it would be Sunday and she and Optimus might be able to spend some time up on the roof in his garden. It was hard, however. He seemed so tired lately, as though he were neither resting nor recharging well. She went ahead and opened the door.
A long, long case of stairs trailed down, down, down from where she stood. It seemed endless in the bleak red lighting and Rusti’s hope failed. If she were the only person here and this was the only way to get help, it might be too late to help Optimus before he falls into stasis. She covered her face with her hand, grieving. But no tears came this time. She swallowed them, deciding that it was okay if Optimus fell into stasis. They could revive him easily enough. But she wondered if he would have the strength of will to come out of stasis.
No! She pressed her lips tightly and abandoned that line of thought. Optimus was a fighter, weak or not! He wasn’t going to leave her, he loved her, whether he ever said it or not. She took another deep breath, still finding breathing painful, and started down the stairs.
She trailed down the stairs until she slipped, fell and caught herself on the rail guard (thank Primus there WAS one!). The fall could have been very bad. She lay there, arms stretched above her, clutching the rail as her head raced in circles. Her sides ached and her breath came in gasps. After several moments, Rusti feebly pulled herself up a step and sat there, gathering her wits. It was hard to see and difficult to keep going without making a great deal of noise. She wasn’t sure if it was safe to call out or not. She did not feel safe at all. Just keep moving, she told herself. Just a little further. Someone is bound to be downstairs. Someone is always downstairs.
Scratch. Ssssssk. Scratch. Tip-tak, tip-tak, tip-tak, tip-tak.
"Hello?" she called, "Is someone there? Hello?"
Scratch. Scratch. Tip-tak, tip-tak.
She did not see anything. "If someone is there, this is not funny!"
No answer. Rusti prayed it was only her imagination. Her headache might be responsible for the hallucinations. She started to continue when a transparent shape wafted in the air in front of her, bending and stretching the fall of red light about her. The tall shape wreathed back and forth like a dancer. It reached at least seven or eight feet. She could not see it clearly because . . . because it was invisible?
It struck at her and Rusti caught her breath and ducked, slipping between what she thought were a set of powerful legs. The girl tumbled down seven steps, just missing its whipping tail by inches.
Tip-tak, tip-tak, tip-tak.
Where did it go? Where?
The girl’s heart raced and she decided she didn’t want to know. Rusti bounded down the steps as fast as she could. Her heart pounded so that she thought it would blow right out of her.
A snake-hiss touched her left ear. Rusti softly squealed and instinctively ducked. A WHAP-SNAP! Shot just behind her and she fell down three remaining steps before landing on a platform sitting in the middle of nowhere. She slammed her back to a wall and pointed a finger in the approximate location of the creature and three bursts of light shot from the suit.
The thing screeched and thwacked its tail wildly, smacking the wall then the rail before it lay still altogether. Its body appeared as blood dribbled and ate the floor.
Rusti’s eyes widened. Acidic blood? What kind of freakish thing was that and where did it come from? She side-stepped her way to the last case of stairs. Her heart sank when she realized she’d have to go down one more miserable staircase. Rusti’s throbbing head caused her legs to shake and she did not know how steady she’d be going down. The girl thought of sitting on the floor and scooting down one step at a time.
Before she touched the rail, a soft chank-chank hit the floor at the bottom of the stairs.
"No!" She wailed.
Scratch-tak, tak came from behind her and something breathed on her hair. She screamed and purposefully landed on her back then rolled as a thunk-chink hit the floor where she lay a second ago.
Chank, chank, chank, chank.
The invisible creature hissed and growled at the on-coming sound. A flash of light momentarily lit the stairs and Rusti covered her eyes as a whack-thwack-thump kissed the wall then the floor.
"It’s okay," a soft masculine voice came a moment later, "it’s dead."
Rusti lowered trembling hands from her face and scanned for the owner of the voice. Sure enough, a Humanoid figure stood before her. Emergency lighting lit his headpiece and shoulders, highlighting a metal suit of armor.
Perhaps it was childish, but Rusti could not help but to cry. "Help, help!" Her voice squeaked in her ears. Feebly, she tried to hide her eyes, praying someone would rescue her love, "Opt’mus. Opt’mus . . ."
Kyle gently lifted her upper body, cradling her head against his shoulder. Even in the dim lighting, Doctor Scott could tell the girl suffered from fever. He gathered the rest of her body in his arms and carried her down.