One Breath, Two

chapter 3

Predator’s Eye



Rusti plunged into lukewarm water. She sank slowly toward her death. Seconds stretched like years.

She tried to breathe; mistake Number One. Water filled her lungs.

She tried to open her eyes. Mistake Number Two. It wasn’t water, but Transformer blood.

She tried to cry out for help. Mistake Number Three.

Rusti fought to clear her mind as images drilled themselves into her. She tried to lift her hands to ward them off, to keep her mind to herself. But someone else’s memories forced themselves upon her.

Another . . . phased behind Rodimus and grabbed him round the neck. The other alien yanked Rodimus off his feet and jammed a vibro-spear straight into his chest.

Rusti came up for air . . . she lost wind with the impact of Rodimus' submersion. She slammed her head against a bulkhead, her back against a fallen railing.

Scream! Scream, dammit! It’ll be the last thing you do in life! Scream! And the girl gasped for breath, for some measure of air to fill her lungs. Her hands grasped nothing. She arched her back, pushing her way through the watery blood to taste the air cold on her face and she finally screamed.

Kyle rushed to the girl’s side and fumbled about his exosuit for something, anything to help her. Sweat soaked her skin and drenched her hair. She screamed as though tormented.

Kayla leapt over two chairs and rounded three people to get to Rusti. She searched the girl empathically for some part of the child’s mind that still reasoned. Rusti’s eyes shot wide open. She gulped air, coughed, and wept hard. Kayla embraced her tightly and rocked, trying to sooth her distress with soft words.

Gatchel approached the couch and leered at Kyle. "It’ll be a miracle if we survive without incident, the way that girl carries on."

Kyle eyed him sternly through dim lighting. He rescued the girl not more than two hours ago. Loud noises emanated from the stairwell just beyond the rest area, frightening everyone. Kyle and Shan investigated and Kyle caught the girl as she fled from an invisible enemy. She fought Scott, mistaking him for another pursuer. She screamed incoherently and shouted Optimus Prime’s name several times until she collapsed. Her attacker nearly knocked Kyle off his feet when Shan intervened and decimated it with a single clean shot.

Now it was a matter of getting Gatchel to calm down enough to forgive the girl’s delusional outbursts. "She’s ill and needs better care than what can be provided here."

Gatchel tossed his chin toward the ceiling. "Well, there’s a small inconvenience for your genius, Doctor Scott! Maybe one of your oversized tin-canned friends could graciously build you a nice little office complete with scanning equipment, exam table and a microwave for popcorn. Or! Or maybe they decided to ditch us entirely for something else to do . . . like calculate the meaning of life, love and the pursuit of happiness."

"That’s enough." Kyle warned.

"It is?" the C.M.O. dared. "Alright. Well, what do you plan to do about the rest of us, Doctor Scott? What can you do for that lady, Mrs. Strills that’s missing an arm? Or that alien, Beldoun Tor, that’s missing three fingers and some of her hair? Or what about all of Miss Shanygn’s little invisible pets? Do you think they’ve figured out by now that we’ve changed addresses?"

Shan punched Gatchel’s shoulder and in the dim light, Kyle could see her dark eyes narrow dangerously. "Why can’t you shut up? You’ve done nothing but whine like a starved puppy the minute we landed here. Is it really too much to ask you to just zip it?"

"As a matter of fact, it is." Gatchel glowered and rubbed his shoulder. "We have a food and water situation and here the three of you huddle about this . . . child while there are others who require attendance. He turned to leave then glanced back, "Tell me, Doctor Scott, isn’t there a place in hell for Little Blue Riding Hood?" He retreated before Shan blew up again.

"That bastard’s gonna end up MARRYING a xenomorph before the night is through." she spat.

Rusti gradually calmed in Kayla’s arms. She blinked against the darkness as her body shivered with fever. Rusti tried to guess where she was; maybe in another part of the EDC complex, a part she’d not been to before. Maybe she was in a different area of Fort Max altogether. That would not be so odd; Fort Max was huge. But these people were unfamiliar. The lady who tended her, Kayla, she heard the name, and Doctor Scott, wore armor unlike any she’d seen before. In fact, none of the people around her seemed familiar. Most of them wore hospital attire. The other doctor that argued with Scott wore a strange triangular emblem on the left arm of his white coat.

Rusti took another deep breath to bring her nerves under control. Voices came and left her mind and music . . . music?

Music? Where the hell was the music coming from? She opened her eyes and found Kayla momentarily gone. A small sphere no larger than an adult male’s fist floated in the air and cascaded light upon their limited world. In the area of its direct influence, the light brought out brilliant surrealistic colors as though from a crazy computer program. In other areas, where the brightness faded, the red emergency lighting took precedence and washed that part of the world in blood. Rusti rolled to her right, away from the back of the couch. She and many other people resided in the rest area in what was the reception lobby of Fort Max’s Central Command. Rusti recognized the plants and the four couches and six cushioned chairs. There were three tables burdened with magazines and a small cabinet offering coffee or water. Most resting places were already occupied by several people. In the background Rusti picked out various sounds of coughing, someone complaining of pain and a fussing baby.

Who were these people and why were they here?

Rusti did not hear Doctor Scott approach her. She wondered how the suit managed to move so quietly, even over metal flooring. "How are you doing?" He asked softly.

She stared at him, considering her own physical condition. "Okay, I guess." she answered quietly. "Where are we? What is this place?"

"We don’t know." Scott answered in the same soft voice. "We hoped you might tell us. You’re the only person we’ve encountered from your dimension who isn’t frozen." She did not know what to say to that. Everyone was frozen? What kind of cold touched them? Why wasn’t she affected? She read a kind smile from the doctor’s face. He seemed fairly young for a doctor, maybe somewhere in his forties. "What’s your name, hon?"

She liked it when he called her that. "Rusti." she whispered.

"Rusti, can you tell me what happened, what was the last thing you remembered before everything changed around you?"

In the back of her mind, a shape emerged from the darkest of the Dark. No, it was not Freak, for its face beheld the world without eyes. Freak had at least something that resembled an eye.

"I was doing homework."


"Yeah. I’m in high school."

"And what happened after that?"

Rusti tried to recall but images of the eyeless thing filtered through her mind. The girl could not tell if she were imagining its presence, or if it were naught more than her imagination, playing with the light and shadows of their shelter. She imagined the creature or thing slithering along the walls. Its body stretched to unrealistic lengths.

Kyle watched as her confused expression shifted to uneasiness. "What is it?" he asked.

"Shadows in the dark." Her voice barely reached above a whisper. "Desire without substance. But I don’t know what it is. Something is here."

In spite of his doubt, Kyle stood and scanned the room with his eyes. Nothing. He returned to her. "What are you sensing?"

She shuddered. There were too many signals confusing her. Pain lanced through someone’s body as though a million tiny spears stabbed her skin. Cold lay at the edges of walls so that even the walls betrayed them; there was no place safe. A Something hunted, but It could not decide which road to take first. An insatiable anger, longing for release, tumbled over and over in someone else’s soul.

Rusti merely covered her face with her hands. Something tugged at the back of her mind but she could not figure out what was wrong. She was forgetting something. And the girl knew the second she’d remember, she’d spring to life. But now her head throbbed again and beckoned her to sleep if that was possible. Her chest ached with a dull pain and Rusti remembered the heart attack she had (or thought she had).

Then sadness tugged her soul; "There are no little girls on Cybertron, Doctor Scott. Did you know that? No sunshine, no trees. Just metal, cold air and darkness. No wonder Optimus stayed on Earth. Now I think I understand why. So many people ask him that question but the answer belongs to him and he won’t tell them because they think Cybertron is a wonderful place; only because it’s so different. It’s so sad."

A scraping sound touched Kyle’s ears and his scanners jumped to life.

"Movement!" Shan exclaimed over their comline. He answered her with a silent spring of motion and scanned the room.

Rusti wanted to crawl away and hide. But pain in her chest expanded to her shoulders and forced her to remain still.

Kyle rotated in a slow, steady circle, giving his scanners all the time they needed. But whatever was among them had already fallen still. "What was that?" he asked Roddy’s Interface.

"Beats me. But it looked pretty big."

"How big?"

"Don’t know. Ten, maybe fifteen feet long."

Kyle almost couldn’t repeat it: "Long?"


Doctor Scott’s scanners showed Spellbinder searched for movement. He registered the Sentinel’s slow moving form, then three survivors arguing quietly among themselves as they sat in the sand at the ‘half-park.’ He found Shan at the far side of the room, sweeping the walls with a maglite. Kamrath and a nurse tended his baby. There was the floating staircase from where he rescued Rusti. Just a few yards from it, the dead xenomorph lay against the western side of the room, its acidic blood slowly sizzled the carpeted floor. Gatchel and another survivor quietly conversed as the C.M.O. rewrapped the patient’s wound. But the scanners picked up no other movement.

Kyle frowned. "Kayla," he called softly. He pressed his lips in a wry smile when she locked eyes with him. "I’m going to walk the area. She silently nodded and he departed.

Their so-called sanctuary was fairly large, if it were a room at all. From the southern end, the metallic walls stood steadfast, dim, glaring back the red emergency light that shed from no visible source. Not far from the corner of the western side lay a lightless void. Something inside Kyle warned him not to venture the dark area; not to touch it. He examined the space but the equipment registered nothing; no substance, no mass, not so much as temperature. Puzzled, Kyle searched his suit for something to throw into the void. He found an ink pen and tossed it. At first the pen simply floated there in mid air, as if it were stuck or maybe an invisible hand caught it and taunted Kyle’s fears. Then the pen scrunched in on itself, imploding.

Kyle blinked and slowly backed away. The sight unnerved him. Scott traveled along the eastern side of the room, crossing the open doorway leading to the corridor where Rodimus had been caught in the wall not far from where he stood. He paid no attention to the planets, or rather, half-plants,

"Kyle, what are you doing?" Shan’s sudden call nearly caused the doctor to jump out of his skin.

"Looking around. Why?" He knew he came over a little defensive. But that would not bother Shan. She was the queen of defensiveness. Shan gave him an answer, but he did not hear it. The metal paneling to Kyle’s right caught his attention and he passed the mouth of the hallway. Here is seemed the walls reflected the whole room like a mirror, though it didn’t seem photonically possible. That is, there wasn’t enough light for them to be that reflective. He stared at his own faded reflection and wondered why the walls would behave so oddly.

"Kyle, are you paying attention to me?" Shan’s voice was not as sharp as it could be. She wasn’t irritated so much as concerned.

"Yes, Shan. I heard you." Again she said something, but her voice faded as though in a dream. Kyle flinched when he watched his reflection peel off its gloves and palm the wall as though it were glass and he were trying to get through. Kyle backed away, freaked. He swung around to see if there was anyone behind him playing tricks. But everyone else remained in or around the rest area under the relative safety of the antigrav light. Scott dared another glance back at the wall and found his reflection naught but a silhouette.

He returned to Kayla and Rusti.

"What’s wrong?" Kayla whispered.

Kyle’s dark brown eyes drifted from his friend to Rusti and shook his head, uneasy. At the moment, he really had no words for what he had just seen. Kyle knelt and scanned the girl’s vitals as though searching for a sense of normalcy or assurance that what he saw in the wall was naught but his mind playing tricks in the dark.

Rusti’s heart raced. Her temperature stood at 101 and her brain readouts were over-active. There was something else Kyle had not seen in a long, long time; a double frequency reading with missing properties. That was to say scanners picked up life wave-patterns uncommon to Humans. And Human she was, but somehow something less. Kyle met Kayla’s glittering golden eyes: "She’s missing the gamma-wave life force, Kayla."

She batted her eyes in disbelief. "She should not even be alive!"

Kyle did not have an answer. His eyes drifted past the blouse Rusti wore to the strange exosuit underneath. He wondered what properties it possessed that might have confused his scanners. Maybe it was the reason she was not locked in time/space like others of her home dimension. Then his eyes caught sight of her naked hands and discovered her finger nails tinted soft blue. It wasn’t nail polish; not when the skin beneath also shined with a light blue.

The girl woke and moaned softly. Kyle sensed she was in pain and secretly prepared a hypo. "What did you say your name was, hon?"

Rusti gazed at him with glassy, dilated eyes. "Rusti Witwicky."

"Witwicky?" Kyle repeated. "As in Spike Witwicky? Are you his daughter?"

She slowly shook her head. Her heavy eyes were not going to permit her to stay awake much longer. Her pounding head nagged her. She had forgotten something, but still Rusti could not remember. "He’s my grandfather."

Kyle almost couldn’t ask: "Daniel . . . Witwicky?" She wearily nodded. "Rusti, I’m going to give you something for the pain, alright? I think you’re in shock and this might help."

"Sh-shock?" Rusti repeated. Kyle smiled warmly and moved to touch her neck with the hypo when the girl weakly parried. "Wait a minute . . ." her eyes narrowed:

"I SUSPECT THE SHOCK OF IT WOULD BE TOO GREAT TO BEAR AND THE MATRIX IS STRUGGLING TO KEEP IT FROM ME." It was something Optimus said. She could not recall when he said it, but the words disturbed her. Something about insanity . . . a chill ran down Rusti’s spine and her skin tingled with pain.

And the walls crawled once more.

"What’s wrong?" Kyle intended to give her the shot. She was very sick and he already guessed what it was, but he needed to test her to be certain.

"The walls are moving again." she whispered.

But no one’s scanners indicated as such. Still, Kyle was not willing to take any risks. He turned a 360 but found nothing. There was, however, a new ‘black pocket’ he had not noticed, edging along the northern wall, close to the playground. "Well," he sighed, "there is a shadow or darkness to the north. I’m not sure what it really is . . ."

He said something more, but Rusti did not hear him:

"IT’S A SHADOW IN THE DARKNESS. THE MATRIX IS HIDING IT FROM ME." There was fear in Optimus’ voice, but it was discernable only to those who knew him better than the average Autobot.

The memory of a paper-thin alien in an elevator seeped back into her mind and Rusti’s blood ran cold. Her breath would not come. She’d forgotten all about Optimus! How selfish could she be to forget that her friend was in pain and in danger and waiting for her to return!

Before Kayla and Kyle could hold her down, the girl sprang and dashed across the room, rounding three and four people. "Rusti!" he cried after her.

She clambered up the floating stairs as Shan and two nurses gave chase. Kyle pressed through the crowd when Rusti screamed. "Don’t hurt her!" he ordered.

One of the nurses caught and ‘dropped’ and swiftly pinned Rusti to the floor. She winced as Rusti shrieked. "Control yourself!" the nurse bellowed.

"LET GO OF ME! OPTIMUS IS SICK AND I WON’T LET HIM DIE! I WON’T LET HIM DIE!" The girl squirmed under the nurse’s slightly overweight body and when the lady reached to trip her again, Rusti kicked her in the face. She shoved the nurse with such strength, it surprised Kyle. He and Shan raced after as Rusti scrambled up the stairwell, not reaching more than eight steps before she lost her footing, slipped, and pushed herself up again. But she fell once more and made a third attempt before Kyle caught up with her and shot her with the hypo.

She weakly slapped his chest and wept. "Optimus is in trouble, you bastard! Let me get to him! Let me get to him!" Her adrenaline dissipated and Rusti wilted in Kyle’s arms, a bundle of nerves, exhaustion and tears.

Three steps down, Shan gasped for breath, "Girl’s a spitfire." Both Tentchi fell deadly silent when their scanners picked up movement. Shan stared intently at her scanner and traced the movement, twisting round in a half circle. Kyle’s eyes jumped from wall to wall. He felt precarious, standing on the floating steps, looking nervous as though the Boogeyman were to appear from nowhere. Doctor Scott wondered if the movements came from the other side of the walls, or maybe within them.

Kayla gently pressed her way between the two nurses and offered to relieve Kyle of Rusti’s burden. But the doctor did not give the girl up immediately; his head snapped to the right, eyes resting on the dark void against the southern wall. Maybe it was only imagination or paranoia, but his empathy warned him of another presence. Kyle handed Rusti’s limp form to his head nurse and checked his weaponry as Kayla returned to the rest area. Amazingly enough, none of the survivors seemed to hear or notice anything out of the ordinary. On the other hand, most of them slept, or sat in quiet patience. Spellbinder sensed Kayla’s anxiety and he too started to discreetly scout the room.

"I think we should get everyone upstairs." Kyle quietly suggested.

"I don’t think they’ll go along with it." Shan argued. "There was already evidence of morphs from above."

Kyle had no answer. The world around them seemed so still, so quiet. Both Tentchi held their breath in anticipation.


It was all Kyle needed. He leapt down, following Shan, and called his helmet from subspace. Glancing left to right, he shifted visual frequencies from infrared to ultra violet to thermo and finally the migraine-inducing negative vision.

Shan followed his movements, scanning in opposite directions. Spellbinder copied them, remaining inconspicuous but he still traversed the room in a slow, methodic pace. It would be a bad idea to upset the survivors before there was something to be frightened about.

They cautiously made their way to the outskirts of the rest area, carefully avoiding any confrontation with Gatchel. Most survivors failed to notice them, either that, or they saw what Kyle and Shan were doing, and must have figured the two were merely keeping an extra eye out. Nevertheless, Kyle was glad no one jumped to conclusions. He glanced to Kayla. The glare of the antigrav light bathed her in harsh shadows so that he could see only a part of her, mostly her horns and armor. She sat on her knees, clutching Rusti in her arms, prepared to flee at a moment’s notice.

A dark shape the length of an office desk darted across the room. Several pointed legs tapped eerily along the metal plates, nearly faster than Kyle’s scanners could track it. The creature scuttled for the small group of people who made the playground their own rest area. Shan gasped for breath to warn the five survivors, but the attack happened before her voice touched the air.

The heedless patient flipped backward in a muffled scream, kicking uselessly as her attacker shed its natural cloaking device, revealing its mottled skin color and spider-like shape. The woman’s screaming companions bolted.

Three more ‘skitters’ scratched the flooring and Shan jumped, firing several times until she heard a squeal like that of a huge rat. Smouldering acid wafted into the still dark air and the invisible target faded into view; a very large face hugger. The lady Tentchi examined her handiwork, heedless of the frightened crowd of survivors. They all clamored against the far wall, crying and shouting in anger, mostly directed at her and Kyle.

Doctor Scott joined her a second later and carefully examined the smouldering mess. "I don’t think it’s quite so safe here any longer. But I’d hate to just leave here without knowing when Steve and the others will be back, Shan."

The blue-skinned lady glared with icy eyes, though it was not meant to be mean. "Kyle, you and me have dealt with these things several times before, long time ago. You know every bit as well as I that almost nothing will stop these things short of a blood bath. They will dig and scrape and do anything to get to their prey. And they’re not stupid. That means, we should not be stupid, either."

"THAT’S IT! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!" Some male’s voice echoed a bit too loudly in the room and before Kyle and Shan could react, an alien male turned on Mrs. Strills and punched her several times in the belly. She grunted and collapsed. The alien turned to yet another patient, Malcham Tach and they locked grips and tumbled on the floor.

Tach took to his feet, dragging the furry tan alien with him. He gave the attacker exactly what Strills just received then kicked the alien in the gut when the jerk fell to the floor.

Kyle and Shan pushed their way through the ring of people. Shan barred Tach from attempting another assault. Kyle checked Mrs. Strills as she lay curled in pain, crying into her one arm.

"What is going on here?" Shan demanded.

The furry alien coughed hard and gagged as he struggled to his knees. "I’m going to end this for everyone once and for all!" Then he seemed to snap out of his lapse of pain. A light sparked in his eyes; the type Shan recognized: "We’re already dead! Those things aren’t going to go home just because we closed shop for the day!"

Shan stooped low enough so she could shout loudly in his face: "YOU’RE NOT DOING ANYTHING!!"

Gatchel would have added a quip of his own had not the whole group heard the frightful skitter-skitter sounds of another occupant in the room. One of the nurses started whimpering fearfully. "There’s another one out there!"

Kyle fingered for her to come and attend Mrs. Strills. "I suggest we all move up the next floor and leave some kind of note for Rodimus Prime and the others." Silence. Kyle could not tell if the group thought him mad, if they did not understand what he said, or if they were trying to think of a reason not to go up.

Beldoun Tor groaned and rubbed her face. "I don’t believe this. You suggest we shouldn’t worry; that we’ll be fine as long as we stay here and together, and now you turn right around and say we should find some place safer? What kind of people ARE you?"

Kyle spoke before Shanygn, "This is not the time to argue about decisions. If we leave now, we’ll have better chances of staying alive."

"Ah! Now the truth comes out!" Gatchel declared. "You really can’t protect us, you were only lying to keep us all together! Nice job, Doctor Scott! Or should I remind you that the girl you’re suddenly so fond over was CHASED by one of those morph-things?"

Another face hugger skittered along the floor, closer and closer. Why were these idiots all of a sudden against leaving?

"What is WRONG with you people?" Shan blurted. "Do you want to die or something? Are you that stupid?"

"There’ll be more of those things up there!"’ Strills shouted, "If we stay, we die. If we go, we die-"

"That’s not true," Kyle intervened. "So far we’ve encountered only one morph and it’s dead. Now, shall we depart, single file, calm and collected?"

The unspoken answer to his question was ‘no.’ Kyle realized the skitters he, Shan, Kayla and Spell heard did not come from the floor, but along the walls. Kyle activated his maglite and pointed toward the corridor. For a moment, Kyle thought the floor wavered like a hot desert road cooked well-done on a sweltering summer’s day. Several plates were torn from their bolts as invisible claws shredded through, driven by insatiable hunger.

Shan and Kyle leapt outside the rest area and shot at the invisible intruder. A screech ensued followed by a loud thunk. But rather than finding blood, the two Tentchi watched ironlike claws mar the walls, puncturing the sheet-metal as if the walls were made of pie crust. The morph escaped their shots and crawled along the walls as easily as an insect on wood. Kyle called his helm and watched through negative vision as a nine-foot creature scurried effortlessly toward the group.

To kill this thing, Scott would have to be a very good shot. Its plated skin had the ability to deflect laser fire or, worse, absorb it with no ill effect. Kyle clicked his rifle for a single power-draining shot and fired. The creature shrieked once, shocked. The xenomorph’s scream cut short when the monster vaporized. The survivors recoiled as acid smouldered into the wall or drooled along the floor and sank into it, leaving a thin line of smoke behind.

The survivors finally realized their danger. A few gathered what precious belongings they had and herded straight for the stairs. Luckily, Kayla already made her way up, bearing Rusti in her arms. But some people were not so calm. Shadrik and his brother dashed up the stairs too quickly and Dillon lost his footing. He slipped off the railless stairwell and thumped to the ground. Shadrik, a boy of unruly tendencies, laughed.

The floor vibrated with the scratches and scrapes of impending intruders. Several more survivors jumped, expecting something to break through and grab them by the ankles. They huddled like hunted fish. Kyle, Shan and Spellbinder also gazed upon the ground. None of them thought of checking the floor for trap doors, emergency compartments or air vents.

The first few morphs smashed their way up from the panels near the corridor. Kyle and Spellbinder jumped between the survivors and their potential killers.

"Let’s go, people! Move!" Shan pushed several people along the stairs as she took pot-shots at their enemies. Using negative vision, Kyle fired at the arms and legs of their pursuers. For the most part, it seemed neither he nor Spellbinder did much good.

One morph attacked him directly. Kyle deflected with a jaw-breaking kick. It rebounded and snapped a second row of teeth in his face. Kyle ducked and fired at its underbelly. He instantly rolled aside as its blood watered out.

Scott hoped their armor, designed for heavy combat, would be enough protection. He shot three more creatures several yards away before another morph assaulted him. Kyle punched its muzzle with the butt of his weapon then fired straight into its mouth. A warning light flickered on his rifle, indicting low power. The one shot he used earlier was about to cost him. Kyle decided not to alarm anyone; he’d simply have to use other tactics.

The survivors slowly made their way up the stairs as though they were treading a path to pain and death. The problem was most of them did not trust the floating, railless stair case. They kept eyeing the steps, expecting them to collapse, tip or bounce under their weight.

As the crowd advanced, more xenomorphs ripped the flooring like so many baby demons in a hatchery. Twenty or more morphs clamored about Spellbinder. He picked them off one at a time and flung them away, but other creatures copied the first few and they piled on him like a pack of antibodies on a disease. Spellbinder fell to his knees as the monsters absorbed his energy.

Shan kicked and shot morphs left and right, leaving the floor a horrible, smelly, melting mess at the bottom of the stairs. Their acidic blood eroded the flooring until a hole started to appear.

Kyle narrowly escaped a pounce, kicked another assailant in the mouth and shot a third as it leapt for him. It didn’t seem either he, Shan or Spell would make it to safety. The air wavered a moment and bounced off Kyle’s visor, disrupting his concentration and made him very light-headed.

No, that’s not what really happened because he blinked as though returning to consciousness. Something fluctuated across his vision like a camera’s glass lense wobbling out of focus then back in again. Kyle blinked the disorientation to no avail. He stumbled to his knees, unable to keep his balance. He bowed over, burying his face in his metal-gloved hands, heedless of his impending danger. Kyle’s bones hurt and the world tipped slightly in one direction, then another. He focused his eyes upon the eastern wall forgetting he, Shan and Spellbinder were fighting. For a second, the doctor thought he spotted something black and flat poised against the wall; something like a thin sheet of paper, slanted and sliced into sharp, rigid angles. But the next time he blinked, Kyle did not see it. Another ‘wave’ hit and this time it forced him to remain still. The anomaly freaked many of the morphs into inactivity. They lifted their oblong, eyeless heads and glanced about like a pack of wary dogs.

"What was that?" Kyle weakly asked his two companions. His words came with effort because it felt as though something were pressing hard against his chest. "Did either of you see or feel something strange?" He took a closer look around, dully amazed the morphs were not attacking.

"Don’t talk so loudly." Shan snapped. Her head pounded furiously so that she could not do more than bow over and press her hands to her head. Her vision blurred and her nose bled.

The moment did not last long enough, neither Kyle nor Shan had the strength to fight. From the corner of his eyes, Kyle spotted slow movement. He sent his gaze west, straight ahead of him, and watched as the wall swirled then bulged as though something tried to press through. A moment later, a shape erupted as though the walls vomited. The shape bucked and wriggled as though struggling to break from a great metallic cocoon. A monstrous snake-like xenomorph with a body as big around as a truck tire formed from the rounded cocoon-like mass. With a venomous hiss, it scutted along the metal plates, keeping close to the walls, gaining speed with every yard of its advance. It rounded the corners of the southern wall, heedless of other morphs and the two Tentchi watching it with astonished silence. The snake-morph passed the doorway to the adjoining corridor and drifted off course, aiming straight for Spellbinder. Then it moved lightning-fast, striking the Sentinel and rent a gash into Spellbinder’s left hip plate. He moaned and crumpled. The attack was so sudden that he did not have time to raise shields to protect Kayla and high up on the twenty-seventh step, Kayla slipped, nearly losing Rusti to the floor below.

Kyle fought the disorientation and forced himself to Spell’s aid, though his movements were slow and deliberate, staggering as though drunk. Again, he was amazed the other morphs did next to nothing as he stepped over the carcass of one and rounded another. The morphs themselves stared at the snake-monster. The great morph reared high, nearly touching the ceiling, and shot straight for Kyle, probably because he moved. Kyle used what remained of his weapon’s power and aimed as close to its mouth as he could. While the weapon did no damage, the great beast did not like the pinch of laser fire and snapped away, racing along the walls in a mad fit, like a train out of control. Kyle watched in dreaded fascination as the animal hissed to itself and slithered, heedless of anything else around it. The xenomorph’s behavior was far from the typical behavior patterns of its species. But then, the morphs themselves were far from normal. It was possible that the mutation caused a shift in the species’ behavior, too. The snake morph disappeared straight into the ‘shadow pocket’ on the southern wall. At first, Kyle thought it would get lost there in the space of unreality, maybe not even return.

But he could not have been more wrong.

The morph emerged a moment later, still bearing a snake-like body, but now it was accompanied by several powerful legs. Kyle could not recall seeing anything like it and the sight of it shocked him into momentary inactivity. He was brought out of it when the monstrosity leapt out. It was not aiming for him, but another morph that presently fed on a victim Kyle could not rescue in time. The snake-beast ate the morph in a single snatch then finished off the morph’s meal. Satisfied, it raised its terrible long, eyeless head and hissed at Kyle. When it hissed, all other morphs hissed in turn and Kyle’s blood froze his body.

It leapt and threw its head back, stretching its jaws for a strike. Kyle dropped and rolled out of its path as the enormous head bulleted for him. It slammed one leg forward to pin him. Instead, it slashed through Kyle’s armor, slicing along his right thigh. Kyle lay dead still. A horrible fire raced through his veins and he thought his body would explode. He faintly heard the tak, tak, whap of morph claws scampering across the room. Scott forced his watery eyes open but squeezed them shut when two bright sparks flared, burning the air with a pure white light.

Xenomorphs about him squealed death-screams. Kyle heard several swift thumps and an ear-shattering shriek before something gripped him over the chest and dragged him away. He was dropped against hard metal and opening his eyes again, he found his eyesight gone.

Someone shouted at him but Kyle could neither answer nor move. Strong arms dragged him up; he become a puppet, unable to operate on its own. Then it dawned on Scott; he had been poisoned. He ordered his body to move but nothing worked. Two voices shouted in his comline; he recognized just one of them.

"Shan! I’m NOT going to argue with you! You either get up those stairs or I will PICK you up-NOW GET UP THOSE STAIRS!!"

"Sstevvve." he managed to slur. His was half lifted, arms wrapped him tightly and dragged him up the stairwell. His feet hit the lip of every step they took. Kyle did not think about counting, but they passed several steps before his sight faded back. He struggled and they stopped climbing. Steve rested a moment as Kyle weakly recalled his helmet into subspace. He took a lungful of bitter air. The first thing he saw were Parker’s vivid blue eyes, trying to read into him.

"We’re here, Kyle." Steve searched his friend’s face for recognition, but Kyle’s eyes registered only bleak acknowledgment. Parker was amazed Scott managed to recall his helm, but the Doctor did not speak. His pale face burned cold with toxic shock. Steve’s eyes darted down and watched as Magnus and Dagger wrestled with the mutated snake-morph. Survivors above and below him trudged up the railless, floating staircase. Between Kyle’s weakness and Midnight’s deteriorating condition, climbing became difficult for Steve. He gathered his resolution and forced himself to haul Kyle to his feet. But Kyle’s strength deteriorated with each laborious step and Steve feared it would not be long before he too would be unable to move.

Twelve feet below, the snake-beast roared a high-pitch cry and bit Magnus’ arm. The Major-general cursed with words unsuitable for prudent ears. The Autobot and Dagger thrust both their shoulders into the creature’s chest, sending it flaying against the wall. Voodoo joined them a second later and the three of them pinned the beast as the two Rodimi fled from the corridor to the stairs, chasing the survivors.

Matt clutched Shan tightly about the waist and dragged her step-by-step. She could not or would not cooperate; either way, the large man had a difficult time with her. Matt caught Steve’s concerned expression and nodded upward, silently ordering Parker to keep moving. He could handle Shan just fine. Steve wore down further as another of Mid’s shields collapsed. He paused a moment, catching his breath, trying to force back the burning fire that slowly devoured Midnight’s life force. Kyle softly moaned, distracting Steve from the moment. He tucked his arms under his friend’s back and lifted Kyle. Parker pressed upward, slowly trailing the crowd ahead. Matt followed with Shan in his grip while Roddi followed Rodimus along the staircase.

Rodimus glanced over his shoulder at their three accomplices still fighting the snake morph. "Dagger!" he called, "let’s go!"

The snake morph had wriggled out of Dagger’s and Magnus’ grip and knocked the Major-general to the floor. It aimed for Magnus’ head just before Dagger shot its side. The giant morph whipped away. Dagger looked puzzled. This morph acted more strangely than its smaller counterparts; it seemed to be playing games.

Then Voodoo leapt away to help Spellbinder and that attracted the giant morph’s attention. It bounced on its belly, tucking its multiple legs alongside its body and swiftly scuttled after the two Sentinels.

"Crayph!" Voodoo shouted and he dodged the attack, dragging an injured and exhausted Spellbinder with him. The snake-beast hissed eerily as though speaking and rolled once on its back, still moving along the floor like a living locomotive. It chased after the Sentinels until Magnus decided to take the chance to cross the room and kick the beast in the side. It recoiled and shot up, its head bending back so that its eyeless face nearly touched the ceiling. It seemed almost an intelligent reaction.

"Get up those stairs!" Magnus bellowed. Voodoo did not argue. He followed the two Rodimi, dragging Spellbinder along.

The snake morph flipped itself backwards and rather than attacking Magnus, it shot back for the western wall and hissed like a cat in a tantrum. Magnus glared at Voodoo and wordlessly pointed at the staircase. Voodoo didn’t argue. He lightly stepped over puddles of melting metal and morph carcasses but paused when two ‘little guys’ tried to tag at his heels. He kicked one into the air and shot it as it flew then squashed the other flat. The burning sensation was painful, but Voodoo merely winced and trudged up the floating staircase.

Magnus waited until Voodoo was about ten steps up before touching the first two himself. He wondered where the snake morph had gone. There was a pocket of darkness to the southern end of the room where neither the emergency red lighting or the antigrav light penetrated and Magnus assumed that’s where the beast retreated to sulk.

The very next moment the monster emerged from the darkness, changed yet again. Not only did the morph sport several legs as before, but now wings graced its backside. Magnus spit out another cuss word in a different language and shouted at Voodoo: "MOVE!!" He raced after the Sentinel, turning every third step and fired powerful shots at those steps he left behind. The xenomorph didn’t seem interested in him at the moment. It winged about the room, scooping up the smaller morphs into its mouth and munched on them like hard candy.

Then Magnus slipped on one step, clanging down two. He held on for dear life; all the other steps were blown away. The clanging of his body against the floating metal stairs attracted the monster morph and it snapped its head about. Magnus softly cursed himself for being so clumsy. But as he pulled himself up, he found he slipped on a puddle of blood.

The snake-now-dragon monster leapt into the air and shot right for the Major-general. He struggled to get back on his feet, but was not quick enough and the beast whacked him off but not hard enough to send the Autobot crashing below. Magnus dangled in the air. Voodoo raced back down and fired at the dragon but the beast merely squealed loudly, protesting. It dipped and caught two more little morphs along the ground before sailing back toward them. Voodoo tried to haul Magnus up, but could not get the necessary leverage to do so.

"Go on. I’ll be alright." Magnus assured him.

"No way. I’ll get into trouble for leaving someone behind."

Magnus grunted with effort and started swinging his legs. "Just keep that damn thing off me!"

The creature took flight again, squealing and hissing. Its mouth dropped for another attack. Voodoo aimed a punch but then thought better of it when he considered there was no wall or rail to catch him in case he stumbled from impact. He shot at the airborne morph, hoping to distract it enough to pass over them and make another round. Instead, the creature intentionally slammed into the steps just below Magnus, grasping them with its powerful legs.

"Alright," Magnus groaned, "now we’re in trouble."

From several steps up, Dagger left Spellbinder. He leapt off, flew through the air, and landed on the morph’s long sweeping headpiece. It bucked and shrieked terribly, slamming its chest against the steps as though it would rid itself of the sudden burden. Dagger’s wild tactics gave the other two Transformers the time they needed. Voodoo backed off, giving Magnus room and the Major-general swung his legs back and forth until he had enough momentum to swing up and land on the steps, easily as an acrobat. Upon that move, the morph dropped off, Dagger still on top, and drifted down.

Magnus swung around and produced his laser rifle from subspace. Voodoo slapped his hand down. "No! You’ll kill Dagger! Let me handle this you go on up and finish the job."

Magnus wanted to say something, but he didn’t know what Voodoo had in mind. The dark blue Sentinel dove off the stairs in a somersault and transformed to jet mode. He tailed the morph, move for graceful move, then sped up and flew right beside the beast. Magnus watched, fascinated as the Sentinel butted himself against the beast and by the second assault, Dagger rolled off, fell several feet and transformed into his dark jet mode. That made Magnus realize he needed to move fast; destroy the rest of the stairs and follow the others to safety.

Voodoo and Dagger played aerial tag with the beast. It flew about aimlessly at first and just when Voodoo felt it was not going to do anything more, it let out a terrible shriek and its tail lashed Voodoo’s underside, leaving a dark mark along his metal skin. The moment of pain distracted him and Voodoo fell out of control until Dagger shouted at him. The Sentinel realized what was happening and he corrected his course. The monster morph followed him and the two Sentinels started an ascend-and-drop pattern, hoping to catch the morph off guard just long enough to shoot it. But the snake beast proved a little less predictable and it started slamming itself against the walls as though it were stupid enough to run into them.

Dagger was about to make a remark when Voodoo noticed the creature’s oblong head started to split right down the middle. "Oh no." he muttered. "Dagger, time to go."

"What? What now? You afraid of Miss Flying Snake or something?"

"Yeah-you could say that." Voodoo shot after the survivors, passing them to the next level. Dagger transformed and landed on the stair rail behind Magnus who dragged Spellbinder with him as he shot the steps.

"What’s wrong?" Magnus asked as he blew another to fragments. The power required to do this was quickly draining his weapon.

"Don’t know." Dagger took Spellbinder’s languid form and watched the beast below as it kept hitting itself senseless against the walls and once on the floor. It paused momentarily and ate three more incoming morphs. Magnus eliminated five more steps before Dagger noticed the beast’s wound grew longer, now trailing along the length of its body. "What the hell is it doing?" He wondered softly.

"Keep going, soldier." Magnus ordered. And they advanced another ten steps just as the beast split asunder with a final chilling scream. Dagger and Magnus paused in their ascent, staring at the two halves of what was one whole morph.

Within seconds, the two halves healed and new legs sprouted from that side from which it split and wings unfolded from both their backs and now two flying xenomorphs occupied the same space where there was one. The two Transformers bolted up the remaining stairs, Magnus still shot them one, sometimes two at a time. The two morphs gyrated upward, their bodies entangling one another every few yards.

Dagger arrived at the next level as Rodimus and Roddi carried Midnight to a safe, dark corner. The former Seeker set Spellbinder aside and found a lone bulkhead standing in the middle of nowhere. He started pushing it toward the stairwell entrance.

"HEY!" Gatchel shouted above the clamor of survivors, "Are you stupid?! That’s our only means of escape!"

"Not anymore." Dagger kept pushing with all his might until Magnus emerged, blowing up two more steps. Then the two of them set their bodies against the huge slab of metal and shoved until the slab lay securely over the opening. Dagger leaned his back against the bulkhead and slid down, exhausted. "That was bad."

Voodoo stepped in front them, his mouth down-turned in dread seriousness. "We need to look for food and water for these people. Now."

Dagger shot him a sharp look. "Do you mind? I just escaped with my aft in tact."

"Midnight’s condition is deteriorating. Steve is growing weaker and Kyle has been poisoned. We don’t have time for private celebrations, Dagger." Voodoo stared hard at him. Fear for Kyle drove him into a dangerous mood. He wanted to phase Kyle in, but dared not.

Dagger might have said something more, but the moment was interrupted when Kayla’s voice carried over the group of moaning and frightened people: "No! No, Rusti, come back! Rusti!"

Voodoo and Dagger exchanged optical contact again. "And we have a babysitting problem." Voodoo added.

Dagger groaned. "The world is coming to an end and all I wanna do is rest."

Exhaustion caused Steve to drag his aching body as though each step were an insurmountable mountain. Kyle struggled to walk under his own power. Poison boiled his blood and more than once he slipped and would have fallen, taking Steve with him had Matt not managed to pass other survivors and come up behind him. At first the three Tentchi made some progress, none of them dared look to see how far they had to go. But about twenty steps shy of their destination, Kyle’s breath failed him and the world faded from sight. Steve caught him as he crumbled, but Parker was too weak himself to carry Kyle the rest of the way. Matt gently lifted the doctor and tried to avoid stepping on Kyle’s blood as it ran unbidden down the steps. He tucked his hand under Kyle’s knees and lifted him up entirely. Steve managed to follow, ignoring the stares and glances of those around them. He could not sense them as usual. His whole focus was on Midnight and Kyle as their pain taxed his own strength.

Eight steps from the next level, Kayla descended and tucked her arms about Parker. He laid a weary arm across her strong shoulders and let her do the guiding. The world they emerged into stood bleak. No red emergency lighting touched this place and were it not for Kayla’s eyesight, Steve would be flaying blindly. She eased him down and he just vaguely heard her give several people directions. Then a familiar but unpleasant voice spoke to her in mean tones.

Gatchel. It had to be. Steve moaned. He had no energy to defend Kayla against that jerk and he vowed to have a ‘discussion’ with the good C.M.O. later. Parker closed his eyes and imagined how many people poured up from the stairwell. Somewhere far away, Steve heard laser fire.

"Steve, here’s some water for you." Kayla’s sweet voice filled the air like a fresh, gentle scent.

"What’s that noise, Kayla? And where are Mid and Kyle?"

"That . . . Other Ultra Magnus is eliminating the stairs on his way up. Kyle is right here. And Rodimus laid Midnight not far from here."

Steve’s brain tilted one direction then tried to swing another. His heart pounded. "Kyle, Kayla. He’s um, he’s been poisoned." Kayla pushed him down and for once, Steve offered no resistance. He heard the sounds of a detaching device and the hissing of a hypo. Then something pinched his own neck and Steve fell to darkness.

Kayla backed up when one of the two Rodimi approached on his hands and knees. "Are they going to be okay?"

"Yes. I gave Kyle an antidote. Steve just needs rest. How about Midnight?"

"Your dark friend walks in places I would not go."

It wasn’t their Rodimus. Kayla felt funny talking to someone who looked exactly like someone she knew. "What do we do now? What’s going to happen?"

"Yes," Rodimus agreed. "We need a plan, don’t we? Lemme think a moment." He was silent for about six seconds. "Yes. We need food and water for all the little people and we’ll have to set up a defense parameter; there’s enough of us to do that. Oh, there’s Mangus and Dagger now. Excuse me."

Roddi met up with Magnus and the other two alien Sentinels. They stared at him as though something weren’t right. He brushed aside his annoyance at their stares and folded his arms. "Well, we’re all hail and hardy. I think it might be a good idea to start a scouting party."

Magnus tucked his weapon back into subspace. His cold expression reflected their distressful situation. "The closest wall to us is only thirty feet away. Dagger and I just closed off the only way in or out that I can tell. There will be no going down."

Roddi nodded. "You blew up the floating stairs."

Voodoo glanced behind and quickly scanned the settling survivors. Darwin Kamrath’s baby fussed and cried. "We need to find whatever supplies we can or our Humanoid companions will dry up and blow away."

"That’s NOT funny, Voodoo!" Dagger spat.

Rodimus stood between them to ward off any potential fights. "Hey, hey! Nobody means anything here, Dagger. Just relax, alright? I’ll take Voodoo and head west around Midnight’s position. Magnus, if you would, take my hot-headed friend here and go north. But I’m afraid that leaves you by yourself . . . um, Roddi."

"‘s okay! I can babysit myself." Roddi gave them a thumbs-up as Matt Frasier approached the group of metal giants.

"Waitaminute, I’m not going to leave Dagger here by himself. I’m coming, too."

Roddi bent over, almost trying to be considerate, but, as Voodoo noticed, this Alternate Rodimus Prime didn’t seem exactly himself. "We need someone in armor who can ward off the Boogeyman." and Prime pointed toward the rest of the group. "They need to be protected. Can you do that?"

Matt’s face turned to annoyance. "You want me to play babysitter?" He was interrupted when they heard someone scream not too far from the rest of the group. Voodoo and Rodimus acted on instinct, both transforming and flying/speeding toward the maze of darkness and wall partitions. Matt frowned and took note that Gatchel was not to be seen. "I’ll take that as a ‘yes," he grumbled.

Taking Rodimus’ and Voodoo’s actions as a cue, the other three Transformers split up. Magnus and Dagger turned ‘north’, or whatever direction lay to their right. The world of light under which the survivors huddled, faded from their scanners as they tracked their way to whatever end lay ahead. But not more than half a mile away, all the walls and barricades phased out as though they were passing from a forest into a clearing. The metal floor remained dark, punctuated by floor panels that might have led to Max’s underside, (if this part of the bubble universe indeed contained part of Fort Max).

Dagger switched modes and landed gracefully beside Magnus, still in his carrier form. The two stood and just scanned for several long moments. The world lay dead still like a desert under a lightless sky. No movement, no sound, no light. Magnus finally transformed and his movements gave Dagger the surges because in the dead of quiet, they seemed so terribly loud. Neither mech wanted to say a word, fearful the silence would swallow their voices.

"It’s so quiet." Dagger whispered. "I don’t like the quiet." He inwardly reached for Matt’s presence and found comfort there. He embraced his Tentchi’s spirit and took reassurance that they were going to be alright.

But Magnus did not have the benefit of Interface. He faced his fear dead on, produced his laser rifle, and pressed forward. The City Commander resolutely reminded himself he was a soldier and had a job to do. He heard Dagger tail him, stepping in a nondescript foot pattern. The dead stillness seemed to swallow their souls, casting them into a limbo without form, object or life form.

One step. Five steps. Three steps, eight. Pause. Magnus scanned their surroundings then proceeded. Three steps. Two. Four steps, eight. Dagger took the lead this time and swept his weapon left to right in a cautious scan. He waited and Magnus moved ahead. Six steps, eight. Pause. Scan. Twelve steps. Pause. Dagger’s turn. The darkness did not end. Only their scanners gave them enough information to continue since their optics could not give them any information. But there was nothing, nothing. A metal desert, a dead silence.

Magnus took three steps. Dagger followed with two. Pause. They scanned.

The scanners indicated their footsteps from behind; tiny energy signatures but ahead there lay nothing. No flooring. No air, nothing. Dagger dared to shine a light in the void’s direction. "What is that?"

Magnus silently shook his head. The light should have either gone forward or reflected off something. But it was swallowed up by a nothingness. The City Commander stared and the thought that came to him, the one thought he dared not frighten Dagger with, was that they might be staring at the edge of the bubble universe; a wall to their cage.

Rodimus thought about shifting into automobile mode. But he decided he didn’t feel like it. Slipping in and out of shadow and light seemed almost a game to him at first. This whole dream, being trapped in a dream within a dream, certainly twisted and turned in new and unusual directions. He knew Rusti was here, but he could not believe it was really her; not when . . . well, he just couldn’t believe she was here. Several yards out of light-shot from the group, Rodimus sank to his knees and stared at the empty floating wall before him. Its darkness swallowed his whole vision and he thought he could just fall into it and extinguish his spark.

Total non existence.

The hums of haunting songs filtered into his mind. He could hear the musical echos emanating from the Matrix. It trickled into his soul. A soft pleading voice spoke incoherently into him. But Roddi could not make out the words. He could not answer her, either. The song: dark, disturbing, pain-filled, chilled his soul. He thought he could fall into that song. Each echo was another level down, down . . . down to where he’d not try to guess. The anguish, though, the anguish of the voice roused his own grief, but something else inside him pushed the sorrow away. He cried enough tears in his life. He lived through enough hells and the cry-baby stage needed to pass.

But rather than the sorrow, Roddi’s emotions twisted and scraped along the floors of torment and disease. Oh, how filthy he now felt! His soul became polluted in dirty memories. Malice, vengeance, hatred . . . they all collected along the structure of his soul and Rodimus thought he would rot away like a fleshling; a disgusting sordid carcass devoid of color and how it stank!

Repulsed, he flinched, his face plates folded in horror and he clutched his chest. Why didn’t anybody tell him?!



The sorrowful voice came back and its slow soft resonance filtered poison into his soul and if he could, Rodimus would have vomited. The poison twisted the sorrow. The sorrow shifted and solidified into a more intense emotion: anger.

YES, GODDAMIT! He was angry! There was nothing he could do about the eking poison, nothing he could do about the damned dream from which he could not wake! He was angry at losing his other life. He was angry that Optimus was not the same. He was angry at the way his people were treated and were treating he and the other leaders. The Autobots were idiots. They had no sense of gratitude.

Oh, he’d show THEM gratitude!

The poison twisted above him and churned in a slow boil like oil over white-hot fire. Sorrow, like hydrogen, pressurized and solidified into anger and anger was what Rodimus became. He was helpless and it made him angry. He was sick and it made him angry. He was dying and it made him angry. He was being fed upon and it made him angry. He didn’t know what IT was, and It made him infuriated with hatred.

Boil, boil, trouble and toil, cold white heat. So hot that it turned cold and turned him inside out and oh, the sin of it all. Rodimus drank in poison and mutated it into death.

And had anyone been watching, they would have seen his hunched form, on his knees before the wall, turn cold and grey as though his spark died.

Then Rodimus took in a deep breath and all his color returned but his optics remained dead dark.

Kayla watched Rodimus as he parted from her, tip-toeing his way around the survivors toward Voodoo. Movement to her left caught the Kshi nurse’s attention and Kayla spotted Rusti just as the girl leapt to her feet and scampered into the darkness. "No! No, Rusti, come back! Rusti!" She lunged to her feet, the metal exosuit tapped along the metal flooring with small klank-klanks.

Shan caught up just as they both lost sight of the girl. Shan activated her maglite. "Damn. She sprints like a namphry, doesn’t she?"

The two ladies split up in their customary search pattern, cautious as not to lose sight of one another. "Rusti!" Kayla called.

"Rusti!" Shan called with less fear in her voice, "this is not a smart thing to do." She shut her mouth just in case she and Kayla were rousing the interest of unwanted pests. The blue lady slowly swept her light side to side then she froze abruptly. From the other side of a frozen Transformer, she spotted a light, flickering left to right in the exact pattern as she just used with her own. "Rusti?" Her voice did not come as loudly as it should have and Shan could not decide whether or not to turn her light out. {{Roddy, something’s out here. I don’t think it’s the girl; she didn’t have a light-at least that I know of.}}

{{Come back to me, Shan.}}

{{Wait a sec, okay?}} She pressed forward, carefully setting her weapon on stun in case she fired at the child. The flickering light kept drawing her closer and closer before it vanished altogether.

Shan flinched, now cold. Was she just seeing things? Where did the light go? She ran, ignorant of several tall frozen statues. She did not see Air Raid, or notice Sunstreaker’s form as he stretched toward the ceiling. The walls standing dutifully by created a labyrinth of half-places; half an office, half a Human-sized restroom, half a storage facility.

WHAM! She ran straight into a solid black wall. Shan crashed hard on her back, losing wind. It was a good thing her helmet was on. She moaned, stunned, and sat up, annoyed the girl would lead them on a fly-by-chase.

The light caught her attention again and though Shan could see it, the zipping strip of light did not cast shadows from objects, neither did it illuminate anything it touched. Then a dark copy of herself appeared in the wall. It seemed to fade into existence, but the light that should have been there about her own form, died in the reflection. Shan scooted back in a panic, forgetting to grab her fallen maglite. The reflection moved, but only to copy those same movements she made minutes ago. Metal-shod feet tapped lightly behind her. Shan recognized Kayla’s foot patterns and did not bother to greet her. She feared if she turned away, the bizarre image on the wall and the flickering light behind it would disappear.

Kayla knelt beside her, a hand across her chest. She did not notice Shan’s maglite laying by itself a few feet away from her. "Are you okay?" she huffed, "I can’t find Rusti. I’ve looked everywhere." Kayla stared at her friend, expecting some kind of answer. When she noticed Shan kept staring at the wall before her, transfixed as though under a spell, she too gave the bleak structure a glance. At first the Kshi saw nothing. It was an expanse of nothingness. Then a flicker of light caught her eye but she did not see the same thing Shan saw, or thought she saw. The flicker was actually her own reflection, following the actions she made a moment ago-dashing to Shan, sinking to her knees, laying her hand over her chest piece, asking if she was okay, but no sound came from it.

Kayla knew better than to touch something she knew nothing of, but she could not resist the temptation. She glided her gloved hands over the surface of the dark barrier. It rippled like water, lucid and soft. Then it solidified and a flash of light shot at the two of them. The ladies flinched, Kayla softly cried out in surprise.

The image of Shan blacked out and as though it were a wide-screen TV, the wall flashed stilled pictures just like a slide show. The face of a being of light came into view. Its whole naked frame resembled something like that of a Greek god. His face shone with power, with a finely-sculpted jaw and perfect kissable lips. His dark hair flowed freely about his powerful shapely shoulders. His smooth firm chest portrayed the greatness of masculine pulchritude.

But the next slide showed him in combat with a great warrior clad in dark, spiked metal, bearing a terrible glowing sword. Before the ladies could see greater detail, the picture flashed, showing the ‘Greek god’ eating the other warrior’s neck and the blood pouring from the warrior’s body splattered as though . . .

But the images moved faster as if the ladies were watching someone else’s history blink before their minds. Then the images collaborated into a moving picture and a great creature of firelight appeared before them. A face contorted by demonic madness pushed its way from the middle of the firelight. Its eyes sucked in all light, its mouth opened like a chasm in hell, starving for whatever lay in its path. It raced through the galaxies, devouring one star system then another, stealing the power of every life force it encountered, defecating hunks of dark matter in space. The fire-creature raced for a particular solar system and crossed a lunar battlefield where Autobot and Decepticon forces exchanged fire. When it passed overhead, all of them fell dead grey. Then it paused and both ladies heard the wall thud with its attempt to escape. Kayla screamed.

The firelight creature roared in violent protest and slammed against the barrier between it and they time and again and Kayla took to her feet and tried to get Shan to do the same. But Shan wold not move; her eyes remained fixed to the Greek god staring at her with dead black eyes. It beckoned her to him.

"Shan!" Kayla called but her voice died thereafter when the firelight creature split in half and faded down, down, down. She didn’t want to look. Kayla feared the power on the other side of the wall and did not want to guess how it was possible, even here in this twist of time where the rules of the rest of the universe did not apply. The walls, metal monoliths distorted by the time bubble, could not be gateways. Not by any logical, scientific means. But she still did not want to look. And Shan did not want to budge.

Using the strength of her exosuite, Kayla finally decided to just haul her friend up and carry her away. She stood Shan up, but Shan caught her off guard and twisted her chin about so that Kayla was forced to look into the wall.

There they stood, their reflections cast no light, even Shan’s abandoned maglight reflected nothing. Their dark reflections began to distort, stretching up then out, then the muted colors smeared like wet pain. Kayla shook her head. She didn’t want to see this! "No!" She wrested from Shan’s grip and that action brought Shan back from her trance. She realized something from the other side tried to possess her and Kayla’s insistence on breaking free, snapped the connection in half. Shan and Kayla turned to flee but something stretched from the wall, gripped the ladies round their necks and dragged them in.

Only Kayla could scream.