Surfing with the Alien 1

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He Does Not Know Himself By Such a Title

(Written by ClassicDrogn, revised and re-posted 6 August 2007)

Slaggit SLAGGIT too fast engine's offline Primus even I won't survive this how the slag did I ever get into this --

Time slowed down as the Reaver boarding shuttle I'd drawn for a dance partner drew ever closer, its reinforced ramming spike glowing fitfully red with an over-powered structural integrity field. "How I'd got into this" began to play itself out in my memory, just like the old cliche... but after all, isn't the reason things become cliche because they happen over and over?

Judging from what the documentary makers pieced together after the fact, I probably have as good a claim to being the first person to have encountered handwavium on the North American continent as anyone - I can't remember the exact date with everything that came after it, and didn't have regular 'net access or even a TV at that point anyway, so I didn't know about anyone else's find until it hit the supermarket tabloids and the waters were well and truly muddied.

What I did have was a big collection of toys, an even bigger collection of unwatched fansubs downloaded before having to move to the back of beyond, a lot of free time, and (thanks to my father and grandfather being the kind of packrats who squirreled all manner of things away in the "back pasture" that had been growing trees long enough that some are over a foot in diameter) a hell of a lot of metal scrap and general junk. Among these ... treasures ... was a yellow, 35 gallon steel drum which made liquid noises when moved and which I'd always assumed (due to the standard color scheme for these things) to have been a mostly-empty barrel of kerosine, gotten because it had been handy and gosh, why let it go to waste?

So, it sat up in the woods and got rusty around the top where rain water collected and the bottom where the ground held the damp, and when I tried to move it to get at some wheels that looked like they might fit the trailer my father had recently bought (Gods, another one!?) it over balanced, tipped into a fiberglass canoe that the benches and gunwales had rotted out of, and the rusty top seam let go.

This was not followed by a rush of stale kerosene, but rather by a slow ooze of somewhat metallic jelly, whose shifting surface caught the light in odd ways that suggested any number of semi-regular patterns. Needless to say, I was intrigued - A) Oooooh, Shiny! B) Like a lava lamp with corners c) Want shiny! D) What IS it, if not kerosene? and E) SHINY! SHINY! SHINY!

As far as I could tell, the stuff had no odor at all - definately not kerosine-based - and the way it kept a positive meniscus and slipped right off of a fallen leaf I pulled out from under the edge, leaving only a light film and no seperating droplets just heightened the mystery. I went and found a couple of big plastic pails and collected as much of the slow-moving stuff as I could into them - which was pretty much all of it. The only real problem I had was having that day's good luck charm - a minicon that turned into a six-wheeler truck - fall out of my pocket and into the ... stuff.

Cursing venomously, I fished it out with a pair of barbecue tongs and found, yet again, that there was only the thinnest visible filmy layer of slightly metallic goop clinging to it, and after trying to wipe it off with paper towel proved to do nothing but flatten the embossed pattern on the towel I redoubled my efforts at turning the overcast sky blue and left it out to get rained on, and hopefully cleaned a bit that way... though I had to admit, the metallized effect looked cool.

The buckets of goop, meanwhile, I stashed in one of the (many... Dad likes building sheds, too, to house his collection of large, useless things) junk sheds - the one just outside my window, to be specific - to be out of the way and out of the weather while I got those wheels and discovered that not only did they not fit, but that the tires on them were so perished little granules of rubber crumbled off at the lightest touch... so they had be be hauled back to the trove, naturally. Grumblemuttercurse.

The sun by that time having slipped below the horizon, I gave it up as a bad job and went inside to get some chow, watch more GaoGaiGar, and think about how if it weren't for the whole "become a Minion of EEEE-vil" thing, getting Zonderized didn't seem like such a bad deal.

Bah. If only I'd known...

Well, okay, aside from the whole almost-died-several-times and looks-like-this-time-for-sure things, it probably would have just made me jump into the project even more enthusiastically. I always did hate being a squishy meat-creature. I can't help but think, though, that these events were in some way casually related to the ultimate result.

Anyway, the next day, I eventually remembered to check on my poor minicon, fully expecting to find a sad little puddle of dissolved plastic, a few metal rods and pins jutting forth like mouse bones in a pile of cat-yarf.

Instead, I found a pristine, chrome-bright six-wheeler minicon waiting for me on the tabletop. It was cold in the morning air, much more so than I'd expect of even chromed plastic, and heavier than I remembered. Frankly, it looked really damn cool, and while it took a while to come back from my awestruck daze, it wasn't more than thirty seconds after that than I was sprinting back to my toy shelf to grab something else to try it on - one of my kitbashes, a "Galaxy Defender" Wal-Mart knockoff of the space shuttle from Brave of the Sun Fighbird I'd modified to combine with Galaxy Convoy and added a few paint touch ups to.

This was then stripped of minicons, sword, and the rubber band that held the latches that hadn't quite lined up closed, and dunked in a bucket - now a metal bucket - of mystery goop posthaste. I just barely remembered to use rubber gloves to do it, since I still didn't know what the stuff was or what it might do to my skin, but that was as close to caution as I got. Watching the slightly-metallic film take on the colors of the plastic and paint while at the same time becoming more strongly metallic, the excitement grew until by the afternoon I was practically bouncing in place.

The Fed-Ex guy who dropped off the stuff I'd ordered online during a library visit probably thought I was high, or at best had been drinking way too much over-sweetened coffee. Bringing the box back to where I could see the newly improved "Brave Convoy" while I opened it up was probably what sealed my fate right there - the Autobot Matrix statue I'd been scrimping and saving for months to get had finally arrived, and looking from one to the other, I think I went a bit insane.

More insane, at least. All I can remember of the following events was chanting "Shiny, shiny, SHI-NY!" and the way the lucite core inside the Matrix shell brightened from a glow so faint I'd have missed it if I'd brought the bucket outside instead of taking the sculpture into the dark shed, until it was almost too bright to look at. I still find that beautiful, shifting blue mesmerizing any tme I've taken out the Matrix, which is one reason why I don't do it so very often.

Watching the Boskos make a course correction to account for the little delta-v I managed to generate by venting my cockpit, I wonder if the Matrix will manage to stay intact, and if someone else might find it. Hopefully not some damn zwilnik thug who'd just count it a trophy, another TF fan who'd feel inspired to be better than they were and carry it with pride... Pit, that's probably the real answer to how I got caught up in this mess, but my memories keep spooling out even as I have to drop another magnification level, looking down the throat of doom.

If a simple dunk in some jelly could make a blue LED powered by a hearing aid battery intended to light up a block of acrylic into... that, then what wonders could it work on something more complex? My calculator/phone book watch became more powerful than the latest quad-core workstation. A ceramic disk heater stopped needing wall current and became capable of heating the entire house even as winter set its teeth in. A portable DVD player started projecting holograms and could continue sequels indefinately.

Of course, there were undeniably oddball results as well - the heater, for example, would cool off afteer a while if I didn't lavish it with praise, and the DVD player would turn anything into hardcore porn by the second sequel. (And let me just say, Pinnochio III: Just Follow My Nose? Wrong on SO many levels...) My watch gained a little swiveling camera eye that would turn to look back at me any time I used it, and its appointment calendar would list things on its own, for people whose names I didn't recognise. I've met some of them since then, and apparently it's accurate, but that's the 'wave for you.

Perhaps the strangest was when I tried using some on the microwave - I thought the magic goop had finally failed me, shorting something out, until I gave it one last try as the only thing plugged into a circuit normally reserved for my father's arc welder. (Why would I even think of such a thing? Well, the plug on the end of the cord had warped, and I realised it was the right shape to fit a 220 socket...) only to discover that it no longer seemed to work anything like its original purpose - instead it produced a visibly glowing pinkish purple fog inside, that swirled and became thicker the longer it was left to run. It also sucked down power like crazy, and the display counted up (very, very slowly) instead of accepting a time and counting down.

I shrugged it off, shut the machine down, and left it to see if the mist would stay or dissipate while I moved on to experimenting with the effects on various materials, since I'd noticed that metals seemed to have little change beyond a degree of added durability, while plastics were metallized and biological stuff (including the tip of the pinky on my off hand, after a sausage showed no changes) didn't seem to be affected at all.

The most dramatic was a sheet of insulation foam I tried. The effect took a few days to penetrate the full thickbness of the foam, but when it was done it was almost as light as it started, tough enough that a diamond grinding wheel only barely scuffed the surface and I was able to use the sheet as a car ramp without measurably bending it, let alone breaking. A ceramic dish gained a metallic sheen, but didn't get chromed, and a little daub of the goop in said dish soaked up a good gallon and a half of gasoline over the course of three hours, becoming a very slightly larger daub in the process. Some old nails added to the dish made the stuff grow a good deal faster for the same amount of fuel - Coleman-brand white gas and some synthetic lamp oil, this time, since my jerrycan was empty.

I remembered my microwave a couple days later and checked on it to find that the mist had settled into a thin layer of brightly glowing liquid inside, and when I tipped it I was suprised to see the stuff collect in the corner of an invisible box inside the boundaries of the oven interior. Reaching in to discover that there was SOMETHING flat there, I realized finally what had happened - instead of cooking food, the thing had turned into an energon cube maker.

Hot shit.

That was the final nudge, I now knew why this goop had fallen into my hands, for it was DESTINY! The very oldest dream of my childhood lay open before me - I WOULD BUILD A TRANSFORMER!

Well, a transtector, at least - if anything, that was even better, since it would mean getting to be a giant robot pilot as well. The only question left was the design, since fate or the gods or whatever had already provided me with the means to turn easily-worked material into "cybertronium."

The hard part about that was that most of the existing designs were either poorly proportioned, needed oddball joints that wouldn't let them move properly, or didn't have enough room to put in a useable cockpit without building them really huge. I'd have loved to do one of the later Macross designs, but that was overly ambitious for a first project - maybe after getting the first one working. The way Head-, Power-, and Brain Masters folded themselves up to slot into their transtectors was generally impossible for a normal human as well. The Brainmaster pattern might have worked if not for the fact that the shoulders ended up down around the hips as part of sliding a robot face out of the torso.

It was possibly the hardest descision I had to face for the whole project, and I dithered over it for quite a while. Even with all the problems caused by taking as long as I did to get the project into a working, finished state, I still can't wish I'd done it diffferently, though - meeting Shuko was such a fluke, and she needed someone to help her then so much, that I'd go that far the same all over again, even without all the times she's saved me since, and even with the cold hard slag that landed on me at the same time...

That's what I mean about taking inspiration from the Matrix. It let off a... pulse, when I almost turned away, then, almost left her to her fate, and reminded me of the person I wanted to be - but that's getting ahead of myself.

I eventually did decide on a design, but before I could start on it I needed some cash. Heart bouyed only by the thought of having the real thing, I sold all but my most favorite toys of the collection, all my video games, consoles, heck any furniture I didn't regularly use, all the legitamate music and movies I could find, even most of my books.

I ate ramen exclusively except for Friday nights, when I would make my own pizza on french bread - I couldn't bear to spend robot money on restaurants, but what's life worth without pizza, even if you do have a giant robot? - and drank plain water. That was enough to get me started at least, though by the end I'd be selling blood and risking the wrath of the ancestors by selling generations of gathered treasures (read, rusted piles of junk) at pennies on the pound for scrap. I probably could have solved all of that by trading some of my "cybertronium" sheets, but from the beginning I wanted to spring a finished robot on the world, and the anti-'wave sentiment was already building by the time I realised that other people had found similar mystery goop all over the planet.

Of course, a fair amount went to growing the mystery jelly, or as I eventually realized it must be, handwavium, though the closest account to the way mine seemed to like to grow were the types that sucked down beer and/or highly caffenated beverages, and I think the various fuel products I fed the goop were probably the most expensive part involved. The other contender for that title would be the electric bill incurred by filling half a dozen energon cubes (I eventually realized that the display was reading how full the eighth-of-a-cube inside was, in hundredths of a percent, and that a single eighth-cube took about fifty kilowatt-hours) since except for the little heater, my batch flatly refused to make anything like power generation gear.

Frag, when I tried to use it on a fork lift motor, figuring I'd hook the thing to a gas engine and be able to get enough juice to run some lights and sound equipment at least, I got a freaking tractor beam if I spun the cog one way, and a repulsor if I spun it the other - that was the core of my original "gun" since it seemed a properly "superhero-ish" thing for a Transformer to use. It would be damn useful to have again right now, but the Trekkies were offering too high a price and I needed cash too much at the time.

Exactly what Energon is, I can't tell you - I gave some to the Professor once, and he came up with three (contradictory) working theories before managing to blow it all up - the stuff is a lot less dangerous than it seemed to be on the show, probably due to the apparently inherent safety factor of handwavium, but will still destabilize and make a pretty good bang if it's treated too roughly. It's a hell of a lot more than four hundred kilowatt-hours worth of energy inside one, I know that, (and how that works is beyond me - maybe the cube makers really are a kind of generator, and the power they draw is just some kind of catalyst?) but that's about how much you get all discharging at once. It's still fairly impressive, and that's if there isn't another cube close enough to get set off at the same time.

That thought collides with my survival instinct as the assault shuttle bears down on me. I hyperextend my left wrist and pop out the motorized saw from the third finger of my right hand, intentionally cutting the energon conduit exposed with a wince. I pull the right hand back out of the way and pump up the pressure in my left arm systems, making the liquid-like stuff spray out, then ignite it with the cutting torch in my left index finger. It hurts like a bitch, I've just slagged my own hand, and if I'm not careful I'll either bleed myself dry or get a backwash and explode, but the makeshift rocket does the trick, shoving me out of the way just in time to avoid the Boskos and force them to circle around.

That's another one I owe Shuko, and I promise myself not to complain about being the target of her eternal tinkering for a while. They will come back of course, but with another minute or two maybe one of the others will be able to give me a hand - no pun intended - or at least shoot me a tether line and haul my sorry skidplate out of the thick of it long enough to try to get my speedrive back in some semblance of working order. I'd settle for just cutting out the fried cross-connect to my original gravjump system, for that matter - I'd have dodging ability then at least, even if it wouldn't get me truly mobile.

I get signal from the repro VF-2MS that was supposed to be my wingman until we were mouse trapped into seperating - she's shouting a message for her husband as the fighter breaks up around her. Jammit. Another good woman dead, and the shuttle has almost finished turning back for another pass. I've got maybe two more shots with my little self-mutilating rocket trick, any more than that and it won't matter if they hit me because I'll have gone into stasis from system shutdown. Not that it would save me from an impact like that of course, I'd just never know about it.

Slaggin' lucky shot, hitting a place where the armor was already breached. If my drive was working I'd have ripped their little tin can with wings open like a cheap shopping bag already. One of these days I've really got to get the software worked out to fly on only one of the pair, since I know having one mounted off-center doesn't much matter.

Memory calls out to me again, and there's nothing better to do for a few seconds. Energon turned out to be the perfect enabler for robot contruction - it behaves like liquid in some ways, electricity in others, needing tubes to flow through in quantity but quite capable of operating an electric motor, and with more precision than running it electrically at that. Cubes, meanwhile, behave like solids, and the mini-cubes my microwave formed would stick together into a whole, inseperable one if left alone for half an hour or so. Even better, while a cube could be squashed down to 1/5 height, once 'tapped' the odd stuff seemed incompressible, so it worked great as a hydraulic fluid as well. Not that I had actual hydraulics to install, but I had lots of pipe and hose in various sizes to make my own, and a touch of magic goo smoothed over any deficiencies.

It took me months, in the end, and I was just finishing up when that con - you know the one - and the Eiffel Tower/Death Ray incidents threw everyone into a panic about what those insane dragon-pokers (like my humble self) were doing with such an obviously dangerous substance. Why wasn't it tightly regulated!? What if some crazy built a super-bomb!? Think of the children! Klono's niobium nuts, what a bunch of sheep! Primus wept!

I'd collected a load of files on what other tinkerers had done with their handwavium, and was definately intrigued by the idea of a flying car - but for the moment I was focussed on my own goal. I won't say that the thought of heading off into the black didn't have it's own appeal, but for once in my life I was determined to finish one project before starting another. Heh, everyone knows how well THAT ended up...

The base vehicle shape was never in question - if it had a Matrix, however undersized, a truck cab was the only possibility, but just how to do it took forever to decide - I eventually had arrived at a slightly "futurized" cab-over style... if my favorite colors were a bit different, I probably would never have been able to avoid getting tagged with the Optimus Prime moniker, which I'd never have lived up to. Just claiming the Convoy name that several explicitly different characters have had in the Japanese series is quite big enough shoes to fill, thanks. It had a few more angles than the orignal Optimus and a longer cab, as if it was one with a sleeper cabin built in as well.

Due to the limited internal space available when most of the volume was folded robot, the cockpit was positively tiny, unlike a real tractor cab. By the time I'd gotten actual controls in place, fitting a second person into the "cab" would have meant having them scrunch tightly into the corner by the passenger side hatch so I'd have room to work said controls in robot mode. The piloting position was lying face-down on a ramp in vehicle form, at just enough of an angle to releive the worst of the neck strain, the ramp padded with a cut down, re-sealed waterbed matress filled with what handwavium I had left when all the building was done and I reached the paint stage. Hey, why spend cash I didn't have on buckets of something else when I had some fine goopy gel readily at hand? Besides, I knew I'd want more of the stuff later.

Actual entry required retracting the air dam on the roof of the cab so the gullwing hatches could open, then climbing some ladder rungs set into the side, and in robot form the cockpit rode on the back, the ramp/couch retracting to leave the piloting position standing with enough room for a full slaved-motion control setup. Most of it would only work if country music (which I LOATHE) or a theme from Transformers or the various Brave series shows was playing on one of the trio of computers that had gone into setting up the control systems, an old Power Macintosh 7600, an iBook G4/800, and a tablet that had given me five kinds of hell to get working under Linux - but there was no way I was going to give MicroSloth a chance to destroy my dreams. In that respect at least, it was indeed a Mac Truck.

I'd kind of wanted a "flying car" mode or even better a triplechanger, but just couldn't come up with anything good, and once I found out about the spacebound uses of handwavium I figured I'd add that on eventually. Actually building a flight system turned out to be trickier than I'd hoped - I could get a short antigravity burst, but that was it. I put off messing with it further until after the first road test since that was enough to clear the ground for transformation, though I'd designed one that could work even without it. That would turn out to be one of the stupidest acts of procrastination I'd ever committed.

Aside from a few fit and finish details, the other major sticking point was that I still hadn't managed to get anything resembling a powerplant to work with the 'wave, and no hardtech generator could possibly supply the needed power with the space constraints I was working under. It kind of pissed me off, actually, but as a temporary stopgap I'd set up a cube generator in the grille/chestplate and packed a 220VAC rated extension cord. To this day, I have never been able to mount a generator in my body - I don't know why (though I blame it on the 'wave being wierd) but any power generation equipment that gets hooked directly into my own systems will quickly stop working, occasionally doing something else instead but usually just shorting out in a massive light show of sparks and smoke.

So, with (I thought) just a few finishing touches left undone, I blew the rest of my hoarded money on a tow hitch tough enough to pull the thing for my pickup (since I somehow doubted there was any chance of getting it registered and inspected to legally drive on the road, even without the fact that anything handwavium "contaminated" was pretty much considered a hazardous substance already. Fortunately it was much lighter than a real tractor cab despite the size) and in one last glorious blast of stupidity, took it to Total Con*fusion, in Concord. You know, the capital of New Hampshire? That Concord.

Please excuse me, oh hypothetical observer, while I apply a bit more percussive maintenaince to my cerebro-circuits. Also, it's time to burn the rest of my left hand off dodging the damn boarding shuttle.

Joy, I have whole minutes more to live! Actually, it's kind of a suprise that no one else has come along yet, from either side, but I was moving pretty quick when my drive cut out, and got bounced by some high-yield explosive after that, so we've probably drifted away from the heart of the battle. I can tell by the signal chatter that it's still heavy going out there. Then again, all things considered, I can only count my blessings that the pair who got poor Maike, my wingmate, didn't come help their buddies.

... When will I learn to keep my big mouth deactivated? Now it's just a question of which one gets to me first, looks like. Heh, I suppose there's an outside chance of someone messing up and wrecking each other, but the odds against are considerable. The only good side is that practise, it seems, yielded progress in my case - I barely used a third the energon for the second burn as the first time around, so I've still got a few more shots... for whatever good that does.

Why would I do such a stupid thing as to take an obvious 'waved vehicle out in public? Well, the beast looked normal enough in truck form, so I figured I could get away with a quick demo in the hotel lot followed by shutting down again and an expeditious retreat. The part of me that had spent months in self-imposed poverty while slaving away on a blue-sky project, turning a dream into cold hard metal, demanded that it not be relegated to the woods to hide until some golden, future moment when the fools on The Hill lightened up on the ol' sphincters again. No, if only once, I would show the world that they were wrong when they said to a bright eyed young robot fan that there could never be machines like that in the real world, it just wasn't possible.

Well, there I was with my green, gold, and grey semi, christened "Wave Convoy" with a bottle of IBC Root Beer, ready to prove that it damn well WAS possible. How does that old rhyme go?

"It cannot be done!" the scientist said,
"Impossible, son!" as he shook his grey head.
But before he could speak I'd begun it,
and by the time that he said, "It cannot be done,"
Why, quick as a wink, I done it!

Something like that, anyway. Heh, to misquote a different song, "But I won't cry for yesterday/there's an interesting world/somewhere I have to find..."

What happened next is pretty much a matter of public record, the riot squad, SWAT, and even some National Guard troops who were on the duty rotation that day called out to "contain the weapon of terror threatening the good people of New Hampshire." Yeah, sure I was. Threatening to make them think for a few minutes, maybe. Fortunately no one had really paid attention as such to my rig pulling into the lot, and since they didn't have a heli on scene yet when the first shock reaction wore off and I ran for it, I was able to bolt around a few buildings and transform to an ordinary looking semi and evade pursuit... for a few hours, anyway. It's not exactly obvious what I turn into beyond having tires and being green if you're not a Transfan, and there's a trucking company in the area that uses almost the same color scheme on all their cabs, so with an artfully painted fake plate I was safe from casual glances.

There was another problem, though - when I'd turned to run, someone with a .50cal sniper rifle - I don't know if it was SWAT or the Guard, but I dug the slug out of the upholstry later and a milarms otaku IDed it for me - had taken a shot through the side cab window, and while it barely clipped me - hydrostatic shock alone would have knocked me out otherwise, I'm sure - it put a big tear through the muscle and skin, and the bleeding wasn't stopping. I was a bit too busy to notice, but the gel pad and an energon line had been punctured too. Yay, happy fun energized handwavium in an open wound. I'm sure you see where this is leading, but my batch never did react with biological material much, so it wasn't anything like as quick to get going as most other people have reported.

Anyway, I got back on the highway north just long enough to find another major route east, toward the coast. Not that I had any particular idea of what to do when I got there, but I sure didn't want to lead trouble home to my doorstep (and my elderly father, who lived in a different house on the same property), nor keep going north to meet the border patrols when that was the direction I'd originally gone to duck away. I suppose there was some vague notion of getting on a boat and heading for international waters, or even just putting the environmental seals and recycler to a real test, but there would have been a slight problem with that even without a new bullet hole, had I but realised - I'd never gotten around to coating my cab windows with handwavium, meaning they were still plain old plexiglass. Walking along the ocean bottom with that would have resulted in a small problem or two, as I'm sure you can imagine.

Anyway, I drove for a while, until I didn't see any more helicopters behind me - apparently they'd followed the false trail north for the moment. I pulled off at a small town exit where I could see a woodsy residential lane winding along nearby - woodsy enough that I could stop in one of the places where it was thicker, and only people on that road would know I was there. I was starting to feel faint from blood loss (and probably the onset of bio-mod hybernation,) the gunshot wound hurt like nothing I'd ever felt, and I really wanted to try to get it patched up with the first aid kit. (Yes, there was one - every vehicle I ever owned has had one, and I've only gotten more fanatical about it since even if it's not me that would use them.)

I mentioned before that the cockpit is really tight and the boarding ladder kind of inconvenient, but never was that made more clear to me than when I tried to shimmy out the hatch to climb down with a bleeding, torn bullet wound. Quite simply, I couldn't do it. I settled for hanging my legs out and propping myself aginst the frame of the gullwing while cursing and blinking away tears raised by the sting of peroxide, then tried to get a bandage around my own upper back and shoulder. I almost JUMPED out, though, when I heard another gunshot. The torn muscle got torn more as I hauled the gullwing closed against the hatchback gas cylinder, frantically crawling back to the controls and powering up again. Yet... there were no sirens, no bullhorns, no helicopters. No one was yelling at me to surrender, and no bullets were spanging off the armor (or shattering through the plexi, for that matter. I still kick myself over that one sometimes.)

There was a scream, but it sounded more terrified than commanding, and both younger and more feminine than the usual slightly rough, father-figure Voice of Authority that they get to try to talk people into cooperating with the police. Then there was another gunshot, and another scream, and suddenly a petite young woman dashed out of the driveway not far down the road and started running the other way, followed by a guy trying to work the bolt on a rifle while he ran.

I almost panicked again - the last thing I needed was to run into any more trouble to add to what I already had. What the hell would I do against a guy with a gun anyway? I'd already been shot once today! Really, I thought, I needed to get out of there right the hell now, before I got involved... the rig trembled once, and it felt like the air was thick with static, and that was when I realized -

I was a giant robot pilot.

I was on the run from an unjust law, and had gotten a dramatically appropriate shoulder wound in the process.

Fleeing down the street ahead of me was a damsel in considerable and immediate distress.

I was PILOTING A GIANT TRANSFORMABLE ROBOT. One that had something close enough the Autobot Matrix of Leadership stashed away in its chest.

There was no possible way I could turn away at that moment and ever think that I could even be worth the bullet to put me out of everyone else's misery, let alone be the person I wanted to be.

I floored it. According to the TV specials, I did a few thousand dollars worth of damage to the asphalt peeling out on 'wave-enhanced tires, but I caught up with that guy before he got the gun back up to his shoulder, hit the transform and the gravjump and the gyros all at once, and did a forward flip as the rig unfolded into robot mode. I felt like I was seeing through my own eyes, instead of a pair of laptop screens. I felt like the dashing hero of a mecha anime. I felt like I was alive for the very first time, and reaching down to scoop up the girl, then hand her around to the passenger hatch I whooped like a football player who just scored his first touchdown in a pro game. A couple of dull bangs marked bullets bouncing off the back of the cab, but I couldn't have cared less about that as I gleefully shouted, "AUTOBOTS! TRANSFORM AND ROLL OUT!" and suited action to words.

I absolutely love the classic G1 transformation sound. The fact that the transformation actuators won't work unless it's being played, doesn't bother me in the least. In fact, it's even useful in some ways - the transformation always takes as long as the sound clip, so when I was working out a couple of problems I put it on really slowly and was able to see things moving and fix the conflicts before they jammed again. Likewise, if I need to make a snap-change instead of the visually impressive longer shift, it still works even up to three times normal speed. Whenever there's an atmosphere, I put it on the external speakers as well, just because I can. Choo-chun-chee-chi-ch!

Shuko later told me that hearing that sound, and with her background knowing there was no reason for a real machine to make that kind of noise when it moved, was what let her know she was with an Us rather than a Them, someone who got the fan mindset and had apparently taken it to the next level and out the other side. That was when she stopped panicking, and collapsed into an emotional wreck, not helped in the least by the fact that I was still pretty well covered in my own blood. I couldn't do anything but let her cry in her ball of misery at the moment, all my dwindling focus on heading back out to the highway, then finding a road in a different direction big enough to not draw attention with a semi cab. I lasted through a couple of towns before my eyes started to cross, then bounced my way up an overgrown logging trail to park it under the canopy of a stand of "junk wood" left behind, uncut when the loggers moved on.

I gasped out some kind of apology and asked her not to turn me in, then passed out on the shock couch - still not having noticed the hole oozing handwavium or the faint glow of energon in the quarts of blood I'd lost.

I can see the second shuttle coming in, now, and my original playmate is just about close enough on his run- waitaclick! His ramming SIF is down, they must have burned it out driving it so hard, and they're aborting the run, it's still a damn close pass, though... this is when I shout "AN OPENING!" and counterattack, right? Well, here goes the last blast on the arm - ow, literally, I'm lucky again and the seals cut off the backlash so I only lost the forearm, not the left front wheel or upper arm - but I think it was enough a little more a little more come on be magnetic YES!!

My hip grapple mounts were long gone, snapped off by impacts and the explosion that had tossed me out this way, but there are other options in close. My feet touch down just enough as the shuttle skims by under me, and the electromagnets lock on. I'm jerked up to their speed as the drive field extends around me, and I can feel the strain in my legs, but who-the-slag cares, I'm here and for fools like these, one hand is enough. I form a spearpoint and lock the joints in my fingers, ram it through the hull just behind the cockpit windows, then let the air inside help me tear a hole big enough to pull the pilot out. I don't have to crush him, his suit tears on the jagged metal, so I toss him into the inky deep and rip out the cabin door as well - anyone who didn't have their suit buttoned up inside is now going to be in Unhappy Land, and five guys in battle armor are pulled through by air pressure.

Them I swat or crush or just flick the helmet and break its visor or neck seal, before tossing them out as well. The Matrix pulses at me and I know I'll be having company in my nightmares tonight - a Convoy doesn't casually kill, I should try to take them alive for questioning and trial. Under normal circumstances, I don't casually kill - that's not the person I want to be - but sometimes there's not a lot of options, and there's not a lot of capturing I can do at the moment. Fortunately, the other members of the assault team - assuming they had a full one to begin with, with the speed the Baskone scrambled these guys as we approached I doubt they waited to get full teams aboard all of them - don't seem to want to come out and play. Golly gee willikers, I wonder why not? It was all in good fun when they were the ones with a giant robot ripping a hole in the side of Crystal Osaka, wasn't it?

The second shuttle is circling around, but they don't seem to know what happened - my arm made a nice energy spike when it went up, I'm sure, and this shuttle's course has been rock steady for nowhere with air and debris falling away - hopefully they think we took each other out, and won't pursue. I already know these guys don't care enough about each other to try to rendevous with a runaway and rescue whoever's on board, but if they do think I'm still functional they won't think twice about killing their own to get me, either. Looks like there's nothing to do but hang tight, hook my stump around the can opener peelings, and wait.

It's not something you'd know without crawling down there and looking, but there's actually a pretty good sized space inside the body of my truck form, around my so-handsome head. I'd never changed the camera settings after transforming back to vehicle mode that afternoon, so when I next became conscious that space was what the eye cameras were showing (upside down, but that at least was as it should be) - except it wasn't as empty as normal. A shivering silver bundle topped in brown was in there, precariously balanced on the "frame member" that becomes my upper arm in robot mode. There were a number of things really strange about how I felt, but the outside temperature sensor reported it as being Damn Cold while the cabin sensor was at Come On In The Water's Fine, and having realised I was looking at the girl I'd rescued wrapped in my first aid kit's emergency mylar blanket-thing I thought it might be a good idea to share that second report.

Getting her away from bits that would squish her if I accidentally hit the transformation button also seemed like... the transformation button, yes... button, button, where's the button... where's the finger, the arm, the body... The head-bone's connected to the, neck-bone...

Oh dear.

I believe I shall hold very, very still, while activating the head sound system and face synch. Will that actually work without a pilot's face in front of the camera to run it? Oh. Oh, yes, well, let's just shut that camera off for a few minutes, shall we? I don't need to think about skin covered in circuit patterns and cables that burst out of my skull for a little while.

It seemed the mimic software I'd kludged together was no longer needed, since I could feel the metalized rubber I'd used to make Wave Convoy's face moving as I softly called out, "Miss?" She jumped, and slipped off the ledge, landing out of my line of sight below, making me wince sympathetically. "Sorry, Miss? Are you all right?"

She sat back up into view, and I noticed the fur and cat ears for the first time. There were cute little mini-fang incisors too, as she yawned and blinked at the robot head mounted upside down in front of her. "Hai..." she said at length, and while I didn't know if it was a greeting or fan-japanese for yes, I assume the latter because she followed it with a greeting. "Um... Hello, there. I kind of got locked out of the truck, somehow, but I don't really know where we are and well... yeah," she trailed off, running a hand along one ear dejectedly.

It flicked away from her finger and I realised they were more than just a costume... I still needed to get her out of the crush-zone though. "Is there a name I can call you? It's kind of wierd just saying 'Miss' - but it would be a really good idea to get out from under the truck, I'm getting twitchy trying to stay still." Oddly enough, it was true. I had the strongest urge to stretch out and stand up, and a pretty good idea what doing so would mean at the moment.

A sob caught in the girl's throat, but she forced it down and replied, "C-call me Shuko, I guess... since he said their daughter Marci was dead, and no demon was going to profane her name..." By the state of her puffy, red eyes and tear-tracked cheek fur, I figured she'd done a lot of crying over that in however long I was out (04:34:17.882, a corner of my mind noted helpfully, another that bioneural functions had been migrated to cerebro-circuits 01:38:44.207 after losing consciousness) and understandably so if I was interpreting correctly. Pulling herself together with a visible effort of will, she clambered out through the side trim plate I opened and asked, "What's your name?"

"I'm, ah, having a bit of an identity crisis right now myself, actually. Um, you're not a demon are you? Becasue I'm pretty sure I'm definitely dead."

I'd switched to the grille camera, so I could see her fragile expression. "N-no... I don't think so..." Her voice becme very small, and she swallowed before whispering, "...maybe?"

Putting as much descisiveness as I could into my projected voice, I stated, "Sounds like a 'no' in that case, since you're much more likely to be an angel from what I can see." Trite? I suppose. Sappy? No question. On the other hand, it brought a tiny smile to her lips if only for an instant, before puzzlement knitted her brow.

"What do you mean, dead? No one's found us yet, and you sound a lot better than just after we arrived. There was a lot of blood, but it stopped so I got out to pee, and then the door wouldn't open again." She adjusted the shiny plastic sheet in a way that suggested she was doing it to remind me she was cold, rather than for the adjustment's sake.

"That's tied to the identity crisis. You see, the blood stopped because I ran out. The thing is, it seems I won't be needing it any more anyway... I suppose you could say I am Wave Convoy now instead of driving Wave Convoy." I was no where near as sure of myself then as I sound in my memory, but audio files don't lie, as long as you use a lossless compression format anyway. "You're welcome to come in - I'll open the hatch - but my body, I mean, the hardware I had for the last couple decades, is in there kind of... dead. And I'm in here, for approximate values of 'in' and 'here.'"

Suprisingly, then, Shuko laughed. "You sound like a CS major," she said. "Always talking about hardware and software abstraction and this value or that value."

"Makes sense," I noted. "I am a CS major. You're in college, then?" She looked about that age, but the fur could have been throwing me off.

"Yeah, double engineering major, ME/EE. The workload is totally insane, but I'm almost done... except now I've missed months of classes thanks to this. She tugged on the same ear spitefully, and winced when the nerves reported that ear-tugging was a Hurty Thing. The little moment of good mood she'd found popped like a soap bubble on the floor. Then she shivered violently and clutched the emergency blanket tighter like she meant it. "It's... really cold. Share-a-room-with-a-body-to-get-away-from type cold. Will you, -- oh, thanks."

I'd popped the passenger side gullwing's latch and started opening it right away, and she was up the ladder and leaning in in a twinkling. I switched cameras again, to one of the inside ones that looked that way, and saw her nose wrinkle. If she'd gotten more than just the looks from whatever gave her fur and things - I noticed a tail the same brown as her hair poking out now that she'd wadded up the blanket to use the ladder. I could see why she'd grabbed it, all she had on otherwise was a shortie tee, loose shorts, and some lowtop sneakers, I guessed because heavier clothes rubbed her fur the wrong way. The cream and brown pattern of it gave her a somewhat Siamese look, as if she was wearing clipped-finger gloves and dark socks. Where was I? Oh, Shuko looked like the smell was giving her second thoughts about corpse vs. cold, and having decided that I didn't have any real options in terms of a return to carbon-based living, I told her, "I'll let you decide which is worse, but go ahead and dump my old body if you want to. You should probably strap in either way, though, I seriously need to stretch and am certain that means transforming."

She shuddered once, put her hands together as if to pray, then looked at the speaker I'd routed my voice to and shook her head. Steeling herself, the petite catgirl climbed in through the hatch and levered my ... old-me's... whatever - legs to be in reach of the driver's side hatch, now gliding up on its hydraulics. Hadn't that just been a gas cylinder before? Well, it was fully powered now, along with the latches and locks. Then she went back out the passenger side and hopped up on the roof of the cab to cross over, get her feet set on the ladder rungs, and start to haul the bloody corpse out. Cetain important muscles had relaxed in death and I got a report of a .05% increase in power consumption and a hot feeling to go with the embarrassment, but she didn't mention it and neither did I. Some things were going to take more getting used to than others I thought, trying to distract myself.

After a considerable amount of effort, a quick stop to vomit, and a few whispered not-a-cuss-words (which told me I'd better watch my tounge around her, most likely) she managed to get my meat body to the point where it tipped out and fell to the ground with a crunch, the head and one arm ending up at angles that would have been bad if Elvis hadn't already left the building, so to speak. Hah hah, I kill me.

I shook off the looming depression in the face of Shuko's tearful if incoherent apologies, and went for warm and reassuring this time when I comforted, "Hey, it's okay. Don't worry about it - I'm not using that any more, you know? It's not like you hurt me, or did it on purpose." For some reason that only seemed to make it worse, and she hurled herself across the cockpit to the (mostly clean) passenger side to get some really good crying in where she didn't have to think about her balance. I closed the gullwings and tried to figure out what on earth the problem was - she was still babbling but between the wails and hiccups it was a real job to figure it out.

Fortunately I did have some physical means of comfort at my disposal - doing up the safety belts had turned out to be a major pain the ass, also the back and shoulders, so there was a pair of small arms mounted in the cieling console that had been intended to get code written so they could help do up the belt under computer control, since running them manually had ended up being even harder. (And why couldn't I have thought of them just a bit sooner, and helped the poor kid out? Was I that out of it?) Since I now was the computer I activated them and ran the lightest touches I could manage along her shoulders, giving her comforting words at low volume from the closest speaker.

Eventualy I pieced it together, she seemed to think I'd been shot by her father when I rescued her, and then she'd gone and broken my body when she'd always been taught that the state of the body was mirrored in the soul... something along those lines, anyway. Apparently her family were very spiritual, very devout (but more importantly, very small-minded) Baptists, cosplay and fantasy gaming being her bit of rebellion and ways to blow off stress from school. Then something happened at a con (I didn't think it was THAT con, though the timing was suspicious - it would have been a long way for her to go to get to New Hampshire without being caught and quarantined looking like she did, though) and her costume was part of her and that was somehow her fault too, because of something she'd done while making it(?) and, well, her life just kind of fell apart.

Later discussions filled in a bit more of the details - it in fact HAD been the guacamole dip, but she'd left early to go to a different hotel outside of town where the rooms were cheaper, and didn't get caught in the first sweep. The rest of the time between then and now had been taken traveling by hook and by crook, and a couple of times by using her new claws on someone who thought a little kitty needed a warm bed more than a ride, but at the time all I knew was what I could piece together. She never has explained just ow she got inside my truck form - I've asked a coupkle of times and all she does is give me a Look and say, "Duh, I'm a cat. Getting interesting places I'm not supposed to be is natural." The best I can figure is that she somehow squeezed in through the gap over my forearms, where the drive nacelles fold up in robot mode, but that would have been really tight even for her.

Looks like the Boskos in the other shuttle have written us off - they're out of my detection range, at least. I still haven't had any more playmates, though vibrations through the deck show at least one person moving now and then. Eh, whatever, I can deal with that as it comes. For the moment, I extend the human-size manipulators from my first and second fingers, setting up a course for the shuttle that will take it back out to the rally point. I'll have to be nice and quick on the IFF when we get there if I don't want my own side to blow us out of space, but radio silence is the way to go for now.

I was getting better with the sucky waldos in the cockpit, and tried a few basic back- and shoulder-rub motions, which at least seemed to help her hiccups. Finally she looked up from where she'd pillowed her head in her arms and asked, "Why are you being so nice? It's like you aren't even bothered by everything that happened to you, and... and I'm just here making it worse."

That one was a toughie, and I said as much, continuing, "I am bothered - so far beyond freaked out it's not funny - but I don't, well, as far as the body goes I feel very different, of course, but in terms of being me, I don't feel any different at all. Whatever made me, me, seems to have just... slid over. And, well, you're a handy distraction. I never met someone in a running gun fight before today."

The mood wasn't right to laugh, but at least she seemed to have calmed some. "Seriously, though," I continued, "it looks like we'd both be best off heading for space. You'd be stuck in quarantine, and I doubt I'd even get recognised as a person, let alone the same person, able to claim my bank accounts and things. Just figuring out how this affects life insurance would be a doozy. The problem is, for all the nifty stuff I built into this rig, one thing I don't have is a flight system.

"I fiddled with one for a little while, but all I could get was short bursts, enough to jump and transform, so I figured I'd leave it until after the road test. Then things went insane and people thought I was some kind of terrorist or something, and here we are. The only up side I see is that with your major you'll probably understand the stuff I got on this "speed drive" thing a lot better than I did, I just tried to follow the pictures because most of it was way over my head, and function seemed to follow form for most of the rest of the things I tried."

"The engineering helps less than you'd think," Shuko replied with a self-depreciating grimace. "I like 'unobtanium' better for the name, but I messed around with the suff too - treating certain parts of the costume with it and using it in the glue to stick them on let me wiggle the tail and ears by tensing other muscles, and that's probably why I got stuck like this, instead of some other way. I'll give it a shot, though."

"Please, no shots for a while, okay?" I pleaded. "Even as an expression... I don't want to think about that right now." I used the cockpit waldoes as they were intended, picking up the ends of the seatbelt and clipping them into place. "But for now, if you'll just hold on tight, I have never needed to stretch like I do right now in my life."

It was true, too. That first warm-up after the first transformation from inside - that was like nothing I can even explain, except to say that it's how a butterfly must feel when it climbs out of a pupa and unfurls its wings. Somehow merging with Wave Convoy had made a number of improvements here and there, most relatively small ones, but enough to notice performance increases even without looking at the hard data. Alas, my sorry attempts at a flight capable engine were not among them, and boosted jumps (or jumps without need of a ramp, in vehicle mode) were all I was going to get until Shuko worked something out. Transforming again, she read the drive data and reports I'd collected and we talked it over while I drove, heading north again with the intention of losing ourselves in the Maine woods and maybe making a border crossing in the middle of nowhere - Canada being slightly less uptight about handwavium than the USA at that point, Shuko should at least have been able to get supplies and materials without too much trouble as long as she didn't linger.

Any tentative plans to head for Canada were scrapped when the hunt for Shuko and I switched into high gear. It seems Daddy Dearest had been too busy being a reactionary asshole to hear about me, but the officers who questioned him after he called in a bio-mod sighting certainly did. The four and a half hours lost standing still turned out to have been a blessing in disguise since they meant that the media had caught up with what was going on and we heard about the cordon going up all along the border from New York to the coast rather than running into it.

Out of ideas, we ended up gravjumping the gate and ripping the shipping bay padlock off of an abandoned paper mill somewhere near the Maine border at about three o'clock on a Saturday morning, on the outskirts of a little town that had undoubtedly originally been settled to support it, but had become nothing more than a place to commute from. Shuko raided a Salavation Army donation bin outside the general store as we passed for a knit tuke, long coat, and gloves, so she'd at least be able to stay warm and have some chance of passing on the street if no one looked too closely at her face, but both of us were fending off despair with little more than hope at that point.

That hope rested entirely on the fact that I'd picked up an unencrypted WiFi access point as we passed the town's little public library, and the friend who'd driven her the last leg of her trip "home" actually lived only fifty or so miles away, having dropped her off at the driveway as he passed through, leaving because she'd thought her parents wouldn't throw her out if there wasn't transportation waiting. Bastards. As far as I was concerned, she was well rid of them, though of course I didn't tell her that.

More importantly, her freind - Marcel LeChevallier is his name, but he prefers Michael - had mentioned having acquired some handwavium to play around with, but never getting much in the way of results before it was banned and he hid it away in the basement. Since my handwavium, which we started calling Seibertron-type, didn't seem to want to make full-flight capable engines, she hoped he'd give his batch to us since he HAD gotten as far as a radio-controlled flyer built into a three foot long GI Joe aircraft carrier.

I didn't dare park within range of the un-'waved wifi , but fortunately Shuko had a wifi equipped PDA. After sleeping a few hours she bundled up and walked to the library, perching on a bench outside with a nice view of the river, and hit the network to send him an email asking for help. She also searched around for any more information on space-travel mods while waiting for a reply. I had her send a quick message to my family through an anonymiser to say that I wasn't really dead, nor had I gone on a terrorist rampage like the government and media seemed to think - I knew my mum especially must have been completely freaking out by then, and only hoped it would make things better instead of worse.

Fortunately, Michael was still willing to help, at least once she assured him that no, she hadn't killed the guy who'd been found a couple towns away (namely, me) and the "Battlemech Terrorist" she'd hooked up with (me again... though how anyone could take a Transformer for one of those lumbering clunkers is beyond me) hadn't either, and was in fact just a guy who wanted to show off his cool toy and unintentionally started a panic. He had a condition, though: We had to take him with us when we went. It seemed he'd felt the siren call of the stars as well, but kept chickening out before actually building the (technically illegal) speedrive he'd collected parts for or putting the 'wave to his car. He drove up that afternoon with all the parts he'd accumulated crammed into the back of his station wagon, plus a sheet of plexiglass from Home Depot and some (very welcome) heating-optional TV dinners for Shuko.

This time, 'waving the plexi was the very first thing we did, after cutting it to shape at least. It gave the stuff a cool, golden semi-mirrored effect, like the F-117 cockpit glass.

He gave his notice at work that Monday, while Shuko and I spent the week hacking together a pair of the units Michael had dubbed 'Wave Motion Engines (due to his choice of testbeds) that would fit into the rather limited spaces I had left unfilled in the Wave Convoy frame, on either side of the truck cab behind the trim stripe in the blocks that fold down/foreward to be the sides of my abdomen in robot mode. We also used some of the new stuff (or rather, she did while I stayed well away to keep from contaminating the batch) to make an electrical generator to run my energon cube condenser, since by the end of the week I'd be running uncomfortably low.

Eventually, Friday rolled around and Michael came back, wagon loaded with his geekstuff and household supplies, arriving once again in the dead of night. Since we'd be leaving soon anyway, I ripped the lock off the factory gate so he could drive in. We painted his Subaru Outback top and bottom with handwavium and gave the dual speedrives a single (thank the Matrix, successful) test shot for about ten seconds, because according to the info it took at least fifteen to get a solid read on gravity detectors. Then we sat around with two-liters of Dew and an Energon cube bullshitting and saying goodbye to Earth while we waited for it to set.

The plan had been to use the electromagnets in my fifth wheel to lock the Subaru in place on my truck form, but there was a small problem with that - we had no ramp, no crane, and if I was in truck form I couldn't pick the car up and set it in place myself. I could do that now, but I hadn't figured out as many Stupid Robot Tricks at that point - opening a side hatch for Shuko was actually the first time I'd manually controlled a transformation joint instead of using a prgrammed sequence ever, even when I was building it.

This was how we came to make the exit that's since become a staple of practically every documentary on fenspace and the so-called Great Exodus from Earth - after driving the Outback back out back (snicker) to the factory parking lot, I transformed, picked it up, and took off for the stars, Superman style.

We were detected pretty much instantly, of course, and due to the still-ongoing media circus (which would probably have died down, if not for the President and various politicos taking advantage of the opportunity to wave the flag and justify more "emergency legislation" by playing up the supposed terror threat) Air Force jets and CNN helicopters were immediately dispatched to intercept, unlike the majority of fen takeoffs where officialdom considered it a self-correcting problem.

I was just barely able to hold the Outback in one arm instead of two, and juggle my tractor beam gun off the rack on the bottom of the cab/backpack to knock away oncoming missiles, but didn't want to turn it on the jets themselves - I may have become ashamed to call myself an American in recent years, but that didn't mean I'd lost respect for the guys who went out to get shot at protecting the rest of us. Fortunately they ran out of missiles before I ran out of missile-shooting luck, their mounted guns didn't do much more than scratch the paint, and going straight up I was beyond their service cieling before any more could arrive.

The newsies got some good footage of that from below, but it's the one gun camera clip that gets the most airtime, where the pilot was following his last pair of missiles in and strafing, me knocking them down with bursts of glowing blue rings that made the missiles think they'd hit something, looming large with machine gun bullets ricocheting in bright showers of sparks before he pulled away from a collision course. Michael was pissed about that aspect of the adventure - the bullets may have bounced off me, but they turned the windows of his Subaru into sugar and spiderwebs and they burst instead of holding atmosphere. He had three cases of soda in there that popped the plastic bottles and froze all over his stuff - apparently we should have given the 'wave a couple of days to really work on it before taking off.

Finally! The shuttle had started behaving erratically not too long after I set course for the rally point, then the drive cut out - my guess is that the surviving Boskone had set about doing whatever they could to make my life difficult. It didn't matter by that point, though, momentum would carry us from there and there would be plenty of small craft with the supply train for the makeshift assualt fleet to retreive us. Now that we were well away from the battle, I dialed up the Gnarlycurl to call in.

Shuko was visibly relieved to see me, the image relayed from a little pop-up camera on my good arm while I percieved hers directly as a video stream. "Good to know you're okay, Green Machine," she greeted. "We heard you radio for assistance after getting split up, nya, then Maike getting shot down, and nothing."

"I had some enthusiastic playmates," I explain, "and we ended up breaking our toys. I'm going to need someone with a working drive to corral this shuttle, and deal with the raiders that are still on board - I suspect they've forted up in the engine room. Personally, I'm still ground-mobile but my drive is out and I'll be needing a new left arm."

Putting on an over exaggerated look of irritation she complained, "Hssst, always making more work, aren't you?" Her face softened again, and just from the tone of my best friend's voice I knew something was up as she repeated, "I'm really glad you're all right, Wave Convoy. Michael... A raid broke into this area while he was making a run for more medical supplies, since we've been doing hospital ship duty, and ... they got him. One of the rammers flew right through the Magic Bus, didn't even give him a chance."

Damn. Michael was kind of annoying sometimes, but he was a good freind to both of us. He'd always come through in a pinch, and it's not like the Gnarlycurl wasn't big enough to have our own private spaces.

I don't technically need to sleep these days, physically speaking - with adequate energon supplies my robotic body doesn't get tired per se. The cerebro-circuits that took over housing my personality, that had once just been a brain-shaped sculpture with whatever electronic parts I had handy here and there put in the head for versimilitude, still mostly mimics the functions of a human brain however and needs periodic rest cycles to organise things. Even then I can pull off the trick dolphins have where only half their brain sleeps at once as long as I don't mind looking like I have the processing power of a TRS-80 until all of me wakes up.

Wounded dignity is hardly the only reason I avoid that in favor of plugging in for daily recharge cycles as much as I can, though - part of it is simple efficiency, since my energon level regenerates a bit with far less power cost than making cubes and consuming them normally, part of it is to maintain some loose connection with humanity, and part of it is because I don't get the really interesting, semi-coherent dreams unless I do. Of course, the flip side of that is that I don't get the really nasty, horrific or depressing nightmares either... which was the real reason it was close to a month after that battle before I bit the bullet and settled into the recharge couch.

Sure, I'd told myself it was because there was just so much to do - I'd sortied again after getting repaired, and then there was retrieving the dead and wounded, and getting those craft that could be fixed back into service, and those that couldn't stripped and the wrecks out of the way, and captives to deal with and funerals to attend and a million other things... but I knew the truth, and by the end I had a constant, low level dissapproving buzz from the Matrix for my cowardice. Eventually I stopped making excuses and got down to it, the perception of my quarters fading and being replaced - suprise, suprise - by an Autobot briefing room.

The big screen was replaying the end of the battle as if from a camera following me and for just an instant I thought the form silhouetted against it was Victory Saber, which would have finally answered whether these dreams were really directly from the Matrix or not, since Victory Saber hadn't ever carried it, co-existing with Rodimus Prime in the Headmasters/Masterforce/Victory time frame. Then the screen changed back to the default Autobot logo and the lights came up, and I realised it was just Ultra Magnus. So much for proof.

Looking around the room, I saw that Rodimus was here too, as well as... "SCOURGE!? What the slag is a Decepticon doing here?"

The sinister Sweep leader scoffed from where he leaned against one wall, exasperated. "Weak-minded Autobot fool. Do you forget that I carried your precious Matrix briefly as well?" He sneered and crossed his arms, while Rodimus winced and looked away.

I had forgotten that episode, or was it a two-parter? Scourge had been pretty messed up by the Matrix energy, but he did get the standard leader-grade power boost despite that, where Galvatron and even Magnus hadn't been able to use it at all. If he'd gotten it while he was still Thundercracker, before getting rebuilt by Unicron made him less compatible, it might have been game over. "That still doesn't explain why you're here," I insisted. "It's not like a Decepticon - espescially you, the S&D squad leader - would have a problem with bloody battle, or any moral credibility to reprimand me."

Rodimus answered that one, saying, "We're not here to reprimand you - you already know how you should try to handle things next time. Magnus and I are here because we didn't feel worthy of the role any more than you do, while Scourge is the example of what someone truly unsuitable to hold the Matrix is like."

The scowling, dark blue Sweep scoffed again, then pushed off from the wall to take his seat at the conference table. "Perhaps, but before you soft-hearted fools make me glitch with your pep talks, let's get down to business. Whether I care about how they offended you or not, hunting down the rest of these 'Boskone' of yours calls for MY area of expertise." Narrowed red eyes glowed cruelly for a moment, in memory of chases past.

Onward to Surfing with the Alien 2