Optimus, Woz, and the Kamen Riders returned to the Autobot base. “Not more strays!” protested Ratchet.
“Relax, I won’t stay long,” assured Woz.
“And who are you calling strays?!” asked Nimbus hotly as he and Terra canceled their transformations and returned to Swalmu and Twaldar.
“So, as I usually say, IWAE!” called Woz. “You have two new saviors!” A purple portal then opened. “With that, I must say farewell. See you later or earlier!” Woz then vanished into the portal.
“…Who was that?” asked Ratchet.
“That was Kamen Rider Zi-O’s servant, Woz,” explained Guard as he canceled his transformation. “He gave Swalmu and Twaldar Chronicle Drivers, the type of belt Liam wears. As of now, Swalmu is Kamen Rider Nimbus and Twaldar is Kamen Rider Terra. Together, they helped us beat back the Nazgûl until Sauron collected them.”
“Sauron was here again?!” yelped Teletraan.
“He took the Nazgûl back with him,” assured Optimus. “We’re good. How goes the sensor sweep on Holaska?”
“Not a slagging peep of any indication of a Temporal Stop,” grumbled Ratchet as he led everyone to the med bay. He checked everyone over as Hanako helped make up the necessary painkillers for a Zephyr and an Elf. Ratchet gave Optimus and Richard their painkillers and cleared them.
“Teletraan, locate Ironhide,” called Optimus. “I want to get some firearm advice.”
“Why not ask Ratchet?” snarked Teletraan. Optimus turned to Ratchet with a quizzed look.
“The fool tried fighting the Battle of Seattle in the holo-suite with the safety protocols turned off,” explained Ratchet.
“With his vision going?!” yelped Optimus. “Is he ready for visitors? I’m thinking of snapping at him! Unless you haven’t done so already?”
“Already did so,” replied Ratchet as he handed Optimus a pad detailing Ironhide’s injuries with illustrations to help Optimus understand the damage. “He’s in ward 2 and is eagerly awaiting visitors.”
“Thank you,” replied Optimus as he headed to ward 2 and opened the door to see Ironhide on a repair berth. His expression was a happy one when he saw the mech he raised as his own son.
“You’re a sight for an old mech’s eyes,” he drawled.
“Yeah, well, my words won’t be pleasant for your ears, Sergeant!” snapped Optimus. “Apparently, after turning off the safety protocols during a simulation of the Battle of Seattle, the enemy hologram stabbed you in the shoulder! Another three centimeters up, then you would have leaked all of your Energon onto the holo-suite’s floor and lost your Spark!”
“You wizards and your fascination for what COULD have happened!” grumbled Ironhide. “That particular Energon line ain’t damaged and I ain’t offline!”
“Well then, forgive me for boring you and being concerned as a mech would be when their father figure does something like this!” hissed Optimus. “I’ll get to the point: you’re acting like a fool!”
“Your concern for me is noted,” replied Ironhide, “but having a few days of inaction has dulled this old mech’s reflexes. This is only proof I need further training.”
“Turning off the safety protocols during a battle simulation,” continued Optimus, “is, at best, dubious. For someone of your age and current visual acuity, it’s idiotic! Now, if you would consider corrective ocular lenses…”
“I DON’T WANT GLASSES, OPTIMUS PRIME!” shouted Ironhide.
“Then,” lectured Optimus, “you must accept the fact that you have a disability that will compromise you in…!”
“You may be my Prime,” snarled Ironhide, “but there are limits as to how far I will indulge even you!” At that moment, Ratchet came into the room.
“Judging by your shouting,” he snarked, “Ironhide, you’re cleared for duty.”
“Thanks, Doc,” bid Ironhide.
“My name is NOT ‘Doc’,” snapped Ratchet, “and, if you REALLY want to thank me, don’t come into my med-bay dripping Energon! It takes days for me and whatever poor sap Optimus assigns to help me get it all up off the floor!” Ironhide glanced at the floor, then returned a glare to Ratchet who glared right back at him as he left. The instant the door closed; Ratchet turned to Optimus. “Did you REALLY suggest glasses to him?”
“Considering that the need for glasses runs in my family, I would figure he would understand,” sighed Optimus.
“Don’t bother,” muttered Ratchet. “Let me give you a little advice; us rust-buckets don’t like being reminded of our weaknesses. I certainly don’t like it when I’m reminded of my back pains.”
“Noted,” replied Optimus.
Swalmu was outside, his dress now looking more irregular and cloud-like as he hovered above the ground. He took a deep breath and sighed as he closed his eyes and looked towards the sun. “Um, excuse me,” called a timid voice.
“Ms. Flora Nightly, correct?” asked Swalmu. The voice gasped; it WAS Flora.
“H…how did you…?” gulped Flora.
“Being a member of a species that came from the wind,” continued Swalmu as he moved on his cloud to face Flora, “it means I can read how air flows around an object. The cloud that functions as my dress enhances my abilities. Did you have a question?”
“I just…wanted to know…how your people came to be,” mumbled Flora.
“Well, there’s the usual scientific explanation of us evolving along the Wind Elemental family tree,” replied Swalmu, “and there’s the creation myth. Which would tickle your fancy?”
“The myth, please,” answered Flora, “if that’s okay with you.” Swalmu then made a set of steps put of his cloud.
“I would prefer not to shout it down to the audience,” he explained. Flora tested the steps by putting her foot on one, then standing on it. She was surprised at how the step held up her weight. She then continued up the steps and joined Swalmu. “We Zephyrs,” he began, “used to be quite different from what we are today. We were wind spirits; small, noisy voices living in the air.”
“Using the wind to see?” asked Flora.
“And always jealous of the ability to see colors,” continued Swalmu. “One day, one of the Divine Ones, Altrek, heard our pleas and she was so moved by how we wanted to see like other creatures, so, in secret, she made bodies in her image. She then made a few males so the new species could flourish, but her fellow Divine Ones became angry with her for daring to alter a life-form from its original form. The new Zephyrs then pleaded their case and had so moved and shamed the Divine Ones, they were told to flourish and live life to the fullest.”
“And they had no repercussions from shaming their Gods?” quizzed Flora.
“Not a single bit of punishment,” replied Swalmu. “Imagine it! My people were little more than formless wind spirits, now look at us! Look at what we’ve become!”
“Do you…er…that is…” stammered Flora.
“Is something else on your mind?” asked Swalmu.
“Not…that I wish to…I mean…why dress the way you do?” Flora finally asked.
“It feels more comfortable to all Zephyrs, regardless of gender,” replied Swalmu. “During our first years, a non-Zephyr asked if there were any Zephyr men. As you can guess, there ARE. When told this, the non-Zephyr said we should dress as men do. In defiance, we all wore dresses. Now, we all dress as women.”
“…You’re so pretty,” whispered Flora.
“Hm?” asked Swalmu.
“N-NOTHING!” squeaked Flora.
“…Very well,” mused Swalmu.
Hiro sat on the bed in his quarters. He sighed as he considered how to proceed as their military might was being built up. As he thought, he heard the door chime. “Enter,” he muttered. The door opened.
“Ah, Hiro Adachi, the man I’m looking for!” cheered the newcomer.
“Eggman!” yelped Hiro. “I haven’t seen you since you first contacted me!”
“I was just puttering round,” replied Eggman. “Just some poking around and…well…no, I shouldn’t say.”
“Shouldn’t say what?” asked Hiro.
“No, it’s too harsh,” sighed Eggman. “It concerns Ambassador Hell.”
“Tell me!” growled Hiro. Eggman released one last sigh.
“Here,” he mumbled as he handed Hiro an object.
“…What is it?” asked Hiro.
“What does it look like?” inquired Eggman.
“A box,” replied Hiro.
“Open it,” urged Eggman. When he opened the box, Hiro noticed a lot of machinery.
“…I don’t know what this is,” muttered Hiro. “What is it?”
“A small nuke with the combined destructive capabilities of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki!” explained Eggman.
“WHAT?!” yelped Hiro as he dropped it. “IT’S…!”
“Relax,” assured Eggman, “the radioactive material has been rendered inert. Besides, it wasn’t even armed.”
“I certainly hope not!” shuddered Hiro.
“But, much like your organization’s original home of Japan,” continued Eggman, “such weapons are illegal. I found it in Ambassador Hell’s quarters.”
“He’ll probably say it’s a new mining charge for the Nonexistium mines,” dismissed Hiro.
“At which point,” countered Eggman, “you would tell him that a mining charge is used to minimize the blast effect. This device, however, is a powerful explosive with the sole purpose to spread nuclear radiation over a wide area.”
“What would he be wanting with that?” asked Hiro.
“Why not ask him?” invited Eggman.
“You know, I may do just that,” declared Hiro. He eft his quarters, leaving Eggman alone. Eggman decided to help himself to Hiro’s communicator and typed in a code. A private, untraceable communications channel opened.
“Caan, it’s Eggman,” he called. “Hiro’s been made aware of Ambassador Hell’s mini-nuke.”
“Splendid,” praised Caan’s voice. “And Ambassador Hell himself?”
“Took Combatmen loyal to him and abandoned Shocker Rift,” reported Eggman. “The original Shocker is back in its home universe.”
“As I predicted,” cheered Caan. “Good. Keep me posted. I’ll pick you up when they find out about your duplicity.”
“Very well,” replied Eggman. “Eggman out.” He closed the channel.
Hiro stormed to the bridge of the ship. “Locate Ambassador Hell!” he barked to the Communications Officer. “He’s created a nuclear bomb!”
“Hiro-sama,” called the Helmsman, “Ambassador Hell took the original Shocker Combatmen with him on an old ship and returned home. He left a message for us.”
“On screen!” snapped Hiro.
“The message is audio only,” replied the Communications Officer. “Playing back now.”
“This is Ambassador Hell, the true leader of Shocker in the absence of our Great Leader,” began the message. “Hiro, if you’re hearing this, then it means my mini-nuke DIDN’T explode. I must say, I’m disappointed. In any event, you’ve probably pieced together why I’m leaving you; you are the worst leader Shocker has ever had. I was hoping you would see sense and drop your vendetta against Megumi since she was Vortech’s enemy, not yours. By the way, if you’ve discovered the cash pile I left you, then you’ll notice that I only left you 20 million yen which, knowing you, you’ve already spent on Igura’s ridiculous cravings to satisfy your mutant child. All the other stuff, diamonds, gold, jewels, it’s all fake! I always hated you since you joined us before the mess with Hongo and this was the perfect payback! By now, you’re only functioning on studs and can’t exchange them for yen! The tax people are after you and you can’t admit to everyone I fooled you! If you’re playing this on the bridge of your ship, then let me leave you with this: the joke’s on YOU, failure! I command the one TRUE Shocker and got the last laugh!” The message ended on Ambassador Hell’s laughter before the Communications Officer switched it off.
“…Hiro-sama…” gulped the Helmsman.
“Speak,” growled Hiro.
“I speak for everyone when I say, ‘To Hell with the fake money’,” continued the Helmsman.
“Oh?” asked Hiro.
“We have no reason to go back home,” continued the helmsman. “We’re with you to the bitter end. Who really cares about the outdated Shocker? I prefer the upgrades and not talking in strict ‘YEE!’”
“Orders, Lord Hiro?” asked the Shocker Rift Commander Dalek.
“The Temporal Stops are lining up,” declared Hiro. “Set course for Vorton. Once we see it, cloak and hold position until it’s confirmed all of our enemies are right there.”
Optimus massaged his temples as he returned to his office. He let himself fall into the chair and shut his optics off for a bit. When he opened them a few seconds later, he noticed a chess board set up on his desk with the black pieces on his side. A white Pawn in front of the Queen’s Bishop had moved two spaces forward. Optimus blinked and looked around. His optics flickered before he moved the Pawn in front of the Black Queen one space forward. “…Okay, your move, whoever you are,” called Optimus.
“Prime!” called Cliffjumper’s voice over the comms.
“Go ahead,” directed Optimus.
“There was a scream at Empire City!” reported Cliffjumper. “People are in a panic!”
“I can only say it SOUNDED like a scream,” supplied Ratchet’s voice. “Everyone, even our visitors, is currently trying to find the source of the scream.”
“On my way!” declared Optimus. As he left, he failed to notice that the Pawn in front of the White King’s Bishop had moved two spaces forward.