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The Omega Point: Part Four

Herald

by Simon Furman

(Antagony, despatched through time by Shokaract to safeguard the Dark Essence, has arrived on Beast Wars era Earth, only to be captured by Megatron. Now, within the Predacon base, the interrogation begins...)

Earth, and Megatron considers his mysterious captive. She remains resolutely silent, despite his best and most inventive tortures. The visitor is Predacon, that much is clear, and judging by the level of technological sophistication and a thorough - paintaking even - molecular analysis of her metallic composition, from the far future, centuries after the time Megatron left behind him. What Megatron doesn't know is the nature of her mission here, or what exactly this mysterious artifact was she sought.

Megatron realises the visitor offers an unprecedented chance, not simply to reveal the nature of her mission (evidently a matter of considerable importance), but to learn exactly what the future holds (for him, for the Predacons). Armed with all this information and the means to return to the future, he will be unbeatable.

Conventional interrogation, while enjoyable, appears increasingly pointless. The visitor possesses seemingly limitless fortitude, and is able to endure incredible levels of pain. Megatron is impressed, not just by the visitor herself, but by whoever she serves. Any one of his subordinates would have cracked long ago, but such is the level of conditioning - and, Megatron suspects, the fear of the consequences, should she give anything away - the visitor continues to resist.

Using technology 'borrowed' from Tarantulas, Megatron prepares to adopt a more cerebral approach to the problem. The device, the 'mind drill', employs invasive nanoprobes, which colonise specific hemispheres within the brain, restructuring neural pathways, making a mind more pliable, more open to suggestion. As the procedure gets underway, Megatron settles back to watch.

Antagony struggles against the nanoprobes. She is the chosen of Shokaract, one of the elite few he deems to call Heralds, and she will resist. She must resist. She knows only too well what will happen should she fail. Whatever happens, neither the artifact nor the Dark Essence can be allowed to fall into the hands of this dangerous throwback. Antagony knows that a strong, single emotion, focused with enough intensity, will be enough to disable the nanoprobes. With that in mind, she forms a mental picture of the object of all her anger, all her hatred... Cataclysm.

Cybertron, and Antagony meets Cataclysm for the first time. She dislikes him instantly, understanding there and then that they will be rivals, enemies, each coveting the title of Herald Maximo. Cataclysm has just completed his Ko-tu; his ceremony of awakening, and the head his Alpha target is displayed prominently, mounted on the central spike of his Trident. It was a hard kill, the target one of the toughest warriors within the Maximal/Predacon resistance, and yet Cataclysm made it look routine. And now he bristles with pride as Shokaract marks him, and as a full Herald he turns to look at her - looks directly at her - and smiles. It is understood. Though ostensibly they are allies, they are also the bitterest of enemies.

In the years that follow, Cataclysm constantly frustrates her efforts to impress, sabotaging her missions and preempting her, claiming honors that were rightfully hers. And though she plans intrigues of her own, he stays one step ahead, frustrating, confounding.

Matters come to a head during the Horus Campaign, as it is known. Despite the might of Shokaract's forces, one Empire resists his inexorable advance across the galaxy. The mad despot known as Horus, a bio-synthetic, believing himself the descendant of some primitive sun god, had established a massive power base in the Argos Cluster, a strategically important planetary chain. Fuelled by raw solar energy, which he absorbed and channeled, he was not an opponent to be trifled with. His armies were numerous and fired by a suicidal religious fervor, and already the conflict had cost two Heralds, sixteen Reaver divisions, and over six thousand Drones. Shokaract was not pleased.

Whoever broke the Horus deadlock would be duly rewarded, and so both Antagony and Cataclysm took it upon themselves to do just that. Anatagony embarked on a daring campaign, using diversionary tactics to draw Horus's main fleet away while she struck at the despot himself, engaging him in savage battle. Cataclysm, however, chose a more direct approach. He simply instigated a doomsday reaction at the heart of the sun, the very sun that fuelled Horus. The sun exploded, taking out two rather insignificant local systems in their entirety and devastating the Argos Cluster. Horus was critically wounded, and Antagony - who survived, if barely - finished him off.

Antagony was furious. Not only had Cataclysm stolen her thunder, but he had nearly killed her in the process (no doubt his intention). However, both were honored for their sheer audacity and ruthlessness, Shokaract assuming that the two-pronged attack was ochestrated in concert between the two of them, and so neither gained an edge on the other. But now, more than ever, Antagony hated Cataclysm, and dreamed of a reckoning.

She achieved small victories, exposing Cataclysm's reluctance to partake in time travel, and thereby securing the mission to Earth's past. She engineered it so that Cataclysm's fission brother, whom he had sponsored and trained to be a Herald himself, would have to kill one of the most resiliant Alpha targets for his Ko-tu, but, she realises, it's not enough. It's never enough. And now? With her mission to retrieve the Dark Essence a failure, who will step in? Cataclysm of course. He will steal her thunder once more, and this time nothing will stop him becoming Herald Maximo.

In that moment, as Antagony gives in to despair, she is lost, her mental defenses overrun by the nanoprobes. As she loses all sense of herself, she remembers the foreboding words of the oath she took as she received her mark of Herald from Shokaract; "never to betray you, to die before the poisoned words can be uttered." As the last of her resistance crumbles, and the relentlessness of Megatron's questioning continues, so Antagony feels a sudden jolt of pain, a sun exploding in her mind, and then nothing.

Megatron sees her slump, and is surprised to find that her mind has been destroyed, wiped clean. Only later will the existence of the mind-bomb be confirmed, a failsafe buried in her cerebral cortex. And while Megatron is frustrated, he is also impressed. Her master clearly left nothing to chance.

But, Megatron knows, this is not the end. Whatever her mission was, it remained unfulfilled. This master will send others, and he, Megatron, will be waiting...

end of part four.

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