Sideswipe showed no emotion as Optimus Prime and his loyal officers were pushed towards the grand entrance of the Command Center by a group of out-of-state Autobots and an equal number of Neutral guards. His audial receptors picked up Ironhide's angry protestations, threatening Sentinel Prime as his demands for release rang throughout the ground floor; Streetwise voicing his damnations at any guard who dared touch him, and Blades' and Silverbolt's hostilities towards the same. He watched as Ironhide fought back with all his strength, punching and kicking back at the guards who sought to grab hold of him, and he realized how detached he was about the entire drama. It was as if everything that was happening around him, the events that were unfolding before his optics, were all just part of a dream. Yet he could not offer his help to any of them – felt no inclination to do so, in fact – and he wondered whether he had already lost his spark, was already a broken and empty mech inside. The only thing, the one thought that seemed to keep him going was the hope that he may get to see his brother again, should Sentinel be suitably pleased with him.
"If you don't want to end up like your loud-mouthed friend, I suggest that you start behaving like a good, aft-licking Autobot," one of the Neutral guards advised Ironhide, using Brawn's misfortune at their hands as an example, and then taunted the artillery specialist with a deep, mocking laugh.
Ironhide couldn't stop several of the Neutrals as they overpowered him with ease, whilst the rest of the Iaconian Autobots were corralled together into a tight circle by the main entrance doors. "Let go of me, you creeps!" he shot back, unable to accept what was going on. He had not been prepared for such a turn of events, and it had happened so quickly that he was still in a state of shock and confusion.
One of the Aerialbots, Air Raid, pleaded with Optimus to allow him and his team to fight back by forming Superion, while Slingshot offered to use his flight capable alt mode to gain some advantage over their captors, but Optimus had ordered them to refrain from taking any aggressive action. "No – we can't violate the very laws that we've all sworn to uphold… no matter how much we may disagree with the current situation."
Standing beside him, Prowl made sure that only Prime could hear his words. "Sir, I and… others have reason to believe that Sentinel may have a hand in the sabotaging of–"
Optimus interrupted him, knowing Prowl's thoughts without needing to hear the rest of his sentence. "But can we prove it?" he asked, speaking quickly.
"Perhaps…" Prowl replied discreetly. If he was able to get one of the Antihex Autobots alone he may be able to elicit a confession, learn from him what was happening in Antihex as well as Sentinel Prime's involvement, under the threat of being tried for treason.
"We can talk about it when we get the chance," Optimus said circumspectly, and that was all he was willing to say on the matter – at least for now.
"So, we're just going to let him take over?" Streetwise's sudden outburst was not altogether unexpected. He was frustrated and confused, just like they all were, though a part of him was secretly glad and relieved that Groove was not presently among them. Primus knew his pacifistic team mate had been through enough already. "No disrespect, Prime, but he's already shot down Brawn – are you telling me that our laws allowed him to do that? Who else is he allowed to mistreat–"
"Streetwise – that's enough!" Prime stopped him mid-sentence, shutting him down, his tone of voice impatient yet controlled. He paused, taking a moment to re-center his thoughts, but before he could say anything more there was commotion by the main entrance next to him, and he became aware that Sentinel's subordinates had already taken too long to open the doors. Three of the Neutrals had become frustrated as they watched two Antihex Autobots reacting to a non-compliant Teletraan II. Apparently, their security codes were being rejected every time they input them to try to get the doors to open, so finally their impatience got the better of them.
"I'm just going to blast it," one of the Neutrals said, raising his weapon at the access panel. Before he could pull the trigger, however, he heard Sentinel's voice call out behind him.
"What do you think you're doing?" the former Prime admonished, his tone dangerously impatient. "Get these Autobots out to the high security cell blocks!" he repeated, waving a hand at Optimus Prime and his team, but he was soon met with panicked confusion from his guards.
"Uh… we can't get these doors open," the Neutral explained, and then quickly stepped out of the way as Sentinel pushed past him.
"You incompetent fool!" the large red and black leader mech said in a scathing voice, and hurriedly input his own code. "I don't have time for this."
'That code is invalid. Please enter a security clearance override to access,' the Center's computer voice informed him.
He grunted in anger and tried again, but Teletraan II would not accept his code. Slamming a fist against the heavy door, he thought for a moment before spinning around in search of someone. "Sideswipe!" he called out as he spotted the tall warrior standing silently in the far corner. "Try your access code."
Sideswipe did as he was told without protest, avoiding Optimus' questioning gaze as he approached the doors. He deliberately ignored the looks of disapproval from the other Autobots as he calmly input the new security code that one of Sentinel's top ranking advisors had given him, then stepped back to wait for the doors to open. However, all he got in return was the same uncomplying computer message.
Sentinel turned to face the sequestered Autobots, his expression impatient, yet instead of erupting into a fit of rage he remained collected and in control. "Leadfoot?"
"Sir," a sturdily built, red mech replied from a few feet behind him.
"Disable the security protocols, and then initiate a priority one alpha override, ready for my authorization."
Leadfoot nodded in acquiescence, before turning and heading towards the control room up on the fourth level. Once he was gone, Sentinel met Optimus' gaze. "Now, then, I'm sure we'll have our small problem with the security codes resolved," he said, looking accusingly at Prowl. "In the meantime, there's no point in having you all stand around here." He waved a hand, casually indicating for his guards to move the Iaconian Autobots away from the main entrance. "Take them to an empty holding bay, but keep an optic on them at all times. Do not allow them out of your sight, even for one moment," he instructed, his tone almost nonchalant as he met Optimus Prime's gaze once again. Then, satisfied that the situation was under control, he turned and walked away.
The subway station in Semplex was a fairly nondescript, sub-surface structure; its simple yet functional passenger lounge and track-side platform connected directly to the sleek, rounded meg-lev train tunnel. The lounge was half filled with commuters, most of them seated quietly and minding their own business awaiting the next scheduled carriage to arrive.
The steady footfalls of several mechs approaching from one end of the darkened tunnel, reverberating along the smooth metallic surface of the railway track, caused several of the seated mechanoids to lift their heads and look towards the source of the sound.
Most of these mechs tended to shy away from any sign of trouble, whether real or imagined, their primary concern being that they be allowed to safely return to their homes after a long day laboring in one of the many oil refineries located on the outskirts of the smaller twin city. Not a single one of them had ever come face to face with the likes of Jhiaxus, or his enforcers, but that was all about to change.
Astro led the way through the tunnel until the shadows gave way and he slowed to a stop facing the bright, fully lit platform. Soon after his two Decepticon companions came into view, stopping short just beside him, and moments later they were joined by the three Autobot femmes. He held up a hand to indicate that he needed a moment of silence. He all but ignored the looks of apprehension or concern on the commuters' faces, focusing instead upon something that was invisible to every mech but him. The glow from his yellow optics intensified, and he slowly turned away from the lounge area until he stood facing his group, though his gaze was still locked on the unseen target. It was so quiet now inside the station that even the sound of a pin drop could have been clearly picked up by normal audial receptors.
After several long moments, Astrotrain glanced behind him back down the tunnel for a tentative beat before redirecting his gaze back towards the blue mech. "Astro…?" he said, his voice barely above a whisper; nevertheless it disturbed the eerie stillness of the tunnel and almost seemed too loud to bear. Intending to query Astro on what they ought to do next, their guide answered before he could form the words.
"He's here," Astro affirmed to the group in a lowered voice, though he maintained his calm disposition despite the impending threat that awaited them just outside the station. His gaze carefully took in the surrounding infrastructure as he slowly looked around.
Unlike Astro, however, Rook's expression was one of obvious alarm and trepidation. The thought of engaging in a battle to the death against his former superior greatly troubled him. "Well… then, perhaps we should all get the hell out of here as fast as we can before he finds us–"
"No," Astro cut him short, and Rook regarded him impatiently though he said nothing more. Several more seconds passed by in silence as all optics were focused fully upon the blue mech. The femmes, in particular, were curious to know exactly what Astro had in mind. Whilst he did not display any outward mark or insignia to indicate the fact, they could sense that he was very much a Decepticon of high rank, though to their knowledge such mechs were few and far between, and their identities generally well known amongst Cybertron's population. Then he spoke once more, turning his head to glance towards the waiting area. "I'll hold him off," he said, and without waiting for the others he crossed the track until he reached the ledge and then jumped up onto the platform.
"Wait!" Rook called after him, shaking his head in confusion. "What are you doing? Surely you're not going to confront him on your own?" he inquired as Astrotrain and the femmes stood silently by, ready for action at a moment's notice.
Astro paused momentarily to look back at them, before meeting Rook's gaze. "Trust me," he said, and gave him a small smile in reassurance while ignoring the green mech's obvious frustration and confusion. Then he moved his attention over to Astrotrain. "Get them out of here," he said simply, indicating with a nod towards Rook and the femmes. "Whatever happens, we can't fail in our mission," he added, then drew his laser blaster and stepped forwards into the middle of the waiting area. "Go, now!" he shouted back at them, and without warning discharged a burst of laser fire, aiming it towards the ceiling right above the lounge. Sparks and debris rained down all around him as the sudden flurry of searing blasts from his weapon hit the ceiling directly above the seated mechs' heads, jolting them all into a panic. A few seconds later a large section of the ceiling caved in with a loud crash, as though a large meteor had just smashed through the top of the building.
It took a few split seconds before Astrotrain realized that the ceiling had not collapsed as a result of Astro's weapon fire. The large, gaping hole that had suddenly been created, with its sharp edges of torn and twisted metal, had been made by Jhiaxus himself. He tapped Rook's shoulder to get his attention and nodded back towards the darkened tunnel. "Come on," he prompted, and began moving out of sight of the platform, just as Astro had instructed. Rook hesitated, concerned for Astro, but before he could even think to protest the situation the triple changer grabbed him firmly by the forearm and began to pull him towards safety. "Just do what he says," Astrotrain reminded him whilst giving the three femmes a prompting nod, and they did not need to be told twice, moving quickly out of sight after the two Decepticons.
A large, menacing jet-former in his robot mode dropped down through the hole in the ceiling, holding a missile launcher. The dazed mechs in the lounge area leaped from their seats in a sudden frenzy before scrambling for the nearest available exit, in a bid to save themselves from this frightful intruder. "Everybody out!" Astro shouted at them, as he continued to fire his blaster relentlessly in Jhiaxus' direction. Spattered trails of scorch marks suddenly appeared along the walls of the waiting area while blistered conduit sizzled and sparked, causing wisps of smoke and the scent of burned flexi-metal to fill the space around him. Everywhere it was chaos, as the second in command of the Hitec base released a furor of energy missiles in all directions, burning large holes into the walls and sending torn-off chunks of lounge seats hurling violently across the platform – the chairs' bases still bolted to the ground and smoldering with the heat of the blasts.
Astro realized that this was only a prelude, put on by Jhiaxus to demonstrate his superiority for all to witness, and that if the jet-former wasn't stopped Semplex station and all its occupants would soon be destroyed. A number of mechs lay strewn on the ground around him, damaged beyond repair; these had been the unlucky ones, unable to avoid the onslaught of the missiles. As the last of the survivors cleared the area, Astro took cover behind a row of seats that were still intact. He kept his focus trained upon the enemy jet, who was powering down his launcher with all the satisfaction of a war lord who had just decimated his opponent's army on the battle field.
Moving slowly behind the seats with blaster gripped tightly in hand, Astro watched and waited, looking for any opportunity to gain the upper hand over Jhiaxus. Whilst his chances of success did not look promising, he was well aware that patience, and clarity of thought, counted before rashness of action. Then, save for some electrical sparking and conflagrating debris caused by the recent weapons assault, stillness began to resettle around the platform. Through the smoke-filled waiting area, Astro could see Jhiaxus as he surveyed the station, carefully searching for something or somebody. When the jet finally spoke, it was with a sense of such self-approbation and assuredness that it was as if he'd already gotten what he'd come for. It was only a matter of time.
"I do believe we have some unfinished business… you and I." Jhiaxus paused, waiting for Astro's reaction. "What's the matter – too afraid to show yourself?" Then his features twisted into seething hate, and he turned his head ominously to face the Cybertronian mech who had eluded him for far too long. "Come out and face your punishment like a true mechanoid! Then, perhaps… I may consider sparing the lives of your pathetic companions."
Astro realized that it was time to play his game. He would attempt to keep the jet at a distance, stall for time – even a precious few extra seconds could mean the difference between life and death for his companions – yet he knew that this could only work for so long, if at all. Time was running out, and he knew that he would eventually have to make a decision. In the end – if it came down to a choice between saving Comet's life or his own life, he would choose Comet. Ensuring that the Decepticon seeker lived was of critical importance to the mission. If they failed, there would be nothing to stop another Great Devastation from occurring, although this time it would involve the complete subjugation and annihilation of his home planet and all its inhabitants, brought about by the Supremacist-Neutral regime.
Rook and his companions, out of direct line of sight inside the tunnel, listened tentatively to the encounter. Astrotrain had been about to transport them all out of the tunnel and away from the station in his shuttle mode, but then had reconsidered, deciding instead to wait and see whether Astro might need his help; he simply could not leave the mech behind to deal with Jhiaxus alone, regardless of Astro's best intentions.
In the deceptive quietness that followed, Astro slowly stood up to his full height and began to move towards the leering jet with deliberate strides. He kept his gaze steady, watching Jhiaxus' every move with a calm, self-assured purpose. Finally he indicated with a gesture, his hands free of any weapons. "So… here I am," he stated in a confronting tone, as if daring the jet to challenge him.
Jhiaxus snarled and looked about, half expecting a trap or ambush. Then he took a few cautious steps toward the Cybertronian mech, sizing up his victim with relish as if deciding upon the best method for his execution. "Ah… yes. Forgive me for saying so, Astro… but I did not expect to find you here," he offered with mocking cynicism, emphasizing the despised mech's name. "Oh, how so fortunate for me that you are."
Astro took his time to respond; a silent, deadly face-off between the two of them. "Oh, and why is that?"
His foe's malicious grin turned into a musing laugh. "It seems that you have become a mech of some worth."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Astro replied, somewhat sincerely as he shook his head slowly.
"Hmmm." Jhiaxus seemed to re-evaluate the situation, pausing in thought. "Then allow me to make it clear." He took another step towards his adversary, missile launcher now pointed directly at Astro's chest. The blue mech made no countermoves. "It is no secret that the High Commander wants you dead, as do I. A pitiful traitor such as yourself deserves to die in the most excruciating way possible." He kept his optics fixed upon his enemy, watching for any sign that Astro's tough veneer was weakening, though the mech kept his emotions well under control, giving away nothing of his thoughts or feelings. "However, it has recently come to my attention that a certain asset has become… rogue." Another pause, as Jhiaxus continued to gauge the impact of his words, and of his formidable presence. "And… as you might appreciate, rogue assets are never good for business."
Astro slowly nodded in understanding, but then his tone became harsh, almost antagonistic. "Get to the point, Jhiaxus."
The large jet released a low grumble in irritation. "The point is that you and your companions will all surrender to me, or Comet will die." He couldn't have been any clearer, and a satisfied smirk crossed his face as he finished speaking.
There was no possible way for Astro to ascertain whether Jhiaxus was telling the truth in regards to Comet, or whether he was attempting to set him up. If it was indeed true, and he had already captured the seeker, or worse – he'd already had him killed – then Astro would have failed in his mission and all would be lost. However, there was an equal chance that Jhiaxus was lying to him, wanting him to believe that he had the upper hand when in fact, he did not. He took a moment to weigh up his options, but before he could give his enemy a calculated response a team of six black jet-formers dropped down through the hole in the ceiling, weapons in hand and ready to carry out their Commander's orders.
Jhiaxus' enforcers. Astro instinctively tensed and quickly looked about for an emergency escape route. His only option was back down through the tunnel – since the enforcers now blocked his access to the main exit behind them – but such a manoeuvre was risky. He would have to think of a way to slow them down first, somehow, if he was going to attempt to make a run for it.
Only a few mechano-meters away, Rook visibly stiffened at the arrival of the enforcers and he powered up his blaster, unwilling to let Astro battle them on his own, to hell with direct orders. He felt a strong grip on his shoulder, and turned to face Astrotrain. "Either you join me in battle, or you can let go of me," he demanded bravely.
Rook's foolhardiness took the triple changer by surprise, though he could not blame the smaller mech for feeling the way he did. Astro obviously meant a lot to him – to the both of them – but any wrong moves now would more than likely ruin everything, not to mention put them all directly in harm's way. "If we fight them on our own, we'll all be reduced to scrap. Even with the extra help," Astrotrain informed him, before glancing briefly towards the femmes by his side.
Rook seemed to back down somewhat, though his frustration showed. "No… I won't. I won't let it happen again, I won't!" He sounded distraught, as if he were reliving something that only he was privy to, and he alone understood. He pointed abruptly behind him at Astro. "He saved my life! Don't you understand? He believed in me, even when I couldn't believe in myself! I won't let him die!"
Astrotrain could see quite clearly that Rook was in some kind of emotional turmoil and confusion, and he tightened his grip on the mech's shoulder, shaking him a bit out of his reverie. "Hey – he's not going to die. We won't let him." Rook seemed to take comfort in his words, but before Astrotrain could talk further sense into him one of the femmes spoke, her voice soft and filled with empathy.
"He's right… Rook. We can't fight them all on our own." It was Chromia. "If only we had backup, we could probably–"
Astrotrain turned to her abruptly. "Backup. Of course." He activated his internal tracking system without delay and then, after a few moments, refocused his attention on both Chromia and Rook. "We have backup, in Megaplex. It's not far."
Chromia looked back at him with concern. "Megaplex?" She shifted her gaze towards the platform as she considered the situation. "But there's no time. Unless they can get here in less than a klik it'll all be over," she said, not wanting to affirm a hopeless situation but seeing no other outcome.
As they spoke, Jhiaxus' enforcers began to close in around Astro, who made no effort to fight them off. There was precious little time left, and Astrotrain knew that if there was any hope left of saving him, he had to do something and fast. "All right. Get ready to hit 'em with everything you've got," he told them suddenly. "I'll only need a few seconds."
"Wait – what's the plan?" Chromia demanded quickly, as the triple changer began to move out towards the platform.
He stopped briefly to look back at her. "I'm going to try and get us all out of here in one piece," he replied, before transforming into his shuttle mode and firing up his thrusters.
The moment Jhiaxus gave his enforcers the order to seize the traitor, Astro knew that his time had run out. Whilst he had considered making a break for it, he ultimately dismissed that option as an act of suicide. If he'd had a flight capable alt mode he may have had a chance, but as it were his configurations were not designed for such situations. So he had accepted his fate and had decided to surrender without resistance. At least the time that he'd managed to keep Jhiaxus stationary would have offered his companions a precious few minutes to get away and continue on the mission without him. And, if his sacrifice resulted in saving Comet and allowing them all to return safely to Cybertron, then it would have all been worth it.
He met the enforcers' cold gazes without fear and allowed them to approach him, their weapons pointed directly at him. He could sense Jhiaxus' immense satisfaction at having finally captured the long sought after spy, could almost feel his pleasure as he imagined handing his prisoner over to the High Commander, who would have him beaten to within an inch of his life only to be made to beg for a quick termination rather than be forced to endure months of torture for the sadistic enjoyment of his captors.
And in that moment, he did not expect anybody to come to his aid. Being in command of the Decepticons here on Alternity City, and answerable only to Megatron, the responsibility of life and death usually fell upon his shoulders, and he had embraced this fully.
In that moment, he did not expect sudden commotion behind him as he turned his head to catch a glimpse of what had also caught the attention of the enforcers.
Astrotrain. Even before Astro had enough time to process what was happening, the triple changer was powering up his ionic blaster and quickly moving towards the platform in shuttle mode, on a trajectory directly towards the enforcers. Within moments the black jets began to unleash a torrent of weapons fire back at the shuttle, but their efforts did not stop the Decepticon from slamming his nose cone into three of them with full force, scattering them violently in all directions. In the same instance, suppressive fire coming from behind the shuttle in the form of laser blasts and grenades hit Jhiaxus and the remaining enforcers, causing them to scatter in confusion. But the advantage of their surprise attack would only be momentary, and Astro had to act fast if he was going to make use of this small window of opportunity.
"Stop them!" Jhiaxus ordered, sending an energy missile towards the shuttle in anger. His hench-mechs, recovering from the initial attack, scrambled back to their feet before locking their weapons onto the Decepticons.
The energy missile narrowly missed Astrotrain's left wing as he manoeuvred into position alongside Astro, opening his side door. "Get in," he said, sparing no time as the impact of the missile showered small fragments of metal and rock upon them, the tunnel wall behind them left in ruins.
Astro reactivated his own blaster and fired at the two enforcers closest to him, jumping up into the shuttle amidst another energy missile and a renewed assault of laser blasts directed at him. Astrotrain did not remain still; he swerved sharply to avoid getting hit and then turned back around until Rook and the femmes were within reach, who immediately stopped laying down cover fire to jump aboard without needing to be told, and in less than a few astro-seconds Astrotrain was free to get the hell out of there, full throttle.
Jhiaxus watched as the shuttle escaped down the tunnel, followed soon after by his enforcers who had immediately transformed into their jet modes in hot pursuit. Then he transformed into his own jet mode and shot up through the hole in the ceiling, just before a carriage full of passengers pulled up into the station.
The yellow Autobot silently led the way up to the fourth floor of the burned-out building, climbing his way up along the transport platform shaft and then jumping down over a broken wall. He had laid Comet on the floor behind a partitioning, in a crude attempt to conceal the seeker from intruders.
"Over there," he said, pointing down toward the still form a few feet away as he kept a steady gaze on Thunderblast and Dirge.
An odd sense of estranged familiarity, contempt and respect hit Dirge all at once when he looked down upon Comet's countenance for the first time. It made him feel terribly uneasy, but for the life of him he could not understand why he should be feeling this way. He had never seen this mech before, had never even heard of his name until Thunderblast had first mentioned it back in Binaltech. Other than his unique color scheme, Comet looked just like one of the original Decepticon seekers. Nothing about him should have elicited such an instinctive reaction from him, save for Comet's current condition; he looked worn and heavily battle-damaged, and in such a weakened, vulnerable state that Dirge couldn't help but wonder how it was that this elusive Decepticon had managed to evade capture for so long.
Thunderblast stood beside Dirge now, in silent shock at the sight of Comet, and he noted that she was a very different Thunderblast to the one he'd gotten to know when they'd first met. Indeed, he thought that she must feel some compassion towards this mech, perhaps even cared for him in some way.
Before he could say or do anything, Thunderblast quickly rushed forward to kneel down beside the seeker, and then gently tilted his head towards her with both hands. "Comet? Comet?" she whispered, looking for any sign of recognition from his dimmed optic sensors. There was none. Her brow furrowed in anger, and her facial features formed into a familiar pout. "Dammit!" Sunstreaker, watching quietly, moved to kneel beside her to offer his empathy and concern.
But the femme ignored the Autobot and instead stood up hastily to face Dirge. "Well, don't just stand there… do something!"
Dirge stood facing her, his concussion missile launcher still in hand as he looked down at Comet and Sunstreaker, and then to Thunderblast. His team mates stood silently behind him, watching and wondering in quiet fascination; they were all intrigued with the mysterious mech named Comet just as much as he was. Then he grimaced, turned away from her, and activated his com link.
Delivering a series of short but powerful bursts of his ionic blaster at the tunnel ceiling, Astrotrain forced his way through the weakened structure and shot out into the open, light-filled sky, soaring high into the atmosphere at full acceleration. The subway terminal that he'd just left behind quickly became a rapidly diminishing dot on his radar as he continued to monitor for any sign of Jhiaxus and his enforcers. Sure enough, six new dots appeared as each enemy jet burst through newly created holes at the top of the subway tunnel; the enforcers were on a set course in pursuit after him, though Jhiaxus was nowhere in sight.
"If I can get us to Megaplex intact, we'll have a much better chance of defeating them there," he informed his passengers, though he did not provide any further explanation.
He did not need to; Astro immediately understood what he was thinking. "The seekers." No sooner had he spoken than his com link signalled an incoming transmission, and he hesitated for a brief instant before opening the channel and setting it to speaker mode.
"Astro? It's Dirge."
Astro took a deep inhale before answering, glancing about him at the mech and femmes aboard Astrotrain. They were all watching him expectantly, and he noticed in particular Rook's unspoken gratitude at his rescue, though he did not give any of them any further acknowledgment. Instead, he returned his focus to his com link. "This is Astro. We're on our way to Megaplex. Maintain your position, and prepare for battle." His tone of voice was calm and calculated, though it also sounded a little subdued, as if he had skipped his recharge cycle for several days and was starting to reach the point of exhaustion.
"Understood." The other end of the line went momentarily quiet. "Uh, there's something else." There was another pause as Astro waited for Dirge to continue, but the seeker said nothing further. Directly outside, the enforcers were closing in and firing their laser weapons at Astrotrain, who was doing everything he could to outmanoeuvre them and deflect their attacks.
"Go ahead," Astro prompted.
"We've found Comet."
A surreal stillness settled around the interior of the shuttle as the shock of the news – albeit not altogether unexpected – hit his audial sensors, even as the space craft banked and began to descend sharply towards the city of Megaplex, and he became momentarily speechless.
Dirge continued speaking without waiting for a response. "He's been hit. He's still alive… but he's not responding."
A sudden burst of laser fire hit Astrotrain's rear thrusters and the shuttle shook violently as he struggled with a mighty effort to maintain control. After a few moments it seemed that he was successful, keeping his descent at a steady speed.
"We're almost there. Keep him safe," Astro instructed, and severed the link. Then he slowly dropped himself down to sit on the floor of the shuttle, deeply introspective.
Rook slowly knelt down beside him, wanting to reach out in some way and offer his friendship, but he had no idea how to go about doing that, or what he could possibly say to reassure the larger mech. Granted, he had never met Comet, had never even heard of him before leaving the Hitec base, but judging by all that he'd seen and heard in the weeks that had followed it was obvious that for whatever reason, the seeker was not only very important to Astro but he was also a critical part of their mission. He trusted that, in time, he would learn the reasons why, but for now he was content just to offer his support in any way he could. It was the least he could do.
As Rook contemplated these thoughts, Astro slowly turned his head up to meet his gaze, and was about to say something but then Astrotrain interrupted their unspoken communication. "I'm coming down to land. Get ready," he announced, and opened his side hatch to let them all out before he'd even touched down.
Immediately Dirge and his team of seekers, who had been waiting on the ground for their arrival, transformed into their jet modes and took to the air to intercept and launch a direct aerial assault against the enforcers, who were fast approaching as they continued to target the triple changer with a barrage of laser blasts.
Astro leaped out of the shuttle, laser blaster in hand, as Rook and the Autobot femmes jumped out after him, before Astrotrain transformed back into his robot mode and ran stumbling towards the nearest building for cover. After holding out in his alternate mode against a continuous onslaught of laser fire, the triple changer was running low on power and needed to allow his systems time to repair the damage he'd sustained.
Without sparing another astro-second, Astro, Rook and the femmes pointed their weapons up towards the six black jets and lit up the sky, combining their firepower with the Decepticon seekers'.
The cacophony of voices quietened abruptly as all heads turned to observe the Autobot who had just appeared at the entrance to the meeting room. Wheeljack cast his gaze around at each Decepticon, looking upon their faces in unspoken recognition, before his attention settled upon their leader. He was still a little dazed, and his mannerisms spoke of nervousness, yet there was also an underlying sense of urgency and determination that gave him the strength and conviction to face a room full of the Autobots' official enemy. "Ah… Megatron?" he said after several long moments. "I think we should talk." He took a few steps into the room as Jazz appeared in the entranceway behind him, watching quietly.
Megatron, who had been conversing with Scrapper and Onslaught, the leader of the Combaticons, turned to face the Autobot with reserved interest, though he was a little guarded. "What about?" he asked simply.
"Ah… well," Wheeljack started, and then rubbed at the side of his head, distracted by the sensation of the injury he'd sustained. "I hope it's not too late, but he… he warned me about that virus, about where it came from." He looked around at all the Decepticons once more, but the mech he sought did not appear to be amongst them. "He's… he's not here?" he then asked, his optics conveying puzzlement and uncertainty.
His words got Megatron's attention, and he slowly approached the Autobot until they were standing face to face. Towering above him, nevertheless the Decepticon's imposing physical form did not seem to intimidate the Autobot engineer. "Who?" Megatron questioned.
Wheeljack answered him as if the answer was obvious. "Starscream."
Around the room, no one spoke a word or moved an inch as all audial receptors were fixed upon the exchange of words, as if the mention of the name seemed to carry with it the heavy burden of some untold tragedy. Megatron finally turned away and paced across the room until he came to stand before the blank view screen that was mounted into the far wall. He said nothing for a long moment, so Wheeljack took the opportunity to continue speaking.
"The Plague – the virus, I mean – it, it was an experiment. So they could see what would happen… see how far it could go… what it could do. But it's – it was just the beginning," he blurted in a sudden torrent of words, as if attempting to release the burden of some coveted knowledge that threatened to segregate him from the rest of the normal world. "But by the time I found out what was happening, by the time I'd realized what was actually happening… you see, it was too late for me. But if it weren't for him… for Starscream, I mean… well, the virus would have finished us." Megatron remained motionless, offering no reaction or response, as the rest of the Decepticons also remained quiet, simply watching and listening. Jazz stepped inside the room until he came to stand beside the Autobot engineer. Wheeljack offered him a glance in acknowledgment before continuing to tell his story. "But that's not the only thing. You see – that virus… it was, well, it was intelligent… it was changing before our optics, constantly morphing into new forms in ways that – well… in ways that I can't even begin to describe. In terrible ways, I mean."
"Hold on just one astro-second," Jazz said after a pause, his voice barely above a whisper. "Tell me if I'm not hearing you right, 'Jack… but it sounds like what you're actually saying… is that the virus is still out there?" His thoughts were racing, exploring implications that would have been difficult for any Autobot to consider.
Wheeljack turned to face him, his optics wide with anticipation. "Ah… no, not exactly, Jazz – but possibly something worse. You see, that virus – the one responsible for the Plague? I was given a sophisticated anti-viral agent, which should have been enough to stop it, even reverse it. I'm… I'm not sure exactly what happened after that, but one thing I did find out was that the virus itself had been created from some form of rare agent that's comprised of self-organizing nano-particles… virtually non-existent in our sector of space." He paused to refocus his gaze on Megatron, who still had his back to him. "But before I could share what I'd discovered I was knocked out cold… and I don't remember anything more until I woke up here."
Megatron turned back around to face the Autobot engineer, observing him carefully. His expression was largely impassive; however, Jazz sensed that he was interested in what was being said.
"So, Starscream… he helped you?" Jazz asked, intrigued by Wheeljack's story.
"Yeah – can you believe it?" Wheeljack answered him, nodding. "I mean, I wasn't sure at first whether to trust him, you know? He just showed up in my workshop one day. I wasn't expecting him or anything… I was too focused on trying to find a cure. I'm not even sure how he managed to override my security protocols, actually. But anyway, he said he would give me an antidote for the Plague virus… then he told me about that foreign agent, and that if it was to fall into the wrong hands that it had the potential to cause massive devastation on an inter-planetary scale, with far reaching consequences. Of course, at first I didn't believe him… no offense or anything, but he was a Decepticon… you know what I mean?"
"None taken," Megatron said, almost dismissively. The two Autobots waited expectantly for him to say something more on the matter, and for a long moment he offered them nothing; he seemed reluctant to talk about any of it, or about the Decepticon former second in command. "Yet Autobot Command and its Neutral allies accused, and convicted, him of orchestrating that Plague," he reminded them, recalling the events of a burdensome past that, for the Autobots at least, was still very much shrouded in mystery. His tone of voice was calm and even, yet Jazz thought that there was a hint of underlying accusation. "He was also accused of, and then convicted, of assassinating the Autobot's primary engineer." He paused again, this time watching Wheeljack with intense scrutiny. "However – and correct me if I'm mistaken – you happen to be that Autobot."
Jazz glanced from one to the other in sudden realization, watching as Wheeljack slowly looked away from the Decepticon leader's scrutinizing gaze to slowly sit down in one of the empty chairs nearby, needing time to process the unwelcome news of what had occurred in the years after he'd been abruptly knocked off-line and placed into stasis.
"I'm sorry – I didn't know, I–" Wheeljack started with unabated sincerity, rubbing the side of his head with the palm of one hand and meeting Megatron's gaze. "I didn't mean for any of that to happen." He shifted his gaze to look down towards the floor, recalling the events of that fateful day. "He made me encrypt the anti-virus code into my data files, just in case… he was really insistent about it, too. Boy, he can be real pushy when he wants to be, I tell ya," he explained, shaking his head in mild exasperation. "But anyway, soon after he left I was attacked by surprise… and, uh… I can't remember anything after that."
The room fell silent once again, and then Jazz asked a pertinent question. "But you know who attacked you?"
Wheeljack nodded with confidence. "Sure. It was – ah… Bludgeon."
"Bludgeon?" Brawl said suddenly in irritation, clenching his fist. One of the Combaticons, he was strong and well armoured. "Why that piece of scrap – it was him and his goons who led us straight into that ambush. I'd like to grab him by the neck and ram his head straight through a double thick titanium wall."
"You and all of us," commented Blast Off, his team mate, in agreement, disgusted by the thought that the Pretender had managed to capture his team by way of a surprise attack, outnumbered and outgunned. They were consequently handed over to Cybertron Command, where they'd been sentenced to be placed in stasis at the Detention Banks for an indefinite period of time. It had been a straight forward process, found guilty simply of being Decepticons.
Jazz, ever more intrigued, was determined to unravel the mystery of the virus' origins until there was no longer any doubt in his mind. "Did Bludgeon say anything to you… anything at all… that you remember before he attacked you?" he asked.
Wheeljack hesitated, unsure, then slowly shook his head. "It's all a blur, to be honest. It happened so fast, you know?" He paused for a moment before adding abruptly, "Oh, I do remember one thing, though. He demanded I tell him everything that Starscream had told me… especially about the agent."
"You mean the foreign agent you mentioned earlier?" Jazz affirmed.
The engineer nodded. "Yeah. Starscream said that this… this agent – this substance – had been discovered and mined long ago, just before the Great Devastation by, uh… by Scorponok. But it was so rare that… that there was only a very limited supply."
There was a moment of silence as Jazz turned away in thought. "Mined… huh?"
"Yeah, that's right, let's see… from the remote mining station on the fifth asteroid, somewhere in the Gamma Sector."
The black and white Autobot met his gaze. "XR-5's mining station…" he began, but soon trailed off and it was evident to all that the mention of the place had made him feel uncomfortable.
"Yeah, that's it. Hence why he referred to it as Substance X, I think," Wheeljack was saying, but Jazz was already ten steps ahead of him.
Jazz studied the Decepticon leader for a moment before he spoke. "There was a recent attack on that station… no mech was left alive… sixty, maybe more… a couple of them Autobot. They were tortured… every single one of them." Ever since he'd returned from that mission, he had inadvertently relegated the experience to the back of his mind, none too eager to relive the morbid details of what his team had found, but part of the reason also had to do with the fact that he had absolutely no clue, no leads, to go on to even begin to understand who might have committed such an atrocious act, or why. Until now. "Of course… the first thing the Alliance did was to suspect the Decepticons, and at first I didn't question their reasoning too much. But now, after everything I've learned… it makes no sense." He sounded neither accusatory nor suspicious, was simply searching for answers. "What I am starting to suspect, however… is that Sentinel Prime, and maybe Scorponok… or whoever he's working with – they didn't want anybody to know about that mining station… or, more specifically, what they'd found there." He glanced towards Wheeljack and then back to Megatron, allowing either of them the opportunity to respond.
"Such as? Deposits were exhausted long ago – there'd be none left there now," Wheeljack pointed out.
"Maybe so… but maybe it wasn't more of the substance that they'd found, so much as evidence that it existed, maybe a trace deposit?" Jazz continued, formulating a theory as he went. "And maybe that's something that Sentinel wanted to prevent at all cost."
"But, why? I mean, he'd already created the virus," Wheeljack questioned.
Jazz shrugged, shaking his head. "I suppose he didn't want anyone to connect the dots. Any trace of the substance might eventually lead back to him," he proposed, though he wasn't entirely convinced. There had to be a strong reason for having those miners silenced, even if it meant ordering the brutal slaughter of several innocent lives. "Those miners were killed for a reason and I, for one, would like to know what that reason was," he said.
The room fell silent once more as the two Autobots attempted to come up with a plausible explanation for all that they had learned from one another. However, without further information their theories were simply that – theories, and could never be proven.
When Megatron broke the silence, his gaze was steady, scrutinizing. "You are correct in your assertions… for the most part."
Jazz became all audio sensors; Megatron had not divulged much so far, had not offered any solid information regarding the virus or the events surrounding it, so he was more than a little interested to hear what he had to say.
The Decepticon leader paused, as if deciding whether the two Autobots could be fully trusted with the information he was about to share with them. "A trace deposit was discovered; yes… not enough to create another virus, but certainly enough to develop, perhaps, a compound that might be effective upon the enhanced neural circuitry of a mechanoid." He paused, turned away from them to gaze back at the blank view screen. "Starscream was right. The original virus that Sentinel had created… with the help of Jhiaxus, was only used as a 'distraction' – it was a crude experiment to see whether Substance X could be developed and used as a weapon of mass control. Their motive was not to exterminate the Autobots, but to eventually find a way to control them. Initially, many of their experiments failed… until recently. With the rediscovery of the Substance on the mining station at XR-5, more and more Autobots have quickly succumbed to the experimental programming… whilst those who are able to resist its effects are captured, dismantled and their parts reused, recycled to expand his growing army."
A depressing silence followed, as the two Autobots struggled to come to terms with the abhorrent nature of the Alliance's true goal. "Army? You mean…" Jazz whispered in shock. He was confused by it all, repulsed by it, and part of him did not want Megatron to confirm it – yet another part of him was compelled to follow the petro-rabbit as far down the hole as it would go. He had not been entirely prepared to hear any of this, though he knew that he had to remain strong – not only for himself, but also for Wheeljack, for Optimus Prime, and for the rest of the Autobots back at Iacon – whether they resented him or not for all he had done thus far. He stood motionless for another long moment, unable to speak another word or meet anyone's gaze.
Slowly Megatron turned back around to face him, allowing Jazz the necessary time to process the disclosure so that he would be able to fully fathom what was being revealed to him. "Yes; the Neutral army," he finished.
Jhiaxus' enforcers attempted to avoid the sudden barrage of laser blasts and grenades being fired at them from the ground team, but Dirge and his jets blocked their escape paths in the air, before locking their weapons systems onto them and firing with everything they had. It was satisfying, as the six menacing jets suddenly did not seem so menacing any longer. They attempted to scatter, but each of them was fiercely pursued by one of the Decepticons until they were driven headlong into a building in a shower of sparks and smoke, or were forced to transform into their robot modes as they hit the ground, before being confronted by the ground team's attack.
Astro watched with unspoken pride as the Decepticons battled the enemy jets with a united and fearless front, while the Autobot femmes also proved their worth as they fought relentlessly to aid in the battle. Even before the battle was over he quickly looked around for Astrotrain and then rushed to his aid, kneeling beside him, but the triple changer waved him away.
"I'll be okay. Go, get to Comet!" Astrotrain told him.
Astro remembered Comet, and realized with regret that Jhiaxus still had not shown himself. He hesitated, but only for a moment, and by the time he stood up to look around again, Rook was already by his side. However, there was no time to talk; Astro activated his scanner and quickly picked up four extra signatures close by – two Cybertronian, one Autobot, and one masked, in the direction of a burned-out building. As he started towards it he heard a femme's voice call out to him from a short distance away and he looked up, half expecting to see one of the Autobot femmes standing there.
"Astro, over here!" the voice shouted again, shrill yet forceful, and he immediately recognized its owner as she came rushing up to greet him. Grabbing hold of his arm, she began to pull him towards the building. "Come on! You've got to help Comet!"
"Thunderblast–" Astro started, slightly surprised, but she wouldn't let him speak.
"He's hurt – we don't have time to stand around while I explain everything to you – come on!"
Quickly following her lead, she showed him the way up through the building's elevator shaft and then over the edge of a jagged, damaged wall, while Rook kept pace with them, only a few steps behind. As she approached a partitioning, Astro detected the fourth, masked signature – it was dangerously close. He could sense immediate danger. Grabbing Thunderblast roughly by her forearm he pulled her to him, and she jerked back with the sudden movement, stumbling into his strong arms. Silently, he indicated for her to keep quiet as he stood motionless for several moments, listening and watching intently, still holding Thunderblast with a tight grip. This time, however, she did not fight him. Then, just as quickly he released her and powered up his laser blaster, holding it up close to his chest before slowly walking closer towards the partitioning. He carefully moved around to the other side of the dividing wall, aiming his weapon directly in front of him as if preparing for a final showdown with Jhiaxus – Comet already taken hostage as the hostile jet waited patiently for him to arrive – and he hoped he wasn't too late.
What he hadn't been prepared for, however, was a tall, yellow Autobot with his blaster pointed at Jhiaxus, locked in a deadly stand-off with the much larger jet-former. Jhiaxus, in turn, had his missile launcher aimed casually at the Autobot's head, while Comet lay motionless on the floor by the Autobot's feet, off-line.
He heard Thunderblast's stifled gasp directly behind him as Rook placed a hand over her mouth, her optics wide with shock, but Astro did not acknowledge either of them; his attention was fully upon Jhiaxus, watching his every move to make sure that the enemy jet did nothing to harm Comet. As far as what role the Autobot played here he could not determine for sure; however, from what Astro could tell he appeared to hold good intentions towards the exiled Decepticon seeker, and was attempting to protect him from the unexpected threat that was Jhiaxus.
"Don't come any closer!" the Autobot threatened, pointing his weapon at Astro for a brief moment before aiming it back at Jhiaxus. "Either of you!"
The Autobot appeared fearless and uncompromising; his dull, battle damaged exterior a testament to his inner fortitude and courage in the face of possible annihilation as a daily occurrence on the streets of Alternity City. From his appearance alone, Astro guessed that the time he'd spent here on this planet had probably made him far wiser than anything else could have, though he also suspected that he had no proper understanding of what Jhiaxus was truly capable of, and was overcome by foolish bravery.
"You won't win, Jhiaxus," Astro warned, clearly and evenly. "Not this time."
The large jet met his gaze with derision, and released a mocking laugh. "You really think you can stop me?" Jhiaxus mused.
"Your team's already defeated, and we have you surrounded." Astro held his blaster higher, prepared to fire at his adversary at a moment's notice.
Jhiaxus' amused expression faded, and was replaced by a cruel sneer. "First… I'm going to blast a hole right through his spark chamber…" he began, nodding his head to indicate the off-lined seeker on the ground as he moved his missile launcher away from Sunstreaker's head to point it down towards Comet's midsection, "and then… I'm going to enjoy watching your companions beg for mercy as I execute you all… one by one." Jhiaxus abruptly repositioned his launcher in a sudden movement away from Comet, to point it directly at the despised traitor. "Beginning with you, Astro."
It felt like time had suddenly come to a stand still; in less than an astro-second Jhiaxus' missile launcher was powering up, and then the sound of weapon fire erupted in the space all around them, but the cause of it was not the discharging of one of Jhiaxus' energy missiles. Instead, the Autobot had fired his weapon first, unleashing a continuous volley of laser blasts upon Jhiaxus. However, his firepower was not powerful enough to stop the jet – it proved to be only a distraction at best, and Jhiaxus turned suddenly towards Sunstreaker with the intention of blowing the Autobot's head off.
It was in that very instant that Astro saw his opportunity. He lunged toward the enemy jet and slammed into him, sending them both crashing to the floor. Jhiaxus was momentarily taken by surprise, and the two of them fought fiercely to overpower the other with brute physical force. The yellow and white jet sought to gouge out Astro's optics with his bare hands in uncontrolled rage, as the blue Cybertronian held him off with an equal amount of strength and determination, though it was proving to be a considerable effort on his part. It was true that only very few mechanoids were an even match for Jhiaxus; nevertheless, Astro could just as well hold his own, and was far stronger than many mechs his own size.
A fist came down hard across Jhiaxus' left cheek. Grunting, he sought to pin Astro beneath him as they continued to grapple, rolling across the floor, until he managed to throw Astro off him with a mighty kick. The blue mech fell backwards into the partitioning wall, impacting it with such force that it caused the metal to fracture.
"Traitor!" Jhiaxus jeered, playing with him. Astro struggled to pick himself up, his intakes cycling air heavily. "Do you really think that your pathetic companions and your little band of weakling femmes are any match against me?" His missile launcher was suddenly pointing at Comet once more. "Enough! Now you shall watch Comet die!" he threatened, and powered up his weapon. Sunstreaker leaped towards him in an attempt to stop him, but Jhiaxus pushed the Autobot aside with a powerful swing of his arm and he was thrown down hard, blaster knocked out of his grasp.
"No!" Astro sprang back towards Jhiaxus, jumping into the air with a powerful leap to grab the enemy jet from behind. Managing to lock one elbow around his neck, he pulled the jet's head back hard, and the energy missile that was launched from Jhiaxus' weapon in that same instant missed its target by a mere two mechano-inches, to blast a hole in the ground beside Comet.
As the two of them were locked in battle once more, grunting with the effort of attempting to overpower the other, Thunderblast stepped closer towards Comet and Sunstreaker, who was scrambling to sit up using his elbows. "Well, isn't anyone going to do anything?" she asked, glancing briefly at the Autobot still on the ground, and then at Rook behind her, before shaking her head and refocusing her attention on Astro and Jhiaxus without waiting for a response.
She could see that Jhiaxus was momentarily distracted as he engaged in a fierce struggle with Astro, and realized that she only had a very brief window of opportunity to help Astro, if she was going to attempt it at all. So without another thought, she stepped forward to grab Sunstreaker's weapon from the floor, and then aimed and fired it close range, in between Jhiaxus' optic sensors. Momentarily blinding him, she kicked his missile launcher from his hand, and the weapon dropped to the ground with a heavy thud. Then she moved quickly to pick it up before he could realize what she'd done.
With a cry of rage, Jhiaxus spun around and grabbed Astro by the neck with both hands, finally free of the blue mech's grasp, and slammed him against the partitioning with full force. Astro faltered, dropping down on one knee as the second in command of the Hitec base bore down on him relentlessly, his hands in a vice-grip around Astro's neck.
Astro knew that he was fast losing the battle against his deadly opponent, yet it was all he could do to keep him away from Comet as his gaze was locked with Jhiaxus' vengeful glare, the jet's facial features molded into a malicious grin.
"Die!" Jhiaxus seethed as he felt Astro weaken, slowly but surely yielding to his will.
"Astro!" a feminine voice called from behind them, and Jhiaxus turned briefly to acknowledge it. He did not expect to see Thunderblast, of all femmes, standing there, poised as she aimed his own missile launcher directly at him.
He snarled in disgust, unwilling to release Astro from his grip, and immediately took a step toward her, dragging Astro with him.
That was his mistake. The femme fired the weapon without hesitation, and he felt the debilitating impact of his own energy missile as it ripped into his torso, burning a hole through his armor and sending jolts of high energy coursing through his circuitry.
He flayed and stumbled backwards as he attempted to reach out to her, but she continued to fire off the missiles, one after the other until, gradually, he had to release his grip on Astro as he dropped to his knees. With the realization of a mech who had just been betrayed, his face contorted with thoughts of utter hatred and revenge, he slowly fell forward until he hit the ground face first, and he was finally off-line.
Semi-darkness all around her, and then the sensation of nausea.
Don't panic. That was the first thought that entered her processor as she regained consciousness. At least I'm still alive.
Or was she? Her frame felt heavy, though for some reason she couldn't look down upon it. She could feel her arms, her legs, barely. Tried to move them but couldn't, and let out a soft groan.
Where was she, and how did she get here? Tried to recall the last thing she remembered before she'd lost consciousness. The Gambler's Den… and, Double?
She tried to speak. "Ugh… Chrome?" Nothing but cold silence. "Chromia? 'Racer? 'Star?" Her voice increased in pitch, and she realized that she was beginning to panic. Don't panic!
Feeling her strength slowly returning, she struggled against the energy restraints that secured her to a wall, arms pinned by her sides. As her optics readjusted to the dimness around her, she carefully took in her surroundings and realized that she was alone inside some sort of chamber. Upon the wall close by, she couldn't help but notice the remains of a long dead prisoner still hanging from its arms by its restraints, nothing left of it but a ghastly monument of its torture at the hands of some monster, and she found herself wishing that she was back on Cybertron with Optimus, safe and secure in his arms.
No. She couldn't rely on him – she had to think about her crew. She had gotten them all into this mess, and it was her full responsibility to get them out of it. Somehow.
As she contemplated her fate, and what would become of her and her crew, she heard the chamber door being pushed open and her entire frame stiffened with the thought of coming face to face with her abductor. She tried to push away the terrible fear in her mind, struggled to remain calm, but she seemed to have lost control of her fine motor function. Her lips quivered and her air intakes increased sharply as a large, bulky figure entered the room and made his way closer until he stood directly in front of her.
Most of his features were obscured by the semi-darkness, but she could clearly make out his cruel, beast-like face, and it was nothing short of frightening. She could do nothing to stop him as he extended clawed fingers to caress her cheek, threatening to cut her face to shreds as he applied sudden pressure.
"Elita…" His voice was rough and menacing, though she could tell that he relished speaking her name out loud, slowly and deliberately. She tried to pull away from his touch, but it was no use.
"What… have you done… to them?" she managed, struggling to let out the words.
He began to draw his hand away, but then in a sudden, shocking instant slapped her hard across the cheek. "I ask the questions!" he warned her abruptly. He paused, watching her carefully as she avoided his gaze whilst trying to maintain a steady intake of air. "Be my good little Autobot femme… and perhaps I shall allow you to live," he said. Then he slowly turned around and began to walk back out of the chamber. "You will learn quickly," he added, before closing the heavy door behind him and leaving her alone once more.