Chapter 1

It had been decided that Athenia, a prominent planet located within the G Nebula, would host an urgent meeting between the Autobots – who were part of a larger group of representatives from the Gamma Sector – and delegates from select planets within the G Nebula, in order to conduct emergency trade deals in an effort to delay the imminent energy shortage that had begun to affect Cybertron and its neighbouring star systems. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, the energy crisis had become increasingly more apparent, particularly on Cybertron, to the point where the planet-wide restrictions that had been imposed upon energy usage by the Autobot Council of Elders were clearly no longer enough to prevent a critical shutdown from occurring.

The Athenians – a proud, astute race of cybernetic beings – lived on a rich, natural world that consisted of highly mechanized and technologically advanced cities that had been designed and built over millennia. On the day of the meeting, the team of Autobots landed at the planet's largest space port in a shuttle, and immediately upon their arrival were promptly escorted by an Athenian security team to their capital city of Technopolis, where the conference was to be held.

The team of Autobot representatives were shown inside the great Palladium Hall, an architecturally significant, highly secure stateroom, where they took their seats at a long rectangular table to await the start of the conference. The atmosphere inside the hall was one of urgency and official activity as the attendees and their entourages made preparations for the upcoming discussions.

It all made Kup feel out of his element, though it did not seem to bother Prowl nearly as much; along with a team of guards to command, the two Autobots had been entrusted with the task of accompanying the two members of their delegation – official Council members and designated spokes-mechs for the Autobot Elders – to Athenia, and to ensure their safety and security throughout the event.

When the meeting finally began, the doors closed and all in the room quieted down as the presiding chair-mech arose from his seat at the head of the table to officially open discussions. "As all of you are no doubt aware, the impending energy shortage that threatens several worlds within the Gamma Sector has already taken hold. Its debilitating effects, I have been told, are already being felt, and ever more strongly with each passing day. That is why we are here. Athenia, and other resourceful worlds from the G Nebula, at the behest of the Cybertronian Council, are here to help. Only by working together for the good of all might a solution be found, perhaps in the exchange of resources, so that the energy crisis may be delayed, or even avoided altogether." The tall Athenian paused to observe the faces seated before him. "My name is Arkelaos and I am here, in my official capacity, representing the good denizens of Athenia." He pointed to a row of robots seated to his right – the delegates from the G Nebula. Each gave a small nod as he was introduced. "This is Jala of Jarr; Uhnta of Daros; and Pelagios representing Glithos." He turned to his left, where the representatives from the Gamma Sector were seated. "Cyrix from Prima; Monokel and Brix of Ghennix; Lammos of Methuselah; Nikkai of the planet Victoria; and, of course, Proteus and Xaaron of Cybertron." Arkelaos sat down again, took a sip of electrolytic from a transparent container on the table before him. "Since we are all here on a matter of urgency, let us immediately proceed with negotiations," he said, and they all began to speak at once.

The row of plasma converters positioned along the rear wall of the power distribution center inside Kolkular's fortress hummed and churned incessantly, casting a brilliant pink glow upon everything in their vicinity. It was the only source of illumination in the room, ever since the overhead lighting throughout the entire base had been switched off to conserve dwindling power reserves.

"How much longer will these generators be able to stay online?" Megatron asked his crew.

Starscream, Scrapper and Soundwave stood beside him, watching Thundercracker empty the last of their energon crystals into the funnel that fed them directly into the converters. Then the blue and grey seeker took a step back, and they observed the plasma inside the transparent cylinders increase in quantity and intensity. "At our current rate of consumption, I'd say another ten hours – maybe twenty at a stretch," Thundercracker informed them, answering their leader.

"And after that?" Starscream asked. He already knew what the answer to his question was going to be; he just wanted to have it confirmed.

His trine mate crossed his arms and shrugged. "After that… either we find another source of energy in a hurry, or we can all start thinking about going into stasis."

There were no two ways about it; the energy situation was dire, and not just for the Decepticons. All over Cybertron, panic had already overtaken many city streets. Each day, more and more protesters gathered at the steps of the Iacon Command Center demanding that something be done to lift the energy restrictions, whilst gangs of rioters terrorized many of the industrial zones.

"We must avoid the latter scenario at all cost – not only would it result in a complete shutdown of the planet within a very short time, but Cybertron would be invaded in a single day," Megatron warned them, turning and pacing across the room in contemplation. "I can think of a number of malevolent worlds from the Draconis star system alone with both the wherewithal and the mercilessness to do just that."

"No doubt. I guess it's do or die, at this point," Thundercracker replied.

There was momentary silence as they pondered the situation. "Are we close to finding an alternative source of energy?" Megatron asked, glancing at Scrapper.

"It's too early to say for sure, Megatron, but we've been experimenting with a form of high-spin monatomic crystal that Scavenger acquired from a Paradisian dealer some time ago. It has a structure that's very similar to that of energon, but with a far higher assimilatory co-efficient and energy potential. So far, it's too unstable to be used as a direct source of energy, but we're working on it," Scrapper said, and glanced towards Starscream. "I think we're getting close. We've also got Starscream, Bombshell and Shockwave working on this around the clock."

"Don't worry, Megatron; we'll find a solution to our energy problem – one way or the other," Starscream declared in reassurance.

Megatron nodded satisfactorily. "Good, but take a break if you need it; there's no sense in over-working yourselves to the point of exhaustion."

Renewing their efforts in Shockwave's laboratory after only one hour of recharge, Scrapper and his team continued to test and refine their newly developed energon compounds, as several other Decepticons gathered around them to watch with interest. Carefully placing a small sample of bright pink crystals into the analyser at Shockwave's station, the Constructicon leader took a step back in satisfaction. He noticed Drag Strip, Breakdown, Swindle, Brawl and Dirge standing nearby with fascinated yet quizzical expressions, and turned to address them. "As you know, the plasma converters we have at the moment only work with naturally occurring energon crystals. And, as you already know, new deposits need to be located regularly to replace the existing ones that become depleted. The problem is that natural energon deposits have become very limited, and Cybertron isn't the only world in this sector reliant on them for its main source of energy. Of course, other fuel sources can be converted to energon, but it takes more energy to do that than what it is actually worth." He walked over to a bench and picked up a sample of their new, experimental compound. "However, if we can find a way to produce all the crystals that we need – or, better yet – find a way to convert alternative, raw sources of fuel that are already in plentiful supply, directly to energon in a way that is highly efficient and also stable, well…" He trailed off, leaving them all to figure out the rest.

Stepping forwards, Swindle carefully took the sample from Scrapper's hand, examining it. "Is that what you've got here? A reliable, alternative source of energon?" he asked, intrigued.

"That's what we're hoping to prove," Scrapper replied, then took the crystals from Swindle and placed them back down on the bench. "Thanks to Scavenger's ormus crystals, we might have found a way to do just that."

"Huh. Imagine the possibilities," Swindle commented.

"Yeah, but won't those ormus things eventually run out as well?" Brawl asked.

"Ah, but that's the beauty of them," Scrapper answered. "You see, we'd only need an initial amount to start the whole process of assimilation. They'd behave just like seed crystals, only they'd work syntropically thanks to their superconductive, phase-fluid matrix."

"Or to put it in simpler terms, using only a small amount of seed crystals to start with, we should be able to convert unlimited quantities of any crude form of fuel into energon, without loss of energy, and without the need for more seed crystals," Starscream explained, for the benefit of those who weren't as scientifically minded.

"So, how much longer before we can start producing our own energon?" Drag Strip asked.

"Well, first we have to make sure we can actually convert the quantities we need to the required grade. Then we have to ensure that the final product is stable enough for transport and that it will be compatible with our existing power distribution grid," Scrapper replied. "Shockwave's also helping to ensure that it'll be suitable for long-term storage, so that we won't have to rely on plasma converters anymore."

"I'd say another day of testing, if all goes well," Starscream added, as Bombshell stopped momentarily by the group on his way past.

"Yes, and then the next phase will be deciding on a suitable source of crude fuel to convert," the Insecticon scientist said. "With so many unclaimed asteroids and planetoids rich in natural resources for us to choose from, that shouldn't be a problem." And with that the conversation ended as he, Scrapper, Shockwave and Starscream returned to their all-important work.

The discussions had gotten so heated that the dignitaries were speaking over one another at what seemed to Kup like a million mechano-miles an hour, to the point that he had quickly lost track, unable to make heads or tails out of the negotiations. He leaned back in his seat and yawned, clasped his hands behind his head and glanced over at Prowl. "You following any of this?" he asked. When Sentinel's advisor gave him no response, his attention drifted towards Arkelaos' exchange with Proteus. He gave a small sigh and rose from his chair. "I'm going outside for some fresh air," he said, before leaving the conference table. "I'll be right back."

Proteus, a blue and red colored member of the Cybertronian Council of Elders, had been repeatedly demanding that Arkelaos offer the Autobots exclusive mining rights to one-third of one of Athenia's rare, energy-rich mineral deposits in exchange for labour and diplomatic favours.

"The only resource you have that would be of any interest to us is cybertonium! Now, as I've told you repeatedly, we will only share our thorite deposits if your government can guarantee regular delivery of a minimal amount of cybertonium–"

Arkelaos was once again interrupted by Proteus' fervent rebuttal; the Autobot abruptly rose from his seat to make his point, waving his arms in emphasis. "Cybertonium is unique to our physiology! It is only found on our world, and is already in very limited supply! I simply don't see why you won't consider something else of equal value in exchange!"

"Such as? We do not need to expand our labour force," Arkelaos insisted. "Our economy is finally showing positive growth after several stellar cycles of struggle and depression; our primary industries are now prospering, and our manufacturing sector is expanding beyond what we ever thought possible."

"I must point out, Honorable Arkelaos, that your economy is only doing well thanks to the recent interest in Athenia from certain well-off investors who I happen to know have close connections with our Elders," Xaaron explained over the loud chatter from the other delegates at the table. His approach was none too subtle, and as a relatively young and inexperienced states-mech he had already shown much promise in both shrewdness and tenacity.

The Athenian straightened uncomfortably. "That is nothing but an unsubstantiated rumour. Regardless, I fail to see the relevancy."

Xaaron leaned forward in his seat. "The relevancy is that you have a reserve of energon crystals that you refuse to disclose, let alone offer in trade!"

The representative from Methuselah caught Xaaron's words, and turned to Arkelaos in incredulity. "Is this true, Arkelaos?"

"No! That is preposterous!" the stately Athenian defended. "Do not believe a word of it, Lammos. Rest assured, if there was any truth to it, I would be the first to put such a stockpile upon the negotiating table!"

And so the discussions continued in this vein for several more hours, and whilst progress was steady, it was slow. Eventually, Proteus was able to secure a single shipment of energon crystals from both Jarr and Daros as part of a three-way agreement between their worlds, in exchange for the rights to select precious resources on Cybertron. However, this deal would bear a heavy cost for Cybertron, if it was allowed to proceed.