Disclaimer: Transformers belongs to Hasbro. I no own. I borrow. I give back when done.           

It's easier, in the dark. Easier to forget where I am, and who I am; easier to remember where I should be, alone again in a different darkness.

            But there is always something there to remind me; the increased gravity, wearisome for beings like myself designed and built on a world of a different scale; the occasional dart and gleam of organic creatures in the black ocean beyond the window. My body is not what it used to be, either; the clumsy forms this world has forced on us are necessary, if regrettable. And as much as I would wish it otherwise, this primitive little planet has changed me, too; changed the way I think. Perhaps the four million years of deactivation under that volcano had an effect on my personality core.

            Because the soldier I was, back on Cybertron, would not have these dreams...

It's always the same. The baking heat of the canyons, and the urgency of finding it..finding her...and the thing she carries; by the time we get there the Autobots have gathered around their quarry. She lies still beneath the glowing net, and the irritation I feel is for a useful weapon—a device, nothing more—taken from me. The World Energy Chip is of paramount importance, of course, and that is why I have come after her. My beam disperses the bonds the Autobots have put on her, and she is free. I can feel the victory, now, as I have felt it before, so many times, just within my grasp.

            And this time it's Starscream, not the Autobots, who snatches it away. The old anger rises up in me like a power-surge; fury not only at his continued disobedience but also for the consequences of this particular act of insubordination. He lost the World Energy Chip and its bearer for me in one null-ray blast. The illogic of this makes me wonder at his mental stability, not for the first time.

            I made my displeasure abundantly clear to him when he was brought back to the base, of course. The memory of that particular encounter almost makes up for the inconvenience he caused me. Almost.

            But the dream comes back, night after night. I have tried setting the recharge cycles deeper, tried cache-file clearances, even tried consuming massive amounts of energon, which works briefly but causes disorientation and surges when it wears off, and still the dream comes back. The look in those tilted yellow optics beneath the glowing energy net, as I raised my antimatter blaster; the way her body draped helplessly over Prime's arm as she collapsed...

            Yes, my anger was at the loss of a useful tool. At the time, I was merely furious that victory had been torn from me just as my fists closed on it; only afterward did I begin to consider that perhaps I was angry for another reason, as well.

            I cannot get her out of my mind, and it is both tiresome and counterproductive, but I am unable to forget her. To forget Nightbird. She had no true mind, no true self; she was innately inferior, a thing of human construction and conceit. But I remember the look in those optics, and I wonder if perhaps Bombshell and Soundwave had achieved more than they intended, when they reprogrammed her to my orders. Is it possible for a sparkless shell—for a drone—to come alive? To be conscious of itself?

            The soldier I was before would not have thoughts like these. Would not have wondered if it were possible to steal her back from the human scientist, and to give her true sentience of her own, as I gave my Constructicons sentience with the power of Vector Sigma. It is Earth that has done this to me. Earth.

            One of them said it once. A human religious leader of some sort, fleeing from me in a city; I can remember picking him up, wondering about his strange black robes, the sigil he bore on a chain around his neck. "This is our fault," he had blurted out, his fear sour and sharp to my olfactory sensors; "this is our fault, your coming is the sign of our failures...we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, and we have not done as we should; you are a punishment."

            I flung him away, and he crumpled to the ground and said no more; but the words remained in my mind with the perfect clarity of digital recall. Devices and desires.

            This planet has made me desire things which I should never have come to need.

            In the darkness of the ocean outside the window, things move and glow eerily with lights they use to lure unsuspecting prey to their doom. I have to wonder slightly if the creatures drawn to these bright lures find the light irresistible even as they are being eaten alive by its bearer.

            I have to wonder if I can stand my loneliness.

            I stalked into the command room, later than I had intended, trying to shake off the most recent of the dreams; it had been worse than usual, and I had woken from recharge with a dull kind of pain in my chest, as though my oxygen-intake filters were malfunctioning. I'd ignored it, of course. I'm not like Starscream, not one to harp on every little ache and pain.

            Soundwave was already there, as I had expected. He sat behind the main command console, tabulating scan results and the reports of the morning scout patrol.              "What news?" I demanded.

            "The Black River power plant is online and generating, mighty Megatron," he reported, tonelessly. I always find it difficult to decide whether that processed voice holds a mocking note; like my lieutenant on Cybertron, he has no real facial features to speak of, and it is sometimes challenging to read his intent. Again, I found myself cursing the limitations of these Earthly forms, and what they've done to my abilities to analyze my subordinates. "1,685 megawatt capacity."

            "Excellent," I said, folding my arms. "What's the security like?"

            "Not worried about the squishies' security forces, are we, great leader?" inquired Starscream from the doorway. I turned and fixed him with my best shut up, right now, and maybe I'll let you keep your wings glare.

            "Hardly worried, Starscream," I told him. "However, a wise leader always takes care to assess a situation before throwing himself into it. Advice from which you might benefit, my impetuous friend."

            He ignored me, as he often does, coming forward and draping himself on the back of Soundwave's chair. "Interesting. Two reactor units, both boiling water reactors; two main turbines. Should be easy enough to take over."

            "Starscream," I said, warningly, "allow me to remind you that the humans are at a much higher alert level than before, after that charming little terrorist attack on their city. It will not be as easy as you think to commandeer Black River."

            "You're going soft," he told me, red optics flaring. "The leader you used to be would've already taken over both units and been halfway home to Cybertron by now." He paused, still leaning indolently on the back of the command chair, and then that derisive little smile curved the corners of his mouth. "In fact, you've been acting strangely for quite some time now, Megatron. You're losing control, Leader. You're getting old."

            My dreams flickered again in my short-term memory, the pallid—almost desperate—glow of a pair of yellow optics, Starscream's mocking laughter, the deadly draining pain of my growing knowledge: I am not what I have been, I am losing control, I am losing touch....I am failing....the images, the memories surged again suddenly like a cascade failure in my circuits, and my fist closed around Starscream's throat with a most satisfactory crunch of bending metal. I lifted the Seeker easily, my fusion cannon's barrel staring him in the face.

            Starscream's hands clawed ineffectively at my forearm as I closed my fist, enjoying the mild electric shocks as circuits gave way under my crushing grip, relishing the surprised agony on his face. "Getting old?" I repeated. "Losing control?"

            He tried to speak, but I was squeezing a little too tight, and after a moment more his hands fell away from my arm and he sagged in my grasp. I flung him to the floor, where he lay moaning weakly, and bent over Soundwave's chair. The communications officer hadn't moved an inch during the whole drama.

            "We attack at dawn," I said, simply.

**

            This wasn't good. Not good at all. Doctor Fujiyama had just contacted the Autobots and their leader to discuss an important matter. Normally, the sort of calls they got on Teletran One were to either call them for help or to thank them for services rendered; this looked like something else entirely. Prime couldn't help but notice how pale the man looked when his face first appeared on Teletran One's screen.

            "I wish I could say that I have contacted you during good times, Mr. Optimus Prime," said Fujiyama, his stilted English more awkward than ever with the force of his emotion.  "However, I am afraid that something horrible has happened."

            "What is it, Doctor?" Prime asked, arms folded. Fujiyama swallowed hard.

            "I am afraid that the Nightbird has escaped."

            There were a few groans and soft gasps from some of the younger Autobots.

"But how? We returned her to the lab and saw her safely deactivated!" Ratchet exclaimed.  

            Optimus glanced down at the medic. Fujiyama was talking again, waving his hands.

            "Well, you see, Nightbird is still a very valuable and powerful weapon to contain to say the very least. However I don't think that someone has taken her like previously. On the contrary I think she left on her own."

            Optimus was silent for a moment, working out the intricacies of that last sentence. "But she's just a robot," he said, "she isn't sentient, right, Doctor?"

            Fujiyama nodded emphatically. "That is what she was, certainly; however, I think lately she has in fact been experiencing her own thoughts and emotions. I didn't even think such a thing was possible."

            "Well, how do you suppose it happened?" Jazz asked. "I mean, when we fought her, she was more of a tool than anything else."

            Fujiyama sighed. Despite his respect for the Autobots he couldn't help noticing how biased against Nightbird they appeared; he had to assume they found her offensive on some level.

            Out loud he said, "We do not know yet. I am beginning to wonder if Megatron might have tampered with her." It was, in fact, his only workable hypothesis. "Mr. Optimus Prime," he continued, "I am hoping that we can retrieve the Nightbird once again. She is very dangerous. And should not be on her own in her mental state."

            There was a murmur in the Autobot control room: the pronoun had sounded certain, this time. Nightbird was, apparently, a "she" now to her creator, not an "it."

            Optimus nodded. "I understand. The Autobots and I will do what we can to help. Thank you for contacting us." He leaned forward and cut the connection, frowning thoughtfully.  

            "Well, that figures. The humans make a mess of things and then they expect us to clean it all up," Jazz complained.

            "Jazz," Optimus said, wearily, and he subsided. The Autobot leader turned to his troops.

            "Well, looks like it's back to saving the day," said Bumblebee. Prowl nodded.

            "We can't let the Nightbird run around free. Who knows what kind of damages it could cause?"

            "Let's kick some skidplate," Ironhide put in. Prime was glad of the battlemask; it hid his smile.

            "Very good," he said. "Autobots, transform and roll out."

            It was a bright, shiny day, and there was little traffic; they were halfway to the laboratory when Prime got a call from headquarters. "Decepticon activity at Black River power plant. Assistance required."

            "Well, I guess we'll have to put off getting Nightbird back," said Prime, as they changed course. "We can't let the Decepticons have that power plant."

**

            ...subroutine x-k-19003 running

            ...identify identify...

            ...if unknown=enemy then action=attack

            ...unknown=unknown no threat

            ...action=evade

            She slid behind a pillar of rock, mind whirling as she tried to process if-then statements given her sudden and total, wholesale vision of her surroundings. It had been less than half a twenty-four-hour time period since she had awakened, for the first time aware of her body and her being as opposed to simple binary equations explaining what she was and what she must do. In that time, she had found her strength more than equal to the bonds of the stasis cocoon in which she had found herself; it had crumpled beneath her fingers and torn open, and she had been free.

            free=alive.

            Alive did not compute, but she had come to the conclusion that some things were better off uncomputed, merely accepted. She slid around the rock-pillar, wondering with half her mind whether it was safe to move out and with the other half who was fighting...and why.

            There was a strange memory somewhere in her databanks that kept coming back: red optics, or eyes, or something analogous, in a face the white of the ceilings she'd stared at all the hours and days she had spent in the Lab. Red eyes, and a voice like thunder. She could not trace the memory file containing that scene, and therefore had been unable to delete it from herself. It came upon her unawares, from time to time.

She peered round the pillar, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they seemed to have stopped discharging plasma rifles at one another. There was a little conversation, and then one side of the battle jerked, collapsed in on themselves, and became...land vehicles. They sped off towards the south.

            ...event=unlikely

            ...event=unknown

            ...unknown=no threat

            ...response=investigation

**

            I found myself a trifle disappointed in Optimus Prime. Clearly he had heard something about the Black River power plant and decided he'd show up to spoil my fun, but he didn't seem to have his heart in it the way he normally did; he seemed rather distracted, as a matter of fact, and it was only after I took off his yellow subordinate's arm with a fusion blast that he really paid any attention to me at all.

            "There," I yelled, as the diminutive Transformer's arm bounced amusingly on the ground. "So will you all suffer who thwart the desires of Megatron!"

            Prime jerked around and let fly with his blaster rifle, and it was pure bad luck that part of the electrical substation chose that moment to blow up and threw me off balance; I took the rifle blast directly through my shoulder with a shower of sparks and a startled yell. It hurt—hurt worse than I'd thought possible, actually, as my shoulder joint was crushed into razor-sharp shreds of metal, my mechfluid veins torn and pulsing with vital lubricant. I glanced around the battlefield as my optics sparked and flared in short-circuiting agony, and saw that most of my army was either hurt or outnumbered.

            "Decepticons, retreat!" I yelled, clutching my ruined shoulder with my other hand. All around me my forces took to the air, swooping off into the brightening day, and it was only after they'd made aerial formation that I realized I couldn't lift off the ground. Luckily Prime and his lackeys had buggered off as soon as they saw we were leaving, and I was alone with the wrecked substation and a growing puddle of mechfluid expanding at my feet.

            I knew they'd turn back for me; at least Soundwave would turn back, and he carried enough authority to force the others to obey. That knowledge didn't make it any easier, as I slumped to my knees, the strength draining out of me with the pumping mechfluid. Damn Prime, he'd hit an artery...

            Someone was there, suddenly. I assumed it was Soundwave; it generally is, under these circumstances, although the arms holding me up seemed more slender than Soundwave's, and the fingers probing my wound were the wrong colour...

I looked up into a pair of tilted almond-coloured optics, and then there was simply nothing else to think.