NOTE: Was requested to re-upload this, so here it is. Please don't bother to concrit; this was three years ago, I know exactly how bad it is. Unless you were one of the ones requesting, seriously, just ignore this.

Prologue: Creatures

Flames.

They were all he ever saw.

Whenever he lay back to recharge, whenever he shut off his optics, the flames would be waiting for him. Visions of twisted metal and a bright orange wall of fire replayed themselves over and over again in his mainframe. The smoke, the heat, the pain…he could remember them so vividly it felt like reliving the experience. He had been saved from the flames only to find the same flames in his nightmares. Burning, crackling, killing, blazing, wiping out everything in its wake. And he was there, trapped like a rat beneath a tiger's paw.

Abandonment.

Why? Why hadn't he come back? Why hadn't anyone come back? What had he done to deserve this horrible end? He'd tried his best, hadn't he? Hadn't he? Primus, so scared…

He knew he was going to die. He could feel it waiting, the icy touch of darkness ready to take him from the world of flames.

When he hadn't, it had felt like the intervention of a miracle.

He was a scientist. He did not believe in fate, or godly powers, or miracles. But he did believe in salvation, and he had discovered that he could believe, very deeply, in revenge.

Despair.

The fire drew closer and he screamed, whimpering and praying like an infant for his friend to return to him. After a while, he had lost hope on him, and simply began hoping for anyone, anyone at all to come help him. And someone had. His salvation had come in the form of a most unusual saviour.

Why would anyone come back for him? He was a weak to average fighter at best, a lousy inventor and a poor shot to top it off. He was used to being ignored and pushed around by older, stronger mechs with more experience in battle. He was expendable. He knew it deep inside his spark, though he hated it. If not his best friend, who would waste time and resources saving his hide?

Being rescued by the Decepticon leader himself came as something of a shock. But it had been a welcome one.

The white-hot creatures licked closer, closing in on him again. Reflections of the flames danced upon his torso, consuming him for the millionth time. A transformer could sense temperature, but he could not exactly understand how burning felt. Yet he was certain it felt a lot like hate.

Revenge. Salvation. Pain. Terror.

The flames leapt.

Wheeljack snapped out of recharge, shot bolt upright and bit back a scream.

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Someone watched.

Not altogether surprising. In most situations, someone is always watching. Lichen, flies, walls, all of them are very good at seeing things that no one is supposed to see. Although, for some reason, their point of view is never taken into consideration.

This someone was different though. This someone was watching everything. At least, everything on earth.

The absence of lichen, flies or walls was also a point worth noting. This someone was in space.

He had spread himself out across the planet's ozone layer, and hung there now, a virus poised to rain death upon those sleeping below. Wrapped around the sphere like a coiled serpent, ready to strike at all below with a mouth full of venom. The Autobot base, the moon, the bottom of a lake, nothing could escape his observant gaze. In this form he could do nothing but he could see everything he wished to. An arch of stars swept across the ink-black sky and he was surrounded by utter silence.

Something had gone wrong.

The floating presence would have frowned, if it had a face. He didn't mind things going wrong, although he hated it when it happened to him. It meant that, somehow, he had failed to do his job. And he most certainly minded that. His plans were always simple and, most of the time, devastatingly effective. He corrupted factions, loyalties, wars as easily as a computer bug corrupted a system. It was his function, his life. But something had gone wrong.

The plan had developed a chink. A very, very small chink, but a most definite chink.

They weren't supposed to be here! None of them should still be on this accursed planet. Were things going according to his beloved plan, they should all be heading for Cybertron right now. It had all been going perfectly. The Autobot ship was well on the way to being fully repaired, as was the Decepticon base. But neither would take off until either Megatron had gotten his hands upon all three super-weapons or Optimus Prime had locked all the Minicons in a big room where the Decepticons couldn't get at them. Fools.

The vaporous creature wafted through space, pondering to itself.

Still, no matter. It was all fixable. It did mean that things would have to become a little more…complicated. That was fine. Complication just meant that there were more things to go wrong. Complication meant more things to taint and destroy and break down. Greater complication increased the potential for chaos.

And he did so love chaos.

It would be easy. Yes…already a plan was beginning to take root in his mind.

He stared down upon the planet below before idly turning his gaze to look upon a certain spot in the night sky, as though he could see past the stars, past the planets, past the thousands of astromiles to where Cybertron lay, helpless.

In the darkness between Earth and the infinite expanse of space, the invisible particles drew themselves together long enough to form a faint, grey smile.

The fools had no idea what was about to hit them.

Sideways laughed.

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The silver-blue sea shone in the sunlight like a field of broken glass. The waves crashed against the bare rock wall, sending up white spray to gently rain down upon the hard surface. The sky was strewn with white clouds piling on top of one another, but the sunlight still touched everything.

A storm had broken over this place not long ago, maybe just the previous night. Everything was damp, the birds, the cliff, the rocks. The gulls were only just starting to circle above once more. They landed upon the rocks. They would have landed on the sand, had there been a beach.

They did not land upon the big yellow thing sitting on the edge of the cliff, because there are some things even gulls won't do.

Hot Shot swung his legs once more. He was miles away from any danger of being sighted by a human and had received permission from Optimus to get out of the base and stretch his legs. He claimed that it was due to a severe bout of cabin fever, but it wasn't true. He just wanted to have some time alone to think, that was all.

Of course, avoiding yet another training lesson with Scavenger might have had something to do with it. The ex-mercenary had been keeping his nosecone to the grindstone all week, saying that he was getting 'better'.

'Bout time, thought Hot Shot.

From behind, he heard the sound of an approaching car, making bumpy progress on the rocky ground. It was followed by the sound of a clumsy transformation, which in turn was followed by the sound of a curse and a crash as someone caught their foot on something and fell to the ground.

"Hey, Sideswipe", said Hot Shot as he turned around.

His blue friend removed his face from the gravel and looked up at him, grinning apologetically. As a transformer, Hot Shot could not roll his eyes, but the blue glow of his optics flickered briefly towards the heavens as he offered a hand.

"Whaddya doing out here?", Sideswipe asked, as Hot Shot yanked him to his feet.

"Nothing."

Sideswipe gave him a confused look, cocking his head to one side. He skipped over to the edge and stood staring down at the pounding sea below with wide optics.

"Wow. Pretty.", he commented. "Whaddya doing?"

Hot Shot sighed and said, "Nothing. Weren't you listening?"

"Yeah, but you're lying. Wonder why?"

Hot Shot's jaw sagged as he mentally slapped himself. It was easy to forget that Sideswipe, despite his clumsiness and youth, could often be strangely perceptive. Meanwhile, the codebreaker had returned to goggling at the waves.

"Geez. Do they do that all the time? Why d'ya come up here, bro?"

He gave up.

"Just thinking", he muttered.

"'Bout what?"

"Stuff. Give a guy some privacy, will ya?"

Sideswipe turned away from the ocean to look at him, his teal-blue optic-band blinking owlishly. As per usual, completely ignoring the impatient, aggressive response he was receiving. For someone who could, in fact, be strangely perceptive, he never seemed to pick up the signs that suggested his presence was not wanted. Hot Shot was beginning to suspect he did it on purpose.

" 'Bout Wheeljack?"

In fact, he was sure that he did it on purpose. This time Hot Shot's jaw not only fell open; it nearly continued going until it hit the Earth's core.

"…How?", he asked weakly. When last he'd checked, the youngest Autobot had not developed the ability to read minds.

"Because whenever you go somewhere alone to think, you're thinking about something bad. And whenever you're thinking about something bad, you're thinking about Wheeljack.", said Sideswipe calmly, earning a goggle-eyed stare from his friend.

"…Okay…you're good.", admitted the young warrior.

"Hey, I'm a codebreaker. I'm good at deductions.", shrugged the younger bot. "It's okay. You don't have to tell me if you don't want. I was just wondering. Umm… you're okay, right? Jolt was kinda worried. I mean, you're not going to jump off the cliff just because of a little angst, right? I'd seriously hate to have to explain that to Optimus."

"Na. Not today. Thanks, bro.", said Hot Shot with a smile. He was glad that he would not be called upon to give an account of the bitter, angry thoughts that had been flying around in his head all morning. The visions of flames, of wreckage, of a gun, of betrayal…

His jaw was clenching again and he stopped before Sideswipe noticed.

"Need a hug?", queried Sideswipe with a grin.

"Don't even think about it.", Hot Shot warned, although he grinned back. The younger Autobot always managed to cheer him up. Either that or annoy him so much he soon forget what was bothering him in the first place.

"You…ah…you want to race, man?", asked Sideswipe, anxious to establish normality again. He hated it when Hot Shot thought about Wheeljack. The thought of the darker mech who had left him to die burning never failed to send a shiver down the young Autobot's back.

The yellow sports-car hesitated, before saying, "Yeah". As they both transformed, he cast a dark glance to the shimmering horizon, bright and pure in the cleansing sunlight.

He bet it hadn't looked that pretty during the storm.