Three Protoforms

Falling Free

By: Sinead

Hours later, Dinobot's comm-link crackled to life, awakening him with a start. "Brother."

"Chi? What the Pit . . . ?"

"Brother, I can't be long."

"What's going on?"

"He knows, Dinobot."

Dinobot started walking towards the command center. Rattrap and Xephyr looked up as Dinobot pulled up a holographic map of the Predacon base. Both seemed to shrink into themselves when the bot spoke. His voice was pure hatred. "What did he do to you."

Shangrila didn't reply for a moment. Finally, she replied softly, "Don't loose yourself in your anger."

"What did he do."

Her voice shook. "He . . . by Primus, Dinobot, he nearly raped me."

Screeching metal and pain brought Dinobot back to himself. He looked down to see that he had started to crush the metal of the table between his hands, cutting himself in the process. He made himself release the holographic table, then forced himself to calm down enough to speak. By now, most of the Maximals were around him, and he was aware of that. "Where are you, sister."

"I . . . I can't tell you."

"Why?"

"Because Rampage is coming. I have to go."

"Wait, Chi . . ." Dinobot slammed both fists down upon the table, denting it further. "Slaggit, no!" He slid to his knees. "Not again, no . . ."

Not a word was said. Xephyr nearly walked up to Dinobot, but Anarkye grabbed her wrist and held her still.When Dinobot looked up, and when Xephyr looked into his optics, she saw a different bot there. This wasn't the Dinobot that bantered with her brother carelessly. This was a killer who knew that his quarry would die, and by his hands. This was a professional assassin at his most dangerous.

Rattrap seemed to be the same as Dinobot, which . . . which didn't seem right at all.

Xephyr backed herself up next to Cheetor and Silverbolt. The Fuzor stepped forward with Anarkye, Rhinox and Optimus. The Predacon base turned silently in miniature on the table. Anarkye stood on Dinobot's left, Rattrap on his right. Optimus stood directly opposite the warrior, Rhinox between him and Anarkye, and Silverbolt between himself and Rattrap. Finally, Dinobot stilled the Predacon base with a tap of a button. "Ambush."

"Points here, here, and here," Rattrap said, "with heat-boxes placed along these lines, each with a random timer. Leaves the back door open, if there is one."

"Two," Dinobot hissed, optics flashing. "There and on the other side."

Anarkye brought the map up larger, going through the levels one by one. "Megatron's quarters are here. That's the most likely place that he'd keep her."

"And the least likely?" Optimus asked.

Rattrap pointed to a cavernous space. "Old cargo hold. I was held prisoner there when I went on that mission to destroy the Maximal decoder ship."

"Enter and disperse then," Optimus said after a pause. "Anarkye, you'll be on your own, towards Megatron's quarters and the surrounding area. Rattrap and Dinobot, you two search thisarea here, and then Rattrap, you have the cargo area. The rest of us will distract from around the base." He turned to look at Xephyr. "Rig for demolition. Pack as much as you can. Rattrap, Anarkye, Dinobot, you three bring only what you have to, plus one med-pack each in case something goes wrong."

"Another thing that may help would be to change activation codes to Predacon," Anarkye said. Everyone looked at her. She pulled the image back out, so she could point out spots along the ridges around the Predacon base. "These are guns that will shoot anything that has a Maximal energy signature."

Rhinox nodded. "I'd do it, if it meant that it would buy us time."

Optimus sighed. "Hopefully, we'll have enough time to get her out of there." He caught Dinobot's optics steadily, and held them. "Dinobot, you have direct orders to simply retrieve your sister out of that base. Nothing else. No matter who you come up against, do not attack unless you are attacked first. Do you understand me?"

"Perfectly."

"Swear it."

"On my honor, Optimus Primal, I will not engage the enemy unless I am threatened physically."

"Or those on your team."

"Affirmative."

"Everyone rig up and meet back here in five cycles."

Dinobot was suddenly alone in the room. Or was he? No, clearly Anarkye had remained with him. She was watching his face. He knew that something within him had snapped. He couldn't control his anger, his complete hatred of that thing that had gone after his sister.

Small hands took his within them.

Lowering his head, Dinobot looked into Anarkye's optics. She held his hands, killer's hands, within her own small ones, watching his face. "I know that I'm young, Dinobot, and I know that you'll probably turn me away, but . . ."

He said nothing. She didn't expect him to.

"But I'd like to be your friend. If you'll let me."

Swallowing, seeing how she was trying to get him to calm himself down by listening to her words, Dinobot replied in a voice that didn't feel like his own, "My sister cares for you as she would a sister she never had. I would be honored."

Rattrap returned, watching Dinobot. The ex-Predacon aimed a bloody crimson stare at the Transmetal, who returned the cold look with indifference. "I'll kill for her."

Anarkye released Dinobot's hands, drawing her rifle and pulling it apart smoothly, cleaning and replacing some mediocre parts with ones that would ensure no jamming and precision better than she had before. When she hefted it again, it was something that made its previous appearance look like a child's toy. Loading it with high-powered ammo, the Maximal said, "And if I have to, I'll do the same."

"Try not to," Rattrap said quietly. "You're young, kiddo, and you'll regret it later if you pulled a wrong move. Aim for joints and for the gut. Harmless enough places, but painful ones that'll mess with a bot's processor."

Anarkye nodded, then reverted to her beast mode. By the time that three of the five cycles were up, all the Maximals were reassembled in the command room. Optimus looked at Dinobot, Rattrap and Anarkye . . . Anarkye . . .

In the few minutes that had passed, she had matured. She wasn't the unsure girl she had been a week ago, but . . . she was catching up to Cheetor, mentally. Maybe she would pass him out again.

Would it be his daughter that would inherit his leadership role, instead of his son?

Not letting any of these thoughts rise to the surface, Optimus ordered his troops out.

Something slapped Shangrila's face, bringing her to. She aimed weary optics up at a grinning Megatron. "So. You thought that you would be able to completely fool me? Oh, you silly girl." He slapped her again, leaning forward. "And then you thought that you'd be able to pass for a seductress? Bah. You don't have the makings of one, no."

Shangrila couldn't make herself talk.

Megatron's hands rested upon the wall on either side of her head, and he leaned upon it, sighing. "Now how will I deal with you?"

"Haven't . . . you already?"

"Oh-ho! No, I think not! Maybe I'll try something that will break you, yess . . . something that your dearest brother would not be able to undo . . ."

A weapon clicked into place behind Megatron. He spun, just in time to receive two rounds of ammo in the gut, and one each to his knees. Anarkye kept shooting, walking forward. Rattrap and Dinobot ran into the room behind her, Rattrap shooting at Megatron as well, while Dinobot moved over to his sister and started pulling the bonds apart with his hands, not caring how they burned him. As soon as Megatron passed into stasis lock, Rattrap helped Dinobot by catching Shangrila when the last bond was broken. She looked from one to the next slowly, then sighed and passed out. Dinobot put her over his shoulder, then looked at Anarkye. She nodded, moving ahead to scout out the territory. Before long, however, alarms went off. Rattrap grinned. "Looks like they're right on time."

Pounding feet all around them notified that the remaining Predacons were rushing out to face the enemy.

Mission complete.

Optimus glared at Rattrap and Dinobot. They glared right back. He sighed in exasperation. "Do I have to order you to get rest?"

"If you do, Primal, I will not follow it."

"Dinobot, this is foolish!"

"As it may seem! I wish only to see my sister step out of that chamber on her own, and then I'll get my rest!"

Rattrap said nothing.

Optimus threw up his hands and turned to stalk down the halls to his quarters, nearly walking right into Anarkye. She had just woken up, and looked it. With a sigh, she looked at the two bots waiting for Shangrila. "You two idiots gonna sit there like . . . oh, I don't know, like idiots until she gets out? You know that she's gonna have your hides if she finds out that you two were being selfish like this."

"Selfish?!" the two Maximals chorused.

"Uh, yeah? You're making yourselvesfeel better by 'sitting watch,' when you should be thinking of what shewould want. Dinobot, you of all people should know stuff like this."

Optimus watched in complete shock as the two bots stood and left the room, each grumbling to themselves about something or another. Anarkye took Rattrap's seat and activated a set of holographic cards. Her father walked over to behind her, and leaned against the bulkhead. "How did you do that?"

"What do you mean?"

"You got them to do something they didn't want to, and . . . on top of that, I couldn't get them to move."

Anarkye smiled up at her father, then said softly, "Big bot, you're not someone who they want to see as an equal. You're their commander, and ordering them does nothing. Plus, you don't really know Shangrila yet. I do. And they know that I do, so they'll listen to a comrade-in-arms." Her smile widened. "Oh, and there's one other big difference."

"And that would be?"

"I'm a girl. You're obviously not. I'm also a girl who can out-wrestle Rattrap."

Optimus sighed, then chuckled and rested his hand upon her head lightly, smiling at Anarkye. "Every day you remind me more and more of your mother."

"That's a good thing?"

"That's more than a good thing. It's something to be proud of."

Cheetor came in and tackled Anarkye, rolling with her, only to be pinned. His grin was wide. "You got those two motor-heads to get sleep!"

"Yeah, and?"

"Awesome!"

"You freak."

Cheetor grinned. "Play you."

Anarkye let him up. "On what?"

"Uh . . ."

Anarkye laughed, and dope-slapped her brother. Optimus watched as they each took consoles opposite each other, and started a first-person-shooter game. Rhinox came in as well, and pulled up two screens. Optimus stared at them, slack-jawed in shock. "Anarkye, come here."

She paused the game, then walked over and saw the two screens. One showed Rattrap and the other Dinobot. Both were completely out, and Dinobot looked as if he were actually snoring. She shook her head, and walked back to her game. It was good being friends with someone who listened to you once in a while.

Peace enveloped Shangrila as she was being restored. She felt her friends around her, guarding her. She felt her brother for a long time . . . but then someone came along and he left with whoever had been waiting with him. She was glad. They needed rest. So did she, after being on guard for the past month and a half. She retreated farther into her mind, letting herself relax and accept the repairs that were being done upon her.

Maybe life would start looking up again.

Dinobot stood with arms crossed over his chest when the CR chamber door hissed upwards. Shangrila stood there a moment, self-conscious for possibly the first time in her life, taking in the sight of the entire Maximal team watching her. Dinobot walked forward to her and glared down his nose at his younger sister. "If you ever . . ."

Shangrila grinned and punched his shoulder lightly. "I won't, Nintai."

"Had to use my old name, didn't you."

"So? It's got a good meaning."

"Like I slagging care."

"You do, don't you?"

"Yes."

Laughing, Shangrila walked out of the chamber and was immediately embraced by Anarkye, who squeezed her once, then let go. "I had to make your brother and Rattrap get sleep."

"Good. At least someone was able to make my thick-headed brother listen."

Xephyr snorted. "I was about to say the same thing."

Shangrila smiled kindly, then nodded to Optimus. "Sir. Thank you."

He made a face, waving his hand in a dismissive fashion. "Please. 'Optimus' will do just fine. And you're welcome. But really, it was Dinobot, Rattrap, and Anarkye that had planned this out. The rest of us were diversions."

Shangrila looked at Dinobot, then back to the Maximal leader. "You let him derive a battle strategy? And none of you were killed? Miraculous."

With a snarl, Dinobot lunged at his sister, only to be confronted by a whirl of moves that put him into a hold that he couldn't break. Rhinox blinked, as the slightly-smaller, and much more lithe femme just stood there, one hand bending Dinobot's right thumb back, the other wrapped around his neck, her fingers digging into a pressure point under his chin. Silverbolt and Xephyr just looked at each other, as Cheetor and Anarkye grinned and cheered.

Shangrila looked down at her elder brother. "You done?"

"Blasted–"

"Yes or no, and depending upon which answer you give me, I might release you."

Dinobot snorted. "No."

Shangrila let him go, saying, "Good."

"Wait just a second, here," Rattrap broke in. "Wouldn't it be da other way around?!"

Shangrila gave him a candid look. "Do you honestly want that old tin can to be tame? He's better when he's got a vendetta than when he's bored and twiddling his thumbs."

Rattrap gave the two of them a look, then sighed, shook his head, and shrugged. "I give up. Raptors like you two are hopeless."

Late that night, Shangrila walked down to the command center, sitting next to Rattrap. He looked up at her, then away. She smiled and rested her hand upon his shoulder. "You said that you wanted to talk to me."

"Well . . . yeah."

"About what?"

Rattrap sighed, the met her optics with his. "Because I wanted to tell 'ya dat I nearly lost it when I heard your voice over da comm-link three days ago."

"Why?"

Rattrap glanced at her face once, then sighed and looked away. "'Cause I . . . I like 'ya."

Shangrila smiled, and gently squeezed Rattrap's shoulder so that he turned to look at her. Her optics watched his . . . and they were gentle, open, kind . . . everything that her brother's weren't on even a good day. The ex-Predacon femme whispered, "But I didn't want you to see me the way I was."

"Damaged? Girl, I-I've seen worse." And he sighed, looking away again. "But I would rather have seen you the way you were and made Megs pay for it, than to have wondered how badly you were hurt and not know who to blame in battle."

With a smile, Shangrila stood, and then rested both arms around Rattrap's neck, resting her hands lightly over his chest. "And if you think that I don't feel the same way about you, vermin, think again. I care for you."

She had turned and left the command center before Rattrap could look back at her. When he turned back to his station, something moved out of the corner of his eye. Spinning the seat, he met Dinobot's gaze. The slightly-older bot smirked and walked over to say, "My sister is an amazing character, is she not, Cheese-eater?"

"Oi, slag off, Roadkill-breath!"

"You think that I would not supervise any of her activities?" Dinobot said, grinning and taking the seat that his sister had. "I do not want her hurt any more than you do. And I have more reason to be protective over her."

"She been heartbroken before?"

"More times than you would wish to think. More times than I would have liked to deal with."

"You were da one who was dere for her to cry upon."

"I raised her. Of course I was there for her."

Rattrap looked back down the hallway where Shangrila had disappeared to. His voice was soft. "I'd never want to make 'er cry, Choppuhface. I never want to see her sad or hurt ever again. I don't know what I'd do if I was the one that had hurt her."

Dinobot sighed, shifting slightly, but his optics stayed upon Rattrap's, when the shorter bot aimed forlorn optics up at him. "I love her, Dinobot. And I don't know what to do next."