A chapter with no OCs in it. Hot diggity.

Happy Valentine's Day! To celebrate, I brought Decepticons. (After all, isn't that what everyone really wants?)

The Ninth Circle

Much like its back alleyways, the Scrap Metal Depository of Iacon was not very nice. Its scenery did not uplift a mech's spirits, nor did its décor inspire a new recruit to strive for greater things.

On the other hand, Optimus thought, it were cleaner than the giant communal junkyards of most major cities. That was something.

He hummed a soft little tune as he waited, and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. A retro-rat scurried past, pausing to nibble at the polish of his wheels and squeak at him. He discreetly gave it a few drops of low-grade, glancing around as though worried someone might notice.

He disliked meeting like this. It gave the whole thing an air of…unwholesomeness, a slight flavour of skulduggery, the faintest suggestion that somehow, he was doing something Morally Wrong. He knew that he wasn't, really, but the feeling still stood.

Of course, were the rest of the Autobot army to discover these liaisons, they would certainly condemn it as Morally Wrong. Some of them would consider it morally wrong to such a degree that drawing him up before a firing squad would not be an unjustified move. This sort of knowledge often made Prime uncomfortable. He soothed himself with the knowledge that they didn't know Scavenger as well as he did. Very few people in the entire galaxy currently knew Scavenger as well as he did.

The sound of metal crunching beneath metal came from behind him, and a lifetime's worth of training swooped to the fore. He was already halfway ducked, cords tight and sensory net spread wide as a signal flare, when something huge leapt from the shadows with a horrible roar.

Obeying instinct, one hand fell to his sub-space pocket, fingers straining for his all-purpose rifle…which they then disregarded, upon a moment's change of mind, and sprung upwards to grab at the clawed, shapeless monstrosity that was preparing to fall upon him.

His hand snapped around a large chunk of leg, tightened and, with the assistance of a complicated twist/kick movement that few could do without breaking themselves in two, he flung the older warrior into the nearest scrap heap.

A crunching of tin and a wailing of metal filled the night air, sending retro-rats and rust worms scurryng from their holes.Inwardly, Optimus chided himself; he had not meant to throw that hard.

There were scrabblings and grumblings as the trash was shoved to one side, before the thing stood up. Perfectly still, and with an eternalflicker of contempt to its optics, it was possessed of a tall, dark majesty that seeped from powerful arms and legs like mist. Sheathed in shadow, it was impossible to make out its shape, but its form was massive, and equipped with clawed hands that seemed big enough toenvelop the head of a normal mechanism.

With absolutely no noise whatsoever, Scavenger stepped forward.

He stopped, looked down and stared at his left foot. Then he gave Optimus a hard look.

"Whatever you called me back here for, Prime, it sure as slag better be better than what I just stepped in."

Cyclonus was going undercover.

He was also going under threat of being both fusion cannoned and slowly kicked to death by some of the more militant Minicon groups under the Decepticon leader's command. This was why he was trying very, very hard to keep quiet.

(This was difficult, because Cyclonus had not yet learnt that it is hard to keep quiet when one is walking with a spring in one's step and whistling a merry tune. It felt good to be doing something.)

Butthe quiet thing only applied for a little while longer. Once he had reached the designated site, his instructions were to be as loud and destructive as possible.

(Cyclonus grinned. He was okay with that.)

His job was simple; his mission was suicide; his cares were few. He was to be the designated distraction whilst Megatron and his New Best Friend (A.K.A creepy green guy, and what was with that laugh? Geez) set into motion whatever dark and intricate plans they had laid out. Cyclonus was not aware of what said plans were, beyond what he had deducted through snippets and whispers. He had, however, cottoned on to enough information to realize that he had been chosen as part of one of the most dangerous and devious Decepticon ploys of all time.

Whee, he had thought.

(Although itwasn't really that much of a surprise. Seventy Cybertronian hours ago, he'd been evicted from the detention centre with supernatural speed, thrown up before Commander Megatron and told that they would be leaving for the biggest enemy base camp on the planet within the next vorn. Rust flakes could have picked up on the incongruities.)

The way he saw it, his options had become very limited very quickly. They included A.) become a hero, B.) die, C.) make a mistake and fail hugely, bringing shame upon them all and a world of pain upon himself. (And, apathetic to most of the universe as he was, that last one did give him a slight shiver, one that he would never admit to.) Either way, chances were good that, somewhere along the line, there would be destruction and mayhem and it would all be because of him.

So. Whee.

With this goal firmly in mind, Cyclonus set his attention on not tripping over something and screwing things up entirely with an ill-timed squawk. The ancient pipeline stretched away ahead of him, squeaking and groaning with the tribulations of forgotten ages. Weapons glowing with heat on both arms, he moved into the dark.

And on the other side of both the spectrum and the city...

Wrapped in a web of invisibility nettings, appointed to him bya loving and prudent creator, Thrust slunk through the streets of Iacon.

The tactician was quite beautiful when he moved within the net, ducking and shifting smoothly to avoid knocking against anything. It was a pity, therefore, that no one without an extremely advanced and well-tuned energy detector could have spotted him.

Invisibility was new technology. Like all new technology, it had its problems.

Air ripples were one. It wasn't too difficult for an alert Autobot to detect a shimmer were no shimmer should be. Asthis was known to be the only way to detect a nearby spy without proper equipment, Autobots were known to lunge gun-first at anything from heat-ripples to dust storms.

Other mechanisms were another. It took a bit of practise and some experience to realize that, when no one could see you, no one watched where they were going. If you weren't quick of wit and quicker on your feet, you were open to a world of new experiences; being mown down like cut organic fibres whenever an alarm rang; being peppered with bullets by some fool who'd just wanted to practise his aim on a neglected wall; being stepped on by a cityformer who hadn't seen you (although this was a hazard most had to endure, as cityformers, on those rare occasions when they had to move about, didn't often bother to check for any small, desperately scrabbling creatures beneath their feet.)

And then there was just accidentally knocking down someone with more brains than an eggcup. Invisibility shielding was, true, only a recent development, but word of it had spread like wildfire, fanned by superstitious myths and the far more practical concerns of those bases who had no time to waste on energy-signature detectors. If he did walk into an alert Autobot, chances were the generals would be alerted in minutes, and the entire city would be covered in a massive energy detector. He would be instantly noticed, instantly taken down and almost as instantly dragged in for interrogation.

Thrust looked around unconcernedly. He had had years of experience at avoiding the clumsy whims of creatures with more power than he. Gliding through a crowd without brushing the aura of another was a skill that had become a science.

Flying over the city and simply landing on the correct building was an impossibility, sadly. The invisible energy detection dome that encompassed the inner circle of Iacon was thin, but refined enough to pick up on anything without a big, shiny Autobot insignia tattooed upon every last inch of its frame. The heat from his jets would be more than enough to have every gun in the accursed city trained on his wings-and Thrust had never been prey to the desire to go down swinging. He intended to go down chuckling, in quiet but immense self-satisfaction.

His job was complicated; his mission was madness; his cares were many.

He had a feeling that this was going to earn him another promotion.

Shivering in delight at the thought, the youngest Decepticon tactician in over five hundred thousand years folded his wings as far back as they would go and glided, unseen, past the lingering rabble.

"I thought we agreed that I was going to lay low for a while."

The ex-Decepticon, and, more recently, ex-mercenary's voice was muffled. This - sigh - was because of the robe.

He didn't know why Scavenger bothered with the robe. Scavenger didn't know why he bothered with the robe.

It was useless, the mercenary had muttered over a pint of high-grade one evening, trying to convince himself that it was for purposes of subterfuge. An Emperor Megatron-sized Decepticon is a difficult thing to conceal at the best of times; discretion is made only harder when said Decepticon has a huge piece of cloth wrapped around him. It is like putting a sheet over an elephant. You can still tell that it's an elephant. Worse, it's an elephant wearing a gods-damned sheet, which makes it a really weird elephant.

And arguing that it concealed his insignia didn't do much good, either. Most races no longer cared (if, indeed, they ever had) whether the giant, armed robot coming towards them was an Autobot or a Decepticon; generally, one would follow the other, and the inevitable result would be pending anarchy.

It had no use as a shield, it tended to impede his movements and, he had growled, throwing back another shot, it sure as krell didn't do anything for his looks.

Scavenger had stated that he refused to believe that he carted the thing around out of some dry, lingering trace of childish amusement, even if (he here had sniggered) it was funny to watch people's faces as they spoke to a fifty foot warrior clad in a circus tent. Prime, who had known the warrior for several years at that point, suspected that his friend and mentor was not being entirely truthful.

They clasped hands; neither went in for hugs, and nods weren't sufficient.

"Optimus, what have I told you about mmpgh-…", Scavenger began, then growled in irritation and pulled the cloth from his mouth. One of the numerous problems that comes with wearing a dramatically billowing cape every hour of the day is the tendency for it to get caught in the back of one's energon detection tubes. "Optimus, what have I told about feeding the retro-rats?"

"That they're vermin and I shouldn't?" queried Optimus, who was used to certain Decepticon-ish aspects of Scavenger's personality poking their heads through now and then.

"And the reason you never listen to me would be…?"

"They're small and helpless. I like them."

Inwardly, Scavenger sighed. He had no doubts that his adopted pupil would one day soar to the rank of chief lieutenant. His aspirations for the young mech extended even higher than that, into areas that Prime himself would probably consider blasphemous. But damned if the boy didn't have a head like a pound of stug.

(Stug was a slightly harder cousin of lead, once employed to make clubs in Decepticon training bases. Getting hit over the head with a club of stug would not kill you, but it would make you wish it could.)

"Whaddaya want?"

"How've you been?"

"Fine. Whaddaya want?"

Optimus chuckled and gave Scavenger's shoulder an affectionate rub. "You never change, do you?"

Scavenger was again reminded of why he had decided that he preferred Prime's company to that of his own race; had a member of his own race given him a pat, he would have been obliged to rip off one of their limbs.

"Heard you'd been made Base Commander."

Optimus have a surprised 'hmph'. "I always underestimate you, don't I?"

"Yup. How's the flyboy?"

"Jetfire's fine. I've made him Vice Base Commander."

Scavenger contemplated his claws, before grunting, "Could do worse. Now, whaddaya want? I've got an important client to meet with on planet Duke in five hours. No time to get arrested."

"Don't worry, security's very bad at the moment. I take it you've heard about Nexus?"

"Yup. Weird business."

"Actually, that was the reason I contacted you…"

By the time he had first met the hundred-year old neophyte that had been Optimus Prime, Scavenger had already lost every one of his illusions, found new ones and lost them, too. Meeting Optimus Prime, who not only maintained all his illusions, but seemed to create new ones every day, had been a... surprise.

He had loved the young soldier backthen-and still did, stug-head that he was-but he was firm on thebelief that deserting had had nothing to do with Prime and his ideals. It had had a lot to do with what he thought about Prime and his ideals, which weren't the sort of thoughts any Decepticon had a right to have.

He put both arms above his head and stretched, inciting Optimus to wince at the cracking and squealing from his back.

"Prime, I haven't been anywhere near a Decepticon base for months. You know how this works; I go where I get contracted to go. Hardly anyone in either army contracts mercs these days. It's too dangerous. You never know whether the other side's also forkin' out the credits. Last time I heard anything from anyone was maybe three months ago and it prob'ly doesn't mean anything."

Optimus waited patiently.

Eventually, Scavenger made a heavy, exasperated noise, and scratched the back of his neck.

"I was in a bar. There was a 'Con. A seeker. Weird guy, kept talkin' to himself. He seemed to think that something big was going to happen. Wouldn't give me any details, no matter how many drinks I brought him. But he mentioned Iacon."

"...The attacks have taken place in Nexus", Prime said slowly.

"Yep, I know. Strange, that."

The two warriors regarded one another.

Optimus quietly spoke. "Scavenger…if something does happen here, what do I do?"

Prime, I'm a soldier. I'm a deserter, too. What is it that makes you so sure that I have any slagging clue what to do if everything you love goes straight to slag? I wasn't built to answer these sort of questions. I was built to get up, shoot stuff for a while and then die in some low-key and unimportant way. Prime, surely you know that?

Scavenger said, "Stay focused. If something goes wrong, you've got to know about it the minute it does. Don't panic. Don't let the men panic. Check out the routes the current patrols are taking and see if you can spread 'em out. Get Jetfire off his lazy aft and get him to check out the situation from the air. Whe-…If trouble happens, make sure you've got an open line to Nexus available; chances are good you're not going to able to handle it without backup. If something does go wrong, it's going to happen in the next ten hours. That's the maximum time the Decepticons at Nexus and Raff are going to be able to keep the distraction going-if that's what it is. And for slag's sake, don't leave Jetfire alone."

Optimus nodded.

They shook hands; Optimus gave his arm a squeeze.

"Be careful."

"I'm always careful. You're the one who gets himself stuck with entire cities when I turn my back."

Optimus laughed, although it was a weary sound. "I'll see you again soon?"

"Soon. I've got some business to finish up on Tarn. Should be over with in a few months. Don't get killed."

As the mercenary was preparing once more to slink off into the disgusting overgrowth that was the junkyard, Optimus said, "Scavenger. Have you given any thought to my suggestion?"

There was a pause, then a low, affirmative grunt.

"Yep. I've thought about it."

And he was gone.

Optimus stared at the space that his friend and one-time nemesis had occupied. Then he shook his head and headed back to Headquarters.