Chapter One: The Old Switch-a-Roo
From the personal data tracks of Thrust, Decepticon Strategist:
I shall never forget that day.
It began as most days do, with bickering. Demolisher's clumsiness had placed another hole in the ship, and Megatron was quite beside himself with fury. This wreckage we call a base is on the brink of a complete breakdown, and it ill needs more things to repair. Phrases such as, "You incompetent buffoon," and "You disgrace of a soldier," were tossed about, and justifiably so.
On this particular day, Megatron's "elite" were to be repairing the spacebridge. After another disastrous attempt to recover the Minicons, things had turned from bad to worse when the primary circuits of the warp gate malfunctioned and refused to allow any further passage to or from the planet.
Megatron still blames it on Starscream for lingering behind after retreat had been called.
I blame it on Megatron's temper, and the fist he sent smashing into the control console.
Regardless of the real cause for the malfunction, the spacebridge could not be used until repairs had been made, and it was up to Starscream's dubious talent at repairing computers to solve the problem. This undoubtedly was where the whole situation went awry.
Every Decepticon knows computers to some degree, but the skill of repairing them, or using them for advanced programs, depends on the individual. Starscream may be a powerful warrior, but he lacks the patience to solve anything more than a simple problem. Spacebridge technology isn't simple, and it wasn't long before he was hurling equipment around the room and shouting in frustration. To use his own words, "It's a slagging piece of scrap! I'm a warrior, not a computer technician! This is a complete waste of my time. I'm getting nowhere with this!"
Despite all the complaining, he was making a decent effort at the repairs, so Megatron allowed him his back talk. For the moment, at least.
It was around this time that the alarm went off, signaling the activation of another Minicon somewhere on Earth.
Now, you must understand that all of the above was related to me only after the fact. When I arrived on the scene, certain…things had transpired that make me question warp gate technology in general, and the wisdom of putting important tasks in the hands of someone as ill-equipped to deal with them as Starscream.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I arrived promptly at the sound of the alarm. I had been carefully formulating a plan since the last unsuccessful recovery mission, and was quite sure my new scheme was fail-proof.
"Is the spacebridge functional yet?" Megatron was demanding.
"How should I know?" Starscream shot back. "This isn't as easy as it looks."
"Well, hurry up and fix it. I don't have all day to waste while you play around with it. As we speak, there is a Minicon out there that belongs to me, and I'm not prepared to let the Autobots have it."
Starscream, for his part, held his tongue. I was surprised at the time, but in retrospect, I assume it was because he was either concentrating on the task at hand, or simply couldn't think of a sarcastic retort off the top of his head.
After a few more minutes of listening to the blaring alarm, he rose to his feet and dusted off his hands.
"It's not perfect, but it should allow us to warp to the surface," he said.
Megatron nodded in satisfaction. "Excellent. Men, prepare to move out." He stepped onto the platform and the gate began to glow around him. "Starscream, you stay here and keep working on the gate. I don't want to be kept waiting like this again."
If you've never seen Starscream get angry before, here is a little sample of what to expect. If you break it down into its base components, a facial expression is really just a series of motions that are useless unless combined into a whole. His optics narrow, and his lips spread apart to bare his clenched teeth in a snarl. Simple, really, and yet you can look at him once and know his next word will be-
"What!" He charged up to the platform, shoving Cyclonus and Demolisher off the stairs to do so, and just about pulled a wire to make it there in time. "There is no way that I'm staying here!"
Megatron looked about as shocked as I felt at this display of insubordination, and I had to wonder why Starscream's rebellious spirit hadn't yet been crushed. "You dare disobey my orders?"
That was the last thing I heard, because the warp console started to whistle and smoke mere seconds before it exploded. I was thrown to the floor, and smoke obscured my vision. After the ringing in my audio dissipated somewhat, I heard plenty of coughing.
Cyclonus was the first to speak. "What the heck was that!"
I got to my feet and groped my way to the console. "Another malfunction, obviously. Put out the fire and let's see the damage."
"I'm on it," said Demolisher, and he appeared through the smoke at my elbow. Raising an arm, he ejected a foam-like substance that coated the console. "Fire's out." He looked so proud of himself for such a simple task.
"Thank you. And now, be so kind as to get rid of this stuff so I can take an accurate observation of the console."
Sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded by complete morons.
While Demolisher cleaned up, I set Cyclonus to get the ship's internal ventilation system running to get rid of the lingering smoke. I would have said to drop the atmospheric shields that kept the ship climate controlled, but some of the equipment didn't function as well without it.
When the console was clean enough to see the damage, I almost wished that it wasn't.
"That fool, Starscream," I remember muttering to myself. I poked the remains of plastic coated connectors, their colors barely discernable under the soot. "He crossed the purple wire with the red wire. No wonder it exploded." I looked to the spacebridge and remembered something. "Megatron and Starscream were warping when the console exploded."
"I think they're okay," Cyclonus informed me, and he pointed to the ship's main computer. A green, wire frame topography map was being shown on the screen. Two Decepticon symbols were displayed several miles apart. "Their bodies made it to the surface, at least."
"That doesn't tell me anything." I gave an irritated sigh. "Stand aside. If you want something done right, do it yourself."
Something must be explained, here. I hold no love for either Megatron, or that irritating seeker jet. In fact, I would have leapt for joy had I discovered that both of them had been disintegrated. But before I started to arrange the (very short) mourning period for our "dear commander" and "comrade", I wanted to be sure that they were both very inactive. There's nothing quite so humiliating as jumping the gun, as it were, and having the dead return and wonder why you've assumed the throne in their absence. Not that such a thing has happened to me, mind you, but I was not eager to experience it for myself.
A few keystrokes later, the computer zoomed closer on Megatron's position, revealing his current status as "active", and thereby crushing all of my short lived dreams.
"Blast," I muttered under my breath. "He would do something like that to me."
Demolisher, ever the loyal one, was at my side in an instant. "Is something wrong?"
I shook my head. "No, everything is fine. As far as I can tell, both Megatron and Starscream are fully functional. I don't know if they are injured, though, so we must contact them right away." I activated the comm unit. "Megatron, this is Thrust. Do you copy?"
There came a brief moment of static, followed by a low groan of discomfort. "M-My head…"
I had a moment of pause, because the voice on the other end of the line didn't sound much like Megatron at all. "This is Thrust," I said again. "Are you alright?"
"No, I don't think so. My body feels strange, and my head is killing me."
I stared at the blip on the screen, then read the output below it. It was definitely Megatron's comm channel, but Starscream was the one answering it.
At that moment, the computer received an incoming distress signal from Starscream's comm and I patched it through.
"What is the meaning of this!" roared one very irate Megatron. "Can someone explain to me why I am nowhere near the Minicon location, and what I happen to be doing inhabiting Starscream's body?"
"What is going on here?" Starscream wailed on the other open channel. I assumed that he'd discovered the same tragic outcome of the warp gate malfunction. "My body! My beautiful wings! What's happened to me?"
Megatron gave a low growl of frustration. "This is all your fault, Starscream! I should have known better than to leave something so important in your hands. When we get back to normal, I will dismantle you for spare parts!"
"This isn't my fault! I told you I wasn't good with computers. That's Sideways' expertise."
Demolisher looked around for a second. "Hey, that's funny. He's not even here right now. I could have sworn I saw him coming when the alert was sounded."
"Never mind that," Megatron interrupted impatiently. "Just hurry up and fix the warp gate. If I have to spend one more second in this body, somebody is going to detonate!"
I sighed, and wondered for the millionth time why I had ever bothered coming to the aid of this hopeless band of tin cans in the first place.
"Let me try to locate Sideways," I said. "He should be able to help. Stand by for a moment."
"This is the worst day of my life," Starscream moaned as I turned away.
"Oh, shut your mouth," Megatron grumbled back.
I took hold of Demolisher's left arm and led him away from the computer. Listening to the two of them complaining was fraying my wires.
"When was the last time you saw Sideways?" I asked.
If you've never watched Demolisher think before, let me assure you that you aren't missing anything. It's rather akin to waiting for a slow program to finish downloading. You can just about see him trying to process the data you just asked him to divulge. How this impairment hasn't gotten him shot on the battlefield is beyond my comprehension.
"Well, I saw him hanging out outside the base for a while this morning. And I'm pretty sure that he came in when the alarm went off. I thought he was right behind me."
"Well, it's a safe bet to say that he wasn't. So, where would he go?"
Again, the painfully slow thinking process.
"He could have taken some of the training sims and gone back outside. He likes to do target practice in his down time."
I sighed in relief. If I'd had to wait one more second to get the info I wanted, I would have undoubtedly had to hurt him. "Thank you, Demolisher. You've been very helpful."
His face lit up like a solar flare and the earnestness in his expression made me want to laugh at him. "You mean it? Just let Megatron know that when he comes back, okay?"
"I will," I lied. Loyalty has its place, but to watch Demolisher simpering over Megatron like an over-eager pet makes me cringe to see it. "Keep watch here, and inform me if there are any new developments. I'll go look for Sideways."
To say that I was dreading carrying out this chore would have been an understatement. The Earth's moon is not so large, all things considered, but it's just large enough to make searching for a bot that doesn't want to be found a real pain. Sideways doesn't like to leave his communicator on, nor does he project his personal data back to the main computer. This gives him a stealth cover that is just as effective as mine at rendering him invisible, but is ten times more annoying. I did not relish the idea of hunting for Sideways whilst Megatron waited for me and grew all the more enraged because of it.
Perhaps good fortune was written for me in the stars, because I didn't have to look very far.
There is a place not too far from our HQ that is perfect for training sims. The terrain is varied, with craters for cover while firing and flat, open areas for hand-to-hand combat. I could see Sideways in the distance, apparently in the act of target practice as Demolisher had suggested.
I activated my cloaking device and transformed into vehicle mode. It would be a lot faster, I reasoned, and my engines would be whisper soft. Besides, I wanted to see what could be so important that it would take Sideways away from the more important mission of finding a Minicon.
I landed with care a few meters away from Sideways' position. I'd chosen a hill where I could get a good view of the proceedings. Low and behold, there was our missing deviant fighting…Decepticons?
Interesting, I thought to myself, and adjusted my optics for a closer look.
Sideways was fighting sim droids using holograms of us. As I watched, he took on Starscream, then Cyclonus, and me as well. Watching the droid move, I gave a snort of derision. Surely Sideways wasn't fooled into thinking that a mere training program would in any way compare to fighting the real me? But though it galls me to admit it, whatever data he had input into the sims was uncanny in some of its accuracy.
I have always been intrigued by Sideways. On the surface, he seems unquestioningly loyal to the Decepticons, but he also doesn't hesitate to sow dissent amongst us, as if he has a greater agenda in mind. And while I cannot claim to harbor any friendship for him, there is something to be said for admiring the qualities of others that one finds appealing in themselves. And I have always loved the challenge of a good enigma.
But it wasn't the day for spying, I told myself, and besides that, I needed his help. Just as he finished off my good-looking clone, (a pity, really), I let my presence be known.
"Excellent job, Sideways. Now, you might even have a fighting chance against the real thing," I said, and dropped my invisibility.
He appeared startled by my sudden appearance, but it might have been a good act. "Thrust? What're you doin' out here?"
"What indeed? I could ask you the same thing." I nodded at his waiting sims. "I could have you destroyed on charges of treason for this, you realize?"
He shrugged and terminated the program. The Decepti-clones vanished. "It's one thing to know your enemies, but another to know your 'friends', wouldn't you say?"
I couldn't argue with that, so I dropped the subject. "There was a Minicon alert."
"And you couldn't be bothered to make an appearance?"
Thrust snorted and began walking towards me. "Why bother? There's more than enough firepower with Megatron around, and it's not like they'd really capture a Minicon, anyway." I got the impression of a grin behind his facemask. "Not that I'm questioning the effectiveness of your plans, or anything, Thrust."
You have no idea how much I wanted to turn him to a melted puddle of metal, but I'm nothing if not in control of my emotions. Instead, I backhanded him. "That," I said calmly, "is for your insubordination. Slacking off when there's work to be done may have been fine in the past, but that is something I do not tolerate. Do we understand each other?"
Sideways rubbed the fresh dent I'd left in his left cheek, and his eyes burned into mine, but his voice still carried that hint of a smirk. "Perfectly."
I wanted to hit him again, but it's true that you can have too much of a good thing, and I needed his senses intact if he were to fix the spacebridge.
"Good. Now head back to base. We have a situation."
Right before he transformed and sped off, Sideways chuckled. "Don't we always?"
I followed after him in silence. I hate it when he's right.
I "escorted" Sideways back to the base. In vehicle mode, I am quite a bit faster than any mere motorcycle, even one hailing from Cybertron. For his part, Sideways didn't try to give me the slip, and I was grateful for not having to shoot him down and drag him back by force.
Demolisher greeted us as we transformed.
"Good, you found him." He rounded on Sideways. "Just what's the big idea? You don't just go running off like that!"
"Easy, there, big guy. I already got read the riot act," and Sideways glanced in my direction. "Look, it won't happen again. I've learned my lesson, okay?"
Somehow, I doubted the sincerity of his words, but I wasn't in the mood to argue. Let Megatron dish out a more appropriate punishment when he returned. I'm a strategist, not a baby-sitter.
"Go take a look and tell me what you think," I ordered, and pointed to the spacebridge console.
Sideways did as he was told, whistling at the extent of the damage. "What happened here?"
He snorted. "Yeah, it figures. What was he thinking?" After a few more minutes of poking at the exposed wires and burnt circuitry, he shook his head. "I can salvage some of it, but it would be better to just rebuild it from the ground up."
I waved an impatient hand. "And how long will that take?"
"About a week." Seeing me about to protest, an annoyed note crept into his voice. "Hey, that's the best I can do. I don't even know if we have the parts I need for this job, let alone the correct tools."
"But Megatron and Starscream are down there," piped up Demolisher. "We can't just leave them there!"
Sideways chuckled. "Oh, don't worry about them. They can take care of themselves. I mean, I should hope so, the way they always brag about their abilities."
I hadn't wanted to bring up the bigger problem, but it looked like it couldn't be avoided. I tried the most delicate approach to the situation that I could muster. "They switched bodies. If the Autobots attacked now, they'd have to learn an entirely new set of weapons and maneuvers, and I don't want to be the one to have to pick up the pieces."
Sideways looked at me as if I'd just sprouted another head. "They…what?"
"Is there anything else we can do to get them back here?"
I watched the motorcycle-bot think about this for a second. His optics moved from the damaged console to the main computer, then over to the spacebridge. "I can try to reroute some power to the warp gate, but it's not going to be perfect."
"I've been hearing that a lot today," I sighed. "But if it's the best chance we've got, we might as well take it."
He shrugged. "You're the boss. It'll take a few minutes."
"Fine. Then I'll contact Megatron that we have a plan."
While Sideways went to work, and Demolisher hovered over him like a bodyguard, I moved to the comm unit. Cyclonus was apparently having a heated argument with Starscream over whether or not body-switching was something Cyclonus should aspire to.
"This isn't something I wanted to happen!" Starscream was shouting. "You have no idea what I'm going through right now!"
"Aw, c'mon! It can't be that bad. I wonder if I can switch with Megatron next time?"
I felt a stress headache coming on. My circuits felt flayed. Was this really happening to me, or was I suffering some Energon induced hallucination? I hoped it was the latter.
"Megatron, come in. This is Thrust."
There was a crackle of static, then, "It's about time! Can you warp us back to base yet?"
"Sideways is working on it. He thinks that he can divert some power from the main computer to the warp gate. It will be ready in a few minutes."
Megatron exhaled in what I took to be a sigh of relief. "Good work, Thrust."
"As always, I am at your disposal, Megatron." A little kissing-up never hurt when our esteemed leader was in a bad mood.
"Got it," Sideways called. "Ready whenever you are."
"Megatron, we're ready to open the spacebridge. Please transmit your coordinates." I watched as the computer started to scroll with numbers. While that was being done, I turned to Cyclonus.
"You don't think he'd let me be in his body? Not even once?" he was saying.
Starscream growled on the other end of the line. "You're driving me insane! Just shut up!"
"Shut up!" There was a note of desperation in Starscream's voice.
I pushed Cyclonus out of the way and spoke. "And how are you feeling, Starscream?"
"Thrust? How do you think? Get me out of here!"
"We're ready to warp you. Transmit your coordinates, please." When I was certain that the numbers were safely sent to the computer, I turned to Sideways. "If you would do the honors?"
"Let's just hope this works," he muttered and flipped the switch.
The spacebridge hummed to life, but every so often there would be a random spark from the damaged console that wasn't very promising. Slowly, two forms started coalescing in the glow. I found myself wondering what would happen if another explosion occurred. Just one more malfunction in the middle of warping in would most likely spell disaster, and I'd be the one in charge. It would be so easy, I reasoned, to shoot the console. After that, most of my stress would be obliterated in a scream or two and a flash of light.
The thought was so tempting that I half raised my arm to enact this evil and devious plan.
But the moment for action had passed, and I found myself staring into blazing optics. My hand moved to my chest and I turned my act of treachery into one of subservience. "Welcome back, Megatron. I'm glad that you are well…so to speak."
Starscream glared at me and spoke with the rumbling elegance of Megatron's voice. "I would hardly consider myself 'well'. This farce, this cosmic joke, is an annoyance that I will not tolerate!" Even if his current body was less than imposing compared to his previous form, Megatron still held command. He turned to Sideways, who was quietly snickering. "You find this funny, soldier?"
"Not at all, Starscream. Sir." He tacked on the ending, I assume, to prevent seeming completely insufferable. Too bad our leader is not known for his sense of humor.
"I am not Starscream," he growled, and clenched a fist. "Despite appearances, I am still Megatron, and you will treat me with no less respect because of this unfortunate occurrence. I still have the power to crush an insignificant worm like you, so do not try my patience, Sideways."
"Yeah, okay. I gotcha." He didn't seem repentant in the least, but he kept his smart mouth shut after that.
Starscream, the real Starscream that is, was having his own share of difficulties. He groaned with each step he took, and those pitiful whines coming from Megatron's mighty frame were oddly disturbing. "I can't stand this! How can you even move in this body? I've never felt so heavy before."
"What was that?" Megatron whirled around to confront the seeker in his body and almost fell over. I moved forward and caught him as he stumbled. "Let go of me, you fool!" he shouted, showing a great deal of gratitude for having saved his dignity from having to pick itself up off the floor. He gave me a good shove for extra measure. "Blast this paper-light form of yours, Starscream. How can your gyroscopics compensate for this?"
"My form is the pinnacle of aerial perfection!" he snarled back. "Unlike this plodding, land-bound mess of yours."
I saw Megatron's borrowed orange optics flare with rage, and interjected before shots were fired. "Well, this certainly is the predicament, isn't it? Why don't we all sit down and talk this through like rational Decepticons, hmm?"
It took a little more prodding to get everyone to calm down, but eventually they managed to settle into something of a normal formation. Megatron took his customary seat on his throne, and I stood at his right hand while the rest of the Decepticons lined up in front of us.
"I always wanted to see myself on that throne," Starscream grumbled. "But not like this."
Megatron drummed his fingers restlessly on the armrests and fixed Sideways with a piercing look. "You can fix the spacebridge?"
He shrugged. "Maybe."
"Can you reverse this?" Megatron waved at his red and white body.
Sideways didn't look very self-assured. "Um…maybe?"
"Is that all you can say? Can't you do anything at all?" Starscream demanded, turning his huge body to stare down at the smaller mech. "I can't be seen like this!"
"Quiet!" Megatron ordered. "Starscream, you're in no position to talk. This is your fault, if I recall correctly. By all rights, I should have you dismantled." As Starscream twisted Megatron's face into a sulky look, the real Megatron turned his attention back to Sideways. "Maybe?"
"Well, sir, it's complicated. I don't know if I can reverse what Starscream did, if only because I have no idea how he caused this to happen to begin with. I know why the console exploded, but that alone shouldn't have caused this…bizarre affliction of crossed personalities. Fixing the spacebridge will be difficult enough, but fixing you two…" He trailed off. When everyone looked at him, willing him to continue, he sighed. "Look, it might just be that you two are stuck this way forever. You'd better get used to your new surroundings."
Starscream took hold of Sideways' shoulders and shook him like an Earthling child's rag doll. "No! You're lying! There has to be a way to reverse this. There just has to be!"
"Let him go." Megatron's voice held a weary note in it, and it was reflected on his borrowed face. "He's right. We have no idea how long this will last. In the meantime, we will do our best to carry on as normal. This includes searching for the Minicons."
"I will do my best to formulate a plan that will take into account your unique predicament," I said. "In the meantime, Sideways has a point. Both you and Starscream will have to learn how to function in different bodies, so I will also come up with a training schedule for the two of you."
Megatron didn't appreciate this attempt to help. "Are you saying that I, Megatron, can't handle this measly grunt's body? Don't make me laugh!"
Greatly daring, I moved to contradict him. "I see. And do you think you can fly in this grunt's vehicle form?" I answered for him. "I think not. Now please, just listen to me for a change. You brought me here to be a tactician and an advisor, did you not? Then let me advise you; don't view this training as a measure of your worth, but as an exercise in exploration. I cannot think of a single Decepticon who has had the chance to see things through the eyes of another in this way. I'm quite sure that you will prove to be superior in this as you are in everything you do, mighty Megatron."
I bit my tongue, hoping that he didn't take the "mighty" bit as an insinuation to his current state of being, but he didn't seem to notice.
"Since it seems as though there is no other recourse, I shall have to agree with you, Thrust." Our leader sounded as if he truly despised having to agree with me, and I wondered if he hates it when other people are right as much as I do. "In the meantime, everyone clear out of here. I want to be alone to think." He leaned his head into his right hand and proceeded to stare at the floor, ignoring us.
Most of us knew a dismissal when we heard one, so we started filing out of the room.
"I need a stiff draught of Energon," Starscream muttered.
"Mind if I join ya, fearless leader?" Sideways asked, sidling up to the former seeker-bot.
"Not if you're going to be annoying. I can step on you now, you know."
Sideways chuckled darkly. "I'll be on my best behavior, I promise." His laugh and Starscream's groan echoed down the corridor as they left.
As I was about to follow, I noticed Cyclonus and Demolisher lagging behind. Curiosity overtook me, and I lower myself to eavesdropping.
He looked up at Demolisher with that scowl that is so much a part of him that even a different body couldn't erase it.
Demolisher gulped. "Well, sir, I was just wondering what I'm supposed to do. Do I follow you…or your body?"
"You follow me, you great buffoon!"
"Yes sir, I know. But which you?"
Demolisher seemed genuinely distressed by this turn of events, and I was almost moved to pity for him. Almost.
Megatron gripped the armrests so hard that I could hear his joints straining from my hiding place. "It doesn't matter what body I'm in. I am still me! Do you understand that, Demolisher? Just because that screaming failure of a soldier usurped my body does not mean he has the right to control my army!"
Demolisher backed away from that force of rage. "I…I understand."
"Good. Now get out."
"Uh…yeah. C'mon Cyclonus. Let's go."
Cyclonus still lingered, a thoughtful look on his orange face. "Can I switch with you next time instead of Starscream?" He giggled in that maddening way of his. "It looks like so much fun!"
This was beyond the limit Megatron's patience would endure. He reached for his missile launcher, remembered it wasn't there, and slammed a fist down onto his throne. "GET. OUT. THIS. MINUTE."
As I decided that the fireworks were over and turned to continue on my way to join the inferiors for a drink, I heard Cyclonus say, "You guys never let me have any fun!"