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It took the combined efforts of T-Ai and Dr. Onishi another hour to crack the program that was overriding their control of the Global Space Bridge. Ultra Magnus would worry about the connotations of anything developed by the Decepticons or by the Predicons being able to confound T-Ai for any length of time later. Right now he stood poised to welcome his brother back alongside Dr. Onishi and T-Ai.

He'd checked on Koji and Sideburn thirty minutes before. Koji had eaten a granola bar and drank another bottle of Gatorade before curling up on a cot in the rec room and drifting off to sleep. Sideburn was sitting loyally by his side, focused on the boy's breathing as though he was worried it would stop if his attention wavered for an instant. Ultra Magnus had left Koji to his rest and Sideburn to his vigil. He could handle briefing Optimus on the situation. If the Autobot leader wanted a more detailed report, it could wait until Koji woke up.

"Whenever you're ready, Magnus," T-Ai said, inputting the final codes.

"Go ahead," he ordered.

"Re-routing all Autobots in transit back to base," T-Ai announced. "Opening communication channels. Optimus, are you there?"

"T-Ai?" came the reply over the comm.

"Optimus," the AI exclaimed happily. "It's good to hear your voice."

"Status report."

"The problem with the Global Space Bridge has been fixed. We're ready for you to come home," T-Ai informed him.

"We'll be there momentarily," the Autobot leader replied.

"We're waiting for you," said T-Ai as the comm. channel closed.

"You didn't mention that Koji's safe," Dr, Onishi noted.

"We don't know that Megatron doesn't have some way of monitoring our communications right now," said Ultra Magnus. "Letting Megatron know that we have Koji might be tipping our hand."

"He released Koji. Wouldn't he have guessed that Koji would have returned to us as soon as he was able?"

"Sky-byte released Koji, and even then a good ways from civilization. We have no idea what Megatron wanted done with him," Ultra Magnus answered.

"Sky-byte is loyal to Megatron," T-Ai reminded him. "I can't see him disobeying orders, even for Koji."

"Sky-byte spent a whole day being gawked at, poked and prodded at a water park to make Koji feel better. I'm willing to bet he'd creatively interpret an order or two for him too," Ultra Magnus revealed.

"I hadn't heard about that," Dr. Onishi muttered.

"It was last summer. Sky-byte was on his best behavior and I told him that if he came anywhere near Koji again it would be the last thing he ever did. To the best of my knowledge today is the first time since then that he's actually sought Koji out," Ultra Magnus said.

Dr. Onishi pinched the bridge of his nose, clearly displeased with this new information. "Early August? He asked me to go with him to the park but Optimus needed some information about Fortress Maximus's original landing site. Damnit, when he told me he found someone else to go with I thought he meant Carl or Jenny."

"He meant a Predicon," said Ultra Magnus bluntly.

Dr. Onishi sighed. "I'm taking a vacation after this," the scientist declared. "I haven't been fishing in years. Koji and I haven't been camping in ages either. A nice father-son camping trip sounds good right about now."

"If you can peel Sideburn away from him long enough to get Koji out of town," Ultra Magnus snorted.

"If he wants to play pack mule, he's more than welcome to accompany us," Dr. Onishi replied.

"That's assuming Koji accepts his apology," T-Ai pointed out. "That's also assuming Sideburn apologizes."

"Oh, he'll apologize," Ultra Magnus said. "The only question is if Koji'll let him know before or after the apology that he's forgiven." Koji had already forgiven the young mech, though Ultra Magnus didn't doubt that the two had a long way to go before they could get their friendship totally back on track.

Conversation ceased until the Global Space Bridge opened on the far wall, releasing Optimus and the others. Optimus paused on the threshold, taking in the scene. Then he strode forward.

"Any further communications from the Megatron?" he asked, taking his place in front of the main computer.

"No, Optimus," T-Ai answered, following him.

"No sign of Koji?"

"Actually," T-Ai began, only to be interrupted by an incoming transmission. Megatron's face appeared on the screen a moment later.

"I see you made it home safely," Megatron remarked. The thin line of his mouth was the only outward sign of his displeasure.

"What do you want now Megatron?" Optimus demanded.

"You still haven't complied with my demands," said Megatron.

"Why should I?"

"Maybe I'll tell you where to find what's left of the boy. I'm sure that would be a comfort to his father," Megatron sneered.

Optimus stiffened. "What?"

"Well after I had you convinced, there was really no need to hang onto the boy," Megatron gloated. "But I'd be more than willing to give you his remains in exchange for a few concessions."

Glancing back, Ultra Magnus caught sight of Dr. Onishi rolling his eyes, the gesture and stance identical to the one he associated with Koji when the boy was irritated. Oddly, none of the others noticed, though they must have been expecting some sort of outburst from Dr. Onishi at the cold announcement of his son's death.

"Megatron," Optimus growled.

"What? After I had you trapped I really had no further use for the boy," Megatron said, with a smirk and a shrug.

Before Megatron could continue gloating, the door to the command center slid open to reveal a disgruntled Sideburn. "Could you guys keep it down in here? Koji's trying to sleep," the mech informed them.

Under any other circumstances seeing Optimus and Megatron wearing identical expressions of shock would have been amusing. Oh who was he kidding? It was hilarious anyway. Too bad Koji couldn't see it.

"Sleep? What is sleep?" Koji grumbled, following Sideburn in with yet another sports drink in his hand.

"You were saying?" Ultra Magnus asked, turning back to the viewscreen.

Megatron's face twisted into a sneer. "I won't make the same mistake twice," he declared before cutting the transmission.

With Megatron dealt with for the moment, the Autobots turned to stare at Koji again.

"What?" Koji asked.

He'd miscalculated. He put too much faith in Sky-byte's loyalty being solely to him. He never took into account that the boy might have inspired some as well. Next time, he would have one of his less soft-sparked warriors take care of the less pleasant aspects of disposing of prisoners who had lost their value.

In the meantime he needed to regroup and refine his plans. This latest failure would set him back but not too badly. He could still recoup his loses.

First he would have to deal with Sky-byte's insubordination.

AN: Believe it or not, this has been half written since early February. Not the final chapter, I'll be writing an epilogue eventually. ConCrit happily accepted