Rainbow in the Dark
Author's Note: There's a couple of place names in here borrowed with permission from kepulver.
On the lowest level of Tarn, five levels below where even the bravest and stupidest Decepticons still ran patrols, a group of Autobot females rested in the ruined square between a burnt-out factory and an apartment complex that was almost rubble. Three of them - Chromia, Firestar, and Elita One - formed a small group a short distance away from the rest of the Autobots.
Firestar looked worriedly at Chromia then looked down at the map drawn in the dust of the square. "Shockwave's drones chased us real deep, and we haven't been able to replenish our fuel, ma'am... If we make for the ruins of Baklava Pax, we're going to lose a few of the girls. They'll starve!"
"I know," Elita One said quietly. "I know exactly what will happen, Firestar."
The younger female didn't want to look at the ghastly pink apparition standing above Chromia. Elita One was a clever leader who'd bedeviled the Decepticons for millions of years, and her soft voice hid a mind as ruthless as any Decepticon's. She'd killed people before on forced marches, and even if it did get them someplace safe for the rest of them to scavenge... It frightened Firestar. She liked the friendly buffer of Chromia between her and Elita One.
But now the rescue worker was third-in-command of their group, and she had to work a lot more closely with Elita One. If something happened to Chromia...
Firestar prayed nothing would happen to Chromia.
"Ma'am," she began cautiously, "There's plenty of places we could come up that're closer."
Chromia shook her head. "You can bet your pretty red skidplate that Shockwave's got all the scavenging sites in a reasonable distance marked and monitored. We don't have enough fuel for a firefight- if you've got enough power for your gun, I'll be surprised. We gotta come up where he won't expect us."
"He's logical," Elita One said. "He'll have a very good idea of how far we could reasonably get. He'll use it to his advantage, assuming that we will come in within the circumference of the circle. He doesn't have the resources to track us if we go outside of it, not if he's concentrating on the inside." Her optics dimmed another level, now almost full-dark. "And most importantly, he knows we're Autobots. We don't kill our own through neglect."
Firestar looked up at her, feeling strangely defiant. "This is still a rotten idea, ma'am."
"I know. Believe me, I know."
They were three-quarters of the way there, Elita thought, as she held Windchime while the silvery-grey female husked out her final prayers. Moonracer sat on the other side, holding tightly to her friend's hands and trying not to sob. The rest of their band stood a short distance away, not even allowed to change their positions for fear of wasted fuel. Firestar subtly helped support Cascade; the yellow female was running on fumes herself, and her legs were starting to shut down.
"Please..." Windchime said, then coughed weakly. "Please, Elita... Make it stop hurting..."
Elita's optics dimmed fractionally. "Of course." She looked up and met Moonracer's optics, then looked over at the rest of her troops. "Firestar, take the others and go on. You know the route. Chromia... I will need your help."
Moonracer stood up reluctantly, not letting go of her friend's hand until Chromia gently pushed her towards Firestar and the others. Slowly, the other Autobots moved away through the long, upward-sloping tunnel.
Chromia lifted Windchime's leg onto her lap, then unwrapped the razor wire from around her own arm. Carefully, she guided it up into the chink in the armor just above the knee joint; there was a major line there that affected the processor and entire sensory net. Under better conditions, cutting it would just require the systems to shift electricity-transfer to another route. With so little fuel and energy, though, it made for a painless death.
The wire scraped over metal as Chromia wiggled it inside Windchime's leg, feeling for the specific line she needed to cut. The silvery female bit her lip and turned her head towards Elita. Then Chromia cut the line, and Windchime's optics faded to full-dark.
Chromia pulled the wire out and wrapped it around her arm once more, settling it precisely into the grooves of her armor. "Her energy bank probably doesn't have much of a charge left, Elita, but it'll keep you from dipping into your reserve if you take it."
Elita trailed her fingertips over Windchime's face, feeling the almost-gone aura. "Cascade needs it more than I."
"We don't even know if we'll find any fuel in Baklava Pax," Chromia reminded her. "Cascade might not live even if she does make it there."
"She will certainly die if she doesn't get even this." Elita dug her fingertips into the slight gap at the base of Windchime's neck. "I understand your concerns, Chromia, but I cannot condone letting her die just to save my reserves."
Chromia pulled a shiv from the sheath from her other forearm and dug the tip into a chink in Windchime's underarm, then worked to lever open the armor there. "Optimus Prime is dead, we haven't seen Ultra Magnus in centuries... You are the Autobot cause, Elita. You need to survive."
Armor got weaker as an Autobot starved, the damage-control systems cannibalizing it to feed to the auxiliary generators. With her strength and Windchime's much lighter armor, Elita could tear off the top of the breastplate. "We aren't Decepticons, Chromia."
"No," the blue female said darkly. "They're a lot better off than us."
Cascade was still walking. Her colors were fading and she had to lean against Firestar and stumble along, but she was still walking. Such a loss of motor-control and the desaturation would have set in a day earlier without Windchime's dregs.
There was nothing more Elita could do for her that would not effect all of her comrades. The future of all of them lay, one way or another, at Baklava Pax.
She had sent Moonracer and Eventide further ahead to scout their path and perhaps find a few scraps for themselves. Elita One would not begrudge them what they took, not in this day and age. Anything that could be found in the ruined underground city would be a miracle.
Elita jerked around to face one of the side-passages as Moonracer pounded out, Eventide close on her heels. They skidded to a stop, panting, and Moonracer broke into a fit of coughing, but that did nothing to dispel their grins.
"On the surface," Eventide began. "There's a headless-"
"A Guardian!" Moonracer interrupted. "It's mostly buried under old-old rubble, but the neck's cauterized."
"We didn't even know what it was until Moonracer nibbled on the wires."
"I was hungry!" Moonracer glared briefly at the purple female, then turned back to Elita. "It looks like it got uncovered recently- there's a big slope of debris leading up to it."
"This area was pretty much abandoned even before Blindspot's Folly," Firestar interjected. "The docks and warehouses were the only part of this area that mattered, and once they got destroyed, the War was going too fast for people to care about rebuilding."
Eventide shrugged. "Aight. But the Guardian's there and mostly untouched. And-"
"There's still fuel in him!" Moonracer beamed. "If we go up, we can get full tanks off of him! You know how much energon those old Guardians took, and he's still mostly full, I'm sure of it!"
Yes, the Guardian had been buried in the rubble of the warehouse explosion, as all the energon there went sky-high. Optimus said it kept the valuable resource out of the Decepticon hands, but she had never found out who had done it. Who had given their lives to set the bombs and take out so many of the Decepticon forces? Everything had moved so fast in those days, had been so new...
It was strangely exhilarating to come back to the beginning.
"We can investigate it," she said. "Top off our tanks and fill up our portables. But we mustn't linger. This is too good a treasure to let fall into Decepticon hands by drawing their attention to it."
Her troops nodded, and they all turned to Firestar and Eventide to lead them out of the tunnels.
This wasn't a city, not really. It was nothing, a collective layer of ruins. First the docks and warehouses that had serviced the river while it still flowed in its banks, then little fortresses of neutral settlements. There had never been anything of strategic importance here after the energon warehouses went sky-high.
The Guardian lay some distance from where Ariel had fallen so long ago. Rubble and ruin covered over the giant robot, except for his left shoulder and part of his neck. Heavy cables of wiring hung half-melted from the cauterized neck-stump of the Guardian, and the Autobots tugged down the fuel lines with eager hands.
"Can't believe we ever needed to make 'em this big," Moonracer commented.
"We did things differently in the Golden Age." Chromia jammed the fuel-siphon attachment into her fuel port and twisted until it locked in place. "Guardians were the way we'd always done things, and they seemed to work. 'Least until Megatron got his pet mad engineers."
"You know that's not right, Chromia. Megatron killed Guardians before most people even knew to fear his name," Elita said softly as she forced the needle-tip of the siphon through the thick-walled fuel line.
"What's after this, Elita?" Cascade's colors brightened as they watched, and she near-trembled as fuel poured into her system once more.
Elita One ran her hand over the metal of the siphon-head as she considered the question. They had fuel, they could drink their fill and fill their ration-tanks. They could go anywhere on Cybertron.
"We'll go on to Baklava Pax as planned," she said. "The garrison there should be in stasis lock as part of the shutdown. We will scout the area, copy their data, and make sure the Decepticons never wake up."
The smiles her Autobots gave her would have frightened Optimus.