Illusions of Fate
Author's Note: A working knowledge of Spectral Analysis is not necessarily essential, but it should help answer any questions you might have regarding this story. IoF takes place one year after the events of SA.

Chapter One
Here We Go Again

Briskly, Cheetor dusted off his tawny fur, glancing only briefly over his shoulder to make sure that the mech didn't decide to throw anything else at him. That ruckus at the traders' market only pushed him into a deeper, moodier frame of cortex. Pro-Autobot sentiments were what got him into an argument in the first place – a casual remark about the state of Maximal-Autobot affairs in the audio range of a fellow Maximal who believed that all Autobots should be reprogrammed led to a short tussle, and a bag of human flour flung into his face. The trade master had barked at the two of them, and Cheetor was only too happy to oblige, leaving as fast as his Transmetal-2 legs would let him.

Pausing for a short look-about, Cheetor bent his head and licked at his shoulder, pulling a face at the taste of unrefined flour. These were the days when he could completely relate with the Autobots. When word had spread about Optimus Primal and his crew, their adventures and subsequent defeat of the Predacon traitor Megatron, there had been a little fanfare – mostly surrounding their improbable journey through time. However, elation faded, and so did curiosity as the Autobot-Maximal hearings got underway, spearheaded by the great Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, and seconded by Cheetor's own captain, Primal. Indeed, fascination soon soured and what Cheetor had faced today was only a sampling of animosity.

Over the past year, he had watched the newsvids and saw the riots caused by those Autobots who now wore their Primus-faced symbols in the open. Out on the Council of Elders' floor, the old Autobot spy, Mirage Ligier, pounded the podium only to watch his stocks fall through the floor in retribution. Others of the Ark crew took to the airwaves, sitting in for news programs to explain their situation; such words tended to fall on deaf audios.

In short, they were getting no-where fast.

Tucking his chin, Cheetor turned the corner and found himself in the fashionable Gold Light District of Cybertropolis. Here, the Elite threw their credits around, gathering goods in such quantities in order to inflate their own sense of self-importance – and to make others of their ilk envy them. Feeling decidedly scruffy, Cheetor nonetheless pressed on; he had no credits for a hopper-cab, and if he transformed, he would most assuredly cause a stir. The apartment where he lived was located on the other side of the Gold Light District, nearest the Cybertropolis Academy of Space, in which he was currently enrolled. Cheetor hoped to one day captain his own exploration ship, much as his mentor Primal had done before their trip through time.

As he passed one of the more chic clubs, a gaggle of female Maximals were exiting, laughing and flaunting the bracelets they had managed to gather from interested mechs. They were in no way going to stop for him, so Cheetor set back on his heels and waited for the whole flood to pass by.

Amidst the group, one femme stood out: her white plumage and silvery sheen had been burned into the Maximal's cortex from the moment he'd set optics on her. Illusion Ligier, spark-fused daughter of Mirage and Solarflare Ligier, floated out, sweeping her crest back from her brow and settling her ivory wings against her spine.

"Lu," one of the femmes stated with her nasal ridge in the air, "is that one of those time-hopping rogues who got your creators into trouble?"

Illusion had not been looking in Cheetor's direction; now her bright blue optics flicked to catch his own. What gaiety and some form of camaraderie had been between them last year was nowhere in sight. Cheetor knew what she saw – a liar. And nothing I can tell her will ever change that perception, he thought with a heavy Energon pump. Even though he did not consider himself a deceiver, the crew of the Axalon had covered their tracks regarding their time travels. For their own good, Primal had said. Who would want to know that their stasis-locked bodies had been part of a battleground? In the past?

Before Illusion could reply, another femme, gold and green, answered for her: "It has to be. You're … Chee-a, right?"

"Cheetor," he grunted, digging his chin into his chest.

The green-gold femme scraped him from head to digitgrade toe with her optics. "I see. Chee-tor. What are you doing here, Chee-tor? Don't you think the Cybertropolis Zoo would be better-suited to finding a bondmate?"

Around him, femmes giggled; rich, self-obsessed Tower femmes. A snarl rumbled up from the depths of his chest and he bared his teeth to the group.

"Enough, Stormfrost." Illusion flared her pinions; the tactile contact was enough for the Tower-borns to step aside.

"Don't defend him, Lu," another femme said from behind the silvery avian.

In the set of her smooth facial planes, Cheetor saw that Illusion would brook no argument from her so-called friends. "Go on without me."

They turned to go; all save the green-gold Stormfrost. She spun on a high-heeled foot and stared at Illusion and Cheetor, making no attempt to mask the fury in her silver optics. "Remember, Illusion, your father owes my creator two million credits. Make sure he pays on time." And she was away, bangles and bracelets chiming on her smooth armor, rounded and tucked in at all the right places.

Two – million? Cheetor glanced down at Illusion and saw for the first time a ripple of emotion across her grey-planed face. "Illusion –"

"Hello to you, too, Cheetor," the ivory and silver femme greeted flatly, turning to look up at him. "What are you doing here? And Primus, what's that on your shoulder?" Surprise replaced neutrality if but for a moment. Cheetor followed her gaze to his shoulder pelt, to the smear of flour.

"Oh, that," he replied with as much Tower loftiness that he could muster. "I got into a scuffle in the Market Square defending your parents and uncles." He accented the organic terms after seeing how she reacted to them with her friends.

Illusion flinched in the right places. "Aye, my family. Well, thank you."

You've gone too far, Cheetor, he thought suddenly as she started to walk away – not towards her friends, but in the opposite direction. "Lu –"

"Illusion," she corrected almost testily, reminding him again that he had no claim to the nickname. "What?"

Self-consciously, he brushed the remnants of flour from his pelt. "I'm sorry," he said at last. "Your … friends … just rubbed me the wrong way."

He saw it in her facial planes; she softened, if only a little. "Well, they rub me the wrong way, too, sometimes. Storm takes every opportunity to remind me that her creator holds a controlling stake in one of my father's companies. Especially now." Wings and crest drooped; Illusion turned her head to the side, staring at a holographic poster illuminating the wall behind them.

"Is there something wrong?"

Conflict flared in her face and optics. Cheetor saw her debating whether or not to divulge information based on his track record. At last, she spoke. "Walk with me, Cheetor. The Gold Light District can be somewhat unforgiving to the offspring of Mirage Ligier … especially if I'm alone."

Immediately, he fell into step with her, hackles raised, digits reaching around his back to a weapon he no longer carried in public. A weapon that was no longer necessary on peaceful Cybertron … or so he thought. "Has someone … been threatening your family?" He spoke the organic word without vitriol now – now that her life seemed to be in danger.

Illusion laughed wryly. "People have been threatening us since before my father was sparked. My 'grandcreator' if you will, Switchblade, was not very popular in the Golden Age."

Cheetor nodded absently. Even with his organic parts, he still found Illusion's dependency on human terms and structure to be alien – and odd. "But … have they?"

"They have. Even more so now that we've exposed ourselves. You'd be amazed at how many people want the Autobots to assimilate – as if our allegiances can be synced like drones!"

She calls herself an Autobot and even wears the symbol, he noted with sudden astonishment. But she has never been in a war … and probably doesn't even know how to wield an energy gun. How could you swear allegiance to a cause you never had to defend?

They rounded the corner, putting Cheetor right back into the thick of the trading square. He would have liked to return to his apartment, but if Illusion sought his presence for backup, who was he to refuse? Perhaps the walk would allow him to regain some of her trust – what little he had gathered in the beginning.

"Mirage owes me five thousand credits!" some anonymous mech called out from the security of the stands.

"Mirage owes me one million!"

"Mirage owes me –"

Cheetor growled low, his head sweeping in a menacing arc towards any mech or femme foolish enough to step close. They backed away, knowing him for his vid exposure and for his un-Cybertronian-like appearance. Illusion's pace was brisk but full of Tower-reared grace. Cheetor could not help but watch as her wings flared out slightly as she shifted from side to side, nor keep his optics from the bob of her silver-barred tail feathers.

"Does he really owe that much?"

Illusion paused, briefly. She rubbed at ivory and silver bracers. "It's what happens to any Tower-born who does something against the norm," she admitted at last. "The others gang up on the offender and try to bring him or her down."

She was evading him. "But you're all right?"

Huge blue optics widened at his concern. "Aye, we are. My father isn't stupid. He played the game during the Golden Age and learned from his mistakes. We're secure."

But how secure? he wanted to ask, but Illusion faced him, all white and silver – avian. "Thank you for walking me out of there, Cheetor. Perhaps we will see each other again."

He watched her transform, astonished to see that she was capable of such a feat. Soundlessly, feathers and claws wrapped her metal body, giving her into flight. The ivory and silver falcon rose on sharp-edged pinions, arcing for a destination he was never allowed to see again.