Chapter Twenty Eight: Guardian
Starscream felt hands grab him up and hoist him into the air. He looked at his arm to see blue hands. Thundercracker…
He fired his thrusters, and this time they didn't go out. "I'm fine!"
Thundercracker let him go as the red jet circled back. Both he and Starscream aimed and fired; the red jet went tumbling out of the sky, between buildings, and disappeared. "Two down…"
"Where is Skywarp?"
"The white one went after him."
Starscream scowled and looked about. He couldn't see anyone on his radar. "Where the slag is…?"
Something large and loud slammed into them from behind, along with the telltale flashes of teleportation. The something turned out to be Skywarp tussling with Ramjet, yelling and blasters going off erratically.
Starscream twisted and fired into the melee, his shot hitting both Ramjet and Skywarp at the same time, the blast stunning the two and causing their engines to go offline. Thundercracker was quick to catch the purple and black jet, and made his way to the nearest building.
Starscream watched Ramjet fall, then realized the air was silent. "Skyfire?" He looked about, but no one remained in the skies save for himself.
Swindle, Skyfire, and Wheeljack eyed Sideswipe as he aimed the blaster rifle at them, coldness in his flickering optics. They heard his weapon charging.
"All hail Megatron."
Skyfire stepped forward. "Wait, Sidesw---!"
A blast permeated the air, not coming from Sideswipe, but hitting him in the shoulder and sending him flying to the roof and sliding a ways before he stopped and lay there, smoldering.
The three glanced at each other; no one had taken the shot. They whirled around as three short purple and black figures came out from the shadows of the building.
"It seems as if what Starscream said about that contraption was right, right," one said, lowering his rifle.
The next, sporting a visor and grilled face mask, gave a nod. "His circuits belong to Megatron now."
The third grinned. "And we figured you might need some help, considering all those who still like Megatron are currently on their way here to tear you to shreds."
Skyfire frowned. "Who are 'we'?"
The first motioned to himself. "Shrapnel," to the grilled one. "Bombshell," and the last. "Kickback," he then motioned to the shadows. "And them, of course, course."
The dark shadows became illuminated as one pair of red optics powered up, and then another, and another. Soon mechs and femmes of different models and sizes, red optics burning, stepped from the shadows. They looked up as a few seeker models rose from between the buildings and stared down at them, along with larger shuttle models. Each faceplate was solemn, but held no menace. They waited.
"So," Bombshell started. "Where exactly is Starscream, anyway?"
Skyfire turned to the others, who only shrugged. "We were…besieged by some older model seekers…"
"Ramjet, most likely," Kickback snorted. "I wouldn't worry, they aren't too bright." The other two mechs next to him gave suppressed chortles. "Although, if they were commanded out by Shockwave, then we should get going."
"Shockwave doesn't mess around, around," Shrapnel added.
"I saw Ramjet heading towards the border," Bombshell motioned away from them with his own weapon. "We should head out."
"Wait," Swindle motioned to Sideswipe. "What about him?"
The three mechs turned to Sideswipe, who still lay prone. They exchanged glances and then turned to the three newcomers. "Consider him dead, dead."
"He will never be what he once was."
"If he still functions, he will only be a drone."
Skyfire held up his hand. "Even so, we aren't leaving him. I'll carry him, since I can't fly right now."
"What about you, you?" Shrapnel asked, motioning towards Swindle and Wheeljack. "Can't you fly?"
"Uh…" Swindle looked to Wheeljack.
"We were injured," Wheeljack lied. "All of us."
"I can transport us." A purple mech stepped forward. "Although I'll be straining my subspace to accommodate you," he pointed to Skyfire. He transformed, turning into a rather large purple space freighter.
"Now that is subspace management," Wheeljack muttered.
Kickback went to the open ramp and motioned inside. "Well? Let's go."
Skyfire held an arm out to halt the others when they moved to enter the freighter. "Sorry, but…how do we know you are not just going to transport us to Megatron?"
"None of us want to be slaves, slaves," Shrapnel hissed. He pointed to Sideswipe, whom Skyfire had moved to pick up. Skyfire looked into the offline optics of his friend. "This is what happens when you resist, resist."
"We want change, but none of us want to be drones," Astrotrain said.
"If Starscream can practice what he preaches," Bombshell added. "Without betraying us…"
"He's got the beginnings of an army," Kickback finished. "You can stay here all you want, but either way, we're going out of Kaon with Starscream."
Skyfire looked down at Sideswipe, then the others. "What do you think?"
"We ain't got much of a choice right now," Wheeljack shrugged.
Swindle shrugged. "If you trust me, then they can't be much worse."
Skyfire frowned and turned to the waiting red optics. "Alright. Let's go."
Prowl looked down at the map of Cybertron. Digital red symbols marked areas where Autobots were being recruited in large numbers. Digital purple symbols rested in large numbers in Kaon, and singularly in other parts of the world where it was known there was Decepticon activity, or even activity that could be attributed to Decepticons.
For now, the Decepticons were nothing more than a rebellious political group. They haven't done anything to warrant them as a threat, which was why, he surmised, Prime didn't seem to care.
There were Autobots in Kaon. They would not last this way. Aside from the police and a few military bots, and even academy instructors, the Autobots were just a bunch of civilians volunteering for something akin to a citizen militia. A witch hunt waiting to happen. Prime was hoping that community influence and fear of the wrath of peers would keep people loyal to the government regime.
Unfortunately, the Decepticons were not peers of the everyday civilian. Before even Sentinel Prime was created, there had been wars. No one knew why. There were no scars, no traces of this war save that older mechs would talk of it. They were referred to as the Great Wars, after which this Golden Age appeared. During this time, military states were established, and mechs were produced by the hundreds on assembly lines. Land troops, air troops. A mech was created to be his own mech, but also to follow orders. It seemed like a system that would work.
Except that they never stopped creating, and aside from military mechs, the ordinary citizen had also moved to mass production, although in lesser numbers. Prowl himself was of a very popular model, and most of the civilian police force was of his model. He could safely assume that there were several thousand of his "brothers" walking about Cybertron.
This became a detriment when energon began to run dry. Prowl had absolutely no doubt that Sentinel Prime had lied to his face. Jazz had told him of his inability to track down high grade. The military states were on an uprise, not because of political agenda, but because they were being starved.
The happy citizens of the world had no idea what was going on. Sentinel Prime himself most likely didn't know.
Or he did and he was going to let it happen.
"We have no choice."
Then do it.
Skywarp woke to error messages, and glared up at Starscream. "Your aim sucks."
"Next time, don't try to take on Ramjet in mech mode then," Starscream spat back. "He only uses his head for one thing, and it's not processing." He tapped his helm with a finger for emphasis.
Thundercracker frowned and looked about. "Where'd the others go?"
"I don't know," Starscream looked at the night sky. "Skyfire is not answering my calls."
Skywarp stood. "Who knew getting out of Kaon would be harder than getting in? You'd think they liked us."
"I don't get it," Starscream mused, ignoring Skywarp. "Ramjet hates Megatron. Why now is he his most loyal warrior? The first to attack?"
"I wouldn't call that loyalty…"
"Maybe it's because you aren't working for Megatron," Thundercracker suggested. "Without you there, maybe he's taking on your role."
"Maybe. Either way, he's still annoying."
Just then the older jets crossed the sky again.
"It doesn't look like they quit, either," Skywarp said.
Starscream frowned. "Let me handle Ramjet. Press on the others and separate them. When I give you the word, I have Ramjet down, and then we'll take the others down with my null ray one by one. Got it?"
The two nodded, and the trine took off the meet their enemies.
Jazz's visor was still lit when Prowl exited the room he had sealed himself in. Prowl's residence was small and clean, with very little furniture or décor. In fact, there was one couch, which Jazz occupied with Ratchet offline on the other cushion in a very uncomfortable position. Sunstreaker and Ironhide were offline on the floor, leaning against the wall.
"I guess they couldn't take the suspense," Jazz said quietly. "What were ya doin' in there?"
"Must've hurt." Jazz stood and stretched. "So what now, boss?"
Jazz smirked. "Just when I thought you had that whole 'breakin' the rules' thing gone, you surprise me by disobeyin' Prime of all mechs."
"Prime is a crook. He'd have us all slagged before we knew it."
The visored mech regarded his friend, not with admonishment but with amusement. "That's traitorous talk right there."
Prowl glared, his usual calm demeanor gone. "I don't know how a Prime gets into office, or how he is ousted, but his claims to the title are short lived. Today only proves he is a puppet." He moved towards his energon storage units on the far side of the room and took out a cube of energon. He offered it to Jazz, who shook his head. "The thing is, if it weren't for Starscream, we may not have even known that our own Prime was leading us to our deaths."
Sunstreaker powered up his optics a bit to see the two standing on the far side of the room, their optics and the energon being the only sources of light. He dimmed his optics and listened.
"That's a lot of accusations, 'specially comin' from you. How do you know all this is happenin'? Prime could be right. It could just be a buncha rumors…"
"Remember when we nearly closed your club because of the high grade license bill?"
"You were able to get a license, but many others didn't. It didn't seem at all strange to you when all of a sudden yours became the most popular club in Iacon?"
"Yeah, but it was part of the plan for the bust, Prowl. We set them up, an' I let you use my club, an' you got me that license. That doesn't mean…"
"High grade energon has been flowing through the docks of Iacon and going where, Jazz? Your storage under the club isn't big enough for the surplus of high grade moving through the cities illegally," he produced a datapad and showed it to Jazz. "We've been investigating purchases from Sideswipe. Even with his total of dealings, it still accounts for a small percentage of what is being traded. This energon is going somewhere, and it's not to illegal high grade."
Sunstreaker frowned but said nothing.
"We've also been tracking the illegal flow of energon back into Kaon, which isn't high grade, and also the usual supplies for cities that have drastically reduced in the past five vorn. This has been going on for a long time."
"I don't like givin' the benefit of the doubt to the government, 'specially since they all got their heads so far up each other's exhausts ya can't tell where one ends and one begins, but what if there really is a shortage, Prowl?"
Prowl frowned. "Starved mechs and femmes don't sit there and do nothing. They do something, like the Decepticons and Starscream."
"So what're ya sayin'? Pull up arms next to one of them?"
"No. We replace the Prime."
Jazz scoffed. "What? With who?"
"It doesn't matter right now. Right now what matters is unifying the Autobots, not for the Prime but for Cybertron."
"How're we gonna do that?"
Prowl fidgeted. "I…don't know."
Jazz thought for a breem. "Ya know, Prowl, this is crazy, right?"
"Crazier than bein' a dirty cop, right? We could get killed doin' this. Convicted of treason and deactivated."
"Actually, traitors are tortured first and then deactivated." Prowl smirked.
"Oh, that makes it better."
"Are you saying you are afraid, Jazz?"
"Slag yeah, I am afraid. What if no one believes us? They're gonna take the word of the Prime over us."
"I am hoping my position as the head of the Autobot movement, directly under Prime, will assist us…"
"It just takes one snitch to pin us," Jazz leaned closer. "This ain't gonna make us any better than the Decepticons."
"I disagree. The Decepticons will use violence and hurt innocents…"
"If things get ugly, a lot of innocent people are gonna get hurt anyway."
"Being neutral right now is not going to solve our problems."
"I ain't bein' neutral. I just wanna make sure you know what you're getting into. All of us into. And…to see if you got some sorta plan."
Prowl fidgeted again, a clear sign that he did not have a plan.
Sunstreaker powered up his optics fully. "Why don't we find Starscream first?"
The two looked down at him.
"After all, both he and the Autobots oppose the Decepticons."
"What a younglin' thing to suggest," Ironhide said gruffly, announcing that he was awake. "You do that and you ain't no better than no slaggin' 'Con."
Ratchet slowly came online as well, and stared at them all bleakly. "What?"
"I dunno, he's gotta point," Jazz said. "We find him, we can find out what he knows. Find Sunny's bro, find out about the 'Cons and what they plan to do. I think that little military jet might know more than we think."
Prowl's mouth formed a thin line. He didn't like the idea, but the logic behind Sunstreaker's suggestion wasn't bad. They would gain more footholds, learn more, and possibly save the Autobot movement before it ended where it had started. But it would be underhanded. In the root of his processor he still believed that Starscream was up to no good.
"Ratchet, what do you think?"
Ratchet's optics flashed. "Well…it would be tough. Starscream is smart, smarter than you would like to think. I don't know how, but somehow what should have been a standard factory model was upgraded. He isn't crazy. Temperamental, yes, scheming and manipulative, most likely. The fact that he and Wheeljack know each other bothers me, but I do think that if Starscream put his mind to something, he would find a way to do it, legal or no." He looked at Prowl. "If your goal is stopping the Decepticons, you have something in common with Starscream. But I don't think, from what I've heard and learned, that Starscream wants to stop with the Decepticons. I don't even think that the Decepticons are his main agenda."
Prowl gave a nod. "That is why I am reluctant to 'join forces', in a way. There is a large chance that we could only be setting ourselves up to be used as a means to achieve whatever it is that Starscream wishes to achieve."
"But without him, we're comin' up empty. The military from Vos is comin' to Iacon," Jazz shook his head. "Now, I know mechs from Vos aren't as crazy as they are in Kaon, but still. Turnin' Iacon into a military state? How do we know that this Mega…what's his designation?"
"Megatron," the four said simultaneously.
"How do we know that Megatron doesn't have his influence in Vos as it is? It seems like we're vorns behind these guys."
"We are," Prowl said quietly. "We will fail if we don't act now. The last thing I want is a long lasting altercation."
Jazz frowned and crossed his arms. "So what do we do? Kaon ain't exactly 'round the corner. Gonna take us a while to get there."
Prowl nodded. "I have a contact who might help us very much. Two contacts, actually. Grab energon, and let's go. First we'll need to stop by my station. We're going to need weapons and programs."
Ramjet laughed and fired at Starscream, who banked to dodge the fire. "You realize you're never gonna get out of Kaon alive, right?"
"Either way, what's your reason for following Megatron? He hasn't a clue…!" Starscream took a few shots, but Ramjet similarly dodged. Slag it, hold still…!
"Because he isn't no fancy bred Vos manufacture, coming into Kaon talking like he knows how it is, when it's obvious he doesn't, like you!"
Starscream wished he were in robot mode just so he could shake his head, but continued his barrage of fire on the other jet. All he needed was one shot…
Two jets screamed by him, causing him to bank or risk hitting them, allowing Ramjet enough time to maneuver at him and ram him. This time Thundercracker wasn't there when the cityscape rushed at them, and soon they crashed into a building, breaking right through it and into the walkway beyond.
Starscream could feel the metal of the building and walkway tear into him, although the armor held for the most part. He tussled with the white jet, but the older jet soon backed off. "You coward…!" He sat up.
And saw himself surrounded by Shockwave and drones.
He scowled as blaster rifles were aimed toward his spark chamber.
The five vehicles pulled to a stop before the giant battle station surrounding the Crystal City. Beyond the tracks of the station were parked the Constructicons, obviously in recharge.
Prowl transformed, prompting the others to do so as well.
"Go no further," a large, booming voice rang out from the battle station. "Crystal City is under martial law. State your designation."
"Holy Primus on a stick," Ironhide blasphemed. "Is that what I think it is?"
"I'm Prowl," Prowl stated. "We need your help, Omega Supreme."
"Prowl," the voice boomed. "Commander of the Autobots." The ground gave a shake, and then the battle station started to transform. The five watched in awe as the tracks, rocket, and tank rearranged themselves into the figure of a guardian robot, tall and menacing, peering down at them through a protective face guard. "I have orders to accommodate you and your task force. What do you need?"
"Aren't you the protector of Crystal City?" Jazz asked.
"I am, but my friends the Constructicons," the guardian motioned to the purple and green mechs, who were now awake and were transforming. "Can also provide ample protection to Crystal City if I should have to leave."
"Why is the city under Martial Law?" Sunstreaker asked.
"After the destruction of most of Iacon's guardians, the senators and council members have fled here. With the forming of the Autobots, the terrorist activity seems to have abated for now."
"For now," Prowl frowned. "Because they're in Kaon, mustering their forces. Omega Supreme, we need your help getting us to Kaon. There we will merge with another task force much like our own, and amass the Autobot forces to stop the Decepticons before they can get here. Can you help us?"
Omega Supreme frowned and leaned down to get a closer look at the five. He turned his gaze to Prowl. "Is Sentinel Prime aware of what is happening in Kaon?"
Jazz scoffed, but Prowl ignored him. "Yes, he is aware. As you know, us Autobots have been charged with protecting Iacon, rallying the good citizens who wish to protect this way of life. I'm sure you'd agree with that sentiment, being a protector yourself."
"Agreed," Omega Supreme boomed simply. He turned to the Constructicons. "Guard Crystal City." The purple and green mechs nodded. The guardian turned back towards the others and once again transformed into his battle station form. The rocket opened up, the door becoming a ramp. "Please enter, and we will be on our way."
Prowl looked at the four. "This is your last chance to back out. You're all just normal citizens…and I'm asking you to become warriors."
"C'mon now, Prowl," Jazz slung an arm around Prowl's shoulder and held up a pistol. "You got us all outfitted with these shiny weapons, downloaded some fighting programs, and got us out here at crazy hours."
"I think if we wanted to say no, we woulda done it already," Ironhide finished, climbing up the ramp. "Now let's get goin', before there's nothin' left to do in Kaon but clean up the mess."
Jazz gave Prowl a pat on the shoulder and followed the others inside. Prowl gave one last look to Iacon in the distance behind his shoulder, then followed as well.