Author's notes - Sorry to all that it's been so very long since my last update, but I am still very much determined to finish this story. I haven't had a lot of free time the last year to work with - I have gotten a new job working up to twelve hours a day, four to five days a week. That being said, I've also gained a new friend who has been pushing me to finish this story, and I've recently purchased a Windows 8 tablet which I've been using to write when I can.
I was going to wait until I had all the remaining chapters done before posting them all at once, but decided to post this one earlier as both a teaser and a means of letting you all know that the wait will be over before long. I don't have a timetable on when the entire group of concluding chapters will be made available, but rest assured, I am working towards it.
In the meantime, enjoy!
Though the remainder of the day passed without incident, in that there were no further crises to be dealt with, Alexis couldn't find much triumph in it. She had remained on the bridge for a long while past the short exchange with Starscream, even after Rodimus had come back and offered to show them to a room they could use. She couldn't specify just why, but there was something calming about watching the new solar system come into being. By the time she was ready to retire, Alpha Q had fully "grown" two of the revived planets – one composed entirely of rock and the other covered in ice – and was regenerating a third as well.
Though Optimus had led a team (with Rodimus leading a second group) out nearly an hour ago to explore the newborn worlds and get a better sense of how to safeguard them, he had advised those who were exhausted from the events of the past several days to get some rest, with the promise that a game plan could be discussed in the morning.
Settling onto a berth next to her beloved (and an already-dozing youngling) and adopting a warm smile when Starscream wrapped her in his arms, Alexis swore that she could have been asleep in seconds if possible. What kept her up a little longer was the sight of her fellow jet frowning slightly, as he raised one hand to run over the bald spot at one side of her head. Alexis flinched slightly at the reminder that some of her metallic hair had been torn out by Megatron. Fortunately, it wouldn't be permanent; Red Alert had personally promised to fix her up once they'd returned to a more suitable location.
Giving a soft sigh and shifting slightly on the berth, Alexis quietly said, "Never imagined any drawback to wanting hair when I planned it."
"Nor did I," Starscream answered after a brief silence. "At least now we know… And implementing some feature to shield it while you're in battle would be relatively easy." Returning his hand to his side, he gave a faint smile when she laid her head on his chest and her optics began to dim. Raising his head, he planted a kiss on her brow and said simply, "Sleep well, my love…"
A great deal of time passed in the Decepticon camp before Megatron had cooled down enough to address his men. Though not a word was spoken about Sideways and his abrupt desertion, it was an issue that was clearly creating a certain level of tension amongst the group, particularly their leader. And the few soldiers who were curious if any effort had been made to locate the renegade were forced to keep it to themselves.
At the very least, Megatron could be glad that Sideways had completed the final task he'd been assigned. Over the past day, Scorpinok had proven to be a valuable minion in every sense of the word; no matter what command he was issued, and regardless of the inflection behind it, Scorpinok was following each one without hesitation or complaint.
Positioned towards the center of the chamber, Snowcat was listening halfheartedly to Megatron's speech (and to be honest, the little song and dance about restoring Unicron and wielding him as a weapon was getting tiresome). It wasn't long before the processor of the eccentric bot began drifting, his thoughts going to Sideways' final words; Snowcat could always get caught up on the salient points of the meeting from Mirage or Thundercracker.
Snowcat shifted slightly to hide his unease, doing his best to keep his face blank and make it look like he was still paying attention. Despite the fact that Sideways was more of a lone wolf than most, he had raised a valid point, especially compared to everything that Starscream and Demolisher had said thus far.
This wasn't at all like old times, and serving under Megatron was getting riskier by the day.
Briefly, Snowcat entertained the possibility of following in Demolisher's footsteps and defecting to the Autobot team. But, the more he thought about it, the more reservations he started to have. He had barely tolerated being around Starscream's girl during her stint in the Decepticon fold. And, given that he had attacked her just the other day… Would he really be welcomed with open arms?
With a very soft sigh that thankfully went unnoticed, even by those standing next to him, Snowcat decided that the next battle to come would be a good chance to find out…
The following morning in the Autobot camp proved to be one of the more peaceful starts to the day that any of them had had in a good long while. When she and Starscream had convened with the others on board the bridge for a ship-to-ship video conference, it was revealed straightaway that Alpha Q had regenerated two more planets overnight and was at work on a fifth. When questions arose concerning the matter, it was revealed that each planet had been set into orbit at a fixed distance from the sun and there was no danger that any of them would ever collide with another.
Optimus further went on to say that sensor arrays had been set up, in such a way as to avoid detection, at key locations on each planet. If anything, this would serve as a way to alert all Autobots to an attack from Megatron and his forces, thus allowing them to mobilize as quickly as possible.
Almost as soon as the meeting was over, Alexis' attention was drawn to Starxis (positioned on her right shoulder, when she heard the youngling's stomach growling and quite loudly at that. A second later, her face melted into a pained, sympathetic look, and she turned her gaze towards Optimus, simultaneously taking a step forward and vaguely noting that several of the bots around her were vacating the bridge. Within moments, all who were left consisted of Optimus, Starscream, Ironhide, and herself.
Clearing her throat to draw the attention of the Autobot commander, Alexis quietly asked, "I wonder if we've made any progress in contacting Cybertron or Earth."
Optimus hesitated briefly, seeming to catch on when he glanced at the youngling himself. "Not as of yet." He shifted his weight, going on with, "Which raises another problem… Even if a search party is sent out after us, they'd have no clue as to our current state; they may not even think to bring food for… those who need it." At this, Alexis lightly bit her lip, feeling a twinge of guilt for having forgotten Kicker and Misha; she almost didn't register that Optimus was still speaking. "Plus, we don't know if the anomaly that brought us here is still active. Given that it was created through unnatural means, there's no guarantee that it would remain open indefinitely."
There was another short silence before Starscream stepped forward, laying one comforting hand on Alexis' left shoulder. "At least we can be thankful that the shuttle we left behind on the other side of the rift likely had the coordinates transmitted by Scavenger. That information would still be stored in their computer, and someone's bound to check it eventually."
Before another word could be said, Starxis, who'd been curled up with his head resting on his front paws, suddenly moved, tilting his face skyward and looking a bit more heartened. He shortly answered any questions on the minds of his adoptive parents or the Autobot commander by saying, "Alpha Q watching. May have solution."
It took only seconds to establish a video link with Alpha Q; the spindly bot, and his surroundings, was awash in a dark red glow. Those who didn't know him wouldn't have guessed that his natural color was white; the saturation was that thick.
Until she saw him in that moment, it hadn't occurred to Alexis that Alpha Q was likely trapped, in a manner of speaking, at the core of the sun. After all, the Energon level would need to be maintained, or the sun would likely burn out.
Making a mental note to see about transporting more Energon from Earth to Alpha Q once they were able, Alexis cleared her throat and softly asked about this solution that the spindly bot was speaking of.
"I have fully revived a world that is rich in vegetation," Alpha Q answered, "And I have been comparing some of the plant life on this planet to those I observed on Earth. Comparing chemical composition, toxicity level, the whole bit. And I believe that I may have found something that would satisfy your humans for the time being."
Starxis chimed in before any of the Autobots could say a word in response. "Can tell better from scent." He maneuvered so that he and Alexis could better see each other, then went on with, "Will be able to identify. Been around human food enough." A pause, and then, "May even find something for me."
After a brief moment, a gentle smile came to Alexis' lips and she raised one hand to stroke Starxis' head; Starscream stepped closer to do likewise. Optimus was the one to give voice to the one thing on the mind of both jets by saying, "That would help greatly." He took a step back, focusing on Alpha Q. "I'll let Kicker and Misha know as soon as possible."
At the mention of the teenagers, Alexis, realizing that they hadn't been present for the meeting, finally thought to ask after them. Ironhide spoke for the first time, stating that Kicker and Misha had been transported to one of the neighboring ships and were reportedly still sleeping.
Hearing this, Alexis remained silent for a bit before raising her head a notch, struck by a burst of inspiration. "Well, we wouldn't necessarily need to bring them along for the ride, right? Either way, Starxis would still be able to sniff something out." She turned to focus on Optimus. "Kicker and Misha would probably be safer on the other shuttle anyway for the time being, at least until we get a security system up and running planetside." A pause, and then, "That is, if we have your consent to go investigate, Optimus…"
Tilting his head downwards a notch, Optimus responded with, "By 'we', I'm assuming you mean Starscream and/or Ironhide and yourself." When she gave an answering nod, he added, "Very well. But I don't want the three of you going alone. I'll arrange to have Jetfire and Demolisher meet you in the hangar." He turned slightly to look at Ironhide, addressing the latter with his next statement. "You'll have to take one of the shuttlecrafts anyway to accommodate Starxis."
Within ten minutes of getting Optimus' consent, Alexis and Starscream were flanking the right side of a two-bot craft housing Demolisher and Ironhide, working their way towards a green lush-looking planet that was currently a good distance away from Rodimus' ship. All were flying at a leisurely pace (even Jetfire), having been assured that they would be alerted right away if there were any sign of the Decepticons.
En route, they passed close by one of the most beautiful worlds that Alexis had ever seen, so much so that she actually had to stop to get a better look. From a distance, it had appeared to be an ordinary mountainous planet, but a closer look showed her that it was completely made out of crystal. While many of the outcroppings and elevated pathways were easy to see through, the ground, or core of this world, was a mix of opaque light pink, navy blue, and seawater green. Alexis dimmed her optics for a moment, experiencing an indescribable emotion when she heard the faint sound of musical chimes emanating from the crystalline world, perhaps generated by the wind blowing through the crevasses or canyons.
Watching it in silence and aware that her companions had stopped as well to see what she was looking at, Alexis was struck by the notion that this was one oforlds that Unicron had likely destroyed in his quest to claw his way back from exile. If anything, the thought both saddened and enlightened her. How cruel it was, to destroy something so breathtaking, and yet, how fortunate it was to have been given another chance to shine.
Jetfire was maneuvering into her line of sight while she was caught up in this reverie, though he had to loudly clear his throat to make her focus on him. "As beautiful as it might be, Alexis, we do still have a job to do. There'll be time for sightseeing later."
Alexis took a moment to collect herself and shift her thoughts back to the task at hand. "Of course," she replied, shifting her weight and moving to keep stride with her companions when they started moving again.
Short distraction aside, it didn't take them long to reach the desired planet. Soon after the shuttlecraft housing the two ground-based Transformers touched down (close to the coordinates provided by Alpha Q), the hatch lifted open; not surprisingly, Starxis was the first to step (or rather, fly) out. And, as was the case on many of the planets that the youngling had visited, the atmosphere didn't seem to be having an adverse reaction on him. Not for the first time, Alexis marveled over her adoptive child's uncanny ability to adapt.
Confidant that Starxis would be alright, Alexis focused on Demolisher and Ironhide for a few seconds as they too exited the craft, then shifted her gaze to take in their surroundings. Viewing the numerous redwood-like trees (though the trunk and branches were an interesting shade of lavender, with large royal blue leaves sprouting from them) surrounding the clearing (which they had been lucky to find amid the lush forest), Alexis was struck by the same notion that had crossed her mind upon seeing the crystalline planet.
Starscream had undoubtedly been hearing her thoughts, both then and now, but he seemed more inspired to send a telepathic reply right now. I wouldn't get your hopes up, Alexis. We'll do what we can to safeguard them, but you know how Megatron can be. And we are ill-prepared to stand against him… Realistically, we may not be able to save them all.
Alexis nodded, bowing her head slightly to hide the sorrow in her optics from the others. Even as she registered that Jetfire was volunteering to stay with the shuttle while the rest of them went investigating, she answered, If only we could make him see as we do… A pause, and then, What I wouldn't give to have a repeat episode of the wish Starxis granted for me.
Starscream chuckled lightly, moving to her side and wrapping one arm around her, brushing his lips against her forehead. Dare to dream…
Starxis had by now found a perch on her right shoulder, and he shortly drew her attention by saying, "Sorry can't help, Mommy."
"Sorry about what?" Ironhide asked, looking their way. At the question, Alexis looked up to see that she had become the center of attention; clearly, the youngling's voice had been loud enough to be heard by all.
Alexis shook her head. "Nothing of importance," she answered, briefly wondering why Starxis hadn't communicated that telepathically. But then, she reasoned that perhaps the youngling's own mental capabilities needed time to develop.
It didn't take them long to reach the coordinates provided by Alpha Q, and Alexis was quick to turn her head and look at her child, giving a slight nod. A second after being prompted, Starxis abruptly leaped from her shoulder, spreading his wings as he dropped towards the ground to slow his descent to some degree. Once on the ground, he took several steps towards a mass of foliage on the ground and tentatively sniffing at it.
After a minute or two of watching Starxis move from one plant to the next with no success, Alexis gave a sigh and half turned away, turning to look at her companions; there were so many different species of vegetation around that this could take a while. And plus, Alpha Q hadn't told them exactly what they should be looking for.
Letting out another breath, Alexis relaxed her stance, thinking it may be better just to take it easy for the time being, to give Starxis time to do what he had to without being pressured. They'd be contacted in case of trouble either way, and they might as well take advantage of this moment of peace while they could.
Even still, the best she could come up with to kick off a conversation was related to their current predicament. Focusing on Demolisher, she said softly, "How hard do you think it might be to protect these planets?"
Demolisher hesitated for a moment, and then a very faint smile rose to his lips. "Even the Decepticons can't be everywhere at once. And don't forget, Megatron only has, at best, one hundred soldiers at his disposal. Apart from Snowcat, Mirage, Sideways, and Shockblast, there's very few of them who would pose an actual threat."
Alexis paused, lightly biting at her lip. "Who's Mirage?" she asked tentatively.
Demolisher began lightly chuckling after an instant. "Guess I shouldn't have assumed you knew," he answered, throwing a glance at Starscream, and then Ironhide, to see that they looked equally confused. "I ran into and fought him briefly the other day, after we'd separated… He's Tidal Wave, or rather, he was Tidal Wave. Megatron apparently had him rebuilt so he's roughly the same size as the rest of us now. Wouldn't have recognized him at all if he hadn't had the same voice… Well, that, and he still has the habit of occasionally repeating his own name over and over."
Starscream blinked, tilting his head down a notch and feeling slightly ashamed at the realization that he hadn't given much thought to the big guy or what had become of him. Looking back up, he asked Demolisher if he might provide them with a visual; the latter was quick to oblige, transferring the image to a datapad he had with him and passing it around.
Ironhide was the first to voice a question that may or may not have been circulating in everyone's processor. "Why would Megatron rebuild Tidal Wave like this? He would have been more formidable the way he was."
Alexis rubbed at the side of her head, countering with, "You're assuming that much of what Megatron does these days actually makes sense? At least in the old days, he could be reasoned with and there was more logic to his actions."
Ironhide hesitated, his thoughts going to the Decepticon leader's obsession with controlling Unicron. "Good point."
At the words, Demolisher looked towards Alexis. Though she would later determine that the next subject of discussion would undoubtedly have been eating at him, it still surprised her that he brought it up. "I don't know if it helps at all, but... There's no excuse for what Snowcat did to you."
Alexis blinked. It took her some time to formulate a response. "I appreciate the effort, Demolisher, but please don't try to justify what I did to him."
Demolisher's face hardened. "Don't, Alexis! Just don't! You're not to blame. You were simply doing what you had to... In either case, Megatron's the one he should be mad at. What occurred after was all that tyrant's doing, not yours!" Demolisher paused. "Snowcat had no right to take it out on you."
Starscream bowed his head, his friend's words sparking something that he'd avoided thinking about until now. He hadn't wanted to assign any blame to Snowcat\Cyclonus, but he couldn't deny that the eccentric bot had behaved in a cowardly manner. In a tossup between an experienced warlord and a rookie (though innovative) femme jet, Snowcat had chosen the target that he apparently feared less. Quietly, he said, "You raise a valid point, Demolisher... I suppose that not all of us can be counted on to stand up to Megatron."
After a short silence, Demolisher shifted his weight, looking towards Starscream. It was clear that the hard-edged bot had to be hurting in the light of this simple truth, though he didn't exactly voice it. "So, what do you think? The sooner this all comes to an end, the better?"
Starscream shifted his gaze, his optics locking with Alexis', and a slight shiver coursed through her when she heard the thought of their promised future child cross his mind. The prospect hadn't been far from her own processor since he'd first voiced it, but it was at this moment that Alexis vowed it would be something that she'd hold onto from this point as a reminder to stay strong and brave through whatever awaited them…
Early that morning, Chromia had personally volunteered to take on guard duty, to personally spend a good part of the day watching the Autobots' one and only prisoner. There had been several protests to this, but Rodimus had personally vouched for her. There was something about the fact that her father considered her to be cool and collected enough to be able to handle this that made her surge with pride.
But now, seated in a metal chair facing the makeshift cell, Chromia was coming to regret that choice. For all of her bravado and confidence in herself, she had been unprepared for one single fact.
Shockblast scared the slag out of her.
Ironically, he didn't even have to say anything to elicit this reaction. From the moment she'd walked in and seated herself, he'd simply been staring at her with a quiet intensity that had gradually worked to unnerve her. And yet, she couldn't determine (given that his face was impossible to read) whether his thoughts were geared towards that of a homicidal or erotic nature.
Chromia had, at some point, resigned herself to putting on a brave facade for the duration, until such time as she was relieved. She dared not activate her coms to ask for a replacement or otherwise provide Shockblast with any indication that he was getting to her.
Until such time however, the time in which she would be stuck in this room with him was going to be absolute hell...
Almost a full day passed before Megatron began to organize a strike against the Autobots. He'd had Scorpinok working full-time in those twenty-four hours to rebuild the Terrorcon army; though the latter had to be low on energy after being up and about for so long, not a word of complaint so much as crossed his lips.
Standing off on the sidelines, Snowcat couldn't resist whispering a question to Thundercracker that earned a laugh from the rookie: "How long do you think Scorpi-nut can last before he collapses?"
Past that short exchange, Snowcat forced himself to pay attention; he was quite interested to learn that Megatron had been spying on the Autobots and Alpha Q, utilizing Unicron's omniscient abilities, for a good deal of time.
Though Megatron didn't outright say what the enemy troops were up to, he did announce that Alpha Q was building up a new solar system, with multiple planets rich with Energon. Granted, Snowcat's optics were gleaming at the prospect, but he reminded himself that he could just as well reap the rewards on the opposing team as he could amongst the Decepticons.
When Megatron spoke of the personal mission he himself would be undertaking, once the majority of the Autobots had been sufficiently drawn away from their flagships, it solidified Snowcat's belief that he was doing the right thing. He really needed to get out before things got worse.
And, if he could throw a monkey wrench in Megatron's little scheme while he was at it, then all the better…
Needless to say, Kicker and Misha were quite relieved and pleasantly surprised to be presented with something edible, roughly thirty-five minutes later; Alexis and Starscream had gone straight to their shuttle from the forest planet upon the conclusion of Starxis' search. Within moments, Misha was at work in the kitchen washing the red stalks and yellow leafy vegetables in the sink, as well as preparing some meaty-looking brownish-pink fruit for Starxis, while Alexis observed from a few feet away; the room they were currently occupying was large enough for both humans and the Transformers to roam around in.
While Misha accepted the food wholeheartedly, Kicker gradually came to have some reservations. "You're sure this food is safe?" he asked Alexis, lightly biting his lip
Alexis nodded. "Starxis said so, and I trust him. So should you. He's never steered us wrong."
Misha looked over, a gentle smile playing at her lips. "Alexis is right, Kicker," she added, then paused to finish cutting the fruit into strips and put it on a platter for Starxis, which she then set on the floor. In the next instant, Misha picked up one of the red stalks, testing its consistency before announcing out loud that it probably needed to be boiled to soften it up.
Once Misha had put a pot of water together and set it on the stove with the stalks soaking within, she turned her attention to the yellow leaves. As if to prove her point and/or convince her boyfriend that it was safe, she lifted one to her mouth and took a small bite.
When no adverse effects presented themselves, Misha's smile widened and she encouraged Kicker to come closer and dig in. "Don't be a chicken," she added, half teasingly, when he still hesitated. "It may be a while before the Earth food we're used to. Until then, we should make the best of it." She took another bite of the yellow leaves, taking time to savor the taste of it. After a bit of thought, she said, "It sort of tastes like cheddar cheese with a hint of oregano."
Alexis shifted her weight, experiencing an odd wave of melancholy at the notion that she couldn't try some herself. "Interesting combination. Not what I would have expected leaves - any leaves - to taste like, but that's just me."
At those words, Kicker's reluctance faltered, and he joined Misha at the counter, his stomach growling as he did so. At his girlfriend's insistence, he ate slowly for fear of getting ill if he scarfed it down too fast. After just a few seconds, a smile was lighting up his face as well. "It's delicious."
Misha shot him an "I told you so" look even as she moved to check on the boiling "veggies", eliciting a laugh from Alexis.
In the next instant, Alexis shifted her gaze to Starxis, adopting her own smile when she saw the youngling also appeared contented (though he was licking at his lips), a now empty platter lying before him. Relieved, Alexis simply thought, At least one of our problems is solved.
No sooner had the thought crossed her mind, however, before Kicker suddenly tensed, turning slowly away from the counter and staring towards the far wall (and beyond) in a way that disturbed Alexis. "What?" the latter asked. "What is it?"
Kicker looked up at her, summing it all up with just a few simple words. "I'm not sure who, but... We've got incoming..."
It didn't take long for Optimus and Hot Shot, once Alexis radioed to them on the bridge of the flagship, to determine that the unknown entities (hidden from view of the shuttles) were approaching the crystalline planet and rather quickly at that. Though unsure whether or not this was something to be concerned over, Optimus quickly turned to regard the bridge's current occupants, and, after rapidly assessing that each of them could hold their own if need be, bid that they all accompany him. Seconds later, he raised Alexis and Starscream on the coms to head out as well, despite some worry over their well-being as they were likely to reach the planet first.
Such concerns were also crossing Alexis' mind as she was flying towards the crystalline world at top speed, with her beloved close by her side. However, Starscream didn't even have to read her mind to intuit what she was thinking. No doubt, the memory of the last time they'd been on their own was coming to his processor as well. Moving slightly in front of her, he said simply, "Follow my lead."
Though slightly perplexed, Alexis fell in behind him, reducing her speed by a small fraction. Not long after they entered the atmosphere of the crystal planet, however, her curiosity was satisfied when Starscream maneuvered towards a shallow gully near where the approaching beings were likely to touch down, transforming as he landed.
Alexis was shortly joining him, shifting to her robot mode as well and feeling slightly reassured by the notion that the gully was deep enough (and the sides opaque enough) to conceal them from view. Working to shut down her less important functions lest even the slightest noise give her away, she turned her head to look at her fellow jet, subtly shifting to grasp at her personalized weapon. "Recon?" she murmured as softly as she could.
Starscream caught her hand in his, then gently maneuvered her so she was facing away from him and reaching up to grip her winged weapon himself. Alexis only suffered a second or two of surprise before willing it to detach from her back; she supposed that having someone better able to see what they were doing was a more sufficient way of maintaining stealth.
After quietly passing Alexis' weapon to her, Starscream tilted his head slightly to the side, listening intently for any indication that the unknown entities were nearby, then silently removed a small device from one of his compartments, soaring upwards slightly to place it on the ground at the edge of the chasm. Once back at her side, he opened a panel on his arm and, with a few typed commands, pulled up a video of the landscape above where they were hidden.
As a small smile formed at Alexis' lips, Starscream briefly looked her way and simply said, "Now we wait..."
Though Optimus and his team (consisting of Rodimus, Scavenger, Hot Shot, and Elita) were only ten minutes behind Starscream and Alexis, they were the first to gain sight of the approaching party. As one, they all relaxed somewhat when they identified Scorpinok with a handful of the Terrorcons trailing behind him. In their relief, the Autobot team slowed their pace, half expecting Scorpinok to change direction once he spotted them.
When Scorpinok's trajectory didn't change, the initial collective thought amongst Optimus' group was that he'd simply failed to notice them, for whatever reason. This belief was only substantiated when they saw his visor was down and covering his optics, and they took this to mean that he was in communication with Alpha Q. Fleetingly, Rodimus wondered why Alpha Q wouldn't have given them the heads up, but he had dealt with the spindly bot enough to recognize that the latter's decisions didn't always make sense.
So it was that Optimus, simultaneously seeing out of the corner of his optic that Jetfire, Demolisher, and Ironhide were exiting one of the neighboring shuttles to join in, activated his comlink to communicate to Alexis and Starscream that there was no danger, and to ask that they move to greet Scorpinok on his landing...
Alexis (having sheathed her weapon upon hearing who was approaching) was beyond elated when she and her fellow jet emerged from the gully and her optics alighted on Scorpinok. Wearing a wide smile, she exchanged a look with Starscream, her thoughts clearly evident by the look upon her face. He made it after all!
As he moved to approach the majestic bot at a leisurely pace with his beloved by his side, Starscream truly didn't see anything wrong at the outset. The closer he got, however, the more of an impression he got that something was off. The fact that Scorpinok was, in essence, flying blind but still able to accurately know where he was headed (the moment in which the majestic bot shifted on his axis and began drifting downwards so he'd be standing upright when he reached the planet's surface was a dead giveaway) seemed to hint that the latter was being fed directions through the visor's communications array.
Starscream put one hand to Alexis' arm to halt her even before the Terrorcons behind Scorpinok scattered, heading to separate points of the surrounding area and chipping away at the surface of the crystalline planet. Alexis turned to look at her fellow jet in a questioning manner; Starscream wondered how she could not have seen that something was wrong.
He was quick to voice as much, and, at his words, Alexis turned back to scrutinize Scorpinok, now standing motionless where he'd landed. After a long, tense moment, she spoke the majestic bot's name in a light, questioning manner.
Scorpinok moved like lightning, at a speed that neither Starscream nor Alexis had thought him capable of, at the single inquiry, rushing towards her with his visor still down and knocking her roughly to the ground with a backhand before either jet could react.
That was all the incentive Starscream needed to toss aside any misgivings he had. He quickly drew his sword even as Scorpinok was maneuvering to lay him flat as well, simultaneously leaping backwards out of range.
An instant later (and Starscream was never sure if Scorpinok did so to get a fix on him or not), the majestic bot finally raised the visor, his gaze locking on his "prey." Upon seeing the deadened look in Scorpinok's optics, a solid indication that the actions of the majestic bot were not his own, Starscream fought to quell the rush of dread and sorrow threatening to take root.
This had to be Sideways' handiwork; the rogue bot must be quite skilled at hacking to override the safety protocols in Scorpinok's processor. Either way, Scorpinok (whom both jets had come to revere for his bravery and nobility) had now unequivocally become Megatron's puppet.
Starscream didn't even have time to process how to handle this before he caught sight of a portal opening up across the crystalline plain and saw an alarmingly large number of Terrorcons come pouring out, followed by any and all Decepticon troops under Megatron's command.
Even as he leapt backwards once more to stay out of Scorpinok's reach, Starscream exchanged a glance with Alexis, fear threatening to overtake him as he became acutely aware of just how outnumbered they both were...
Those who had been wondering if Alpha Q was tuned in to any of this would have been pleased to know that the spindly bot was indeed watching, though he had only been doing so from about the moment that Scorpinok had touched down. Perhaps, if Alpha Q had not taken the time for some much needed recharge, those first few moments of the battle may have turned out quite differently.
Alpha Q had just been attempting to reach Scorpinok via the communication screen in the latter's visor, when he saw the attack commence. Uncomprehending, Alpha Q tried futilely to get through to Scorpinok, though he could never determine if the communication was being blocked or if his friend was simply too far gone to hear his voice.
Once the Terrorcons and Decepticons appeared, Alpha Q could only watch in shocked silence for a tenuous moment. Once he saw his own beastly drones and the enemy bots accompanying them wreaking havoc to the planet's surface - smashing through the crystalline "crust" in what could only be an effort to access the Energon reserves - shock and fear were replaced by a swelling anger.
How dare they! Alpha Q thought furiously. Do they know how hard I've worked to recreate this world?! To the outside observer, it would have seemed the oddest thing to be mad about under the circumstances, but such were the thought processes of the spindly bot.
Seeing a handful of the Decepticons detaching themselves from the main group and make a move towards Scorpinok, Starscream, and Sky Dancer drove Alpha Q to take action. If anything, he could still safeguard the ones who had helped him realize his dream. The surge of Energon he sent downwards, drawn from his own cache, to the patch of ground separating the two groups caused that part of the landscape to swell, stalagmites of multi-colored crystal rapidly stretching upwards as though desperately hungry for the Energon being fed to it.
It didn't do much for Starscream and Sky Dancer for defense against Scorpinok, but at least it afforded them enough of a distraction to get away...
Even in the seconds before Alpha Q came to their aid, Alexis was herself working to try and salvage the situation. An instant after it registered to her that she and Starscream were in big trouble, she half-twisted, half-rolled onto her side, reaching around to grasp her winged weapon in one fluid motion. In the next second or two, she was on her feet, surging towards Scorpinok and acting purely on instinct.
As she passed by the majestic bot, she merely drew the sharpened edge of her weapon across the side of his arm without breaking stride, not stopping until she came abreast of Starscream and whirled to face Scorpinok, her quarterstaff held in readiness of an attack.
Their opponent seemed to be confused for an instant, his face inclined slightly to the side as though he were trying to figure out what had scratched him. Starscream might have used the opportunity to further disable Scorpinok had he not noticed that some of the Decepticons across the way (most notably Snowcat\Cyclonus) were looking in their direction.
Even still, Starscream suffered a moment of hesitation until the ground separating him, Alexis, and Scorpinok from the others abruptly came alive, the outcroppings springing into existence so suddenly he initially thought he must be imagining it. Had a freestanding video screen displaying Alpha Q not subsequently appeared, had the spindly not implored them to run, Starscream might have stood there transfixed for too long.
At Alpha Q's words, Starscream wheeled around, lightly tugging at Alexis' arm to get her moving as well. He barely had time to hook his wing sword back into place before he was transforming into his vehicle mode, firing up his afterburners as quickly as he could.
Starscream's burst of speed was so instantaneous that a sonic boom sounded through the area as he took off at full throttle. It took only seconds before a second boom accompanied his, indicating, as he'd both hoped and expected, that Alexis was hot on his heels.
And, given that it wouldn't take much for either jet to regroup from the unexpected assault - Primus help any of the enemy bots who made an attempt to catch them...
Past telling the duo to flee, Alpha Q watched them depart before shifting the angle of the viewscreen so it was facing Scorpinok, intent on trying to get through to his friend if possible. The instant their optics locked, something in Scorpinok's gaze darkened and he raised his weapons, beginning to blast away at the viewscreen as though he fully expected to inflict some damage. It was then that Alpha Q recognized that Scorpinok may simply be going through the motions, intent on attacking anything that moved that was not part of his own team.
Despite having the mental aptitude of a drone, Scorpinok at least came to recognize that the viewscreen wasn't taking any damage (or, if not, then an order had been transmitted to him to focus his attention elsewhere), for he eventually turned away, his gaze turning towards the ground at his feet. An instant later, Scorpinok was hunched over, driving his fists over and over into the crystal crust and inflicting far more damage than that of the Terrorcons around him. Taking notice, the predatory bots soon flocked around their master, joining him in their eagerness to claim their prize.
Struck speechless for once, Alpha Q could only watch helplessly as his own army laid waste to one of the worlds he'd fought to revive. After a long tense moment, he broadcast a message to the Autobots, imploring them to pick up the pace and apprising them of the situation...
Following the flight of Starscream and his girl, Snowcat briefly thought about tailing them, but quickly decided it may not be a good idea. Odds were good that Thundercracker would want to accompany him; there'd be no easy way to explain to the exuberant rookie why that wouldn't be an option. Thundercracker likely wouldn't understand why Snowcat wouldn't want to remain on the Decepticon team, as things stood.
How funny, Snowcat mused. It wasn't all that long ago that Demolisher was saying I was the one who didn't understand.
Past that thought, Snowcat found some distraction in watching Scorpinok "attack" the viewscreen displaying Alpha Q, then in watching the Terrorcons decimate the planet. After two minutes, however, a volley of laser fire began to rain down from the sky, no doubt heralding the arrival of the Autobots, as well as from across the tundra from the direction where Starscream and the girl had fled. As none of the members of the Decepticon team who were present had expected the counterattack to originate from two different directions, they were unsure where to direct their own fire. Thus, many of them scattered, seeking cover wherever they could.
Such was the reason Snowcat wound up positioned behind an opaque crystal stalagmite, some distance away, by himself, unable to see where any of his comrades in arms had disappeared to. After a second, he drew his laser pistol, yet didn't dare otherwise move to peek around the sides of his hiding spot to get a fix of any of the enemy soldiers. Instead, he merely focused on listening, intent on blasting away at anyone he heard closing in.
Aware that someone was approaching from behind the stalagmite where he was hidden, Snowcat tightened his grip on the pistol, holding it up close to his face with the barrel pointed skyward, every ounce of his being tense as could be. Slowly, he let out a breath, then, moving quick as lightning, wheeled out into view, the gun maneuvering to fix on a target.
Snowcat's opponent was quicker—remarkably so – one hand already raised at the instant the eccentric bot had stepped into view that closed around the gun and wrenched it so the barrel was pointed off to the side. With his free hand, Snowcat's opponent gripped the back of the eccentric bot's neck, almost simultaneously head-butting Snowcat hard enough to leave the latter dazed for a moment.
When Snowcat recovered his senses half a minute later, he was surprised that he was still standing, relatively unharmed. Though curious why the red and black mech before him was just standing there watching him, albeit with a hardened look, Snowcat didn't let that, or the fear he was feeling, show. After an instant, Snowcat adopted a fighting pose, beginning to charge up his cannons.
Snowcat's opponent detached a pair of axles from his frame that resembled clubs, perhaps as a warning. Given that he elected to speak up at this point, that was probably a safe assumption. "I'm not going to fight you unless you make me, Cyclonus."
Later on, Snowcat was never sure if Demolisher used his original name as a means of making his identity clear or not, but he needn't have bothered; there was no mistaking that voice. Even still, Snowcat almost didn't dare breathe, as though that may shatter the reality. "You're alive…?"
Demolisher hesitated, then gave the slightest of nods, punctuating it by quietly saying, "I'm alive." He took a small step forward even as he said, "Come on, Cyclonus! It'd take more than a collapsing tower to do me in!"
At the words, Snowcat relaxed his stance, a wave of relief washing over his features. Briefly, he wondered where the other Autobots were, but then figured that Demolisher had conveyed to them, in some form or other, that he alone could handle this situation. Taking a step forward and letting out an elated laugh, he said, "You have no idea how glad I am to see you. I can't believe…"
Demolisher stopped him, his gaze darkening. "Don't, Snowcat," he spat out. "I only said I wouldn't fight unless you forced it. That doesn't mean I particularly trust you right now."
Snowcat hesitated, thrown by this admission. Demolisher didn't let him get a word in edgewise before continuing with, "The old team may be divided right now, but I had wanted to believe there was still a sense of honor and kinship among us."
Snowcat was silent for a beat, then spoke in a halting tone. "There is. Nothing between us has changed, Demolisher…"
Demolisher scowled. "Tell that to Starscream," he snapped. "Or did you honestly think there wouldn't be any consequences to you nearly getting his girl killed?! The same girl, I might point out, that I risked my own life trying to save from Megatron." Demolisher took a step back, crossing his arms. "Give me one good reason why I should forgive you."
Snowcat paused, frantically wracking his processor. In the end, the one idea that crossed his processor was to perhaps provide Intel about what was occurring in the Decepticon camp. "You might be interested to know that Sideways deserted… I'm not sure exactly what Megatron did that ticked him off, but he was long gone before any of us caught on."
Having not been expecting that, Demolisher blinked in surprise. In retrospect, he realized he should have expected as much; both Sideways and Megatron were so headstrong that it would only have been a matter of time before they reached a breaking point. He shifted his weight, some of the darkness leaving his optics. "Interesting… And good to know." A pause, and then, "Anything else that the Autobots should be aware of?"
Snowcat gulped, wondering why he hadn't opened with the more pressing news first. Even the few seconds of delay might have made all the difference in preventing a catastrophe (especially in the long run) for both sides. Haltingly, he said, "Meg… Megatron is… using this battle at a distraction… He… He knows where Shockblast is being held…"
Snowcat didn't say anything more, but he didn't need to. The implications were perfectly clear to Demolisher. Even still, the hard-edged bot suffered an additional moment of hesitation, he was so caught off guard by the admission.
In the next instant, Demolisher half turned away from Snowcat, trusting the eccentric bot enough not to attack him whilst he as distracted. In that same instant, Demolisher opened a channel both to Rodimus and anyone still occupying the bridge on the latter's shuttle, alerting them to the fact that Chromia (having quickly determined that trying to raise her might be pointless since she may already be under attack) was in very big trouble and the reason why…
At roughly this same moment, Chromia had risen from her seat outside Shockblast's cell, partially due to unease over the fact that he was still staring at her in silence and partly because she needed to stretch. The fact that Shockblast's gaze followed her across the room did nothing to put her at ease, and she came to a halt just by the doorway, facing the captive, psychotic bot with a very light sigh.
Chromia barely heard a slight disturbance behind her before a large hand was planted at the center of her upper back, pushing her forward and spinning her round so she was face planted against the wall before she knew it. With a grunt, she turned her head to the left, and every inch of her frame went cold once it became clear who had her pinned.
At least she could be thankful that Megatron's interest in her stopped there. Though he maintained an iron grip on her that kept her firmly in place, he half turned away, charging up the laser shotgun in his free hand and blasting away at the control panel next to Shockblast's cell.
This proved sufficient in shorting out the forcefield; if Shockblast actually had a mouth, there was no doubt (in either Chromia's mind or Megatron's) that he'd be grinning as he stepped forward. "Megatron," he greeted in a decidedly curious tone. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Megatron had no qualms about answering in front of Chromia; it would only be a matter of time before the Autobots figured it out on their own. "Because I'm in need of someone to fill a void in the Decepticon ranks." When Shockblast's head tilted slightly to the side in a questioning manner, the Megatron went on with, "Sideways went AWOL. That's all you need to know, Shockblast… Now I'd suggest we clear out before the reinforcements show up."
At that, Megatron turned his attention back to Chromia, and she dimmed her optics with a feeling of dread as he pressed in. Yet, the words that Megatron said softly next to her audio receptor pretty much floored her. "You were far too easy to subdue, my dear. Consider yourself lucky. If you'd actually put up a worthy fight, I wouldn't be the least bit lenient."
Though a small part of her was relieved to be getting out of this unscathed, Chromia still balked at Megatron's words. Given that she prided herself on being a plucky, self-sufficient fighter, the notion that her skills were being taken so lightly grated at her. When Megatron released his grip on her, it was all she could do not to spring into action to prove him wrong. Ultimately, she would never know how she managed to restrain herself.
Chromia remained still for so long, watching Megatron step back through the doorway and fully expecting Shockblast to follow, that she was caught off guard when the barrel of psychotic bot's cannon was pressed squarely against the side of her head. This caused her fear to spike in a split second; at point blank range, the shot that was sure to follow would kill her instantly.
Chromia was surprised that Shockblast didn't fire right away; perhaps he was just enough of a psychopath that he wanted to hear her beg. She didn't know if it would have made a difference or not, but fear for her life made her willing to oblige. "Please," she sputtered out. "Don't…"
Tilting his head ever so slightly to the side, Shockblast's single optic seemed to shine with malice. "So pathetic," he stated in a scathing tone. Chromia would never know what his next move would have been, had Megatron not surged back into the room and instantly thrown a punch at Shockblast's head.
Given that the Decepticon leader followed this by beating Shockblast down without a word, moving so quickly that the psychotic bot didn't have any chance of defending himself, Chromia didn't dare move except to flatten herself against the wall. Even still, the irony of the situation struck her; Megatron was actually helping to save her.
Once Shockblast was down, a kick to his face courtesy of Megatron was sufficient to knock him out. Scowling, the Decepticon leader reached down, grasping Shockblast roughly by one arm and beginning to drag him from the room, simultaneously saying, "This is the last time I let you get away with your life for disobeying orders, Shockblast."
Watching them depart with an interesting mix of fear, relief, and disbelief, Chromia honestly couldn't decide which of the two Decepticons was the crazier one…
Though the battle was still on at the time that Demolisher's message came through over the coms, Rodimus (with Elita in tow) was still dispatched, with a single exchanged look between him and Optimus, to head back to the shuttle to see to the welfare of his adopted daughter. Even so, the battle, such as it was, didn't last much longer. Such was the drawback of battling on a planet comprised entirely of crystal; it was far too easy for the Terrorcons to smash through to the core and collect their bounty.
Even so, Snowcat was allowed just enough time to conclude his talk with Demolisher. Shortly after broadcasting the warning, the hard-edged bot turned back to look at his companion. After a short silence that seemed to drag on forever, Demolisher stated, "Not that I don't appreciate the heads up, but this hardly changes anything. I don't know what you're hoping for…"
Snowcat took half a step forward. "For a chance to come back," he blurted out, causing the hard-edged bot to hesitate. Without giving Demolisher a chance to respond, Snowcat went on with, "The more I think about it, the more I think you're right, Demolisher. If you could see up close how Megatron's been acting as of late…" A pause, and then, "I know I probably don't know much of what occurred between you and him at the time you left, but he's been behaving more and more erratically by the day." Snowcat offered an abbreviated version of Megatron's recent actions, then followed by saying, "I don't feel safe there anymore."
Demolisher paused, an unreadable expression on his face. With a deep sigh, he finally responded with, "After all that's happened, Snowcat, I don't think you'd be all that much safer among the Autobots. Not after crossing the line the way you have." There was another pause, in which Demolisher turned and started to walk away. For a tense moment, the eccentric bot feared that Demolisher may just leave it at that, but the hard-edged bot didn't get far before turning his head in Snowcat's direction, halting as he did so.
Demolisher's words, though not promising, did offer Snowcat some degree of hope. "I'll see what I can do, about smoothing things over with Starscream and the Autobots… Just… Don't set your expectations too high, Snowcat…"
By the time Rodimus got back to the shuttle, Chromia was virtually seething, and had taken out her anger on part of the store room across from where Shockblast had been being held. He even had to stop her from smashing a component he'd gone to a lot of trouble to acquire, catching her by the arm and wrenching it from her grip before she could react.
Even so, Chromia, in her blind rage, turned and took a swing at him, but Rodimus had no problem countering it. "Enough!" he barked out, the veracity and volume in his tone enough to make her halt.
Chromia had to force herself to focus, even though every fiber of her being was still itching to vent. "Rodimus," she said in as even a tone as she could muster.
Even though it was fairly easy to determine by sight, and even though he'd been given a rundown by someone who'd viewed the video playback on the bridge, Rodimus still had to ask, even as he set the engine component on a workstation to his right. "Did either of them hurt you?"
Chromia tilted her head up a notch, a defiant look in her optics. "As you can see, I'm perfectly fine," she said sharply.
Rodimus' gaze softened ever so slightly. "Please don't lie to me. I know you too well for that."
Chromia bristled nonetheless, hating him for that simple fact. "What do you want me to say, Rodimus?"
"I want you for once to swallow your pride!" he shot back, stepping forward and seizing her by one arm, causing her to look at him with a mix of fury and disbelief. A pause, and then, "It is nothing short of a miracle that you were in a room with two of the most savage Decepticons that ever lived and came out without a scratch. Instead of crying over being bested, maybe you should be thankful for that."
Chromia scoffed. "That's easy for you to say."
"No, it's not," Rodimus answered, causing her to look at him with a tiny amount of surprise. "I have four times more experience than you, Chromia, and not even I could hope to beat Megatron in a fight. Had it suited him, he would have killed you!" He released his grip on her, stepping back with a deep sigh. "And, had that happened, he might as well have stabbed me through the spark as well," Rodimus finished quietly.
Chromia didn't get a chance to reply before Elita appeared through the doorway, demonstrating that she'd overheard by stating, "And me as well." Elita paused, stepping further into the room with her arms crossed in a self-comforting manner. "Both Father and I care about you very much, Chromia. Having to imagine life without you…" Elita looked up, a pained look in her optics. She let her words linger in the air, long enough for them to sink in, then pleaded, "Promise us you'll let this go. You're alive and unhurt. That's all that matters!"
Chromia was silent for a long while, then stepped forward, allowing each of them to lay a hand on one of her upper arms though her face still held a look of defiance. At last, she stated, in a monotone voice, "I promise."
At those words, both Rodimus and Elita pulled her into a group embrace, even though Chromia wasn't the least bit comfortable with the close proximity. Standing near the edge of the doorway and observing this tableau, Ironhide didn't know whether to be nervous or relieved that none of the three had noticed him, though he didn't dare intrude on what was clearly a family moment. It simply relieved him as well to know that Chromia was alright, though he doubted that her spoken promise held any weight behind it.
And so, taking care to be as quiet as he could, Ironhide slowly inched back down the corridor, making a mental note to personally keep an optic out for Chromia and keep her out of trouble in future endeavors…
For a long while after the battle ended, Alexis couldn't get the visions of the broken crystal landscape and of a brainwashed Scorpinok out of her head. For once, even Starscream was having some difficulty consoling her, in spite of the fact that he could hear her thoughts. In all his years having known her, he had never seen her this quiet and downright numb; he had to wonder if perhaps she'd set her hopes too high that everything would turn out perfectly fine.
Eventually, Alexis found herself alone in a lounge on Rodimus' shuttle, reclining on one of the futons and peering blindly out the large window facing the crystalline world. She didn't know how long she lay there, silent and still with her hands folded over her stomach, before she got an unexpected visitor.
A viewscreen of sorts displaying Alpha Q appeared on the window just to the right of the planet she was observing. The image of the spindly bot appeared so suddenly that it should have startled her, but Alexis was feeling too cold inside to be fazed. Languidly, she turned her head in Alpha Q's direction, remaining silent for a moment longer before saying "I'm sorry we couldn't be of more help."
Neither she nor Alpha Q were clear on which loss she was referring to, but both were affecting her and the spindly bot just the same. Nevertheless, Alpha Q focused on the subject of his oldest and dearest friend. "How could Megatron do this to Scorpinok? How can he not care about who he hurts?"
Alexis briefly dimmed her optics, a wave of pain washing over her. "I'm sorry that you had to be subjected to this kind of cruelty," she said lightly, even though she knew that it was through Alpha Q's actions that Megatron had clawed his way back into the world. "From what I know… Megatron doesn't like losing. He does whatever he can to seize power, and…" Alexis paused, feeling a pang in her spark as she addressed her own recent indoctrination. "I feel that taking things that aren't his is a way for him to feel superior." She looked over at Alpha Q. "I wish that you could have been spared that ordeal. Primus knows you've been through enough in your short life as it is."
"As have you," Alpha Q answered after a moment. "I suppose that is something we have in common, Sky Dancer." He paused, then said, "What is the answer then? I don't see how to combat Megatron, let alone how to get Scorpinok back."
Alexis rubbed at her optics with one hand. "The answer is, perhaps, to never stop fighting. If there's a way to bring him back, to make him remember who he is, we'll find it… And who knows, maybe all Scorpinok needs is to see something familiar, something he recognizes that will jog his memory."
Alpha Q hesitated, then abruptly brightened. "Thank you for the input, Sky Dancer. I think I just might know how…"