Disclaimer: I don't, have never and will never, hold any claim over the Transformers franchise. All writings hereonin, apart from my Author Notes, are merely for my own amusement and are not intended in any way to make money or break copyright laws.
Dedication: This story, in its completed entirety, is dedicated to the following person for not only managing to give me the inspiration and the courage to keep on trucking, but for also very kindly plugging my début Transformers fic over at her profile without me even knowing :3 NybCR, this is for you and I hope you enjoy it as much as you deserve.
Until the Dream Ends
"Perceptor!" The introverted scholar was interrupted from his speculations concerning the metabolism of organic beings by the familiar voice that cut across the combat bridge of the crashed starship. "Ain't you almost done?"
Of all the planets in this galaxy that the Ark could potentially have crashed on so many aeons ago, Perceptor was ecstatic that the third planet from the sun of this particular solar system had been the one. Apart from the fact that, had the Ark crashed upon the orbital rocks that the humans called Mercury or Venus, the Transformers would doubtless have been incinerated by the close proximity to the sun and the resultant heat, or frozen in place had the landing been on the red planet Mars or the dwarf Pluto – not to mention the giant gaseous spheres that remained, which the starship would have plummeted straight through with adverse effects, Earth had much going for it. The development of life was always a miracle on any planet, and the evolution of sentient life, while not unheard of, was surprisingly rare considering the number of species that inhabited the vastness of the universe.
The humans were very much like the Transformers, similar both in structure and in mental workings. Both species experienced emotions and ambitions, such as the desire for security and the concept of love. It was an intriguing development that an organic life form should share so much with a metallic life form, and, of all the planets that the Ark could possibly have landed on, for all the robots who yearned for their home far away on Cybertron, the Autobot scientist, at least, was glad that it was Earth he was stranded on.
He was, quite simply, fascinated by the diversity of living matter on Earth, as was he intrigued by the elements that resided within the planet's crust and further down towards the core, as was he stimulated by the history of previous forms of life that evolution had rendered extinct. Perceptor was a scientific jack-of-all-trades and, here on Earth, he really was in his element of discovery and experiment; his comrades often expressed their exasperation at his contentment to scrutinise any compound that came within his gasp, and to speak to it as though it would tell him the answers it held to his questions by word of vocaliser.
Even the other leading intellects among the Autobots, namely Ratchet, Skyfire and Wheeljack, had often been heard expressing their amazement at Perceptor's ability to distract himself from studying something by the appearance of something else, often completely different, to study – but, it had to be said, they were all happy enough to limit themselves to their chosen schools; medicine, exploration and geology, and engineering respectively. Perceptor could not imagine limiting himself to one school of learning only, not when there was just so much to know.
"Give me just a moment, Ironhide." Perceptor called back, smiling at the amicable southern drawl that characterised the old warrior's way of speaking. With the hand that was not holding the soldering laser, he reached forward and carefully adjusted the lens on his microscope before again switching his optic input so he saw the magnified component he was working on. "I just need to finish attaching these meta-carbonate converters to Wheeljack's bipolar junction transistor and I'm done."
"Meta-carbo-who?" There was a scraping noise as metal rubbed against metal; no doubt Ironhide had raised a hand to his helmet in frustration at Perceptor's babbling. "D'aww, never mind, jus' get a move on before my tailpipes rust off."
Of course, Perceptor's peculiar desire to assimilate knowledge was invaluable to the Autobots in their war, and invaluable too to their human allies. If ever an unknown entity appeared, then it was Perceptor who was called upon to analyse it, and it was rare that he could not quickly work out exactly what it was and how to deal with it. His expertise with the mixing of various chemicals was an asset that the heroic Optimus Prime was loathe to risk losing from his arsenal of the brilliant and the brave, and the scholar was more than happy to share his talents with the flesh-made creatures that lived on this beautiful Earth. Optimus Prime had long before decreed that he would not loan the small people Autobot technology so that they could use it in their wars, instead he wished to further their civilisations with the gift.
Currently, Perceptor had agreed to help a team of research scientists better a mode of nuclear power conversion in a station that would be able to generate just over 300 gigawatts. While nuclear power had been available to the humans for some years now, the potential of the station Perceptor was helping to develop was unheard of in the past. It was a technological revolution.
The scientist had been very secretive about it, even to his Autobot comrades. His explanation was that the team of researchers and engineers he had agreed to work with were very nervous about the plans falling into the hands of another particular country, with whom relations were currently very rocky, and, perhaps more importantly, the less robots who knew of the power station, the less likely it was that the knowledge would fall into the hands of the Decepticons, who would doubtless take advantage of the nuclear power for their energon stores.
Because of the potential of the station, any siphoning of energy by Decepticons could have the result of a catastrophic nuclear meltdown, which would release radiation into the surrounding atmosphere and endanger the health of thousands of organic lifeforms for decades to come. This result was desired by no one, so Perceptor had remained tight-lipped about his involvement and what that entailed. He had confided in his comrades the location of the nuclear plant, just in case anything were to happen to him and the humans needed to be warned, but apart from that, he was the only one who knew anything.
Security was still a problem, of course. As the ever-paranoid Red Alert pointed out, there was always a chance, however slight, of an information leak. Teletraan did a good impression of omniscience when it came to the development of Earth technology, so information of Perceptor's involvement was doubtless on there somewhere, but it was a fallible computer system, vulnerable to bugging by the Decepticon Soundwave's team of infiltrators.
While perfectly capable of defending himself from attack, Perceptor was only one Autobot, and the Decepticons were more than likely to attack in force. As such, Red Alert and Prowl, with Prime's acquiescence, had organised a team of bodyguards to take turns escorting Perceptor whenever he left the Ark, at least until this whole business had blown over.
At first it had been a bother. An introvert by nature, Perceptor had not been easy about being so close to other robots so much of the time, especially when he was excited at the prospect of the nuclear plant's development. However, it was only a temporary measure; he was only expected to be working on the reactor for two or three weeks at most, and he was already halfway through that time.
It was for this very reason that Jazz, Prowl and Ironhide were patiently waiting in the entrance to the crashed Ark for their scientist friend to finish repairing Wheeljack's semiconductor device so that they could leave for a conference concerning the element that would be used in the nuclear reactor.
"All right, I'm done." Perceptor called, picking up the micro-component delicately between thumb and forefinger, and handing it to Ratchet so it could be reinstalled in its rightful owner. While Perceptor was more than capable of carrying out that task, it was the medic's field of expertise; nowhere was there anyone quite as accomplished at metallic surgery than Ratchet.
"It's about time." Ironhide droned, transforming into his vehicle mode as Perceptor strode casually out of the starship entrance, wringing his hands together distractedly. Beside the old warrior, sub-commanders Jazz and Prowl were already in their alternate forms, their engines chuntering away quietly. A restless noise from Ironhide brought Perceptor's attention back to the van transformer, whose back doors both opened. "Well? Transform an' hop in."
As a robot whose alternate mode was a microscope, Perceptor very often found travelling quite a chore, and he was glad for Ironhide's offer of transport. He sat carefully on the floor of the van's storage area and shifted into his Earth mode immediately so as not to weigh the other Autobot down. Ironhide's doors shut behind him and, with a loud revving of engines, the small convoy started down the mountainside road from the Ark's crash site towards the interstate.
"Shift over a bit, Perceptor." The red warrior grumbled quietly, and Perceptor obediently moved himself to the right. From outside Ironhide's walls, he could hear Prowl's voice as the tactician outlined the plan if something did go wrong.
" - Jazz, watch Ironhide while he waits for Perceptor to get out, Perceptor – you transform and get to somewhere safe, we'll cover you. Don't give away your position once you're there. Ironhide, how quickly will you be able to supply us with nitrogen?"
"Between half and two Earth seconds, I reckon." Came the old warrior's calm answer.
"If things look bad, spray the enemy once over and we'll pull out."
"I can't leave you fighting if it looks as though I could be of some use." Perceptor protested, but Prowl's stern voice left little room for argument.
"The whole reason that we're with you is to stop you from falling into enemy hands, Perceptor, I don't want you jeopardising that."
"Oh, lay off, Prowl." Jazz reprimanded his fellow officer, his voice carrying an amused tone. From inside Ironhide, Perceptor could perfectly visualise Prowl bristling in defence, but he knew that the military strategist would not argue with Jazz. "Perceptor's as Autobot as any of us, y'can't ask him to save his own hide at our expense. That's a Decepticon thing t'do."
"I'll get to somewhere safe, then I'll give you cover if it looks like you need it." Perceptor spoke hurriedly, the feeling that the Autobot second-in-command was close to giving them all a disciplinary lecture nagging at the back of his central processor.
Both Jazz and Ironhide dissolved into bouts of uncontrollable sniggers at the indignant exhalation that escaped Prowl's vocaliser, and Perceptor could not help joining in.
"Ahah... ah.. ahem, well, anyway," he stuttered after chuckling healthy at the antics of his bodyguards, trying to get his mind set on more serious matters again, "I appreciate your concern, Prowl, but let me reassure you – I would sooner die than give my knowledge to anyone who would use it for wrong."
A stony silence fell over the convoy of Autobot warriors as they registered the feeling behind the words of their pacifistic friend.
"Let's just hope it doesn't come down to that." Prowl said quietly at last, to subdued murmurs of agreement as the trio of cars turned onto the interstate highway and sped off towards their destination.
Unnoticed by the three Autobot warriors and their scientist ward, a red mechanical condor flew high above them. The inorganic beast's optics glowed as it scanned the landscape and calculated the coordinates, its black head turning this way and that to better gauge the scenery below, relaying it back to the most notorious of all Decepticons, the one called Megatron.
The silver warlord was far from stupid. He had noticed that the Autobots were being uncharacteristically secretive and he had sent Laserbeak, his silent flighted spy, to infiltrate the enemy headquarters and extract the needed information from their immensely knowledgeable but severely unguarded computer, Teletraan-1. For once, that which he had found out from Teletraan had not been enough. It seemed that the real answers lay with another Autobot, the genius scientist called Perceptor.
Megatron had acted immediately, ordering his lieutenant Starscream, who commanded the Decepticon air fleet, to organise his troops into teams to find and retrieve Perceptor without delay. Remarkably, considering his track record, Starscream had been quick to acquiesce, perhaps sensing the urgency in his leader's voice, and had instantly split his force into two groups. Watching his seekers leave the underwater base, Megatron had commanded his loyal officer Soundwave to release Laserbeak, who was smaller and whose engines were quieter than those of the jet Transformers and who was thus able to better avoid detection.
Deploying Laserbeak had been a wise move on Megatron's part; the covert robot had located the Autobot venture and, having alerted Megatron to this fact, was now able to transmit the coordinates to the group of seekers who were closest to the area. But moments later, the Transformers known as Thrust, Ramjet and Dirge had appeared beside the silent Laserbeak, all three in robot form, turbines on low, so that the prey below were not alerted to their airborne stalkers just yet.
Easily the most intelligent of the three jet Transformers, Thrust assumed command, assessing the situation as quickly as he was able and giving his quiet orders to his companions.
"Are you sure he's there, Laserbeak?" He whispered hoarsely. "I see only three Autobots and not one of them is the one we want!"
Though the condor never spoke, a silent nod and a slight flare in his optics was enough to convey a positive answer to the yellow-eyed seeker, who turned his head to look at the scene again. Realisation dawned on him.
"He's in the van?" Another nod. "Right. Ramjet, you know what to do. Dirge, with me, we strike as soon as Ramjet does."
Both Thrust's colleagues indicated their approval and transformed into their alternate vehicular modes, moving to their positions, careful to keep the noise of their engines as quiet as possible, as surprise was of the essence now. Thrust himself spared the robotic condor one last glance before he too transformed.
"Laserbeak, join us when Ramjet's struck. Try to keep an eye on the scientist, catch him if you can. We want him alive." A silent nod from the mechanical beast was the only confirmation of understanding that Thrust received before he quietly flew off in the direction Thrust had taken, waiting on their black and white comrade to make his presence known to the enemy.
The first that the Autobots below knew of their attackers was when Ramjet ploughed straight into Ironhide's side, causing the van to crash through to the other side of the highway and come to rest on its roof, the warrior letting out a groan of pain.
Prowl and Jazz transformed instantly, blasters in hand, as the jet forms of Thrust and Dirge screamed out of the sky and the tarmac either side of them was torn up by laserfire.
"Perceptor!" Prowl yelled over the noise of the Decepticon weapons, a grimace crossing his face as one of the purple beams grazed the plating of his shoulder. Out of the corner of his optic, the strategist was aware of Perceptor, in robot form, scrambling out of Ironhide and fleeing for safety. "Ironhide, can you transform?"
"Don'... don' think so..."
"Jazz, cover Ironhide!" Dodging backwards at just the right moment, another beam of purple just missing his waist, Prowl took careful aim and fired his own ionic blaster, catching an approaching Dirge in the wing, sending the jet careening off into the road in a disarray of smoke and broken parts.
"I'm on it!" Jazz moved over to the fallen Ironhide, shifting his attentions between taking odd shots at Thrust and Laserbeak, who were dogging him with taunting beams, and trying to roll his companion back onto his wheels. "That's a nasty dent he gave you there, old timer," He commented airily on seeing the mangled metal where Ramjet's nosecone had struck, the adrenal chemicals pulsing through his processors and making Ironhide's situation almost humorous, "maybe you should think about retirin'?.
"It'll take more than one Deceptibum to take out ol' Ironhide." The battle-hardened soldier drawled, returning the banter as though they were having a friendly conversation in the safety of the Ark rather than being in the middle of a battlefield alive with gunfire.
From his hiding space, Perceptor watched his friends fighting his battle for him. Sacrificing themselves so that he would remain safe. Yes, he held knowledge that they didn't, knowledge that couldn't be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy, but these were their lives that he was risking. The scientist knew that Prowl had ordered him to stay hidden, but he could not stand by and do nothing.
Ironhide was down, Prowl was struggling bravely on, favouring his injured arm while firing round after round at the remaining airborne Decepticons, Jazz was covering Ironhide and fending off a persistent Thrust. Ramjet had disappeared – probably fled, the Decepticons did so often – and Dirge was a smouldering wreck of twisted metal on the ground. It was looking to be in the Autobots' favour, at least.
Then Laserbeak banked away from Prowl and turned towards Jazz, whose attention was focussed on the dark red seeker. Perceptor leapt out from his hiding place in a panic as Laserbeak began to power up his twin laser rifles. "Jazz, look out, above you!"
Jazz turned to see Laserbeak almost on top of him. There was not enough time to bring up his blaster to defend himself, and the condor was almost at point blank range – a shot now would certainly be extremely damaging and perhaps even fatal to his systems.
An orange beam came from out of Jazz' peripheral vision, striking Laserbeak in the fuselage, sending him crashing into the tarmac to join Dirge as a smoking mess. Turning his head, Jazz saw Perceptor, in clear view, standing in triumph and waved his gratitude.
What happened next was too quick to stop.
Ramjet, who had pulled back from the fighting after disabling Ironhide to search for the concealed Perceptor, had found his prey now that the scientist had blown his cover by yelling and then firing. Kicking up his afterburners, the seeker hurtled at near supersonic speed towards the Autobot's unprotected back, catching him dead centre, just below his neck. The heavy impact jarred Perceptor's neurone transmitters, knocking his processor offline. He fell in a crumpled heap at Ramjet's undercarriage as the Decepticon landed. After skidding a metre or two as he slowed from the speed he had been travelling, Ramjet transformed and shot Jazz, who was running forward to help Perceptor, through the chest with one of the twin cannons on his arms, his accuracy deadly, before the Autobot sub-commander could fully comprehend what had even happened.
"Thrust! Give me backup, I got him!" The monochrome warrior called, hoisting the unconscious Perceptor over his shoulder and taking to the sky. His voice called to him the attention of Prowl, whose quick processor analysed the situation almost instantly. The strategist took careful aim at Ramjet, understanding that the Autobots had lost this skirmish and retrieving the fallen scientist was all that he could do now. Seeing his comrade hovering victorious, and Prowl ready to fire, Thrust goaded the fallen Dirge into transforming, hurriedly shot the Autobot's rifle from his hand, and gathered up Laserbeak. All three seekers turned and flew away from the battlefield in speedy but triumphant retreat, their quarry within their custody.
Staring after them in frustration and defeat, Prowl clutched his grazed shoulder absently, his hand twinging uncomfortably where Thrust's last shot had scorched it, cursing himself for letting the enemy win, and for failing in his duty to protect the meek scientist, before moving over to Ironhide and Jazz. By now, Ironhide had recovered from the aftershocks of Ramjet's impact to transform, and he did so, looking down at Jazz worryingly. While not bad enough to be life-threatening, the single shot fired by Ramjet had pierced the sub-commander's outer armour plating and had continued through into his internal components. He would need to be looked over by Ratchet before he would be safely functional again.
"Frag it!" Prowl hissed in defeat. "That idiot! I told him to stay hidden!"
"But if Perceptor hadn't fired on Laserbeak, Jazz would 'ave been killed for sure." Rumbled Ironhide, transforming into his van form so that Prowl could load the supine warrior gently into his trunk for transport back to the Ark.
"I'm sure Jazz would have been proud to die, if his death prevented the Decepticons from getting whatever information Perceptor is hiding." Shaking his head, Prowl let go of his initial anger at the loss, looking once over the torn-up highway. He retrieved Jazz' dropped weapon and stowed it somewhere safely on his person, before transforming into his vehicle mode and setting his sirens so the two defeated warriors could limp back to the Ark in time to get Jazz the medical attention he desperately needed and to inform Prime of this terrible development.
He tried not to show how worried he was. It would not do for Ironhide to see his calm, calculating superior officer so shaken up by this turn of events. It was not only because they had failed Perceptor; Jazz had been hurt, and, though not many of their colleagues knew it, Jazz and Prowl were very close. Jazz was the absolute contrast to the strategist; fun-loving while Prowl was serious, empathetic while Prowl was emotionally disconnected, outspoken while Prowl was somewhat introverted. As a team, they worked efficiently and brilliantly, and as lovers they were perfect.
It pained him to think that Jazz was lying hurt just feet away and he could not do anything, not without taking him to Ratchet. It pained him that the preferable strategic turn of events would have culminated in Perceptor staying hidden, though that would no doubt have meant Jazz' death. It pained him too that he was able to remain detached enough from the situation to see himself coping with Jazz' death if it gave him that tactical advantage that he had planned, if Perceptor and, more importantly, the knowledge he held had remained safe. It pained him that he even considered the information Perceptor was keeping secret more important than the other robot himself. Perhaps Bumblebee was right. Perhaps he didn't care enough.
"I jus' hope for Perceptor's sake that they don' want that information too much." Ironhide spoke gloomily, cutting through Prowl's destructive thought spiral. The tough old soldier didn't want to imagine the lengths to which Megatron would go to get what he wanted, so he tried to reassure himself by adding hopefully: "Prime'll get 'im back, though."
"We can't spare the resources." Prowl responded, voice grim. "We can't be sure how quickly they'll manage to get Perceptor to talk. Strategically, it would be more advantageous if we concentrate our defences on the power plant. That's where they'll strike, sooner or later."
"An' leave Perceptor to whatever the Decepticons'll do to him?" The old warrior sounded disgusted at this idea, and his temper only deepened at Prowl's noise of confirmation. "That's monstrous! We're Autobots, we don' leave our comrades to die!"
The noise from Prowl's vocaliser was hard to understand, somewhere between a sigh and a growl, before he spoke again.
"If we undertake a rescue mission, even as soon as we get back to the Ark, we would still have to organise warriors and get to the Decepticon underwater base. There's a chance that, by then, Megatron would already have got what he needs from Perceptor, and if that happens, then the power plant will be undefended when they attack it. Megatron would get his hands on whatever Perceptor's working on. Millions would die, the war might even be lost. Are you saying you would allow that possibility just to get one soldier back?" Another sigh interrupted the flow of speech as the Ark came in to view. "Perceptor is an Autobot. He wouldn't want his life to be saved at such a cost."
"So there's nothin' we can do for him?" The realisation hit Ironhide hard, reflecting in his voice, which was suddenly much more subdued in a stark contrast to the heated outrage than it had been.
"We can hope that he's resourceful enough to escape, however unlikely it is." The sub-commander answered pessimistically. "Other than that, we can only pray that he's brave enough to endure anything they throw at him and doesn't let them get what they want."
The two finished their journey in gloomy silence, both contemplating the no doubt horrendous fate of their unfortunate comrade. Throughout the the course of delivering Jazz to Ratchet's expert care and reporting to Optimus Prime the unfavourable direction that events had taken, neither found himself able to meet the eyes of any other mech; both saw Perceptor's smiling face staring back at them, and both wondered if they would ever see their cheerful, quirky friend again.