Author's note: Believe it or not, we're getting close to the end on this one. I don't know how many more chapters are left for sure. Probably around 5 at the least and 10 at the absolute most. We'll find out. Anyway, as always, thanks for reading and for commenting. Transformers belongs to Hasbro and Takara, not me.
A Blessing and A Curse
If the young man had seen the downward-slanted, red optics peering in at him through the window high in the door of his cage, it would have terrified him. But he didn't see them and he wasn't going to see anything else, either. He was dead.
Megatron stared at the lifeless body with annoyance. This one had shown potential in the transformation part of the experiment until it went suddenly and horribly wrong. Gore coated pieces of metal stood out from his abdomen like quills on a porcupine. They had simply sprung out with no warning, destroying his soft organic insides as they grew. Some of them were strung between the big spikes like grotesque decorations.
"Shall I dispose of it, My Lord?" Shockwave asked. Neither of them used "he" or "she" in referring to the subjects. None of them had won the least bit of respect from Megatron. The one that had most recently ceased functioning was beginning to, though, because of the way he maintained defiance up to the end… for all the good it did him.
"Wait another day. Despite appearances and what the scans indicate, it may not be dead yet," Megatron said as he walked to the exit. Shockwave noted that he didn't sound hopeful.
"As you wish. I will monitor it closely."
"Very well." The door slid closed behind Megatron and he began making his way back to his quarters using a series of passages that kept this particular laboratory hidden. It wasn't merely Shockwave's perception. He really wasn't optimistic about this particular experiment succeeding. It was a long shot at best. He was aware of that from the beginning but it didn't lessen the disappointment. It would be the first of his plans to fail since his restoration. Berger had no inkling of what they were trying to do with the test subjects. Otherwise, Megatron may have suspected him of tampering with them in order to prevent the desired outcome.
As much as he hated to admit it, Shockwave's theory sounded plausible, and the longer this went, the more probable it appeared to be. Perhaps the one known transformation of a human to a Cybertronian was a collection of too many random, unknown events that happened to converge in exactly the right way so as to be unrepeatable in a laboratory situation. None of them, including Stormvolt herself knew what she had been exposed to and for how long and how often when she was human.
Megatron also knew that Shockwave considered such hybrids inferior. He idly wondered if his scientist was making an honest effort. Would his disapproval override the desire for praise and appreciation? Knowing all about Shockwave's feelings for him made Megatron decide that, no, Shockwave wouldn't sabotage the results.
He hated to give up, but the more this project continued to fail, the more it looked like they were going to have to increase their population in the ordinary manner. And he had thoughts on that, too.
"They were as weak as we've heard," said Hurricane.
"And as tiny?" Asked Blueshift.
"Yes. I could crush one between two fingers with minimal effort," he said, holding up his hand and making a tweezing motion to emphasize the point.
"And the planet is full of them, huh?"
"I didn't see much of the planet, but Autobot City was absolutely infested with them. And that's not the only oddity."
"When we were approaching the landmass, I scanned the ocean beneath us and it was full of other organic beings. Not humans, but something."
"Did you see them?"
"No," said Hurricane, with slight disappointment. He and Blueshift were sitting high atop one of the observation platforms installed in a tall spire on Darkmount. As Hurricane thought previously, Blueshift was a bit jealous of not getting to go on the trip to Earth, but he was far more interested to get verification of what the planet's inhabitants were like. Even at his young age, he knew not to take the word of his fellow Decepticons as gospel. There were a lot of liars amongst them.
"I wish I'd gone."
"I only got to go because I'm big enough and equipped to drag one of those containers back."
Blueshift made a noise similar to a snort, conveying his disagreement.
"What?" Asked Hurricane.
"You seriously think that's why, don't you?" Said Blueshift, wonderingly.
"Why else? I needed the navigation practice. Wouldn't it be the most efficient to accomplish the two tasks at once?"
"Haven't you ever wondered about your creators?"
"Not particularly." How Decepticons were created was a part of the general information in their basic programming. No one knew who provided the halves of their spark energy. What did that have to do with his trip?
"You're telling me you haven't noticed the similarities?"
"Similarities in what?"
"You are priceless sometimes, you know that?" Blueshift said, shaking his head in amusement. "I mean the similarities between you, Cyclonus and Stormvolt."
Hurricane scowled in disbelief. "There are similarities between all seekers. That proves nothing."
"First, you do know that they're together, right? Anyone can tell that the way they interact with each other is different from the way they do with everyone else. Yes, their conduct is businesslike, but you can see it's not the same."
"So?" Hurricane did not waste processor function and memory space on idle gossip and the personal affairs of his superiors.
"Two, neither one of them looks like a regular seeker, not as a 'bot or in their alt modes."
"Yes, but Sunstorm and Mindwipe have dissimilar appearances from one another in their alt forms." As 'bots they weren't that different
"Right, but Sunstorm was previously stationed on Earth and his alt form was reconfigured to blend in there and Mindwipe didn't. Plus, it's not a mix of those two that you resemble."
"I fear you have a processor malfunction, Blueshift."
"Primus, you even sound like Cyclonus. Come here a minute."
As far as Hurricane was concerned, that was not a bad thing. He stood and walked to the spot his friend was indicating. Blueshift placed a friendly hand on his shoulder and turned him around until he was facing the shiny surface of the wall. "What are you doing?"
"You see that?" Blueshift said, pointing at their distorted reflections on the wall.
"What about it?"
"Check out those wings. Nobody has wings that rake forward that way other than Cyclonus. Yeah, yours are longer and have those hinges at the tips, but the design is basically the same. Also, the canopy is on your backside. Both of those guys are like that and no one else."
"You haven't met every Decepticon in existence and certainly not the ones that have deactivated," said Hurricane, casually pointing out the flawed logic.
"And there's these," Blueshift said, reaching up and giving the horn-like protrusions on either side of Hurricane's head a twang.
"If you do that again, there will be unpleasant consequences."
"Yeah, yeah. But again, no one except for you three."
"And what if you are correct in your suspicions? Wouldn't they tell me?"
"I don't know. Maybe they don't want you to start thinking you're exceptional and getting into trouble. You know a lot of others would make your life hard if they knew."
"Conceivably." He didn't fear any of his comrades but manipulating the rank structure to make his training far more unpleasant was a possibility. "But surely you aren't the only one to notice these similarities. Wouldn't the others leap to the same conclusion and act upon it?"
"Oh trust me, it's been mentioned. But see, you don't behave like you think you're special and that helps. Also, it's not a certainty. We might be wrong. I doubt it, but there's always a chance, right? Furthermore, what if we're not and say, Cloudburst wanted to give you a hard time? You don't think he wouldn't consider the potential consequences first?
"You've heard the same stories I have. Would you want the top two seekers in the entire Decepticon army bent out of shape at you? Not just because of rank, either, but because of what either one of them could do to you?"
"True." It was a sobering thought, but also annoying.
"I prefer to be judged on my own merits, regardless of lineage."
"I know. And if you keep that attitude everything will be fine." It was all true. Blueshift was not the only one who had noticed the similarities, but because Hurricane didn't show any inclination to lord his origins over anybody, they were fine with it. Well, most of them. Those that weren't didn't quite dare to do anything for a number of reasons.
"This discussion is non-productive. Let's go out to the firing range and practice. When the War Academy opens in a few cycles we won't get the opportunity nearly as often."
"Sounds good to me."
The Decepticon historic archives were contained in an enormous vault beneath Darkmount and on the opposite side of the complex from Shockwave's maze of laboratories. It wasn't a heavily frequented area in the glory days and even less so now. If not for Scourge hunched over a small monitor in the gloom, the space would have been entirely dark and deserted.
Spread out on the desktop beside the monitor was an array of discs and chips containing a certain span of their vast history. All he had brought out to review concerned the life of Thundercracker. His life, to a certain extent. Scourge possessed no memories of those days. The programming and information that Stormvolt had given him was securely locked away until he felt like using it. If he felt like it. As it stood, he was unsure.
The Sweeps, after research into who and what the Insecticons were, opted to remain in their current forms.
"We will name ourselves rather than take on the identities of inferior mechanisms," one of them said.
That was fine with Scourge. He understood their feelings on that matter. Not only were they going to name themselves, they were also discussing paint schemes and modifications. If they followed through with it, they would be much easier to identify as individuals and then the others would likely become more accepting. Not that they cared about that. They were an insular group, much like the Predacons or Constructicons or any of the combiners. We come first and slag the rest, was their attitude. While he understood their reasoning, he didn't agree with it where his own identity was concerned.
According to the information he had found, Thundercracker was a brave and accomplished fighter, winning a commendation and advancing high in the ranks. As far as rank went, he wasn't at the bottom of the ladder now, but if he were in Cyclonus's position it wouldn't change the feeling of not belonging. Cyclonus evidently felt no need to change his new identity either. From what Scourge had learned peripherally of Skywarp, he could see why. He was the only one of them, aside from pre-Thrull Galvatron, who had been improved in the hunter's opinion. And somehow, perhaps due in part to his association with the femme, had had managed a modicum of acceptance.
Scourge didn't consider anyone a true friend. The Sweeps were his to command but he felt no liking toward them and the sense of responsibility he associated with them was only because he was the one in trouble if they messed up.
What would it be like to have true comrades? Thundercracker had several, if these records were anything to go by. His internal chronometer blinked in the corner of his vision. This would have to wait for another day. Soundwave was expecting him for the daily briefing.
He placed the items he'd pulled from the archives in a bin at the side of the desk. There was a drone that would take care of putting them away. The briefing was probably more deliberation over an asteroid field that was beginning to show on long-range defenses and how to deal with it. Sounded like potential busy work to him, but it was something to do.
The Skuxxoid stood in the back of the room and watched as the Quintessons began to set their plan in motion. It didn't involve him, and for that he was grateful. If it went the way they seemed to think, there was gonna be a whole lot of chaos on Cybertron and he didn't want to get caught in the middle of that mess. He knew the odds were calculated and recalculated, but as a veteran gambler the alien also knew that sometimes odds and probabilities didn't mean squat. If it turned out that these guys were wrong, then he was extra glad to be left out. And if they were right, there was still an opportunity for him to make a little pocket money. He'd wait and see.