Oh, Stygian Night
The explosion hit Optimus Prime with the force of an angry god. One second, he had been taking aim at Megatron, hoping to swing the tide of the battle and force a Decepticon retreat. The next, the whole world had erupted into white light, deafening noise, and searing pain. Prime had felt dislocated from reality for a few moments, unsure of which way was up; and then the blast had landed him heavily on his left side, coming to rest at an awkward angle. Several warning lights flared behind his eyes, telling him where he was hurt and how bad.
He would live. For now, at least.
The static clouding Prime's vision cleared after a few moments, and he immediately forced himself to sit upright, before struggling unsteadily to his feet. Pain flared through his systems; he would need Ratchet's attentions when he returned to the Ark, that was for certain. But his own health was a secondary concern, for the moment. The well-being of his comrades would always come first, and then there was a battle to win. Looking around quickly, Optimus assessed the situation.
The Decepticon space-bridge was badly damaged, a pall of black smoke rising from somewhere within its frame. It appeared to have been the source of the shockwave; Prime figured that a stray shot had hit the device and triggered a power surge, resulting in the explosion. Amazingly, the Autobots seemed to have come out of the situation surprisingly lightly, and those that had been hit were quickly regaining their bearings.
The Decepticons had been much closer to the source of the blast, and it showed. Those that could stand were picking up their fallen comrades, and Megatron was leading a hasty retreat. The powerful chrome-white mech lifted into the air, before turning and glaring balefully at Prime, his deep red optics carrying a simple message to his life-long adversary. You win this round, they said. But you will never win the war. And then they were gone.
Prime watched the Decepticons retreat into the distance, briefly regretting his decision to attack the space-bridge. It could have gone a lot worse for his Autobots, and a pang of guilt briefly fluttered through him. He quickly put it to one side; the decision had been right, and his men knew it. He knew it. He knew that sometimes risks were needed to win a war. That didn't mean he had to like the idea, though.
Prime turned his attention to his colleagues, and walked forward to help the few that were showing signs of injury. A few were badly dented, more were limping or nursing their arms. Bumblebee and Jazz had been closest to the flashpoint, it appeared, and the pair were supporting one another, each helping the other to stand. Nearby, Ironhide was helping Blaster to his feet, and not too far behind them Prime spotted the twins limping side by side.
It was then that Prime saw the bodies. Two forms could be seen lying in the wreckage of the bridge mechanism. From their position, they had to have been inside the construct when it had exploded. A sudden feeling of foreboding gripped Prime's spark, and without thinking, he broke into a run. They had to be dead, they had to be, but Prime still needed to be sure. Hound and Wheeljack saw their leader moving toward the site of the accident, and raced to join him. The three mechs slowed as they reached the epicentre of the explosion, and eventually came to a stop in front of the two corpses.
What they saw drew the strongest reaction any of the Autobots had seen from Prime. The giant warrior dropped to his knees, threw back his head and howled in anguish. It was a sound of agony, of frustration, and the deepest sense of loss imaginable. Inside, the Autobots were making the same sound, their very sparks resonating with the same pain. The reason was lying prostrate in the dirt in front of them. One of the corpses was Decepticon, the other an Autobot. It was Slipstream, a recent addition to Prime's forces from Cybertron. He had been bright and cheerful, and almost painfully young. And he had been loyal to the end. Wheeljack looked from the young mech, to his friend and leader, then back again. He knew how Prime felt; he was already starting to feel the same grief.
"Primus watch over his spark," he intoned. So young. Too young.
And then Slipstream moved...
O o O o O
Slipstream stood in front of the Ark, awed into silence at the sight before him. He could barely believe that he was here, the legendary spacecraft that had saved Cybertron, and the base of operations for his idol, Optimus Prime. Slipstream had grown up hearing stories about the venerable warrior and leader, and was now thrilled at the chance to finally be serving under him. Around Slipstream stood a small group of new recruits, each as thrilled as he was to be there. The group had been drafted in to help out on Earth, all having earned the honour, and they were all looking forward to the chance to take the fight to the enemy.
"Recruits, stand to attention!"
The deep, booming voice had preceded the largest mech Slipstream had ever seen. His red and blue armour gleaming in the morning sunlight, Optimus Prime looked every bit the legendary hero to the young warriors. Beside their new commander walked three other transformers. Two of them had signs that they transformed into cars; one was distinguishable by sunshade shaped optics and a blue racing stripe along his chest plate, the other by a ribbed faceplate and small vanes protruding from the sides of his head. The third, a red and yellow mech with a wide smile and a cassette hatch for a chest plate, brought up the rear.
"Autobots, welcome to Earth," began Prime, the warm timbre of his voice instantly making the newcomers feel welcome. He gestured to his companions. "I would like to introduce Jazz, our covert operations specialist, Wheeljack, head of science, and Blaster, our communications officer. The rest, you'll get a chance to meet later, along with some of our human friends as well, in time. But for now, I would like you to tell us about yourselves."
A cocky young 'bot with bright blue armour was the first to speak, snapping to a salute and introducing himself as Sunchaser. Sports car, Slipstream thought to himself, even before he caught any chassis give-aways. The next was a quiet spoken, chrome coloured 'bot that called himself Pitstop. Pitstop made a mention that he was a medic, and fell silent again. Nothing gave away his alternate form, but Slipstream took a few guesses anyway.
Next came a tall, thin mech with bright green armour that introduced himself as Axcell, and from the look of his light chassis and framework, Slipstream guessed at his alternate form being a motorcycle. Slipstream had spent some time getting to know Axcell on the shuttle from Cybertron, and had taken an instant liking to the scout's easy-going manner; it would be nice to have at least one friend, he thought. After Axcell came a short, yellow and blue framed femme, who stepped forward and introduced herself as Waverider; her armour shapes identified her as a boat of some variety. Finally, it was Slipstream's turn.
He had completely fumbled his introduction. In the space of ten seconds, Slipstream had mispronounced his own name, mispronounced Prime's name, said 'sir' more than five times, and finally fallen into an embarrassed silence. His fellow recruits had taken to either staring at him in a mixture of sympathy and disbelief, or carefully studying the nearest rock in an attempt to spare his feelings. To make matters worse, Wheeljack and Blaster were laughing quietly to themselves, whilst Jazz had nudged Prime in the side and loudly whispered the words 'hero worship' with a large grin creasing his features.
Prime had been different, though. He had laughed, yes, but it hadn't been in an unkind way. Something in the older mech's optics had reassured Slipstream, a sense of deep wisdom and endless warmth that had eased the young jet's fears. Prime had reinforced that impression later the same day. He had approached Slipstream after his first shift had ended, walking with him to the mess hall, and had given him a piece of advice that the youngster would remember for as long as he lived.
"Don't look up to the individual," Prime had said, his voice gentle, as though talking to a child. "Look up to the ideals that they believe in. Justice, freedom, truth; all of these things should be upheld by those who can. Freedom is the right of all sentient beings, Slipstream. It's up to us to make sure they get to keep it..."
O o O o O
Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.
The words ran unbidden through the darkness that surrounded Slipstream. He didn't know where he was, or even how long he had been there. Every so often, he thought he could hear voices, but he couldn't make out what they were saying. It was like listening to a conversation in another room. Slipstream had tried crying out to the voices, trying to get their attention, but for reasons unknown he had been unable to get through. Nothing seemed to make sense. All he knew was that he was tired, and hurt. And he had begun to get the strangest feeling that he wasn't alone.
It wasn't anything to do with the other voices. They were unclear as well as distant, like a half forgotten memory. This was closer, and it felt dangerous. A presence, almost predatory, had begun to make itself felt; Slipstream was no longer sure if it hadn't always been there. At first, it had seemed as unreal as the other voices, but over time the whispers in the dark had separated themselves. Slipstream could hear the voice now, scratching at the edge of his dark little world, whispering his name. It knew who he was, and it was coming for him.
Slipstream, it whispered, closer to him now, cold and dark as the void.
O o O o O
"It's been three days, and still nothing," Wheeljack sighed, throwing his data pad down onto a nearby workstation in an uncommon display of frustration. Nearby, Ratchet grunted in response. The medic was busy glaring at a diagnostic display above Slipstream's bed, as though daring the device to reveal some secret to him. The monitor remained resolutely unchanged, and before long Ratchet sighed too.
Three days had passed since the battle at the space-bridge. Slipstream had been brought in along with the other injured Autobots, near to dead and non-responsive. Ratchet had been able to fix most of the youth's damaged systems; electro-magnetic system-shock, chassis damage caused by blunt-force trauma, and a series of jarred internal servos being the worst of his physical problems. The strange thing was that Slipstream hadn't yet woken up.
"I hate to say it, Wheeljack," Ratchet said after a long pause, "but the lad is showing no sign of recovery. Every test I run on his higher mental functions comes back jumbled. It's like he's in a recharge-based dream state, but the signals are all coming back jumbled, and he's not recharging as such. I just don't understand it."
"He could be in a coma," came a small voice, from the direction of the door. The two mechs looked up in time to see Spike entering the med bay. The human youth had visited Slipstream every day since the Autobots had returned from their mission. Bumblebee wasn't usually too far behind. The pair had made friends with Slipstream almost immediately, and both had been showing up to show their support for their friend at least once a day. Bumblebee had even offered Ratchet the use of any parts he could spare, in an effort to get him repaired.
"A coma?" Ratchet mused, while getting a kind of far-away expression that told Spike the medic was either doing an internal memory check, or was scanning the internet for information. A second later, the white and red mech refocussed on the young human. "Not a bad analogy, actually," he replied. Spike smiled in return, then turned his attention to Slipstream.
"Do you think that you will be able to help him?" he asked.
"We'll do our best, Spike," Wheeljack said in his most reassuring voice, placing one hand around Spike's shoulders. It still surprised Spike that beings so large could be so gentle, as the massive gauntlet rested gently on him, instead of knocking him flat. After a few seconds, he turned to Wheeljack and Ratchet and asked another question that had been bothering him, one that had been everyone's mind for three days.
"Has anyone seen Optimus Prime?"
O o O o O
Optimus Prime stalked around his quarters, muttering quietly beneath his battle mask. He had barely been able to recharge properly for three days now, and it was starting to show. Every time he shut down his optics, all he could see was Megatron's leering features. In his waking hours, Prime had shut himself away from his colleagues. He had become convinced that they all blamed him for the disaster at the space bridge, and he couldn't blame them. After all, he blamed himself, so why shouldn't they?
After circling his room for what seemed to be the millionth time, Prime came to a halt. He had done everything he could to prepare for that fight. Hadn't he? They had outnumbered the enemy, he had been careful not to position his forces too close to the bridge. So where had it all gone wrong? It couldn't have, shouldn't have, but half of his colleagues, his friends, had spent at least five hours in the med-bay, undergoing repairs. And one of them was still there.
Why did he feel like this? The answer eluded him, dancing just out of reach any time he thought about it. He alternately wanted to cry from sheer grief, or else roar in abject rage. He had lost battles before, had lost more colleagues than he cared to recount, had been forced into more bloody retreats and violent stalemates than he could even recall. It hadn't affected him like this before. So why did he feel so bad, so very guilty?
It didn't make sense; nothing did any more. Prime felt a tight knot of anger forming in his chest, and lashed out at the nearest object, a desk that occupied a corner of his quarters. It gave easily beneath the weight of his fist, but refused to break totally. Prime just stood for a few seconds, staring at his blue and black plated fist, buried in the desk surface. What was happening to him? He had never felt like this, not even in his earlier life as Orion Pax... then the thought occurred that he had only just thought that same thing, and the realisation that he was going around in circles made Prime even angrier.
As his optics shifted focus, scanning around his quarters with no particular purpose in mind, Prime noticed his blaster laying discarded on his recharge bed. Slowly, the idea began to dawn on him that there was a way out of this hell. It would be so easy to end his pain. Just a simple squeeze of the trigger, and no-one would have to deal with his failure ever again...
The intercom by his door chimed, driving the thought away in an instant, replacing it with yet more annoyance, and an odd hollow feeling inside. He strode over to the door, and punched the comm button.
"What?" he snapped.
"Jazz here," came the timid reply. "You asked to be informed when the twins returned from their re-con mission. Well, sir, they're here."
O o O o O
Sunstreaker stood just inside the doorway to the Ark's med-bay, watching as Ratchet repaired his twin brother. Sideswipe had taken a bad hit, and needed his entire hood and front fender replaced, as well as a new front axle. The younger mech winced as the medic manoeuvred one of the replacement parts into place, and Sunstreaker tensed noticeably, as if ready to rush in and protect his little brother. Whilst he and Sideswipe could argue like the proverbial cat and dog when the mood took them, Sunstreaker was gonna be damned if anyone was going to hurt 'Swipe and get away with it, medic or not.
"Hey, man," came a familiar drawl from behind Sunstreaker. Warpath had been passing, and had decided to look in. Spotting Sideswipe's current condition, he had become intrigued. "What kind of ziinng kapow trouble did you two get into this time?"
"The Decepticon kind," Sunstreaker hissed, without moving his gaze from his twin. "What's it to you, Warpath?"
"No need to be zaang surly," Warpath returned, completely oblivious to the dangerous tone in Sunstreaker's voice; most would have taken the hint and left.
"Frak off, Warpath," was the only reply.
"Well, kraang, hey now..."
Sunstreaker turned to face Warpath, pulling himself up to his full height as he did so, squaring off against the tank. His optics flashed dangerously, turning nearly pure white as his combat programming cycled up to full capacity. The fact didn't escape Warpath's notice, and he tensed, ready for a fight.
"Frak. Off. I 'aint gonna say it again, Tread-head."
"That is enough!" Prime's voice cut easily through the air, causing both parties to back down instantly. The commander marched over to the arguing pair, towering over both mechs.
"Sunstreaker, your report please," Prime asked, lowering his voice to a more normal level. Warpath took this as his cue to make a discreet exit.
"It's just like we thought, sir," Sunstreaker offered, his voice keeping to a respectful tone as he watched Warpath leave in his peripheral vision. "The Decepticons are moving the space bridge. Unfortunately, the Constructicons are doing the job, and they saw me and 'Swipe off before we could find out where they were going. Also, we found out who the destroyed 'Con was. It was Ratbat."
"Good work," said Prime, turning away, sounding to Sunstreaker anything but happy. The bright yellow mech was about to ask his commander what was up, when a voice from the observation area of the med-bay interrupted him. The voice belonged to Wheeljack, and he sounded happy. Slipstream was awake.
Prime almost ran to the observation bay, quickly followed by Ratchet and the twins. Sure enough, Slipstream was sitting up, propping himself up with his arms to his sides and slightly behind him. He looked cheerful, but something in his bright blue optics spoke of the trauma he had endured. The young mech looked as though the experience had aged him, somehow.
"How do you feel, Slipstream?" Prime asked, relief flooding his voice.
"Tired, sir, which is odd considering I'm told I've been in recharge for nearly four days," Slipstream replied weakly. "Maybe it's because I had so many nightmares..."
"Well, I think that you should be able to return to light duties, once I've run a few more tests," Ratchet cut in. "Under observation, of course."
"Great," Slipstream replied, before grinning mischievously. "First things first, though, I need to eat. I sure am hungry!"
O o O o O
Sunstreaker had been chosen for night watch duty, and was sitting on a rock some distance above the entrance to the Ark. It was getting late, heading on for early morning. In the distance, a small patch of sky was starting to show as a faint patch of blue against the deep black. Sunstreaker checked his internal chronometer; his watch should have ended some twenty minutes previously. He was just entertaining the idea that he should call Ironhide and find out where he had got to, when he heard a noise behind him.
"Who's there?" he asked the night, instantly tense, whilst quietly reaching for his gun.
"You know who I am," came a whispered, sibilant reply. Sunstreaker could make out a shape moving nearby. Deep red optics showed up in the dark, accompanied by heavy footfalls. The shape stopped a few feet away from Sunstreaker.
"I am friend," came the whisper again, harsh against the stygian black of the night.
"Grimlock?" Sunstreaker replied, unsure, "I didn't expect to see you up here. I'm waiting for Ironhide. What can I do for you?" There was no reply.
"Well, if you came up here to say nothing, you can just get lost again," Sunstreaker finished, his usual aggression starting to show, whilst sitting back down on his rock. "I've got better things to do."
"Hungry," came the whisper again, after a pause of several seconds.
"What do you mean, hungry?" Sunstreaker asked, in no mood and too tired for Grimlock's games. "Grimlock, did you miss your energon ration or something?"
"No, just hungry," came the the reply, closer now.
"O-kaay," Sunstreaker said dryly. "Now can you get lost?"
"One question," came the whisper.
"Shoot," said Sunstreaker, shrugging to himself.
"Who is Grimlock?"
O o O o O
Sideswipe stood over the unconscious form of his brother, his eyes closed. He had been that way for nearly an hour, simply standing there and holding Sunstreaker's hand. He was shaking gently, either with grief or fury, Optimus Prime couldn't tell. Never having had a sibling, let alone a twin, Prime often had trouble understanding the relationship the two mechs shared. Either way, he mused, Primus help whoever was responsible for the attack. If Sideswipe finds them, only Primus will be ABLE to help them.
Prime turned to Wheeljack, who was busy running through the preliminary results of a battery of tests that he had run on Sunstreaker. Ironhide had found the yellow mech at the change of night watch, and had immediately called for help. The veteran warrior had blamed himself for Sunstreaker's state, as he had been half an hour late for the changeover. Bizarrely, Sunstreaker had shown no obvious signs of injury.
At least, not at first. Shortly after Ratchet and Wheeljack had begun checking him over, they had found two small puncture marks in one of his primary power cables, halfway down his neck. They were bite marks, that much was clear. He had been almost completely drained of energon, and as a result had shut down and gone into stasis lock. Ratchet had immediately put him on an energon feed, but they were having trouble getting the charge to stick. Something seemed to have disrupted his power cells. In short, Sunstreaker was lucky to be alive. Wheeljack looked up at Prime, a look of confusion written across his features. Prime knew what his friend was going to say before he even spoke.
"I'm sorry, Prime," the science officer said. "I can't explain it. I've never seen anything like it, and neither has Teletran-One."
"What could have caused this?", asked Prime, looking from the scientist to Sunstreaker. He had to admit, he didn't think he had ever seen the yellow warrior look so peaceful.
"Well, the bite marks are similar to something Ravage would leave behind, but as for the energon drain," he shrugged, "that's a different matter."
"Best guess, then," Prime pressed.
"This is something new. Something we haven't seen before. It's not friendly, it's probably Decepticon, and by now it could be anywhere in the base. I think it's safe to say we have an intruder."
"Prime," muttered the Autobot leader under his breath. "That's just prime..."
Author's Notes: First, the disclaimer for this story. I do not own Transformers, Hasbro do. I also do not own Bram Stoker's Dracula. Sunchaser, Pitstop, Axcell, Waverider and Slipstream are mine.
No, you aren't seeing things... this is a re-post of the original Slipstream Chronicles series. It's going to be going up as a multi-chapter fic, and with some added material that got dropped from the original cut, in the form of two deleted scenes. Throw in some wording changes and a general clean-up, and you get this: Slipstream: Chronicles, the Director's Cut!
Please review, any and all feedback is welcome. Chapters two to five coming soon.