It was intolerably hot. All around him stretched endless desert, baking under a merciless sun. The ground was cracked and splintered, interrupted only by sparse shrubs or irregular rock formations. Heat rippled on the horizon, creating silver pools of light and warping the landscape. He had not realized how desolate the empty desert was until he was forced to walk upon it, leaving a steady plume of dust behind him. It was lifeless, limitless, and maddeningly repetitive.
Blackout carried on, keeping a steady course that would likely end at the base of the nearest mountain range. Once he made it that far, he thought, he could turn around and strike out another path. He was not optimistic he would find Scorponok with that sort of approach, but it was better than nothing. His radio was fried, along with more than half of his navigational and communications systems. Very little remained that functioned completely, besides basic life support and motor functions.
After washing up on the shore, Blackout had pulled himself together and assessed the damage. His rotor blades were broken down to nubs, the rotor mount itself split beyond use. He had no idea where his tail fin had gotten off to, and his guns looked like they'd been blown off. Most of his armor was riddled with bullet holes, many of them not healing as quickly as they should. The Pave Low assumed he must have been in one hell of a fight; he just wished he could remember it.
He couldn't recall how he'd wound up in the water, either. His injuries were too severe for him to have been simply shot out of the sky. The last thing he remembered had been his search for Scorponok in Qatar, and he hadn't been anywhere near the Persian Gulf. Unsure of what had interrupted him, he decided to continue that particular mission. The progress of the other Decepticons sat in the back of his mind, and he wondered if they had discovered anything. Barricade and Frenzy had been making considerable headway, picking up where his hack attempt had failed.
With no possible way of contacting them, he wandered the desert, waiting for his self repair system to get his radio running again. The Pave Low wasn't doing himself any favors by plodding through the harsh elements of this planet, but he could not stand to be idle. Scorponok had been injured, and he wasn't one to leave his drone to suffer. Given the scorpions sensitive long range scanners, it would no doubt detect him before he knew he was close to it. So thinking, Blackout made no effort to conceal himself, walking deeper into the Arabian Peninsula's arid interior.
The desert stretched on; what he thought had been a mountain range was only the intense light bending the landscape. With his navigation system down, he could not triangulate his position. The satellite images of the area he had been in were next to useless. From ground level, he could make out no distinguishing features of the landscape. Idly, he wondered why this environment pleased his symbiote so much. Perhaps there was something under the sand and dirt that only it could enjoy, and no one else.
The sun began to slide towards the horizon, which was no longer a straight, fixed line. Night, he discovered, came swiftly in the desert. The explosive orange sunset was swallowed by deep purple, sinking into a midnight black interrupted only by the stars. Last night, he had tried using the position of the stars to map his position, but his charts came up blank or gave him conflicting input. Assuming those files were glitched, he went back to his original wander-until-something-happens strategy.
The Pave Low slowed his pace when the red landscape turned grey, mindful of his damaged optical sensors. The natural illusions of the desert confused him enough, but his night vision had suffered in whatever battle he'd been in. While the desert went for miles without so much as a unique rock, Blackout was leery about traversing it at night. The last thing he needed was to fall off a cliff he hadn't seen because of the heat waves in the daylight.
The sun was gone now, the only light above him from the stars, as vast and limitless as the desert beneath his feet. The temperature dropped just low enough to be uncomfortable, but not life threatening. Blackout walked for only a few more hours, occasionally looking up and trying to find the moon. It bothered him that he could not find even the shadow of the satellite. Sitting down on the dusty ground, Blackout let most of his systems power down, needing to recharge and recuperate. There was no lack of solar energy for him to absorb out here, but he still required downtime.
He would be ready to continue before sunrise. The desert would be waiting.
It was hotter than it had been the day before. He had no functioning thermostat to verify that claim, but it certainly felt like it. His armor was rated for temperatures far beyond what the surface of Earth had to offer, but that didn't mean it didn't bother the Pave Low. There was never any relief until sundown; no clouds came to break the monotony of the bright sky. He expected it to be a lot bluer, given the lack of interference from the atmosphere. Instead, it was closer to pure white, so brilliant that the sun was lost in it.
Blackout walked until well past midday, slowing his pace again when he wandered into an area with more vegetation. An oasis, he thought. These would be a sight to bring endless joy to a thirsty, parched human. It offered him no hope at all; the foliage was too short to provide him any shelter, and water was useless for his needs. The smell of the air changed, at least, heavy with fragrant flowers and damp from a nearby watering hole.
The Pave Low cared nothing for it. He would not find Scorponok here, as the ground was not good for burrowing. Picking his way through short trees, he plucked a branch off of one simply give himself something to do. He studied the leaves as he walked, satisfied that at least his scanner worked correctly. The glaucous leaves were thick, and he imagined they were capable of holding a great deal of moisture. For reasons he could not fathom, his data banks brought up an exact match of the species of that particular plant: Eucalyptus tetragona.
Smashing the branch into pulp, Blackout discarded it. Something would find it and eat it, benefitting from his wasteful curiosity. Despite being inferior, it intrigued him how organic life survived in such harsh conditions. It seemed that all it needed was a drop of water, and it would find a way to grow. There were so many different variants –
Blackout stopped dead, looking down at the foliage surrounding him. Eucalyptus tetragona. That wasn't right. No eucalyptus trees grew in Qatar. At least, not out in the wild like this. The unending desert suddenly made him feel claustrophobic, as though it were closing in on him as he looked out across it. The landscape was foreign and unfamiliar because it wasn't the Middle East. The terrible realization nearly made him sick: he was on the wrong continent.
He was on the wrong side of the world, and he had no memory as to how he might have gotten here. The Pave Low fought down panic, knowing his systems would repair themselves in due time. It was better to be lost out here, though, wasn't it? There were no Autobots or humans or Starscream to take advantage of him in this condition. Try as he might, rationalizing the situation did not make him feel better about it. He had been walking for three days into one of the harshest, most unforgiving environments this planet had to offer.
The sound of splintering Eucalyptus trees filled the air, the Pave Low stumbling through the foliage in order to head back the way he'd come. If he could find the coastline again, and stick to that, he would know where to go from there. He wasn't going to rust in the desolate interior of Australia, waiting for his repairs to be complete. Scorponok would not be here, so there was no wisdom in staying on this particular slab or rock. The Pave Low halted when he reached the end of the vegetation, feeling his spark skip a beat when he did not see his own tracks.
How was that possible? He'd just been through here. There wasn't even the telltale trail of dust that he left behind him, just endless scorched red dirt. He must have come out at a different angle, which would explain the lack of foot prints. Blackout turned to the right, skirting around the edge of the trees to find his original path. It must be close, it had to be close -
Half crazed by heat and panic, Blackout did not realize he had stumbled upon human civilization until he walked right into their camp. Pain flared across his sensors, dulling when he pulled his foot out of the smoldering fire pit he had stepped in. He scraped his armor across the dirt to cool it, ceasing when he realized that he was not alone. He looked down at the assembled humans, who stared back up at him impassively.
Though their skin was dark, they were not at all like the indigenous inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula. They were almost entirely naked, the children dressed with leaves and plumage from local avian species. None of them seemed the least bit concerned that a giant alien robot had just crushed their fire. The way they were looking at him made him feel like he'd interrupted something.
"Whitefella send you?"
Blackout looked down, noticing a skinny, malnourished human male glaring up at him. Like the others, very little covered his bony frame, but he stood apart from the others, representing them. He recalled something about patriarchal cultures, yet he counted more females then males.
"What?" Blackout finally responded. His processor must be really fried if he thought these primitive humans were communicating with him. The panic he had been feeling before subsided to confusion and vague curiosity.
"You," the skinny man said, jabbing a bony finger in his direction. "Come far away. From whitefella city?"
Blackout stared down at the man, dumbfounded. Did these people really think things like him were common in modern cities?
"No," the Pave Low responded. That was the simplest course of action, wasn't it? He should just move on, and forget this little incident. There were more pressing matters than anthropological pursuits.
"Hmmm," the bony creature pursed his cracked lips, nodding his head a few times. "You color of blackfella. Act like whitefella. Come far away."
"Sure," said Blackout, taking his time to look around the rest of the area. He had seen no sign of this encampment when he'd arrived, so he must have chosen the wrong direction. Given his faulty compass and the sun hiding in plain sight, he figured these mammals must have some idea where they were. "I'm lost. Which way is North?"
One of the women laughed, not at all cowed when Blackout looked directly at her. She turned and whispered something to another older woman, who nodded and smiled up at the Pave Low. It was fascinating that this backwater tribe did not flee and run in terror. On the other hand, it was maddening that they were laughing at him for asking for directions.
"I'm lost," Blackout repeated. They had understood him before, hadn't they? "Which way –"
"You not go North," the old man interrupted him, licking his dry lips and then clapping his hands together. "North not the way! Songline go in different direction."
Blackout realized he was wasting his time here. This little episode had helped calm him down and distract him, but it was not going to improve anything. He would find his tracks, and head back the way he came. Perhaps by then his compass would be in working order, or the sun would reveal itself with the evening. He turned to leave, already putting the words of the humans out his mind.
"Songline very long," the woman spoke up, nodding her head as if it was the gravest news to deliver. "Songline come from out of sky! Far, far away!"
Blackout stopped in mid step, looking down at the skinny humans once again. From out of the sky? Did these humans actually know that he was an alien to them, or was it a mistranslated euphemism? Did they understand what it meant, life on another planet when they knew nothing of the world outside their desert? He doubted they had ever seen a helicopter, let alone something like him walking all over their campfire. Noticing they had his attention, the old man stepped forward again.
"You come out of sky," the man brought his hands up, then brought them slowly down as if to mimic Blackout's decent. Suddenly, he brought his hands together in a loud clap, saying: "BAM! Great fire! You hear song like we do. You follow song. Soon, no more fire. No more song."
"What song?" Blackout asked, at the same time wondering what the 'songline' itself could be. In the context they were using, it sounded like they were talking about a path.
"Powerful songline," the older woman spoke this time, pausing to clear her throat with a loud cough. She said nothing else, only nodding as gravely as the first female had.
"Women's songline stronger," the man said, as if that clarified the previous statement. "You sound like man, but have woman songline. Look like blackfella, talk like whitefella."
"Not woman," another one of the other, younger females spoke up, sounding a bit defensive.
"Not man," the elder male said, pointing between Blackout's legs with a toothless grin. The female did not seem convinced, but fell silent, sulking behind the older women. Blackout felt his interest waning as they discussed his extremities, once again wondering if he was wasting his time. Noticing his wandering attention, the skinny mammal clapped his hands together again.
"What?" Blackout looked down at him, obviously annoyed.
"We go walkabout!" the old man suddenly declared, throwing his hands up in the air. Blackout jerked in surprise, not expecting the sudden flurry of motion that declaration provoked in the other tribe members. While they put out fires and gathered their sparse belongings, the old male grinned up at Blackout. "We go back to the beginning. Follow songline. You find yourself."
Blackout didn't understand the half of what the fleshbag said, except for the part about going back to the beginning. With any luck, it was the same beginning that he was looking for: the ocean. He had nothing else to lose at this point in time, now did he?
Blackout walked downwind of the tribe, setting a pace that kept him in line with their numbers. Staying with them meant he was forced to slow down, but it also meant less strain on his already taxed systems. He would need to stop and recharge soon, but he had the feeling these humans would not halt until they found shelter again. It did not seem likely they would come to another watering hole like the one he'd found. That had been the only one of substantial size since he'd started walking through the outback three days ago.
Some of the women sang as they walked, while the others minded the children or carried them. When they were not speaking to him, they slipped back into their native tongue. Even if his systems weren't damaged, he didn't think he would be able to translate what they were singing. The tone and dialect were unlike anything he had heard before, even from what he'd downloaded off the internet.
The Pave Low obsessively checked the status of his self repair programs, waiting for the blissful moment either his radio or navigation systems came back up. He was at the mercy of these humans now, trusting them to lead him to someplace of importance. Whatever path they claimed to follow was not unlike his wanderings; they weaved and changed direction with surprising frequency. If there were a method to reaching their destination, Blackout could not see it.
The tribe did not rest until the sky began to darken ever so slightly. Blackout barely made out that the sun had sunk so low, but it was beginning to stand out against the deepening blue. He realized that they had been heading east, which was close to where he wanted to wind up. That would eventually take him to the coastline he'd washed up on, and he could track north to find his original arrival site. Finally, the group of humans brought him over a rocky ledge, which hid from sight another teeming watering hole.
Blackout could hardly believe it. How could these humans know where to go without the aid of any roads or mile markers? He knew they had not gone in a straight line, and they had come to this ledge specifically. The Pave Low watched them go about building another temporary encampment, squatting down nearby to stay out of their way. Several of the women stacked dry brush into a pile, laughing and joking between them. Others began foraging though the trees, coming back with armfuls of roots, berries, and squirming insects.
Despite having a giant alien lurking over them, their demeanor was relaxed and jubilant. An animated argument broke out over the pile of sticks, and Blackout watched those women. There was apparently a problem with getting the fire started, each of them blaming the other for some slight transgression. Even if he couldn't understand their words, the way they were behaving gave them away. Keeping low to the ground, Blackout shuffled over to the would-be campfire, all of the women falling silent at his approach.
Lifting one hand, Blackout snapped two of his fingers together, bare metal creating sparks. The women instantly ohhhed at the display, excitement playing across their faces. The oldest of the group motioned him closer to the brush pile, and Blackout ground his digits together again. The dry kindling went up in flames in seconds, and the Pave Low leaned back on his heels as the females danced and hooted. With that taken care of, he assumed the humans would quiet down and prepare to rest for the night. Once they had settled, he would recharge as well.
He was surprised when it became apparent these natives had no intention of settling down. They feasted on the food gathered at that watering hole, some of them singing or dancing. The younger females began painting themselves and each other, using brushes made from animal hair and bird feathers. Two of the women approached Blackout, smiling up at him while presenting their own paint brushes. He stared down at them blankly, before realizing they wanted to paint him.
If he refused, what could possibly happen? Perhaps they would ignore him, or finally realize he truly had nothing to do with their misbegotten species. Still, at this point in time he saw little reason to deny the bony fleshlings. He would take advantage of their misplaced hospitality until his systems were back in working order. Shifting his weight, the Pave Low sat down on the ground properly, crossing his legs like the other males had done.
The women set to work immediately, not at all deterred by his alien exoskeleton. They focused on the broad parts of his armor, making wide strokes or dotting as they went. He let his senses power down, napping lightly as the women worked. The Pave Low jerked when one of the females climbed up in his lap, but relaxed when she started to detail his chest armor. Was there any fear in these people at all? He supposed if his weapons were functional, he would easily teach them the very essence of terror.
The sun was on the edge of the horizon now, darkness pushed back by the blazing fire he had started. The skinny elder male came over to them, having had his fill of water and grubs. He scrutinized the work of the women, pursing his lips together and nodding occasionally.
"Emu is our ancestor," the elder said suddenly. "We follow his songline. You must follow your ancestor's songline."
Blackout did not know how to explain to them that he had no ancestors. Cybertronians did not pass through generations like organic species did. They were eternal, fixed and forever moving forward. How could he have a songline to follow if there was no one else in front of him? The women began humming as they painted, pausing only to refresh the paint on their brushes.
"Emu is our ancestor," the elder said again, pointing towards a scribbled shape on his body. Blackout's memory files suddenly recalled what an emu was, and the Pave Low wondered how these people thought they were descended from a flightless bird. The more he thought about it, however, the clearer it became. These people lived with the land, not on it. They were a part of nature just as much as the emu, or any other creature on this forsaken rock.
Realizing they were waiting for him to tell them what his ancestor animal was, Blackout carefully reached out to pick up a large enough stick. He moved slowly so as to not disturb the females, and began tracing in the sand. It was crude, no more accurate or detailed than what these people created with their paint brushes. As he drew, the rest of the tribe gathered around, and the women painting him stopped to watch what he was doing. When he was done, the natives stared down at it almost reverently.
"It's an arachnid," Blackout attempted to explain. The elder male shook his head, not understanding the word. "A scorpion."
There was a collective gasp of understanding, and several of the humans moved to preserve the drawing in the dirt. They surrounded it with sticks and rocks, singing in their incomprehensible tongue. The two females that had been painting him continued their work, except now he noticed they had changed to a new design. Copies of the scorpion he had drawn began to appear all over his armor, every detail painstakingly recreated. The Pave Low ached to be reunited with his drone, hoping Scorponok was faring better than he was. If anything happened to it while he was stuck out here, he would make those responsible for its death pay tenfold.
Letting his mind wander again, Blackout listed to the side, unaware of the women giggling at him. He watched the natives move about, not really paying attention to particular details. Taking a passive, observant role worked fine for him, so long as this paint washed off before he regrouped with the other Decepticons. The males fueled the fire with more sticks and brush, embers bursting in the air. Blackout thought of Cybertron burning, and that weighed on his mind for the remainder of the night.
They were moving across the empty desert again, following paths and trail markers that the Pave Low could not see. The sun baked the paint onto his frame, the edges already chipping or peeling. The women saw this and shook their heads, talking between themselves about it in their native tongue. He did not have skin to absorb the colorful pigments, and he guessed they would want to repaint him. Miles and miles away dark, ugly clouds loomed over the land. It was the first sign of precipitation Blackout had seen since arriving in Australia, and he knew why it was not entirely welcome. Rainfall was one thing; torrential downpours would be fatal out here.
The storm was so far off that none of the humans appeared too concerned about its presence. They appeared to be travelling parallel with the system, but occasionally the elders would point and speak about it. A sense of urgency seemed to have fallen over the group, and they increased their pace to whatever the next destination might be. Sometime in the early afternoon, the elder male stopped them. Blackout remained the outskirts of the tribe, but the skinny old man walked over to him.
"Emu stop here," he said, pointing towards a pathetic pile of rocks and sparse shrubs. "Sing these rocks and plants into being. You see?"
Blackout nodded, even though he most certainly did not see. If a songline was simply a translation of the word 'path', then he assumed they were following the way their ancestor walked. They clearly thought the animals came before them, leading the way and bringing life to otherwise uninhabitable places. Little by little their archaic way of life became clearer, though it brought him no closer to his goal. These people needed only to survive to the next day; they knew nothing of immortal life as he experienced it.
"You not see," the old man said with that gaping grin. "Too much like whitefella. You see soon enough."
The tribe did not linger long, taking time only to thank their avian forebear with song and dance. As they continued on, the wind picked up, and Blackout imagined those threatening clouds had suddenly gotten closer. Sometimes, he thought he could hear the distant rumble of thunder. It was much nearer to sundown by the time they arrived at the next watering hole, which he had learned was called a billabong by the natives. This one was much smaller, mostly evaporated and occupied with half dead Eucalyptus trees. Despite this, the natives collected more than enough food to tide them over.
Blackout took his usual squatting position near the edge of their encampment, watching and allowing his systems to recoup at the same time. He spread his rotor blades, glad to see they were healing well, at least. By now, they were a quarter of their original length, which was better than nothing. The women would want to extend the paint down the new metal, he thought. Although the brushes tickled the sensitive appendages, the Pave Low did not mind it.
There was no singing or dancing tonight. The humans observed their normal rituals, but did so quietly and unobtrusively. He wondered what warranted the change, guessing that even the distant weather could affect their routine. Blackout pulled his blades closer to his body, feeling the temperature drop faster than normal. It was remarkable how cold it got in the outback when the sun was not searing the landscape. Seeing as he was being ignored by the humans, he started to power down his higher functions. He dozed lightly for several hours, stirring every so often to see what the tribe was doing.
Something tapped the armor of his rotor mount, instantly bringing him out of his recharge cycle. He felt it again on his arm, followed with a soft tink of water hitting metal. Several more drops hit him, smearing the paint as it ran down towards the ground. Blackout lamented the loss of the artwork, though at the moment he was more concerned with the coming rainfall. There was no shelter out here for him, and he did not look forward to sitting out in the rain all night.
The air was charged with apprehension as the tribe moved to protect their fire and prepare for the storm. Lightning lanced over head, illuminating the desolate landscape for a fraction of a second. Thunder chased on its heels, rattling his chassis it was so loud and so close. He could feel the electricity in the atmosphere, considered moving away from the natives. It wouldn't do them any good to be standing next to a giant lightning rod, after all.
The rain started to come down harder, and there was another flash of lightning, thunder lumbering after it once again. When the thunder did not eventually fade, Blackout straightened up, suddenly feeling tense. He made to stand, caught halfway up when one of the women screamed. The Pave Low was knocked off his feet as the thunder arrived as a rushing wall of water, swallowing the campfire and the screaming female and everyone else with it.
Blackout lost all sense of direction as the flood pulled him under, strong enough to drag even his bulk with it. Scrabbling for purchase, he grabbed hold of a Eucalyptus tree, but the roots were too shallow, the tree too frail, and he slide across the open ground. The Pave Low fought and lost to overcome the violent torrent, striking his head on something hard and unyielding. Through the water, he could see three shapes, unmistakably Cybertronian. He tried to call to them, choking on the liquid as it sought to suffocate him.
The Pave Low tried to lunge towards them. They were so close; surely they could pull him out of this! Confusion tugged at his processors, questioning the presence of the other Decepticons at a time like this. He realized that they were sinking, just like he was. They were all sinking towards the freezing depths. Brawl was sinking, Bonecrusher was sinking, even Megatr-
Blackout rebooted with a start, intakes sucking in air reflexively. Once his systems realized he was no longer under water, he pushed himself upright. Moving to a sitting position, the Pave Low looked around, assessing the situation. Above, the sun glared down at him, hanging in the sky as if there had never been any storm clouds. In fact, there was no sign whatsoever that there had been a storm. The ground was bone dry, already cracking under the intense heat. There was nothing in sight for miles.
There was no sign of the tribe he had been travelling with. Had they all perished, swept away by the flash flood? The men, the women, and the children, all wiped out by one single act of nature? He could not even see the decrepit watering hole or any uprooted trees. Had he been pulled that far away, or had he imagined the entire thing? Perhaps the heat had caused him to hallucinate the tribe, the evidence of his encounter washed away with one storm.
Blackout looked down at his armor, expecting to find nothing but partially healed bullet holes. Instead, there were faded traces of colorful paint, some of it surviving the flood. In fact, the only patterns that made it out entirely unscathed were the scorpions. The black paint stood out in shock relief against his grey armor, outlined with the surviving colors. Blackout shifted his gaze out towards the desert again, and he knew what he had lost.
Megatron was dead. He knew that now. The Allspark was lost entirely, and not just to the Autobots. It was gone, Prime's genocidal master plan having come to fruition. All alone in the desert, the Pave Low could not find the will to stand, or even to carry on. He had been sinking with Brawl and Bonecrusher, both of them as empty and lifeless as the world he was stranded in. He did not know what had become of Barricade after his ill fated battle on the expressway. He did not know where Starscream had gone, or whether he would even come back.
There was nothing left on this planet that was important enough for any of them to come back. The Autobots may flock and regroup here, which rendered him as good as dead. He had absolutely nothing left. For a moment, he wished his memory files had remained corrupted, so he would not remember what he'd lost.
No – there was something. One thing, and one thing only. The scorpions painted all over his chassis were proof enough of that. If Frenzy's virus had left the human military crippled, there was still time to find and retrieve Scorponok. Having lost his entire future, the Pave Low would have to take it one step at a time. He would find his drone. After that, he really didn't know what he'd do. Finding that small purpose, Blackout rose to his feet, latching onto whatever motivation he could.
His compass still did not work, and he found that several repair systems had suffered setbacks after getting caught up in the flood. His guides had been swept away with the storm, and the sun blended into the bleached sky once again. Frustration mounting, Blackout started walking in the direction he had been facing. He ought to be more tolerant of delays by now, planning on changing his path when the sun was less elusive. Even his shadow remained stubbornly under his feet, regardless of the passage of time.
The Pave Low found himself right back at the start of his journey: lost, directionless, and half crazed.
"I think you're going in circles," Bonecrusher said, looking up at the open sky.
"I'm not going in circles," Blackout responded defensively. "It would be very hard to go in circles out here."
"I swear we've passed that rock before," the mine sweeper said, pointing at a nondescript hunk of dirt. The Pave Low was not convinced.
"All the rocks look the same out here," he said, wishing Bonecrusher would shut up and leave him alone.
"I hate being lost," Bonecrusher commented dryly. "What do you think is going to happen without the Allspark?"
"I don't want to think about it," the Pave Low said lowly, almost growling. It was hard enough trying to get through one solar cycle without collapsing from overheating.
"Suit yourself," Bonecrusher shrugged. They continued on in silence for some time, before Blackout realized that the mine sweeper should be several miles underwater.
When he turned to ask the Buffalo about it, there was nothing there but arid soil and wilting plants.
Blackout could no longer see the horizon. The sky was sheer, brilliant white, reflecting the ground bellow it. He did not know if his optics had begun malfunctioning, or if the land and sky were truly indistinguishable. There were still ripples of heat, cracks in the dirt and boulders jutting out of the ground, but it still all bleed together. The Pave Low stumbled with disturbing frequency, motor functions failing when they should be healing.
He was going to die out here.
The horizon was blood red, spilling across the rest of the landscape and staining it a deep maroon. Blackout could not recharge. Not with Megatron staring at him. He wished the tyrant would do something besides stare, but he was terrified of what he might have to say. So Blackout looked at the ground, avoiding the penetrating stare of his Lord.
He wished he would die out here.
"…weak, cowardly, spineless, slag-eating glitch," the mutterings did not go unnoticed by the half mad, ambling Pave Low. "I always thought you were useless. How many times did you stand up to Starscream, only to get slapped back into your place?"
"Shut up," Blackout said weakly. Brawl only snorted.
"There's no fight left in you," the tank growled, invading Blackout's personal space by hovering right in his peripheral vision. "You always talked big, and your weapons were powerful, but you always lost! You were never strong enough to take control. What did Megatron ever see in you, anyways?"
"Since when do you talk so much?" Blackout demanded, ignoring Brawl's own question.
"I talk plenty," Brawl snapped back. "You just never listened."
Blackout grunted in disdain, trying to ignore the tank that was dogging his every step. There was blessed silence for all of thirty seconds.
"Have you figured it out yet?" Brawl asked, backing off enough that the Pave Low's proximity sensors calmed down.
"Figured what out?" Blackout dared to ask, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.
"You're right on top of it, you oversized whirligig," Brawl actually laughed, and Blackout snarled at him, trying to increase his pace to escape the tank. "I can't believe you can't see it."
Blackout suddenly staggered, rotor blades flaring as Brawl rammed into his back. The Pave Low lost his footing completely, pitching forward and hitting the ground hard enough to rattle his armor. He pulled his blades back to his body, waiting for the tank to strike again. When nothing came, he looked up, seeing that he was alone. Blackout came to the staggering conclusion that he didn't like being insane. Deciding that now was as good a time as any to rest, he remained on the ground, staring at the dusty rock beneath him.
He started when something incredibly small moved out from under the rocks, disturbed by his fall. A sandy colored scorpion pulled itself out of the ground, then quickly scuttled away from him. He watched it curiously, going so far as to crawl after it when it got too far away. Sensing it was being followed, the tiny arachnid picked up the pace, scurrying for shelter before something terrible happened to it. Blackout stopped in surprise when the creature disappeared in the roots of a lone tree.
The Pave Low stared at the vegetation, the only plant he had seen for miles that was still alive. He did not have the exact species on file, but what it was did not concern him. It was oddly shaped, bent by the wind and the sun, every single branch and twig bowing in one direction. Blackout looked out over it, following the way that the branches pointed, suddenly feeling an inescapable tug.
He knew without a shadow of doubt that he needed to go that way.
Blackout lost track of how many days it had been since he'd washed up on the Australian shore line. None of his communications systems had come online, though smaller, unimportant programs restarted. Blackout had very little sense of time and distance, and he thought of the natives of this continent. They navigated this wasteland with ease, listening to every stone and tracing every footstep of the wildlife. It didn't seem fair that such a primitive species could exist out here, and he was reduced to a shambling, heat-crazed mess.
The Pave Low had hoped to learn how they found their path during his time with them, but the flash flood had erased that eventuality. For awhile, he had been left guessing, and had given up trying in favor of wandering aimlessly. The sunrise and the sunset had been the only direction markers he had, but he often wound up off course well before evening. Now, though many trail and error attempts, he understood their methods. The natives he had travelled with looked for signs of the Emu, finding the clues it left and tracing its path. They were not obvious because the clues were frequently highly abstract, sometimes very well hidden.
The first marker had been the shrub, pointing him in the correct direction. The second marker had been the scorpion nest living in a pile of jagged rocks, all of them sticking towards the northeast. After that, he found the clues to be much harder to read, and he had to stop and stare at the landscape for hours before figuring it out. One particular billabong was so obviously shaped like an arachnid Blackout assumed he was hallucinating again. When the illusion did not fade, he followed the way the brush-scorpion's stinger pointed.
They were songlines. Paths. Roads. The native ancestors, birds or not, plotted them at the beginning of time. What he followed was the path of the Scorpion, whose history he did not know. Perhaps it did not matter, because he did not know a great deal of his own history, those records having burned with the Cybertronian libraries during the war. All that was left to them, all of them, were half charted paths that often led to nowhere. Just like what was left of Cybertron, the songlines here were in no way permanent. The flash flood had proven that the landscape was ever changing, an entire grove of Eucalyptus trees washed away in moments.
Despite the disorienting nature of their respective paths, both the humans and the Cybertronians continued on. They made new roads, invented new stories, and sung new songs. He thought back on what he had learned from listening to the elders speak, the meaning behind their words slowly unraveling to expose the truth. Their ancestors sang themselves into being, they sang their path along with them, and sung life into the trees, the water, and the rocks. The natives, in turn, sang praises to the moon, the stars, the sun, and all the creatures of the desert as a reminder of what once was.
At first, Blackout could see no relation between their cultures whatsoever. But there was a song. The same one that all Cybertronians heard, humming in their fuel lines and beating with their sparks. The greater the distance, the quieter the song, so it was not surprising, then, that he had forgotten it. The Allspark sang to all of them, a beat only their souls could hear, providing and sustaining life. Was it possible, then, that these humans could hear that? That they were so in tune with the Earth itself, they could feel pure energy thrumming from thousands of miles away?
Had the Allspark influenced how the human race evolved, or did it simply nudge the ancient cultures to listen to it? When he had first run into them, the elder male had said no more fire, no more song. Could they have possibly known the moment the Allspark was lost, heard it sing its last song? And yet they could still follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, despite the cataclysmic loss. There were still whispers in the back of his mind, and logic reminded him that energy could not be destroyed.
Even without physical form, the Allspark still existed. He could feel it deep within the core of his spark, instilling life and hope anew -
"Keep walking," he said to himself, though the sound did not come from his vocalizer. "If you don't keep walking, you'll fail for the last time."
It was a heat-induced mirage, he thought. There was no other way to explain the fact that he was staring at himself, seeing the full extent of his injuries. Before him stood a broken down, battered Decepticon, missing a great deal of his armor and covered in crude paintings. His rotor blades were half grown back, but most everything else was still full of holes or blackened from battle wounds. He almost, almost laughed at what he saw, until he remembered what else the bony mammal had said to him.
We go walkabout, he had announced. We go back to the beginning. Follow songline. You find yourself.
And he had found himself. But was he back at the beginning?
"If you'd only keep walking," he said to himself, turning slightly to look over his own shoulder. "You'll know where you are."
Blackout felt tired, but compelled to continue on. He planned on stopping in several hours anyways, so what would a few more miles hurt? The Pave Low plodded eastwards, sometimes thinking he could see the horizon through the rippling heat. Even the sun came out, blazing yellow against the bleached white sky. One or two clouds drifted by, and the Pave Low imagined that the sky was turning bluer. He was not ruling out the possibility of another optical malfunction, or even his own crazed processor playing tricks on him. He walked for three more hours, his only company a few more sparse clouds.
A fresh breeze picked up, his sensor instantly filtering and analyzing the new scents and particulates. There was the smell of water, but it was salty, and not fragrant like the billabong ponds. The wind brought with it the sound of rustling leaves, and Blackout increased his pace, systems on high alert. All at once, the heat waves vanished, and the oppressive white expanse of desert gave way to thick foliage, all swaying to the ocean winds. These trees were taller, more lush, and teeming with the life of dozens of avian species, reptiles and insects.
The Pave Low rushed through the trees, uncaring of the wildlife that he disturbed. He came within a few hundred yards of the ocean, before his overheated and taxed systems started to shutdown in protest. It seemed so far away, and he felt it would take years to reach that vast body of blue water. Blackout slowed his pace, feet sinking into the looser beach sand. He stared at the water, willing it closer, finally coming to a stop when it didn't comply. The exact moment he stopped, ocean water exploded around a flash of golden armor, and Blackout's processor nearly shut down in shock.
It was impossible, but there was Scorponok, shaking salt water off itself and chirring in pleasure at the sight of its master. Their connection flared to life, and Blackout reeled under the onslaught of sensory output. The scorpion was real and alive and it was right here. Blackout did not realize he was falling until he hit the sand face first, his entire frame collapsing under the strain. He heard and felt Scorponok scurry over to him, sand spraying in every direction. It pinged him in worry, but he could not respond, consciousness already slipping away to nothingness.
When Blackout rebooted some time later, there was a familiar weight resting on his back. The drone was not in its cache, but it had curled up on top of him, protecting its master from the likes of seagulls and water snakes. Feeling the helicopter stir beneath it, Scorponok slid off his back, running around to greet him face to face. Blackout said nothing, instead bringing up one hand and placing it on the scorpions head. The drone moved closer, optic shields dropping as the Pave Low stroked its armor.
The scorpion had come a long, long way to reach him. Despite how well he knew it, he still marveled at its resilience and fierce will. It reminded him that even after losing everything, he still had to move forward. The salty breeze from the ocean was refreshing, and he would be content to stay here until he was fully repaired. Scorponok's broken tail was already mending itself, though it was clearly hurting as much as he was.
Blackout pushed himself into a sitting position, draping his arms over his drone as it crawled into his lap. He would wait until they were both fully healed before trying to contact anyone. If his signal attracted the wrong sort of attention, he wanted to be able to defend himself. Whether or not the war was over, he would find a new purpose. Perhaps it would be revenge, or may be something entirely different. Only time would tell. For now, he would watch the blue sky melt into the blue water, waves crashing at his feet without a worry about tomorrow.
Endless static, crackling for hours over ignored radio waves. He waited, listening to the white noise, waiting for the slightest change.
Six hours later, static burst into life.
"…Blackout? Is that you?"
"I was beginning to think no one was going to answer."
"I watched them haul your carcass out over the ocean. You-"
"It's a long story, Barricade. Where are you?"
"Still stateside. Starscream left me here to spy on the humans. I really thought you were dead. Are any of the others…?"
"It's just me and Scorponok."
"Oh. Blackout, you should know… the Allspark –"
"Alright. Alright, I'm sending my coordinates now. Where are you?"
"Aus- how the Pit did you wind up there?"
"Like I said, Barricade, it's a long story. I'm headed your way right now."
"Good. Do me one favor?"
"Don't get shot out of the sky."
"Sure. See you in seventeen hours."
A/N: When I first started this story, I was going to end it with Blackout being dead, and moving on. Then the latest trailer for Revenge of the Fallen came out, with you-know-who strutting his stuff in the background. Needless to say, that inspired a much different ending.
Also, for the purposes of this story, I'm pretending they dumped the Decepticons into the REAL deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep. It is conveniently located near Australia, instead of, say, the eastern coast of Canada. Why in the world would they ship the 'Cons across the states when Challenger Deep is right there? Oh well.
As a final note, everything I know about Australia, Aborigines and the Dreaming come from fictional literature and movies, and was in no way properly academically researched. I apologize if I f'ed anything up. Thanks for reading!