Author's note: And the plot is revealed! At long last. Thanks for sticking with the fic everyone. Still plenty more to come.
Your life is a story,
I've already written,
The news is that I am in control.
And I have the power,
To make you surrender,
Not only your body but,
Bumblebee expected Sari to reel at Megatron's revelation, to either fiercely deny it or break down and weep. But she didn't flinch; she simply stared at Megatron, stony-faced.
Judging from the bemused expression on Megatron's face, he had expected more of a reaction as well, but he continued regardless, "Project 'Protoform X' was never completed. Eight thousand stellar cycles after the base protoform was converted for organic scanning, you remained unrefined and untested. The Quintessons drew on all manners of organic creatures from across the galaxy to be used as test subjects, first experimenting on merging them with lesser protoforms, but with little success.
"And so the centuries drew on. I renewed my search for the AllSpark while the Quintessons worked, hidden away in a remote sector of deep space. Events remained this way until 9521.6, when my crew and I entered the Azazel asteroid belt after detecting an energy signal consistent with the AllSpark".
"Timecode 9521.6? The Azazel asteroid belt?" Bumblebee exclaimed, "That's where we were when we found the AllSpark, fifty stellar cycles ago!"
"Your intellect astounds me, Autobot", Megatron snorted, "But yes. After I had engaged the crew of Autobots you now call your 'friends', Miss Sumdac, events unfolded in an unexpected way. I found myself…"
"You got your sorry butt kicked by Prime", Bumblebee said, "After you were stupid enough to let Starscream take you down".
Sari sniggered. Megatron's brow furrowed, his lips curled back in a silent snarl and he gritted his teeth.
Bumblebee smirked, "Anyone ever tell you you're even uglier from this angle?"
"Why do I have to suffer this insolence?" Megatron barked, "Silence your Autobot pet, Miss Sumdac".
"Fine. No. Bad Bumblebee", Sari wagged her finger at Bumblebee with mock severity before turning back to Megatron, "All better now?"
The Decepticon grimaced, but proceeded nonetheless, "Anyway, as you…may be aware, I found myself plunging towards Earth, my body heavily damaged. I realized I was unlikely to survive the impact intact and so I was forced to use my last resort.
"I have never trusted the Quintessons beyond their ability to carry out research. So I had installed a failsafe mechanism into Protoform X without their knowledge - a direct link to my processor to ensure I could issue it with instructions that the Quintessons could not override.
"I ordered the protoform to come to my location, using its space pod for transportation, with the intention of using it to build a new body for myself. However the damage I sustained during the crash was more severe than I anticipated and I went offline. Upon my reactivation in Professor Sumdac's lab, I saw no sign of Protoform X and assumed it had been recaptured by the Quintessons or destroyed along the way, but…"
"I think I can piece this together now", Sari interrupted, "The protoform did show up. After like…forty two years. It tracked you down to my Dad's lab. And then..."
"This part is unknown to me, though I can guess", Megatron said, "Go on".
"My Dad said he touched the pod and got shocked. When he woke up I was there", Sari bowed her head.
Bumblebee looked at her. She looked pained, troubled, as if the news had just finally caught up with her. A tear trickled down her cheek.
Optimus soared above the city of Iacon, scanning carefully for any sign of Bumblebee and Sari. He could see none. But the amount of Elite Guards and Autotroopers who had tried to detain him at the Space Bridge Nexus was a clear indication that something had passed through that wasn't supposed to.
He considered his options. He could either keep searching manually, which could take hours. Or he could ask the citizens of Iacon if they had seen the pair passing by. Or he could ask Sentinel and the Elite Guard for help, something he was reluctant to do.
His sensors indicated something was approaching at high speed. He turned around and saw a powerful Cybertronian starfighter shooting towards him. As it neared it transformed into Jetfire.
"Ah, hello Mister Optimus Prime sir", he smiled, "You are to being lucky. Cybertronian Defence Cannons programmed to shoot fly-bots. They are ordered only to shut down when Jetfire and brother is flying".
Optimus nodded, "That's handy".
"You are for looking small yellow Bumble car and little organic?"
"Yeah. Have you seen…?"
"Sentinel Prime sir ordered search party. Maybe you should be speaking with him?"
Optimus allowed Jetfire to lead the way down towards Iacon. They landed in the middle of a group of Elite Guard bots and Autotroopers. Among them was Sentinel Prime, who stared in amazement at Optimus before scowling.
"So, you're here as well, huh Optimus? What the slag are you thinking?! You can't just fire up your space bridge and pop home whenever you and your team of malfunctions feel like it!"
"I'm here looking for two members of my team", Optimus answered, "They used the space bridge without my knowledge".
"The little yellow one and the technorganic…thing", Sentinel glowered, "After we detected the unauthorised transwarp waves we found your little friends on our security cams. But we've…ahem…lost track of them since".
"I see. Well, it shouldn't take long to get to the bottom of this".
"This is serious, Optimus!" Sentinel pointed an accusing finger, "Can't you keep your team in line? We can't have technorganics crawling all over Cybertron without permission! Nor can we have Autobots deserting their posts. There's a reason for the authorisation procedure. For all we knew before we found the cam footage, Decepticons were invading Cybertron!"
"I know. You're right. It's unacceptable", Optimus' shoulders drooped, "And I can't imagine why Bumblebee and Sari would transwarp to Cybertron without permission. But…"
The drone of loud jet engines from above cut him off. Jetstorm dropped from the sky to land before them. He snapped to attention before Sentinel and saluted.
"Sentinel Prime, sir! News to being reported. Spotted small yellow Bumble car and little organic heading west-by-south".
"Ah, good", Sentinel waited for Jetstorm to continue. When he didn't he looked around.
"Didn't you bring them in?!"
"Orders were to find them, not to doing the capture", the smirk on Jetstorm's face suggested to Optimus that he just may have deliberately misinterpreted Sentinel's orders to wind his officer up.
"Aargh!" Sentinel snarled, "Idiot! Everyone, we're moving out. You as well, Optimus. Jetstorm, any idea where they were heading?"
"They were sneaking into Maximum Security Stockades".
"What?" Optimus started, "The Stockades…"
Sentinel looked at him, "The Decepticons…"
Without another word the group transformed and hurried through the busy streets, Jetfire and Jetstorm shadowing them from above.
"Ah, so it was Professor Sumdac's DNA that was merged with the protoform", Megatron nodded, consumed with an almost academic interest, "That would explain the familial resemblance. What a twist of fate, for so many organic species to be tested and prove incompatible, but mere chance delivers the ideal genetic material: that of humans".
Sari cried quietly, covering her face with her hands. Bumblebee tentatively placed one hand on her shoulders. He wasn't sure if there anything he could say to comfort her. It was a lot to take in, and it appeared the magnitude of it all had only just hit her.
"I appreciate your distress, Miss Sumdac", Megatron said suddenly, surprising Sari enough to make her look up at him, "But don't despair. After all, you finally have closure on this unpleasant matter. And though your origin may not be what you expected, it does not change your identity. You are still Sari Sumdac".
His tone was sympathetic and his expression kindly. Sari listened, spellbound. It was hard to imagine that this Megatron was the same Megatron who had held her father captive and threatened them all with destruction.
"I have only recently come to realise you are Protoform X", he said gently, "When I saw you transform before my incarceration. However, I confess I have long had doubts about you. Although I could not locate them my curiosity was provoked and I…stayed my hand, so to speak".
Sari remembered being onboard Omega Supreme, or merely the Autobot ship as she had thought of it at the time, standing before the AllSpark as the colossus that was Megatron loomed over her. He had advanced on her, reached out for her…
…And gently brushed her to one side, pushing her out of harm's way.
"And now, to at last know the truth", Megatron smiled and shook his head as if he could hardly believe it himself, "I cannot help but feel some connection to you. Perhaps a sense of pride. Perhaps, even, what organics would call…fatherly pride".
Sari stared up at him, lost for words and unable to collect her thoughts.
"Oh, you have got to be kidding!" Bumblebee snapped, pointing at Megatron, "You kidnap her father, try to kill her best friends and try to destroy her hometown, and now you expect her to believe that slag?"
He looked at Sari, who was still in a state of shock, "Sari, don't listen to him! He's lying. It's the whole Decepticon deal. It's what they do".
"Don't listen to your Autobot friend, Miss Sumdac", Megatron said, "But don't blame him for his ignorance either. After all he has been under the influence of the Autobot elite since his activation. Such is the case with most Autobots. They are well-meaning grunts, misled by their corrupt political superiors".
Bumblebee was about to reply when he saw Sari was looking back and forth between him and Megatron, as if stuck between two choices or hovering between two worlds. The Autobot threw his hands up in despair. It infuriated him that Megatron's transparent attempt to earn her trust seemed to be working.
"Do I have a heart?" Sari said, quietly.
"What?" Megatron tilted his head to listen to her.
"Do I have a heart? Or do I have a…spark?"
"That I don't know", he answered, "All I know is that Protoform X's organic-scanning capabilities responded positively to human DNA and created the new form of technorganic life that you are now. Closer examination would be needed to determine whether that life is sustained by a spark or a heart".
"See? See?" Bumblebee fumed, "He wants to slice you open! After he gets you to release him!"
Sari rounded on him, "Bumblebee, I am not going to release him! Now would you please get off my back?"
"Have I once suggested that she should release me, Autobot?" the Decepticon growled.
"Then why did you get her to come here?" Bumblebee demanded to know, "There has to be some reason. You didn't go through all the trouble of sending a message out to bring her here just to tell her what she needed to hear! You want something in return".
There was a heavily charged pause, and just for a moment Bumblebee could see the glint of malice creep into Megatron's optics, destroying his illusion of civility for just a second before he regained himself.
"True. I do have another motive for bringing you here", he admitted, "Allow me to explain, Miss Sumdac. The truth is…"
The doors opened and there was the clamour of feet rushing in. Sari and Bumblebee turned to see who it was.
"Sari, get away from him!" Optimus yelled, dashing forward. Behind him came Sentinel Prime, Jetfire, Jetstorm and several Elite Guards.
"You…" Megatron snarled in a voice that trembled with suppressed hatred, "You dare to interfere with me again, Optimus Prime?!"
Optimus leapt over Sari to stand between her and Megatron, axe drawn, "Don't move a piston, Megatron!"
"He can't, his motors are deactivated", Sari explained, "I made sure…"
"Oh, you are in big trouble, you miserable orga…erm…technorganic!" Sentinel declared, striding forward, "You've broken so many laws I could bury you under red tape for a million stellar cycles!"
Optimus didn't take his optics off Megatron or lower his axe, but he exploded at Sari and Bumblebee, "What do you two think you're doing?! What in the name of the AllSpark possessed you to come here?"
Bumblebee held up his hands in a placating gesture, "Listen boss-bot, I can explain…"
"You'd better have the ultimate explanation lined up", Optimus retorted, "Do you have any idea how much trouble you've gotten yourselves into?"
"It's not his fault", Sari said, "This was all my idea. Please don't be mad".
"I'm not mad", Optimus replied, "I'm furious".
"And I'm afraid your Autobot pal is an accomplice in your crimes", Sentinel snorted, "He's as much a part in this…treachery as you are!"
Optimus tore himself away from the staring match with Megatron, "Treachery? What are you talking about?"
"Isn't it obvious, Optimus? These two are traitors. They came to spring Megatron out of here!"
"You can't be serious".
"Then what are they doing here?"
"That's what I'm going to find out", Optimus returned his attention to Megatron, "But not here. Not in front of him. Let's get out of here".
Sentinel waved to his Elite Guardsbots, "Right, whatever. Put that creep back into stasis lock while I lock this pair up for high treason!"
As Optimus and Sentinel stormed out, arguing furiously and herding Sari and Bumblebee before them, Bumblebee took a look back over his shoulder at Megatron. As the Guardsbots approached him and tampered with the machines he was hooked into, a hint of a mocking smile twitched across his lips just before his optics dimmed and drifted once more into the unseeing.
Blackout, Spittor, Oil Slick, Thundercracker and Skywarp stood on the edge of a grassy embankment that overlooked the Solar Fusion Power Plant. The five Decepticon soldiers, now repaired and fully functional, watched as Cyclonus descended from the night sky and landed in front of them.
"Been busy?" Spittor grunted.
"Could say that", Cyclonus replied curtly.
"Where've you been?" Oil Slick asked.
"Not your affair".
"Oh, I'm afraid it is", the voice of Strika snarled. The five Decepticons stepped aside to make room for their General, who stalked towards Cyclonus.
Cyclonus inclined his head, "I understand I left without permission but…"
"No, you don't understand at all", Strika's hand shot out and seized him around the neck: she lifted him into the air effortlessly and held him in her grasp, "You don't understand who you're dealing with here".
Cyclonus didn't struggle or resist, he just stared at her with his one good optic, "I meant no harm".
"Oh, well that's alright then", with a flick of her wrist she tossed him across the field they had just marched across: he slid across the muddy surface, gouging a hole in the turf.
When he went to get up her foot came down on him and pressed him back into the sludge, grinding him into the muck, "I've been gentle with you in the past", Strika rumbled, "Lenient. But now my patience has worn thin. I'm going to take you apart with my bare servos. Slowly".
As Cyclonus grovelled in the dirt, he considered his options. He could try and escape, although against all of Team Chaar he wouldn't get far. He could accept his fate with dignity and perish. Just a few mega cycles ago he would have accepted that. He had nothing to live for, just an existence of misery and violence and servitude.
But now he had her. A fellow experiment that had been allowed to survive; one of the lucky few out of hundreds. Cyclonus himself had been one of the earlier test subjects, before the use of organics had been investigated: the merging of a Cybertronian protoform and a Quintesson spark.
The experiment has failed to produce new sparks, but it had produced a serviceable, if somewhat unreliable and independent, warrior. And so Megatron had ushered Cyclonus into the ranks of the Decepticons quietly, advising him to keep his origins a secret. Cyclonus had had no difficulty with this – he was ashamed of his origins and considered himself a freak, a misfit.
But now that he had found another…maybe he had something worth functioning for.
"Wait", he managed to gasp as Strika's powerful hand reached down for him, "Forgive me. I apologize".
"I don't want an apology. I want obedience", the mighty femmebot answered.
"You'll have it. I am yours to command, General".
Strika hesitated, then closed her hand around the nape of his neck. She lifted him out from under him and stood him up on his feet.
"You'd better make good on your promise", she warned, "If you compromise this team once more, then you're finished".
With a final withering glance, she turned around and made her way down the embankment, "Team Chaar, move out!"
She led the way towards the power plant. Cyclonus started to follow, but Oil Slick stopped him. The ninja bot handed him a vial of liquid that Cyclonus recognised as a cleaning formula.
"Here. Clean yourself up", Oil Slick said curtly, "In case you're wondering what we're doing here, we tracked those Decepticon energy signatures to this plant. We're going in to investigate now".
"Oh…my aching processor…"
The groans went on and on. It seemed to Soundwave that they would never subside, but he waited patiently anyway.
Slipstream moaned and winced as she writhed back and forth on her makeshift bed. A terrible thumping pain pounded at her neural circuitry and her vision was warped into an assortment of blurs. Eventually it focused just enough for her to make out Soundwave, standing to one side.
"Urgh…what do you want? Why did you…ow! Why did you wake me?"
"Matter: urgent. Decepticons: incoming".
"Huh, what?" Slipstream swung her legs and sat up on the edge of her bed, still clutching at her head, "Other Decepticons? Why didn't you mention this before?"
"I did", Slipstream could have sworn there was a hint of resentment in that monotone of his for just a second before he continued, "But at the time you were intoxicated. You needed rest before they arrived".
"Rest?...Uhh…how long have I been stasis-napping?"
"Three mega cycles".
"Is that all? Feels like someone's taken my processor apart with an energon drill and reassembled it with a fusion cutter since then", she groaned and reached out with her hand, "Alright, help me up".
He took her by the hand and helped her get to her feet.
"Are the Constructicons assembled?"
"Good. Okay, let's go meet the neighbours".
She hobbled her way towards the centre of the power plant, silently promising to never over-charge on oil again in her lifecycle. Soundwave walked at her side. In the main room the three Constructions milled about, while Laserbeak and Ratbat perched on an overhanging pipe.
Mixmaster and Scrapper seemed to have mostly recovered from their excessive drinking only a few hours before, talking lucidly with no real sign of discomfort except they would occasionally twitch and rub their foreheads. It relieved Slipstream to see that processor-aches weren't unique to her. Dirt Boss was silent and moody as usual: Slipstream couldn't remember very well, but she was pretty sure the oil hadn't affected him at all while he had been drinking.
"Alright, listen up everyone", she announced, trying not to recoil from the rattling in her processor her own shrill voice was causing, "Decepticons are inbound. We don't know who they are or what there intentions are, but…"
A loud explosion shook the room: Slipstream clawed at her pounding processor, trying to block the noise out. The Constructicons and Soundwave stood back as debris crashed to the floor. A smoking hole had been blown in the ceiling. Through it leapt a massive Decepticon, missiles, blasters and blades primed.
An instant later the cargo door was yanked upwards and a Decepticon femmebot stormed inside, "For spark's sake, Blackout, I said use the door!"
Slipstream wasn't sure how to react. Should she…attack? Say hello? Before she could decide more Decepticons rushed in. In moments Team Chaar had her and her motley crew surrounded. Laserbeak and Ratbat fluttered around above their heads, squawking their outrage.
"Servos above your heads!" Strika bellowed: at once Mixmaster and Scrapper obeyed. Soundwave looked at Slipstream.
"Do it", she said. They both obliged. Dirt Boss reluctantly lifted his stout arms as well.
"Well, look who it is!" Thundercracker exclaimed, "Another unworthy clone. Not so high and mighty without Starscream to kiss up to, eh?"
With the exception of Skywarp and Thundercracker, Team Chaar exchanged confused looks.
Spittor leaned over to whisper to Blackout, "If she's a Starscream clone, remind me to sign up for Air Command".
Slipstream fixed Skywarp and Thundercracker with a look, "Oh, so like you two weren't part of that plot to try and take out Megatron as well?"
Strika ignored this exchange and stepped forward, "So, it appears our fears are confirmed. The Deception signals we located belong to nothing more than a few of Starscream's lackeys".
"Negative", Soundwave declared, "I pledge allegiance only to Megatron and Commander Slipstream".
"If you want proof we're not Starscream loyalists", Slipstream dared to lower her arm and point to the far side of the room, "Just take a look over there".
Strika looked. She saw the body of Starscream hanging from the wall like a prized trophy.
"We're Decepticons who've been separated from any contact with the main army", Slipstream explained, "We've been trying to contact them to be accepted as recruits".
Strika examined the body of Starscream and nodded. She turned to look at Slipstream.
"Well, I like your résumé".