"The Good Fight"
First Aid activated the door before him and watched it slide away into the wall. He stared quietly into the darkened room, his face lit only by the dim, warm light that bathed the room in an orange glow.
Less than an hour ago, he had been asked by Ultra Magnus to give some visiting regional leaders from Cybertron a quick run through the medical wing of Metroplex. As First Aid eagerly detailed some of the advances they had stumbled across over the years on Earth, they had passed by this very room. He heard, toward the back of the group, one Autobot wonder aloud what was in the room. First Aid let the inquiry pass without an answer, bringing the group into the research and development lab.
Now, First Aid was about to walk into that room. He hated it. The warm light illuminating it nauseated the medic, not through any mechno-chemical reaction, but from what it represented. It was the epitome of failure for a doctor. It was the room where comatose Autobots were brought while the medics and the R&D technicians worked up remedies to bring them back online. Too often, on Cybertron, First Aid had seen Autobots enter such wings of the med bay to never see the light of day again. Mercifully few Autobots were brought under the sterilizing lights of Room 3C in the last several years. One had been there since the day the room was opened.
After donning a protective foil over his frame, First Aid walked past several empty pods, his optics riveted to a lone, black figure resting in the one occupied station. I still can't get used to seeing him black like this, he thought, staring into the Autobot's sightless gray optics. It just doesn't look right.
The new armor adorning the Autobot had been a necessary measure, not only from the structural damage he had suffered, but the continual punishment his armor took in attempts to revive him over the last thirty years. Hoist had brought in some stronger alloys for the replacement armor after Autobot City was rebuilt, saying it suited a warrior to have the best available. The light in the room acted as a decontaminant, keeping airborne particles from infiltrating his steel skin while his self-repair systems were off-line. The flat black paint was a special mixture that was needed to stop the light from eating away at the Autobot's outer shell and into his internal components.
First Aid shook his head, returning his focus to the long hours he had ahead of him. He grasped a light matrix inducer and placed it beside the patient's optics. He took several readings, not expecting to receive any new information. First Aid sighed.
Just once I'd like to walk in here and get some sort of progress, he thought, removing the equipment and jotting the data on the log. He deserves as much.
First Aid started perusing through new simulations from the R&D crew. Their research held out some hope of stabilizing the energon dispersion unit that refused to work properly since the day of the attack that brought him to such a state. First Aid's shoulders slumped. They had been trying to stabilize this one vital component that distributes energy to a Transformer's neural net processor to no avail for some time. First Aid activated a magnifying eye piece and set to work on the dispersion unit, allowing his mind to wander some as he did so. He often found it helpful when thinking through a difficult situation. A laser scalpel skillfully etching along circuitry, First Aid started speaking into the patient log.
"Chief Medical Officer First Aid reporting. Patient shows no visible sign of improvement in the last six cycles based on ongoing vital analysis and new data from matrix analysis yields no new information. After a third attempt at establishing independent motor relay systems, Development has designed new equipment meant to rework the patient's energon dispersion unit, which I am currently attempting to implement."
First Aid paused. "Note to Development: I am beginning to have my doubts that the dispersion unit is the primary source of our failure to reestablish self-sufficient distribution of energon for our patient. While the improvements will lead to distribution efficiency higher than any known Autobot, it has not proved to be the source of the trauma. Instead, if this trial does not yield improvement in the patient, I suggest we take a different methodology involving the neural net's connective network, not only with the dispersion unit, but with other vitals as well."
The speaker above First Aid crackled to life. First Aid's optics remained locked on his work. "Pipes, is that you?"
"Yes, it's me, First Aid. Just finishing up on some paperwork for Magnus." The other Autobot paused before continuing in a softer voice. "You know that we took that route when we were first attempting to bring him back on line. Everything points to the connective network being fully functional."
First Aid sighed. "Yes, I know. I know it's unlikely, but we have to do something. We have to at least get away from this blasted dispersion unit for a bit. The techs have made great strides in structural repairs. I don't want the mechno-chemical systems to bog them down by focusing so much on one part of the bigger picture."
First Aid paused before continuing. "I mean no disrespect to Ratchet, but there have been so many advances in the field of neural networking in just the last several years. There are cases in the settlements, away from the war, where medics have brought back patients with little ill effect from full cascade failure. I simply think it would do well to look into these areas."
"Yeah," Pipes said thoughtfully over the speaker, "I see your point. You want me to try to contact Perceptor on Cybertron and ask him to come down here? I mean, the techs are good, but you and Perceptor are the only ones with that kind of expertise."
"Thank you," First Aid said, bringing his laser scalpel to another part of the dispersion unit. "I'll be over in a few to review some schematics."
The medic looked back at Sideswipe's still face. "We're close, Pipes."
* * *
Peace. At least I think so. It's not like I imagined it. It's bright, sure, and certainly peaceful. Duh, right? Still, there's something that doesn't feel quite right about it either. Maybe it's because I struggle to remember who I was.
Sometimes I think that I should stop doing that and simply enjoy this peacefulness, but I never do. It's as though whatever I was before was anchoring me to the real world, to something else. And someplace without peace. I try to remember it even when I ask myself the obvious question: What could possibly cause me to feel unease in a place like this? Why does a part of me want to go back to something where peace either does not exist or is difficult to acquire? I honestly don't know. Maybe it's being here that makes it so difficult to answer those questions. Maybe there isn't an answer at all. Perhaps it's simply a vicious circle. This peace feels odd because of my unease which makes this peace feel odd. The chicken and the egg. Whatever those things are.
Perhaps this is what it is supposed to be like, I often tell myself, but I know that it is not true. There is something … out there. Something that I cannot grasp. I feel like there is something that I had left behind.
* * *
"Surveillance," Sunstreaker mumbled contemptuously under his breath as if he were uttering the foulest phrase he could have thought up.
Hound looked sidelong in his direction, the wary expression on his faceplate in stark contrast to the expression of frustration on his own. It was an expression that had grown more and more common in the last several months. Here on Nebulos, a planet that was a protectorate of the Autobots, there was only very limited Decepticon activity. It was no secret that there were those among the Decepticon ranks, mainly the Headmasters and Targetmasters, who wanted to see Nebulos returned to their hands. Even still, there was so little to really do to keep Sunstreaker's mind off of other, more troubling things.
Sunstreaker slowly closed his optics, trying to shut out the malaise he felt growing inside him. I can't do this now, he thought. Not so far away from him.
At least before the blasted return of the Golden Age, there was an enemy worth fighting. But now the Decepticons were really starting to look like the sad unit they were rumored to have become. Infighting was more prevalent than fighting their enemy. It was getting to the point that it was difficult to imagine that the group had ever been able to hold Cybertron for so long. Some Autobots almost seemed sorry for them. Those were the Autobots that Sunstreaker wanted to deck between the optics. The Decepticons were killers. They deserved what they got and that was it. They certainly deserved worse than being reduced to a laugher of what they had once been.
Still, a part of Sunstreaker was saddened by it. There was no more enemy to fight and fighting was the only thing that kept him going. Not simply because he was a warrior and that was what he did, but because it was the only thing that sufficiently kept his mind occupied where it might otherwise turn back to the bunk in Metroplex's medical wing where a part of Sunstreaker lay dying.
Hound turned back to his work in silence. Sunstreaker regarded him for another moment, the scout's wary expression lingering in his mind for a moment. He had never had any quarrel with Hound, but that look invaded his otherwise calm faceplate from time to time. It was a look that Sunstreaker had grown more used to seeing over the years. He could not help but to think that it was justified to some extent. Since the war had ended, Sunstreaker's listlessness grew steadily. With no enemy to occupy his thoughts, he started lashing out at other Autobots. Younger Autobots, or Autobots unfamiliar with Sunstreaker's plight, started resenting having the warrior around. While he was never really close to many of the Autobots, it was rare when he would openly and physically assault them. But it was happening more and more often, even if it was just a shove into a wall when someone was in his way. Sunstreaker slowly shook his head. He hated the irony of it all. Decepticons were the reason for Sideswipe's near death and now Sunstreaker needed the Decepticons around in order to be able to remain, at least partly, alive.
His face contorted deeper into an expression of frustration, a common one for him over the last several months. Since before Unicron's mysterious appearance and attack on the Cybertron, Sunstreaker and a host of other Autobots had been a part of a unit called Special Forces. Before his death, it was lead by Optimus Prime with Ironhide and Prowl serving as tactical advisors. Back then, the unit had a myriad of duties mostly having to do with the Decepticon threat. They shuttled energy between Earth and the resistance movement around Cybertron. They would sneak onto Cybertron to disrupt Decepticon activities to eliminate the Autobot threat. They had nearly single-handedly kept the Decepticons limited to worrying about Cybertron since they had abandoned Earth. It was exciting work and always kept Sunstreaker busy. He saw more action in those few years then he had in a dozen of years on Earth.
Then the sky fell. Within a day, the three leaders of the Special Forces were dead at Decepticon hands. A giant planet appeared out of nowhere and began ripping apart Cybertron's moons. It was a confused time and Sunstreaker still had trouble believing the outcome. When Optimus lay dying on Earth, the rest of the Autobots in Special Forces were scattered. Jazz and Cliffjumper were manning one of the moon bases. Bumblebee and Spike another. Trailbreaker was on Cybertron leading what was supposed to be a short attack against a weapon depot. For a long time, it was unknown what had become of them. Several small groups that were on reconnaissance missions to a few Decepticon outposts could not contact any of the group. Sunstreaker and a number of others were stuck on Earth trying to help those that could be helped after the attack on Autobot City. They had no way of knowing what was going on back at Cybertron or they were going to even have a home to go home to.
Even through all of this, it did not surprise Sunstreaker that the unit felt no hopelessness. Smokescreen and Hound took charge of the battered group on Earth, stealing them away from Earth and back to Cybertron when they had done all they could. They eventually reunited with Jazz and Trailbreaker. Jazz was selected by Special Forces, and endorsed by Rodimus Prime, to lead the unit. After Unicron's destruction, it was the Special Forces unit that was a large reason for the quick recovery of Cybertron from the Decepticons after Unicron's attack.
"You know, that's the fifth time you've said that since we started this little operation," Sureshot pointed out with a smile, not looking up from his own work.
"That's because this whole operation is a load of slag," Sunstreaker said with a scowl. "It's pointless." Spoilsport, Sureshot's Targetmaster partner, tottered over a hill carrying a pile of equipment obviously too large for his small frame.
"What do you mean 'it's pointless'?" he asked, dropping the load unceremoniously to the ground. "This sort of thing is essential if we're going to keep the Decepticons and the Hive off balance."
"Essential, my tailpipe," Sunstreaker retorted. "What the frag are we going to find out? That the Decepticons are planning some dastardly operation that will kill us all and then they'll take over Cybertron and then the universe. Insert insane laughter here."
Sunstreaker slammed the panel on the surveillance equipment into place. "In short," Sunstreaker said pointedly, ignoring the glare from Spoilsport, "we're going to find out things we already know instead simply storming their hideout and finishing them off."
"We can't simply storm in there, as much as I'd love to," stated Sureshot, as he leaned back from the surveillance unit and activated the display screen. "We know they're up to something. Galvatron's crazy, but he's not stupid. We'll find out how they're protecting that outpost and then we'll storm the place."
Sunstreaker looked up at the overcast sky and sighed. "Right. Because that tactic is exactly Point Blank's style. We're probably going to have to set up a special unit just to identify and validate casualties for forty different strike scenarios. By the time we finally get the go ahead, those goons will be long gone"
Sunstreaker sat up, his optics darting around him. There was something. Something he could not quite place. He rose to his feet and scanned the sky around him, ignoring Hound's inquiries as to what was going on. He dropped his head and tried to think it through.
"It's not an attack," he mumbled. He turned at started walking down the hill. "It's something else. It feels like"
He trailed off. His head shot up and sprinted down the hill, dropping into his vehicle mode. He knew that Sureshot and Hound were bound to be confused and perhaps more than a little wary. Seeing a warrior sprint off like that could mean trouble. All Sunstreaker knew was that he had to get to a shuttle and he had to get to it now. He simply could not explain it to Hound or anybody else why. They wouldn't understand.
They didn't have a brother.
* * *
Cyclonus leaned against the wall outside Galvatron's main chamber, staring at the door and lost in thought. It bothered him sometimes that his memory could not penetrate to a time before Unicron. He felt that there was something more to his existence than simply being there one moment, fully autonomous with a mission embedded in his mind. There was more to his existence than a mere two years. He had never asked anybody about it. Where would he possibly start? From the point of view of the other Decepticons, he simply showed up, his past a mystery. And since Cyclonus did not want to share, the others were not about to ask. After all, Cyclonus knew well enough that there were more than a few Decepticons that he had crossed paths with over the years that did not want such a cloak of mystery removed. He had seen the odd sidelong stare from some, as if they were trying to see through his armor at what, or who, was there inside.
Normally his lack of distant memories did not bother him. He was second-in-command of the Decepticons and he had a mission now. But sometimes he disliked not having a frame of reference. Sometimes it seemed that changes happened too quickly. First, after Unicron was destroyed, the Decepticons were scattered and Cybertron, their home, was lost to the Autobots. He did not know if this was a sudden change or if such reversals of fortune were common. After all, it was not that long ago that the Decepticons had succeeded in retaking the planet, based on the information he had at hand.
Also, Galvatron was different. Recently, since a time before the Hate Plague infested most of the Transformers, he had not been sane necessarily, but what Swindle had aptly called a "thinking Decepticon's nutjob." He began relying on Scourge more often, perhaps to keep a better optic on the tracker's growing ambition or perhaps for some other reason that he did not divulge to anyone. Galvatron allowed Cyclonus, his most trusted advisor, even more latitude in missions, rather than jealously grasping every ounce of power to himself. Far more disturbingly, Galvatron was taking counsel with Lord Zarak to a far greater degree than Cyclonus would have thought, especially given his commander's opinion on the Nebulans. Where Cyclonus once had to stay his commander's hand to be sure they could wield the Nebulan's power through Scorponok, now Galvatron relied too often on the underhanded flesh creature.
And again, it was sudden. Was it simply how Galvatron's manic mind worked? Or was it like so much else, with everything changing so quickly. It could not simply be him, he had reasoned many times. He had seen Astrotrain and Dirge and other older Decepticons shake their heads at times. Sudden victories and massive upgrades in technology could not be the norm.
"Why don't we just go in there?" a gruff voice asked from Cyclonus' feet.
Cyclonus ignored his Nebulan partner and continued to wait until he was beckoned. With each day that passed, Cyclonus' regret of the day he made the deal with Zarak grew. He should have ordered the Decepticons to attack. They should never have given in so easily. Zarak continued to infiltrate deeper into the Decepticon hierarchy, holding some nondescript position in their ranks.
Where his biggest regret lie was with the Headmasters. Only Mindwipe remained his usual creepy self. The others were falling further away from their true selves as the Nebulans slowly molded their personalities to more resemble themselves. This dual guilt had lead Cyclonus to cease relying on Nightstick as his weapon and become proficient in the use of melee weapons. He had no equal in hand-to-hand combat. He felt more alive, more in control, at these times than relying on an insignificant organic creature.
When Cyclonus ignored Nightstick, he huffed and mumbled under his breath. He then resumed in mimicking Cyclonus' posture awaiting the door to open before them. They did not have to wait long.
After the door slowly slid open, Cyclonus walked in and moved toward his commander. Galvatron watched him from atop his throne, a strange smile resting on his faceplate. Cyclonus disliked the smile. He could never tell what Galvatron's mood was with that countenance. Was he preparing to divulge a brilliant plan to finally move toward the retaking of Cybertron? Was he going to blow his head off? Cyclonus did not know, but also refused to allow his doubt and confusion to show.
Nightstick, who had followed Cyclonus into the room, veered off and moved toward Zarak. Cyclonus allowed his gaze to fall in the Nebulan leader's direction for a brief moment, remaining purposefully expressionless as he did so, before turning his attention back to Galvatron.
Galvatron's smile widened as he saw this. He seemed to know that Cyclonus was uncomfortable with the Decepticons' reliance on the flesh creature. Seeing his second-in-command's expression seemed to amuse him. When Cyclonus reached Galvatron, he bowed deeply.
"Ah, Cyclonus," Galvatron said, his optics twinkling mischievously. "I hope your mission was a success."
"Yes, my lord," Cyclonus replied evenly. Galvatron had ordered Cyclonus and a contingent of Sweeps to patrol a far quadrant of Decepticon-controlled space. He was purposefully vague as to what they were supposed to patrolling for. They were simply told to look for anything out of the ordinary. "I had several Sweeps remain behind to check more thoroughly on some of the more unsecure locations, but they are expected back by the end of the cycle."
Galvatron frowned deeply, rising halfway out of his seat. "Sweeps? You left Sweeps behind? Those idiots are sure to be seen. Gwah!"
With a sudden motion, Galvatron raised his laser cannon and fired, striking Cyclonus in his shoulder. Instinctively, Cyclonus pulled away and clutched at the wounded shoulder. Until that is, he realized that the blast had barely hurt. Cyclonus looked up at Galvatron imploringly, but the commander's attention was elsewhere.
"Such idiotic actions," Zarak was saying, "will eventually draw the attention of the Autobots, Galvatron. Perhaps, you should let me and my Nebulans handle such delicate operations."
Galvatron leveled his cannon on Zarak. "Do not try my patience. I fear your armor will not hold together nearly as well as Cyclonus' should I really lose my temper."
"Now, now," Zarak soothed. "Perhaps we should develop a contingency plan, in case the Autobots do spot our operation in that sector."
Cyclonus, all but forgotten, frowned. Operation? he thought darkly. He absent-mindedly rubbed his shoulder and dwelled on this new direction the Decepticons were moving in. Zarak himself cared little of Cybertron. His ambition started with Nebulos and moved straight to the universe from there, never once stopping at the planet the Decepticons once called home. And Galvatron, for his part, seemed content with going along with this. For all of Galvatron's grandiose schemes Cyclonus did not—could not—believe that Galvatron would sacrifice Cybertron for the whimsy of so weak a creature, no matter how powerful a Transformer he had under his control.
Yet, Cyclonus could not help but deduce as he watched Galvatron nod, succumbing again to the Scoponok's power, that his commander might do just that. I cannot allow that, Cyclonus thought, bringing his posture to his full height again. I must show Galvatron that we can succeed without relying on these Nebulans.
"Cyclonus," Galvatron said, waving his hand toward the door, "we're finished here."
"Yes, my lord," Cyclonus said before turning to leave. Once in the hallway, he did not turn toward his quarters. Instead, he walked to the War Room. That was where he needed to go first, before gathering his troops.
* * *
Fastlane stepped out from the turret he was manning when he saw Sunstreaker speeding up in his vehicle mode. Ultra Magnus had been trying to contact the wayward warrior for the last day, but the best information they had was that he left his surveillance post on Nebulos and some other spotty information from the monitoring stations along the way.
Then Earth Defense Command had notified them of an Autobot shuttle had landed down the coast ahead of schedule and a high strung and very rude Autobot blasted his way out of the containment area, speeding in the direction of Autobot City. Magnus apologized when he saw that the rude Autobot in question was Sunstreaker and asked that he be allowed to deal the situation. Fastlane couldn't help but notice that it did not take nearly as long as Magnus had estimated for Sunstreaker to make the trip. Fastlane crossed a short path to the main road stood in the path leading to Metroplex's primary entrance. He watched Sunstreaker hurriedly transform and start sprinting, oblivious of the other Autobot waving him down.
"Whoa there, buddy!" Fastlane called after realizing Sunstreaker had no intention of slowing down. "Magnus wants to see you be--."
Fastlane grunted as the larger warrior barreled right over him as if he were an inanimate roadblock and continued to the main door, activating his passkey without missing a beat. Fastlane slowly sat up, trying to ignore the pain in his head from banging it against the metal bridge. He rolled over and watched the door slide shut with Sunstreaker already out of view.
"Magnus, this is Fastlane," he grumbled into his radio. "That jerk-off you were waiting for just went into the city. You better get to him before I do."
"Ease off your throttle, Fastlane," came the curt reply. "Return to your station."
Fastlane mumbled in compliance and, after lifting himself to a standing position, limped back to his post.
* * *
Sunstreaker rushed out of Metroplex's medical wing and looked around. He spotted Hubcap walking slowly down the hall, staring down at a data pad.
"Where is he?" the yellow warrior demanded.
Hubcap did not look up and continued his slow gait through the Autobot city. "Well, it's nice to see you to and yes, I am doing fine." Hubcap stopped speaking, but still looked down at the data pad. "Aren't you supposed to be on Nebulos?"
Sunstreaker growled impatiently and grabbed Hubcap by the neck. He hoisted him up and pushed him into the wall. He ignored the smaller Autobot's frantic kicks of protest as he struggled to free himself from Sunstreaker's grasp. For his efforts, Sunstreaker shoved him against the wall again.
"Where is he?" he asked more forcefully.
For a second, Hubcap stopped sputtering in protest and looked at Sunstreaker's armor in shock. Usually he looked impeccable, but now the paint on his armor was chipping off and several cracks had formed within his joints. Hubcap looked back at Sunstreaker's wild blue optics in shock knowing that the damage could only have come from the lights in Room 3C.
"Primus, did you go in there without the protective--?" he started to ask before Sunstreaker's grip tightened around his neck, cutting off the words mid-sentence.
"WHERE?" Sunstreaker bellowed.
"Sunstreaker, drop him," ordered an authoritative voice etched.
Sunstreaker dropped Hubcap unceremoniously to the ground and turned around toward Ultra Magnus. Pipes walked past him toward Hubcap, who was still clutching his neck and glaring up at Sunstreaker. First Aid's optics were riveted to the warrior's wounds from entering the room where Sideswipe had been lying unconscious. Sunstreaker shook off the medic's hand as he looked over the damage. He stared down at First Aid with a mixture of concern and anger.
"Where is he?" he growled again, his voice wavering, as if he were on the verge of pouncing again.
"In here," Ultra Magnus stated, holding a door to the main infirmary open.
Sunstreaker stepped past First Aid and walked slowly to the door. He paused before entering it and closed his optics. For the entire trip, something inside him was saying that Sideswipe was back, that he was alive and awake again. Still, there was some part of him, a part that had been gnawing at him for the better part of thirty years that told him to get ready for the day the call came that Sideswipe had finally succumbed to his wounds. Primus knew that there were times when he was close. That the only thing that saved him was the quick hands and wits of Ratchet and First Aid. Could it be that he was wrong? Could it be that Sideswipe would be, when he turned the corner into the infirmary, lying there immobile and lifeless?
Sunstreaker finally opened his optics again and walked into the room. Directly in front of him, sat Sideswipe, his brother, his life, staring at a point on the floor in front him, lost in thought. His brow was furrowed with not a little bit of despair. Still, even with all that worry that looked so uncommon on Sideswipe's face, Sunstreaker felt his fuel pump leap.
"Sideswipe," he whispered.
Sideswipe looked up and shook his head, clearing his thoughts. He smiled. And then the smile vanished. A look that Sunstreaker could not place crept into his brother's optics. For nearly a full minute they looked at each other, Sunstreaker with barely contained excitement he knew shone in his blue optics and Sideswipe with that undecipherable expression.
Finally, Sideswipe said, "Ratchet's dead."
Sunstreaker knelt down beside his brother and grasped his hand.
* * *
Sideswipe lay in the grass watching the stars slowly appear above Autobot City as dusk fell into night. For the last hour, he had remained almost completely still, staring up at the sky, a soft smile resting on his faceplate. He had never really paid very much attention to his surroundings in his years on Earth. Like a lot of Autobots, he noticed the things that were a pain in the afterburner: bumpy roads, dense forests, blinding blizzards. All of Sunstreaker's favorites, he thought, his smile growing for a second.
But now, five hours after being reactivated, he was seeing Earth in a whole different light. The forests were still a hindrance to completing a surgical strike against a Decepticon installation, but they were a green and brown haven that brought escape from the real world. Oceans weren't only a great gulf that took too much time to get from one place to another, but a placid expanse of solitude.
Solitude. Sideswipe still found it difficult to believe that it had been thirty years since the attack in the cave. That was a blink of an eye for a Transformer, even a warrior like him who spent so much of his time on the front lines face to face with deactivation with every battle fought. Thirty years of solitude. Thirty years of lying still on some bed in the medical facilities, first in Autobot Headquarters and then in Autobot City. Thirty years of nothingness. He turned his head toward his brother lying beside him in the grass. Thirty years of Sunstreaker being alone.
No, thirty years was nothing to a Transformer, but it must have been an eternity for one Autobot. Sunstreaker had not mentioned yet what happened all that time ago, the event that put Sideswipe in that state of suspension. Sideswipe suspected that the subject would not be one that was bound to come up. His brother was not the type to dwell on the past when there was nothing that he could do to change it.
He watched Sunstreaker's still face staring up into the sky. It was something of a wonder that he was out here to begin with. Granted, the sky was cloudless with no chance for rain. The air was dry so there would be no condensation. But seeing Sunstreaker out here was a little surreal.
"It's quiet up here," Sunstreaker said suddenly, as if reading Sideswipe's thoughts. "Nobody comes up here much. Just Bluestreak. Sometimes Gears, of all mechs. Otherwise, it's a good place to think.
Sideswipe nodded and turned his head back to the stars. Out of the corner of his optics, he could see the soft glow of the Autobot City. The white structure was almost golden in color under the soft glow of its exterior lights. Two spotlights ranged up into the heavens periodically for some reason or another. Before the attack, he had heard a few grumbles from Grapple and Huffer about some mystery project that Prime had them working on, complaining about the lack of supplies or the time table or some other mundane thing. Sideswipe thought nothing of it at the time. After all, it was just Grapple and Huffer; they complained all the time. "Can't be done," one would say. "Never happen," the other would grumble. Then MacGyver or mini-MacGyver would make some monstrous and inordinately helpful device from metal shavings and a double-A battery. Ten years of those grumblings and the biggest Transformer that Sideswipe had ever seen was a guardian of Earth.
Sideswipe's smile faltered. Ten years to make a state-of-the-art city Transformer. Earth and Cybertron largely in Autobot hands less than twenty years after the attack. Megatron was dead. Prowl, Ironhide, Ratchet. . . all dead. More stars filled the clear sky, marking more time slipping by him. They seemed to shine brighter than they had before, or maybe it was just that Sideswipe had never really noticed them before. Millions of years of existence and stars were almost a foreign thing to him, useful in guiding him to where he needed to be for his next mission and little else. He watched the sky above him change as the it grew darker and wondered if things always changed so fast. It never seemed like it before. He had fought in countless battles. Except for location and the cast of characters, any one of those fights could have taken place at anytime in Sideswipe's lifetime. Only two ever stood out: his first and his last. And that last one was a new revelation for him. It might have happened thirty years before, but it was still five hours old to him.
Sideswipe closed his optics for a moment. When he opened them again, the stars were still there above him. They seemed static, like this moment in time. But he knew those stars would continue to change. More would rise while others set. A shooting star streamed overhead. He recalled once when Spike said humans made wishes on those. Sideswipe remembered laughing at him. Now though, he made a wish. He wished that the stars would stay there forever, even when he was sure that they would fall again.
* * *
"I'll tell you what," Sunstreaker growled, staring down at the smaller Autobot. "How about I tell you the reason that I jumped on that shuttle was to come here and then you go tell Magnus?"
Sideswipe could tell by his tone that Sunstreaker had not meant the last sentence as a question. They had just reentered Autobot City when Goldbug came walking down the hallway toward them, requesting that Sunstreaker follow him. Now, after a little give and take from Sunstreaker trying to find out why Ultra Magnus wanted to see him, he stood with his armed crossed tightly over his chest staring down at the smaller Autobot. But Goldbug shrugged.
"Sorry, Sunstreaker," he stated, "but he wants to talk to you about it. I guess you stirred up a minor panic when you just took off like that. All anybody knew was that there was an unauthorized shuttle flying toward Earth. Before they discovered why you jumped the shuttle, Nebulos command shifted Fortress Maximus into battle station mode thinking you were tailing an attacker." Goldbug's optics shifted uncomfortably, as if he knew what sort of reaction his next statement would have. "They, uh, need your statement for the report on the energon usage during the transformation."
Sideswipe smiled as a dumbfounded look etched across his brother's face. For several seconds, he simply stared at Goldbug menacingly before finally throwing his arms into the air.
"You have got to kidding me!" he shouted, causing more than one Autobot to frown in his direction. Most seemed only to dislike the shattered silence near a conference room. Others seemed to be giving Sunstreaker far angrier looks. After being on the receiving end of a withering glare from Sideswipe, they slowly turned away, one of them muttering something about the uppity warriors.
"Has it really come to this?" Sunstreaker continued loudly. "Have we really become so listless that a couple of energon cubes warrants not only a report, but a statement from someone who was not even on the planet at the time? Great fragging Primus, if Magnus is so bored to feel the need for that exercise, he can come find me. Come on, Sideswipe."
He started walking past Goldbug, when the smaller Autobot held up a hand. To Sideswipe's surprise, Sunstreaker skidded to a stop.
"It wasn't a request," the smaller Autobot stated authoritatively. "It was an order. Magnus wants you in the command room."
Sunstreaker slowly turned around, his face oddly calm as he stared down at Goldbug. It was a look that Sideswipe had seen innumerous times over the years. It was the look that Sunstreaker often had just before he really went down to business on the battlefield. That look was never in the company of macho quips shouted to his brother, bets over the number of casualties, or new maneuvers in the realm of jet judo. And with that look directed at an Autobot, Sideswipe knew he had to intervene.
He stepped between the two Autobots and turned towards his brother. Since he had awakened, Sunstreaker had not left his brother's side which was the obvious impetus to this particular stare down. Sunstreaker's protective streak had kicked in and he was willing to fight rather than leave Sideswipe alone.
Sideswipe placed a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Hey, it's all right, bro," he said lightly, causing Sunstreaker's demeanor to shift back to his normal, surly self. "I can find my way to our quarters. Might do me some good to get lost in here anyway. Learn my way around the hard way."
Sunstreaker's optics locked onto Sideswipe's own, as if searching for something inside his soul. The gaze was almost enough to make Sideswipe's focus shift to something else to get away from the scrutiny.
"Okay," Sunstreaker said after several long seconds. He glared at Goldbug again. "And this won't take long."
"Well, this is Magnus we're talking about," Goldbug said jokingly and quickly cleared his throat as Sunstreaker's optics narrowed, obviously unappreciative of the joke. Goldbug smiled at Sideswipe. "It's good to have you back, man."
With that, Sunstreaker strode away with Goldbug trying to keep pace. Goldbug trotted a couple of steps. As they moved down the hall, Sideswipe heard Goldbug say, "I'm going to need to transform if you don't slow down."
Sunstreaker then huffed as they rounded the corner. "I suppose we'll need another report for that too," was the last that Sideswipe heard of the conversation before their voices faded away. With that Sideswipe walked slowly in the direction of their quarters.
Sideswipe glanced again over his shoulder to where Sunstreaker and Goldbug had rounded the corner, still marveling that he was the same Bumblebee that Sideswipe remembered. From just the one meeting, it was obvious that there was more than just a new body to go with the same fun-loving Autobot. Bumblebee, while jovial and laid-back, would not have been able to order Sunstreaker around like he had just done. He was different.
And he wasn't the only thing that was. Everything on Earth seemed to evolve at a lightning pace. Friends were gone, some away on a mission, others gone forever. New Autobots were stationed on Earth. Many of them were Autobots Sideswipe had never even laid optics on before. On top of the status of the war, it was almost dizzying.
Sideswipe paused in front of his quarters and placed his hand on the control panel. The door slid open with a hiss and the red warrior walked a couple of paces into the room. He stopped, swiveling his head to get a look at quarters that were assigned to him seven years ago, quarters that he had never seen. Obviously, Sunstreaker had been in here. Everything that had adorned their adjoining quarters in the old headquarters was now placed in the room and in nearly the same place as before. Sideswipe could not help but smile at this.
Seems someone wanted me to have something familiar to wake up to, he thought.
His smile disappeared at the sound of shouting from down the corridor. Sideswipe took a couple of steps backward peeked his head out of the door. Several rooms down the hall, he watched shadows dancing through the light cast from an open door. The warm yellow light was inviting compared to the sterile grays of the hallway.
Sideswipe started walking slowly down the hall, listening to the shouting ebb into a loud chorus of cheering. When he reached the door, he looked in and felt a ghost of a smile tug at his mouth. Inside, a half dozen Autobots were sparring with some sort of the battle drone. It seemed like something other than a battle exercise. Energon was changing hands and Sideswipe could not believe that all of these Autobots were certified for battle training.
Sideswipe stepped into the room, turning his attention from the Autobots to the equipment on the walls. Spread between computer consoles, communications ports, and energon dispensers were weapons and training equipment ranging from blast shields to laser pellet pistols. Markings over the computer terminals indicated that there were further training exercises, everything from the most trivial hand-optic coordination machines to more advanced combat simulators.
"Well, well," Sideswipe heard Powerglide say, "look who finally decided to wake up?"
Sideswipe smiled down at the warrior and patted him on the shoulder. "I had to, 'Glide," he said. "I heard about this sorry bunch and figured you guys needed a real fighter. Like me."
A mid-sized red Autobot smirked at him from his place leaning against one of the walls. "I think we can hold our own against the likes of you."
Powerglide glared over his shoulder. "Can it, Fastlane." He turned back toward Sideswipe, a smile in his optics again. "He's still sore about his deer-in-the-headlight routine when Sunstreaker got back to Earth."
"Eat it, Powerglide," Fastlane responded bitterly. He turned his attention to Sideswipe. "We're a sorry bunch, eh? How about showing us what we're doing wrong?" He gestured toward the battle drone in an exaggerated flourish. "Or did that 'nap' take too much out of you?" he added tartly.
Sideswipe stared at Fastlane for several seconds before stepping forward and studying the battle drone. Its base was a swivel point emitting a sort of electric charge into the circuit below. The circuit board stretched fifteen feet out from the center point, giving the drone outstanding agility and maneuverability. Its torso was wide and appeared to be a lot tougher than the drones from before his last battle simulation. Its head was all sensors, which meant there would be no sneaking up behind it. At the end of its two arms were two large hands and above the hands were mounted some nasty-looking laser pistols.
Sideswipe took a moment and thought through several techniques he had accumulated over his many campaigns, like he always did before battle. They rushed through his neural processor like a tempest. He knew them all. He had used them all and more in his many battles stretched across two worlds and millions of years. Still, something seemed foreign to him. They felt old, obsolete.
Finally, he glanced back at Powerglide. "Hit it."
Sideswipe turned away from the smaller Autobot as Powerglide depressed a switch on one of the walls. The drone lurched forward, firing off several blasts that Sideswipe ducked to avoid. He hazarded a look back at what the shot hit and saw it dissipate before reaching any Autobot or the wall. Sideswipe doubted he would be so lucky as to have the same happen to him during the exercise. And even if the blast wouldn't hurt him, he knew that contact would mean he failed in the exercise.
The drone leaned forward and Sideswipe flipped back, bringing his feet around and kicking the drone in the head. Powerglide and a few of the other Autobots cheered. The drone pinwheeled back from the blow before reestablishing itself. It dashed forward again, lasers shooting off a steady stream. Sideswipe ran to the right, ahead of the blasts, and raced toward the drone, punching it across the face and sending it skidding across the circuit board below it. Again, cheers filled the room.
But Sideswipe felt none of the joy he usually did during these battle routines. He remembered a time not so long ago that he reveled in showing off for the other Autobots in these mock battles, even when Sunstreaker wasn't there to goad him on. But he did not feel any of that enthusiasm now. Nor did he feel despair. He felt nothing and that was somehow worse.
Sideswipe easily avoided the next flurry of laser fire from the drone. He spun and dodged, inching closer to the drone. Then, he leapt and was standing in front of it. Sideswipe watched it fall back, a defense mechanism programmed within it. Before the drone was out of arm's reach, Sideswipe nabbed it by the head. With a grunt of effort and no other emotion, Sideswipe twisted its head off and deposited on the floor.
Sideswipe turned around and looked at the other Autobots in the room. The only sound was the buzzing of circuits from the disabled battle drone. Sideswipe's optics scanned the Autobots before him, lingering longest on Powerglide, whose expression registered surprise, and Fastlane, who simply continued to lean against the wall with a guarded expression.
Without a word, Sideswipe strode out of the door and walked down the hallway to his quarters. He knew that Powerglide was there, watching him leave. Sideswipe wondered what he could be thinking. Was he concerned about Sideswipe's display? Shocked, but understanding? Sideswipe paused in front of his door for a second. He knew he was not about to ask Powerglide either of those questions or any others that were fighting their way to the surface. He knew he wasn't going to because he himself did not know how he felt. It all seemed so different. Everything was strange, even those things that should be so familiar, like a good fight. He had always thought that 'bots out of sync with themselves felt pain and turmoil when they were in a state like this. But Sideswipe did not. All he was was numb. Empty and dark.
Sideswipe walked into his quarters and sat down on a cushioned bench along the wall. He closed the coverings to the window behind him. He didn't want to look at the stars outside. He knew that they had begun to fall.
* * *
Onslaught stared at Cyclonus over the data log in his hand for several long seconds. Cyclonus waited. He did not know how the Combaticon would react to what Cyclonus had in mind. Onslaught was a logical Decepticon who saw things far more black and white than most others. He was ever-loyal to Galvatron, seeing the Decepticon commander's raw power as the best route to Decepticon conquest. But Onslaught also had Swindle whispering things in his audio circuits, questioning every step that Galvatron took. The effect of this was to force Onslaught down an uncomfortable gray path, straight toward Cyclonus.
The data log over which Onslaught continued to scrutinize Cyclonus contained a drawn up plan far different from the direction that Galvatron and Zarak were taking the Decepticons. Cyclonus felt apprehensive from the start, questioning whether this would lead him to Galvatron's throne room in shackles and under guard. It was close, so close, to open rebellion.
Finally, Onslaught placed the data log on the table between them and slid it back toward Cyclonus. He leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms over his chest.
"And I thought that Galvatron was the insane one."
Cyclonus grasped the log and tucked it safely away. "Indeed?" was all he said.
"You don't wonder what Galvatron will think of this when he finds out?" Onslaught asked after a moment. "And he will find out. That is designed to make a splash, one way or another."
"I do wonder," Cyclonus said. "But I hope that seeing the fruits of the assault will force Galvatron to see other options. Options that will benefit the Decepticons more so than those loathsome flesh creatures."
Onslaught nodded, his red optics dim with thought.
"This way," Cyclonus continued, "Galvatron will see that we are the strength in his army. That we have the power to do what we will. We've had Cybertron for a tantalizingly short amount of time, but it proved that we have the strength even now to do it. This plan," Cyclonus said, tapping the compartment with the data log, "is the first step to reaching that ultimate goal for good."
Onslaught nodded again.
"Can I count on you, Onslaught?" Cyclonus said. "Will you step up when your cause needs you the most?"
For several seconds, nothing broke the tense silence between the two Decepticons except the soft hum of the equipment in the War Room. Cyclonus sensed that the answer the Onslaught gave to the questions he posed would either lead Cyclonus down a path to glory for all Decepticons or one that ended with his destruction at the hands of the leader he served so loyally. All Cyclonus could do was wait.
Finally, the Combaticon leaned forward. "When do we begin?" he asked quietly.
"Now," Cyclonus answered.
* * *
Sideswipe sat in a transport flying from Metroplex to some Earth Defense Command installation down the coast. Less than five minutes ago, word came in that the Decepticons had begun a surprise assault on the human base in numbers that the human forces could not repel by themselves. Less than two minutes later, all available Autobot warriors were aboard the transport and en route to the EDC installation. Sideswipe made certain to jump the ship before anybody could tell him that he wasn't ready to join in the attack.
Word had gotten out about Sideswipe's dismantling of the drone. Every time that he saw Ultra Magnus round a corner, he was certain that a stern talking to was going to start before Magnus even stopped walking. Instead, he received an acknowledgment and kind but distracted inquiries as to how he was adjusting.
"Doing fine," was always the answer. Sideswipe sometimes thought he saw a hint of worry in Magnus' optics when he answered that question. Most of time he thought it was nothing more than his own doubts projected onto others. Certainly that was the case when other warriors, including Sunstreaker a few times, looked at him with that expression.
He smirked at Sunstreaker sitting across from him now. Sideswipe flashed his flare gun in front of his brother and said, "Sorry to give up a real gun, buddy?"
"I'm not sure that 'sorry' is the right word," Sunstreaker replied evenly. "Though 'sorry' does describe the performance of that gun is."
"More likely you just think that it clashes with your paint job," Sideswipe countered with a wink.
Sunstreaker smiled. For a moment, Sideswipe thought he saw a different expression tug at the corners of his mouth, but it was gone so quickly that he must have imagined it.
Sideswipe glanced down the row at the other warriors sitting in the transport, doing all the things that warriors did to get themselves ready for a fight. Some were sitting calmly with their optics deactivated, waiting to spring into action the moment they set down. Others were chatting, all tension of the upcoming battle gone with a little light conversation about the most inane of subjects. Some used the tension to their advantage, flooding their internal systems with energon so they would be at peak performance when they were needed.
Perhaps what Sideswipe noticed most of all was that he hardly recognized any of them. Through Sunstreaker and from listening on conversations when he was around others, he found out that Autobots were stationed on three separate worlds as well as patrolling space either on their own or with an EDC or Nebulan contingent. Supposedly, the Decepticons were in disarray with hardly a peep heard from them in a long time. The Autobots that Sideswipe knew, the ones that weren't dead, were spread across the galaxy. He received only the briefest of messages from Trailbreaker "welcoming him back to the land of the living" as he put it. Smokescreen was apparently on some secret mission, as any inquiry about him was answered with a shrug and little else, even from the likes of Sunstreaker.
Sideswipe sat against the transport again and leaned his head wearily back. His optics were pointed at the exposed gray metal of the ship but he wasn't really seeing it. His mind went back to his friends that were gone. Ironhide would never huff about youngsters like Sideswipe and Sunstreaker and how they didn't have the level of respect for their superiors that warriors in his day did. Prowl would never chastise them for disobeying orders that he knows will be disobeyed over and over again. Ratchet would never repair him again, growling about what they did to themselves this time. Never again.
Sideswipe closed his optics for a moment. There was nothing that he could about them now. They were gone forever. Everything around him was changing so quickly. Autobots so young that Sideswipe almost felt he understood Ironhide's complaints were veterans of the war. Old hands given command gigs off world. Autobots he had known for a long time in new bodies and new levels of self-awareness. The Autobots dominated a galaxy largely at peace that was once held by the Decepticons through terror and ruthlessness. It was all so very different and seemed unnaturally sudden. Worse, Sideswipe felt deep down that he had only scratched the surface, that there was more he yet did not know. For a moment, he hung his head. He really did not want to hear about anything else. What he already knew was almost overwhelming.
After a second, the ship began to descend and Sideswipe raised his head again, trying to clear his mind. He smiled at Sunstreaker and gave his brother a thumbs-up. Sunstreaker smiled briefly and nodded. Movement to Sideswipe's left caught his attention. He turned his head in time to see Hot Rod shift from looking at him to looking straight ahead at Kup. Hot Rod seemed to by trying to get the old fighter to calm down from something his Nebulan partner had said.
Nebulans, Sideswipe thought. Headmasters, Targetmasters. A Transformer on a different world that was even bigger than Metroplex. Sideswipe looked down at his gun and tried to drown out the overwhelming feeling threatening to rise up in him and send him spiraling into despair.
Sideswipe blinked when he realized that Silverbolt, who was leading the mission, was on the ship's intercom going over the battle plan. Apparently the Combaticons and Stunticons were both on the ground at the EDC base. The first job for the initial force was to make certain that at least one from each team was quickly disabled so they could not merge into their super warrior modes. Next was to draw fire from the humans so they could get their offensive weapons on line and active. With luck, they were told, the Decepticon force should be forced to retreat quickly. Also, Silverbolt said, they were all that would be available in the fight. Reinforcements were en route from Cybertron, but for now they were on their own. Reaction from this ranged from grumblings of the state of the command structure to knowing shrugs of consignment. In other words, the usual. At least that hasn't changed.'
As Silverbolt switched off the communicator, the ship landed. Four large doors sprung up, flooding sunlight into the previously dim transport. Everybody was quickly on their feet and outside. A throng of Autobots rushed forward, a blur of metal and energy running toward the Decepticon attackers. Sideswipe started sprinting ahead in a glory charge with the rest of the force. After all the years of inactivity, Sideswipe felt the same swell of excitement that he remembered. His mind seemed better focused. Objects moved past him in slow motion. He did not dwell on these aspects of being a warrior. He expected them to be there, after all. Thirty years was not a long time for a Transformer no matter how much had changed in that time. It was how his systems reacted when a battle was close. Some Autobots could never, if they practiced for years, reach the level that Sideswipe and Sunstreaker achieved without trying. Some Autobots were scientists or mechanics. Sideswipe was a warrior and he would not have it any other way.
Sideswipe looked around him, suddenly noticing other Autobots sprinting past him. Without realizing it, his gait had slowed to a jog. He frowned and started running faster, moving up in the pack again. The group climbed a hill. The flyers among them transformed and took to the air as the rest dashed into the Decepticons forces.
Sideswipe stopped suddenly at the top of the hill. He watched the battle unfold. Autobots and Decepticons took up position, launching volleys into the darkening evening sky. He watched Wildrider take a concussion blast from Cloudraker. Sunstreaker took down Blast Off. And Sideswipe stood still, holding his gun at his side, watching the shadows grow slowly down the hill toward the flank of the Autobot forces Shouts from the battle tore at his laser core. Every ounce of his being wanted to be in the battle, trashing Decepticons like he always did. But something, he knew not what, was holding him back.
"What's wrong with me?" he whispered, looking down at his gun.
* * *
"Onslaught, behind you!"
Sunstreaker did not have his weapon at that moment; it had been shot out of his hand by some Decepticon a couple of seconds earlier. If he had, several things would be true. First, he would not be flying through the air with his foot extended intent on knocking the Combaticon commander to the ground before he had a chance to blow Warpath's head off. Second, he would have shot whoever warned Onslaught that he was coming.
Upon hearing the warning, Onslaught pivoted toward Sunstreaker and ducked in the nick of time to avoid being taken down. Sunstreaker cursed, but at the same time thanked whoever watched over foolhardy warriors in battle that the track guns attacked to Onslaught's back were now facing the other direction. Sunstreaker looked back at the Combaticon as he reached the ground, his extended leg now sliding through the loose dirt. Warpath fired at Onslaught, forcing him to recover more slowly than he normally would have. Sunstreaker grinned humorlessly, seeing the fight turn to his advantage again.
Sunstreaker felt his foot brush against a large boulder exposed on the battlefield. With his foot flush against the rock, he bent his leg at the knee. Then like a recoiled spring, he pushed off the boulder and went flying back the other direction. This time the Decepticon had no warning. Sunstreaker tackled Onslaught and the two tumbled dozens of meters, rolling along the ground, each trying to take the advantage. At one point, Sunstreaker had him pinned, but Onslaught arched his back up. Using his superior strength, he lifted Sunstreaker, intent on slamming the Autobot to the ground. Not knowing what else to do, Sunstreaker tumbled to the ground. The movement caught Onslaught off guard. Sunstreaker kicked his legs out and slammed the Combaticon in the abdomen, sending Onslaught over his head. Sunstreaker scrambled to his feet, caught a standard laser pistol tossed by another Autobot and turned to fire.
Instead of knocking Onslaught from the fight, he found himself thrown back as an energy pulse struck the ground in front of him, shot from Vortex as he scrambled to avoid the encroaching Powerglide in the air. Sunstreaker did not stop flying through the air until he rammed into a very large tree fifty meters away. Shaking the cobwebs from his head, he thought, Damn lucky shot.
As he reached back to hoist himself to a standing position, a figure on the hill above the battle caught his optics. He shook his head again, certain that he was seeing things. But he wasn't. On top of the hill was Sideswipe, standing there, merely watching the battle unfold. For what seemed like an eternity, Sunstreaker watched him. Everything that he felt and believed was turning out to be true. There was something wrong.
Since waking up days ago, Sideswipe stared off into space more often than Beachcomber on a bad day. Then there was the business with the battle drone.
"Talk to him," Powerglide had almost pleaded after that incident, but Sunstreaker only shook his head. Powerglide told him he was being stubborn and stalked away. But Powerglide did not know his brother. Sunstreaker knew what Sideswipe's reaction would be. After all, Sideswipe was tough, smart, capable, and an absolute dunderheaded imbecile about showing any weakness. He would laugh, pat Sunstreaker on the shoulder, and tell him he was losing his marbles. And then continue to bury everything that he was feeling inside with even more vigor, everything that he continued to ignore since uttering the phrase "Ratchet's dead." The entire painful process would extend out longer and only bring greater turmoil than Sideswipe was already feeling.
Sunstreaker had long since stopped telling Sideswipe when he should get repaired for the same reason. The more Sunstreaker told Sideswipe to get his aft into repair bay, the longer his brother held out saying he was just fine, that he wasn't a big baby like Sunstreaker. Sideswipe wore his pain like a badge of honor, like it was his right as a warrior. He was doing the same thing with his grief. It was building up inside of Sideswipe; Sunstreaker could feel it even as his brother continued to ignore it. He needed to release it, but he would never let Sunstreaker help.
Sunstreaker stood and watched Sideswipe turn and walk away from the fight. It hurt to witness that, even if he understood why it was happening. Sideswipe was the best fighter he knew and he never would have walked away from a fight, especially one that his brother was a part of. Sunstreaker, though, had the advantage of time. He was able to watch everything change so quickly. He was able to mourn the death of his friends. He stood on Cybertron and celebrated with the others when the world was liberated. He stood on Nebulos and he had fought with side by side with flesh creatures that they little more than protected just thirty years ago. Sideswipe was just now processing it. He needed time as well.
But he also needed a jump start if the Decepticons were going to be making waves again. He opened his communicator to a private channel and contacted the one Autobot who might be able to help open his optics.
* * *
Onslaught stepped out onto the surface of Cybertron for first time in two years and closed his optics, taking in the cool crisp air that still encircled his home world even with the unnatural and unfamiliar golden glow that ensconced everything now. He thought it was odd how a world he had been on so little in the years that had passed since his awakening could feel like home. But it did. He felt whole when he stepped out of the shuttle onto the metal surface of the planet, something he never felt on any other world.
As Cyclonus crossed the landing platform, Onslaught looked up at the sky, which was now devoid of spy satellites and Autobot patrol ships that even two years ago hounded the Decepticons on the surface. He had to hand it to Cyclonus; so far, his plan had worked to perfection. The Autobots on Cybertron had released several units as reinforcements and support troops to Earth when Onslaught's attack began, only to be caught unawares when Cyclonus led a larger strike force onto the surface of Cybertron.
The swatch of land conquered was small, certainly compared to the blitzkrieg two years before, when he helped Galvatron wrench almost total planetary control from the Autobots. That plan, however, has radically different and was not meant to be a sustained campaign. Looking back now, it almost seemed like a dream, some projection from Galvatron's warped mind than a Decepticon victory. Onslaught often advocated small victories more apt to lead to a thriving long-term assault. This was one of those cases. Cyclonus chose wisely, attacking a lightly populated and underdeveloped province far from the Autobot's center of influence around Iacon. Here, they were more likely to find sympathetic fools to use to gain more territory. From their position, subterfuge and stealth attacks would be used in conjunction with carefully crafted rhetoric meant to lead the naive neutrals and perhaps even some Autobots to believe that the Decepticons were merely exercising their rights as Cybertronians. Eventually, their new neighbors would believe that the wanted nothing more than to live in peace.
It was a ploy straight out of history, used by their Decepticon ancestors to begin their ultimate conquest of Cybertron before the Great War was even a skirmish. Onslaught's brow knitted briefly in frustration. Too often thoughts such as these would rise from some unreachable level of his consciousness, as if some part of his past had been erased from his mind. Like always, he quickly dismissed this notion. It had nothing to do with the present situation. He could dwell on it later.
As Cyclonus neared, Onslaught said, "You realize that the Autobots will strike quickly at our position."
The next phase was the most dangerous part of Cyclonus' plan, even if its utter need was obvious to anyone. It was also the one part that Onslaught was most uncomfortable with. The likelihood of failure was high. The Autobots strongest force was stationed on Cybertron and some of the warriors on Earth would surely arrive as well. Onslaught felt certain that this force would be difficult to defeat. The Autobot commanders would be fools to not try to overwhelm the Decepticons, expelling them quickly before they could stir up any local sympathizers that would make continued assaults less likely, even in the face of growing brazenness from the Decepticons as they slowly expanded from their starting point.
"Of course they will," Cyclonus stated. "There is nothing that can be done about that but to hold out as long as possible." The warrior smiled. "And hope for some modicum of luck."
The Combaticon was taken aback at Cyclonus' expression. In the years that Onslaught had served under Cyclonus, he could not remember a single time that the Decepticon had smiled. He decided there and then that he did not like it. For some reason, it conjured up images of Galvatron's wicked smirk, despite the obvious differences between commander and advisor.
Thoughts of the Decepticon commander stirred up another concern. "Has there been any word from Galvatron?"
"Not as yet," Cyclonus replied. "But you can be certain that he has heard of this assault." Worry caused Cyclonus' optics to dim for a moment. "But there is nothing that can be done for that." He paused. "I did get a brief message from Nightstick. Apparently Zarak is not happy."
"I heard. But as Swindle said on the way here, that must mean that we are doing something right."
Cyclonus smiled again, but only briefly. Onslaught found himself relieved. "Indeed. Let us prepare. The Autobots will not delay and we have to make sure we give them a warm welcome."
* * *
Sideswipe felt ridiculous walking through the shuttle, like he was some damn parade of one. For a few days after his revival, Autobots would watch him walk by, but it was almost always with an expression of happiness or relief. One of their own was back from the brink of deactivation after all this time. Sideswipe even grew to enjoy it to some extent. But after the battle at the EDC base, it was different. Instead of pats on the back and broad smiles, he was greeted with guarded looks and whispers. It was a mere six hours after the attack and already it seemed like the entire planet was aware of his actions. Sideswipe, Autobot warrior extraordinaire, choked in battle. He simply stood and watched the fight like it was some spectator sport and then turned and left, as if he was bored by it all and wanted a change of scenery. Rare was the Autobot that did that. Nonexistent was the warrior that did.
What surprised Sideswipe even more was the reaction he got from the Autobots he expected to take it the worst. Ultra Magnus seemed unconcerned, as if it was ordinary chain of events for cases like this. For all Sideswipe knew, it was. In the past on the field of battle, an Autobot either pulled through right away or died soon after the battle. Rare was someone like him, who walked the line between the two realms. Just another thing that changed so suddenly.
As for Sunstreaker, he continued to stand sentinel at his brother's side. He would look at Sideswipe with worried or frustrated optics at times, but mostly he remained a very partial juror to anyone that so much as looked at Sideswipe in a manner that didn't please him. It was comforting to have Sunstreaker there. He at least did not change. He was the same uber-vain, second-best soldier in the Autobot military. Sunstreaker merely shrugged at the first part and scoffed at the second. The same as always. Sunstreaker would ask him if he was doing okay from time to time, often with an expression that seemed to indicate it was more than just a simple question. Every time he was asked, Sideswipe always gave the same answer: that he was doing just fine. At the end of duty when he would lay in the energizer for shutdown, he wondered sometimes why he did that, why he told Sunstreaker that all was hunky-dory when in truth Sideswipe felt like he was being eaten alive from the inside.
The previous battle only compounded this. As he stood on that hill watching the battle, he could feel every circuit pulling him toward the contest below him as if he were the opposite pole of a magnet to the Decepticons across the field. He felt physically drained when he turned to leave, like he was swimming upstream against an impossible current. Worse was the emptiness and darkness inside. When he returned to the city, he ignored the confused guards at the city walls asking where the other fighters were and why he wasn't with them. He walked dispassionately down the corridor, walking past the training room with the newly repaired battle drone he had dismantled the other day. The pull into the room was there, but was nothing compared to battle. He easily walked on to his quarters.
Once there, he did nothing more than stand in his room for a long time. He did not know exactly how long. Truth be told, he was afraid to check. It felt like forever and he wasn't sure if it would have been better or worse if it had actually been no time at all. When he did snap out of this fugue, he set about trashing his quarters. When Sunstreaker returned, the furniture and computer terminal were destroyed as well as a fair number of his entertainment disks. His brother fixed Sideswipe with an expression marked with concern and asked if he was okay. Sideswipe felt ashamed that he stood in a pile of scrap that he had made with his bare hands and told Sunstreaker that he was fine. As soon as the words spilled from his mouth, he almost went on and told Sunstreaker the truth. He almost told him about the emptiness and darkness, but he could not. Sunstreaker had spent thirty years worrying for him and wondering if the next day was going to be the day that he was told his brother had gone to the Great Battlefield in the Sky. Sideswipe felt certain that this would pass on its own. There was no need to worry his brother any more than necessary. He would just continue to tell his tidy little lie until the emptiness and darkness was gone.
With Sunstreaker at his side, as always, Sideswipe stepped into personnel hold of the shuttle en route to Cybertron. Too late they had discovered that Onslaught's attack was a ruse and that the true goal was establishing the Decepticons on Cybertron again. When calls for volunteers went up, Sideswipe was the first Autobot to sign on. The other warriors bore skeptical looks and Sideswipe did not blame them. He had to make up for failing in the last battle. Every time he passed another Autobot in the halls of the shuttle, he felt doubt tugging at him, wondering if he really was ready to stand and fight. He hated himself for that feeling; it was too close a cousin to cowardice for his taste.
"Well, well," Fastlane said in a mocking tone as Sideswipe walked past, "if it is Mr. Not-Ready-For-the-Big-Time himself." He gave Sideswipe an exaggerated bow. "It's truly an honor to in the room with such greatness."
Sideswipe said nothing, but as he walked passed he threw his arm out and shoved the other Autobot into bulkhead. Fastlane pushed off the wall, intent on confronting the warrior, but Powerglide stepped in front of him.
"Lay off," Powerglide said. "Last time I checked, you weren't perfect either."
"I'm not talking about perfection here," Fastlane retorted angrily, making certain that Sideswipe heard him. "I'm talking about competence.
Sideswipe turned, ready to say something in return, but suddenly the words froze at the back of his throat. A large part of him saw the truth in Fastlane's comments. He was a warrior. Fighting in battles to the death was his life. But now he could not do it. Instead, he turned his fiery skills on battle drones and lifeless furniture.
No one in the room had seen Sideswipe's brief pause. Sunstreaker, moving so quickly that it was like he teleported, was standing in front of Fastlane with one hand holding the smaller Autobot against the bulkhead.
"I've got an idea," Sunstreaker said. "How about we shut our blasted mouth about glories on the battlefield until after we have done one-hundredth as much as Sideswipe has? Think you can handle that."
Fastlane knocked Sunstreaker's hand away as soon as the large warrior let up on his grip. Sunstreaker looked as though he was going to let it go. But Sideswipe suddenly could not. Instead, his thoughts veered sharply back to the battle on Earth and swerved headlong into the fight with Marauder that had put him in status for so long. Blind fury filled him like at no other time he could remember and he could do nothing to stem the growing tide inside him. He felt like a bystander watching in horror at some developing grizzly scene. He leapt forward, punching Fastlane in the abdomen and doubly him over, as much in surprise as pain. He grasped the other Autobot by the throat, bringing him upright again, and lifted him off the ground. Three, four times he smashed Fastlane into the steel wall behind him, shouting about competence and what Sideswipe could teach him. It took five Autobots to pry his hands off of Fastlane. It was Sunstreaker that finally separated the two Autobots, pushing Sideswipe into the center the room and holding Fastlane firmly against the wall again.
For a long time, nobody said a word. The Autobots in the room watched Sideswipe, most with guarded expressions but others with looks of fear and confusion. Sideswipe looked at Sunstreaker, afraid of seeing hurt or horror in his optics. Instead, his brother was watching him carefully and without emotion. Somehow, that was worse. He found that he wanted Sunstreaker to scream at him, to curse him, to pound him into scrap metal if necessary. Sunstreaker's understanding, Powerglide's steady friendship, Ultra Magnus' patience . . . It all made Sideswipe feel small for not confiding in them. The darkness gnawed at him again.
Disgusted with himself, he turned to walk out of the room. He paused in the doorway leading into the cargo bay. He suddenly felt very heavy, as if so much weight had just been piled onto his shoulders. His gaze fell to the floor in front of him. He reached his arms out and braced himself in the door's frame to keep from collapsing to the ground. He was all too aware of the tense silence behind him.
It was broken by Fastlane. "Thought you were the fun-loving, jovial type. Not the type that attacked your own." He grunted softly when Sunstreaker pushed harder against his chest plate. "What happened to that guy?" he continued regardless.
"I'm not that Autobot anymore," he said flatly, before disappearing behind the cargo bay door.
* * *
Sideswipe glanced around the melee target and watched Hot Rod walk into the room. He frowned, wondering why he, of all Autobots, wandered in to take a fruitless stab at ferreting out Sideswipe's malaise. He then returned his attention back to the large silicon cylinder and threw a few more punches at it.
As Sideswipe continued to work on the target, he watched as Hot Rod sat down on a crate of supplies being shipped to Cybertron with the assault force. For several minutes, this was how the scene remained. Hot Rod sat idly watching Sideswipe punch and kick the target. Sideswipe tried to chase away the darkness growing inside him as much as the horrified thoughts that formed upon attacking a fellow Autobot.
"Better that than Fastlane, I suppose," Hot Rod said finally, looking at his own hand rather than Sideswipe. "Fastlane might even agree, but at this point I almost think that he'd probably contradict you if you told him space was cold."
Sideswipe grabbed the target and glared at Hot Rod, hoping a threatening look would remind the young Autobot about Fastlane's condition. Instead, Hot Rod turned his head up and leveled Sideswipe with an expression that was somehow amused and hard at once. After a few seconds, Sideswipe returned to taking out his anger and frustration on the target.
"Lots has changed around here, hasn't it?" Hot Rod continued. "It can be a little difficult to take it all in one sitting like that. Honestly, I think you're coping rather well, no matter what Fastlane would say about it."
Sideswipe kicked the melee target with such force that it nearly sprung from the thick chain holding to the ceiling. He leveled his blue optics on Hot Rod again, willing the Autobot to go away. When he didn't, Sideswipe pushed the melee target aside and crossed over to Hot Rod.
"Coping well? Can the cute stuff and leave me the hell alone."
"Nah," Hot Rod said lightly, a glint of humor dancing in his optics.
Sideswipe hands balled into fists. He loomed over the young Autobot.
"Lots has changed you said," Sideswipe said, anger building with every syllable. "So what if you have a gun that talks or that Bumblebee has a new look or there are two Transformers walking around bigger than anything I've seen? You know what has changed the most? Me! I have! Didn't you hear? I bug out of battles and plaster fellow Autobots into ship bulkheads. Lying on a bed for thirty years essentially dead and I'm the thing that's changed the most."
"You haven't changed at all," Hot Rod said. "You've lost friends you thought would live forever. The life you lived for eons is gone while you slept. The world has changed, not you."
Sideswipe growled. "Listen, kid. You don't know jack about any of this. You're just a stupid gun-toting fighter waiting to be pointed in the some direction and told to go get 'em. You haven't seen what I've seen or done what I've done. You have no idea what any of this is like. So go and hit the wind and come and talk to me when you've actually walked down this road."
Hot Rod glanced up at him and Sideswipe, shocked, took an unconscious step back. Sideswipe expected the childish, defiant expression Hot Rod always had when was getting lectured to. Instead, Hot Rod seemed suddenly older and authoritative. When Hot Rod stood, Sideswipe stepped back again. When Hot Rod drew himself up, Sideswipe stood a little straighter. Hot Rod didn't look like a gun-toting fighter anymore. He looked like a general about to reprimand an uppity young cadet. Whispers Sideswipe heard around the city briefly moved to his conscious mind before retreating again, whispers about Hot Rod's recent past.
"I know more about it than you'll ever know," Hot Rod said, his boyish voice reverting to a commanding one.
For all of two seconds that seemed to last forever, those words hung in the air like an accusation. Hot Rod seemed almost hurt by having to say them and Sideswipe felt small having them said to him.
"But that doesn't change how you feel," Hot Rod continued. "Thing is, beating on battle drones or melee targets or, hell, even Fastlane, isn't going to change what's happened. You can't go back. And, Sideswipe, I really doubt that you would. You lost thirty years and some good friends, but you saved Sunstreaker's life at the same time. I don't have to know you very well to know that you would do the same thing again and again, no matter how times you faced that choice. Because for you, there wasn't a choice."
Sideswipe said nothing to that. He didn't have to since they both knew it was true. Still, he felt he needed to say something.
"Sunstreaker knows I'm fine."
"No," Hot Rod said, studying Sideswipe intently, "Sunstreaker knows you. Everybody else that knows you and has talked to you, what have you told them? 'I'm fine. You're crazy. You're nuts.' Sorry, buddy, but all evidence to the contrary. It's eating you up inside and Sunstreaker knows it has much as everybody else. But he knows you'll just dig in and fight it off and let it tear you up inside even more before you'd admit it."
Hot Rod started walking to the door. "Things have changed here. Things are going to keep on changing. Maybe it'll be faster, maybe it'll be slower, but they will keep on changing. We all have to deal with it and that includes you. You lost thirty years and when you wake up, your world falls apart. You know what? Tough. You're still you. You're still a fighter with a cause worth fighting for. The cause hasn't changed. What we fight for and why we fight hasn't changed. Friends have died. Battles have been won and lost. The war marches on. How is that any different?"
"Because it's happening to me!" Sideswipe yelled and instantly regretted it. It felt so childish and petty, even if it felt true.
Hot Rod smiled sadly. "It feels like that. I know it. But it's happening to all of us. You, me, Sunstreaker. Even that punk Fastlane. Different degrees, sure, but look at it this way. What you have lost, so has Sunstreaker. He might pay attention when Goldbug speaks, but he's still the same egotistical blowhard looking out for what's best for his brother. He's barely left your side through all of this. He's always right there, waiting for you to snap out of whatever this is and talk to him. He knows how you feel. Exactly how you feel," Hot Rod stressed. "You might have to tell anybody else on this ship how it feels to be a fighter who can't muster walking onto the battlefield, but not Sunstreaker. He knows. He knows what you've faced since waking up. He knows that you worry about what else is going to change, that a part of you fears change and that's why you couldn't run onto that battlefield. But, Sideswipe, to fear change is not to lack courage. Not even close. Change is inevitable. It'll happen with us or without us. The best we can do is to make that change for the better anyway we can."
The door behind Hot Rod slid open. After one more knowing look over his shoulder, the young Autobot walked back into the corridor. When the door closed again, Sideswipe leaned heavily against the wall behind him.
Every gear, every servo, every system, roiled inside him. He felt like he had been grabbed by Omega Supreme and shaken until every circuit was loosed from its mooring. For a long time, he did nothing but stare at the steel door in front of him, the sounds of the ship landing and the crew disembarking a distant hum. He was someplace else. He was in Autobot Headquarters, the other warriors listening as he and Sunstreaker told a story in their rat-a-tat style. He smiled dimly, remembering that nearly all of these stories ended with them either coming to blows or verbally humiliating the other, all for the entertainment of the others. The smiled vanished as he thought of those that would never be in a new tale ever again.
Sideswipe angrily slammed his fist into the bulkhead. Every time that he remembered something old and comforting, the fact that some of his best friends were gone forever rushed in behind it. One minute, he was joyous. The next, in turmoil. He wondered what had happened to Hot Rod, that thing everybody almost talked about but never quite did, that he could know exactly how he felt inside. In the end, he decided that it didn't really matter. What mattered was that he was right. He feared more change. He feared going into battle would change something else and that it would never be like it was again. He felt like a fool, needing to be told this by a virtual child.
Sideswipe closed his optics and thought of Ratchet threatening bodily harm even as he repaired him. Of Prowl's almost forced exasperation. Of Ironhide and Huffer and Wheeljack and Windcharger. He felt pained has millions of years of memories, both good and bad, washed over him. But he still smiled.
He thought of Sunstreaker, on an island alone for thirty years, feeling the same loss as he for the same friends that he lost. Sideswipe rose to his feet and walked to the door. Sunstreaker would be on that island alone no longer.
* * *
Cyclonus stalked across the battlefield with a nearly forgotten laser pistol latched to his back and an energon sword in hand. The battle, to be honest, was not going well. But Cyclonus did not expect anything different. The Decepticons were woefully outnumbered and were always one step away from being outmaneuvered as well. It was that one step that gave Cyclonus heart. The longer this fight lasted, the better chance for their survival for another day. Survive another day and they might be able to survive forever. A couple of short years was all it took for the Autobots on Cybertron who did not seek war to forget what was necessary to keep the Decepticons at bay. That was one thing, perhaps the only thing, that Cyclonus was glad to see had changed.
He raised his sword to block a clumsy attack from a hidden Autobot and rallied some of the troops to his side. Together, they rushed forward, surprising the Autobots behind an embankment with the bold move. Several precise laser shots and a few swings of the sword and the embankment was held by the Decepticons once more. Cyclonus heard a distant battle cry on the other side of the battle zone, but this time from an Autobot. Cyclonus did not fret over the loss of territory. It was to be expected. They only needed time.
As Cyclonus surveyed the area and directed several Stunticons to move against another Autobot-held position, his mind drifted back to Galvatron, sitting on some nondescript rock far away from Cybertron. He wondered how his leader, who was so tantalizingly close to victory so many times, could sit back and watched his empire dwindle. Autobots and other alien empires pushed in on Decepticon-held quadrants without little or no fight. Galvatron would wave this off as if they meant nothing and turn an audio sensor to Zarak, nodding agreeably as the fleshling concocted some plan that should mean nothing to the Decepticons. Cyclonus angrily drove his sword into an already destroyed Autobot drone warrior. It did nothing to alleviate his anger. Decepticon values rendered inert for no reason while some sub-species steered them into a universe they had little place. Everything Cyclonus once knew about what it meant to be a Decepticon warrior replaced by servitude to a creature below their contempt. That would stop here on Cybertron. Galvatron would awaken to these facts. He must.
Cyclonus again called Decepticons to his side, surprising those around him. He had told him that patience would be the key to victory, but here he was acting rashly. He could not help himself. He felt powerless even as he rampaged across the field of battle. It seemed that only in the heat of this war did he feel any kind of control. Some logical part of him told him that he would only end up dead, or worse, imprisoned. He ignored this and ran forward with almost reluctant Decepticon warriors followed in his wake. In his state, he would not have cared if he had been alone.
After several seconds, he was. Autobot fire from the ground and from the air cut down the warriors, but Cyclonus fought on, working his way through the Autobots before him. He ignored the pain of laser fire boring into his armor and fought on. Two swings knocked one Autobot aside. A kick sent another flying. Grabbing his laser pistol, he took down another, leaving only one more. The Autobot, one of the clones, lunged at him, but Cyclonus easily stepped past the clumsy attack. He crossed to the Autobot and rammed one foot heavily into his chest before he could stand.
"It ends here," he growled, more to himself than the Autobot.
He raised his sword, but before he could bring it down in a killing blow, he saw a shadow envelop him.
"Nope, it ends later," a voice said from behind him. Cyclonus turned, but too late.
* * *
Sideswipe swung the large metal pole he was holding and felt it resist as it struck the Decepticon's armor. With a grunt of effort, he followed through with the blow and watched the Decepticon tumble to the ground. After a passing glance at Fastlane to make certain he was still functioning, he focused again on the Decepticon. The purple mech was glaring at him angrily with such righteousness, like Sideswipe was imposing on something his and his alone. And then there was a look of momentary confusion. Sideswipe knew an opening when he saw one.
Twirling the pole playfully in one hand, he said, "Gosh, did I do that?"
Upon hearing that, the Decepticon was shaken from his reverie. He moved forward to confront him, but Sideswipe was ready. He swung the pole again, catching the Decepticon under his chin, sending him flying through Cybertron's dark sky.
"Yep," he heard Sideswipe say. "Looks like I did at that."
Sideswipe dropped the pole to the ground with a clang and dropped a hand down to help Fastlane to his feet. For a moment, Fastlane looked at the hand as if it was about to ball into a fist and clock him right there. Sideswipe had to admit that the longer he did, the more he was tempted to do just that.
"Look," Sideswipe finally said. "The battle's not going anywhere, so how about we get a move on."
Fastlane hesitated for another second before grasping Sideswipe's hand and jumping to his feet. Without a word of thanks, he transformed and rushed back to the nearby front.
"Typical," Sideswipe said, and then thought how it was an almost Ironhide-esque statement to make in that situation.
Sideswipe turned to find the Decepticon he had been fighting again and found himself face to face with him. Surprised, Sideswipe brought his arms up defensively and fended off the worst of the assault, but still found himself trapped in the Decepticon's grasp. Sideswipe tried to pull out of it, but could not; the Decepticon was deceptively strong.
"Who do you think you are?" the Decepticon growled.
"Better looking than you," Sideswipe quipped. He then pulled back away from the Decepticon, using the leverage to lift his legs and kick him in the torso. With a grunt, the Decepticon tumbled to the ground again. Before he could regain his footing, Sideswipe leveled his gun on him.
"Game's over," Sideswipe said. After a second, Sideswipe realized that the fighting around them at largely stopped. He studied the Decepticon more closely, seeing that he had noticed the cessation in battle as well. Sideswipe was holding the key to the battle in his gun's sight. The other Decepticons knew they were losing and that they couldn't win without this one Decepticon. With this Decepticon on the ground and defeated, the rest of the attack force stopped fighting their unwinnable fight. Sideswipe shook his head in disbelief.
"You're Cyclonus? No wonder the Decepticons are in such sorry shape."
Just then, a plasma burst rained down from the sky above. Sideswipe instinctively dove for cover. He saw the Autobots that did not have a Decepticon in their sights already turn their attention to the new attacker. Sideswipe looked up and watched a large Decepticon cannon transforming into a leering robot, knowing he was looking at the Decepticon's new leader.
"Decepticons, to me," he roared, firing down onto the Cybertron's surface. Decepticons jumped into the air, some making it to flight, others grounded by Autobot fire. Galvatron descended to the ground, firing randomly and driving most Autobots behind embankments and into ditches.
Sideswipe fired on him to no effect as he grabbed Cyclonus by the arm and took off into the air again. Galvatron leveled his plasma arm cannon on Sideswipe and fired. Sideswipe closed his optics, knowing he couldn't survive the blast. Still, he felt oddly content, like dying on the battlefield made him almost whole again.
He grunted as something run through him, carrying him away from plasma burst. He could still feel the heat of it against his armor as the planet absorbed the blast. He looked past his savior for a moment as the Decepticon called for retreat and led the remaining members of the Decepticon assault force away from Cybertron.
Sideswipe looked up at Sunstreaker, who was smiling wickedly at him.
"Now did you see what I did there?" Sunstreaker asked. "Did you see how I managed to save your sorry hide without actually killing myself? That, bro, is the reason why I am the best and you are merely, well, you."
"Is that any way to treat the fella that saved your life?"
Sunstreaker paused and looked at him. Sideswipe almost looked away instinctively, expecting the expression that had regarded him since he woke up in the med bay. But gone was the intense scrutiny that he had so pointedly ignored for almost a week. Instead, it was the look that he knew so well it almost seemed solid and tangible. A look of friendship, of respect, of love.
Sunstreaker rose and helped his brother to his feet. Sideswipe glanced around the battlefield. He watched as Autobots he did not know mourned the deaths of other Autobots that he did not know. Still, he suddenly felt a closeness to these Autobots, a camaraderie that he never would have thought he could. He could still feel the weight of grief sitting heavily on his chest and he knew that he would need more time to process it. But he had time. That was what was important.
He turned away from the scene and found himself locked onto Fastlane's bright blue optics. Hatred simmered in them, but stronger was the grudging respect. Sideswipe nodded once to him. For a moment, he thought that the clone would not return the gesture. But, ever so slightly before looking away, he did.
Sideswipe looked up into the sky. The retreating Decepticons were long out of sight. Several small ships left the surface to pursue them, but they were probably just making certain that they were long gone rather than looking for a fight with Galvatron. It was not the ships that caught his optic, but the stars. Like on Earth, he was suddenly overwhelmed at their aching beauty and he wondered how he could have never noticed them before.
Sunstreaker walked up beside him and looked up too. Sideswipe didn't know if he was looking for the Decepticons or looking at the stars as well. Somehow, he thought it was the latter. Sideswipe turned toward his brother.
"We need to talk."
Sunstreaker returned the look and placed a hand on his shoulder. With a smile, he said, "No, we don't."