Part 4

The entrance to the auxiliary loading bay had been blocked by a wall of solid rock when the Autobots had first come online on Earth and set about to turning the Ark into a serviceable base. It was now accessible from the outside only by a long tunnel that had been blasted through the rock, and its entrance was hidden by a stand of spruce trees, making it nearly impossible to spot unless one knew right where to look. Thus it made the perfect exit for the small team of dragons and Autobots who had been chosen to seek out the Queen.

Hound slipped out first, immediately activating his hologram projector and ducking behind the image of a pile of boulders. He raised his hand, and at that signal Bluestreak hurried out to join him. Sinistra, Pan, and Cirrus were close behind, slinking low to the ground with their wings folded against their sides in an effort to not be spotted.

"Where do you think the Queen is right now?" asked Hound in a low voice.

"Probably with Megatron," Sinistra replied. "He allows her to go uncollared, but likes to keep her close by so he can keep an eye on her."

"So we gotta get her away from Megatron somehow," said Bluestreak. "But how?"

"We'll think of something," Pan assured him. "For now, let's focus on finding her."

Bluestreak wondered how Pan could be so optimistic when so much was riding on their mission here. But he didn't say so, only trailed behind as the yellow-and-brown dragon led the way down the mountain. He just hoped Pan could somehow convince the Queen to help them, and that this could be resolved without further bloodshed or oil-shed on either side. As much as he hated seeing his fellow Autobots suffer, neither did he want to see the dragons destroyed either.

The unlikely group picked their way down the mountain and across the valley, using the cover of trees and rocks when they could, relying on Hound's holograms when they couldn't. It was slow, tricky going, as the dragons and Seekers circling overhead prevented them from emerging from cover too often or moving too far at one time. Once or twice a dragon would suddenly fold its wings and dive low as if it had spotted something, and they were forced to freeze entirely and wait for the beast to lose interest and pass them by.

They were almost at the cliff face when Hound broke the bad news. "My hologram projector's just about out of power," he warned them. "Think I got enough for about thirty more seconds of use, that's it."

"Char and ash," swore Sinistra. "Pan, how much further?"

"Megatron and Queen Phantasma are atop this cliff," he assured them. "We just need to get to the top."

"Easier said than done," worried Hound, gazing up the cliff face. "A thirty-second hologram will last us until we get to the top, but after that we're in plain sight of Megatron... and any other Decepticons up there."

Cirrus tapped her lower jaw with her claw, pondering. "How far can you project your holograms, Hound?"

"Quite a ways. But the farther I go, the more power it takes. Why?"

"Perhaps, instead of using the hologram to hide us on the way up, you can use it to distract Megatron and his troops and lead them away. That way we can confront the Queen without also having to face Decepticons."

"Hmmm..." Hound did a little pondering of his own. "That could work. Means we'll have to be really quick going up the cliff, so we don't attract attention."

"Certainly the Decepticons won't question a few dragons just going about their business," said Pan. "As for you two... if we carry you in our claws, between us and the cliff face, that will reduce your chances of being spotted."

"Sounds kinda risky," Bluestreak pointed out nervously.

"We have to chance it," Sinistra replied. "We have no choice."

"All right, here goes nothing," said Hound, aiming his projector at the top of the cliff. Bluestreak magnified his vision to get a better look at the group gathered atop the ridge -- Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, and an iridescent white dragon wearing a jeweled faceplate.

That's the dragon I first saw! he realized. I saw the Dragon Queen!

"Bluestreak, shut your mouth before you start catching bugs," Cirrus advised him, amusement in her voice. "And brace yourself, we're about to fly."

Bluestreak tensed instinctively as claws wrapped around his upper arms, close to the shoulders. He did his best not to struggle, reminding himself that these dragons were on their side.

"Autobot scum!" The screech from atop the cliff could only belong to Starscream, and Bluestreak looked up to see the red-and-white Seeker whirl and fire at the yellow form that had suddenly popped out from behind a clump of trees. The holographic image of Bumblebee grinned cheekily at the Decepticons, made a rude face, and bolted. Starscream immediately gave chase, firing wildly. Megatron and Soundwave were right behind, Megatron bellowing for the Autobot to be scrapped on the spot.

"Now!" Hound ordered.

Sinistra grabbed Hound and pumped her wings, rising into the air. Cirrus also launched herself skyward, grip tightening on Bluestreak. The gunner suppressed a yelp as his equilibrium systems lurched at the move, and he had to offline his optics to keep from getting sick. He'd almost forgotten what it was like to be airborne, and he was rather forcefully reminded why he hated flying -- having no solid ground beneath him was unsettling, bordering on terrifying.

Finally his feet touched ground again, and he staggered, flailing to catch his balance, as Cirrus released him. He onlined his optics to see Sinistra set Hound down to his right and Pan land gracefully on his left. In front of them, the white dragon was crouched like an electro-panther, gathering herself to spring, but even as he watched she gradually relaxed and some of the angry fire left her eyes.

"Autobots," she breathed in relief. "And Pan... oh Pan..."

"Lady Phantasma," Pan murmured, stepping forward and touching muzzles with her.

Phantasma gave a low, soft growl that was almost a purr, then pulled away. "It's not safe here. Megatron could return at any moment. Follow me." And she turned and loped toward the trees, obviously expecting them to follow.

Bluestreak and Hound took a few steps after her, but Bluestreak stopped in his tracks when he realized the dragons weren't following. He turned to see them looking after the Queen with deeply torn expressions, as if they wished to follow her but something was holding her back.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"How can we trust her?" asked Cirrus in a pained voice. "The last time I followed her, I ended up a slave..."

Phantasma turned to look at her fellow dragons, sighing deeply. "I do not blame you for mistrusting me. Tiamut knows I have acted shamefully toward my people. But I promise you, an explanation is forthcoming."

Pan nodded and loped after her. Sinistra and Cirrus exchanged suspicious looks but followed.

The white dragon led the group into a copse of trees before turning to face them. "Are we truly alone? I don't want to find out that the blue one's minions are spying on us..."

Hound did a quick scan of the area before nodding. "We're clear."

She sighed again, this time in relief. "I will begin by offering my most sincere apologies to my people. I have acted shamefully, and I will regret this decision I have made for the rest of my life."

"Shamefully indeed," Sinistra hissed. "You reduced our kind, once lauded for our independence and nobility, into war beasts in service to a mad tyrant! How do you expect us to forgive this? Because of you we have been forced to submit ourselves to Megatron's demands, robbed of our free will, even of our voices..."

"Sinistra, please," Pan pleaded. "Let her finish."

Phantasma shook her head. "She has every right to be angry, Pan. It is my error that caused this pain, both to my people and to the Autobots."

"Why did you do it?" asked Bluestreak. "There's got to be a reason for this. Did Megatron promise you something in return?"

"Not a promise," Phantasma replied, eyes sparkling with anger. "A threat. He stole my egg."

A collective gasp rose from the dragons at this statement. Hound's jaw dropped, and had it been possible for a Cybertronian to go pale he would have bleached white on the spot. Only Bluestreak remained stumped.

"Your egg?" he repeated, puzzled.

"Some organics reproduce by laying eggs," Hound explained quickly. "You know, pods where their young develop and grow until they're able to survive on their own, at which point they hatch."

"I know that, but... oh, OH!" His spark lurched in sudden sympathy and concern as he finally realized just what Phantasma had said. "He's holding your baby hostage?"

She nodded, lowering her head.

"This changes everything!" Cirrus exclaimed. "Pan, why did you never mention this?"

"I didn't know!" Pan protested. "We suspected she might be carrying an egg before we parted, but I didn't know she had laid while in Russia!"

"Start at the beginning," Sinistra requested. "How did this happen?"

"As Pan said, we suspected an egg was on its way before I left him, but we weren't sure -- dragons don't exactly show they're carrying like some creatures do. The territorial dispute in Russia could not wait, however, and despite my concerns I went there to settle the matter. While there, I gave birth and left the egg in the care of another female while I finished settling the land dispute. The plan was to retrieve my egg and return straight to my consort, so we could finish tending the egg together until it hatched.

"But when I returned to the cavern, it was to find the egg's nurse dead and Megatron in the process of appropriating it for himself. I think he mistook it for an artifact of some kind... but when I attacked him, trying to rescue my child, he guessed the truth. And from there... you can guess the rest."

"What exactly are the terms of this deal you cut with him?" asked Hound. "Just that you'll allow him control of the dragons in return for not hurting the egg?"

"And if I attack him, my child's life is forfeit," Phantasma added, head low. "He does allow me to go uncollared -- a 'concession,' he calls it. I quickly came to realize that my freedom came at a terrible price. By allowing me to remain free of his control, he gives the dragons the impression that I am working with him of my own free will. Thus, my people will not hate him for subjecting them, but me for allowing it to happen at all. And it's a ploy that's clearly worked." Her voice was quiet now, heavy with agony. "Whenever they gaze at me, it's with purest hatred. And I cannot blame them for their anger. I selfishly gave up my kind's freedom for my own sake."

"No, my love," Pan assured her, pressing his cheek to hers. "You did it for our child. That is not selfish, that is love. What dragon who has ever tended a nest or hatched an egg can argue with your decision?"

"And it isn't just the child at stake," Cirrus pointed out. "It's the future of our race. This isn't merely a child -- if it's female, it's the heir to the throne. Phantasma acted not only to save her egg, but to ensure the continuation of the royal bloodline. We cannot hate her any longer... or at least, iI/i cannot hate her any longer."

"Neither can I," Sinistra conceded. "Our mission is clear now -- we must rescue the egg."

"But what about the computer?" asked Bluestreak. "If we save the egg, Megatron's still got the dragons under control. We've got to disable the computer that's controlling them and free them..."

"If Megatron loses control of the dragons, he'll have the egg destroyed in retaliation," Hound countered. "We've got to make sure the egg isn't in danger before we do anything about the computer or the control devices."

"Computer?" repeated Phantasma. "What are you talking about?"

"Our scientists believe there's a central computer system controlling all the collars," Hound explained. "We had hoped you would know where it is."

"I know nothing about a computer," she replied, "but I know exactly what controls my people. The collars are manipulated by the blue one, whom Megatron calls Soundwave."

Hound slapped a palm against his helm. "Of course! It makes sense! Soundwave is Megatron's most trusted hench-mech, and he's also a communications officer. He'd be perfectly capable of transmitting to every control device, and receiving data and feedback from each device in return. Doesn't explain how Megatron's able to keep them under control while Soundwave's recharging, though... theoretically, the dragons should be able to think and act for themselves while Soundwave's CPU is offline and can't transmit orders..."

"Unless Soundwave just hasn't recharged the whole time," Bluestreak pointed out. "If a mech just keeps his fuel levels high enough, he can avoid having to recharge at all."

Hound nodded, looking grave. "So we've got to take out Soundwave. Deactivate him or, at the very least, knock him out. That should cut off his signals to the collars long enough for the dragons to snap out of his control."

"And just how do you propose we do that?" demanded Sinistra. "Especially with the Queen's egg at stake?"

Before Hound could answer, his and Bluestreak's comm units went off.

/Bluestreak, Hound, report!/ Prowl barked.

"We're here!" Bluestreak replied, speaking aloud for the dragons' benefit. "What's going on?"

/Megatron's initiated the second stage of his attack/ Prowl replied, voice brisk in an effort to hold back his concern. /We've got dragons and Decepticons trying to force their way through all the base entrances. We're holding them back as best we can, but we can't do so much longer. How close are you to shutting down the computer?/

"It's not a computer, it's Soundwave!" Bluestreak replied. "Soundwave's controlling the dragons. We've got to take him out to free them. Oh, and Megatron's got the Dragon Queen's egg! And he'll kill it if he loses control of the dragons!"

/I see/ Prowl replied, sounding interested but not exactly surprised. /Very well. Your main objective is now to find and retrieve the egg, and finding and offlining Soundwave your secondary objective. Alert me as soon as you've accomplished the first objective. Until then I'm issuing a no-fire command toward Soundwave... for the moment, at least./

"Roger, Prowl," Hound told him. "Out." Once Prowl had cut off the communiqué, he turned to the dragons. "Plan's changed. We're going to find the egg. The Autobots'll take out Soundwave once we've got it."

"Easier said than done," Sinistra muttered. "Where is the egg? Back at the Nemesis?"

"Megatron will have taken it with him," Phantasma corrected. "To ensure it remains in his possession. It should be close by, but under guard."

"Then what are we waiting for?" asked Bluestreak. "Let's go egg-hunting!"

***

"Main doors are down!" screamed Red Alert, frantically stating the obvious as the doors to the base entrance collapsed into a molten heap under the steady barrage of dragonfire.

"Close the secondary doors!" barked Prowl. "Now!"

The secondary doors slammed shut, but not before two dragons had gotten through and the Decepticons had gotten off several shots. Ironhide reeled backward, smoke pluming from one shoulder, and stayed on his feet only thanks to Trailbreaker grabbing his arm and steadying him. Heth and Ignatius pounced on the dragons, grappling and clawing at the collars around their necks.

"Too close," hissed Red Alert, optics bright with alarm and sensor horns flashing anxiously. "Much too close. And those secondary doors will not hold for long!"

Cliffjumper's voice sounded over the comm, high with panic. /Got another breach at the topside hatch entrance! Slaggin' Seekers and a big yellow dragon! Brawn's down, Seaspray's down, Windcharger's lost an arm.../ Sounds of blaster fire and reptilian screams drowned him out for a fuel-pump-stopping moment. /Okay, got 'em beat back for the moment, but we're droppin' like turbo-gnats here! We gotta start shootin' to kill!/

/No/ Prowl told him flatly. /Shoot only to disable unless I say otherwise./ Privately, however, he feared it would only be a matter of minutes before they were forced to take deadly action against their attackers.

Heth and Ignatius finally stepped back, tossing aside the mangled remains of the intruders' collars. The dragons, one slate-gray and the other pale blue with black spots down its sides, shook themselves and stared at the Autobots in bewilderment.

"Brief them on the situation quickly," Prowl told Heth. "Then see if they're willing to help us."

"They will be," Ignatius assured Prowl. "I doubt you'll find a single dragon who actually enjoys working for the Decepticons."

Again Prowl's radio went off. /Hot Spot reporting in. Got a couple dragons free, but we're all a little scorched here. Got a cluster of 'em within sights of the exterior guns, though. Orders?/

/Keep them in your sights, but do not fire until I give the order/ Prowl replied. /We have GOT to give Hound and Bluestreak more time./

/Okay, but I don't know how much longer we can hold out here/ Hot Spot warned him.

The secondary doors shuddered, then began to groan and shriek as claws tore at them. Prowl raised his acid rifle, ready to fire.

"We're gonna be Pit-slag if this keeps up," Ironhide growled. "Prowl, we can't hold back forever."

"I know," Prowl replied. "But I want to save deadly force as a last resort..."

"We're runnin' outta options, Prowl!" Ironhide barked. "What's more important, savin' th' dragons or savin' Cybertron?"

"It depends on whether you're a dragon or a Cybertronian, I suppose," Ignatius informed him acidly.

"Enough," Prowl ordered. "I'm giving Hound and Bluestreak five more minutes. If they haven't achieved their objective by that time, we find and take out Soundwave. If we're unable to do that... then we shoot to kill."

***

"Aw, you've gotta be kidding me," Bluestreak moaned.

Phantasma had led their party to a box canyon not far from the Ark, the high cliff walls serving to isolate it well from the battlefield. From their hiding place behind a scree of broken rock the gathered dragons and Autobots could make out the reddish-gold shape of the egg, nestled within a protective force field. Far easier to see than the egg were the hulking forms of Devastator and Menasor, looming ominously on either side of their unlikely hostage. Bluestreak could hardly believe that Megatron thought the task of guarding the egg would need not one, but TWO entire combiner teams... and he couldn't imagine just HOW they could defeat them without Superion or Defensor's help.

"Seems like overkill," Sinistra remarked, gazing up at Devastator as the vast green-and-violet gestalt scratched idly at one elbow joint.

"With the dragons taking the heavy work off the Decepticons' shoulders, Megatron can afford to let his combiners do other jobs," Hound replied. "Such as making sure they don't lose their key advantage over the dragons."

Phantasma's tail swished from side to side like a cat's, and she crooned worriedly. "There must be a way to save my child. Please, Autobots... don't these giants have any weaknesses?"

"Well, they do have the size advantage," Hound admitted. "But we've got something they don't -- intellect. Neither of these guys are known for being especially smart, so we just need to think outside the box."

"I can distract 'em," Bluestreak offered, trying but failing to suppress a frightened quiver in his voice. "I still got my missiles, I can fire one in the distance and see if they go to investigate it... or I could just try shooting for their faces and see if that distracts them..."

"Good idea," Pan told him, giving a reptilian grin.

"Huh? Which one?"

"The distraction," Pan replied. "If we keep them occupied somehow, we can dash in and rescue the egg before they are the wiser."

Hound considered, cupping his chin in one hand. "One of us could go out there and get their attention, while the others sneak in and grab the egg. The trick would be the distracter getting out of the way before he gets stepped on..."

"Cirrus, get back here!" hissed Sinistra.

Bluestreak turned toward Cirrus... or where she had been standing just a few minutes ago. The black-and-white dragon had slipped away during the conversation and was ambling toward the gestalts, head high and step jaunty as if she hadn't a care in the world.

"She's going to get herself killed," moaned Pan.

"Or blow our cover," worried Hound. "We've got to stop her."

"There's no stopping her when she's got an idea in her head," Sinistra bemoaned, shaking her head. "She's not been an easy hatchling to control, but Tiamut knows her father and I try..."

"Wait, Cirrus is you and Ignatius' daughter?" asked Bluestreak, blinking in surprise.

Before Sinistra could reply, Cirrus spoke up. "Hey ugly! Yeah, you with the horns, I'm talking to you!"

Menasor glanced down at the dragon, wearing an expression of dull surprise. "Huh?"

Cirrus raised a forepaw and pointed at Devastator, who had just turned to see what all the fuss was about. "See him? He just said you're ugly and your manufacturer assembled you funny. You gonna let him get away with that?"

It took a moment for Menasor to process Cirrus' statement, but when his combined CPU finally computed it he gave a bellow of rage and charged the other combiner. "Menasor angry! Menasor SMASH!"

"Devastator not say..." began Devastator, but his protest was cut off by a massive fist smashing into his face. Any denials were immediately forgotten as the two laid into each other, punching and grappling, roaring as loud as their vocalizers would allow and causing the very air to shake. Cirrus darted out of the way of one massive foot and dashed back toward the others, grinning proudly.

"Not what I had in mind, but it works," Hound admitted, chuckling.

"Learn some restraint for the future, young lady," Sinistra chided. "But for now... well done."

"Thanks, Mother," Cirrus replied brightly.

"The egg!" screamed Phantasma.

Bluestreak couldn't help but flinch as Devastator's foot came down barely a yard from the egg, causing it to jolt and shake from the vibration of the impact. Without stopping to think it over, he transformed and bolted into the canyon, weaving around the gestalts and sliding to a halt near the egg. He quickly unfolded into his robot mode, pulled out his pistol, and fired at the shield generator, making the shield flicker and vanish. Then he scooped the egg up, surprised momentarily by how warm it felt...

Claws gripped his shoulders again, and he felt himself whisked away just as Menosar slammed into the ground where he had been standing half a second ago.

"Are you all right?" Phantasma demanded as she made sure her grip on Bluestreak was secure.

"Yeah," he assured her. "So's your egg, don't worry. Thanks, by the way."

"My motivations were purely self-serving," she demurred. "Had you been crushed, the egg would have perished with you."

"It's fine, don't worry," he assured her, looking down to inspect the smooth warm mass in his arms. Roughly the size of Bumblebee's alt mode, its shell was a metallic reddish-copper with swirls of bright gold across it, and felt smooth as marble. Despite its shape, he wouldn't have taken it for an egg at first glance -- it looked more like some kind of metal alloy and felt more like a sun-warmed stone. Small wonder Megatron had mistaken it for an artifact of some kind...

Phantasma gave a startled roar and backwinged suddenly, braking in midair. Bluestreak yelped as the action jerked painfully at his shoulders, but kept his grip on the egg anyhow. What was going on...

"Phantasma!" Megatron himself had risen into the air and now faced the Dragon Queen, cannon aimed directly at her. "Make any sudden moves and you AND your spawn are slag!"

"I TOLD you she would turn on us, Megatron," sneered Starscream, gliding up to hover beside his leader with a smug look on his faceplate. Soundwave rose to loom just behind the Air Commander, silent and expressionless as ever.

"If I had wanted your idiotic comments, Starscream, I would have asked for them!" Megatron snapped.

"It's over, Megatron," Phantasma hissed, tightening her grip on Bluestreak until he whimpered as the metal under her claws threatened to buckle. "I have my child back, and you have no more power over me. Release my people!"

"Do you honestly think I'll take orders from an organic?" demanded Megatron. "The dragons are mine to do with as I see fit -- to keep on as war beasts, or to exterminate if I so deem it necessary! You have renounced your control over your people, Phantasma... and you have outlived your usefulness to me."

Bluestreak's hands were full, but he didn't need his hands to activate his shoulder cannons. One missile shrieked past his audial and straight for the cluster of Decepticons. Megatron's optics flared in surprise as he hurled himself out of the way of the oncoming warhead, and Starscream dove with a shriek in an effort to dodge. Soundwave twisted easily out of the path of the missile... only to put himself right in the path of Bluestreak's second missile.

The Datsun couldn't help but wince at the distorted scream Soundwave uttered as the missile detonated, shredding his left arm and leg and leaving jagged tears in his plating. His scarlet visor flashed wildly before going dim, and he dropped like a stone.

In the distance, roars of triumph and rage began to fill the air as the dragons felt Soundwave's control fall away... and the pained howls and curses of the Decepticons soon followed as the creatures turned on their captors.

"NO!" Megatron's own bellow of rage was touched with fear -- doubtless he realized that he had not only just lost his most powerful weapon, he had just gained an equally powerful enemy. "Decepticons retreat! Retreat!"

"I TOLD you so!" Starscream howled, determined to get in the last word, before transforming and tearing off. The other Decepticons were right behind, some of them bearing claw marks or charred blotches in their armor. Megatron himself dropped to the ground to grab Soundwave's chassis and throw it over his shoulder before flying off after them, and he paid for his delay with a set of gashes raked into his side by an irate Pan.

"Let him go," Phantasma ordered. "I think he's learned his lesson for now."

"Megatron never learns his lesson," Bluestreak pointed out. "But he may be more careful from here on out. I hope, anyhow."

Phantasma set Bluestreak down before the Ark, then touched down herself with a deep sigh. She took the egg from his arms and turned it over in her own claws, stroking the glittering shell. At last, with another sigh, she relaxed and curled herself around it, cradling it within the coils of her tail and draping a sheltering wing over it.

"Is it all right?" Bluestreak asked.

"Safe and well," she replied. "And due to hatch soon."

Hound ran up at that moment, cycling air quickly and the other three dragons close on his heels. "Are you two all right? We saw Megatron fly up to confront you, and then the explosion..."

"We're great!" Bluestreak replied, grinning despite himself. "Soundwave's out of action for awhile, that's a plus, right? And the dragons are free!"

"Wow," said Hound wonderingly. "Just... wow. Great job, Blue."

He ducked his head, suddenly embarrassed by the attention. "I didn't do anything that anyone else wouldn't have done..."

"You did it, and that's what counts," Hound told him, smiling.

All around the Ark dragons of every color imaginable landed and clustered together, their bugling roars ringing through the air as they crowed their victory. They touched muzzles with each other, assuring themselves that friends and loved ones were safe and whole, and twined necks with mates and children. Some didn't land right away but swooped and darted through the air, executing an aerial dance that would have made a Seeker jealous. It was an awe-inspiring sight, one that Bluestreak didn't want to tear his optics from...

/Bluestreak, Hound, come in./ Prowl's voice sounded exhausted and a little pained, yet relieved. /Status report./

/We're all right/ Bluestreak replied. /We got the egg and took out Soundwave./

/I gathered as much when the dragon attack ended rather abruptly/ Prowl noted. /We have a lot of wounded to look after, but thankfully nothing too serious. I think it's safe to declare today a victory./

/What do we do now, sir?/

/First order of business is full repairs to all our injured/ Prowl answered. /After that... I'm sure Prime is going to want to have a word with the Dragon Queen. For now, return to base./

/Yes sir. And Prowl?/

/Listening./

/Now do you believe me?/

Silence. Then /I seriously doubt now's the time for an "I told you so," Bluestreak./

/Sorry, I couldn't resist. Bluestreak out./

***

"It is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Queen Phantasma," Prime greeted, offering the white dragon a formal salute.

"A pleasure to finally make yours, Optimus Prime," she replied, dipping her head in a respectful bow. "And please, at ease sir. We are equals here."

Prime lowered his hand and nodded at his gathered officers to indicate they could do the same. Jazz, Prowl, Ironhide, and Red Alert had all gathered with the Prime for this first formal meeting with the leader of dragonkind and her mate. Ratchet, as medical officer, should have also been present, but after spending the last week in repair bay working his servos to the bare wiring, no one could deny that their chief medic deserved a long, undisturbed vacation. First Aid stood in for his superior, looking a bit nervous in the company of dragons and officers but maintaining a quiet dignity nonetheless.

Bluestreak was a different story -- the young gunner alternated between fidgeting nervously and staring at the dragons with a quiet awe. Despite having had more to do with the beasts than any other Autobot, he seemed utterly fascinated by the creatures as if he had just seen them for the first time. Prime would have asked Bluestreak to please leave the room under other circumstances, but Phantasma had specifically requested the Datsun be present for this meeting, and she didn't seem to mind his attentions.

"On behalf of Cybertron, I wish to offer an apology for all damages you and your kind suffered as a result of Megatron's cruelty," Prime continued. "Had we known what Megatron was doing to your kind, we would have put a stop to it much earlier."

"You would have had to know about our kind first," Pan replied, though his tone was amused rather than accusatory. "Still, we appreciate the thought."

"And we thank you for what you have done for us," Phantasma added. "You could have easily declared our kind a threat to yours and simply declared war on us. Instead, you worked to help us, and free us from Megatron. We owe you so much... and I owe you dearly for saving my child." She dipped her head and gently touched her muzzle to the egg cradled in her forepaws -- despite Sinistra and Cirrus volunteering to watch the egg during the meeting, she had insisted on bringing it with her. Doubtless her experience with Megatron had made her more protective than ever.

"There were dragons injured during the combat," Prowl noted. "How are they faring?"

"Recovering well," Pan replied. "Mostly burns, though that's nothing new to our kind -- the healers have those well in hand. Ignatius is still getting used to having a mechanical wing, but give him time and he'll be good as new. I must say, your engineers are a clever lot."

"We'll pass that compliment along," Prime replied. "And I hope your people recover fully from this incident, Phantasma. We would hate to think they suffered permanent damage of any kind from this."

"We are a strong people, Prime," Phantasma assured him. "We have survived through wars, natural disasters, attempted coups of power, and everything else Fate has chosen to afflict us with. We will recover from this, and emerge stronger than ever."

"Do the dragons still hate you for the deal you made..." asked Bluestreak, but shut up when Ironhide planted a foot on his.

"He's perfectly fine," Pan told the red Nissan. "And no, they do not hate the Queen, thank our First Mother. Some do not agree with her decision, but they cannot fault her for wanting to save her child and the royal bloodline..."

Phantasma gave a quick bark of surprise and rose, wings unfurling. Prime winced as every Autobot in the room instantly backed away, reaching for their guns. He couldn't really fault them, given recent events, but still, drawing a weapon on a visiting leader wasn't good for their image...

"The egg," she breathed, and leaned down to touch the end of her muzzle to it. All eyes and optics fell on the reddish-gold shell as cracks zig-zagged across its surface. Chips of shell began to fall away, revealing a muddy brown snout that poked out and sniffed at the air.

"Ugly color," remarked Red Alert, then yelped and glared as First Aid elbowed him into silence.

"All hatchlings start out brown," Pan explained. "They don't gain their colors for a few years."

More pieces of shell clattered to the ground, and the hatchling pushed its head free of its confinement, stretching its neck to its greatest length. It opened its mouth, revealing toothless pink gums and a tiny tongue, and gave a high gurgling squeak.

From all around Prime -- including from Ironhide, who would no doubt deny it to his dying day -- came a chorus of spark-felt "AWWWWWs."

Phantasma pressed her muzzle against the hatchling's nose, a gesture Prime realized was the draconian equivalent of an embrace, and purred softly. The dragonet chirped again and squirmed free from the remains of her shell, ungainly limbs and damp oversized wings flopping in a tangle on the floor. The Dragon Queen quickly reached out with a forepaw to help her to her feet, continuing to nuzzle it gently.

"He's kinda cute," Bluestreak said with a grin.

"She," Pan corrected. "It's a female hatchling. You can tell by the set of the tail." He beamed proudly and bent down to touch his own muzzle to the hatchling's. "Our daughter."

"And the heir to the dragon throne," Phantasma added, raising her head to regard Bluestreak. "I thank you again, my friend. You saved not only my child, but one of the royal bloodline. Your kind may be our allies... but you will be remembered as a true friend of dragonkind."

The gunner's jaw dropped, and for the first time Prime could recall he was struck speechless. "But... but..."

"If any Autobot deserves the honor, it is him," Prowl replied with a nod. "It was he who first alerted us to the dragons' existence, though we disbelieved him at first. And it was his actions that ultimately won this battle for us and for your kind. He is, to use the simplest available term, a hero."

Bluestreak's doorwings wilted, and he looked like he wanted to creep off and hide. "I was just doing what an Autobot should. Like Prime always says, everything sentient deserves freedom. Not just humans or Cybertronians, either."

"All the same," Phantasma replied, "you are always welcome among our kind." She looked down at the hatchling, who was now wobbling its way among the Autobots on unsteady legs, sniffing curiously at their feet. "It is a common custom among our kind to name our children after great heroes, but I don't think 'Bluestreak' is quite an acceptable name for a princess. Instead... Stella. In honor of our hero coming from the stars."

"Aw, shucks, ma'am..." Bluestreak mumbled, staring down at his feet and rubbing the back of his helm. Had Cybertronians possessed the ability to blush, he would have been as red in the face as Tracks.

Stella chose that moment to stumble against Bluestreak's foot, and she stared up at him with wide blue eyes. She chirped inquisitively and pawed at his foot, demanding his attention. The gunner's doorwings perked up a bit as he scooped up the little dragon and cupped her in his hands, a slight smile on his faceplate.

"Heya, little one," he cooed. "Nice to meet ya finally. Kinda hard to believe it was you hiding in that egg all the time..."

Stella gave a high-pitched little growl and grabbed his thumb in her jaws, mouthing it gently. Bluestreak laughed a little, then carefully set her back down. She toddled back to Phantasma, squeaking, and the white dragon reached out with a forepaw to gently draw her close.

"We will do all in our power to protect your kind from here on out, Phantasma," Prime assured her. "Especially your child. We failed the dragons once -- we won't do so again."

Phantasma nodded. "And we, in turn, will aid your kind where we can. It is the least we can do."

"We will let you know if we require your aid, Your Highness," Prime replied. "But for now... return to your people, and do what is necessary for them to recover from this incident."

"Are you sure you don't need our help?" asked Pan. "We DO feel indebted to you..."

"At the moment, we have no pressing matters that you can help us with," Prime replied, which was the truth. Not that there weren't pressing matters for the Autobots to deal with, but he had a feeling that the dragons would be of little help on some of them. Like just how the frag they were going to explain this whole mess to the human government when they inevitably came knocking to inquire about it...

Dragons

Dragon Queen Phantasma -- iridescent white with blue markings on wings; violet eyes

Dragon Queen's Consort Pan -- brown with yellow patches; green eyes

Dragon Princess Stella -- muddy brown; blue eyes

Wing-Commander Oberon -- male; green with lighter-green underbelly; orange eyes

Wing-Second Ignatius -- male; red mottled with gold; gold eyes

Sinistra -- female; blue with violet and green stripes; red eyes

Cirrus -- female; white and black piebald; blue eyes

Heth -- male; black with flecks of gray across flanks; red eyes

Ferrus -- male; gray mottled with brick red; black eyes

Tiberion -- male; gold with brown markings on wings and tan underbelly; green eyes