The Poltergeist Smile

Wheeljack saw Perceptor smile once, and only once.

When they'd first met, Perceptor still had his emotions, but was doing his best to suppress them or not allow them to interfere with his job. Still young, Perceptor had flown through the Autobot Academy and had started his new position in the Ministry of Science just as the Decepticons declared war on the Autobots. He was perceived as a scientific and tactical genius. Even Mainframe seemed to be taken aback by Perceptor's wit, integrity, and quick-thinking. Within a hundred stellar cycles, Perceptor was elected to the council, and was working amongst the finest 'bots in the galaxy. He invented weapons of war. Came up with battle tactics. Always seemed to be one step ahead of the Decepticons and – in fact – everyone else. Even if you hated him, at the same time you couldn't help but admit to yourself that Perceptor was one smart 'bot.

Wheeljack was forced to admit this...and decided that he had to do everything in his power to get the same sort of recognition as Perceptor.

He would do anything to best Perceptor. They'd been acquaintances and classmates. They both happened to be at the top, though Perceptor was...always...better that Wheeljack. First, their science geek classmates would be admiring one of Wheeljack's projects (seconds before it exploded), then would turn their heads when Peceptor came him with something grander. Sure, everyone liked Wheeljack, but everyone loved Perceptor. Perceptor, with a good range of jokes and a charming, sophisticated personality. Perceptor didn't mean to be great, he was just great. Wheeljack hated him with every fiber of his superior processor. For the first time in his life, he had competition.

They proceeded to compete as they both got into the Ministry of Science. Wheeljack distinctly remembered the very moment he learned that Perceptor had gotten a similar position in the military department. He felt a sort of burning annoyance. If Perceptor had to be smarter than him, could he at least go be smart somewhere else? Wheeljack even planted a bomb at Perceptor's work station once. Not a big one, mind, just enough to blow up all of Perceptor's research when he was away on break.

After Wheeljack had done this, a group of 'bots had crowded around the carter in the floor. Perceptor was in their midst. Wheeljack knew that Perceptor knew that he was the responsible party, yet he couldn't prove it. For that split second, Wheeljack thought Perceptor was going to swing around and kill him. But he didn't. Perceptor's tight fists relaxed, and he walked away without so much as saying a word.

After that, Perceptor got...weird.

Good riddance, thought Wheeljack. Perceptor was finally getting some of the mental anguish Wheeljack had had to endure in the wake of Perceptor's superiority.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long before Wheeljack realized that Perceptor wasn't just acting weird. He was acting really weird. Perceptor seemed to be drained of emotion, seemed to see everything through a narrow, callous eye that hid some sort of inner conflict. He gave Autobots looks of pity. Then the burning hatred resumed with a vengeance. Wheeljack knew what was going on. Perceptor felt sorry for the population because they weren't the genius he was.

One day, Wheeljack encountered Perceptor randomly while they were using the same laboratory. Wheeljack's experiment blew up in his face. Perceptor made a smart aleck remark about Wheeljack's overzealous use of explosive compositions, how failures like that were the reason Wheeljack had been second in the class.

With that remark, the burning jealousy building up over stellar cycles exploded.

Wheeljack didn't remember what he had said, only that what he had said wasn't nice and it ended with Perceptor staring at him in stark shock.

Once he was done yelling, he and Perceptor stared at each other for the longest time, in the company of bubbling chemicals. The only emotion on Perceptor's faceplate was a combination of shock, guilt, and extreme hurt.

Wheeljack immediately apologized, quite desperately. He shouldn't have said anything. Why had he opened his big fat mouth?

Then, Perceptor said something very surprising. He said Wheeljack was right.

Perceptor proceeded to tell Wheeljack how much pressure had been set on his shoulders, starting from the academy and building up until now. Ultra Magnus wanted Perceptor – the smartest 'bot in the galaxy – to single-handedly come up with a way to defeat the Decepticons. Wheeljack hadn't heard much about the front lines, but Perceptor told Wheeljack things Wheeljack knew he wasn't supposed to hear. Perceptor told him that the Decepticons were closing in on Cybertron, that they would soon be under siege, and if they didn't find a solution soon, they'd all be dead.

The Decepticons would win the war.

They would not show mercy on the Autobots.

It made sense now. All that had Wheeljack had observed about Perceptor made sense. Perceptor looked at everyone through a supposedly callous optic because he was thinking about that Autobot in particular being dead.

After Perceptor was done telling Wheeljack why he was upset – they were sitting in the lonesome laboratory by now; everyone else had gone home for the night – the pair lapsed into an uneasy silence. Perceptor was, perhaps, thinking that he shouldn't have said anything to Wheeljack, that he was breaking protocol by doing so. But Wheeljack was overwhelmed with immense remorse and guilt. He hadn't been kind to Perceptor. He was always trying to best the valedictorian. Trying to be better.

Perceptor proceeded to explain that he hated being the smartest Autobot alive because he knew things that other Autobots couldn't begin to comprehend. Wheeljack was as close to his kindred spirit as was possible.

Again, a silence. Perceptor looked like he wanted to ask Wheeljack something.

Wheeljack told him to go on.

Perceptor asked Wheeljack to help him with a project of a personal nature, something that had to be done for the sake of all Autobots, so that he could think of a way to begin the war without feeling guilty about the losses. He asked Wheeljack to help him delete his emotions.

As far as Wheeljack knew, that wasn't possible, but Perceptor seemed convinced that it was. That, alone, was enough proof that it was possible. Wheeljack asked Perceptor if he knew about the consequences. If Perceptor seriously deleted his emotions, he wouldn't be able to love; he couldn't laugh, or joke, or smile. He'd loose all the good things in life.

Perceptor smiled. For the first time, a genuine smile. He told Wheeljack that it had to be done. Wheeljack knew it, as well.

About two weeks later, as emotion drained from Perceptor's face as Wheeljack gradually deleted his friend's emotions, he could only think about the 'bot whose identity was being erased. And how much time, he'd wasted hating him.