Last chapter of "Fortune Favors Fools." Warning: it's a long one.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Missives from the Sky

Consciousness returned to Dinobot gradually. She felt like a diver drifting back to the surface after a long submersion. Her neural circuits felt like they were filled with congealed tar. The first thing to break through the foggy haze of sleep still clogging her processor was the feeling that she'd been offline for an extremely long time. All her joints were stiff and her tension cables ached. She onlined her optics, but nothing but a wall of blackness met her. As the veil of sleep dissipated from her senses the warrioress realized she was sitting on the floor, slumped against the wall. She tried to move but was stopped by a heavy weight draped across her legs. It was then Dinobot remembered everything that had happened and where she was:

Her suicidal plan to attack the Darksyde and retrieve the golden disks from Megatron. Forcing Tarantulas to take her to the valley. Rattrap meeting her in the valley. Leaving him to fight Talon alone. Facing Megatron in battle. Destroying the gold disks. Finding Rattrap injured in the clearing. Being told he wouldn't survive. Offering to bond with him to save his life. Rattrap agreeing. A brilliant flash of light. Feeling Rattrap like a second presence in the back of her mind. Optimus airlifting both of them to base in a frantic race against time. Being dragged to the CR chamber. And then… The rest was a blur.

Dinobot's arms tightened around the limp figure in her lap and pulled him closer, relishing the warmth of his superstructure against hers. Rattrap's intakes puffed against her breastplate, slow and deep. In the darkness of the CR chamber Dinobot's optics gave off a faint red glow which illuminated the outline of Rattrap's face. The spy was offline. Across the wires still connecting their sparkchambers Dinobot could feel the strong and steady beat of his spark pulsing in tandem with her own. She no longer felt a drain of energy on her spark nor any weakness on Rattrap's side of their bond. The CR chamber had successfully healed her sparkmate's wounds.

Sparkmate… Dinobot mulled in silent awe. The vermin is my bonded mate. After all these years searching for an honorable death on the battlefield, I ended up bonding with the mech who was once the bane of my existence. Who would have ever thought this was what would someday become of me? What strange roads Fate has led me down…

And those roads had been very strange indeed. She and Rattrap had once been mortal enemies. Yet after almost two years of bickering and meaningless squabbles, they'd finally set aside their differences to come together first as tentative comrades in arms, then friends, then lovers, creators and finally bonded sparkmates. Although they'd forged their bond in a less than an ideal situation, Dinobot felt no regret for what she'd done. Now that she was able to feel the touch of the spy's presence in the back of her mind, she couldn't imagine not having him so intimately connected with her. Staring at the sleeping mech in her arms, the warrioress felt her affection for him swell. The vermin was hers - no one else's! He was her sparkmate, and she suddenly knew with irrevocable certainty she would eviscerate anyone who tried to take him from her. In some ways it was still difficult for her to truly believe they were a bonded pair. She'd spent so long fighting to prove her independence that to suddenly have another attached so completely mind, body and heart to her for the rest of her natural existence was a little frightening. The gentle thrum of Rattrap's spark pulsing reassuringly alongside her own, however, helped dispel the worst of her lingering uncertainty.

"What fools these mortals be indeed," she whispered into the darkness, and shifted Rattrap into a more comfortable position in her lap. The faintest hint of a contented smile tugged at her lips.

"Ya got dat right," a voice answered her. "Only a fool would willingly bond with a slag-spoutin' saurian an' not wonder if he's gone completely insane." The second presence in the back of the Dinobot's mind flared stronger and filled her with the sensation of contented warmth.

Dinobot glanced down at mech cradled against her chest to find Rattrap looking up at her with a playful grin. His optics glowed a soft red in the darkness.

"Vermin…" the warrioress whispered. She couldn't hide the flash of relief that coursed through her at Rattrap finally being awake. "How do you feel?"

"A lot better," Rattrap smiled. Snuggling closer to her, he leaned his head against her shoulder. "Nothin' hurts anymore. Ya got me back just like ya said ya would."

"Of course I did," the warrioress snorted. "Did you really think I would bond with you only to let you slip away into the Matrix? Have you so little faith in me?"

Rattrap chuckled, leaning even closer to her. "Naw. I never doubted 'chu fer a second." Growing more serious, the spy lifted his head off Dinobot's shoulder to better meet her gaze. For several moments of meaningful silence, he stared deep into her optics. "Ya saved me… We're sparkmates now."

"Do you regret it?" Dinobot asked, searching Rattrap's face for any signs of remorse.

"Ya stupid lizard…" he affectionately sighed. With one hand he reached up, curled his hand around the back of her helm and pulled her head down closer to him. "I might be a dirty rat, but I wouldn't sparkbond with someone just ta save my own skin. I meant wha' I said before 'bout bondin' with ya even if I wasn't dyin'. I've kinda thought of you as my femme ever since I got'chu pregnant. I've kinda been hopin' fer somethin' ta happen ta convince ya ta take wha' we got ta-gether to da next level. I just wasn't necessarily expectin' an actual sparkbond, or havin' ta almost die ta do it. But I don't regret it…" Smirking mischievously, he snaked his other arm around Dinobot's side and ran his palm down the length of her spinal column to her lower plates. "This scaly aft officially belongs ta me now."

Despite herself, Dinobot returned Rattrap's playful smirk with one of her own. "Then that means your scrawny hide belongs to me now as well."

"I can live with dat," Rattrap grinned.

Through their bond, Dinobot felt a surge of ghostly feelings that weren't her own tickle the edge of her awareness. She could suddenly feel Rattrap's memories in the back of her own mind. Unbidden, she felt the loneliness of a young orphaned mech who yearned to know the warmth of a family for himself - his single desperate but unspoken desire to find someone to call his own; and finally understood Rattrap's habitual need for physical touch to reassure himself he wasn't alone. She felt his budding affection for her as the waters of a tentative relationship were tested, and then a swell of unfettered love as he held their newsparked son in his arms for the very first time. She simultaneously felt his sense of completion as the family he'd always yearned for was formed and his unbridled fear of it being snatched away from him. She felt his fear and desperation as he'd chased after her to the valley, and later the trusting eagerness with which he gave himself to her as they came together as bonded sparkmates. But the strongest emotion she felt across their bond was the one Rattrap felt right this very moment: absolute contentment. All these emotions and more Dinobot felt as if they were her very own - like all of her sparkmate's feelings had been downloaded into her in one massive data pack of information.

As though consumed with the same sudden fiery need, the two simultaneously leaned towards each other across the tiny gap still separating them and smashed their mouths together in a passionate kiss. Dinobot clutched the spy close. With no chest plates to hinder their closeness, their sparkchambers ground against each other. The warrioress could feel the beat of her lover's spark pulsing against the other side of his sparkchamber's glass front as though it were struggling to break free and join hers. Her spark hungrily yearned for the feel of his spark next to hers as well.

With great reluctance, Dinobot broke their kiss and pushed Rattrap just far enough away from her to properly look him in the face. "You just survived a near fatal injury to your sparkchamber," she panted. "Do you feel well enough to do this? We can properly consummate our sparkbond later after you've had more time to recover."

"No, I'm fine," Rattrap ground out. "CR chamber fixed me all up." His fingers toyed with the hinges of Dinobot's sparkchamber. "Why waste a perfect setting like dis? We're alone, it's dark, we're already plugged inta each other… Wha' other excuse do we need?" As though to give her a better incentive, Rattrap sent a strong electrical pulse across his plug line into Dinobot's port.

The warrioress bit back a wanton groan of pleasure. "The others are more than likely waiting for us to emerge from the CR chamber," she somehow sluiced enough neural circuits together to protest. "They might hear us."

Rattrap had begun gently nibbling on the side of her neck with his front teeth. "We'll be quiet," he promised between nips. His fingers played with the clasps of Dinobot's sparkchamber, urging her to open and bear her spark to him.

"You're incorrigible," the warrioress spat.

She felt Rattrap grin against the side of her throat. "But dat's why ya love me, isn't it?"

Dinobot couldn't find the willpower to resist her sparkmate's persuasive touches anymore and let the glass plating of her sparkchamber swing open, filling the inside of the CR chamber with shimmering blue light. The spy quickly followed suit and bared his own spark to the air.

Just before Rattrap's lips found their way to hers for another passionate kiss, the warrioress mumbled her answer too quietly for one to actually hear, but what was felt all the same by her sparkmate through their bond: "Yes."

Optimus glanced at the CR chamber on the far side of the bridge for possibly the tenth time in the last hour. The red light above the doors that showed if it was occupied or in the midst of a regenerative cycle had blinked off almost an hour ago, but Dinobot and Rattrap still hadn't emerged yet. Optimus was becoming worried. They'd been inside the CR chamber for the last two days. Had something happened? Rattrap had been severely damaged. They'd barely gotten him back to base in time. Had the repairs not been enough to save him? Had he slipped offline and taken Dinobot with him? Optimus was seriously beginning to consider opening the chamber to see if the two were alright.

It was midday and the rest of the crew were all gathered on the bridge doing miscellaneous tasks. Although no one had explicitly offered to do so, there was an unspoken, shared feeling amongst the crew that they should wait for their injured comrades to emerge. Rattrap and Dinobot had risked their lives to stop Megatron from destroying the valley and its inhabitants; thus preserving history and saving the Maximal race. To wait for them to be repaired seemed like such a small thing to do in comparison to the sacrifice the two of them had almost made.

At one of the computer stations, Airazor watched security feeds with Switchblade propped in her lap. The sparkling listlessly toyed with the feathers on her arms. Since his parents were dragged into the CR chamber he'd become unnaturally quiet and withdrawn. Airazor, and even Cheetor, had tried to engage him several times in play but each time Switch had quickly become bored and indifferent to their attempts. Optimus's spark went out to the tiny sparkling. To be orphaned at such an early age was a fate he wouldn't wish on anyone. Yes, Switch would be taken care of should the worst happen to Dinobot and Rattrap, but the affection of an adopted caretaker could never truly replace the love of a creator.

That thought was enough to inspire Optimus to act. "It's been too long. I'm opening the CR chamber to check on them," he announced to no one in particular. "They should have come out by now."

"Optimus, you have to give them time," Rhinox said from the computer station next to his. "The chamber probably used a large dose of sedatives on them before starting repairs. You have to give it time for the anesthetic to wear off."

Optimus shook his head. "It should have worn off by now." He began to rise out of his chair.

Rhinox cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Optimus, Dinobot and Rattrap just sparkbonded under less than typical circumstances. Usually the couple would spend hours together before a sparkbond's actually forged. Their bond was hurried. They've had no chance to properly merge or get used to their connection." The engineer gave him a pointed look. "Let them have some time to themselves."

"Oh," Optimus muttered. Dawning realization lit his facial plates. "Oh…"

Rhinox nodded.

"I see your point," Optimus murmured. He glanced at the CR chamber as though suddenly reluctant to go near it.

"I still can't believe Dinobot actually bonded with Rattrap to save him," Airazor said from the other side of the bridge. "That's so romantic." In her lap, Switchblade continued to swat and ruffle the feathers on her arms, and release a muffled sneeze every so often when they irritated the inside of his nasal openings.

"I agree," Silverbolt said. No one failed to miss the love-sick look he cast Blackarachnia out the corner of his optic. "To risk one's life for his or her chosen mate is the ultimate sign of devotion. If my dark love was so grievously injured in battle, I would have done the exact same thing Dinobot did without a moment's hesitation."

"Oh please," Blackarachnia snorted. She pointedly ignored the second half of the fuzor's declaration. Tossing the strips of wire she'd been helping Silverbolt sort for the last hour and a half back down onto the table, she leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. "Now if one of them gets shot in battle we have to worry about the other offlining from heartbreak. I don't know what you Maximals find so romantic about that. Them sparkbonding's just made them a liability on the battlefield."

Optimus leaned back in his seat. "I agree that Dinobot and Rattrap being bonded is going to restrict them in some ways in battle, but I would rather have them bonded and alive than unbonded and Rattrap dead." He glanced at the CR chamber with a thoughtful look in his optics. "They've come a long way from when they first met. After seeing them that night in the valley I know they'll do well together."

"Yeah, but this is Rattrap and Dinobot we're talking about," Cheetor protested. "I mean I know they get along now, and they like each other enough to have had Switch. But a sparkbond? That's serious. Even I know that's a major show of commitment. Usually it's only couples who've been together for half a dozen decades or so who are the ones who even begin to think about sparkbonding."

Optimus chuckled under his breath. "Love makes people do strange things. Despite all their differences, those two belong together. Rattrap almost dying might have been just the thing they needed to push them that last little bit towards each other." With a wry grin, Optimus glanced at Rhinox. "At least you don't have to worry about Dinobot deactivating Rattrap anymore whenever he annoys her."

"I'm still not ready to completely discredit the possibility yet," Rhinox muttered. "If she still hasn't killed him after a century or two, I may begin to believe it…"

Any more opinions on the subject, unfortunately, were cut off by the sudden hiss of the CR chamber's door swinging open. The inside of the chamber was bathed in thick shadows. Only the faintest outline of two figures standing near the back of the chamber were visible.

"Hey!" Rattrap's voice called out from the darkness. "Any chance someone out der happened ta bring my an' Dino-breath's chestplates back with 'em? I don't care wha' anybody might'a seen after I clocked out, but I ain't coming out with all my circuits hangin' out fer da world ta see."

"Looks like Rattrap's doing better," Cheetor noted with a relieved smirk.

"As if you have anything they'd even be able to see from a distance," a second voice snarled inside the chamber.

"As well as Dinobot," Silverbolt smirked.

"Hey, yer bonded ta me now, so wha's dat say 'bout yer taste in mechs?"

"That I must be suffering from a serious mental glitch and should have my processor defragged and rebooted," the warrioress deadpanned in reply.

In Airazor's lap, Switchblade perked at the sound of his parents' voices and gave a questioning chirrup.

With an annoyed sigh, Rhinox went to the CR chamber, picked up the two chestplates he'd leaned against the side of it the night he'd returned from the valley, and passed them inside the chamber; all the while making a show of keeping his eyes carefully averted. Several seconds later, the two newly bonded sparkmates emerged into the light with both their chestplates properly snapped into place. Optimus smiled at the sight of them. Rattrap stood close beside Dinobot - his hip gently pressing into her thigh he stood so close - with one arm wrapped around the warrioress's back and his hand resting on her other hip. Dinobot made no obvious attempt to escape his hold, and if Optimus wasn't mistaken, was actually leaning towards him ever so subtlety herself.

"Congratulations," he called to the couple with a relieved smile. "You had us all very worried there for awhile."

Rattrap replied with a beaming grin. "Always knew Lizard Lips couldn't live without me. Now she gets ta be stuck with me forever."

"Oh joy and rapture," Dinobot muttered. Her dark tone was noticeably forced, however. Optimus easily saw through her disgruntled rote down to the quiet contentment simmering underneath. As if sensing his sparkmate's true emotions - which Optimus realized with a small jolt he probably was - Rattrap smiled contently and rubbed a series of slow, heavy circles into the side of Dinobot's hip with his thumb.

A sharp chirp sounded from the other side of the bridge, making both Dinobot and Rattrap glance in the same direction. The motion was perfectly synchronized.

"Switchblade," Dinobot murmured. Both her and Rattrap's expressions softened at the sight of their son. Again, in perfect unison, the two stepped off the same foot and side-by-side moved towards him. The sparkling released an audio-piercing squeal of delight as both his creator came closer.

Optimus blinked, wondering if his optics were somehow playing a trick on him. He wasn't the only one to notice either, because half of the rest of the crew stared at the two sparkmates with furrowed optic ridges.

Coming up to Airazor, Dinobot reached down and lifted Switchblade up into her arms against her breastplate. The sparkling chirped wildly, nuzzling his head against Dinobot's throat as though desperate for the reassurance of his mother's presence. Rattrap and Dinobot both leaned down over him in mirror images of each other.

"Hey, bud," Rattrap smiled, rubbing his hand up and down the sparkling's back. "Miss us?" Switch burbled happily in response, his tiny protoform curled against Dinobot's breastplate. Rattrap glanced at Airazor. "Thanks fer watchin' him fer us. Sorry fer dumpin' him on ya like dat."

"It was no problem," Airazor assured him. "He was darling. Anytime you need someone to watch him just let me know."

Dinobot and Rattrap both nodded gratefully to her, again in perfect synchronism. By now the entire crew had noticed something strange going on. More than a few unnerved glances were exchanged.

Optimus stared in fascination. If Dinobot and Rattrap didn't perform the same movement in what appeared to be choreographed unison, they perfectly mirrored each other's motions. But what was the most fascinating of all was that neither seemed to notice anything amiss themselves.

"Rhinox, what is going on with them?" he hissed under his breath as the engineer came back over to that side of the bridge and retook his seat beside him.

Rhinox glanced at Dinobot and Rattrap. "They're synched," he replied almost as if this strange event didn't surprise him. "Both their sparks had to reset their frequencies to accommodate each other's spark signal, so right now they're perfectly tuned into each other. It's not an uncommon side effect of a fresh sparkbond."

"Will it last long?" Optimus asked. He didn't know if he'd be able to stand this odd display for an extended period of time. Seeing the two most antagonistic, polarized opposites of his crew walking, talking and moving around in synchronized harmony was unnerving to say the least.

"It should wear off in a day or two," Rhinox said.

Optimus nodded numbly. Well, this was going to be an interesting two days…

"How long were we in the CR chamber?" Dinobot asked as she shifted Switchblade to the crook of her other arm. The sparkling clung to her, his head tightly nestled under her chin. He warbled with contentment as Dinobot began to possessively stroke his back.

"About two days," Cheetor replied.

"Seriously?" Rattrap said, his expression startled. "Dat long?"

Rhinox leveled a serious look on his friend. "You were severely injured. I was actually expecting you to be in there for at least another day."

"Well, dat explains why I feel so stiff den…" the spy murmured and stretched his arms up over his head until his spinal column gave a muffled pop.

"What about Megatron and the valley?" Dinobot demanded. "What happened with them?"

"Cheetor and Silverbolt put out the worst of the fires before it could spread any farther through the valley," Optimus replied. "The bodies of about two dozen proto-humans were found. All of them had laser wounds or were burnt by the fires. All the remaining proto-humans have fled. From what we could tell they've splintered into several large tribes and scattered in different directions."

Dinobot's facial plates tightened in thought. "Then the chances of Megatron being able to launch a second attack on the proto-humans are slim."

"That would be my assessment too," Optimus nodded. "And without the gold disks, Megatron's chances of discovering another way to drastically change the outcome of the Great War are next to none. Especially when so many of his men are no doubt recovering from the battle in a CR tank. The valley and the human race as a whole are safe. My deepest thanks are to both you and Rattrap for fighting such a hard battle and risking both your lives for the preservation of so many future generations."

"Eh, I hadta do it, or Choppa'face would've gone an' let herself get killed," Rattrap shrugged.

Optimus sighed fondly at the spy's refusal to accept praise. "Nonetheless, I thank you for what you both did for the human race and for all of us as well. We owe you."

The two sparkmates both humbly dipped their heads to him in recognition of his thanks.

"If there is nothing that requires our presence here on bridge, we would like to retire our quarters," Dinobot said with a longing glance towards the door. "The vermin and I need to see to our son and have some time to adjust to the different aspects of our bond."

Optimus nodded. "That's fine. Take as much time as you need."

Dinobot and Rattrap nodded again, and in perfect unison turned towards the door.

"See ya tomorrow!" Rattrap called over his shoulder before he, Dinobot and Switch disappeared out of sight down the hallway.

"Well, that was weird…" Cheetor mumbled in the wake of their departure.

"You can say that again," Blackarachnia seconded.

One by one, the Maximals all turned back to the tasks they'd been occupying themselves with before Dinobot and Rattrap's appearance.

Optimus smiled to himself as he turned back to his computer. Those two really were meant for each other. Maybe Primus has a plan for all of us after all…

Five Months Later

"I've recalibrated the CR chamber's settings to accommodate Switch's smaller size and weight," Rhinox explained as he made some last minute adjustments to the machine. "Reformatting should only take a few minutes." He turned back to Dinobot and Rattrap. In the warrioress's arms she held their son perched in the crook of one arm against her chest. "You two still sure you want to do this? I don't foresee any problems, but Switch is still very young. We can easily postpone this a few months until he's a full solar cycle old. His motor skills still haven't fully developed in this form, so there's no chance of him wandering off ship by himself. He'll be protected from any energon surges as long as he stays onboard."

Dinobot shook her head. "No. Switchblade needs a set of armor integrated onto his protoform. He might be safe onboard the Axalon, but beyond these walls the world is a very dangerous place. Megatron has been quite these last few months, but how long will it be until he decides to attack our base again, and this time with even more firepower? No, I will not let my son go on unprotected anymore. He needs armor and a beast-mode in case he is forced to flee the ship and stay outside for longer than his protoform is able to withstand the energon surges. We are in the middle of the war. I will not allow my son to become a casualty of it because I did not see to it that he was properly equipped with something as basic as armored plating."

"Yea, I gotta agree with Choppa'face on dis one," Rattrap seconded. "After Talon got onboard dat one time an' kidnapped Switch I don't think we should put dis off any longer in case somethin' like dat happens again."

"Alright," Rhinox surrendered. "It's your right as creators to decide. Just give me a few more minutes to finish the last of the warm-up sequences and we'll begin."

As the engineer turned back to the controls Dinobot glanced down at the squirming sparkling in her arms. Over the last few months Switchblade had grown bigger. He still remained uncommonly small for a sparkling his age however. Dinobot had reconciled herself to the fact that her son was probably only going to grow a few inches taller than his sire. Besides developing more refined motor skills which allowed the rambunctious sparkling to stand and toddle around on his own if supported by something, Switch's protoform had also darkened to a deep shade of royal blue. Silver undertones gave his chest and back a shimmering color quality while the raptor stripes on his arms and legs had darkened to a blue so deep they appeared almost black.

Dinobot readjusted the helm that'd been fitted down over her son's head so that it wasn't slipping down over his optics. The metal was an unadorned ugly gray. It was a little bulky for Switchblade's small frame, as were the miniature greaves, forearm guards and chestplate Rhinox had constructed for him, but that had been done purposely. They'd wanted to leave enough room for Switchblade to be able to grow into them a little before a new set had to be made. It was a little disconcerting to see such a young sparkling (even one of Predacon descent) outfitted in such heavy plating like this, but it was necessary. As she'd reminded Rhinox, they were at war and her son had almost come to ruin once because he hadn't been properly protected from their enemies. Dinobot wasn't going to let that happen again. Even if that meant having to reformat her son's protoform with armor and activating his latent genetic coding for a beast-mode at such an early age. The warrioress might have given up her search for death on the battlefield since bonding with Rattrap, but that didn't mean she wasn't prepared to lay down her life for the protection of her progeny. The preservation of her family was now her most sacred duty. Since death was no longer an option, her honor now rested in overseeing the safety of her sparkmate and son.

"Ya ready ta get upgraded, Switch?" Rattrap said and rubbed his knuckles against the side of Switchblade's new helm in a playful noogie.

The sparkling ducked his head and buried his face into the side of Dinobot's neck. "No," he chirped with a defiant warble.

Over the last few months, one of Switch's other new skills was the ability to pronounce simple words. 'No' was only one of three he'd mastered thus far, but by far his favorite even when the conversation didn't necessarily call for a positive or negative response.

Rattrap grinned at the sparkling's feistiness and delivered another merciless noogie to their son's helm. The sparkling chirruped at their new game and tucked his head under Dinobot's chin, certain his mother would offer him safe haven from his father's playful torment.

Across their bond, Dinobot felt a surge of possessive love crash against the back of her spark from Rattrap. Since sparkbonding, the spy was a constant presence in the back of her mind. Even when he was not physically nearby she could still feel the reassuring caress of his life essence reaching like a ghostly whisper out to her across their bond. When they were near each other like right now she could actually feel his emotions inside her as if they were emanating from her very own core. At one time, Dinobot might have found this frightening and disagreeable in the worst sort of way. But now, she found nothing but contentment in the sensation of her chosen mate's spark so intimately connected with her own. That wasn't to say that she and Rattrap didn't still frequently fight and bicker - far from it! No sparkbond could change such a integral part of their relationship. But their bond had helped them come to understand more about each other and about where they had come from, and give the warrioress a sense of peace and fulfillment she'd never felt before in all her long years of warrior training and fighting.

"Alright. Everything's ready," Rhinox announced and turned back towards the small family. With a push of a button, he opened the doors to the CR chamber.

Dinobot carried her son towards it. The sparkling gave an uncertain chirp and glanced at his mother as though for an explanation. "Do not be afraid," she instructed, and gently pried him away from her chest to set him on the floor in the middle of the chamber. "Your sire and I will be immediately on the other side of these doors. It will not hurt nor cause you any sort of discomfort. It will all be over within a few minutes."

Whether the sparkling actually understood his mother's words of encouragement or not, Switchblade warbled uncertainly and lifted his arms up in the air. His dark red optics pleaded her to pick him back up.

The battle-toughened warrioress's spark constricted with guilt. "No, Switch," she said and began backing back out of the chamber. "It will be over in a minute." The sparkling chirruped plaintively. Steeling her resolve, Dinobot forced herself to turn away from his pleading optics and walk back towards her sparkmate's side. "Start the sequence," she ordered Rhinox.

The engineer complied and pressed the button to seal the doors around the still chirping sparkling. Within seconds, Switch was lost from view behind the CR chamber's heavy steel doors. Rattrap must have sensed the storm of emotions roiling inside his sparkmate because he reached out and pressed his palm to the small of her back in reassurance. Dinobot unconsciously leaned back into his offered comfort. Although she was sure it wasn't actually possible, she imagined she could still hear her son's plaintive chirps coming from inside. The machine began to hum.

"Armor-protoform integration, complete," Rhinox called from the control console. "Genetic reformatting begun."

The warrioress anxiously shifted her weight from pede to pede. She crossed her arms and tried to school her facial plates into a stoic expression despite the churning knot in the bottom of her fuel tank. Rattrap seemed to share her anxiousness and massaged his thumb in tight little circles against her spinal column.

Several more moments passed.

"Genetic reformatting complete," Rhinox announced and pressed the release button. The doors hissed open. Dinobot was already moving towards the chamber before the doors even had a chance to fully open. Switchblade was sitting exactly where she'd left him. At the sight of her, he lifted his arms and gave a plaintive chirp. The warrioress immediately acquiesced.

"How's he look?" Rhinox asked as she emerged with Switch a moment later. All three of them inspected the sparkling.

Switchblade's plain gray helm along with the rest of his unfashioned armored plating had changed. Now fully integrated into his protoform, the metal had taken on his genetic traits. His helm was now more streamlined and wrapped around the sides of his face in a design reminiscent of his father's. It, along with the rest of his new plating, had changed to a bright silver which complemented the patches of dark blue protomatter still visible between his armored plating. The most interesting new feature, however, was a line of downy blue-gray feathers running down the top of his helm.

"Wonder wha' his beast-mode looks like," Rattrap murmured. He glanced at Rhinox. "Think he's old enough ta try transformin'?"

"Only one way to find out," the engineer shrugged and glanced at Dinobot. "He's too young yet for voice commands, but since we already know his beast-mode's going to be raptor, his best bet would be to watch you do it. If you show him, he might be able to figure out the transformation sequence by himself."

Dinobot nodded and passed the sparkling over into his father's arms. Rattrap stepped back and stooped so that Switchblade could stand between his legs. "Just watch yer mom an' do wha' she does."

"Beast-mode!" Dinobot called. In a forcibly slowed down transformation, the warrioress folded down against herself and reformed into a brown and tan velociraptor.

"Now you," she said.

"Go 'head," Rattrap urged. He stepped backwards half a step to give the sparkling room. "Do wha'cher mom just did."

Switchblade glanced between his parent with a blank expression. For several moments, he did nothing but stare. Dinobot was just about to transform again to show her son what they wanted him to try and do, but before she could even convert back to robot-mode, Switchblade's facial plates scrunched together in a focused expression and his body and limbs began to separate into several different sections. His chest plate swung downwards while both his arms curled and folded down underneath the raised plates on his sides. The plating along his back broke apart and began to reform as a tail. Switchblade's transformation was slow and awkward, but Dinobot could see her own tenaciously stubbornness shining through in her son's attempt. Just as Switchblade's head began to tip forward to fold up underneath his chest plate, however, the sparkling's gears sudden ground tight and froze him mid-transformation. Trapped in such an awkward position, he squealed in panic. Dinobot was instantly beside him, nudging different plates and limbs into their proper places with her nose.

Finally, the last piece snapped into place and Switchblade stood before them as a baby velociraptor.

Dinobot inspected him with a surge of maternal pride. He looked just like her with only a few minor differences. Just like his protoform, his raptor skin was a dark royal blue with black stripes running down his back, legs and tail, while his underbelly was a creamy grayish white. His eyes were bright red and bisected by a horizontal black pupil. A small spray of feathers ran down the back of his head with matching tufts of feathers on either one of his elbows. In raptor form, his shoulders only came up to Dinobot's knees.

"Hey, hey! He did it!" Rattrap crowed. "Good job, Switch! Dat's mah boy!"

The tiny raptor squeaked in reply and tried to move towards his father. His coordination, however, was off and Switchblade gracelessly tumbled forward onto his face.

"Looks like his motor skills aren't any better in beast-mode than as a protoform," Rhinox noted.

Dinobot dipped her head and prodded her son back up onto his feet with her muzzle. "It's not an issue of motor skills so much as having to relearn how to balance," she defended with a dark glare at Rhinox. Switchblade wobbly found his feet. "In beast-mode our weight is distributed differently than when we walk upright. He needs to learn to use his tail to counterbalance the front half of his body."

After several minutes of Dinobot awkwardly supporting him, the baby raptor finally seemed to find his center of balance. Dinobot slowly backed away, allowing Switch to stand on his own. The sparkling took several hesitant steps and then, as if realizing he'd done so on his own, grew more confident and pounced at his father's feet, squeaking playfully.

"Looks like he figured it out," Rattrap chuckled. He stooped down and patted the top of his son's head. Switch chirruped happily. "Think he'd like ta go outside fer a lil' bit?"

"I suppose that's a possibility now," Dinobot murmured. Despite wanting Switch to be formatted with a beast-mode, that didn't necessarily mean she wanted to let him venture outside the ship just yet. He was still very young and primitive Earth was a dangerous place. Nonetheless, the warrioress refused to let herself become a stereotypical overprotective maternal unit that was too afraid to even let her progeny out of her sight. The universe was too harsh a place to coddle a sparkling - even one as young as Switch - for too long. "As long as he stays within sight of the ship I'll allow him outside for a short while."

"Awesome," Rattrap grinned. He was just about to call out a command and transform to beast-mode himself when he was abruptly stopped by Rhinox slapping a giant hand down onto his shoulder.

"I don't think so," the engineer said with a stern look. "Did you forget that you're scheduled for monitor duty in two klicks?"

"Aw, com'on!" Rattrap whined. "It'll only be fer a few minutes. I promise I'll come right back in."

Both Rhinox and Dinobot gave him unconvinced looks.

"You have a job to do here, Vermin," the warrioress said. "Switchblade and I will be fine without your presence."

Rattrap frowned and sulkily turned towards the computer stations on the other side of the bridge. "Fine," he muttered and trudged away. Dinobot could feel his disappointment through their bond. He'd been looking forward to taking their son outside for the first time and skipping out on monitor duty in the process. The warrioress felt no sympathy for her sparkmate's failed attempt at dereliction of duty.

"Come, Switch," Dinobot called and headed towards one of the lifts. The baby raptor squeaked and hurried after her in his new hopping gait.

"Don't keep him out there too long," Rhinox called after Dinobot. "He still needs time to fully get used to his armor. You don't want to throw too much at him too soon and overwhelm his systems."

"I am more than aware of how to take care of my son," the warrioress growled as she folded herself into the lift. Switchblade hopped in after her, excited for this new adventure.

The lift doors hissed shut and the two began their descent. When the doors opened again a minute later, a warm breeze blew into the lift, ruffling the feathers on Switchblade's head. The sparkling chirped in delight at the strange sensation.

"Stay near me," Dinobot cautioned as she stepped off the lift. The baby raptor scampered after her, hopping around her feet in excitement. Now that he'd figured out how to properly balance his motor skills had greatly improved. Dinobot supposed it was because of his inherent beast-instincts. Velociraptors had been able to stand and move around by themselves almost immediately after hatching. Leading the sparkling out from under the ship's belly, Switchblade was given his first look of the outside world.

A clear blue sky stretched out overhead in all four directions. Summer had passed, but the air was still balmy and warm. Dinobot suspected cooler temperatures were still several weeks away. A fresh breeze drifted across the land, rustling the scrub grass growing around the ship.

Switchblade chirruped from his mother's side.

"This is planet Earth," the warrioress explained as she stared across the peaceful landscape. "This is our home, at least until we return to Cybertron."

From a patch of tall scrub grass to the two raptor's left came a soft rustle. Dinobot glanced towards it just as a bright green beetle wandered out from the vegetation. Switchblade chirped and curiously stalked closer. Bending down, he nudged the insect with the tip of his nose. The beetle drew back and fluttered its wings the same way it would try to frighten off a potential predator. The sparkling, however, was only more enticed by the bug's angry clicking and nudged it again with his nose.

Dinobot passively watched as he hopped and danced around the insect as it tried to hurry back towards the sheltering cover of grass.

"Switchblade, enough," she called just as the baby raptor was about to follow its new plaything into the brush.

The sparkling warbled in disappointment, but obediently scampered back to his mother's side.

"You must take care not to venture too far away from me," the warrioress cautioned even though she knew her son was too young to understand almost everything she said. "This planet is wrought with danger. Not to mention we are in the midst of a war that may just decide the fate of our entire race. You are arguably still too young for me to have even considered your father's proposal to let you off-ship, but I will not keep you caged onboard like a prisoner in a jail with no bars. I will not allow fear to be instilled in you at such an early age."

Dinobot might have gone on, but anything else she might have said was interrupted by the appearance of a bright object streaking across the sky only several dozen miles above them to the east. A line of fiery orange afterburn trailed behind it like the ice-tail of a comet. The sound of the air bending and cracking in the wake of the fiery object boomed like thunder on the horizon. Dinobot could actually feel the thump of it in her chest.

Beside her, Switchblade squeaked in fear and ducked under Dinobot's belly, pressing himself tight against his mother's leg. Dinobot was too stunned to do anything more than stare after the object as it shrunk into the distance, leaving only a wispy trail of white smoke across the sky in its wake.

A stasis pod? the warrioress wondered. No, it was too big for a stasis pod. It almost looked like a small spacecraft. Like a planet-hopper…

An odd tingling sensation formed in the pit of Dinobot's fuel tank. The feeling was not foreboding or apprehensive, but something more reminiscent of… anticipation?

With a quick command, the warrioress transformed to her bipedal form and scooped her frightened son up into her arms. The sparkling huddled against her breastplate, even going so far as to tuck his head under his mother's chin where he seemed to feel the most safe.

Dinobot continued to stare in the direction the spaceship had just disappeared, wondering if the person (or persons) it contained were friend or foe…

Waves sluiced back and forth against the sandy beach like the heartbeat of the living ocean. The muffled cries of gull drifted on the salty breeze, nostalgic and sad. On the sands of the secluded beach a spacecraft lay moored in the sand several dozen paces above the tide line. It was small; able to hold no more than two passengers at a time. Its sides were singed and charred completely black in some places from its entry through the planet's atmosphere. Its engines pinged with the sound of cooling metal.

The hatch of the planet-hopper popped open and a figure emerged, groaning with relief as he dropped down onto the sandy ground and stretched his arms up over his head.

"Oh, Primus, that was a long trip," he moaned as his spinal column made a series of painful sounding pops. "That's the last time I agree to travel in a planet-hopper with you for long distances." There was no answer from inside the spacecraft, which didn't seem to faze the newcomer. Dragging in a deep intake of air, the mech gazed out across the glassy sea towards the horizon. Sunlight danced across the waves at the break line, making the water sparkle as though a layer of finely ground diamond dust coated its undulating surface. The bot stared for a long moment of reflective silence. "I've forgotten how beautiful planet Earth can be…" he murmured to himself under his breath.

There suddenly came a low hum of machinery warming up from inside the spacecraft before two vertical walls of digitized blue light shot out from the top of the ship and began rotating in slow, rhythmic passes across the area.

The figure glanced back towards the ship and heaved an impatient sigh. "Hey, Depthcharge! Hurry up already! I'm not getting any younger out here."

There was a muffled growl from inside the ship. "Be patient," a deep voice rumbled. "I can't help it that I'm not already formatted with a protective alt-form for this planet like you are. It's not like you couldn't stand to learn a lesson in the art of waiting anyway. That impatience of yours could very well get us or someone else killed. This is dangerous territory. You'd do well to take more caution while here."

"Oh please," the first bot rolled his optics. Sunlight reflected brightly off his polished armor and dark blue protomatter. "I know this planet better than you ever will. You might even actually end up asking me for advice about Earth before this mission is over."

"You have schooling in modern Earth culture and history which is next to worthless in this prehistoric timeline."

The scanners blinked offline and the spacecraft's second passenger emerged from the cockpit. Two wing-like appendages framed the mech's teal, blue and gold figure.

"A manta ray," the first mech whistled in approval. "Nice choice. Very intimidating. But not that practical if you ask me. That beast-mode's not going to be much use to you anywhere out of water."

"I didn't ask you for your opinion," the one named Depthcharge growled. His disgruntled mood was physically palpable. "I didn't even want you here in the first place. The only reason you're here is because you were assigned to this mission by General SkyRaze for your familiarity with the planet and Optimus Primal's crew. You probably never would have been assigned with me either if it wasn't for your family's personal ties to bots higher in the chain of command." Abruptly turning his back on the other mech, the manta ray stalked away several paces.

"You know, I bet you'd have a lot more friends if you didn't go around spouting smoke and fire all the time," the first mech suggested. Although it was said in a teasing way, there was an underlying note of dislike for the other in his voice.

The manta ray angrily rounded back on him, his optics burning with fire. "This is exactly why I didn't want to bring you; your attitude is too flippant for this mission. We came here to hunt down Protoform X and kill him, not go vacationing on some primitive planet."

The first mech's features darkened. His optic ridges furrowed together and his lips curled back from his teeth in an angry snarl. His previously laidback body language became threatening and dark. "Don't ever assume you know my state of mind, Depthcharge. I know exactly why we're here. Don't think you're so special because of what happened to you. Your colony wasn't the only place destroyed by Protoform X. I have just as much reason as you do for wanting to stop that timeline from happening again. I lost an entire branch of friends to X's killing spree. I am not going to let him kill my friends again."

Depthcharge seemed mollified by the other's speech and relaxed his offensive stance, slightly. "Just so we're clear on this: I don't want or need any help taking X down. You were only sent here to be my babysitter since those higher in command don't think I can separate my own feelings from the mission. Well, I don't need a babysitter. Especially not in the form of some young Academy graduate whose family connections were the only thing that earned him a place in the Security Department's ranks. So just stay out of my way. Got it, Switchblade?"

The younger mech's optics narrowed, his expression tight. "Listen, dude, while we're here on primitive Earth we hold the exact same rank. You have no command over me. If I want to help you take down Protoform X, then I will. I have just as much claim to his metallic hide as you do. The elders sent both of us here for a reason. So just get off your high horse and get off my back, 'cause you're going to get my help with this whether you like it or not."

Depthcharge's optics narrowed hatefully, but there was nothing he could say to argue with what the other mech had said. Everything Switchblade had said was true.

"Fine," he darkly muttered behind his facemask. "Just as long as you don't forget the rules the elders gave us before we left."

Switchblade snorted, his demeanor once again becoming laidback and joking. "Ah, those weren't really rules. They're really just more like guidelines. And guidelines can always be bent when the situation calls for it."

Depthcharge refused to actually respond, and instead turned away from Switch and walked away, muttering darkly under his breath.

A self-satisfied grin snaked across Switchblade's face as he watched Omicron's ex-head of security stalk away. He always enjoyed getting the older mech's goat like that. Depthcharge was one of the most uptight bot's he'd ever met in the Security Department. He understood the other's dark past better than he cared to admit, but that didn't mean he was going to stand for Depthcharge's rogue avenger attitude without having something smart to say about it. His father had raised him better than that…

Glancing towards the north where he knew the Axalon lay near a waterfall in a ruined heap of unflyable metal, Switchblade took a calming intake. It was good to be back on planet Earth. He just hoped his mother didn't dismember him before he had the chance to prove his identity and explain why he and Depthcharge were there…

To be continued?

Ok, this is where I really do need feedback from my readers about their opinions. Yes, that really is Dinobot and Rattrap's son Switchblade from the future. How and why he's there with Depthcharge are to be explained later. But first I need to know what people thought of this latest plot twist. Do you like it? Not like it? Were you pretty much indifferent?

If people like the idea of an adult Switchblade entering the plot I will continue this story in a third and final installment for the Masters of Their Fate trilogy. If not, I'll just leave it off here and this last section can be disregarded. If you want to read the next story arc, please add me to your author alert list so you'll know if/when it's published.

Thanks so much for everyone reading this far. This is officially my longest story to date. It was a blast writing!

Signing off,