1, For those who are seeing my work for the first time, this is NOT the place to start. This is the end of my G1 fanfic series. If you want to start at the beginning, check out my profile and you'll see the correct order of the stories.
2, Thank you SO, so much to everyone who had kept with me up to this point. That's a lot to read. And a big, special thanks to those who left reviews at the end of "Secret Lives". Oh my goodness, you guys, they were AWESOME! I seriously wanted to start writing that first day they started coming in. When I get feedback like that, it really makes me want to work hard for you. Keep that up and it will fuel me to the end. However, please keep in mind that with this story, my chapters are going to be long ones like this, so they will take longer to write. So please be patient. Anyone is welcome to ask me how the writing is going at any time. You are not allowed to demand updates. Please be polite and it will make me want to keep writing. :)
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By Ty-Chou aka Ghost of the Dawn
Chapter One: Harbinger
The Decepticon base skulked deep under the ocean, dark, but not silent. From where Mirage hid among the rocks and coral, his sensors picked up quite a bit of activity, both inside and out. This was surprising, considering the fact that the Decepticons were supposed to be in dire need of energy. But according to his readings, the base was running at almost top condition, humming along busily with several lights on.
A bit disconcerted by his findings, Mirage opened a radio channel to his commander. "Mirage to Prime. I have the D-Con base in my sights, but I don't think you're going to like this. I'm getting abnormally high energy readings everywhere. I don't know how, but the Decepticons got their hands on some energy from somewhere. A lot of it."
There was a rumble of disappointment on the other end. Apparently the Decepticons' lack of activity was not due to their lack of energy after all. It was a discouraging sign, but with the bulk of the Autobot army already stationed in the water, there was no turning back.
"Understood, Mirage," Optimus finally replied. "We will proceed as normal; we have gone up against fully-powered Decepticons before. This just means we must be cautious."
"Roger, Prime. I'm moving into position. Mirage out."
Further back in the darkness of the ocean, Optimus was already starting to worry. "It does not make me happy to hear that," he informed Prowl.
"It doesn't matter," Prowl insisted. "I have contingency plans for any level of fire power that might be found there. We continue with the attack."
"Agreed," Optimus nodded. He radioed for all Autobots to get into position and wait for his signal.
Over the next few minutes, each team radioed that they were stationed and ready to go. Optimus glanced once more at Prowl, serious and ready to spring, before signaling the attack. This time they would give it their all. Failure was not an option.
The first Decepticons to notice the attack were the Constructicons, who were actually outside the base, keeping an eye on the drill and working on their next project, which would generate energy from the crashing waves on the surface. They were so involved in their work that they did not notice they were under attack until the ocean floor itself shook from the wave of firepower hitting the Nemesis right next to them.
"What the frak is going on?" Scrapper asked.
"It's... Autobots..." Mixmaster said with surprise clear in his voice. The Decepticons weren't used to being attacked directly unless they had done something serious to either the humans or the Autobots themselves, and they had done neither recently. All activity had been directed only toward gathering and storing energy upon Megatron's orders. They were not expecting this unprovoked attack at all.
"They're going to ruin everything," Hook lamented. "All our beautiful work."
"Then let's not let them get away with it," Bonecrusher growled.
"Agreed," Scrapper nodded. "Decepticons! Merge to form Deva-" He was cut off as a massive set of jaws clamped down on his shoulder.
"Dinobots!" Long Haul barked and immediately started firing at Grimlock.
The rest of the Dinobots appeared out of the murky bottom, the combined fire power of the Constructicons hardly bothering them. Though most Cybertronian weapons still worked in water, they were hardly as potent as on land. With the heavy armor the Dinobots carried, they were absolutely unstoppable as they unleashed their full primal ferocity on the combining team.
While the Dinobots charged, Sideswipe broke into one of the bottom levels of the Nemesis with his pile drivers. Sunstreaker covered the new entrance as several Autobots spilled into the base, each fully armed and ready for battle. Jazz brought up the rear to oversee Prowl's infiltration plan.
Every room on every level would be searched. No door unopened, no hallway unchecked. The Autobots split up and approached each section systematically and efficiently, as they had been trained to do. Tables were turned over, shelves and cabinets ripped from the walls and doors from their hinges. Even Jazz had to admit the damage was not necessary for the search, but he preferred to participate rather than try to rein it in. They were sending a message this time and, as they smashed every screen and data pad, anything important they could find, Jazz wanted to make sure the Decepticons heard the message loud and clear.
Optimus Prime led a second, larger wave of Autobots into the base, flanked by Prowl. They sloshed through the rising seawater on the lower levels, passing the search parties and moving to higher levels. They were after the Decepticons themselves. They would neutralize any resistance Megatron was planning, giving the others time to properly search the entire base. They had stasis cuffs and energy bands ready. They couldn't hold Megatron and his powerful seekers for long, but they would buy some time.
Prowl considered himself mentally and physically prepared for this mission. He had planned, re-planned and considered every possible scenario in his head. Anything that Megatron would try to stop them, anything the seekers tried, anything Soundwave had waiting for them, he would counter them all. He was ready. If Prime were injured, he would fight Megatron himself. The Decepticon leader was powerful, but Prowl was fast. If he could get the stasis cuffs on him, the head of the monster would be cut off and the rest of the Decepticons would become confused as to what they should do next. Optimus had agreed. Focus on getting Megatron and the rest would crumble.
Prowl was ready to face him. He could do this.
All scans told them that a group of Decepticon signatures clustered in the main command room. Prowl had expected that. The room was large enough to fight in and Megatron, clearly, already had his troops in formation, ready for them. This was going to be even worse than the first time. A lot worse.
The Autobots gathered outside the closed doors of the command room, ready, with their weapons. Prowl used one of Jazz's explosives to blow the doors open. Before the smoke cleared, the Autobots spilled into the room.
In all of Prowl's careful planning, he'd never even imagined what they found there.
"What in the name of Primus is this mess?" Ironhide demanded, stupefied as he surveyed the scene.
All the Decepticons in the room were already on the ground, passed out, drunk as could be. The place was a mess and there was spilled energon and sticky cubes everywhere.
It took Prowl's logic circuits a moment to recover from the unexpected find. Optimus issued orders to his troops to secure the inebriated Decepticons and get them all lined up against the wall.
Prowl was only knocked out of his stupor when Bluestreak clapped him on the shoulder. "We're not done yet, Prowl. I don't see Megatron anywhere."
That brought him right back to the task at hand. Maybe it was a trick to make the Autobots confused while Megatron attacked.
"Don't let your guard down, Bluestreak. He's still around here somewhere."
The gunner nodded and checked his rifle. "Let him come. I'm ready for him."
But Megatron never came.
Even as the Dinobots marched the battered Constructicons in and lined them up with the rest, it was obvious there were still quite a few missing. Optimus left Prowl and a few Autobots to watch the Decepticons while he took a group to search for Megatron himself. Over an hour later, not a single Autobot had discovered anyone else on the base, friend or foe. Optimus had seen the empty base himself, wandering the corridors of the Nemesis.
"Any luck, Prime?" Jazz voice radioed to him.
Optimus looked over to where Sunstreaker took out his frustrations on some equipment that was already damaged, but apparently still needed some good kicking as well. Sideswipe was helping him break everything in sight. They had already combed this level once over, same as they had done with the others. The base had been searched from top to bottom and the Autobots found nothing.
"Negative," he responded to Jazz. "There is no other Decepticon activity. Just how many of them are we missing?"
"As near as I can tell: four cassettes, three seekers, two triple changers, one communications specialist, one Decepticon leader, and a partridge in a pear tree."
"Great," Optimus sighed. That many were a more-than-adequate force by themselves, wherever they were. "I'm coming back up."
Once back in the command room, Optimus surveyed the line of captured Decepticons. They had all the Constructicons and Stunticons, plus the Insecticons, Reflector, Dirge, Thrust and Ramjet. Still an impressive collection, but with so many still unaccounted for, Optimus was nervous.
"Prime," Wheeljack said, catching his attention. "I've looked at what remains of what the Constructicons were working on. They were drilling for oil. They were harvesting their own energy source. That's why they haven't been attacking any power plants lately and why..." he motioned to the energon on the floor. "All this."
"Interesting," Optimus confirmed. "I'm surprised they would resort to such a thing."
Wheeljack shrugged. "I think we can all surprise ourselves when we're forced to survive."
Optimus turned from the inventor to address the Decepticons. He still had more important matters to discuss than their sudden ingenuity.
"Alright, where's Megatron?" he demanded of the line of captured Decepticons. "What is he up to?"
The Decepticons all looked at each other as if unsure which one of them he was asking.
Prime zeroed in on the three jets who were looking the most nervous in his presence. "I want some answers NOW!"
The three of them jumped at the demand, but didn't answer.
"You can quit your blustering, Prime," Motormaster announced in a lazy drawl. "They don't have any answers to give you. None of us do."
Optimus stalked down the line toward the Stunticon until they were toe to toe. Presently, he was the only Decepticon tall enough to look Optimus right in the optics and was hardly concerned with the predicament they were in.
Optimus stared him down. "So you are telling me that Megatron just left and didn't tell a single one of you where he was going?"
Motormaster smirked at him as if he were the one with the energy cannon and Optimus was in the cuffs. "That's what I'm saying. The only thing he told us was to watch the base while he was gone."
"And you sure did a hella slag job with that," Ironhide huffed.
"What about your prisoner? Did he take her with him?" Optimus then asked.
Motormaster just smirked even wider. "What prisoner?"
Optimus clenched his fists. A radio signal interrupted his growing frustration.
"Smokescreen to Optimus Prime. I found something."
Hope flooded through his system. "This is Prime, what do you have?"
The blue Autobot stood on a large, circular launch pad, which the Autobots had never known existed. Mirage and Hound were poking around in the corners, but were just as flabbergasted as he was to have found it in the first place.
"Boss, you won't believe where I am. We found a launch pad where the Decepticons, no doubt, were keeping our stolen space shuttle. Hound says the burn marks from the thrusters were fairly recent, perhaps in the past few days. But Megatron's gone, Boss. I don't think he's even on Earth any more."
Optimus paused to think, looking at his Autobots who watched him, hopeful that there was good news. "Do you know his destination?"
"Negative, Boss. I've been searching their launch information files. Unless they encrypted them so well I couldn't find them, and we both know that's an impossibility, I would say they didn't have a specific destination in mind when they launched. My best guess would be possibly because they're after something that's moving. So they probably aren't using it to get back to Cybertron."
Optimus took a moment to digest the new information. Megatron. On a space shuttle. Going to Primus knew where. What could he be after?
"Is there anything else you can tell me, Smokescreen?"
"Weeeell, it might have been possible to glean some information from the other data files on the base, were it not for the fact that your boys trashed everything of use the second they got their hands on it."
Optimus fought the urge to rub at his optics. This was quickly turning into a nightmare.
"Status, sir?" Prowl pressed when Optimus failed to share the information he'd been given.
Optimus placed a heavy hand on his second's white shoulder. "Megatron is gone. He took our shuttle and... he's not on Earth any longer. We're too late."
Despite his reputation for being emotionless, several expressions ran over Prowl's features: disbelief, confusion, hopelessness and anger. He stepped away from his commander's hand, trying to think. Even if Crystal were still in his possession before the launch, Megatron would have no need to take her with him into space. She wasn't useful to him at all up there. And if she wasn't up there and she wasn't in the base, the only logical explanation was that the Decepticons had already done away with her. Even if on the oddest chance she had gone with Megatron, the odds of her coming back to Earth in one piece now were monumentally small.
The realization crashed on him so heavily, he could hardly keep standing. She wasn't coming back.
"Sir, I think I found something," Trailbreaker announced as he came in with Cliffjumper and Bumblebee. "Look at this."
In his hand was a sloppy collection of wire and random Decepticon parts. Optimus had no idea why Trailbreaker would think this was important at all ... not until he hung the collection from his finger correctly and it took on a familiar shape. Trailbreaker jiggled it and the wind chime played its song quite beautifully.
Optimus took the handicraft in his hand and found, etched on the top piece of metal, the familiar line: 'Light shines brightest in the dark.' There was no question in his processor who had created this. She had been alive in the base at one time and they had been far too late to save her. He clutched the makeshift chime in his hand and then looked to his seconds.
"Prowl? Jazz? What do you suggest?"
The entire room hung heavy with silence as Jazz looked at Prowl and Prowl looked straight ahead in thought. The Dinobots shifted impatiently, swishing their tails and baring their teeth. Sunstreaker looked like he was going to pounce both seconds if they gave an answer he didn't like.
Prowl looked all around the Decepticon command room. He looked at his leader, his fellow Autobots, and their new prisoners. Then his optics settled on Jazz and it was obvious they were thinking the same thing. Prowl nodded at him and then addressed the captured and cuffed Decepticons.
"Evacuate," he told them.
The Decepticons looked at the black and white Autobot in confusion. The Autobots were now evacuating the base? It seemed a likely course of action since there was no way the Autobot base could house that many Decepticon prisoners for any length of time.
Prowl pressed a button on a small remote and all the stasis cuffs fell off. "Evacuate," he told the Decepticons again. "If you wish to live, you will abandon this base."
Realization settled on all the Decepticons at once. The Autobots were not going to allow the Nemesis to remain in one piece in Megatron's absence. In the past on Cybertron, this type of vicious warfare was not unheard of, not even on the side of the Autobots. But things had been different on Earth.
Not this time, however. A line had been crossed and it was time to retaliate in kind.
The Stunticons were the first to recover from the news. "Yeah, well, who needs this dump with its tiny rooms anyway?" Drag Strip announced. "I'd rather drive!"
He transformed and took off out of the command room with the other Stunticons following close behind. That was the cue for the rest of the Decepticons to cut their losses and get out of the base before the Autobots changed their mind about slagging them as well.
Optimus also knew their retreat was a good idea. Revenge was a very tempting mistress that even the best could be seduced by. It was one thing to kill another in the heat of battle to save your own spark, but it was different to execute prisoners, no matter what they had done to deserve it. It was best to let the Decepticons go and allow his Autobots to take out whatever frustration they had left on the base itself. Hopefully, that would be enough to calm their sparks and allow them to move on.
Sunstreaker didn't even wait for permission before firing on the nearest console. It exploded as he screamed every vile thing he could think of about the Decepticon faction. That was all the Dinobots needed to go wild themselves, tearing up the very walls. Optimus Prime turned his back as the rest of the Autobots had their fill of destroying the personal property of their enemies. Some were beating out their inner demons and taking revenge, embracing past grudges for themselves or loved ones. Others were just enjoying the carnage.
Optimus slowly made his way back out of the Nemesis as Jazz radioed that everyone now had 15 minutes to get in their punches and then bail out before his collection of carefully placed explosions went off. Optimus continued to trudge along the ocean floor until he was a safe distance away before turning to wait for his Autobots.
To his surprise, he saw the white form of Prowl trailing after him, only a few steps behind. He had not stayed to exact any kind of satisfaction from the base.
As if he had asked out loud why not, Prowl looked up at Optimus as he passed. "I would not have brought her back," he said simply.
He did not wait for his fellow Autobots to emerge from the doomed ship. He did not stand proudly with his brothers as they watched the base shudder and shake with explosions, as the bubbles spilled out of the Nemesis while water rushed into its corridors, flooding every corner. Instead, the white Autobot disappeared silently into the dark murkiness of the cold ocean.
Optimus remained, though he wasn't sure why. He felt no satisfaction from the Nemesis' demise, but he felt he needed to witness it. This would be the last chapter. There would be no chasing after Megatron, no matter where he had gone. With a few days head-start and a space jump drive on the shuttle, he would be impossible to track, even for Omega Supreme. The search and the wondering was over. It was now time to let it go.
Wherever her spirit had gone, Optimus Prime hoped Crystal could find peace.
Peace was a far cry to what Crystal was feeling aboard the Autobot shuttle piloted by Decepticons. The ship had plenty of windows, but she was having a hard time looking out. Space was big, it was very, very big. Bigger than the Ark, than the ocean, than the Earth. It was too big. And to her, it was frightening.
Even more frightening was the thought that she was going to die out here, not even near her home planet. So impossibly far away and farther still with each space jump, she would never be found by anything that had even heard of her home world. How could life be so cruel as this?
The Decepticons seemed unconcerned with her personal crisis. The Autobot shuttle was in top condition when they launched, so they had no need of her services. Yet another tragedy for Crystal, not having anything to do to keep her mind off the wide, open nothingness they were swimming in. So she spent her days huddled in the corner, shaking and filling her mind with the horrors of space.
She didn't even realize how long she had allowed herself to slip slowly into horror-stricken madness until the very large feet of Skywarp stood in front of her.
"You have been cowering for almost three solar cycles," he informed her, hands on his hips. "It's pathetic. Get up."
When she didn't move fast enough, Skywarp grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet. It was the same one that had been ripped off a week earlier. Crystal tried hard not to yelp in fear. She stumbled feebly along as she was led through the ship toward the main command room. All the other Decepticons were gathered there, enjoying an impressive panoramic view of the cosmos. The moment she glimpsed such a great view of space, Crystal started to struggle again. Skywarp let her go, tossing her on the floor where she was happy to huddle again, back facing the windows.
"Megatron wants to keep an eye on you, so stick around," the seeker told her as if he were ordering a dog.
Crystal nodded, but didn't look up.
Unable to understand her fear, Skywarp just shook his head and returned to join the others lounging around and enjoying the view.
The Decepticons were in a good mood these days. The fact that they were constantly full of energon ensured they stayed that way, and they were on a mission to find an unlimited supply of energy to keep them in high spirits indefinitely. Aside from Soundwave, who was navigating and keeping a sharp eye for any space debris that might get in their way, all the Decepticons were joking around and having a good time. Even Megatron, who kept to himself in his command chair, had a pleased look on his face. And Starscream hardly seemed bothered by the fact that he had been caught red-handed trying to leave the planet and now had to share whatever findings to which his discovery might lead them.
That one baffled Crystal the most. Megatron didn't even seem to care that Starscream attempted treason against him on a regular basis. Sure, he got angry and blustered, huffed and slapped Starscream around for a while. But then he went on to business as usual and Starscream went back to being his second-in-command until he got the itch again and started cooking up his next scheme. It was like watching a dark comedy play itself out act after act. Crystal had stopped trying to figure it out after the first day in space. The social structure of Decepticon life was just too complicated for her.
Meanwhile, Rumble and Frenzy were constantly making pests of themselves around the command console as Soundwave tried to steer. They had been swatted at several times by Soundwave himself for touching things they shouldn't, but both insisted that space travel was soooo boring. It took Megatron threatening to have them confined to Soundwave's chest compartment for the rest of the trip to get them to shut up and sit still for a few minutes. But that didn't stop them fiddling with a few of the controls for too long.
"Hey," Frenzy announced. "I'm picking up some space-radio waves. I think we found a pirate radio channel."
Rumble perked up. Interstellar radio pirates had been around for centuries. They would hover over inhabited planets and record various musical collections from the population, making their money by selling them to music connoisseurs all over the cosmos. They constantly played their collections as far out as they could so passing space ships could get a taste of what they had to offer. It certainly made for better traveling during long, silent trips.
"Turn it up, Frenzy," Rumble encouraged. "Let's see if they have anything in Cybertronian."
The first song filled the command room and both cassettes frowned.
"Aw man, they're playing Earth songs," Frenzy whined. "They must be somewhere behind us, going the same route."
"How about we think about it as the last farewell to that mud-ball planet?" Blitzwing suggested from where he and Astrotrain were playing some sort of game with glowing chips. "After we come back with this power source, it will be back to Cybertron from then on."
"Yeah, why not?" Rumble agreed. "One last good-bye to the organic trash planet."
He turned up the volume.
Crystal raised her head as Tom Jones' familiar golden voice reached her audios. She turned her head around to see Decepticons dancing around stupidly to the upbeat tune as if they knew it by heart. Crystal felt she was so far out of her element that her whole word was spinning out of control. No rabbit hole ever dreamed up was more bizarre than this.
Why was she out here? Just because Starscream and Megatron wanted to play Interplanet Janet across the cosmos didn't mean she needed to be invited along. She was useless out here. Why, oh why couldn't they have just left her back at the Nemesis on her own planet?
It's not unusual to go out at any time.
But when I see you out and about it's such a crime.
If you should ever want to be loved by anyone,
It's not unusual it happens every day no matter what you say.
You find it happens all the time .
Crystal wished she had the ability to hurl.
Love will never do what you want it to.
Why can't this crazy love be mine?
"Hey droopy face, get up and come play this game with us."
It was Blitzwing standing over her now. The idea of being invited to join them in anything just about broke what sanity Crystal had left.
"Muh?" was her intelligent response.
"Come on, it's not that hard," he insisted, grabbing her arm and pulling her to her feet. "Even something like you can figure it out."
Before she knew it, Crystal was sitting around a table in the back between Blitzwing and Thundercracker. Skywarp and Astrotrain were also there with Starscream hesitantly joining them. He looked as suspicious as Crystal did about the whole setup.
"Come on, sit, Scream," Skywarp urged as he patted the chair. "This is all in good fun."
"Just because you get bored easily," Starscream muttered. Again, the fact that Skywarp and Thundercracker had been pointing their weapons at him at the beginning of this flight didn't seem to matter to anyone now. It was as if it had never happened.
Each had an energon cube. Crystal's was smaller than the others. She felt dwarfed by the size of so many large Decepticons gathered so closely to her.
"Okay," Blitzwing announced to the group at the table. "The Stunticons taught me this, don't ask me where they heard of it. But we go around the table and each one of us says something that they have never done and if anyone else here has, they have to take a drink, okay?"
Crystal almost smirked. She knew exactly where the Stunticons had heard of the "I have never" game. Apparently the other Decepticons didn't realize just how immersed into the Earth culture they were.
"So, for example," Blitzwing continued. "If I said I had never double-crossed Megatron, Starscream would take a drink."
"You would also be lying," Starscream countered, not amused.
"Yes well... it was just as an example," Blitzwing waved him off. "So I'll go first for real this time. I have never... had only one alt mode."
All three seekers took a drink from their cubes. Astrotrain, who had also been a triple changer all his life, did not. They looked expectantly at Crystal.
"I don't even have one alt mode," she smirked, not drinking. Who did they think they were fooling? She knew how to play this game.
"Fine," Astrotrain announced, going next. "I have never warped into one of my wing mates."
He grinned at Skywarp who swore loudly and took another drink.
That opened up the door to take personal jabs at each other. Thundercracker said he had never been outmaneuvered by the Autobot Tracks. Starscream insisted it was a one-time thing and that his guidance systems were malfunctioning that day before taking a drink. And so it went around the table. Crystal had an easy time of it. On her first turn she said she had never had the ability to fly and everyone at the table had to take a drink.
They went around the table several more times, each "I have never" from the Decepticons was very specific and Crystal had not even touched her cube while a few of them were getting a little tipsy. Starscream was the first to realize the plan was backfiring. The whole reason Crystal had been invited to play in the first place was so they could get her drunk and laugh at her.
Also, so they could possibly find out a little bit more about what she was. So far, all they knew was what they had already known: that she wasn't one of them.
Starscream decided to end that right now and looked straight at her. "I have never been pink," he announced.
"Son of a bitch," Crystal mumbled and took her first drink of the game.
Astrotrain also took a drink and they all stared at him. "It was a prank a long time ago. Long story," he insisted.
Normally, a statement like that demanded explanation, but the Decepticons were on a mission. Stories could wait.
"I have never been without an alt mode," Thundercracker said next and Crystal had to take another drink.
Playing it this way, Crystal was soon as over-energized as the rest of them. Perhaps even more so. Her body just wasn't used to running on more than a little energon at a time. Just as she thought, being over-energized did indeed put you in a great mood. The music playing now was from a completely different planet, but Crystal was now insisting she knew exactly what the words meant and was making them up as she went along.
The Decepticons, being as drunk as she was, laughed at her. Blitzwing was trying to sing as well. Whatever plans they'd had in the beginning were completely forgotten under the pleasant haze of drunkenness.
Rumble approached the table, shaking his head. Soundwave hadn't allowed any of his cassettes to join the game. Someone had to remain sober in case something happened.
"You slaggers look pathetic," he informed them.
"Shut up, Frenzy," Astrotrain barked at him. "Like we haven't seen you dancing on the tables when you were over-energized. You're just jealous you can't drink with us."
"I'm Rumble, you mismatched moron! And we're on a mission! What if we get attacked? I'll have to save all yer drunken afts!"
All the Decepticons at the table erupted into laughter at the thought. Each considered themselves a master at warfare, even when so over-energized they couldn't stand.
"Har, har, just keep laughing you slaggers," Rumble shot back. "At least we ain't on Earth. Can you imagine the humans seeing you sorry scrap heaps this way?"
"I used to be human!" Crystal announced happily.
The room fell quiet.
Crystal's mouth hung open like she was going to say something else.
Blitzwing slapped her in the back. "I love this thing, it's hilarious!"
Crystal's face collided with the table and she did not get up. She was out cold. The Decepticons laughed at her and continued to drink.
Crystal staggered back to consciousness most ungracefully. At first, it felt like her balance stabilizer had come loose again. She flopped around for a bit before all her motor relays fell back in sync with each other. Her vision was blurry for a moment before it could finally make out the face and glowing optics of Thundercracker squatting over her.
"Wow," he said. "Too much energon really hits you hard."
After a few failed attempts, Crystal managed to get herself properly sitting up on the floor, her back against the wall. "How long was I out?"
"A long time. We're about one space jump away from our destination now."
Right as he said it, there was the familiar rushing sensation as the ship jumped again. After just waking up from an energon-induced coma, it was not a welcome experience. Not that she enjoyed space jumping when she was completely sober, either.
There was that split second of weightlessness that made her feel like she was just going to slide right out of existence. It made her panic for a moment until she felt Thundercracker's arm press her firmly to the wall. It made her feel more secure when she had something solid holding her down through the weightlessness. She didn't even realize she was clutching his arm until it was over.
Thundercracker looked surprised for a moment, as if he wasn't expecting to offer assistance, but his body just reacted. It reminded Crystal of the time on the Nemesis when they were trying to catch Wildrider. Thundercracker had stretched out an arm to save her from getting hit by the Stunticon. Strange.
"I've got a visual! I see it!" Starscream's excited voice pierced the room.
All Decepticons were up at the front windows. Even Crystal was trying to peek around them to see what they were looking at.
Megatron stood by his raised command chair, looking out with arms crossed. There was something looming in the blackness of space and getting closer as they moved toward it. Its mass was several times the ship's. Starscream confirmed that the object was what they had been tracking, though they still didn't know what it was.
As they got closer, Soundwave maneuvered the ship to carefully circle around their target, getting a view of it from all sides.
"It's just a common asteroid," Skywarp complained. "Starscream, if you led us all the way out here in the middle of space for this-"
"It's not just any asteroid, you idiot," Starscream growled back. "I'm still getting a signal. There is something giving off energy on it somewhere, something big. We just need to find it."
"Megatron," Soundwave reported. "Instruments indicate warp gate in local area. Corresponding output near Cybertron."
"Excellent!" Megatron nodded. "Quite an agreeable coincidence. Perhaps we were meant to go on this little excursion of yours, Starscream. Primus means for us to finally make our glorious return to our home planet."
"Humph!" Starscream huffed as he fiddled with his instruments, trying to get a better reading on the asteroid. "Primus has very little to do with this, I'm sure."
They drifted closer, trying to find a place on the large, jagged rock smooth enough for them to land. On the underbelly, it was flatter. Crystal was still trying to get used to the fact that there wasn't an "up" in space. The shuttle landed lightly and the engines were turned off. The Decepticons waited as Starscream looked at his instruments again.
"We're too close to it, now. I can't get a fix on exactly where it is, the signature it's giving off is too strong. We'll have to search the entire asteroid."
Megatron ordered it so. Starscream and Soundwave stepped off the shuttle onto the asteroid and looked around their immediate area. Rumble and Frenzy followed after without any orders while Ravage remained in the doorway, growling at the open space. Starscream didn't blame the mechanical feline at all. Something wasn't right about this. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there was definitely something more to this space rock than what it appeared to be.
'Oh, you have something to hide, don't you?' Starscream thought to himself. 'I'm going to find all your secrets.'
"Readings indicate high amounts of solid, manufactured metal beneath asteroid surface," Soundwave reported.
"Ah, so someone did, indeed, build you," Starscream said to the empty rock. He then looked down at one of his smaller cohorts. "Rumble, smash this rock in two."
No sooner had Rumble transformed his arms into pile drivers, than the very ground they were standing on began to shudder.
"Woah, I haven't done anything yet," Rumble complained.
It was a strange sensation. The ground beneath their feet shook and moaned, but Starscream felt the distinct sensation of objects sliding into place somewhere beneath the surface of the asteroid. Before he could concoct a plan of action, a large mound of dirt and rocks rose out of the ground right next to the Decepticons. It continued to rise until it was taller than the Decepticons themselves, revealing double doors, like a secret elevator. The Decepticons had their weapons aimed at the doors, but there was no one standing at the other side. Just an open, metal hallway leading downward into the belly of the asteroid.
When he was certain they were not going to be attacked, Starscream finally lowered his null rays. He looked towards the ship. Megatron was standing on the plank, having witnessed the unexpected event himself. It seemed either someone wanted them to enter. But for what purpose? Was this a friendly invitation or a trap?
"So? What next, leader?" Starscream asked. "Shall we go in?" He was dying to enter, but even he was apprehensive about it. Megatron was more headstrong about getting his way. The seeker secretly hoped his leader would just force his way through any resistance that might show up inside, leaving Starscream safe to go in after the threat had been nullified by Megatron's fusion cannon.
But Megatron was just as wary. The prize Starscream promised was worth the risk, if it actually existed. There was no guarantee they would find what they were looking for down there.
Crystal squeaked as Megatron grabbed her arm, dragging her down the plank and onto the surface of the asteroid. She felt panic hit her as she was exposed to the openness of space. People could die in space. She knew she wouldn't, she didn't need to breathe, but those survival instincts were still there. It made her want to hold her breath. And the open space around her, vast, infinite, it frightened her. She could feel the lack of gravity on this small space rock. What would happen if she fell loose and was sentenced to float around in darkness for all time?
Megatron had other plans, however. He did not cut her loose to get lost in space. Instead, he approached the open doorway and threw her inside. She landed lightly in the weak gravity, but still none too gracefully, and looked down the metal hallway. It was plain and nonthreatening, just like any metal hallway in the Ark or the Nemesis. She looked back to Megatron for instruction.
He motioned with his hand for her to go in deeper, his face emotionless as stone.
None of the other Decepticons followed after her, though all of them were watching. Crystal finally understood. She was going in to make sure it was safe for the rest of them. The big, strong Decepticons with their heavy armor and their weapons were letting her go in first. How kind of them.
Turning back to the dark hallway, Crystal steeled her nerves. Might as well get it over with. She took one step forward.
A red laser shot out from the wall and Crystal flinched, covering herself with her arms, closing her optics and waiting for the final blow. When nothing happened, after a few seconds, she opened her optics again. The thin, red light was roving around her frame, but not harming her. It spread out into a line, starting at the top of her head and scanned over her entire body.
Then it disappeared. Immediately after, lights flipped on one by one all the way down the hall, lighting the way deep into the asteroid.
"Very good," Megatron said as he stepped over the threshold.
Crystal made no acknowledgment of the compliment, and turned to go back to the safety of the ship. Megatron's arm shot out to stop her.
"Uh uh," he corrected. "You are going out in front."
Crystal visibly slumped in disappointment as Megatron turned to his crew.
"Thundercracker, Skywarp. You will lead and watch the prisoner. Starscream, Soundwave, you will join us. Blitzwing and Astrotrain, watch the shuttle. Inform me of any suspicious activity."
And so it was that the Decepticons ventured into the bowels of the unknown, the asteroid itself lighting their way. Crystal led them down the hallway with Skywarp and Thundercracker right behind her. Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave and his tapes followed behind. Rumble and Frenzy had their doubts about the situation and stayed near Soundwave's side. Ravage, who had been crouched in the shuttle, sprinted out at the last minute as Soundwave walked through the doorway. Now he was wandering up and down the halls, scanning, sniffing and growling.
Crystal didn't blame the little Decepticon; she didn't like it in here either. The halls seemed normal at first, but then she began to notice that they were too empty. No air ducts, no pipes or wiring. There were no panels, doors, or even light switches. Just walls and more walls. It didn't seem right. It didn't feel like anybody lived here.
Ravage was now in front of all of them, despite Crystal being meant to take the brunt of whatever might be around the corner. He sniffed at a wall and then froze. If he had fur, his tail would have been bushy and his hackles raised.
Then, the rest of them heard it. It sounded far away at first, somewhere on the other side of the walls. It was a heavy sliding noise, of one massive part moving into another. Everyone froze as they tried to determine the source of the sound. Audios were strained. Starscream pressed his head against the wall to hear better. Thundercracker curiously put his hand on the wall. He could feel the vibrations. Something on the other side was moving.
The hall shifted suddenly. It broke in half, neatly and cleanly, as if it was always meant to do so. Skywarp and Megatron locked optics as their group was cut in half between them. Then Skywarp's side rotated away and there was suddenly a wall where the hall used to be.
"What the slag is this?" Frenzy demanded as he and Rumble inspected the new wall.
Starscream was still awestruck to respond, but Megatron pointed to the wall. "Demolish it," he told the cassettes.
Both grinned as they transformed their arms. But before any damage could be done, the floor dropped out from all of them, sending them plummeting several stories downward. Megatron and Soundwave managed to land with most of their dignity still intact. Starscream slowly descended, his thrusters on low with Rumble and Frenzy clinging to him.
The open hole above them had disappeared.
"An interesting turn of events," Starscream said mildly as he landed.
"I very much dislike surprises," Megatron growled, as if it were all the seeker's fault.
Starscream opened his mouth for his usual retort when a red laser shot out. It spread into a thin line and he allowed it to scan him from head to toe, watching as it moved over his fingers. When the laser retreated, Starscream immediately followed it to its source on the wall. He picked at it with his fingers as if trying to draw the laser out.
"All communication with shuttle and other Decepticons is being disrupted," Soundwave reported after trying to hail the other two seekers."
"Someone knows we're here." Starscream said. "They seem to be trying to divide and confuse us. No doubt protecting their power source. They're probably trying to figure out what we are so they can fight against us."
"Let them try," Megatron said. "If this is the best they can do, they're going to need all the help they can get."
"Agreed," Starscream nodded. He started for the new tunnel spread out for them. "Let's see what we can find."
Above, Thundercracker, Skywarp and Crystal were still shocked by what happened. They were thrown to the side as the entire section they were standing in turned a 90 degree angle. Now they were staring down an identical hallway, leading off in both directions. Ravage was scratching frantically at the wall where the other hallway should have been.
Thundercracker crouched, weapons aimed down one hall then the other, waiting for an attack. He had Crystal pinned to the wall behind him. Again, his first reaction was to protect and Crystal was once again baffled by this Decepticon's actions.
Skywarp was not as paranoid, but still frowning. "Skywarp to Megatron. Come in." No response. He tried again. "Skywarp to Soundwave. Do you read me?"
"Great. Whatever's going on, it's also jammed our communications. So what do you want to do, 'Cracker?"
When it seemed likely there would be no attack, Thundercracker finally relaxed. "What can we do, but continue the mission? I'm sure Megatron is still going as well. We'll just meet him there."
Skywarp suddenly smirked. "Slag, maybe we'll even find it first. Can you picture Starscream's reaction when he sees us already there with power supply in hand?"
Thundercracker's mouth ticked up just a little. "He just might overload one of his systems."
Skywarp laughed. "I hope it's his vocal processor."
Even Thundercracker chuckled at that. "Come on, Ravage, let's go." He slapped his thigh. "Soundwave is going the same place we are."
Ravage gave one more growl to the wall and then trotted after the blue seeker. Thundercracker now took point down the hall, instead of Crystal leading as Megatron intended. Skywarp followed behind with Crystal bringing up the rear, simply because they probably would have left her behind if she didn't follow.
Silently, she marveled at their brazenness in stalking the halls without their leader to force caution upon them. That itself spoke of what these killing machines thought of themselves. They were used to being the meanest things in the sky and that confidence was strong enough to transfer even to the sliding tunnels of a deep space asteroid. They were confident they could handle anything that came their way.
Crystal found that interesting, but there was another subject that was brought up that interested her even more.
"So, what exactly is your relationship to Starscream anyway?" she asked boldly. "Are you brothers or what?"
Thundercracker glanced back at her, surprised at the sudden question. But he returned his attention to the tunnel just as quickly when Skywarp took it upon himself to answer.
"Brothers? Me? Share a creator with that glitch head? I don't think so."
Crystal's optics squinted in confusion as Ravage wandered underfoot before slinking up ahead. "But... why do you all look alike if you don't have the same creator?"
Skywarp's demeanor visibly darkened. "It's the initiation test for those who didn't come willingly to Megatron's side."
Before Crystal could ask what that meant, Skywarp shouldered past Thundercracker and took the lead. He left the other two to trail behind.
"I'm sorry," Crystal whispered. "I didn't realize it was a touchy subject."
At first, it didn't seem that Thundercracker would bother to answer her, but then he drifted closer and lowered his voice.
"Before Megatron had an army to command, he had one of his lieutenants, Shockwave, take injured citizens from battle to rebuild and convert."
"Convert? You mean brainwash- er, I mean, reprogram?"
"Yes. We were reformatted and reprogrammed into Megatron's new armada for his cause. It was a lot of trial and error on his part. Skywarp was unfortunate enough to be selected for testing of the warp drive. He was the only one to survive the installation process."
Crystal suddenly realized exactly why Skywarp reacted the way he did that time in the med bay. If she'd ended up being someone's guinea pig, she would panic if she woke up with someone standing over her as well.
"Don't worry about it. He survived and is now the charming Decepticon we know today."
"I CAN still hear you!" Skywarp snapped from the front.
That caused Crystal to smile a bit, but her tone was still serious. She raised her voice so both could hear. "So you know that Megatron wiped your memories. He took away your identities, your lives. You don't even remember who you were before then. So why do you still follow him when you know what he did to you?"
It was Skywarp who answered this time. "Because he's right. Megatron fights for Cybertron, for the glory and pride of our people. The sacrifice is worth it."
Crystal chose not to push that subject. She knew so little of Cybertron's civil war and its politics, there would be no point in arguing who had the better cause.
"So that happened to Starscream, too? His memories were also wiped?"
Skywarp huffed and said no more.
"No," Thundercracker answered for him. "Starscream has always been Starscream. He built the seeker design for himself and then let Megatron use it to build his mindless armies."
"But... you two aren't mindless," Crystal insisted. "You're saying all the others are?"
Thundercracker frowned gravely. "Skywarp and I were the lucky ones. The rest, no matter how they seemed at first, their processors eventually broke down from the reformatting process and their personalities were erased." He paused with a far-off look on his face. "One day you would be talking to them, the next, they would just stand there, blank, emotionless, waiting for the next order."
"So he's not really anything to you, then," Crystal surmised. "You just look like Starscream. That's all."
"Well, he's not nothing," Thundercracker admitted. "He's still our air commander and he's kept us alive this long."
"And you want to do what you can to stay off his hit list," Skywarp added. "No one plots like Starscream does. My theory is the only reason Megatron has survived this long is simply because he IS Megatron."
"What about the idea that, deep down, Starscream really respects Megatron, so he subconsciously sabotages all his own plots against him?" Thundercracker offered.
"That remains to be seen."
Crystal looked at the two of them, finally getting it. "You like him," she concluded. "That's why you tease him so much. Like he's your little brother or something."
"He's a lot older than we are," Thundercracker insisted. "And I don't just mean our current personalities. Starscream has been upgrading himself time and time again. He's a lot older than he tries to pass himself off to be."
"I think he's smarter than he makes himself out to be, too," Skywarp said. "That little metal weasel seems to be always looking for something. I want to be there when he finds it. Even if it blows us all back to the Matrix."
Crystal took a moment to process that. It was surprisingly deep and strangely loyal. Before she could ask another question, there was a heavy rumbling below them. Crystal had no idea what it was, but the seekers knew exactly what it meant. Megatron was on the move.
Megatron's half of the search party was having a far more interesting time getting around. They could constantly hear the heavy sounds of objects sliding in and out of place around them. Doors would constantly open and close, hallways would change and rotate.
"We don't seem to be getting anywhere," Megatron growled. He turned to his two officers for solutions.
Soundwave quietly computed to himself any practical response while Starscream consulted his data pad.
"Path behind: closed off. Path ahead: only logical choice," Soundwave warbled.
Megatron frowned. That wasn't what he wanted to hear.
"I've been keeping track of the directions we've been herded," Starscream said with a bland look towards Soundwave. "It seems these hallways are designed specifically to keep us out of a certain area."
Though he was often insufferable at times, Megatron was glad Starscream was with them. While Soundwave was unquestionably loyal and near flawless in battle maneuvers, he had no ingenuity for other situations. Whereas Starscream was constantly thinking outside the usual conventions and invaluable in odd situations such as this. Of course, Megatron would rather go to the pit before admitting this out loud.
"So whoever is on this asteroid is purposefully leading us away from something," Megatron concluded.
"If there's anyone here to begin with," Starscream countered. "I've yet to see any proof: rooms, consoles, switches that show any type of life resides in this asteroid."
"What are you suggesting, Starscream? That the hallways just move themselves?"
"Yes," the seeker insisted. "I'm suggesting that it's the asteroid itself that is moving the halls. That it must have some sort of intelligence, be it artificial or sentient. Remember how it let us in when I told Rumble to damage it?"
Megatron looked over his surroundings in a new light. "So you're saying we're inside a giant-"
Starscream nodded. "It may not be Cybertronian, but it's definitely a transformer."
Megatron was surprised at this. Though it had been millions of years since he had been in space, he knew the truth about the universe. Life on other planets was all about nature taking its course, about natural order. He had no illusions about Cybertron. It was a very unnatural planet. The odds against finding similar life, while not impossible in the infinite vastness of space, were still quite staggering.
"So what do you suggest, Starscream?"
"We find what it's hiding, of course. It's what we came here to do."
Megatron nodded and Starscream turned to the wall.
"Rumble, Frenzy, that one. And don't let anything stop you."
The two cassettes eagerly took to the appointed wall with their pile drivers and soon there was a good sized hole. But before anyone could go through, another wall slid into place, blocking their way.
"What the slag is this?" Frenzy demanded. "I ain't doing it again!"
"Step aside," Megatron ordered, charging up his fusion cannon. "Time for a different approach."
"Blitzwing, get back inside and put your weapon away," Astrotrain called out the shuttle. "You look like a paranoid aft head out there."
Blitzwing didn't adhere to the chiding right away. Something didn't feel right and he didn't like it at all. His finger kept twitching on the trigger.
"Would you just relax?"
"I can't," Blitzwing said as he backed towards the shuttle. "We've been without radio contact for too long."
"That doesn't mean a thing," Astrotrain insisted from the navigator's seat, his feet propped up on the controls. "It's gotta be the power source mucking up the equipment. Starscream said it was jamming his sensors before he left, remember?"
"I... guess." Blitzwing was still peering out of the shuttle, right and left.
"Besides, this baby has plenty of firepower." Astrotrain patted the controls. "It can take out anything that comes our way, so sit down and cool your systems. You're making me nervous just watching you."
Reluctantly, Blitzwing sat, but he kept his energy rifle in his lap.
Beneath the ship, however, there was very much cause to be paranoid as holes opened up in the ground. Large, serpentine cords slithered out and began to disassemble the outer armor and sneak into the shuttle.
"Guys, stop," Crystal called to the seekers in front of her. She pointed down where several old claw marks decorated the wall. They were made by Ravage the first time around.
"Great, we've been going around in circles," Skywarp grouched. "This place is making fools of us. If my tracking systems weren't being jammed, I'd just locate the ship on my radar and warp us back up there."
Thundercracker nodded. "Well we'll just have to change our strategy and make a new hallway."
As if understanding his intention, two lasers shot out and scanned both seekers from head to toe. Skywarp and his temper did not like that one bit. In retaliation, he raised his fist to the wall, intent on tearing right through with his bare hands.
On the opposite wall, two metal tentacles shot out and grabbed each of Skywarp's wrists. Another wrapped around his neck, yanking him backwards against the wall.
As Thundercracker ran to help, two walls slid down on either side of them, locking the seekers, Crystal and Ravage into a small, boxed-in area. Crystal looked from the walls to the struggling seekers as Ravage growled. This wasn't good.
Meanwhile, Megatron and his cohorts were having even more of an adventure. As soon as Megatron fired his fusion cannon, destroying the first wall, the asteroid went into action. Several cords snaked out of the wall, intent on capturing them.
"Looks like we ARE onto something," Starscream smirked as he fired his null rays. The cords fell lifeless as they were hit.
"Indeed," Megatron agreed. "Starscream, Soundwave, cover us. Rumble, Frenzy, continue forward."
The plan seemed to be working. Megatron and the cassettes tore right through the inner workings of the asteroid while the other two kept all attacks at bay. But the asteroid proved its ability to adapt to new situations. When the tentacles didn't work, laser weapons appeared from the walls and began firing.
The seasoned Decepticons,however, were right at home under heavy fire. Rumble and Frenzy, as well as Laserbeak, were dispatched to be moving targets while Megatron blasted through layer after protective layer.
In the end, the asteroid's defenses were no match for the violent, brute strength of the Decepticons. They tore through one last wall and found themselves in a large, circular room filled from ceiling to floor with screens, panels and all manner of hardware.
"Hey, why did it stop attacking?" Rumble demanded when everything fell quiet. He was still itching for more battle.
"Because my theory was right," Starscream said as he walked around. "We are indeed inside a somewhat intelligent life form. Just like you, Rumble."
"Yeah, just like- hey was that an insult?"
"It stopped attacking because we found its central processor," Starscream continued, ignoring him. "It doesn't want to risk damaging its own brain by starting a fight in here. We should be safe."
Megatron didn't look too comfortable with letting his guard down, but Starscream went to work right away, looking over the systems and digging for information.
"Soundwave, find out what is blocking our communications and shut it down."
"Acknowledged." Soundwave found a port and pulled out a wire from his wrist to plug into it.
After a moment of watching the walls, waiting for an attack, Megatron turned back to Starscream. "Well? Where is the energy supply?"
Starscream was frowning. "Once again, our new friend has revealed itself to be more than meets the optic. I thought its constant energy level was the result of a self-replenishing system. However, it seems its function is actually parasitic in nature."
"Meaning?" Megatron demanded.
"It gets its fuel from a host source. What's amazing about that is the parasite- this asteroid – is not physically connected to the source whatsoever. Yet, it is still about to take energy from it."
Megatron clenched his fists, energon boiling. "You idiot! You dragged us out here for nothing!"
"Wait, wait!" Starscream floundered, stepping back. "Mighty Megatron, you don't understand!" We can still use this to our benefit!"
"Speak quickly before I slag you for wasting so much time and energy!"
"There is something out there powering this entire asteroid and it has been doing so for years. It is still possibly an infinite power source," Starscream insisted. "And if we can figure out how it connects to this source, we can take it for ourselves without even having to find it."
Megatron stared him down for a few moments as he considered his options. Then he lowered his fusion cannon. "Do it."
Starscream's confidence instantly returned the moment the threat was rescinded.
"Just give me a few moments and I will have it all figured out." A small plug extended from his index finger and Starscream plugged himself into the main systems. His data pad projected a screen as he searched.
"This is fascinating," the seeker reported as information began to scroll on the screen. "The asteroid receives its energy wirelessly through what seems to be a wormhole, contained right inside this very vessel. I'm working to locate the information on its true power source."
"Excellent," Megatron said. "Show it on screen."
"Yes, my leader. Searching now."
More information flashed across the screen. Then Starscream let out an "Ah ha!" as he found what he was looking for.
"Behold, Megatron, our source."
Megatron leaned in closer. The schematics were of a large, circular object. At least, he thought it was just a schematic at first, until the screen showed the spherical object in action.
"It appears to be approaching something in space," Starscream narrated. A second, smaller sphere came on the screen.
"Is that a... planet?" Megatron asked. "If so, then that power source is massive."
Starscream smirked. "No wonder it has been able to power this asteroid. A source that size would power all of Cybertron."
Megatron's features spread into a wide grin as he pictured his triumphant return to his home planet. Nothing could stand in his way now. He would be known by the rest of history as the one who brought their planet back to its former glory. Cybertron was his!
Then, the power source began to react on the screen. Starscream and Megatron watched as the massive sphere appeared as if it were going to ram right into the smaller planet. Then it slowed before the two could touch and a claw-like mouth extended and began to chomp away at the planet, consuming it greedily, bit by bit.
The entire asteroid hummed as new energy was sent to it while the two Decepticons just stared. Neither was smirking now. Starscream felt like the energon was frozen in his fuel lines. There was an ancient story from long ago about a beast such as this whose name was barely whispered, let alone spoke aloud. The Monster of Space, the Ender of Life, the Great Omega. Starscream almost mouthed the nightmare's name.
"Unlimited power indeed!" Megatron growled, less intimidated than his air commander. "It gets its power from eating other planets! We can't bring this to Cybertron!"
Being yelled at brought Starscream back to reality and he checked his data. "The asteroid serves as a scout, finding planets for that thing to eat. If it continues on its current course it will go right through the space warp gate, putting it in a near collision course with Cybertron."
"Never," Megatron growled. "That monster will never know of Cybertron's existence. We will destroy this asteroid and the warp gate."
Starscream was not expecting the passion in his leader's voice, but agreed with his plan of action. "Yes Megatron, it will be done."
"Megatron," Soundwave announced. "Communication block disabled."
No sooner had he spoken than Blitzwing's frantic voice came over the radio.
"...frack is everyone? This is an emergency! Can you hear me? The shuttle is being attacked! It's being fragging torn apart!"
Everyone looked to their leader when they heard the transmission. Megatron was not happy. This mission had gone very bad very quickly.
Meanwhile, the other two seekers were still wrestling with the metallic cords. Skywarp was bound by his legs, arms and neck while Thundercracker tried to pry the cords off. He didn't dare shoot at them for fear of hitting his wing mate. One of the cords decided Skywarp was better left in pieces and began probing through the armor.
Skywarp let out a sharp cry as his outer armor was pried apart at the knee. "Thundercracker! It's taking me apart! My leg!"
Thundercracker grabbed at the offending tentacle that was bent on dislocating the knee from the leg. Ravage was on the other side of Skywarp, gnawing ineffectively at one of the cords.
Crystal crouched by the wall where one cord was snaking out and pulled out her tools. She removed a link of armor and cut at the vulnerable cable underneath. The cord fell lifeless to the floor.
Skywarp signed in relief when his knee was no longer in immediate danger. Crystal moved to the other side and did the same thing with a second cord.
"I knew there was a reason we brought you along," he quipped.
"Megatron to Skywarp and Thundercracker, get back to the ship immediately," Megatron's voice bellowed over the radio.
Skywarp grinned, pulling away when the second cord dropped. That gave him enough leeway that he could yank himself free from the others.
"Sounds like Megs is having the same problems we are. With the radios running, so is my guidance radar. Ravage, transform. Let's get out of here."
The feline immediately folded up into his cassette form and Skywarp tucked him away in his cockpit. Then he turned to Crystal.
"Okay, let's warp back to the ship."
Crystal looked dubious as Skywarp picked her up in one arm. "You sure you can warp all three of us at once?"
Skywarp chuckled. "Itty bitty, you hardly count as one."
He put an arm around Thundercracker's shoulders and they all disappeared. A split second later, they were inside the shuttle again. Ravage instantly sprang out, growling. There were sounds of laser fire outside.
The Decepticons ran outside, weapons ready. Crystal huddled in the entranceway, unsure what to do. There were several cords slowly taking the shuttle apart from the outside and in. When one cord was destroyed, two more would take its place. It was a losing battle, but they were not allowed to give up. If they lost the shuttle, they would be stranded until the asteroid picked them apart as well.
A spot on the ground right outside the shuttle grew strangely hot, then exploded outward. Out of the new hole crawled Megatron, cannon smoking, with the rest of his Decepticons behind him. The Decepticon leader instantly opened an attack on the forest of tentacles while Starscream and Soundwave ran for the ship to initiate a retreat.
"Decepticons! Everyone back to the ship!" Megatron ordered. There was no time to launch an attack on the asteroid itself, no matter its primary purpose. Priority one, for now, was to get off the surface in one piece.
The other Decepticons did not have to be told twice. Everyone turned and ran for the shuttle as Megatron fired a few parting shots before fleeing himself.
"Starscream, what's the status of the ship? Can we take off?"
The red seeker typed furiously at the controls.
"The ship is too damaged. The thrusters are completely gone. We'll have to take the emergency pod, provided that is still intact."
"Time to negate asteroid: insufficient," Soundwave reminded them.
"Maybe not," Starscream said. "I can set up this whole ship to blow, taking the asteroid with it. It lacks finesse, but it would be effective."
"Do it," Megatron ordered.
One of the cords broke through the window to get to them and started taking the ship apart from the front.
"Decepticons, to the escape pod, now!"
All turned and fled to the emergency auxiliary ship stationed near the back of the shuttle. While quite a bit smaller, it was designed to hold an entire crew, so all the Decepticons fit. Soundwave confirmed that it was still in working order. Though the tentacles were getting closer, so it wouldn't be working for too much longer.
"Go! Go, go, go!" Starscream cried as he ran in, the last. "It will blow any minute!"
"Why didn't you give us ample time to launch?" Megatron demanded.
"Tell that to those things tearing up the control panel," Starscream shot back. "If it's taken apart before the countdown ends, there won't be an explosion. "
Now was definitely not the time to argue the point. Megatron turned to Soundwave. "Launch the pod! Get us out of here now!"
Soundwave nodded and gave the command to the console, but it flashed with an emergency warning. By now, the cords could be seen taking apart the shuttle around the pod.
"Damage to launch controls," Soundwave announced. "External repairs required."
Megatron knew exactly what to do. He didn't bring that little, pink baggage for nothing. But before he could even order it to sacrifice itself for them, it was already out the door.
Megatron grinned, pleased at Crystal. "A very noble sacrifice. You could do no greater act than give your existence for the Decepticon cause."
From outside the pod, Crystal turned and gave him her most flat, unimpressed look. "Fuck you."
Megatron's optics widened in surprise. His pleased look was gone as Crystal shut the hatch in his face.
She scrambled around the pod, dodging wandering cords, trying to find out what prevented the launch. If it was a programming issue, they were still screwed. Especially since she had no idea how long Starscream gave them until the whole ship exploded.
She looked around frantically for something, anything that would give her a clue about what to do. Then she saw it on the wall: so blatant, she wondered if it was even real. A large, red button with the words over it reading "Emergency Manual Launch."
Crystal stared at it. It couldn't be that easy.
The shuttle was coming apart around her and she slapped the button with her palm. The pod's thrusters ignited and it shot out into space. It was nothing but another light in the starry background in seconds.
Crystal watched it go, feeling strangely detached from the situation. Left alone with the ship crumbling around her, she felt nothing in her very last moments. Down the hall, there was a countdown on the screen while the blind tentacles continued to search, as if knowing the ship contained the tools of its destruction. The screen continued to count.
Ten seconds. That was all she had left in the world. Very few could say they could count down the end of their lives to the second.
Nine. She thought she would feel something more: sadness, regret, fear. But it was like watching the whole thing outside her body. She didn't feel anything at all.
Eight seconds. She thought of her planet. It was so far away from here, it wouldn't even feel the force of this explosion. What a lonely thought.
Seven. She thought of the people on Earth. They would never know this kind of world existed out here. They would never know she was thinking of them.
On Earth, a sudden cool breeze rushed over an otherwise hot and breezeless summer day. Prowl looked up when the wind chimes were blown by an invisible hand. That was strange.
Jazz raised his head when he felt the breeze as well. It seemed to get into the wound on his chest and irritate it. He scratched at it, feeling cold for some reason.
Sunstreaker looked up from his etching when he heard a sudden crash. No one else was in the room, but somehow, the crystal statue that had once belonged to his friend had fallen from its shelf and shattered on the floor.
Three seconds. It was nearly over. Crystal accepted it. She was done. But just as that thought entered her mind, she was suddenly aware someone had appeared behind her.
Arms wrapped around her and she disappeared.
Starscream watched the explosion from the window of the escape pod. It engulfed the shuttle, then spread to the rest of the asteroid, devouring it completely. A second, inner explosion sent pieces of it flying in all directions. Fall out from the blast raced out towards them, making the pod shudder and shake. Then it was over and Starscream still stared out the window.
It was an unfamiliar feeling of triumph. They had done it to save their planet. He, Starscream, had acted to save Cybertron. There had been a time long ago when he had not cared for his home planet at all. How time could change things.
"Skywarp?" Thundercracker called, looking around the pod. "Where did he- oh no!" He ran to the window next to Starscream. "That moron! Why did he do that?"
"What happened?" Megatron asked, not in the mood for another crisis.
"Skywarp, I think he went back there for that-" Thundercracker paused. That little creature that he kept protecting. Did Skywarp do it because of him? Didn't that dope realize it wasn't worth risking his life for?
"You're right; that was very stupid of him," Megatron confirmed.
"If he got caught in the blast while he was warping, it could have thrown his trajectory off to anywhere," Starscream said. "Most likely, however, it probably destroyed him."
Thundercracker clenched his jaw as he stared out the window. That idiot.
"Soundwave," Megatron ordered. "Scan for Skywarp's energy signature in the debris."
Soundwave nodded and got right to work. He scanned for a long time, longer than normal. "No energy signature detected."
Megatron shook his head. "Then there's nothing that can be done. Soundwave, set a course for the warp gate. We're going home, to Cybertron."
Thundercracker lowered his head. This was not how he pictured their return. It wouldn't be the same without Skywarp.
Crystal slowly onlined, her optics fuzzy and all her systems feeling like strange currents of electricity were coursing through her muscle cables. It did not feel right at all. However, that wasn't the first thought on her mind.
"I-I'm still alive!" She told herself, looking at her body. "I'm still whole! I'm alive!"
Then she looked around herself and wished she weren't. It was the very thing she never wanted. She was free-floating with nothing but countless miles of space around her in all directions. No one who had ever been lost really understood what lost was until they had been lost and alone in space.
Helplessness could only be indulged for a moment. She wasn't completely alone. Skywarp's body lay beside her. He was outputting some sort of weird energy which was the cause of the strange bursts she was feeling in her own circuits. He still had an arm around her, keeping them in contact.
There was a strange halo of purple glowing around him. The two of them kept shifting from solid to semi-transparent. Crystal was no expert on warping, but her instincts told her she would want to keep in contact with him until he stabilized. Which, she hoped, would be soon. Skywarp was still offline.
As carefully as she could, Crystal opened his chest panels to look at the damage. It wasn't easy to make her fingers do exactly what she wanted with his warp energy fluctuating into her body. She could see there were quite a few wires that were completely burnt to a crisp. In her hip compartment were a few extra wires for just such an occasion. They were meant for console repair, not to go into transformer bodies, but they would have to do for now.
As she began to replace wires, Crystal prayed she could get the seeker online. She couldn't be left out here alone; she just couldn't handle that after the day she had.
Lo and behold, as she worked to repair him, Skywarp's optics flickered back to life.
"What—what's going on?" he asked. His voice sounded strange with the warp energy running unchecked through his systems. Skywarp recognized the problem instantly and willed his systems back to normal. Now both of them were stable and solid again.
"That's better. Looks like I caught part of that explosion when I warped and it messed up my systems. Boy Thundercracker is going to yell at me. He always gets after me for waiting until the last second."
"Do I even want to ask why you came back for me in the first place?" Crystal said.
Skywarp looked slightly uncomfortable with that question. "Uh, yeah. Let's leave that for another time until we get out of here."
"I won't argue with that," she agreed. "Uh... CAN you get us out of here?"
Skywarp was quiet for a moment as he checked all his guidance systems and radar. "I can't pick up the escape pod. They probably couldn't find my signature with my warp field unstable. I bet they've already gone through the warp gate."
"Yeah, I remember we were near one. It's like a shortcut through space."
"Can we go through it without a ship?" Crystal worried.
"We can," Skywarp insisted. He let go of her and transformed into his jet mode. "Get on and hold on tight. Don't let go of me or you'll get left behind."
Crystal did not need to be told twice. She clung to that black jet like her life depended on it. Skywarp ignited his thrusters and then warped forward.
He didn't have the same kind of warping power as the Autobot shuttle did, but he could still warp them both a good distance through space. Luckily, thanks to all the over-energizing he had done previously, he had plenty of energy reserves for the trip. Also, their destination wasn't too far away.
Crystal kept switching off her optics when Skywarp warped through space. She really didn't like the sensation of it. Skywarp could tell her dislike for it by the way she clutched him more tightly. But when the space warp gate came into view, Crystal couldn't help but stare.
It was massive. It looked big enough to accommodate a whole fleet of large star ships. They were merely a drop in the ocean compared to it. The gate was composed of two metal rings, one within the other, rotating in opposite directions. In the middle, a cloudy storm seemed trapped within the two rings.
"Get ready," Skywarp warned her as they floated nearer to the gate. "This is going to be a big one."
Crystal wanted to reach out and touch the stormy substance within, but upon the warning, she gripped the seeker tighter. The gate suddenly grabbed them and pulled them in. Crystal was glad for the warning. The pull was so strong, it felt like she left half of herself back at the entrance.
Thankfully, it only lasted a few seconds and then the gate that was in front of them was suddenly behind them.
"Wow, that was a rush."
"Yeah, well, just keep holding on," Skywarp said. "We've got a few more jumps to go."
Crystal cut back a few whimpers that threatened to come out as Skywarp warped again through space. When this was over, she never ever wanted to warp again, not even at the risk of her own life. The next explosion she was in, the Decepticon could just leave her there.
"Sweet Primus, there it is," Skywarp said, causing Crystal to flick on her optics again.
Below them floated a planet, one like Crystal had never seen before. There was nothing natural about it. No clouds, no atmosphere to blanket it. Parts of it were pitch black while others glowed with millions of lights.
"That's... Cybertron?" Crystal guessed.
"Sure is. Hold on for one more warp."
Crystal shut off her optics and felt the sickening jerk of time and space being pulled around her, then they were hovering with Skywarp's thrusters on. She could feel the familiar pull of gravity again as Skywarp slowly landed on the metal surface.
He landed and she instantly got off and looked around with wide optics. Everything around her was metal. There were tall spires above her and deep chasms below her. Layers built upon layers of streets and buildings. It was so alien it felt almost magical and she couldn't stop looking at it. This was Cybertron. This was where the Autobots had meant for her to eventually live. This was going to be her new home.
Skywarp wasn't sure which part of the planet they were on yet. He was just as eager as Crystal to get something solid under his feet. Plus his systems really needed a break. They were threatening to overheat. Once he had a few minutes to situate himself, he would figure out where the nearest Decepticon stronghold was and go from there. For now he just stood, hands on hips, enjoying the surroundings. Primus, it was good to be back on his home planet. War-torn and tattered, it was still home and there was no other place like it.
The seeker felt the laser pierce his wing before he realized he had been fired upon. He stupidly looked at the smoking hole in his wing. He had been so distracted by being home at last, he forgot to keep his guard up.
Behind him, he heard a body collapse. Crystal has been standing behind his wingspan, looking in the opposite direction. She just happened to be turning toward him when the attack came. The laser went through Skywarp's thin wing and right through her optic, blowing off part of her head. Her body instantly crashed lifelessly to the ground.
For some reason, seeing that small body damaged made Skywarp angrier than after his own injury. He spun around, optics and weapons ablaze. The attack had come from a single Autobot, brightly colored red and yellow. He appeared quite young and was very surprised at the strength of the retaliation against him.
Hot Rod had just been traveling one of the roads between two of the Autobot bases, minding his own business. Ultra Magnus insisted Autobots travel in groups of at least two, but Hot Rod believed he was fast enough to get from point A to point B without any problems. That was when he noticed the Decepticon aircraft descending toward the ground.
It was a peculiar design, but then again, the Decepticons were always experimenting with their own kind, trying to upgrade themselves for faster flight and heavier firepower. It still wore the purple insignia and that was all Hot Rod needed to know.
He snuck carefully toward the seeker, making sure he wasn't detected, and waited for the right time to pull the trigger. Internally, he was glad Ultra Magnus and Kup weren't around to see his horrible shot. He had been aiming for the chest, but all he got was a wing. Afterward, Hot Rod could have sworn he saw something smaller fall down behind the seeker. But there was no time to make sure; the Decepticon had turned on him, unleashing the full strength of his fire power. This one wasn't one of the mindless seekers. This one was sentient and it had a temper.
Hot Rod had no choice but to transform and flee from the scene.
Skywarp stopped his attack once the Autobot left. There was no point spending time chasing after him. He needed to get back to Decepticon territory and report back to Megatron.
Walking back to Crystal's damaged and lifeless body, Skywarp stared at it for a long time. Having gone this far, there was only one thing to do.
Shockwave was both surprised and ill-prepared to receive Megatron on his doorstep. In a beat-up Autobot escape pod, no less. He also found his leader's presence inconvenient. Not that the glorious Megatron wasn't allowed to go where he pleased, be it Cybertron or anywhere else in the galaxy, but he usually gave prior notice. Nothing irked Shockwave more than having the day's details planned out and then having something unscheduled break his routine. And this would most definitely throw off his entire day.
Shockwave stepped out of Darkmount tower with two other Decepticons as Megatron exited the pod.
"Lord Megatron, I did not receive any notice you were coming," Shockwave said, trying to disguise any accusation in his voice. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"
Megatron ignored the impudence of the question. While he sometimes wondered if there were other reasons Shockwave didn't like being caught off guard, he also knew how the purple Decepticon was about sticking to his schedule.
"There were unforeseen circumstances," Megatron said. He looked at the two Decepticons, both tall and heavily built, standing on either side of Shockwave. Megatron did not recognize them. "I will discuss that matter with you later. Privately."
"Agreed," Shockwave nodded. "Do any of your party require medical attention?"
Megatron looked back at Soundwave. "Negative," he responded. "No damage requiring medical personnel to report."
Starscream wandered off toward his old quarters, no doubt to go sulk about the botched mission. Soon, the rest of Megatron's team was dismissed to refuel and let their self-repair systems tend to any minor dings and scratches.
Megatron walked through Darkmount, the Decepticon stronghold, with Shockwave at his side. Soundwave brought up the rear as they traveled to a meeting room where they could confer about what had recently transpired.
"Who were those two Decepticons with you earlier?" Megatron asked. "I do not recognize them."
"Ransack and Beatback are my field lieutenants," Shockwave replied as he opened the door to a meeting room. "They were mere low-ranking soldiers when you crashed on that planet Earth. The officers you took with you left many holes that needed to be filled by lower-ranking Decepticons. Those two have proven their worth by filling in the gaps time after time and have worked their way through the ranks. Both triple changers, they have superior skills as land and air supervisors. They have proven themselves invaluable to me."
The door closed behind the three Decepticons and Shockwave locked it so they could continue to converse in private.
"Yes, but are they trustworthy?" Megatron asked.
"You know my paranoia toward letting newcomers into the inner circle rivals your own, Megatron. But Ransack and Beatback have shown efficiency and ferocity on the battlefield time and time again. I believe their loyalties lie with the Decepticon cause, whether or not we are the ones leading it."
"That is acceptable," Megatron nodded as he seated himself at the large meeting table. Soundwave took a seat next to him. "But for now, Shockwave, this information I am about to give to you does not go past this room."
Once Shockwave accepted the terms, Megatron relayed all that had happened out in space and the information he had learned. Shockwave sat quietly, listening to it from start to finish. He didn't have anything to say until Megatron proposed the next course of action.
"Destroy the space warp gate?" he demanded, jumping to his feet. "Megatron, I must advise against that. Many nearby planets use that warp gate for trade across the galaxy, including Cybertron."
Megatron slammed his fist on the table. "I don't care about your trade negotiations, Shockwave! The gate must come down for the sake of Cybertron!"
Shockwave made a long-suffering noise. "Lord Megatron, can you even be sure what you saw is really out there? And even if so, that it has targeted Cybertron? Perhaps your information is false."
"Information, not mistaken," Soundwave said without being questioned. "Several witnesses present."
"I don't really care whether you trust our findings," Megatron growled. "I am the leader of the Decepticons and you will do as I say. And I say Cybertron is mine and no beast or god may have it! That takes full precedence over your trade negotiations, Shockwave."
The longtime overseer of the Cybertronian Decepticons clenched his single fist so hard it shook. This did not escape Megatron's notice. He looked at him as if daring him to disagree with his orders. Finally, Shockwave's hand fell limp again as he gave in.
But before he could say anything, Shockwave's communicator came to life.
"Commander Shockwave, a seeker has entered Darkmount and is requesting to see Lord Megatron."
"One of the seeker drones?" Shockwave asked. It was highly illogical that any of the drones would take the initiative to do anything himself, unless put up to it by a supervising officer. Maybe it was malfunctioning.
"Which serial number is it?"
"He says his name is Skywarp, sir."
Upon hearing that, Megatron stood. That particular seeker was one of his.
Thundercracker could not put into words how relieved he was to hear that Skywarp had returned to Cybertron on his own and in one piece. Not that he was allowed to voice his feelings in public. That kind of display would be frowned upon by his commanders. Skywarp wasn't prone to sentimentality either, even in private. Though he did enjoy the attention when his fellow Decepticons marveled at his death-defying return.
"You risked your spark foolishly today, Skywarp," Megatron told him. "I am not pleased."
Skywarp's confident grin instantly disappeared. "I figured you wouldn't want to lose your property." The strange object he had slung over his shoulder was removed and flung to the ground.
Shockwave actually stepped back at the sight of the unfamiliar creature. Part of its head was missing and its remaining optic was black.
"Unfortunately, the Autobots got her before I could get her back to the base," Skywarp continued, hands on his hips. He actually looked a little disappointed. It made Thundercracker curious.
"Her?" Shockwave repeated, wondering if he had heard correctly.
"Her-it, you know, whatever," Skywarp waved it off.
"What is it?" Shockwave got closer again, inspecting the body with interest.
"Just some... thing we took from the Autobots on Earth. Nothing important," Megatron said, looking pointedly at Skywarp. "Certainly not important enough to risk a soldier for."
Skywarp shrugged. What was done could not be undone.
"New technology? From Earth?" Shockwave said. "Might I examine it, Lord Megatron? Since it is no longer of any use to you."
"Do what you wish with it, then scrap it and get rid of it."
Shockwave nodded and gently picked up the creation so as not to damage the Earth circuitry further.
Megatron frowned at his actions. Shockwave would certainly not find anything more than what his own officers had discovered. It was a scientific dead end. If Shockwave wanted to examine something truly from Earth, Megatron should have packed the remains of Nightbird with him. Megatron paused as an idle thought wandered into his processor.
Megatron suddenly stiffened and turned to look where Shockwave had gone. He suddenly had a very intriguing idea.
Shockwave had removed the chest armor of his new toy and was beginning to become absorbed in studying its inner workings when Megatron came into his lab.
"I have changed my mind," the Decepticon leader announced. "When you are finished poking and prodding around, I want you to rebuild it to these specifications." He placed a data pad on the table.
Shockwave paused. His irritation at the interruption would remain secret, as most of his emotions did. He picked up the data pad and skimmed through the list. "This will be very difficult to do with a body like this. I cannot guarantee the results will be satisfactory."
"You always manage to pleasantly surprise me, Shockwave," Megatron insisted with a smile. "I'm sure you will figure out a way."
Shockwave's shoulders slumped just a tiny bit. "If it is your wish, Megatron, I will do my utmost."
"Good." Megatron turned to go, then remembered the last thing the little creation said to him. He had no idea what it meant in the Earth language, but he was sure it was meant to be an insult and that angered him.
"One more thing, Shockwave. Remove its vocal processor. I don't want to hear a sound from it ever again."
"As you command, Megatron."
Satisfied, the Decepticon leader quit the room and Shockwave was, once again, alone with his new project. It had curious workmanship indeed. Obviously built by Cybertronians, it appeared to be mismatched and composed of whatever was lying around. It was so base and simple that it would be quite a chore making any additions to Megatron's specifications. And how he expected it to be of any use without a spark was baffling. What was this creation like before it was damaged?
Luckily, Shockwave did love a challenge and any opportunity to show off his skills. He would show Megatron exactly what he could do.
The door to his lab opened a second time while he documented his findings. Shockwave looked up to see Starscream now standing before him.
"I caught wind of Megatron's orders for you. I have a few specifics for it myself," Starscream held out a second data pad.
Shockwave did not accept it. "Your alterations cannot be considered unless Megatron gives approv-"
"Megatron has approved it!" Starscream cut him off sharply. "The Earth creation will report under me. Therefore it must be fit to fly in my armada. That isn't too confusing for you, is it, Shockwave?"
The purple Decepticon stared at Starscream's haughty smirk. Shockwave had not missed the seeker while he was gone.
"Very well," Shockwave reluctantly took the data pad from him. "Barring any more interruptions, I will have it completed as soon as I am able."
Starscream continued to smile as he looked down at the lifeless body. One black optic stared back at him. "Good. I'm eager to see what you can come up with."