Notes: Thank you to all who left reviews from the last chapter. I've really had a hard time writing these past few months and your words of encouragement really helped out. For those not aware, I lost my job and had to move within these past several months and my whole schedule has just been a mess. The winter depression doesn't help much either, so it's been hard to find time to write. Hopefully, when the weather warms up, I'll have a better writing schedule established. Thank you again for all who leave reviews, you really don't know how much they carry me through the hard times. Love you all!

Rising Generations

Chapter 26: The First of Many

His optics flickered to life, focusing on the bright lights of the sterile ceiling. The med bay was not where he had expected to find consciousness. There was still a residual ache within his spark, within the Matrix. But at least he was alive.

"Optimus," Elita cried as her beautiful face came into view. "Ratchet, he's conscious."

Optimus Prime rotated his neck left and then right, slowly testing all his joints and muscle cables from head to toe as Ratchet stood over him.

"How do you feel?" the medic asked.

Optimus slowly sat up. "I'm fine, I suppose. My internal report shows no damage."

"Good," Elita said, and promptly punched him in the side.

"Ow!" the Prime complained. "Why did you-"

"You had us all worried sick, Optimus!" His femme cut him off. "You leave the base without any escort and then the tower gets a garbled SOS from you. We find your body out in the middle of nowhere, alone and completely offline. No one knows what happened to you or what you were doing out there. What if the Decepticons had found you before we did?"

He winced at the verbal lashing. "I'm sorry."

"If it ever happens again," Elita wagged a finger in his face, "I will personally ground you from the Matrix."

"Now, just a minute," Ratchet cut in, his medic sensibilities offended. "You can't remove the ancient artifact of Primus from a chest cavity just like-"

The rest of his statement was scared away by Elita's caustic glare. She had not invited the medic into this conversation.

"Ratchet, can you please give us a moment?" Optimus asked.

The medic momentarily frowned, but acquiesced as he retreated to his back office.

Elita remained perched on her stool, knees and ankles pressed together, back straight, arms folded over her chest. She was simultaneously graceful and powerful, and he loved that about her. Silently, Optimus offered her a hand and, with only a moment's pause to give him one last frown of disapproval, she took it and sat next to him on the examining table.

He put an arm around her shoulders and her proud, straight posture instantly melted against him. She leaned her head on his chest, arms loosely around him.

"I'm so glad you're safe," she said softly. "What happened out there?"

His arm drew her in tighter. "Something very bad."

Elita pulled back slightly to look him in the face.

"Vector Sigma is dead."

She jerked back, body stiff again. "Dead? What do you mean? I don't understand."

"He's gone. When I was out there, I felt his death through the Matrix. It was painful and brutal. Someone- something- was down there with him."

"But, no one can just go down there and find Vector Sigma!" Elita protested. "Especially if they meant him harm. You know as well as I do that the journey to Vector Sigma isn't merely a physical one. There are so many safeguards-"

Optimus placed his hands on her shoulders. "I know."

"Then how could Megatron-"

"It wasn't the Decepticons. If Megatron found Vector Sigma, he would use him to build up his armies, not destroy him. It wasn't any of us."

Elita felt a chill at that word. He was talking about Decepticons and Autobots alike. If no Cybertronian had been down there with the spark generator, then what had?

"I felt it, just for a moment. Something that doesn't belong here. It has come to attack us and end our people. It wants to wipe us out."

Elita sat there, mouth agape as she tried to process this. "Alpha Trion!" she suddenly gasped. "He merged with Vector Sigma! What happened to him? Is he... completely gone? Even from the Matrix?"

Optimus shook his head. "I am not entirely sure. I would like to think maybe the destruction of Vector Sigma merely freed his spark to join the Matrix, but I can't say. So much happened in that instant; I'm still processing the encounter myself."

Elita stared at his chest as if she could see the Matrix with her bare optics and could will its wisdom to her. "So, now we have lost all ability to create new life? I know not many knew how any longer, but there are still a few out there that can make the Vector keys. At least then there was a small spark of hope. Now..."

Optimus gently grabbed her arms as she trailed off in sadness. "Do not tell anyone of this, Elita. Not until I figure out what to do. If this information slips out to the general masses it could cause panic. I need some time. Promise me."

She nodded slightly, just as Ratchet stepped back into the room. "Sorry, Prime, I held them back as long as I could."

As he spoke, several Autobots flooded in, most of whom were from his personal Ark crew back on Earth.

"Boss bot!" Jazz greeted him. "Good to see you're up and kicking again. We were worried for a while."

"I wasn't," Bumblebee said with conviction. "Nothing keeps Prime down for long."

Sideswipe had already sandwiched himself between Prime and Elita, asking questions faster than they could be answered. Soon, so many Autobots were talking and laughing at once, it was impossible to hear one's thoughts.

Elita welcomed the distraction. Now, it was time to rejoice that their leader was fine and everyone was home safe and sound. But this new information niggled at the back of her processor. What would this mean for Cybertron's future?

Prowl looked up from his reports at the knock on his open door frame, followed by the sound of a femme clearing her throat. Blitzangel leaned casually against the threshold.

The SIC straightened in his chair. "Blitzangel. I wasn't expecting to see you." Especially not so soon after their odd encounter less than a day before.

She seemed unperturbed. "Yes, well, I thought I'd come to you this time. I believe you owe me an apology."

"Yes, you are correct," he agreed. "I certainly do."

He electronically closed the door behind her as she entered so they could continue their conversation in private. "I realize I put you in a very uncomfortable situation due to my own issues and frustration, none of which were your fault. Neither was I willing to respect your opinion, even though you have every right to express how you feel. I am sorry about that. I could have handled the situation better."

Blitzangel looked pleased as she continued to stand, arms folded across her chest. "Not a single excuse in there. I am very impressed and fully accept your apology."

"I also want to apologize for making you so uncomfortable in my presence the last time you were here," Prowl continued. "I regret that more than anything. I never wanted to see you afraid of me. I know sometimes I am easily frustrated and I get a bit obsessive, but I want you to know I would never hurt you. Ever."

By now, Blitzangel's arms had dropped to her side, completely disarmed by his continued admission and the intense expression on his face. Suddenly she wanted to be ensconced safely in a chair and sat down across from him.

"Prowl, I know you would never hurt me and I wasn't afraid of you. I just get a little weird about people in my space sometimes. I know I didn't believe it when Ratchet told me Cybertronian personalities are often affected by their alt modes, but I think that's part of it. The wings make me a little twitchy about enclosed spaces.

"I like being able to see the exits, too. You were kind of blocking any way out for me. I knew you weren't going to hurt me, but you were so close in my space. I just needed some room to breathe, you know what I mean?"

Prowl nodded as he filed that information away. "And what about the other thing?"

"What other thing?" Blitzangel asked.

Prowl leveled a 'you know what I'm talking about' type of gaze on her. He had kissed her several times. She had kissed him back. What about that?

"Uh..." she floundered, not really meaning to make such a stupid sound aloud. "I'm not entirely sure of my opinion of all that yet, to be honest. What do you think?"

Prowl leaned his elbows on the desk, arms folded as his optics flickered off. He let out a soft huff of air before he looked at her again. "What I know is that I am not happy with the prospect of you and I never speaking again. I want you in my life. I think, even more so than you have been lately. In light of recent events, I would like to propose seeing you in a more official capacity."

She tipped her head at him. "Official capacity meaning...?"

"I believe the term in your culture is dating."

Blitzangel sat up a little straighter. "You're saying you and I should date?"

"Yes, I am. We both care about each other and, after what happened between us before, it seems a logical step." He leaned forward himself. "Unless I misread your physical response when you kissed me back?"

The femme's mouth moved up and down silently, her face warming.

"If you would care to try it again under more favorable circumstances," Prowl continued with a hint of amusement.

"Yes," her mouth said automatically. Even Prowl was a bit taken off guard by that statement. Blitzangel found herself getting a personal thrill out of this game of blatant confessions. "I think a second try at that is in order. The first time I was blindsided. I'd like to have a little more control over the situation before I decide anything."

"A reasonable request," Prowl said, standing up.

Blitzangel felt herself warming even more as he approached from behind the desk, optics never leaving hers. She remained seated, suddenly intimidated by his presence. But as Prowl extended his hand to hers, she reached for him. His grip was gentle as he pulled her to her feet and guided her to lean against his desk.

The femme's processor whirred as she tried to process the current situation. Were they doing this right now? She should have known better; Prowl never hesitated when something needed to be done. When his hands rested on her hips, her mind went completely blank. She squeaked as he grabbed her waist and lifted her to sit on his desk. A flush rushed through her system and she wondered if her face actually did have the ability to turn red.

Prowl loomed over her, but he lacked all intensity from the time before. Blitzangel didn't feel any panic at his close proximity now, merely self-consciousness at the way he gazed at her. His hands were pressed to the desk on either side of her, not touching her. His mouth hovered close to hers and he waited. If she wanted to do this, it would be her decision alone.

Was this really happening? Did she really want to do this? His face was so close to hers, his expression gentle and patient. With her fingertips barely touching his shoulders, she decided that yes, she wanted this. She leaned in, mouth barely brushing his.

Prowl did not respond at first, allowing her to dictate every action. He leaned in only when her fingers moved to his neck, pulling him closer. He kissed her deeper and Blitzangel felt an electric sensation in his mouth. A jolt of his own energy went from his kiss into her body and it felt nice. It felt very nice and her core warmed from it.

After several kisses, she pulled back, body tingling happily at the extra energy coursing through her system. Her hands had now cupped the back of his neck, thumbs caressing his jawline. Prowl's hands remained on the desktop the entire time, though the flat palms had now curled into fists.

Blitzangel momentarily sucked on her bottom lip before a silly smile forced its way on her face, whether she wished it to or not. "That time was a lot better," she said softly.

Prowl moved forward, lightly brushing his nose against her cheek. "You are very beautiful when you are happy. I'd like to try to keep you happy if you would let me."

She stared at him, hands still cupping his neck despite her shock. He had never told her he thought her to be beautiful before.

A swift knock on the door cut off any response she could offer.

Prowl's expression quickly turned to irritation as he glanced at the door with a frown. Interrupted again?

"What?" he snapped.

"It's Optimus."

A displeased rumble came from Prowl's chest, though his expression softened slightly as he turned back to Blitzangel. "Stay here. I'll be right back."

He left her to open the door, finding Optimus Prime at the threshold, hand poised to knock again.

"I'm busy, come back later," Prowl told him, expression flat and uninterested.

"Prowl, we need to organize a meeting immediately," Optimus said, ignoring him. "I have something very important to discuss with-"

"I said I am busy," Prowl interrupted sternly, his voice low, but leaving no room for argument. "Come. Back. Later."

"But I-"

Prowl shut the door in his leader's face, ignoring the Prime's request for perhaps the first time in his life. He had something else that needed to be sorted first.

When Prowl returned his attention to the interior office, Blitzangel no longer sat on his desk. Instead, she had found her way back into the chair, her back to him. She did not turn and glance his way as he approached. Her gaze remained on the fidgeting hands in her lap, even as he stood over her.

"Angel?" he asked softly.

When she didn't respond, he reached out to her. She jerked to life before he could touch her, withdrawing her hand from his outstretched fingers. The approach of Optimus Prime shed some stark reality on the little fantasy bubble she had been living in only a moment before.

"I can't do this," she said softly.

Prowl balked at the sudden turnaround. "What? Why?"

"I shouldn't be with you- with any of you. I'm not one of you. This is wrong."

Prowl's hands went to his hips. "I fail to see how caring about you is wrong in any way."

"What are you, like, 20 million years older than me? Don't you think that's weird?"

The SIC was in the middle of shrugging as Blitzangel continued to rant.

"Won't it look suspicious to see you so cozy with an ex-Decepticon? And what about those who know the truth, who know what I really am? What will they think about me? About you?"

"It's none of their business and I could care less what they think," Prowl said with finality.

Blitzangel seemed unaware that her vents were hyperventilating slightly.

Prowl knelt next to her, taking her hand. "You know how I feel on the matter, so the decision is up to you. Do you... care about me enough to see if you and I could work?"

The femme's frantic venting stopped and she let out one long sigh. It was easier to process the situation when he said it like that. He wasn't asking for her hand in marriage- or whatever the Cybertronian equivalent was- he was just asking if she were willing to give the two of them a chance to see what happened.

"What if it doesn't work out? Could we still be friends after that?"

"I don't see why not. We've survived worse, haven't we?"

Blitzangel barked out a laugh. How true that was. "Okay, yes. We'll try it."

"Come on, Sunstorm," Slipstream griped, "there's nothing here. Give it up. We got Vector Sigma. Let's go to the surface and really do some damage."

After trespassing through The Life-Giver's sacred corridors, the group of seekers had been led through the underground tunnels of Cybertron for hours upon hours by their de facto leader.

Sunstorm generated his own light in the darkness, and was certainly the perfect bot to lead in such a place. But Slipstream wasn't so sure this was where they needed to be. They had wasted too much time already in Sunstorm's aimless search for … she wasn't even sure what he thought he was looking for.

"Don't question me," the yellow seeker snapped back. "I know what I'm doing. There's something we need to do down here, I'm just not sure what yet. But trust me, we'll find it."

Slipstream was about to announce she would give him five more minutes before hauling his can to the surface when she felt it. The pulse of sparks. A whole collection of them. Their hypnotic thrumming reverberated in her core and she licked her lips.

"See?" Sunstorm grinned, noticing her sudden change in attitude. "I told you it would be worth staying down here."

They left the femme stronghold in secretive silence. Spectre would punish them both greatly if she knew what they were doing. Going back to the surface to engage the Decepticons for any reason was strictly forbidden. But Beatback would never allow Spectre's orders to come between him and rescuing Darkstar.

Ransack followed behind him, her face grim and determined in the dim light of her red optics. She would follow him anywhere. They had been partners for too long to allow him to do this alone. Though, in truth, a part of her writhed in jealousy over his single-minded attachment to their second in command.

Ransack liked Darkstar, too. She was an excellent commander, levelheaded and always mindful of the welfare of her troops. But Ransack and Beatback had been partners for centuries. That time of watching his back, knowing each was all the other could rely on, did much to develop feelings in Ransack that ran much deeper than what she felt for her fellow femmes.

She first laid optics on the deep blue mech after all the fleeing ex-Decepticon females began to regroup. Ransack never left the planet, though many of her sisters had to preserve their own lives. Darkstar left for space with a dying Spectre to look for someone to repair her after the wrath their leader suffered at Megatron's hand. When the two returned from space, Spectre arrived with her new form. Darkstar returned with a small collection of femmes. And one mech.

It took a lot of convincing on Darkstar's part to vouch for the mech. She insisted that he was also a victim. She had rescued him out in space from some sort of robotics lab. That's all anyone ever really knew about him. The only reason he was allowed to work for their cause was that he had previously been neither Decepticon nor Autobot before his rescue.

Still, there was a general unease among the femmes and Darkstar knew it. It was her idea to send Beatback into the Decepticon ranks undercover. It would allow him to prove his loyalty while keeping him apart from the femmes. Spectre agreed, as long as one of her femmes joined as his partner to keep an eye on him.

Ransack had not volunteered, but was chosen after a series of tests. She had always been a bit on the masculine side anyway, heavily built, more like a mech. And her spark reacted favorably to the mech-like armor that would disguise her femme spark signature.

She also had no qualms with him merely because Beatback was a mech. Ransack, in the past, had more mech friends than femmes before the war. She found their temperaments easier to get along with than flighty femmes. She had no trouble partnering with Beatback while they were undercover.

Now, Ransack was never one to be involved in many romantic relationships. She wasn't the kind of femme who always needed a mech at her arm. She had been perfectly happy being single long before the war began. But as she and Beatback worked closely over their many years, her affections for him began to form.

For so long they depended solely on each other. The rest of their team lived too far away to provide any assistance should anything go wrong. It was the two of them against the world and Beatback always had her back, and she his. It was a new experience for Ransack to have someone to trust so implicitly. For the first time, she felt incomplete and knew that Beatback was her missing piece. He was the one who knew her secrets, perhaps knew her better than anyone else by the time their covers had been blown and they returned underground.

But despite all this, Beatback still retained his fierce loyalty to Darkstar. Ransack could hardly blame him, if the stories were true that she had saved him. Still, the red and black femme hoped he would one day notice her own feelings for him. She was risking her life to help him save Darkstar, after all. He would see how much he really meant to her, for she couldn't bring herself to inform him that Darkstar's spark already belonged to another.

"Beatback," Ransack suddenly said in an urgent tone. "I'm getting an SOS back at the base. They're being attacked!"

For a moment, Beatback paused and Ransack was horrified to consider he may just forsake them all for Darkstar. But he had never let her down before.

"We go back," he said, and she sighed with relief.

The two turned, transforming into their hover modes, and took off back down the tunnels toward home.

As they entered their stronghold, they were greeted to a sight for which they were very unprepared. Ransack assumed a few errant soldiers had stumbled upon them and were shooting up the place a bit. She was horrified to see the amount of abject devastation the base had suffered in such a short time.

The most alarming aspect was the random fires littering the base. The small community didn't have many flammable objects or liquids just lying around. How was this metal burning? The very small entrance way, built as such to keep out larger bots, was melted away, as if corroded by a strong acid to allow a larger entrance.

All around, femmes were running, screaming, shooting. Dying.

Ransack stopped one fleeing femme who was holding what remained of her arm, burned off above the elbow.

"What's going on? Who's attacking us?"

"Seekers!" she screamed. "They look like seekers, but they're monsters! They're so strong! They're destroying everything! They're killing everyone!"

"Fall back to our secondary base," Ransack ordered. "Take any injured you see with you." The wounded femme skittered off as the partners pulled out their weapons.

"Seekers, huh?" Beatback said in a grave voice.

Ransack smirked at him. "I've seen the best Megatron has, and I wasn't impressed. We can take them out."

The invasion came without warning as the seekers themselves melted through the entrance. As such, Spectre knew they had killed her guards. There was no time for reflection on the situation before an all-out war exploded. Darkstar was, indeed, badly missed at this point. Spectre found herself very unbalanced without her second as she tried to get her femmes in order for a proper counterattack.

As she screeched out orders over the radio, a glowing orange seeker landed in front of her. He had not to say a word. His mere cocky grin made her temperature boil before he uttered a single syllable.

"Well, you certainly are interesting," Sunstorm said, eying Spectre up and down. "I just knew we would find something worth our time down here. The Master will be pleased that we cleaned up all the decrepit trash of the underworld before his coming."

Spectre made a hissing sound, baring her unnatural rows of sharp teeth. "Megatron will have to send far better than you. But I will be happy to return you to him in neat, little pieces."

Her razor-sharp fingers extended, swiping for the cockpit of his chest. As she connected with the glowing orange mech, she instantly screamed in pain and jerked her hand back. The sharp points of her fingertips completely melted away upon contact. The orange mech was unscathed.

Spectre trembled in pain and fear as her unusually large optics widened even more at the seeker's approach.

"I answer not to this Megatron. He, too, shall crumble before the might of my master and all of Cybertron will fall."

With each word, the flames around Sunstorm grew brighter and hotter until Spectre could no longer bear being close to such heat and fled for her life, clutching her wounded hand.

"See?" Sunstorm asked as he turned to his green companion. "Easy as can be. We flush all the stragglers to the surface and then we really have some fun."

Acid Storm said nothing as he returned a barrage of laser fire with a spray of acid. Pained cries of horror were his reply.

"Acid Storm!" Sunstorm prodded him. "Seriously. Let yourself have a little fun! It's what we're here for."

The green seeker merely glanced at him before flying off to horribly scar more soldiers.

"Ugh, what a killjoy," Sunstorm muttered as he tossed a few fireballs. "We should have just left him in space."

Out of the mayhem, a seeker landed in front of Ransack and Beatback, blocking their path. Both were taken aback, as their enemy was not what they were expecting to find. This seeker was unique among all other carbon-copy seekers on the planet. She was female.

"What the?" Ransack blurted out. "You're a femme, like us!"

Another of her soldiers attempted to attack the enemy seeker from above, jumping down from an upper level. Slipstream turned and artfully caught the femme by the throat.

"Trust me, darling," she said casually as the smaller femme struggled in her grip. "I am nothing like you." A glowing, blue blade extended from the top of her wrist joint and she plunged it into the chest of the femme.

"No!" Ransack screamed. "Stop it!"

The femme jerked. Her optics remained wide as something began to happen. The blade grew brighter and the body bowed back. Energy surged from the victim into the femme seeker. The blue energy of the spark.

The partners watched in horror as the unfortunate femme was sucked dry, her gray husk thrown aside. Slipstream stood before them, crackling with blue energy around her.

"Isn't spark energy just the best to work with?" she asked. "I always find it preferable. Observe."

She let loose an energy blast from her bare hands. The very life energy of the core of a once-living bot shot out with the sound of the victim's horrified scream. Ransack and Beatback threw themselves in opposite directions to avoid the blast. The former was hit and it instantly ate a clean bite out of her side, most of her arm completely disintegrated.

Slipstream was on Beatback before he could scramble to his feet.

"Well, well, a mech down here among all these femmes. Aren't you the lucky one?" Slipstream smirked and licked her lips. "I like mech sparks so much better. But yours... I can feel it from here. Yours is very interesting. How about a taste?"

Beatback's response was in the form of several laser blasts to her chest. Slipstream took every shot, absorbing the energy with that same maddening twist of her full lips.

When he saw his attacks did nothing, the mech opted for using his fists. His punch screamed for the femme seeker's face, but she caught it in her palm easily with a strength belying her size.

Beatback stared at her in silent horror, too surprised to respond. He felt the sharp bite of her blade as it pierced his chest and he jerked in pain.

"Hmm," Slipstream mused as she watched his face. "I missed the spark. Everyone likes to put it in a different spot. It's really quite annoying. But luckily, I just have to ballpark it."

Her blade hummed as Beatback felt his life energy being sucked from his body. He struggled as something in his chest felt like it was being ripped in two.

"Do not struggle," Slipstream whispered to him, "for all of you are but the first of many. And all your fates shall be the same."

Beatback was hardly listening. As the color drained from his form, something else was happening. His very soul felt in turmoil as his processor exploded with sounds, colors and emotions. The environment around him disappeared as so many scenes and faces flashed through his memory. But they were all wrong. They were so different and contradictory to each other. Times and places he had been simultaneously. Nothing made sense, none of the memories fit into each other.

But one face stood out in his recollection. Something that both sides knew. An Autobot, tall and orange. With a maddeningly, charmingly happy face. Beatback knew him. He knew Blaster and he hated him. And he loved him.

And Beatback was dying, full of pain. With that face in his mind's eye, he screamed out in torment as his very spark was torn in two.

"Aaaaahhhhhh!" Ransack cried, drowning out her partner's screams as she rammed Slipstream with her good shoulder.

The seeker femme dropped her victim and stumbled to the ground. With her remaining hand, Ransack slammed a metal spike into Slipstream's wrist, pinning it to the ground. The seeker screamed, more in anger than pain, while Ransack rushed to the fallen body.

"Beatback! Can you hear me? Primus! Tell me you're all right!"

The mech coughed at her, liquids spurting from the hole in his chest. His optics flickered out, but a weak thrumming of a fuel pump continued beneath the armor.

"Ransack, come on!" one femme called to her. "We have to evacuate! This place is coming down!"

She was right. Everything was on fire, the very walls were melting. All the femmes were fleeing. Their home was a total loss. There was nothing left to fight for; it was time to go.

"Quick! Help me carry him!" Ransack ordered. The two femmes managed to get the barely conscious mech to his feet and they dragged him out. Other femmes joined them through one of the tunnels, using chargers to collapse it behind them, preventing their enemies from following.

Sunstorm calmly approached Slipstream as she finally managed to pull her arm free and get to her feet. She frowned at the hole in her wrist, the spark energy she sucked from her last victim was already working to repair the damage and the wound slowly closed before her optics.

"Pretty nice warm up, right sis?" Sunstorm asked. "I told you it would be fun."

"Certainly an interesting detour," Slipstream acknowledged as the wound sealed itself. "Now, may I suggest we get back to the task at hand?"

Sunstorm grinned as Acid Storm approached behind him, ready to move on. "Yes, returning to the surface sounds like a splendid idea."

The meeting was already in progress when Prowl stepped into the room, the door hissing shut behind him. Optimus Prime, standing before the rest of his seated commanders, paused as his SIC took a seat.

"I appreciate you finally able to join us, Prowl," he said, arms crossed over his chest. "We have some very important matters to discuss and I do not wish to repeat myself."

Prowl merely nodded seriously, offering no explanation or apology for blowing off his leader earlier.

"Dude, where have you been?" Jazz whispered to him. "You totally got Prime's gears in a grind when you didn't show up on time."

Prowl gave him a mere glance, but didn't say a word as Optimus continued.

"As I was saying, I feel there is very good reason to believe those three unidentified objects that fell to Cybertron are sentient beings. I do not know who or what they are, but I believe they are the enemy. Shortly after their touchdown to our planet, I felt a violent disturbance through the Matrix. These things have found their way to the very heart of Cybertron and attacked Vector Sigma."

There was a collective response of shock and disbelief from the officers.

"Prime, you can't be serious," Kup spoke up. "Strangers to Cybertron cannot just immediately go down there and find Vector Sigma."

"These strangers can. And they did," the Prime said. "Vector Sigma is no more."

Several more protests rang out at once. Prowl sat there silently with wide optics, knowing there was no argument he could offer that would change the current situation.

"Why would anyone do this?" Springer's voice sounded above the din.

"The real question is, who would know how to do this?" Ultra Magnus said, calm but grave. "This is not the work of an opposing faction. This is an act to wipe out all Cybertronians. Do we dare assume members of our own kind did this? Who else could possibly know about Vector Sigma? Who else would be able to find him?"

Optimus raised his hands for quiet, casting a quick glance at Elita. She was the only one not staring at him with horror. She had already had time to process the terrifying news.

"I wish I had more answers for you. All I can tell you is what I know. And we must take what knowledge we have and prepare ourselves. Whoever these beings are, Vector Sigma most certainly won't be their only target. These new enemies are on the move. We need to find out who and where they are, and what they plan to do next.

"While I know this new development is grim, I must ask that we keep this information among ourselves for now. I don't want a city-wide panic when we don't even know what we're up against. This is on a need-to-know basis only and I will trust you to keep it quiet at your own discretion.

"At the same time, Iacon shall be raised to alert status. We need to be ready for anything. If anyone asks, we've received reports of suspicious activity and we are responding as a precaution. Prowl, I want you to put Smokescreen's team on this. I want planet-wide surveillance. So much as an unfamiliar blip shows up, I want a full report.

"Whatever they are, they have to surface at some point. And I want full optics on them when they do."

Drift paused again in his practice. His back continued to hurt, no matter what he did. No amount of stretching or oils quelled the pain in his back strut. It was quite an unusual pain at that. Not an ache, but a burning sensation that didn't even feel altogether physical. It was too reminiscent of old wounds, as if the heat source of his previous burns were nearby, threatening to melt him all over again.

An uneasy feeling grew in the depths of the white mech's oil tanks and he was suddenly reminded of Wing's promise. Something he had tried so very hard to forget. Maybe if he ignored it, if he tried a different path, things would change. Yet, at the same time, he felt trapped and hurtling forward toward something he had no control over.

Something had already been set in motion. Something dark moved out there beyond the lights of Iacon and Drift felt it was already too late to change his course.

On a decrepit, shadowed piece of Cybertron, a rusted metal panel was kicked away from the surface, revealing a hole underneath. The female seeker form of Slipstream pulled herself out and unhappily brushed all the dust and debris from her frame. She frowned as Sunstorm appeared after her, clean as could be. His heat burned any detritus that dared fall upon him.

Acid Storm appeared last, the acid of his hands warping the mouth of the tunnel as he pulled himself out.

"It took entirely far too long to get out of there," Slipstream griped. "I don't care if the Matrix-Bearer himself goes underground; you two can go without me. I'm not built for such dark, dirty places."

"You're built for whatever the Master says you are," Sunstorm shot back. "The destruction of all bot-kind isn't going to just present itself at your feet."

Slipstream turned in a huff and then broke out into a large grin at what she saw. "Or is it?"

The two male seekers turned their heads in her direction and all three found themselves standing in the very shadows of Darkmount itself.

The sheer amount of life contained within gave Sunstorm a pleasant buzz all the way to his wingtips. He grinned. "Today, my siblings, it is so good to be bad."