Author's Notes: Hey everyone, it's been a while. Thank you for your patience. For those unaware of what's been keeping this story, most of it has been plain old fandom burnout with a bit of health issues and writer's block sprinkled in. I haven't given up on this story, I just needed a break. I'm still not back to 100%, but I do have the next chapter planned out. After that, I don't know. But do know that I am not giving up on this story until it is completed. I've come to far to stop. This chapter starts the last leg of the story. I don't know how many chapters are left, but my guess is less than ten. So let me know if there's anyone still out there reading this after such a long break and I will try to get you the next chapter in a more timely manner.
Chapter 29: Family Affairs
Megatron paced back and forth in the control room, concern and anger fighting for dominance. A whole gaggle of seekers had left Darkmount earlier that day: Skywarp, Starscream and Thundercracker, plus a whole collection of seeker clones, and the three new mystery seekers who had suddenly appeared at their door. They were all dispatched on a trial mission to test the mettle of their new recruits. Only Starscream and Skywarp had returned.
"It was the asteroid," Starscream was saying. "When it scanned us. That's why those bots looked like seekers, their design was taken from mine."
"How do you know this?" Megatron asked.
Starscream shuttered. He couldn't put into words what it was like look Sunstorm in the optics, to feel like a part of him had been stolen to make something so unnatural. To have a twisted part of yourself look back at you. "I know, Megatron. And I know that blowing up the space warp gate didn't stop Unicron from finding us, it just slowed the monster down. These... things built to look like us have told it where we are. It's coming for Cybertron."
Megatron paced a bit more, arms folded. He paused and looked out the panoramic window at the sprawling base below the tower. "Where's Thundercracker? Did they get him, too?"
"Almost," Skywarp said. "I went back for him, but he was gone. I think those slagging Autobots took him prisoner."
"So what do you plant to do about this, Megatron?" Starscream demanded. "I hope you're taking this threat seriously, because if-"
He was silenced as Megatron raised his hand. "Starscream, you may spread the word that we Decepticons will do what we have been sparked to do: prepare to fight for Cybertron."
The red seeker seemed plenty satisfied with that and nodded with respect. "Yes, Leader." With that, he turned on his heel and left both Skywarp and Megatron behind as he retried to his quarters. He needed a moment alone with his thoughts.
In the last little while, it felt Starscream's entire world was flipped around. He always believed in Unicron, knew the monster when he saw it that day on the asteroid eating an entire planet. But even then, it still felt so far away, like the fear was out there in space and would remain so, lost and haunting far among the cosmos. Now, the chaos was coming to Cybertron's door. Starscream never thought he would live long enough to see the end of his planet, his people. He never thought there would be an end of Cybertron.
Maybe there would not be one. The ancients of his people predicted the coming of Unicron, but did they know of Decepticons? Did they know of Megatron? In this, it was the one thing Megatron never lacked in Starscream's optics. Megatron never failed to fight. And neither would he.
But the question was, where to start? Starscream wandered his quarters in agitation, the wheels in his processor spinning. How did one take down a planet-sized monster? Answer: one piece at a time. He suddenly craved a data board to write on. He hadn't used one since... since he had gone by another name. Starscream left the world of science behind, but that part of him was still in there somewhere and it grew into an itch he needed to scratch.
He summoned a holographic board to his wall. It wasn't as satisfying as writing on a solid surface, but it would have to do. With stylus in hand, it hung aloft while Starscream stared at the empty board. Then, the equations began pouring out.
Thundercracker came online to a tapping on his forehead. Some obnoxious bot was pestering him into the waking world. It made him immediately assume he was back at Darkmount with Skywarp already going stir crazy without his presence.
"Come on, all the way up," an unfamiliar feminine voice said.
Thundercracker powered on his optics to a purple form that both chilled him and made his fuel pump beat faster.
"That's better," Blitzangel said, soldering iron in her hand. "I knew you were in there somewhere."
"Blitzangel," he croaked out, his throat feeling tight. A heavy dread pressed upon him and he felt as if he had gone to the Matrix and this was the form the Great Creator had chosen to take as he was judged.
"Yup, that's me," she replied easily.
"What... what are you doing here?"
"Well, there wasn't a single Autobot in town that wanted to work on you, so here I am. Been a while since I fixed a seeker. But I think I did a pretty good job."
"No, I mean, how are you still functioning?" Thundercracker tried to sit up, finding he was strapped down to an examining table by the wrists and ankles. "You're back with the Autobots now?" Only then, did it really process to him that he was a prisoner in Iacon. Still, he had a hard time treating that idea as if it were his biggest concern. "What happened to you?"
Blitzangel palmed his face, pushing him down on the table. "That's a whole lot of story and I'm not going to tell you." It was strange, he seemed to visibly relax under her touch and she removed her hand. "Now, I want to know why you guys were fighting those three seekers and what you know about them."
Thundercracker's lost, blank look finally righted itself as the seeker found his wits. "You won't tell me your story, but you want me to tell you one? That hardly seems fair."
"I'm sure you are well aware life is never fair, and this really isn't the place to try and bargain. If you don't work with me, I'm out of here and the Autobots aren't going to ask as nicely as I am."
Thundercracker stayed quiet, but it was clear he was considering his position. Then his optics widened as Blitzangel sat herself upon the table next to him. She stretched over him, their chests brushing together so they were nearly nose to nose. Thundercracker squirmed only slightly under her.
"Now," she purred in a honeyed voice. "How about you tell me what I want to hear?" She tapped lightly on his forehead, with a finger this time.
That full mouth mesmerized him. "They just showed up at Darkmount the other day. We don't know where they came from."
From a different room, where they were monitoring the situation on a camera feed, Jazz grinned as he heard Thundercracker recite the whole encounter.
"Girl's got some skills. She's finally learned how to use all her assets."
Next to him, Prowl frowned deeply, clearly not pleased with the scene at all. Jazz slapped him on the back hard enough to knock the scowl off his face.
"Chill, man. She's just getting info. That seeker can't hurt her tied up like that. And he looks more than happy to give her what she wants."
Prowl said nothing, but his jaw remained tight. Optimus Prime was in the room with them, as was Kup and Ironhide. They all listened quietly as the seeker spilled all he knew.
"We thought they were there to join the Decepticons," Thundercracker was telling the purple femme. "They looked like us, we thought they were us. But when we were out, away from Darkmount, Sunstorm said the three of them were built by the... the Unmaker. He said they were sent out to find Cybertron and that they have now told... Him where we are."
By the end of the tale, Blitzangel was sitting up straight on the table's edge, legs hanging down. Much of the story confused her. "Sunstorm told who where Cybertron is?"
Thundercracker stared at her. "What are you that you don't know?"
She flicked him in the nose. "I'm lucky I know anything after that number you guys did on me."
And before he could say anything else, she walked out, the door sliding shut behind her with a click of the lock. She met up with the others in the same room where they had been watching the camera feed. Prowl instantly relaxed when she was in his proximity.
"So, any of that make sense to you guys or do I need to go back in there?"
"It's total nonsense, but we understood it," Ironhide confirmed. "He's referring to Unicron, as if there was ever such a thing."
"Oh yeah, from your mythology. Wheeljack told me about that. He didn't believe this Unicron existed either."
"Prime?" Ironhide asked, turning to his leader for verification.
"It be honest," Optimus admitted, "I'm still not sure what to make of these three seekers. We don't even know what, if any, of their words can be taken as truth."
"Let's look at this logically, all mythology and superstition aside," Prowl offered. "Somebody built these three. Someone with an impressive skill set, as these seekers have displayed a rather daunting array of abilities. And this creator did send them to Cybertron; either to find it for him or to wreak some sort of havoc. These are likely possibilities, agreed?"
Everyone else nodded.
"It's too bad we no longer have any experts on the subject for a second opinion," Kup said.
"I know one," Jazz spoke up.
"Someone here on Cybertron?" Kup asked.
"Still alive, still on the planet. It's just a little difficult to get in contact with them. I would have to go down there in person."
Prowl looked at Jazz. "I know who he's talking about. We'll have to go deep into the planet to reach her."
"Her?" Ironhide asked.
Jazz sighed. "My creator."
"I'll go with him," Blitzangel instantly volunteered.
"Yeah?" Jazz asked dubiously.
"To meet your creator?" she smirked. "How could I miss out on that? Is that okay, Optimus Prime?"
Prime immediately turned to his second, "Jazz?"
"It's not exactly a dangerous journey. I mean, if you're up to it, Angel."
She grinned. "Oh, I am up for this. I wouldn't miss it."
"I guess the two of us are going, then."
"The three of us," Prowl insisted.
"You sure, Prowl?" Jazz asked. "The last time you went down below it didn't go so well for you."
"It's not going to happen again," Blitzangel insisted, patting Prowl's torso. "I'll keep him safe."
Normally, it was expected for Prowl to give his usual frown at any sort of ribbing. But all he did was look at the purple femme affectionately and seemed rather pleased at any mention of her looking after him.
That made Jazz frown, though he couldn't put a finger on exactly why.
Thundercracker was gone. Those slagging Autobots had him as their prisoner now and there was no way to get him back. Megatron wasn't even going to try. Though trustworthy and loyal, Thundercracker was no linchpin in Megatron's grand designs. Their leader would not waste any resources to recover this missing member of the seeker trio—especially not from the heavily fortified gates of Iacon. There was no way to get him back.
Frustrated and irritated at the situation, Skywarp retired to his quarters to brood. Though it may have not been the best idea for him. Skywarp never did do well by himself, especially when agitated. Thundercracker had always been around to moodily tell him to cool it when the stress of any situation was getting the better of him. Without the blue seeker's calmer presence, Skywarp easily spiraled downward into a nearly frenetic state.
He kept replaying the situation in his processor over and over. How he had left Thundercracker there underground with the Autobots in order to pursue other enemies. It would have been so easy to warp his teammate back to the safety of Darkmount first and then catch up with Starscream. But no, Skywarp was more caught up in the battle. Like a cat with a laser, the moving objects always caught Skywarp's full attention. Prudence and consequences always came after the battle; after the game.
Now Thundercracker was gone, thanks to his foolishness. It was very possible Skywarp would never see him again. Those damned Autobots could have shut him down for good by now. If not, they were most likely torturing him for information. That's what happened to all prisoners of Darkmount; no doubt that's how it worked at Iacon as well. And the worst part, the very worst part of it, was it was all Skywarp's fault.
The mental images of Thundercracker's torture and death plagued Skywarp as he paced rapidly around his room. He went over and over in his mind of all the things he could have done differently, of how stupid he was. Without Thundercracker, everything was out of balance. The seeker team, now down to two, didn't work any more. It barely worked with three. Skywarp's world was crashing, everything was falling apart.
Before he knew it, his processor was stuck on a loop of anger, guilt, frustration and horror. His wings twitched, his fingers spasmed as the agitation grew until it felt like electricity in every muscle cable. When it got to this point, Thundercracker had always been there to talk him down. Not this time. Skywarp worked himself up so well that his warp field generator began to fritz.
His disappeared from his quarters, reappearing in the surveillance room atop the tower. Shockwave turned his head to observe the sudden seeker as Skywarp continued to pace and mumble to himself as if he hadn't noticed he had spirited himself off to a new setting. A few seconds and Skywarp was gone again. He appeared outside in the courtyard, then in the break room, then the med bay. He even manifested in Thrust's room, earning a startled squawk before Skywarp disappeared again.
He eventually ended up in the depths of Darkmount, deep down where the very few prison cells were housed. It wasn't customary for Decepticons to house prisoners for too long. Energon rations were not wasted on those who were not among their ranks. One particular captive, however, had been housed far longer than most prisoners before her.
Dark Star looked up from her cell when the fizzle of a warp field spirited Skywarp outside the energy bars that kept her prisoner. Her face remained stoic when she saw him; neither gladdened nor disappointed at his presence.
"Thundercracker's gone," Skywarp said without preamble. "The Autobots took him."
Darkstar said nothing.
"I said the Autobots have Thu-"
"I heard you," Darkstar cut him off, low but sharp. "Why tell me? There's nothing I can do about it."
Skywarp sighed and shifted. "Just thought I'd tell someone who cared."
She looked away to stare at the wall. "What makes you think I care?"
He stepped closer to the bars. "You're one of us. We're a team."
"That was a long time ago. I became a part of another team since then."
Skywarp disappeared and reappeared inside her cell, standing over the femme. "You told Megatron you still believed in the Decepticon cause; that you would have still fought for it, given the chance."
Darkstar looked up at him, unconcerned there was nothing separating them. She did, however, look a bit annoyed that he was still pestering her. "My loyalties were rewarded with exile and a price on my head. Despite what I believe, I don't belong here any more."
"Yes you do! We were a team! Our team is like our family."
The femme gave him a mirthless smirk and pointedly looked around at their surroundings. "This is as far from family as you can get."
Skywarp sighed and looked away. "Maybe it's not the same for you, but I started life in Shockwave's lab, no memories of who I was before. This is all I know. My team is the only family I have and... and you were once a part of it."
Darkstar leveled a serious gaze upon him. "Look around this tower of ruin. There is no family here. "
"You don't believe that."
When Darkstar didn't answer, Skywarp clenched his fists and opened his mouth to speak again. Then a call on his radio interrupted anything he had left to say.
"Skywarp," Starscream's voice came, "Megatron says whatever hissy fit you're having with your warp field generator, continue it outside. You're messing with our communication signals."
Skywarp cut the signal without response. He took one last look at Darkstar's hard expression and then disappeared.
The trio checked their gear one last time before leaving Iacon. Though Jazz insisted this journey into Cybertron's depths did not pose much danger, they still needed to be well armed just in case. The levels and tunnels beneath the planet's surface were vast and uncharted. There were near infinite places for dangers to lurk and no one knew the full extent of what could be living down there.
"Are you sure you want to come?" Jazz asked one more time as he checked the power pack of his energy rifle.
Blitzangel smirked. "Oh yeah, this is going to be fun."
Authorization came down to let them out of Iacon and the large city gates opened. The three walked casually out as Jazz conferred with a map appearing on a screen on his forearm.
"Alright, I'm sending you both coordinates of the rendezvous point before we go down. Angel, you may have to do some waiting before the two of us can get there."
"You mean before you can get there," Prowl clarified.
"What do you mean by that?" Jazz challenged.
With what almost counted as a smirk for Prowl, he transformed into his auto mode. The black and white colors of his paint job made the design very much reminiscent of his old police car mode, but this model had no wheels. It hovered a few feet above ground, keeping its balance by the sharp fins that shot out like wings on either side.
"Ooh, that's pretty," Blitzangel commented.
"I guess," Jazz huffed. "But I've seen better."
"I'll meet you there, slow poke," Prowl said. He ignited the large thruster at the rear of his alt mode and, in a burst of blue fire, exploded out of the area and down the road.
Jazz was left with his jaw hanging open.
Blitzangel patted him on the back. "We'll wait for you, I promise." With that, she transformed and jetted off into the air space. With a frown, Jazz transformed and raced after them as fast as he could on his four tires. It really didn't seem fair at all. As promised, Blitzangel and Prowl were waiting for him when Jazz arrived at the predetermined destination. By then, he was in no mood to hear exactly how long he had kept them waiting. The two other bots seemed to be in high spirits.
"Why didn't you tell me you were getting an alt mode like that?" Jazz accused of his best friend. "I would have thought you already knew with how nosy you are," came the prim retort. "I told Ratchet I wanted something faster so that I may keep up better with air types."
"He did pretty good, too!" Blitzangel confirmed.
Jazz was sure he knew exactly which air type Prowl had in mind when he made the request.
The three now gathered around a long fissure cutting into the surface of Cyberton. One could clearly see several layers below—most likely designed that way on purpose—before the darkness swallowed up the rest. It was impossible to see how deep it went.
"Well, here it is," Jazz announced. "Since Prime wants this to be a short trip, this is the fastest way down to the level we need."
"So ,when's the last time you visited her?" Blitzangel asked.
"Uh... not counting the few million years of hibernation on Earth?"
She lightly slapped his arm. "Jazz, she's your mother. You should have visited her sooner than this. You're supposed to visit your mom."
Jazz made a sound similar to clearing his throat. "Yes, well, we're visiting her now, aren't we?" With that, his right hand retracted, a grappling hook taking its place. He fastened it to a solid anchor and quickly rapelled down to escape the subject. Prowl followed while Blitzangel ignited the thrusters on her heels and hovered her way down into the fissure.
Level after level they dropped, so deep the light from the surface could not follow. Several different times the mechs ran out of rope. They would find a ledge to perch, retract their hooks and start again. Finally, they reached the bottom of the pit. Blitzangel was already on the ground, nosing around and flicking a light beam in every direction.
Jazz watched her curious exploration as he reeled in his rope for the last time. "You gonna be alright, Angel? I hear air types can have a hard time underground. Some of these tunnels are going to get pretty narrow."
"Meh, I'm used to it. Been down here so many times I could give tours by now."
Jazz smiled, jerking his head in the direction they needed to go. "How are those underground salvage efforts going, anyway?"
Prowl fell in step with them and they began their journey down a tunnel wide enough to accommodate a transportation vessel of some kind. The parallel tracks on the ground suggested its purpose was just that.
"It's... going," Blitzangel said with a sigh in her voice. "We might be able to get it running in a couple more weeks, depending on what we find."
"Shame it's not sooner," Jazz replied wistfully. "I'm looking forward to throwing a going away party."
The femme shot him a wide-mouthed look. "You really do want to get rid of Drift. What'd he do to you?"
"Nothing. He's just a little too twitchy. It's hard to trust a mech who gets itchy when he's in one place for too long. Right, Prowl?"
Prowl made a grunt of agreement.
"You two really can't talk," Blitzangel admonished. "You've always had a place where you belong. Drift doesn't have that. The closest thing he's had to a home was his old ship and now it's gone. I just want him to find another place that feels like home for him; where ever or whatever it is."
The two mechs were silent for a while after that.
"I hope you feel like you have a place where you belong," Prowl said softly.
She smiled at him, her hand reaching for his. "I'm starting to."
Jazz, who had been walking a few paces ahead of them, turned around, flicking his light over their faces with a frown. Then his light followed down their arms to find their fingers intertwined with each other. "What the—?"
Prowl looked away, a little self-conscious.
Angel smirked. "We made out."
The look on Jazz's face was somewhat priceless as he glanced from one to the other and then let out a "What the hell, Prowl?"
"Do you two want to talk about this?" the femme said with much amusement.
"No," Prowl said immediately.
"Yes," Jazz insisted at the same time.
They both glared at one another.
"Right, because the two of you always get irritated when one makes a decision without the other." Blitzangel let go of Prowl's hand and backed away, palms up. "So, you guys hang back and discuss while I scout ahead."
Prowl glared at Jazz. "I do not need to share every facet of my personal life with you." He began to walk away, further down the tunnel.
Jazz hurried to catch up. "Is it really asking too much to be kept in the loop?"
"For some things, yes. Especially since this is none of your business."
"I don't see how either of your personal lives are none of my business."
Prowl gaped at him. Jazz was being serious.
"Uh, guys?" Blitzangel called from further down the dark tunnel. The concern in her voice combined with the metallic snap of her arm blades caught the mechs' attention.
She slowly backed out of the tunnel as multiple swaths of light came after her. The sources of light soon followed: a whole hoard of mechanized drones. Their bodies were thick and heavy; large, but not too large to fit through the claustrophobic tunnels. They did not communicate verbally, but sent a radio signal to the Autobots that they were required to leave the area if they valued their lives. Heavy energy weapons appeared on their chests, charging with a high hum.
"Don't sweat it, guys," Jazz said as Prowl reached for his gun. "These are Z's security bots. I'll just send them my usual pass code and..."
"Jazz, they're not stopping," Blitzangel worried.
"They're not responding to my code."
"I guess it expired within the last few million years you haven't visited her," the femme accused.
It was suddenly getting very bright in the lightless tunnels as the drones continued to charge their chest cannons with yellow energy.
"They're still going to fire!" Prowl warned. "Everyone scatter!"
The three scrambled in different directions as thick energy beams cut through the tunnels. Prowl rolled to his knees and returned fire. The smaller shots from his plasma pistol hardly did any damage to the protective outer shells. With her agility and speed, Blitzangel managed to get in close and sliced off two of the drones' heads before bouncing back to a safer distance. Even the headless drones didn't pause for a moment as they all powered their cannons to shoot again.
"Prowl, it didn't even slow them down!"
"They're drones," he replied. "They don't need heads or sparks to keep fighting. It makes them a lot harder to take down."
"Tell me about it," she muttered before the tunnels were filled with thick energy blasts once more. The two quickly split to avoid being hit.
Jazz, on the other hand, hadn't fired yet. He knew Zeta 3's drones. He knew how thick they were built, how doggedly stubborn their attack protocols were. One could hack away at them for hours and it wouldn't slow them down. There had to be a smarter way around this. Then he saw it: a tiny red pinpoint of light on the tunnel's ceiling. A camera.
"Prowl, Angel, keep them distracted," he radioed. "I think I can get them to stop."
The two engaged the drones as they had before and Jazz slipped in close to the camera, standing right in its sights.
"Z, it's me!" he called, waving his arms. "It's Jazz! Call them off! Shut them down!"
Within moments, the drones ceased charging their chest cannons. They still said nothing and did not retreat, but they did not attack either.
"Is it over?" Blitzangel asked carefully.
"Yeah, I think so," Jazz said, one last glance at the camera above. "Now she knows it's us that are coming for a visit."
The femme paused in the dark stillness. "No lights or anything else to welcome us?"
Jazz smirked in the dark. "Trust me, this is the best welcome we can expect to get."
Skywarp was not a Decepticon of pride, nor of shame. It did not matter who laughed at him or who yelled. Skywarp did whatever he thought needed to be done and paid no mind to the consequences. It was the only way he knew how to live.
The Autobots surely did not understand this about him. Which was only one of the many reasons why they were completely baffled when Skywarp suddenly materialized outside Iacon's gates. If they had seen him coming, they would have opened fire before he ever managed to get so close. But this wasn't any other Decepticon. Instead, one moment the parameter was clear, the next there was a black and purple seeker pounding his fists on the locked front gate of Iacon.
If he had been using more than his fists, the Autobot sentries atop the wall would also have attempted to chase him off. But all he was doing was punching the gate, putting small dents in the already dented massive door. He did not even attempt to fly over the walls.
"Hey! Hey you stupid Autobots!" Skywarp barked up at them. "Get down from your slagging high towers and come talk to me! I'm not leaving until you do!"
Soon, the lower level soldiers received a supervising officer to the scene and Kup gazed down in confusion. "What is he doing? Is this supposed to be a diversion?"
"We're not sure, sir," one soldier replied. "He's been at it for several minutes and we haven't seen any other Decepticon activity in the area."
Kup continued to frown as he picked up the radio receiver that connected to the speaker at the gate entrance below.
"You all ain't so great!" Skywarp continued to call as he pounded his fists. "Get someone down here! Get a whole glitching army down here, I don't care! I'm not scared of you! I—"
"Quit your caterwauling!" Kup's voice grated from the speaker, cutting him off. "What are you doing, making such a slagging racket? You look like a damned fool, Decepticon."
Skywarp instantly stopped his activity and looked at the speaker. "Hey, you guys got Thundercracker in there?"
"What?" came the surprised response at such an unexpected question.
"Thun-der-crack-er," Skywarp enunciated emphatically. "Decepticon. Looks like me but blue. Is he your prisoner?"
There was a pause and then a careful, "Aye, we have him."
"Good. I'm here to take him back."
There was another pause before a dubious, "What do you mean?"
"I came to get him," Skywarp said with pragmatism. "He's probably no more use to you now that you've invaded his files, copied his hard drive, whatever you've done. So I'll take him back now and you don't have to worry about him anymore."
The next time Kup replied, there was humor in his voice and even the sounds of snickering in the background. "Go plug yourself into a dirty port. He's our prisoner. We don't just give them up so he can go back to killing Autobots for Megatron. That's not how war works."
"I will go in there and get him myself!" Skywarp threatened.
"You can try, glitchhead. You know we have warp field scramblers all over the city. If you want to risk mixing your molecules with a street cleaner, you be my guest."
Skywarp went quiet. He stared at the closed gate with set jaw. He could still hear some snickers and whispers among the static of the speaker.
"Fine, I'll be your prisoner, too, then."
All sound stopped on the other end.
"Come again?" Kup's voice asked.
"Take me prisoner. If you put me in a cell next to Thundercracker, you can have me."
There was a pause and then, "One moment."
The speaker went completely dead.
Skywarp continued to stand there and waited. Minutes began to tick by and he remained where he was, still as a statue outside Iacon's gates, his gaze transfixed on the speaker. The minutes turned into over an hour and Skywarp continued to remain where he was.
Finally, the response came in the form of a convoy driving around the side of the city walls. A very familiar red semi truck lead the group. Skywarp turned to watch them approach and made no move to either flee or engage them in battle. The Autobot vehicles came to a stop a few paces from the seeker and transformed. Skywarp remained quiet and patient as Optimus Prime stepped up until they were nearly toe to toe, the Autobot leader only slightly taller than the lanky Decepticon.
"You wish to surrender to us?" Optimus asked, doubt clear in his voice.
Skywarp steadily met his gaze. "Yeah. Put me in with Thundercracker and I'll be your prisoner."
"If we take you into custody, my medics will put you offline and remove your warp drive before you ever go into the city. Along with any other tracking or recording devices we might find."
"That's fine. I don't care."
Skywarp just frowned stubbornly at the Autobot leader.
"Alright," Optimus relented. He glanced behind him. "Ratchet."
The Autobot medic came forward, far more suspicion on his face. "Strangest day I've had in a while," Skywarp heard the medic grouched before a device was pressed to his neck. The seeker felt a tingle in his system, then a sudden shock. Then, he was out cold and he remembered nothing else.
Jazz continued to lead the way through the tunnels. Prowl and Blitzangel followed silently behind him. He seemed to know exactly where he was going, as if he had taken this route many times before. There were several winds and changing of tunnels before a closed door opened for them and a dim light appeared ahead.
The old, rusted tunnel ballooned out into a cleaner, newer-looking space. At least as new as one could get down so deep inside the planet. The technology was dated, but seemed to be working fine. An array of lights and monitoring screens decorating one wall. Presumably, this was a sort of surveillance. The area gave no indication of personal living quarters anywhere nearby.
From the screens, a slender femme turned as the three Autobots entered. She was aged, as one may have expected, mostly silver with a few flecks of green paint where it used to be fresh so many, many years ago. But her face was sharp, as were her optics as she turned to face them.
Zeta 3's gaze flickered over the three before landing back upon the Autobot in the lead. "Jazz," she said in a somewhat neutral voice. Perhaps even with a little chill. "I never expected I would see you again. I thought you had for sure been killed in the war. None of my sensors could ever find your spark signature."
Before Jazz could respond, he received a slap to the back of his head from Blitzangel. "You haven't visited her for so long she thought you were dead?" she hissed.
"I'm sorry," Jazz said to both of them. Then to his creator: "I was off world for a long time. It wasn't my decision, Z. I couldn't get back home or I would have come sooner."
The older femme appeared unswayed. "Your respect for your elders certainly hasn't approved any. My proper designation is Zeta 3." She produced a short pointer stick and began to lightly tap at different parts of his outer armor. "What have you done to my beautiful design? It's hardly recognizable?"
"As I said, I was off world for a long time. An organic world with smaller life forms. We all upgraded our alt modes to match their vehicles. It's no big deal."
"Transform," was all Zeta said.
"I said transform."
"I said it's not a big deal. Don't worry about it."
"Just do it, Jazz," Prowl said behind him.
With a huff, Jazz transformed into his alternate vehicle mode.
Zeta immediately gasped, clutching her spark as if it had frightened her. "Dear sweet creator of us all, it's hideous. What have you done to yourself?"
Jazz immediately transformed back to root mode, irritated. "I told you, I didn't have a choice, Z! We had crashed on an alien planet and had no idea how to get home! The Autobots still have my original stats. Plus its my body anyway. Slagging Primus!"
Zeta gasped and knocked him upside the head with her pointer stick. "I taught you better than to have such blasphemy come out the vocalizer of one of my creations!" She gave him another whack for good measure.
"Ouch! Shit!" Jazz protested as he tried to dodge the attack.
And one more hit. She wasn't sure what that last word meant, but she had a feeling he deserved it all the same.
Then, it seemed Zeta was done giving her creation the time of day. She suddenly turned her attention to Prowl and her demeanor immediately changed from displeased to pleasant. "Prowl, how have you been?"
"Very well," he replied politely. "I hope you have been taking care of yourself, Zeta."
She smiled. "I do my best. It appears my hopes of some of your manners rubbing off on my progeny did not come to pass."
"Maybe if you'd stop hitting me," Jazz mumbled behind her.
"And this is Blitzangel," Prowl then introduced.
Zeta studied her. "Yes, you beheaded two of my drones."
The purple femme, who was smiling before, put on a face of contrition. "Yes, sorry ma'am. I was trying to protect everyone. I will fix them if you'd like."
Zeta looked pleased. "No need, dear. It will give me something to do." She glanced back at her creation. "Polite and has a set of skills, very nice. I hope the two of you are gentle with her."
"Z!" Jazz squawked, his voice rising an octave in embarrassment. "That—that is not what's going on!"
She raised an optic ridge at him. "Oh? So you didn't come here to introduce me to your sparkmate? That means you want something."
Jazz was shamed to embarrassed silence.
"Well? Spit it out. What do you want?"
"I'm sorry we didn't come down under better circumstances," Prowl said as he stepped forward. "I promise you we will rectify that at a later date. Right now, something very concerning is happening on Cybertron's surface, something that could affect us all. We need information; anything you know about the supposed coming of Unicron."
Zeta fell quiet and very still. "What do you mean?"
"In most basic terms, we have three bots of unknown origin causing a ruckus on Cybertron's surface. They have powers and abilities we have not seen in bots before. They claim to be built by Unicron and they were sent to find Cybertron for him. Now that they have found us, they also claim he is coming to our planet."
Zeta suddenly looked a little weak and she leaned against the nearby console for support.
"We came to you to try to figure out if anything these bots say are true," Prowl continued pragmatically. "Jazz said you would be the foremost authority on this issue."
The aged femme fell silent for several moments as different expressions warred for dominance on her face. Slowly see seemed to move from dubiousness to a growing fear.
"Those who have studied the stars, who theorized with algorithms from our history to predict the future. They all believed in... Him. Of a great, destructive force that searches to end us all. The Omega to Primus' Alpha. What has begun must always come to an eventual end." Her voice came out in a steady rhythm, as if she were quoting the words of some long-ago text. "Our soothsayers prophesied of... his coming," She couldn't bring herself to speak his name. "But they could not say exactly how he would find us or the circumstances of the arrival. Only that it would be the end of all of us when it happens."
"So it could be true," Blitzangel mused. "Or they could be lying. There's a fifty-fifty chance of either possibility."
"Perhaps more than that," Zeta said. "The same minds that predicted both Cybertron's Golden Age and the Great War said that Cybertron and all those upon it would meet their end when the planet had finished its life cycle. The planet went dormant for millions of years at the apex of the Great War. It has powered up slightly now, but it's barely limping by. Maybe Unicron is coming because it is Cybertron's time."
"So, then what do we do about it?"
Zeta gaped at the purple femme, surprised at the question. "You don't do anything about the Unmaker. All things have their time. Our people had theirs. It's over."
Blitzangel frowned at this. As did Prowl.
"What does your Prime think of all this?" Zeta then asked. "Who is it now, anyway?"
"Optimus Prime," Prowl responded.
"Still?! That's quite impressive. Back before I went underground, Primes were constantly replaced. Perhaps the war has killed anyone else worthy of the title. These are indeed the end of our days."
Prowl and Jazz looked at each other.
"Look, can someone just explain to me what exactly is Unicron?" Blitzangel asked, a bit exasperated. "If we know what he can do, then we can prepare to fight against him."
"No one knows what it is," Zeta insisted. "Those who witness the Unmaker do not live to tell about it."
"And that's... all you know?" the purple femme asked carefully. She didn't want to be rude, but this journey to the center of Cybertron was not turning into what she had hoped.
Zeta caught the insinuation that she was not being helpful. "What about the Matrix bearer? Has your Optimus Prime asked the Matrix for guidance?"
"He said we could ask you," Jazz replied.
There was a moment of silence.
"I'm sorry, guys. That was a big 'ol bucket of nothing," Jazz said as the three of them walked away from Zeta's base of operations. She had expressed no desire to go with them back to Iacon.
"It's fine," Prowl said. "At least you visited your creator. That's something."
"Can I ask you guys a question about the Matrix?" Blitzangel spoke up. "Everyone told me it's where sparks go after a bot dies. So I thought it was a place your culture believed in. Something like a heaven for us. But Zeta seemed to infer that Optimus Prime bears the Matrix and he can ask it for guidance?"
"The Matrix is the proof of the Prime," Prowl explained. "Our chosen leader."
"And the Prime is everyone's leader, not just the Decepticons," Blitzangel recalled from a long ago conversation with Bluestreak and Smokescreen.
"There used to not be Decepticons or Autobots," Jazz said. "But we've always had a Prime; chosen by Primus to lead our people."
"Like your king," Blitzangel surmised.
"Mmm... more like a spiritual leader."
"Like the Pope?"
"Maybe somewhere in the middle?"
"The Prime is more like a moral compass," Prowl offered. "Though in the past, the Prime has been quite involved in the legal affairs of Cybertron, it's not always the case. The Great War was something unprecedented within our planet's history. It just so happened that Optimus was chosen as the Prime at the dawn of this war, which rallied a faction, the Autobots, against Megatron and his Decepticons.
"Before this, there was a council that chose the Primes and it was all about politics. When Optimus became the Prime, they say the Matrix itself disappeared from the vault where it was kept and then Optimus Prime appeared on the battle field, the Matrix in his possession, chosen as Prime by divine intervention."
"So the Matrix is... a physical item, then?"Blitzangel asked. "I don't understand. Why do they say sparks go to the Matrix?"
"It is a physical item, and they do," Jazz said with a grin.
"Are you trying to tell me that Optimus Prime literally carries your version of heaven around on him? How does that make sense?"
"Makes sense to us, babe," Jazz said.
"As they say, with Primus, anything is possible," Prowl added.
Blitzangel didn't make a response, but internally she did not believe.
Thundercracker sat listlessly in the dim, silent cells of the Autobot base. He seemed to be the only prisoner they had at the time and he was fine with that. Thundercracker never had a problem with isolation or silences. In fact, it was almost kind of nice to be able to sit and think in peace without any orders or interruptions. He couldn't recall when was allowed time with is own thoughts.
Eventually, however, the blue seeker realized where was such a thing as too much time with one's own thoughts. Being left alone in the dark and the silence, time ticking on, caused his processor to wander into places he did not wish it to go. But in the idle hours, when his processor had already ventured to every other subject, his thoughts turned back to that... glitch. That one memory from his past life that had been tucked away inside him despite his reformatting. All brought to the surface from his near-death brush with Catscratch's virus.
The faces haunted him when he was least prepared for them. Faces familiar yet unfamiliar. They called to him, using a name he still couldn't hear. What distressed him the most was the near overwhelming urge to answer the call, to follow. But he had no idea where to go. He was lost and aimless, and he did not like that feeling. He always fought the memory when it attempted to remind him of it, but in this endless silence, there was nothing else to distract him.
The squeal of a metal door opening caused the blue seeker to raise his head. A group of footfalls entered the prison, the sound of their steps magnified in the silence. Thundercracker looked up in barely disguised surprise when a cuffed Skywarp was marched past his cell and placed in the one next to his. Their jailers walked away without a word and it was several moments before either of the two incarcerated seekers spoke.
"What are you doing here?" Thundercracker finally asked.
"I came to find you," was the response.
Thundercracker almost audibly sighed. What an idiot. "Did they take your warp drive?"
"Primus, Megatron's going to kill you if you ever get out of there."
A chuckle from the other side. "Always an energon cube-half-empty guy, huh 'Cracker? You mean when we get out of here."
There was a length of silence from the blue seeker before he finally spoke. "Seriously, what are you doing here? Don't tell me you just walked up to the Autobot's front door and asked for a cell." At the resounding silence from the other side, Thundercracker made a sound in disgust.
"Had to," Skywarp insisted. "Without you, I'm all alone."
"What do you mean? There's all sorts of Decepticons out there."
"You're the only one like me. You're the only one who doesn't have anything else besides being a Decepticon and this war. If it ever ends, if we ever survive it, then what? What will we have besides each other?"
Thundercracker felt his mouth tick up a little. "That's a bit depressing for you. What about Starscream? Or even Darkstar? We were a team once, right? The four of us? Isn't that what you always say? A team to the end."
"Darkstar is brooding. She claims she doesn't want to be on the team anymore. And... and maybe the end is coming anyway." Skywarp paused and then let out a few choice swears, some in his native language, some in English. "You and me, we're the closest thing to family each other has. If we get slagged, we get slagged together. Right? And between the two of us, maybe we just wont be slagged in these stinking cells when it all goes down. What do you say, 'Cracker?"
Thundercracker was surprised with this; with the entire turn of events to have his once-free wingmate now willingly in a cell right next to him. Perhaps he was not the only one haunted by his own thoughts when the other wasn't there.
"Sure, Sky. That sounds just fine."
Optimus Prime stood in the dark of one of the smaller command rooms on the upper level of the tower. His only sources of light were a few flickering surveillance screens. It was quiet and empty there, giving him time to think. It was one of the lesser used rooms, so he had no expectation of being disturbed while he ruminated on the results of Jazz and Prowl's mission. He had hoped their venture to speak with one of Cybertron's oldest denizens would bring forth at least some information he could work with. It would have been nice to make a more informed, researched decision regarding the Unicron issue. Once he did make a decision about this, Optimus knew he could never take it back. He had to think evenly on this, he had to weigh all the options before taking action.
Though the room was not locked, the door sliding open at his back surprised Optimus and he found himself even a little irritated that there was nowhere he could go where he could be with his thoughts in peace. He expected any one of his immediate underlings, anyone who would have a good reason to seek him out. It was none of them.
"Blitzangel," he said with a bit of surprise. Her new designation still did not speak itself easily to him. He hadn't used it much, especially not in her presence. "Can I help you? Jazz and Prowl aren't here."
The purple femme's face remained blank. She did not speak a word. Instead, she walked through the room, crossing in front of the Autobot leader as if he wasn't there, and pointed her finger to the computer console. With her back to him, Blitzangel extended a plug from the tip of her index finger and inserted it into the computer. Before Optimus could ask what she was doing, a familiar face flickered upon the largest monitor.
"Greetings, Optimus Prime. It has been a while."
"Alpha Trion. Wh..." He glanced from the screen to the femme and then back again. "How are you here? Vector Sigma was destroyed. I thought you to be gone with it."
The digital figure nodded. "Indeed. Vector Sigma knew its time was growing short, as did I. When we were last discovered, I downloaded what I could of myself into this..." he paused. Even Alpha Trion wasn't entirely sure what the femme was, "... this vessel. I had to save what knowledge I could. I could not let it die with Vector Sigma."
Optimus looked at Blitzangel as well. "Have you completely taken over her?"
"She will be fine. The last remaining part of my intelligence inhabits a corner of her processor. For the most part, she has no idea I am here. I will download the rest to you so you may pass it on for the greater good of our people."
"Is that why you are speaking to me? To pass on your knowledge?"
"That, and to let you know with certainty that it is time to act. I am here to tell you, Optimus Prime, that our darkest hour is indeed upon us." Even though deep down he already knew the answer, the Autobot leader felt a chill in his spark as he heard the words of Alpha Trion. "Prepare yourselves. Unicron is coming. For all of us."