There is probably a particular circle of hell reserved for writers who cruise the various TF universes to yank mecha and situations from them as fiction-driven need be and pick-and-choose which parts of Bayverse to use and which to ignore.

So! I've got my ticket; wanna come see what earned it?

I stole "mecha" as the plural of "mech" from taralynden. This plural of "mech" amuses us both; I haven't asked her if she did, but I think it comes of having been made to study Latin, which I did.


Barricade went the last fifty feet of his journey very slowly because one strut wasn't holding. With every revolution of his left rear wheel, there was a loud "clunk," and a jolt of pain so bad it fritzed his optics.

And the frellin' potholes in this so-called "road" weren't helping. Humans! Just because it was in the middle of a bunch of trees didn't mean it shouldn't be paved.

The last four hundred and fifty miles of this trip, that damage or injury or wear, or whatever the Pit it was, had limited him to twenty miles an hour, which kept him on the very smallest of back roads. He'd been in constant pain for the last three orn.

He topped the last ridge. So this was his destination? Barricade might have laughed out loud, but it would have gotten him shot.

With the last of his strength, he used a holoform to empty his interior while the sentry's back was to him, and transformed to root mode.

It was almost over, and he was so very tired.

He knelt, assuming the humiliating "surrender" position every Cybertronian understood. He didn't care about the humiliation, which surprised him: but his new programming said it was needful, and that was enough, apparently, to get him to do almost anything.

"Sunstreaker!" he shouted. Hadn't seen the mech for millennia. Had he been here all along?

... well, at this point, who cared.

The fierce beautiful yellow face snapped around to him, accompanied by a rifle's business end.

But Barricade was kneeling, and his hands were up. Even Sunstreaker wouldn't shoot a surrendering Decepticon.

Or so Barricade hoped.

"Call Ratchet," he said. He noted with relief that even the programming couldn't get him to tack a "please" onto that.

Sunstreaker's optics shuttered once in disbelief. "Why? You bleeding out? And who the hell are you, Decepticon?"

"No," Barricade said tiredly, "it's more complicated than that. Designation Barricade."

Barricade remained very still while Sunstreaker commed Ratchet, and then he told Sunstreaker what he was going to do so that he wouldn't get shot in the doing.

The last of his actions were lying down, spreading out his arms, and waiting for the delicate touches that fulfilled him.

The world began to go away, taking his pain with it. Barricade found the peace in the center of his tiredness, and his optics closed.


Three joor later, Optimus Prime held an emergency meeting of senior staff. Sunstreaker was also in attendance.

Sunstreaker's arrival had been accompanied by a dizzying information dump. First, he found the conflict with the Decepticons at an indefinite pause, if not an end; second, neither Jazz nor Ironhide had survived; third, there were two Primes on Earth and Sam Witwicky, who never set pede on Cybertron among his other shortcomings, was the spare; fourth, Sentinel Prime had shown himself a traitor. Sunstreaker blinked, and absorbed it all, along with the English language. Then his twin said he'd been promoted to be Optimus Prime's bodyguard, Optimus confirmed that, and Sunstreaker promptly crashed.

He did not consider himself lucky that Ratchet had been on hand to reboot him. He spent the next several orn, as they all had, physically coping with the aftermath of Chicago: cleaning up a battlefield. This was only his ninth rotation-period on the Ark.

Prowl came in and shut the door behind him. Optimus, Sideswipe silent and watchful beside him, said, "We have been given the means with which to re-establish our race."

A murmur broke out. Optimus raised his voice, and the murmur died: "It's quite a story. Sunny, your report, please."

"At 27:55:98 this orn I was on guard duty at the entrance to the Ark. I was hailed by a Cybertronian individual in root mode wearing Decepticon insignia, who had placed a bucket and a wrapped parcel on the ground in front of him. He identified himself as Barricade. He was in the surrender posture, and requested that I comm Ratchet, which I did. He then told me that he was going to pop his ulnar plates and use a small laser scalpel on himself. He opened the energon lines in his arms, and lay down. The bucket proved to contain fourteen Cybertronian hatchlings, which fed from Barricades' energon lines. Barricade appeared to lose consciousness when they began to feed. On Ratchet's arrival, I returned to my post."

"Thank you. Ratchet?"

The medic ran a weary hand over his faceplates. "Currently, I have in the med bay fourteen live and healthy Cybertronian hatchlings roughly two weeks old, and one adult Cybertronian, badly damaged, who almost starved himself to death to keep them that way. He did not regain consciousness to identify himself to me before I put him fully offline to carry out some medical procedures, but his paint is consistent with that of the Decepticon we know as Barricade. He has been subjected to a recent code override, almost from the base-code up. His personality was left intact" - Ratchet's glance ricocheted off Prowl - "but if this is Barricade, his interrogation programs were overwritten by hatchling and sparkling protocols, elegant and thorough ones at that. That makes him the only mech among us with the programming necessary to raise healthy sparklings; Wheeljack, Perceptor, and I dumped those protocols after the Aerialbots reached their adult-frame upgrades." The medic paused, and Silverbolt ducked his head: Primus, thought Ratchet, the kid's easily embarrassed. "The packet proved to contain two dead hatchlings and a data chip. Once Barricade, which I will call him until I learn he has another designation, is awake and can be asked permission, I'll conduct a post-mortem. I do not believe that he is in any way responsible for those deaths: there are no marks of any kind on the bodies, and in addition the hatchling protocols he has been following would have crashed him had he attempted to harm any of his charges."

"Will Barricade recover from his injuries?"

"Yes. His survival is not in doubt unless he experiences a cascade failure, but I have no reason to expect one - the worst of the damage is to his left knee. That won't be the only reason that he'll be in med bay a while, though."

"Simple malnutrition?" Optimus asked, one optic ridge raised.

"Not simple, no. Hatchlings require nutrients in proportions which vary from those of adult Cybertronians, so he is very low in some nutrients and almost at poisoning level on others. I'm replacing the missing nutrients in Barricade's systems as fast as possible using concentrated IVs, as he was stripped of them, and of calories, by the hatchlings' line-feeding. However, that was the only way for him to keep them alive." Ratchet paused. "The overdose nutrients are being chelated out of his system, an extraordinarily painful process. As I said, he's offline, and will remain so until chelation is complete; it requires roughly forty-two joor.

"Also, his injuries are going to be difficult to repair. His frame-type is common, but over the vorn the 'cons delayed maintenance and performed shoddy repairs. That caught up to him on the trip here. If he got stuck in his alt-mode, the humans would describe him as a 'beater.' It would actually be easier and less time- and resource-consuming for us, as well as less painful for him, to reformat him."

Optimus said, "Can he be kept comfortable for a time? If he chooses to leave us once he can, I am reluctant to allocate those resources to him."

"For a time," Ratchet said. Everyone on the staff could tell he didn't like the idea, but he was, they all had to be, practical.

"Hatchlings require parents," Optimus continued. "Whose offspring are they?"

Ratchet sighed. "I can do mechano-nucleic acid analysis, but that takes a couple of decaorn, and I want to make sure the hatchlings themselves are stable before I take any samples from them. It'll be at least three decaorn before I can give you a definitive answer to that question."

Sam Witwicky spoke up. "And if one or more of them is Megatron's?"

Ratchet said, "Red, would you pull that recording up for us, please? This was in the packet with the two dead hatchlings."

Red Alert obliged.

Starscream's image glowered down at them. The screechy voice said, "These hatchlings are the last attempt I can make to ensure that my race survives. Most are the offspring of one Autobot and one Decepticon; Megatron is not represented among the genitors. A few have two Autobot genitors. I chose mecha with good physical health, and average or above-average intelligence." The beautiful, balueful, arrogant face stared at them for a moment, and the recording ended abruptly.

Red Alert said, "The data chip, by the way, also contains complete instructions for gathering genetic material from discarded armor and the dead, combining it, and nurturing the embryo in vitro."

"That's wonderful news," said the Prime, "along with the fact that Starscream used the largest gene pool possible to create these hatchlings."

Prowl said, "I wonder if he was telling the truth about their ancestry?"

Ratchet said, "Let me get the hatchlings and Barricade stable. Once that's established, I can do the MNA analysis, and then we'll know."

Optimus said. "Very well. Our two highest priorities right now are the welfare of our guests, and the continued monitoring of communications channels. Ratchet, the entire crew is at your disposal."

Ratchet said, "I'd like every one of us to spend one-quarter of one shift each decaorn with the hatchlings, with more sessions to be assigned if it's enjoyable for both parties. We can't all upload the programming, but we can all socialize them. Out of that experience, some hatchlings will bond with an individual, and that mech will be assigned extensive mentoring duties once the hatchlings are old enough to benefit from it. That's probably at least a half-vorn in the future, unless Starscream programmed them to mature quickly."

There was a stir around the table. "Is that possible?" Prowl said.

"Very much so. Don't forget that Starscream was an expert in neuroscience. If he wrote such a program it will have only the effect he designed it to, so that the hatchlings won't be made sick or unstable because of it. I'm fairly certain he wrote the upgrades to Barricade's programming, and those are almost beyond expert. Scary good."

"How did he get Barricade to agree to the upgrades?" Optimus asked.

Ratchet hesitated. "Barricade had some minor half-healed injuries consistent with a scuffle with a larger mech, and some paint transfer in Starscream's colors, so he might have been overpowered. But I'll have to let him wake up to be sure."

"All right," Optimus said. "Do you have anything else to tell us?"

"Not at this point."

"This meeting was called to deal with this issue. Anything else we should know about?" The Prime's calm gaze swept the room, but no one answered. "All right. The presence of the hatchlings is not to shared with anyone except our personnel, and among the humans, only NEST personnel. Dismissed."


"Expected you," said Ratchet, and finished feeding the last hatchling. He put it down onto Barricade's berth, where it cheeped twice, burped once, and burrowed under the thermal-regulation blanket covering the unconscious Decepticon.

Optimus smiled. "I wanted to see them. It'll be three decaorn, a full lunar cycle, before I can get free of the Pit-spawned mess Chicago made of our relations with Earth's governments."

"Yeah, I thought that might be the case." Ratchet finished the documentation, and turned to the berth Barricade presently lay unconscious on.

"He doesn't look very comfortable," Optimus observed.

Cybertronians recharge flat on their backs for preference, but Barricade lay on his side under a thermal-regulation blanket, another folded to pillow his head and keep the spinal strut straight. "It's the code override," Ratchet explained. "The posture provides the greatest number of nooks and crannies for the hatchlings to snuggle into."

"Ah."

"Here," said the medic, handing the startled Prime two of the hatchlings. "Help me get them into recharge."

"And ... how do you do that?" said Optimus, exchanging optics - Optimus' weren't nearly so beady as the hatchlings' - with two handfuls of soft plating.

"Put them up to your neck, like this," said Ratchet, and cuddled his two into the join between neck and shoulder. Then he began rocking back and forth. "Samuel Prime has suggested that we copy a human device called a 'rocking chair.' Apparently human sparklings derive comfort and pleasure from this motion, and ours seem to as well."

"I'll assign Grapple and Hoist to it." Prime began to rock, feeling rather silly. Then, suddenly, calmer and happier than he had since Chicago.

Ratchet stifled the impulse to broadcast the image of the Prime with that little smile on his face, and his hands (and collar struts) full of hatchlings. "This is what we should be doing," he said to Optimus. "This is what you should be doing."

"Yes. We have been given an enormous gift; I had accepted that we were very likely the last generation of Cybertronians, with a gene pool too small to sustain ourselves. Now we have hope for our species' survival."

Ratchet's babies had gone into recharge. He put them into the crib he had designed; they were used to recharging in a pile with one another, and he saw no reason to change that just yet. He grubbed two more out of Barricade's blanket.

"How do you tell when they're in recharge?" Optimus said.

Ratchet smiled. "They relax all over. They feel like they get heavier."

"I thought you'd said you'd dumped those protocols." Optimus, successful on his first try, babied up again.

"Not a protocol, a memory. And a happy one at that."

"Ah." Optimus' first finds had already been in recharge; he transferred them, picked up two more. "I've decided that, for the time being, our little friends will continue to remain our secret. Samuel Prime tells me this is the best strategy, at least until our hosts pull their heads out of their afts."

Ratchet snorted. "Send Sunny to do the negotiation with the intransigent ones."

"You have no idea how sorely I am tempted."

Ratchet let Optimus put the last two pairs down, which took seconds for each pair; they were already quite drowsy. Ratchet simply watched the Prime, fondly, as he cuddled and rocked hatchlings.

Then the warmer binged, and Ratchet took a thermal-reg blanket out of it, filched Barricade's, and spread the warmed one over him. The blanket the Decepticon had been sleeping under went floating down gently over the hatchlings.

Optimus cocked an optic ridge, slid the last two under it.

"It smells of Barricade, and retains a little of his EM field," Ratchet explained. "It's really best to change as few things as possible all at once for them."

"Kind of you, Ratchet."

"Yeah, well, don't tell anybody, it'll wreck my reputation. Come and have a cube with me, and we'll call it an orn."