Well, this didn't go anything like we expected, was all Swindle could think as he stared at Blitzwing, who had his weapon leveled at a startled Galvatron's head at that moment.
To be honest, Swindle hadn't had too many expectations regarding the mission. As far as he knew, they were simply going to follow the Quintessons, destroy Rodimus Prime and anyone with him, and take Cybertron back for themselves. Simple as that. Granted, he'd had his suspicions that the Quintessons had their own designs and were planning on stabbing the Decepticons in the back at the first opportunity, but he had been fairly confident that he could ferret out their plan before they put it into action and find a way to turn it against them.
He hadn't expected Cyclonus to show up with Galvatron and Blitzwing in tow. That alone would have been enough of a shock, since everyone had pretty much given the violet Decepticon up for dead. But even if some had thought there was a chance Galvatron was still functioning, they hadn't expected him to return with a full-blown case of insanity, or for him to attack his own troops in a psychotic rage. Nor had they expected him to start raving about some Decepticon Matrix of Leadership, whatever that was, and lead the way back to Cybertron to crush the Autobots there once and for all.
Most of the battle was still pretty hazy, to be honest. It was like there was a blank stretch in his memory banks, as if someone had erased an entire chunk of the battle. Whatever had caused it, it seemed to have affected most of the other Decepticons as well – anyone Swindle talked to after the battle complained of something similar.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Quintessons had tried to take Cybertron for themselves in the middle of the battle. Swindle wouldn't have been surprised if they proved to be the cause of the memory loss among so many of the Decepticons. At least having an insane commander had come in handy at that point – upon learning of the Quintessons' duplicity, he had quite literally chased them off the planet, bellowing obscenities and threatening to rip them to shreds. Then Galvatron had turned his rage onto Rodimus Prime, ready to slaughter him on the spot.
That had resulted in the biggest surprise of all – Blitzwing pulling a gun on their commander.
"This has to end!" Blitzwing snapped. "Now!"
"He's gone crazy!" hissed Vortex.
"Which one?" asked Swindle. "The triple changer or the commander?"
"You know what I mean!" Vortex retorted. "Blitz is off his rocker! He's gonna get pummeled! Or worse!"
That same thought seemed to have crossed Blitzwing's CPU at that moment, because his visor flared in sudden fear. He kept the weapon trained on Galvatron, though, finger tightening on the trigger as he awaited the violet mech's reaction. Cyclonus, in turn, had his own gun aimed at the triple-changer, ready to take him down at a moment's notice.
Galvatron's stunned expression melted into a snarl of rage. "Such treachery I expected from my other troops, but not from you, Blitzwing!"
"Shall I strike him down, my Lord?" asked Cyclonus. "Or leave the privilege to you?"
A look of maniacal glee crossed Galvatron's face at that, but it quickly passed, and an eerie calm seemed to settle over him. "No… I have another fate in mind for him."
Swindle felt his internals clench, and he stepped back involuntarily.
"Blitzwing, you are hereby banished from the Decepticons," Galvatron announced, optics narrowing hatefully. "If I see your sorry chassis again, I will scorch the life from it and mount it on my wall. Begone from my sight!"
Incredibly, Blitzwing relaxed at that, lowering his gun-arm and the tension visibly running out of his body. Swindle wondered how he could be so happy about being kicked out of the Decepticon forces… but then again, given what Cyclonus had put them through for the past year, maybe being exiled wasn't such a punishment after all.
"Decepticons, retreat!" Galvatron ordered. "Return to Chaar!"
"Combaticons, prepare to go," Onslaught ordered, coming up behind Swindle and Vortex at that moment. "Swindle, patch up any damages among our team."
"Galvatron's not gonna like us lagging behind," Vortex reminded him.
"Galvatron can either wait for us to be in full repair, or wait while the injured among us lag behind on the way back," Onslaught replied crisply. "Let our new commander learn patience."
"I don't think that's a word in his vocabulary," grumbled Vortex.
Someone grunted behind Swindle, and he turned to find Blitzwing gazing down at him. The triple-changer waited just long enough to be sure he had the Combaticon's attention before speaking.
"We need to talk about the kid."
Swindle felt his fuel tank jolt. "She's not dead, is she?"
"No," Blitzwing replied. "She's holed up in the command center back on Chaar. Galvatron blew her bodyguard to bits, though. Nutcase."
"Primus," Swindle groaned. "Does the kid know?"
"Know? She saw it happen. It was her Galvatron was trying to off, but the drone attacked him and bought her time to get away. Went down fightin'."
He felt his spark sink in his chassis. "What are we gonna do? If Galvatron's going to target the kid…" He couldn't finish.
"I dunno what you're gonna do," Blitzwing retorted. "But I know what I'd do the moment I got back if I was allowed back. I'd get her upgraded. The sooner the better."
"Upgraded?" Swindle rebooted his optics, as if that would change what the triple-changer had said. "She's just a kid, though!"
"She ain't going to be a kid much longer, Swindle. She ain't exactly innocent anymore – she knows what Galvatron's capable of. An' Chaar's not exactly a place for sparklings anyhow. The way I see it, you got two choices – upgrade her now, or wait until Galvatron takes a potshot at her in a rage. And trust me, he'd do it. The mech's not sane."
Swindle couldn't exactly argue with that. Even from the brief glimpses he'd had of their leader so far, he knew Galvatron was practically a ticking time bomb, and the littlest things had the potential to set him off. Cyclonus was at least somewhat rational, though his calculating cruelty was just as bad, if not worse. With those two dangerous mechs in charge of the Decepticons, no one would truly be safe… but Cyclonus already saw Glory as useless and a nuisance, and Galvatron must feel the same way if he'd attempted to offline her back on Chaar.
As much as he hated to admit that Blitzwing was right, he had to agree that Glory would be safer with an adult mode than a sparkling's fragile chassis. Not only would she be stronger and more durable, she would be better able to defend herself if Galvatron attacked her. And more importantly, Cyclonus could no longer claim she was a drain on the Decepticons' resources. She would actually be able to aid the Decepticon cause directly, which would not only mollify their leaders but fulfill what Glory had been wanting for so long.
That didn't mean he had to like it at all, of course. He knew Thundercracker had wanted her to develop normally and not be rushed into adulthood, and under normal circumstances sparklings of less than a vorn old were in no condition to be upgraded. But these were not normal circumstances, and he knew if the choice was between the upgrade and certain injury or death, Thundercracker probably would have chosen the upgrade.
"Fine," Swindle relented. "I'll corner Hook when we get back and see what he can do."
Blitzwing nodded. "You do that."
"Swindle, move your aft!" Brawl snapped. "Galvatron's gonna have our heads on pikes if we don't scoot soon!"
"I'm coming, hold your horsepower!" Swindle retorted. He turned back to Blitzwing. "Um… thanks. For keeping her safe."
Blitzwing grunted. "You still owe me, Swindle. And I WILL be coming back to cash in that favor."
He nodded. "What'll you do now?"
He shrugged. "Dunno. Rodimus Prime offered me a place with the Autobots, but I don't feel like playing traitor to my entire kind, even if Galvatron sees me as one. I told him I'd think about it."
"Keeping your options open?"
"More like keeping things so they don't ask too many questions if I go nosing," Blitzwing replied. "No way I'm actually joining them. Figure I'll poke around the underground, see if the Decepticon resistance cells are still active here. Worse comes to worst, I'll go off-planet and find one of our outposts, or a neutral colony. Just 'cause Galvatron doesn't want me on Chaar doesn't mean I have to abandon the cause entirely."
"Well… whatever you do, take care of yourself, okay? With Vector Sigma and all our sparklings in Autobot hands, we can't afford to lose too many of our troops."
"Will do. And you look after yourself too. Don't frag off our beloved commanders too much."
Swindle watched as Blitzwing turned away, transforming to jet mode and soaring up into the sky, moving in the opposite direction that Galvatron and his troops had taken. Then he sighed and went to rejoin their team. It seemed the Decepticons couldn't catch a break at all. They'd just exchanged a cold-sparked commander for a psychotic one, and somehow he got the feeling that Blitzwing's departure from their forces, however involuntary, was just the beginning. Who knew how many mechs would decide serving Galvatron wasn't worth it, and seek their fortunes elsewhere?
Glory started awake as the doors to the command center hissed open. Someone was coming… and the footsteps approaching her hiding place weren't Blitzwing's heavy steps. Was it Cyclonus or Galvatron, come to finish her off? Or an Autobot intruder? Somehow she doubted the latter would be much kinder to her than the former.
Instantly alert, she groped for her gun, remembering what Blitzwing had told her. She only hoped she would have the courage to shoot if she needed to. She had never shot at a living target before, and the thought of taking a life, even in self-defense, still chilled her…
She squeaked in relief and dropped the gun, scrambling to her feet. "Swindle!"
"Oh phew, you're safe." Swindle ducked into the closet and knelt down to her level. "You're not hurt, are you? Blitzwing told me what happened-"
She flung her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "Did the Quintessons get you? What did they want? They're not still here, are they? What did they look like? And did you see Galvatron? He's freaky! He tried to shoot me, and he shot Wildfire and…" She would have teared up at that point, but her cleanser reservoirs were still dry, making her optics burn with emotion.
"Whoa, slow down," Swindle urged her. "The Quints are gone, kid. They tried to use us to take over Cybertron, but Galvatron chased them off. And yeah… he's pretty frightening. We're going to have to be very careful from here on out." He patted her back. "I'm… I'm sorry about Wildfire. I really am."
She tucked her head against his chest. "I'll miss him."
"I know you will." He let her lean on him a moment longer, then carefully put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her away. "We need to talk about something important, kid. I hate to be the one to have to discuss this with you, but that's how things have turned out."
She wondered what he meant by that. But she had something important she wanted to say too, and she spoke up at that moment, hoping to get it out before he started talking. She didn't quite make it, and they both ended up saying what they had in mind at the same time.
"I think it's time for your upgrade."
"I wanna get my upgrade."
The Combaticon and the sparkling stared at each other for a good handful of seconds, optics rebooting in surprise. Then Swindle spoke again. "Really?"
"Really," she replied. "It's really okay? You think I should too?"
"I know you should, kid," he told her. "It'll be safer for you. Galvatron will be less likely to go after you if you're an adult, and you'll be better able to protect yourself if anything happens." He gave a soft chuckle. "I'm just surprised you want it."
"I wanna help the Decepticons," she replied. "I hate that I see everyone hurting and things going so bad for us. Maybe if I'm an adult, I can do something to help. Something that really helps, not just boosting morale and stuff like that."
Swindle nodded. "It's gonna mean not as much playtime… and you'll have a harder time interacting with the cassettes."
She hadn't thought about that. The playtime part didn't concern her as much, but knowing this would affect her relationship with Rumble and Frenzy sent a pang through her spark. Would they still talk to her and include her in their pranks if she was bigger than they were? Or would they ignore her once she was an adult?
She didn't say anything to Swindle, though. She just nodded. "I know. But I gotta do it. I want to do it."
Swindle sighed and stood, reaching down to take her hand. "You're growin' up way too soon, kid. But I guess that happens in a war." He tugged gently at her arm. "Let's go find Hook."
She nodded and followed him out of the command center. She could hear Galvatron roaring at someone, and involuntarily she scooted closer to Swindle for protection. Would she still be trying to hide and cling to him once she was in an adult form? She hoped not. More than anything, she hoped being upgraded would give her the sense of security she'd wanted for so long.
"Patient is offline, sir," Scrapper reported. "All readings good, pump rate and fan cycles stable. We're ready."
"Good." Hook flexed his hands, ensuring the joints in his fingers were operating smoothly before reaching for his tool tray. "Let's get this over with."
The Decepticon repair bay, despite being the largest room in the command center (precisely why Hook had commandeered the room for his own use), was uncomfortably cramped and dismal, with inadequate lighting and space for only one berth and one operating table. It disgusted the surgeon to have to work in such substandard conditions, with second-rate tools and supplies. Megatron had his faults, but at least he had understood the importance of a medic, and ensured that Hook did not lack for suitable supplies, materials, and work space. Galvatron and Cyclonus seemed to think Hook was capable of pulling repairs out of his aft, and any requests he put in for new tools or parts were either laughed off or ignored.
The only reason he even had materials for Glory's upgrade was the Stunticons, as much as he hated feeling indebted to that group of lunatics. During the ill-fated attack on Cybertron they had stopped to pillage a medical center, making off with a supply of desperately needed parts and equipment… and a Seeker chassis. Why an Autobot medic had kept one on hand was anyone's guess – perhaps the medic had appropriated the clinic from a deceased Decepticon and hadn't bothered to clean out the stores, or perhaps he had entertained thoughts of creating an Autobot Seeker of his own.
No matter. The Autobot in question was no longer alive to waste the body, and with a few modifications it would be the ideal upgraded form for the sparkling.
Once his tools were arranged to his liking, Hook turned back to Glory. His patient lay on the operating table, offline and optics darkened. He wasn't fond of the sparkling like some others he could mention, but he had to admit (only to himself, of course) that it had been eerie watching the energetic young femme go still and quiet and her optics dim, and know that it would be for the last time.
The sparkling that had become a fixture among Megatron's forces for so long would die today, in a fashion. And though it wouldn't be a true death, and she would awaken in a new body with a new function, it wouldn't be quite the same.
He shook those thoughts out of his CPU and returned his attention to the task at hand. "Lights to maximum brightness. Scrapper, have an energy line ready. Bonecrusher, get the spark extractor. Mixmaster, are you done playing around with the paint mixer and ready to make yourself useful yet?"
Mixmaster glanced up from his corner of the medbay, his armor flecked with violet. "Havin' some trouble getting the right shade of purple for the touch-ups, sir! Too much red in this batch, looks like…"
"We'll worry about fixing her paint job later," Hook said testily. "Get your aft over here and help."
Mixmaster grumbled but shut off the paint mixer and made his way over. "What do I do?"
"Keep an optic on the monitors," Hook ordered. "Inform me if any of her readings dip below safe levels."
"Stick me with the boring job," Mixmaster huffed. "Yessir-yessir."
Once Hook was sure everyone and everything was in proper position, he set to work. He found the catches to Glory's chestplate, unlatched them, and carefully lifted the plate away to expose her internal workings. To the untrained optic it was merely a nest of wires and cables and tubes, with random components and circuitry visible here and there. Hook knew better – he knew what a delicate machine the Cybertronian body was, how everything within a mech's body had a purpose, right down to the last microchip and power cable. Every component had its proper place within the body, and every piece worked together to keep chassis, spark, and CPU operating smoothly and in cooperation with each other.
A properly built chassis, with every system and part working as it should, was a masterpiece, and it never ceased to fascinate him.
No time to gawk, however. He had a task to accomplish. Taking the spark extractor from Bonecrusher, he reached for a spherical compartment within her chest. An electronic lock prevented it from being opened by anyone but its owner under normal circumstances, but it was the work of less than a minute for Hook's medical authorization to override the lock and snap it open, revealing the blue-gold light of Glory's spark.
"Primus below," Bonecrusher murmured. The demolitions expert wore a rare look of awe as he stared at the spark. Hook couldn't exactly blame him – this wasn't a mere component they were looking at, but the very soul of the mechanism, the one thing that separated Cybertronians from mere machines.
But again, they weren't here to gawk – and now that her spark chamber was open, they would be working under a time limit. A spark could only be disconnected from a power source for so long before it began to fade, and they would have to work quickly to transfer it from Glory's old chassis to her new one.
"Extractor!" Hook barked.
Bonecrusher jumped, startled out of his awestruck trance, and he quickly handed the item in question over – a transparent canister with a clawed mechanism at one end. Hook snatched the item out of his hands and held it over the pulsing spark, thumbing on the activation switch.
A crackle of energy filled the air as the spark resisted the pull of the extractor, leaving a smell of ozone behind. Hook grimaced, for once grateful that his patient was offline and unable to feel the procedure. It was rumored that having one's spark sucked out was the most painful way to be deactivated, though naturally no one had survived the experience to confirm said rumor.
At last, with a weird sucking sound, the spark vanished from the chamber, pouring into the extractor as if it had suddenly become liquid. The moment he pulled the extractor away, Glory's armor began to fade, darkening from silver and violet to a deathly gray. Hook gestured sharply, and Scrapper quickly pulled a sheet over the body to obscure the unnerving sight.
"Vital signs down to zero, sir!" Mixmaster barked.
"I'm quite aware of that," Hook snapped. "Detach the monitors and hook them up to the Seeker's chassis. Scrapper, the energy line."
Mixmaster and Scrapper set to work, plugging the monitors into ports on the Seeker's body and energizing it in preparation to receive a spark. Seeing as Glory's maternal creator and uncle had been Seekers, it was pretty much assumed that she, too, would be best suited to that function. Hook had altered the body slightly ahead of time, giving it the slimmer, more elegant look of a femme but keeping the fierce, deadly look of the most feared and valuable of the Decepticon builds. Her adult body kept the violet and silver of her sparkling form, but with the addition of a jet-black helm and yellow wing stripes. Her sparkling abilities also carried over to this form – Hook had already removed the device that allowed her to shift colors from her sparkling body and installed it into this chassis. And rather than the arm spikes of her sparkling body, this form carried concealed arm blades, much like those Piston had wielded in battle.
Hook smiled grimly. Galvatron and Cyclonus would have no cause to complain that the femme was useless now. If they did… the more fools were they.
The Seeker's chest lay open, ready to receive the spark. Hook positioned the extractor over the open spark chamber and re-activated it, and another flash of energy filled the room as the chamber flared to life.
"Vital signs climbing," Mixmaster reported. "Climbing… optimal levels, sir!"
The other Constructicons broke into cheers, and Hook indulged himself in a triumphant smile of his own. The operation was a success. Even as he watched, the spark flickered a bit, then began pulsing strongly, as if it had never experienced the trauma of a transplant. It might have been his imagination, but he almost fancied that the colors on the Seeker body had brightened, as if given new life by the spark.
"All right, enough, you idiots," Hook ordered. "We're not done yet. We still have to transfer the CPU over."
"Yeah, but that's newbuilt's play," Long Haul pointed out. "The tough part's over!"
If Long Haul had any idea how many delicate wires were involved in installing a CPU into a chassis, he never would have said that. But then, his involvement in the CPU transfer would be limited to carrying it from the operating table to the berth. Hook would be the one spending the next hour or so soldering tiny wires into place. Still, it was a relief to know that the spark was safely in place. A damaged CPU could be repaired, but there was no mending a snuffed spark.
He unlatched Glory's helm and removed it, exposing the empty cranial cavity. Then he turned to the sparkling body and set to work. There was still much to be done.
"Dude, stop pacing, will ya?" Rumble demanded. "You're gonna wear a hole in the floor if ya keep it up."
"I can't help it," Swindle snapped. "The kid's in there!"
"We know," Rumble replied. "Ain't like it's a big secret. But she's in Hook's hands, an' he's the best medic this side of Cybertron. Relax a little, will ya?"
Easier said than done. Swindle couldn't help but be worried, despite Rumble's reassurances. Even knowing Glory was in the hands of the Decepticons' best didn't assuage his fears. The best Hook might be, but things could still go wrong even with the best medic in charge of the operation. And Hook had never done an upgrade like this before. Sure, he'd transferred adult sparks from old bodies to new, but he'd never handled a sparkling's adult upgrade before. There was always the chance that he'd slip up, and all their work in protecting Glory would be for nothing.
A sizeable crowd waited outside the repair bay for word on Glory's operation – Swindle, Rumble, Frenzy, Breakdown, Dragstrip, Dead End, and Wildrider. Cyclonus had not been amused to find so many of his troops wasting time in the corridors like this, but seeing as nobody had anything more pressing to do he'd grudgingly allowed it. Galvatron, for his part, didn't seem to care one way or another. Perhaps the prospect of a new addition to his forces neutralized any irritation he might feel toward the impromptu gathering.
Swindle checked his internal chronometer and grimaced. Two hours had passed since Glory had vanished through that door, and still no word. Surely it couldn't take that long to switch her spark and CPU to a new body, could it? Then again, perhaps the longer it took, the more time Hook was spending being careful. The best way to botch a procedure was to rush it, after all…
"Will ya sit down already?" Dragstrip finally growled. "You're making me dizzy just looking at you!"
"Look, I'm just worried about the kid is all!" Swindle retorted. "This is a big thing!"
"Sure it is, but you don't see us wearin' our servos down pacing about it," said Dragstrip. "Upgrades happen all the time. Quit fussin' so much."
"But what if something does go wrong?" Breakdown worried. "What if her spark goes out while they're transferring it? What if the Autobots attack in the middle of it and Galvatron makes them leave her half-upgraded to go fight? What if…"
"What if Chaar explodes?" Wildrider snarked. "What if retrorats fly and start gnawing on our CPUs? Primus, Breaky, quit bein' such a worrywart!"
"He has valid worries," Dead End pointed out. "There are a multitude of ways the operation could go wrong. The sparkling could be deactivating at this very moment…"
"Shut up, you aren't helping!" Wildrider barked, reaching over to whap Dead End in the back of the helm.
Swindle opened his mouth to tell the Stunticons to knock it off before a full-on fist fight erupted in the corridors, only for the repair bay doors opening to cut him off before he could speak. His mouth remained open as he stared at the mech walking out.
She was a Seeker, with the slim body and the broad shoulders and wingspan typical of her build type. But a sharp-opticed mech would pick out subtle differences between a normal Seeker and this one. Her waist was trimmer, her wings longer and narrower, her shoulder vents shorter and her leg fins more pronounced. Most of her body was the same royal purple and silver of Glory's chassis, though her helm and hands were black and her wings striped in yellow. Even the basic shape of her face had changed, with smaller optics and more sharply angled features.
But there was no mistaking the grin she wore on her lip plates, and had Swindle been human it would have brought a lump to his throat. New chassis or not, this femme was still Glory.
"Whoa…" Dragstrip muttered.
"Pretty cool, huh?" Even her voice had changed, her sparkling vocalizer swapped out for the deeper, more mature sound of an adult voice box, but the inflections unique to Glory's speech patterns remained. "How do I look?"
"Fraggin' awesome!" Frenzy gushed. "What's your new alt form, huh? Can we see?"
"Duh, she's a jet, you lugnut," Rumble told him, elbowing him in the side. "What else would a Seeker be, a tank?"
"Oh, shut up!"
Glory laughed. "I haven't transformed yet. But let's go outside and we can all see!"
"Right on!" Frenzy whooped, and he and Rumble dashed off.
"Well, the procedure went far better than I was expecting," Dead End noted, looking Glory up and down. "Good to see you still among the functional."
"Seriously, no car mode?" Dragstrip demanded, faking a pout. "Here we were hoping to get another stunt driver for our team!"
"Hey, we can still beat a jet in a race!" Wildrider cackled. "Just means we have to play a little dirtier, that's all."
Glory giggled, then turned to face Swindle. Her smile faded when she made optic contact with him, and she looked at him worriedly. "Swindle? Are you okay?"
"Huh? Oh, I'm fine. Why?"
"You looked… well, disappointed is all."
Swindle shook his head. "No, not at all, kid… I could never be disappointed in you. Gonna miss the little sparkling that clung to my legs and tagged along at my heels is all."
She smiled shyly. "I guess this is going to take a lot of getting used to for all of us."
"It'll be worth it, though." He reached up to pat her shoulder, marveling that the little femme who had once come waist-high to him now stood quite a bit taller than he did. "I just wish your uncle could see you now."
"I wish so too." She looked down at her feet, shuttering her optics as if trying to hide her sadness. "I miss him."
"I know." He patted her shoulder. "Come on… let's not keep your friends waiting. They want to see your new form in action."
She nodded, and together the Combaticon and Seeker made their way out of the command center.