Author's Note: Thank you for the reviews! It really is such a pleasure to read them.
Special thanks to MoonWallker, Krysala, Foxbear, Sideslip, Shunner68, JaAm, and DemonSurfer. You guys are my inspiration. I love that everyone appreciated reading about poor Soundwave and his symbiotes. He really cares about his little guys.
This chapter contains references to Trainspotting and Repo! The Genetic Opera.
Pacekeepers – Traffic enforcers. This is a term I had to come up with seeing as "Enforcers" have a whole different meaning in my universe.
THINGS FALL APART IV
The urge to pace away his nervous energy was incredible, but the Seeker forced himself to remain before the great doors of the Senate House. His wings twitched as he waited to be called to enter into the great meeting place. He cast a glance to the two guards standing on both sides of the doors. Their faceplates were stoic, even as their optics watched his every move.
Starscream stared at the doors again, his spark beating fast with trepidation.
He had received the summons two joors ago to appear before the Senate. The two mechs who had delivered the message had immediately escorted him to the Senate House.
Despairingly he remembered the experiment that he had been conducting in his lab before he was interrupted; no doubt the entire experiment had to be scrapped and started again from the very beginning. After three hundred and seventy eight vorns of research and experimentation, he had been sure this was it. He had been so close to isolating the cybonix coding strand.
By the time he returned to his lab, the coding would have yet again mutated. All his previous calculations would be irrelevant now, setting his research back by at least thirteen vorns.
He shifted agitatedly on his pedes, feeling immeasurably frustrated but unable to do anything. A summons from the Senate could not be ignored.
Darkly, he wondered if whatever it was the Senate required was worth all the lives he could have potentially saved.
He started when one of the guards suddenly spoke. 'You may enter now.'
Starscream took a step nearer the great doors and it swung open, admitting him. He strode through, buoyed by the righteous indignation of having his work interrupted at such an untimely manner. His confidence faltered when he found the entire attention of the Senate on him. Slowing to an uncertain shuffle, he made his way to the centre of the circular room.
He glanced about and saw there were two empty seats upon a raised dais, covered in the religious carvings of Primus. The seats were reserved for the Prime and the Lord Protectorate and had been empty for thousands of vorns. The last Prime and Protectorate had given their lives protecting their people and the planet when the Quintessons first invaded Cybertron. When Cybertron had claimed back their freedom, there had been no way to elect another Prime or Lord Protectorate because the Matrix of Leadership was missing.
Now the mechs who held the most power on the planet were the two Consuls who headed the Senate. Alpha-7 and Omega-5 were seated at the foot of the dais, their heavy gaze on the Seeker beneath them.
When Alpha-7 spoke, his voice was a rumbling bass. 'Seeker Starscream, thank you for appearing before us today.'
Starscream swallowed his instinctive bitter retort of his having little choice otherwise. Instead, he offered a bow and replied with as much calm as he could. 'I could not refuse a summons from the Senate.'
He surreptitiously glanced about. The hall was lined with hundreds of senators in their raised seating, each of them staring down at the proceedings in silence. Whatever they had debated and discussed before his arrival, the decision will be the Consuls to deliver.
Starscream did not recognise most of the senators, having had little interest in the realm of politics. The expressions on their faceplates ranged from satisfaction and triumph to confused and disgruntled. Whatever the topic of debate had been, it seemed that the senate had been divided in their views.
A wave of trepidation rose within Starscream and he found himself suddenly wishing he had paid closer attention to current politics. He could not imagine a reason for his presence before the Senate.
'Seeker, the Senate is concerned that we have been remiss in some of the traditional aspects of our Cybertronian culture, particularly the lack of support towards the sacred duties of the Seekers, as charged by Nexus Prime.'
Starscream stared at the Consul, momentarily stunned speechless. Out of all the probable reasons he was called here this cycle, Starscream had not thought it would be because of Nexus Prime's ancient command to the Seekers he created.
Alpha-7 and Omega-5 seemed to be waiting expectantly for a reply. Starscream roused himself from his stupor.
'Esteemed Consuls and respected members of the Senate,' he began uncertainly. 'Thank you for the acknowledgment of the Seeker's Burden. However, I am hardly a representative of Vos and cannot speak with any authority for the Seeker state. I am merely a scientist at the Iacon Academy of Science and Technology.'
'We are aware of your position at the Academy, Seeker,' rumbled Omega-5. 'You have been summoned here because you were selected to answer to Nexus Prime's decree. Your mission, Seeker, is to search for Rarefied Energon from the unchartered sectors of quadrant M61-Tetra-4.'
Starscream staggered back a few steps as if struck. He gaped at the Consuls in disbelief. 'I can't-,' he protested weakly. 'I'm not-'
'Do you refuse your sparked duty, Seeker?' growled Alpha-7, optics glinting. He placed a heavy emphasis on the last word.
Starscream quailed. 'Consuls, please,' he tried again, his voice wavering. 'The Elite Vosian Trine should be consulted in this matter; they are traditionally the ones to embark on such expeditions. I have no trine and I am not an Elite Seeker.' He spread his arms helplessly. 'I am just a scientist!'
'Why is precisely why you are the perfect candidate; too long has the Seeker Burden been thrust upon the Seeker Elite. They may be the ones to understand the creed of Nexus Prime best, but they have yet anything to show for it. You are still yet a Seeker because they have failed to find what they have been charged to locate.
'You are a scientist, as you have repeatedly told us. Your performance index at the Academy has been remarkable and character profile states that you are a persistent individual. These are worthy qualities. You can provide fresh perspectives on an age old quandary.'
Starscream's processors raced. He knew something was not right about the situation. Cybertron had not bothered with the Seeker Burden for vorns, since even before the Quintessons came. So why start now?
Which was not to say that the Seeker Burden was an unimportant task. Quite the opposite; it was the most sacred of all Cybertronian duties and it fell to the Seekers to complete it. Seekers were different from other Cybertronians and they could trace their heritage directly to one of the original Thirteen Primes, Nexus Prime.
Nexus Prime was the Guardian of Rarefied Energon. Rarefied Energon is the substance that sustained both Primus and Unicron. During the war between the two, Primus ordered Nexus Prime to conceal the Rarefied Energon, hoping to starve and weaken his opponent. Nexus Prime had divided himself into five separate components, hiding the energon across the galaxies. Then one of his brother Primes betrayed them and had tried to destroy Nexus. Megatronus Prime had managed to destroy two of Nexus Primes's components before Unicron was defeated and the Fallen Prime banished. But the location of the hidden Rarefied Energon could only be revealed if all five of Nexus Prime's components were functioning. Primus eventually succumbed to the lack of the energon and even though he forgave Nexus Prime for failing him, the Prime vowed to seek what he had misplaced with his three remaining components, who became the first Seeker trine. It was why Seekers always naturally formed trines and why they were so restless on the ground; they were bound by Nexus Prime's pledge.
What had seemed to be a sacred calling soon became something of a curse; the Seekers who were sent on the quest almost never came back and those few that did were missing a member or two of their trine. Seekers became wary of the seemingly suicidal mission. Elite Seekers were those who had spent hundreds of vorns studying Nexus Prime's records, calculating and attempting to chart possible sectors in the galaxy for the hidden Rarefied Energon before embarking on the task. No Elite Seeker had ever returned to Cybertron. The title of "Elite" became just that; a title, as the fervour towards the duty fell away.
Starscream hesitated again; knowing to outright refuse the Seeker Burden would be seen as nothing less than blasphemous. 'I do not have a trine,' he said finally, grasping at the last flimsy objection he had.
Omega-5 smiled slowly as he leaned forward in his seat and Starscream felt the sudden flash of terrible understanding. He felt his spark clench in horror even before the Consul spoke his next words.
'Yours is the most unorthodox of all Seeker expeditions yet. One more unconventional detail would be that your partner would be not a Seeker, but a colleague in the sciences; Skyfire. May Primus bless you and Nexus Prime guide you.'
Starscream shrieked in wordless anger, lunging to attack the Consul. Senate guards were immediately upon him, pressing him into the ground in an attempt to subdue him. He did not feel it when one of his wings was twisted painfully from its socket. The guards dragged him out even as he struggled wildly. Starscream was snarling incoherently in rage. For the briefest of moments, he managed to get free of the servos holding him. But before he could attack the Consuls, one of the guards hit him hard enough at the back of his helm that he felt something snap in his processor. Starscream went down heavily, optics fritzing. His motor coordination routines were rebooting so he found himself unable to move.
The place was in an uproar; the senators were on their pedes, shouting. Starscream could only stare at the Consuls, hearing everything fade into a dull roar. Alpha-7 was looking at him, the expression on his faceplate was hard. Starscream saw the Consul's mouthplates move; Till All are One.
Starscream keened weakly, shutting his optics. Rough servos grabbed him and dragged him away.
He knew why the Senate had summoned him now. He cursed himself for being so naive. He should have paid better attention to politics. If he did, he might have known how many enemies he had made with his research into a cure for cybonix, and how many of those enemies were senators who had large investments with MechTech. And Skyfire! Poor Skyfire; his greatest misfortune was to be friends with someone like Starscream. It didn't matter that Starscream had not shared the details of his research with the gentle shuttle; Skyfire was guilty by association.
Alpha-7's faceplate rose in his processor.
Till All are One – Farewell, Seeker. We don't expect either of you to ever return alive.
She threw her weight to the side, lowering her centre of gravity as she took the sharp turn along the winding road. Her wheels skidded and for a brief moment, she thought she might lose control and crash. Then her wheels caught traction and she rocketed forward. She was ahead, but just barely. She could hear the aggressive snarling of engines behind her.
She wove from side to side, blocking the mech from overtaking her. She wanted to laugh as the mech revved his engines noisily in frustration.
::Is that the best you have?:: she taunted over the commlines. The mech didn't reply, but his engine roared even louder.
She honestly could not recall a time when she had this much fun, the energon and coolant rushing through her lines. It was exhilarating. Her frame was light and streamlined, designed for speed. But the mechs she was competing with were no pushovers. They too were well-designed and had high performance engines within their chassis. Her position at the front of this little race was a hard-won advantage.
The communications tower that represented their finish line was just around the corner and she pushed her systems as hard as she could. The mech behind her feinted to the right and she fell for it, moving to block him. He quickly took the opportunity to move into position next to her.
Frustrated, she spat static at him, trying to manoeuvre to the front again but was unsuccessful. The two were matched for speed. So centred was she on the mech beside her that she failed to notice the other competitor until he was flushed against her other side.
Competitiveness flushed her and she started cursing over the commlines. The two mechs merely laughed at her, matching her speed exactly until they crossed the finish line.
::A three-way tie!:: one of the mech's cried out gleefully.
She transformed immediately and kicked the mech nearest to her.
::Hey!:: he protested and then transformed, the other mech following suit.
Undercut rubbed his shin and pouted while Uppercut held up his servos in mock surrender, grinning widely.
Elita glared at the two. 'Either one of you wins or you let me win. Enough with the ridiculous ties! If we have another "three-way-tie" I'm gonna kick your afts so hard even your faceplates will be dented.'
Undercut gaped at her in astonishment before he broke down in peals of laughter. He had to grasp onto Uppercut for support. Even the usually stoic Uppercut was chuckling, looking amused. She glared at them until her annoyance disappeared and soon she was giggling along with them.
'Whatever happened to femmes being delicate creatures of gentle dispositions?'
She reached out to swat Undercut playfully but he danced out of reach. After a few more moments of playful banter, they scaled up the sides of the communications tower and settled themselves comfortably on the lower deck. Elita wound her arms around the railings and rested her helm on a column. Her pedes swung in lazy circles, dangling off the platform.
Her two companions settled themselves next to her, staring out onto the cityscape of Iacon. The night cycle was going to fall soon.
Elita was still amazed that she got along with the two mechs so well, considering their first meeting orns ago. They seemed friendly enough – well, Undercut was the more sociable of the two but Uppercut soon warmed up and accepted her presence. Despite her initial wariness and misgivings, the two mechs had been nothing but friendly and respectful.
'Here,' said Undercut, unsubspacing and passing her a small cube of high grade energon. He pulled out another two and passed one to Uppercut.
Politely, they waited for her to take a sip from her own cube before partaking in theirs.
Elita's optics widened when she tasted the high grade. It was quite unlike anything she had tasted before. It was sweet, with subtle hints of barium and polonium. She took another sip in wonder. She turned to Undercut.
'Where did you get this?' she demanded, holding the small cube up.
'What?' Undercut looked confused. 'It's mine.'
Elita shook her head. 'No, I know you brought it... I meant where did you get it? I haven't tasted high grade like it before. I love it!'
'Thanks,' he replied, grinning at her.
There was a sharp clang as Uppercut kicked him in the shins.
'Sorry,' he said, glaring at the red mech. 'My hydraulics is a bit temperamental.' He turned to Elita, who raised a brow plate. 'What he means is that these are actually sample cubes. We got them off a friend.'
Undercut grimaced at Uppercut, and then carefully checked for chips in his finishing.
Elita glanced between the cube in her servo and the two mechs before her. 'You stole them, didn't you?' she asked suspiciously.
'No!' they both denied at once. The two exchanged a glance.
'Really, we didn't. These cubes were procured by honest means.'
'Mmm,' Elita hummed with a disbelieving look on her faceplates, but she left it at that. She drank the last dredges of the liquid, wishing there was more. 'Your friend must be good friends with the brewer than.'
Undercut grinned and nodded his helm. 'Oh yes... they are very close,' he said conspiratorially, putting an emphasis on the last word.
Elita ignored it when Uppercut kicked the other mech again. She subspaced the empty cube and stood, brushing herself off.
She smiled at them and gave each mech a quick friendly brush with her EM field.
'I better head back.'
'We'll accompany you,' Uppercut offered immediately.
Elita smiled in thanks.
The three of them made their way leisurely back into the city. As per her request, a street away from the Towers, her companions slowed and pulled into the curb. They flashed their lights at her. Elita slowed to a stop as well.
::Thank you.:: she broadcasted over their common frequency.
::No problem, Ariel.:: Undercut replied.
Elita cringed guiltily when the mech used the false designation she had supplied him. She turned to leave and then hesitated.
::Same time next cycle?:: she asked hopefully.
::Ahh... Sorry, we won't be able to make it. Got something planned.:: said Undercut regretfully.
Elita deflated a little. ::Oh well... next time then?::
::Make sure you bring more of that high grade.:: she teased.
The two mechs chuckled over the frequency.
::As much as you like.::
Elita flicked her lights her them and then continued down the street. The two mechs kept a careful optic on her until she safely entered the Towers.
The golden mech nudged the other. ::Idiot, you almost gave us away.::
The other mech sighed and then pulled away from the curb, merging seamlessly into the street traffic. ::Yeah, I know. This double-life-secret-identity thing is hard!::
Sunstreaker hummed in agreement. ::Come on, we have a lot of errands to do before the showing tomorrow.::
Sunstreaker added some speed and overtook his brother, leading the way. Sideswipe followed complacently behind.
A few streets later, Sideswipe cursed over their commlines.
::I'll catch up with you later, alright?:: Sideswipe said before executing a u-turn.
::Where are you going?:: the golden mech demanded, slowing down.
::It's Jazz. I'm just gonna meet him up. I'll come back as soon as I can.::
Sunstreaker braked to a sudden stop, almost causing a pile up as other mechs driving behind him had to swerve to avoid crashing into his back. He ignored them as they cursed at him.
::You're not going alone. I'm coming with you.::
::Chill, bro. We're meeting outside the Tempered Turbine. It'll be fine.::
Engine growling indecisively, Sunstreaker remained at his spot. Then reluctantly, he spoke ::Fine, but you will check in with me every five breems.::
::The frag? You're not my sparksponsor!::
::Then I'm coming with you.:: Sunstreaker said determinedly, preparing to go after Sideswipe.
::Alright! Primus. I'll check in.::
::Every five breems.:: Sunstreaker warned.
::Yes, fine.:: Sideswipe huffed in irritation.
Sunstreaker started rolling forward, continuing on to his original destination. ::I'll see you later.:: he said and then cut the line before Sideswipe could reply with a snarky comment.
Sideswipe accelerated down the streets, going above the prescribed speed limits. Twice, he received speed infraction warnings from the traffic surveillance network. Both times he pinged back with his designation and caste identity and the notices automatically disappeared.
If he had optics in his current alt mode, Sideswipe would have rolled them as he sent a quick text based message to this twin at the five breem mark: STILL ALIVE.
Barely an astrosecond later the reply came: I KNOW.
It wasn't as if Sunstreaker didn't have good reason to be a paranoid glitch; crime rates were rising and with the added complication of being split-spark twins and everything that entailed, it was just better that they stayed together to watch out for one another. Still, Sideswipe thought his brother to be a tad bit over-protective at times.
His commline beeped and he answered.
::And you better put an end to the drug deals, Undercut.:: Sunstreaker reminded, putting an emphasis on the street name Sideswipe had chosen for himself. ::Our dear sparksponsor would find out sooner or later and he will blow a gasket.::
::This will be the last time.:: promised Sideswipe. ::I'm almost there. I'll talk to you later.::
Sideswipe pulled up outside the pub and transformed. He glanced about searchingly. The mech he was looking for was ensconced in the small service lane beside the Tempered Turbine. He double-checked that his caste identity emitter was suppressed before approaching the other mech.
'Where have you been?' Jazz asked, shifting his weight from pede to pede impatiently.
The red mech started, staring at Jazz. He could hardly recognise the mech now. Where the Jazz he had seen a few orns ago was smartly polished with gleaming silver plating, the mech before him now looked scruffy and was badly in need of a good wash and wax. There was a layer of dirt encrusting the other mech's pedes and when Sideswipe took the opportunity to run a surface scan, found that even basic maintenance had been neglected.
'Jazz?' he said uncertainly.
The other mech shuffled forward and Sideswipe could see the tiny tremors that shook the mech's frame.
'Are you alright?' he asked, concerned.
'I am now that yer here,' Jazz said. He reached into his subspace and withdrew a credit chip and thrust it out for Sideswipe to take. 'Here. I just need one more hit before the show. Make it quick; I'm on in a coupla breems.'
'Hey hey!' Sideswipe said, holding up his palms and backing away from the mech who was crowding into his personal space. 'Take it slow, mech.'
'I need a unit now, mech. I ran out joors ago,' Jazz whined pitifully, edging closer desperately.
Uncomfortable now, Sideswipe dodged the other mech and unsubspaced a vial of Zyrgonate. Jazz dropped the credit chip and lunged for the substance but Sideswipe held if aloft with one servo and fended Jazz off with the other.
'Jazz... Jazz!' Sideswipe held off the silver mech with a servo pressed to Jazz's chestplate. Jazz's optics which were locked hungrily onto the vial reluctantly focused onto Sideswipe's faceplates. A shiver ran down Sideswipe's back struts at Jazz's disturbingly vacant expression. Mustering his determination, he spoke slowly to the other mech, 'Jazz, this will be the last time I'll be dealing. Do you hear me? I'm not doing this anymore. Don't try to contact me, mech, not for Zyrgonate.'
'But...' Jazz whispered, staring hollowly, 'Where am I to get more?'
Side shoved the mech away. 'You don't. Get yourself cleaned up, Jazz. You're too dependent on Zyrgonate and it isn't good for you. You have to learn to live your life without it.'
An ugly dark expression twisted the other mech's features and Sideswipe found himself shoved to the ground. The other mech perched on his chest, snarling and trying to pin him down with his smaller frame. After a brief scuffle, Jazz tore the vial from the red mech's grasp and leaped away.
'Life?' Jazz hissed angrily, optics never leaving Sideswipe as he unsubspaced the pneumatic gun and inserted the new cartridge. Sideswipe picked himself off the floor and kept his distance warily.
'Life is no longer a choice for me. I don't wanna live in this fragged up world knowing it's fragged up. I don't want this life; there is no reason for me to live. But who needs reasons when you've got Zyrgonate?'
With that, Jazz flicked the dial on the pneumatic gun with practiced ease. He pressed it against his neck cabling and pulled the trigger. The angry expression on his faceplate smoothed immediately and an astrosecond later, Jazz swayed and groped the wall for balance. He slid down the surface of the wall until he was half-sprawled on the ground.
Sideswipe stared down at the Jazz, feeling chilled to the core. The mech's optics were wide and unseeing and he had a disquietingly happy smile on his lips. Sideswipe didn't notice it at first, but if he strained his audios, he could hear Jazz humming a simple four bar melody, over and over and over again.
Horrified, Sideswipe staggered backwards but was unable to look away. 'I'm sorry, Jazz,' he choked out. 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' he moaned repeatedly. Unable to bear the horrible sight of Jazz's happy emptiness, Sideswipe turned and fled.
Sunstreaker could sense the emotional turmoil over their bond and immediately demanded what was wrong.
::Primus...Everything, Sunny.:: Sideswipe tone was shaky and he reached out for the other half of his spark for comfort. He compacted the last few breems into a data packet and forwarded it to Sunstreaker.
There was a moment of silence as Sunstreaker took in the information and then the golden twin's presence was enveloping his spark, strong and reassuring. ::I should have been there.:: Sunstreaker murmured regretfully, trying to soothe away Sideswipe's horror.
::I messed up, Sunny. I messed him up. And for what? For what?:: he cried. ::It was a stupid plan! It was never going to work.::
The sudden wail of sirens beside him startled Sideswipe and he swerved in surprise, almost clipping the Pacekeeper that had pulled up next to him. Belatedly, he realised that he had received a traffic infraction notice warning him to reduce his speed. He was too caught up with the situation with Jazz, to have deflected such notices with the caste identity ping as he usually did.
Sideswipe slowed a fraction, acknowledging the Pacekeeper's presence before pinging the mech with his designation and caste identity. The mech immediately dropped behind him respectfully and cut off his sirens.
::Apologies, sir.:: the blue and gold Pacekeeper said politely. ::I didn't realise who you were.::
::It is of no consequence.:: Sideswipe replied, surprising himself that he managed to sound so calm. ::My caste identity emitter has been acting up lately and I have not yet the chance to see someone about it.::
:Yes, sir. May I enquire as to where you are going with such haste? I may be of some assistance.::
Sideswipe hesitated a moment but then remembered the terrible emptiness he had seen in Jazz and suddenly just wanted to be with his twin. If he were honest with himself, Sideswipe didn't want to be alone right now either and a Pacekeeper escort was starting to sound like a great idea.
He sent the mech his destination's coordinates and the Pacekeeper carefully pulled in front of Sideswipe. Once in position, the mech switched on his sirens and flashing lights and accelerated. Sideswipe followed the mech as the Pacekeeper cut a straight path through the traffic, the Gamma mechs parting to give way to them both.
Sunstreaker was in his root form, waiting outside the building when the two arrived. Sideswipe thanked the Pacekeeper and then dismissed the mech. The Pacekeeper turned and drove back the way he came. Sideswipe transformed and he didn't realise he was trembling until Sunstreaker placed a servo on his shoulder. Wordlessly, the golden twin pulled the other mech into a hug, pressing their chassis together. Sideswipe clutched desperately at Sunstreaker and eventually the erratic fluctuations of his own spark settled to pulse in the same rhythm as his twin's.
'I've got to fix this,' he muttered when he finally pulled away.
Sunstreaker said nothing as he looked at his brother.
'Fix what?' came a voice behind Sideswipe and the red mech cringed. 'What have you broken this time?'
Sideswipe whirled around and plastered a weak grin on his faceplate. 'Nothing, sparksponsor.'
The older mech regarded him suspiciously before turning his gaze on Sunstreaker, who remained silent. He hummed consideringly and then shook his helm in resignation. 'Let us just go inside,' he said leading the way.
Sideswipe started to follow the mech in but paused when the private commline between Sunstreaker and him chimed.
::I'll help you.::
He smiled gratefully at his twin, feeling some of the guilty anxiety in his spark ease. They will figure something out. They were going to help Jazz out of the mess Sideswipe had accidentally gotten him into.