Transformers Prime: Dangerous Liaisons

Chapter Eight

He had been at peace, enveloped by a sweet release that had brought to a close the torment. Part of him had railed against it, seeing the face of Arcee, Jessica, his mother and friends, all those that would be denied a farewell.

He had wanted to hold on, understanding the importance of the mystery he had yet to unravel in his mind. But the agony had been too great, and, despite his will, his body had simply yielded to the abyss.

Then blinding white light had filled his vision, and he could once more feel the chill of the metal table under him, and the fire that racked his body. The shock of it overwhelming, Jack screamed, a haunted, tormented cry escaping his lips.

"Shush now. You're back with me, sweet Jack." Airachnid's voice crooned, cold yet melodious, her deadly fingers tracing the lines of blood that had forms along his cheeks. "You tried to leave me. But I can't let you do that to me Jack. No, we still have so much to do. I still have so many things that I want..."

Try as he might, he could not hold back the tears that seeped from the corner of his eyes, his waking nightmare too much to bare. He had given everything, tried to hold firm against the Decepticon Femme's interrogation, and had managed to keep the secret of what Primus had entrusted to him.

But then his body had betrayed him, succumbing to the cuts and burns, to the toxin Airachnid had injected into him. But the interrogator had used her knowledge and skills to pull him back, again and again. Now, it was his mind that threatened to give.

"Oh, I know Jack. I know how terrible this is." She whispered into his ear with the barest hint of sympathy. "I can make it stop. I can have you feeling whole again. Just tell me what's in here," She murmured, running a razor tipped finger along his brow. "What is the threat the humans are so afraid of? It isn't Starscream or any other Decepticon. That I would have learned on my own." She continued mater of factly.

"The pathetic creatures that were waiting for you here didn't have your strength Jack. They told me so much. They didn't have any secrets left in the end. But all they could tell me was that you had something in your head. Something that might save this sad little world. But what is it? And what would you be saving it from?" Airachnid gazed with almost loving eyes, lit with insanity, into Jack's own, imploring him to answer.

"I know…I know…" Jack began to stammer.

"Yes?" Airachnid asked eagerly, cradling his head between her hands. "Come now, Jack. Tell me and I can release you. Make it all better. Tell me."

"I know…" Jack croaked through a throat raw from screaming. "What K.O. Diner put's…in it's secret sauce. You don't…want to know." He told her, agonized laughter mixed with his tears.

Airachnid merely stared blankly, her neural matrix trying to process the teen's latest act of defiance, despite all she had done. Then she wrapped her long finger around his face, squeezing in cold fury.

"You have such a strong heart, Jack." She hissed, her gripped fingers drawing blood, Jack's cries muffled beneath them. "I'd really like to see it!" She shrieked, using the fingers of her free hand to cut into his chest, his screaming almost inaudible.

She had barely sliced past skin when something clinked behind her, Airachnid abandoning her work to twist around in a blur, bladed fingers extended, fangs pared, seeking prey. She saw only the empty lab, sterile and quiet save for the writhing form on the table behind her.

She wondered, absently, if her wanton lust for blood was getting the better of her, shattering her calculated plans. Coming fully back to herself she looked back at the by product of her surgical rage, at Jack's ravaged body on her table. She sighed, chastising herself.

'Sloppy.' She mused. 'And now paranoid. Perhaps it's time to avail myself of this wretched hovel.' She ventured. 'Jack and I can continue to enjoy each other's company on the ship. Yes. That's so much better.'

Content at her choice, Airachnid gave Jack's chin a gentle tap, the teen once again unconscious. "Might be best if I took you back to my place, Jack. Then we can really enjoy ourselves…" She purred, a delighted chuckle rising in her throat.

Then something landed on her back, driving a discarded human scalpel into the thick alloy fiber of her neck. She hissed at the damage, reaching back to seize her attacker, appalled at the arrogance.

What she held her hand seemed barely alive, a human female, adorned in shredded, blood soaked fatigues, blond silvery hair burned away, along with a portion of her pale face and what had once been a beautiful green blue eye. Airachnid sneered, holding her now limp prize up like a mangled trophy.

"Survived the explosion, did you?" She laughed. "I should almost feel pity, considering what's left of you." She held the woman close. "All that skill and bravery, with what you did to poor Crosswire. And now trying to save dear Jack with your last breath. So Nobel and nothing to say?"

The human female mumbled something, too quiet for Airachnid to hear. Eyes narrowed, she looked more closely. "What was that?" The Deception asked.

Jessica's hand shot up with one quick motion. "I said eye for an eye bitch." Then she put the barrel of the pistol to Airachnid's face and fired. The bullet shattered the torturer's glowing optic, and she screamed, dropping Jessica to the floor in surprised agony, clawing at her broken socket.

Jessica hit the ground, feeling the fire of every burnt and shattered part of her. She fought through the pain, watching the alien psychotic thrash about the lab, screaming and flailing, hurling curses in her blind outrage. Jessica pushed herself to her feet, the fractured bones in her arm, legs and ribs crying in protest as they had when she had awoken in what had been left of the CIC, it's computers and terminals blasted apart by the Cybertronian explosive device.

Her speed, training and luck was the only reason she had cheated death, though the price, she could feel, had been high. She staggered towards the make shift torturer's rack Airachnid had assembled, hoping to reach Jack before the Deception regained some semblance of control. She found his body almost as ravaged as hers, secured in place and still breathing, though with a pulse that was weak.

"Come on…Jack." She muttered through split, swollen lips. "No time…to be lying around Soldier."

Jessica pulled feebly at the buckles holding Jack's arms and legs, the blood she had lost in the slow, plodding and agonizing rush through the complex in search of her compatriot having taken it's toll.

She had barely had the strength to leap upon the Decepticon's exposed back, and had fear she wouldn't even be able to fire the gun. While she had found the strength, her spinning head and blurring vision made it clear she nearly had nothing left. But she wasn't going to let Jack die, not without giving it everything she had.

Then long bladed fingers raked her back and she was falling, hitting the cold, blood smeared tile below. One of those same bladed fingers pierced her shoulder, and she found she didn't even have the strength to cry out.

Gazing down at her, one optical socket a smoking ruin, Airachnid's face was a twisted mask of sadistic rage. "Eye for an eye?!" She shrieked, producing a burning ember from a finger on her other hand, aiming for Jessica's face. "Let's go two for two, shall we?!"

Then a long blade exploded from the Decepticon's chest and the Cybertronian woman wailed in anguish. Arcee wrapped an arm around the Femme's throat, her own face ablaze with unbridled hatred.

"Join your boyfriend in the Abyss you scraping piece of…" Arcee drove the blade up, severing vital components, cutting into Airachnid's spark chamber, the killer's blue tinted blood spilling out of her. Fluids seeping even from her lips the Decepticon choked on the blackest of curses, her remaining eye on Jack, before the light of her spark dimmed and she was, finally, still.

Arcee pulled her sword arm free, letting her centuries old foe crumple to the floor. "For my friends." She spat. She stooped quickly to check on Jessica, who waved her away. "Jack…" she managed, before she finally collapsed, her body spent.

Arcee practically leapt across the room, having only glimpsed when she had entered what had been done to her love. The teen's body was a horror of surgical nightmares, cuts, cauterized wounds, and burns of every degree sat like patch work across every exposed part of him. Arcee knew, were she capable of it, she would have wept for what had been done to him.

"Jack?" She pleaded, imploring him to wake. "You're safe now. It's over. You can wake up." She whispered, trying to wipe away the blood on his face. She could detect his life signs, and she knew he was alive, but so weak was the signal that she feared how long it would endure. She needed a Land Bridge, she had to get him back home.

Moving with as much speed as she could manage after her battle with Crosswire she had tried to contact the Silo but had not been able to get through, the residual trace of the EM Shield still interfering. Now that she had Jack, she had to get them all topside to try again.

She slipped her hands gently beneath him, lifting the teen slowly from the table. Then she heard an all too familiar sound. Footfalls, and human. And the clink of human weapons. Arcee cradled Jack in one arm, bringing out her Canon with the other, waiting to unleash hell on any further threat.

The humans flooded into the labs, armed with assault rifles and adorned in deep green jumpsuits and night vision goggles of a type she had seen once before, over a year ago. They fanned out, flanking her and Jack on all sides, sweeping the room for any other targets, taking stock of the deceased Decepticon before them. One of the faceless commandos took notice of the unconscious Jessica, rushing forward to check her.

"We have her. She's alive." Arcee heard him say to someone out of sight over a radio link. Moments later she could hear another set of steps coming quickly and then they were joined by the only figure in the room not adorned in MECH colors, instead the woman wore a long red coat, her stern face lined by platinum hair so much like…then Arcee could see the resemblance, and she knew. She understood everything.

"If you think I'll let you take him…" She growled.

"I'm not here for him, alien. We've paid too high a price already." She countered coolly, moving with precise, measured steps towards the young woman that was so clearly her daughter. She bent, taking a moment to brush aside Jessica's singed hair, exposing the severity of the charred flesh which claimed one side of her face.

While it might have been imperceptible to the commandos around her, Arcee could see the barest glimmer of emotion in the older woman's eyes, the slight lump that formed in her throat. Arcee could see the sorrow a mother felt for her daughter.

"Will she live?" She asked the medic that had rushed to Jessica's side.

"She's stable, ma'am." He answered as he and another medic moved the young woman onto a stretcher. "But we need to Evac her, ASAP."

"What about them?" The lead solider added, having retrained his weapon on Arcee.

Jessica's mother eyed the Autobot and her charge with a stoic, calculating stare. Then her eyes swept over Airachnid's still form. "Did you do this to both of them?" She asked Arcee, looking between Airachnid and Jessica.

"No." Arcee answered. "Just to the Decepticon. Jessica tried to help Jack. She must have been hurt when the three of us were separated. If it wasn't for her Jack would be dead, or gone."

This elicited a look of curiosity from the older woman, but little else. After a few moments of silence she spoke directly to the Squad leader. "Major, get my daughter out of here."

"What about Director Silas? He wanted the boy and any Cybertronians taken into custody as well."

"What the Director wants is not my concern. I agreed to retrieve the Lieutenant and I've done so." Her tone left no room for rebuttal.

"Yes, ma'am." The Major replied crisply. "Let's move." He signaled to the MECH troopers.

"Wait…" Jessica said suddenly, raising a hand weakly to grip her mother's arm as the woman walked beside the lifted stretcher. Jessica's mother leaned close as her daughter whispered something briefly into her ear. Then the Lieutenant was still, having fallen unconscious once more.

The older woman stood slowly, her gaze distant, taken off guard by whatever she had been told. She looked back to where Arcee still stood with Jack. Then she cleared her throat, speaking with as much sincerity as she could muster.

"If you come with us, I'll ensure the young Mr. Darby's care until he can be handed off to your Task Force associates. You have my word neither of you will be harmed or held against your will in any capacity."

"And why would I believe you? Last time we tangled with MECH you tried to steel government tech and kill us."

"Firstly, I was not a part of the operation which exposed our organization to you, nor do I have any vested interest in you. At present. My priorities reside, understandably, elsewhere. And, secondly, I don't expect you to believe me. Instead, trust her." She added, looking down at Jessica. "This is her request."

Arcee mulled over that. She could not deny that Jessica had risked her life, grievously injured as she was, to help save Jack. She could not believe the young woman had done all that merely to hand Jack over to MECH. Despite all her previous misgivings, she knew she had one thing in common with Jessica, and that, for her, was enough.

"Agreed." Arcee answered. "Help him, please." She asked.

The older woman nodded to the MECH Major who, in turn, motioned his Troopers into action, another medic moving forward to see to Jack. It took only moments to secure the teen on a second stretcher and then they were off, moving for the surface level to leave the Island behind.

. . .

"Ow!" Jack reeled, pulling away from an overly jubilant Miko. "Careful. Tender bits." He told her with a look that was only partially chastising.

"Sorry," She answered sheepishly, giving him a look of sympathy. "Forgot. Just…happy to see you up and about.

"Thanks. Good to be out of that Hospital bed. Been in a few more then I'd like to be honest." He added sardonically. The pair moved from the front hall into Jack's room at the far end of the house.

"Yeah," Miko agreed, looking down at her feet. "This job's got, like, a great Health Plan though, right?" The teen girl's laugh was halfhearted at best as she eyed the still visible bandages beneath Jack's shirt and the shiny patches of still healing skin on his face. Following her gaze, Jack sighed.

"Miko, I'm alright. It's been a month. It was hard going getting back on my feet, I'll admit. But I'm good to go. Whatever I know that I haven't figured out yet is still too important for me to hang back on the side lines licking my wounds."

"Arcee doesn't think so. When I left she was pretty livid when Optimus mentioned the President still wanting you to let 'em poke around your head." Miko explained, grabbing the desk chair across from where he sat on the bed. "I'm talking heated. Even Bulk gave her space."

"Yeah, well, things were…hard, on both of us. No one could have guessed how badly things would go." Jack reasoned. "Arcee knows that. She's just…having a hard time believing that things are as quiet as they seem. I can't blame her for that." He looked out the bedroom window to the afternoon outside.

"Sometimes I hear something or get a sense that someone's watching me. Then I remember what happened and," Jack's gaze was vacant for a moment, then he buried the memory and shook himself back into the present. "But, no rest for the wicked right?"

"Totally. We should get paid overtime or something." Miko observed. "I mean I know I deserve a raise." The pair laughed at that, thankful for the momentary levity. The other teen favored her boots another look, then gazed over at Jack. "Your Mom told me you really haven't told her much about what happened. Even after she threatened to kill you once you got out of the hospital." Miko grinned. "I'm glad she doesn't blame Arcee for you getting hurt, but maybe keeping her in the dark, and us to, isn't all that great. I mean, if you want to talk about it…"

"I don't." Jack answered sharply, the hostility in his tone unintentional. "I'm sorry Miko. I…appreciate the concern. But, I've just got my own stuff to deal with. Maybe after we figure out what Primus put in my head I can…talk. About stuff."

"Sure. That's cool." Miko assured him. "I'm just…I'm glad you're okay."

"Thanks." Jack told her. Then his cell phone began to ring. Checking the number, Jack frowned.

"Who is it?" Miko asked.

"I don't recognize the number." He replied. Miko exchanged a look, then shrugged. After a minute of uninterrupted ringing, Jack answered the cell cautiously. "Hello?"

"Mr. Darby?" The woman's voice, deep and somewhat husky, inquired. "I trust I have the correct number?"

"I, uh…who is this?" Jack asked, giving a confused look to Miko.

"You wouldn't remember me. Not by voice in any matter. You and I never did converse, either before or after we ensured your return to the mainland."

The woman's identity was suddenly clear, having learned from Arcee, after waking up in a Navy Hospital, about their rescue by forces from MECH and the revelation of Jessica's true identity. What little they knew of it anyway.

"You're Jessica's mother." Jack confirmed. Miko could only offer a bewildered expression, having been told little to nothing about Jessica 'Cameron' or her involvement in the events on the island.

"Please, call me Veronica." The woman offered. "And, believe me when I say, that is a privilege few have."

"Okay." Jack answered carefully. "Since you're being so generous, can I ask?"

"Jessica?" Veronica ventured. "She's doing quite well. My daughter is an exceptional woman, as you are no doubt aware." The woman's pride was subtle, though evident. "She will carry her scars proudly, as I'm sure will you."

"I'm sure she'd be happier without those scars." Jack admonished.

"We all have scars, Mr. Darby. Some visible, some not. The ones we can see are the easiest. The one's we can't tend to be, I find, more problematic."

"What's this about, Veronica?" Jack interjected.

"My daughter has confided in me about one of the scars you bare, Mr. Darby. The one which weighs heavily on your conscious and the reason you were willing to subject yourself to government scientists." Veronica observed. "Noble. The more she has told me, and the more I've learned on my own, I have come to understand why she asked me what she did."

"And what was that, exactly?" Jack asked.

"Two words." Veronica replied. "Help him." Jack felt his brow crease at that. The words, spoken by the older woman, were heavy with something far more meaningful.

"Tell her I appreciate that. I owe her my life as much as I owe Arcee."

"That you do. But that, of course, brings me to heart of this call." Veronica explained. "Lieutenant Strickland is not a woman who so easily places value on a life above her own. While you and your compatriots may not completely understand or agree with what MECH is trying to achieve, Jessica has always understood, and has served our cause with unwavering dedication. I have never seen anything that could make her resolve waiver, even slightly." The older woman fell silent, and Jack could almost picture her mind at work, trying solve a puzzle she had yet to voice.

"This is," she continued. "Until she met you. Make no mistake, Mr. Darby, I hold no admiration for your Cybertronian allies. From where I stand they are invaders who have brought their conflict to our world when we already have more then our fare share. And now, as my daughter explained during her debriefing, they have also brought the eyes of a terrible and ancient threat down upon Earth and Humanity as well."

"It's more complicated then that." Jack countered. "They came here to find peace. To make a new home and to protect it, which they have. You might think they're all a threat, but if it weren't for Optimus, Arcee, and the other Autobots Earth would have fallen to Megatron or Starscream a long time ago. I doubt even MECH could have done anything about it."

"That remains to be seen, Mr. Darby. However, if this new threat is as overwhelming as you claimed to my daughter then we may never have the chance to find out. These Decepticons might be a problem MECH could deal with, in time. However, an ancient race that nearly conquered an entire advanced civilization of your alien allies coming to Earth poses a more, as you said, complicated matter."

"What does that mean?" Jack asked. "You want my help to fight them too?"

"On the contrary, Mr. Darby." Veronica corrected. "Per my daughter's request, it is I that would like to help you."

"How?" Jack inquired.

"That is an interesting question. And one I can not rightly answer at this time. Needless to say it will require some…work, on my part, to ensure that, when you need it, my help is available. For now, I can only offer a line of communication to the Initiative. With luck, our combined efforts may give us a fighting chance if this new threat is as grave as you fear it to be."

"I…I'll have to run this past Optimus and the others. I won't speak for them or make any promises I can't keep." He told Veronica bluntly.

"Again, you warrant my respect Mr. Darby. I would expect no less from you." She answered calmly. "By all means, pass this on to your allies, and let it be clear that I will do all I can so that they need have no fear of MECH."

"Okay." Jack replied, unsure of what more to say and sensing that the conversation was at an end. "Please, give Jessica my best. And tell her thank you."

"Oh, if I know my daughter, you'll surely have the chance to tell her yourself." Veronica answered, her tone almost mirthful. "Do take care of yourself, Mr. Darby. I can not help but wonder if our world may very well depend on it." Then the line clicked and Jack was left to merely stand there, cell in hand.

"Jack?" Miko asked after a minute. "What the heck was that all about?"

"I'm…not sure." He answered truthfully. "But, I think we might have just gotten another ace in the deck."

Miko looked at him blankly. "Say what?"

"Nevermind." Jack said with a smile. "Come on. Think I've got a Prime to talk to."

. . .

"While I share your distaste for this, Arcee, I none the less agree with our human allies that pursuing the data entrusted to Jack remains a vital endeavor." Optimus explained calmly, having only just concluded yet another video conference with the U.S. President. Across from him, stalking back and forth across the control center, Arcee did little to hide her frustration.

"He's only just recovered, Optimus." She countered heatedly. "You know as well as anyone how special he is to everything we're fighting for. How special he is to me." She shook her vehemently. "I will not put him back out there for the next 'con to…you didn't see what that scraping witch did to him. I could kill her a hundred times and I wouldn't be satisfied."

"We all share in your anger, Arcee. And I take great satisfaction in knowing that our resurrected foe and Airachnid now reside in the Abyss for the evils they have wrought." Optimus reached out to steady her, a firm hand on her shoulder.

"Yet, many lives were lost for the sake of unraveling the mystery of what Jack may know, knowledge which could be all that stands between a bright future, or the subjugation of Earth." The Prime gazed into her eyes, the weight of his great wisdom and age pressing down on her. "I know Jack would not wish for lives to have been lost needlessly. He would want their sacrifice to mean something. If Earth falls to the Quintessons, it will all have been for naught."

Arcee could think of nothing to say to refute the Prime's words. She knew, as he always was, that the Autobot leader was right. She wanted to scream at the misfortune that had befallen Jack, furious at how consistently fate seemed to want them parted. After all she had been made to loose, she had sworn to hold on to at least one thing, yet she seemed powerless in the face of a greater, uncertain destiny.

"If Jack agrees to try again, I want more then just me watching out for him. We're a family. You've said it yourself. We stay together to keep him, Miko, and Raphael safe. If the Government doesn't like it, they can go to Unicron's Inferno." Arcee swore with cold certainly.

"Well said. And I agree." Optimus answered, a small smile on his polymer face. "I have said as much to the American President, and Agent Fowler has made it doubly clear I will not be questioned in this matter. When next Jack is placed into their care we move with him, as one."

Arcee nodded, wrapping a hand in thanks around his own. As before she felt she understood the bond between Jack and his mother June. In looking upon her leader and mentor, she had some semblance of what it meant to love a father.

"Forgive the interruption, Optimus," Ratchet interjected apologetically. "But Jack is in-bound with Miko and Bulkhead. He says he has important news."

"Open a Land-Bridge, Ratchet. Given what resides ahead of us, time is of the essence." The Prime instructed. The Autobot medic quickly keyed in the trio's coordinates, opening the swirling incandescent gateway to them, Bulkhead's SUV form rumbling into the central Hub. The hulking warrior waited for his passengers to step out before shifting into his Bi-Pedal state.

"You won't believe who gave Jackie Boy a ring, Optimus. I almost didn't believe it myself until…"

"Bulkhead!" Miko chastised. "Let Jack tell them."

"Oh. Right." The behemoth offered, going silent.

"Jack?" Arcee asked. "You okay? I promised your mother I would keep you at home while she and Fowler are in Washington."

"Don't worry, she knows what happening. Not that she was all that happy." Jack admitted. "But, this couldn't wait, and it's not something I wanted to relay over the phone."

"Understood Jack. I am none the less pleased to have you rejoin us." Optimus told him sincerely. "What has transpired?"

"You remember the woman Arcee told you about, the one who showed up with MECH Commandos to rescue Jessica?"

"Indeed. Agent Fowler has doubled his efforts to learn more about this woman and her connection to Silas and his Organization."

"Well, from how she made it sound, it might not exactly be his organization." Jack ventured.

"She contacted you?" Arcee asked.

"Gave me her name too." Jack told them. "Veronica. She called MECH The Initiative, made it sound like it's something even bigger then we thought. Doesn't look like their just a bunch of Tech thieves or terrorists. They sound like a small country."

"That is certainly disconcerting." Optimus observed. "What else did she impart to you?"

"Just that she understands the Earth can't fight whatever might be coming if we've all got different agendas. She gave me her word that she'd try to bring MECH to our side. She said Jessica asked her to help us, and she says she will."

"I can't imagine Silas, given our history, is going to go along with that plan." Arcee argued.

"Perhaps. But let us leave that battle to her, for now." Optimus responded cautiously. "It is enough to know that our list of allies grows in this conflict. It has ever been my hope that humanity could be brought together to protect our mutual home. This is, I feel, yet one more step towards that goal."

"While I share Arcee's concern, I agree with Optimus that it's certainly not an unwelcome turn of events." Ratchet added.

"Did she say anything about Jessica?" Arcee inquired, her tone measured. "Did she recover? Are we going to have to keep an eye out for her?"

"She did say that Jessica wouldn't keep to the sidelines in this thing." Jack admitted. "Good chance she'll show up somewhere. But I know it won't be as one of the bad-guys. She's in this with us. We wouldn't even have Veronica's support if it wasn't for her."

"Having witnessed your quality Jack, it does not surprise me in the slightest that she counts us, through you, as comrades in this struggle."

"It's good to know, yeah." Jack agreed. Arcee, for her part, kept her mixed emotions on the matter quiet.

"Then all that remains is to await your next choice in the matter of Primus's knowledge, Jack. When you are ready, we have all agreed to stand with you when the truth of what you carry is finally known."

"I'm ready, Optimus." The teen answered with certainty. "On that island I saw things in my dreams. I do believe that something powerful, something good, is trying to show me things we need to know. They're buried deep, trying to get to the surface. But we'll get the answered we need, and it'll give us a fighting chance." Jack eyes once again grew distant. "And I need to know, once and for all, why I was chosen for this."

"I feel I know the answer to that Jack." The Prime answered sagely and with great pride. "But, let the light of Primus within you open your eyes to what I have seen. It gives me great hope for the future that we will share in his great wisdom."

"I hope so too, Optimus." Jack told him, the pain in his body seeming further and further away.

Behind Ratchet, the Com-Board suddenly chimed, signaling an incoming transmission. The Autobot Medic answered, the central monitor filled with the familiar square jawed countenance of William Fowler.

"Agent Fowler. How goes matters in Washington?" Optimus inquired.

"They were fine, until a few minutes ago." Fowler answered, looking unusually shaken.

"What has happened?"

"You know the Marines stormed the R&D site, making sure the 'cons didn't come poking around in case Airachnid signaled them before Arcee put her down."

"Yes. Under normal circumstances I would have been alarmed to learn that her body was now in the hands of your Government. But, with what is coming, I believe it the least of our concerns."

"That's the problem." Fowler told them chillingly.

"What do you mean?" Arcee asked in alarm.

"Airachnid's body was taken to a secure top secret black site in the middle of the Sierra Nevada's until, I was told, she'd be handed off, in good faith, to you. There were only a handful of people in the Pentagon that even knew it's location." Fowler explained. "Didn't stop the 'cons from finding it. They blew the place apart to get her."

"Starscream retrieved Airachnid's corpse?" Ratchet asked incredulously. "Why would he risk a direct engagement with the Military for a dead rogue Decepticon?"

"There are a lot of people in Washington asking the same questions, and they want answers I don't have." Fowler looked to Optimus. "Is there any reason Starscream would want her?"

"I can not say with certainty, Agent Fowler." The Prime admitted. "Without the ruthless hand of Megatron, Starscream's machinations appear random and unknowable. She would be of little use reanimated as Cliffjumper was. Even now it is unclear whether Starscream had any hand in what became of our former comrade."

"Well, at least his body is lying at the bottom of the ocean." Fowler observed with satisfaction. "One less thing to worry about. Doesn't help us though that the other one's corpse is MIA."

"It is a matter of concern, of that we are in agreement." Optimus said. "If Airachnid was indeed retrieved by Starscream, let us hope it was merely to deprive our human allies with a shell from which to study the vulnerabilities of our mutual enemies."

"Arcee?" Jack asked gently, having seen the haunted expression that matched his own. "She's dead. Their both dead. We don't have to worry about either of them anymore." He told her, trying to convince her as much as he was himself.

After a breath, Arcee looked to him and nodded, trying to conceal the dread that suddenly turned the spark in her chest to ice. "Right. Their gone. Their just a distant nightmare. Nothing more." She smiled at him, saying with it and her eyes, as she always did, how much love she had for him and how thankful she was to have him there beside her. Jack's own gaze reciprocated. The pair turned their attention back to Optimus and Fowler.

"So? What's next for Team Prime?" The Agent inquired. "Jack's mother has been given complete clearance, so we're all set here."

"As are we, Agent Fowler." Optimus replied. "Jack's resolve is unshaken. It is time to find answers together and, likewise, face what comes next."

. . .

In dark tunnels deep in the Earth he moved, carrying in dutiful silence. No light lit the way before him, yet his eyes could see in shadow as though the sun, distant and cruel, shown down. After miles he came, at last, into the vast empty chamber. There he placed his burden upon the stone, piled like an altar.

His arms free to move, he opened his metallic fist, eerie violet light spilling forth to cast figures that seemed to sway and dance upon the walls. Cast in the baleful glow, the still form remained motionless and empty. The shard was raised, then, like a dagger, it came down, piecing cold hard metal. There came a sound, like wind rushing through a deep chasm, carrying voices with it.

The wail, hollow and full of anguish, joined the unholy symphony and the form on the crude altar rose as though lifted by invisible strings. On it's face a single eye, lit by purple fire, gazed out on a twisted visage.

"You have passed through Death." His echoing tones chanted, like a prayer. "And are reborn, as I am. By The Master's will, is this done."

His warped body seemingly whole, he reached up to touch the face of his Sister in Death. "Now, we will leave this place. He waits for us. Waits for us to welcome him, and we will build for him a Throne made from the armor and bones of his enemies." Though her eye seemed vacant, Airachnid's face turned to regard him, and Crosswire smiled.

"So it has been Foretold. So it will be."