"We now bring you live to the scene of the accident on I-84, where over twenty cars were involved in what can only be described as one of the most bizarre hit-and-run sprees in recent memory. Authorities have not given all the details, but they do say that it's incredibly fortunate that no one was killed. However, at least thirty people were injured, with twelve said to be hospitalized in serious condition…"
"Shut it off," groaned Prime, averting his optics from the screen.
Spike reached over and turned the television set off before looking up at the Autobot leader. "Were any of the Autobots hurt?"
"No," Prime replied, "but that hardly makes it better." He rose from his knees and moved to sit in one of the rec room's chairs, sighing gustily. "People are hurt, Spike… because the Autobots weren't able to protect them."
"You can't be everywhere, Prime sir," Spike pointed out. "You didn't know this was going to happen."
"We knew the Stunticons were still out there," he countered. "And we knew they wouldn't just go into hiding or quietly assimilate themselves into society. They were created to spread chaos and destruction, and even without Megatron around to give them orders they're going to continue to do exactly that. And they don't care if humans get hurt in the process."
Spike bit his lip, wishing he could say something to help. He and Bumblebee hadn't been there when the Stunticons had gone tearing up the freeway, ramming cars off the road and blasting craters in the asphalt, but he'd heard and seen enough on the news to wish he could have been there to do something. By the time any of the Autobots had gotten there, though, the Stunticons had finished their twisted game and taken off, leaving Prime and the others to simply try to clean up after them.
"Hoist and the Constructicons'll have the freeway cleared and repaired," Spike told him. "And thanks to Ratchet and First Aid we were able to get everyone to the hospital in time. Things'll work out."
"That doesn't change the fact that this happened," Prime insisted. "We can't just keep cleaning up the Stunticons' messes – we have to do something to stop them."
"Can't you capture them?" asked Spike. "We did that once before."
"They escaped," Prime pointed out. "And even if we were to keep them incarcerated, what do we do with them? Ship them back to Cybertron to be executed by the Council?"
"Hey, maybe they won't execute them," Spike suggested, trying to sound positive. "Maybe they'll just serve some prison time."
Prime gave him a skeptical look. "The Council is not known for being sympathetic to known Decepticons." He touched his chin thoughtfully. "We could take them in here, perhaps, and try to reform them… they may be destructive, but there has to be something worth saving in them. They have to have some good qualities."
"Good luck with that," Ironhide snorted, coming into the rec room at that moment. "Those lil' fraggers were made to be stupid punks. Crazy, murderous good-for-nothin' wastes of good metal."
Prime gave Ironhide a hard look. "Didn't you used to say that about certain other mechs? Like the twins?"
"Yeah, but those two ain't a whole lot better. Only difference 'tween them an' th' Stunts is that they weren't MADE to be nuts. They just turned out that way."
"Just turned out that way…" Prime went silent, musing over what Ironhide had just said.
Spike was about to ask what was on Prime's mind when two small mechs came charging into the room, howling at the tops of their vocalizers and swinging bars of painted metal at each other. One, silver and wearing a black sheet around his neck like a cape, carried a red bar and was trying to pitch his voice an octave deeper than it was meant to go. The other, red and white and carrying a blue bar, shrieked back but kept giggling throughout what was obviously supposed to be a very serious moment.
"Join the dark side!" Metronix bellowed, swinging his "lightsaber" at his foe's head.
"Never!" Starscream shouted back, batting Metronix's weapon aside. "You killed my father!"
"No, Luke, I am your father!" Metronix retorted.
"That's not true!"
"Search your feelings, you know it to be true!"
"Oh for the love of…" muttered Ironhide, and he reached down to grab both sparklings and force them apart. "Stop fightin'! You're gonna break someone's optic with those!"
"Aw, c'mon Ironhide, they're just playing," Spike laughed. "What's the harm in it?"
"Dented shins is what," Ironhide muttered. "They've been doin' this ever since Jazz had th' bright idea to show all the sparklin's those blasted movies."
"I'm Luke Skywalker!" Starscream declared, waving his toy lightsaber around. "I gotta go rescue the Princess!"
"Who's playing Princess Leia?" asked Spike with a laugh. "Did you glue cinnamon buns to Shockwave's helmet or something?"
Starscream gave Spike an incredulous look. "How'd you know?"
"C'mon, Starscream, we're in the middle of the good part!" Megatron insisted. "Where I get to chop off your hand!"
"Nobody's going to be chopping off anyone's hands," Prime said sternly.
"We weren't REALLY gonna cut it off," Starscream insisted.
"Nevertheless, you two need to find something quieter to play," Prime replied. "And find something softer to use than metal bars for your lightsabers."
"'Kay, Daddy," Metronix replied, sounding a little put out. Then his mood brightened. "Starscream, let's go play Rock Band."
Spike laughed as the two sparklings dropped their lightsabers and bolted for the large viewscreen on the other side of the room. "Who'd have thought Megatron and Starscream would end up being such adorable little kids?"
Ironhide tried to glare after the two little ones, but a fond smile kept threatening to break through. "I suppose they ain't TOO bad… they're at least shapin' up to be better than their old selves…"
"Exactly," Prime said suddenly. "That's it. That's what we'll do."
Spike and Ironhide exchanged a baffled look, then turned back to Prime. "Did… we miss part of this conversation?" Spike asked.
Prime chuckled. "My apologies. I got ahead of myself there." He motioned toward Metronix and Starscream, who were now whooping and cheering as they indulged themselves in a video game. "The solution to our Stunticon problem has been right in front of us all this time… we've just been too preoccupied to see it."
"You ain't meanin'…" began Ironhide.
"Think about it," Prime went on. "You said it yourself, Ironhide – the Stunticons were created to be destructive. That's all they've known their entire lives. They never spent time as sparklings, never had childhoods of any sort. If we give them what they missed out on, not only will we rid this planet of a dangerous menace, but we will help them become better mechs instead of simply sentencing them to deactivation or lives in prison. It's the perfect solution."
Spike had to admit it made sense. "Will the Council agree with it, though?"
At that, Prime's optics took on a positively wicked glint. "You humans have a saying – it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission."
Ironhide groaned. "We're gonna regret this."
Hound was fiddling with the settings on his hologram projector, trying to make the false rock pile he was hiding behind look real without looking hyper-realistic, when Mirage's voice pinged over the radio.
How did I get conscripted into this ludicrous scheme again?
The scout chuckled softly before replying. Because you can turn invisible and you're one of the best shots in the Autobot army. And consider it a compliment – Prime trusts you enough to handle the immobilizer. That's a good thing.
I'm not sure how well I enjoy being trusted with this… thing. What if it misfires?
Then consider it a chance to relive your childhood.
You're not helping.
Hound just laughed quietly and huddled down to wait. If his instincts and tracking skills proved correct – and they usually did – this road he and Mirage were camped out by led straight to the Stunticons' hideout in a remote corner of the Nevada desert. The trick now would be to wait until they felt like emerging to commit further mischief somewhere else. Seeing as oftentimes days, even weeks, would go by between their escapades, he and the spy could possibly be in for a rather long wait. Hopefully they didn't get on one another's nerves too badly by that point.
See anything? he asked.
Not so much as a buzzard flying overhead, Mirage noted. Are you sure this is the place?
Positive. They should be in that ghost town a couple miles down the road. I've seen them go in and out a few times.
It's hard to believe they could be this quiet for this long… wait. A tense pause. One of the buildings just collapsed. Yes, they're in there, all right.
Hound nodded, feeling a grin of excitement tug at his lip plates. Ready for this?
As ready as I'll ever be.
Good enough. He focused, and a second hologram materialized on the road before him. It's party time.
I wish you wouldn't call it that.
Oh, cheer up, Hound advised. This'll be fun. And he directed the hologram – the spitting image of Optimus Prime – to transform and drive away, heading directly for the Stunticons' hideout.
For a time the two Autobots were silent, the scout focused on controlling the projection and the spy doing his part not to break his concentration. It took considerable energy for Hound to maintain two holograms at once, and the farther away the Optimus hologram went, the more energy he expended in holding and directing it. If it went as far as a mile without results, he would have to recall it and re-energize before trying again.
Thankfully, that wouldn't be necessary today – a bellow of rage, audible even this far from the abandoned town, echoed through the air as Motormaster caught sight of the fake Prime, and the sudden roar of engines signaled that the Stunticons had taken the bait. Grinning widely, Hound deftly controlled the hologram, having it pull a U-turn and bolt away as if startled by the sudden appearance of Motormaster's team. He even did his best to create realistic dust clouds in its wake, so as not to spoil the illusion.
You waste energy on details, Mirage noted. The Stunticons are idiots – they aren't going to notice such minor things as dust clouds.
They're not… as dumb… as you think, Hound managed to get out, still trying to concentrate on the hologram. No more… talking… until this is over… please.
The hologram shot past at that moment, eerily silent. In contrast, the Stunticons whooped and roared and cackled as they approached their hiding places, in hot pursuit of Motormaster's hated rival… and passing directly between Hound and Mirage.
The sound of the immobilizer going off was unlike any weapon Hound was familiar with – it screeched like a bottle rocket, seeming to tear through the rumble of engines and the angry noise of the Stunticons. A ball of blue plasma seemed to appear out of nowhere, streaking directly toward the five vehicles. Too late they spotted the blast, and for a moment there was chaos as Motormaster tried to veer out of the way and Wildrider and Dragstrip banged into each other in their haste to escape…
Hound dismissed his holograms and flung himself out of the way as the plasma struck, bathing the entire area in a pale blue light. He felt every sensor in his network tingle as a weird energy swept over him, and for a pump-stopping moment he wondered if he'd gotten caught in the blast radius and was being regressed as well. But the sensation passed as quickly as it had begun, and a quick status check showed that nothing had changed except some energy drain from the holograms. Phew… that had been too close.
Mirage was at his side in an instant, grabbing his arm and pulling him to his feet. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," Hound assured him. "You cut that just a bit close, didn't you?"
"You were too close to the road," Mirage chided, dusting off the scout's armor. "Any closer and you might have been hit too."
"Aw, I know you're a better shot than that," Hound laughed. "So did it work?"
The two mechs turned toward the spot where the Stunticons had last been before the blast… and just stared in amazement.
"Oh my," Mirage murmured.
"I just want to say that if this is about the bleaching agent in the wash racks, that happened a month ago," Sideswipe declared.
"And I had absolutely nothing to do with that," Sunstreaker added. "I was an innocent victim, in fact."
"Since when were you ever innocent, Sunny?"
"Quiet, you two," Prime ordered. "I didn't call you in here to discuss that… incident. You're here because I have an assignment for you."
Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, sitting in chairs before the desk in Prime's office, exchanged curious looks at that statement. Sideswipe shrugged, as if in response to an unspoken question, and Sunstreaker turned back to Prime with a puzzled expression.
"What do you mean, 'assignment?'" he asked. "You're not shipping us offworld, are you?"
"As much as Prowl would enjoy sending the two of you back to Cybertron, no," Prime replied. "I have something else in mind… a permanent assignment, but one I think the two of you would be uniquely suited for."
Sideswipe groaned. "Permanent? As in a job that never ends?"
"That's the usual definition of permanent, dingbat," Sunstreaker replied, elbowing him.
"I know what permanent means, Goldenrod," Sideswipe retorted. "And it means we're both stuck with it, remember?"
Prime had to chuckle at their reluctance. "You don't even know what the assignment is yet. At least hear me out before you complain."
"So what is it?" asked Sideswipe. "What are we stuck doing 'til the end of time?"
"Something I think you'll not only be suited for, but enjoy," Prime replied. "Very soon, more sparklings are going to be brought into our base. These sparklings are going to need good caretakers – ones that can watch over them, protect them, and raise them as decent mechs and Autobots. The two of you may be rough around the edges, but you've done well when trusted with other young mechs. I believe you will serve as acceptable parents for the newcomers."
He felt a slightly perverse sense of satisfaction at seeing both their jaws drop. The decision on who would be caring for their new additions to the base was not one he had taken lightly, and he had consulted with all his officers before making the final choice. Prowl was not enthusiastic about the final decision, claiming that putting their new charges in the care of the Lamborghini twins would just undo what they were trying to accomplish, but in the end he had found himself outvoted. Jazz and Ironhide agreed that under their rowdy exteriors the two had genuinely good sparks, and that perhaps the responsibilities of parenthood would help them mature a little more. Ratchet had only laughed and suggested that the twins might be as crazy as the newcomers, but perhaps they could teach the little buggers to be the right kind of crazy.
Sideswipe was the first to react to the news, grinning widely. "Dude, Sunny, we're gonna be parents!" He reached over and punched his twin's shoulder. "We're dads! Whoo!"
"Correction, you're a dad," Sunstreaker snapped. "Seriously, how can you be so blasted excited about being saddled with a kid…"
"Aw, Sunny, admit it, you like the kids!" Sideswipe countered. "And you're so good with Shockwave and Soundwave!"
"Only because they're the quieter ones."
"So you take the quiet ones and I'll take the rowdy ones. There, problem solved." He turned back to Prime. "How many? When are they coming in? How old? Mechs or femmes? Do they have names yet or do we get to pick those out?"
"Slow down, slow down," Prime advised, laughing at Sideswipe's eagerness. "There are five of them, all mechs, and they should be coming in at any moment now. I'm not sure about ages, and they are all already named, unless you want to change their names."
"What are their names?" he asked. "C'mon, don't leave us in suspense…"
Prime held up a hand to silence Sideswipe as a sound from the corridor outside caught his audial. It sounded like a sparkling crying, and for a moment he wondered if something had happened to Metronix… but no, this sparkling sounded younger, and the voice was wrong…
The door to his office burst open, and Hound and Mirage walked in, arms full of wriggling, noisy little mechs.
"Mission accomplished!" Hound announced.
"Oh, you've gotta be slaggin' kidding me!" Sunstreaker groaned.
Despite having planned this outcome to the mission, Prime couldn't help but stare at the new sparklings in wonder. Motormaster and his team weren't just smaller versions of their older selves – they were somehow softer-looking, sharp edges rounded and colors brighter. Dead End and Dragstrip were visorless now, and Dead End's face mask was gone entirely. And all five were struggling to escape their captor's grips, optics bright with fear and making cries and keens of distress.
"The Stunticons?" Sideswipe asked, turning to regard Prime with wide optics. "We're going to be parents to the Stunticons?"
Prime nodded. "The officers have discussed it at length, and we feel you two would be best suited to raising them."
Sideswipe stared at him a moment longer, as if unsure whether to take that as a compliment or not. Then he turned to Hound and held his arms out. Hound, sensing what Sideswipe wanted, carefully transferred one of the sparklings in his arms – Motormaster – to the red mech's hands.
"Hey, little guy," said Sideswipe soothingly. "It's okay… I got ya…"
Motormaster stopped struggling and stared up at Sideswipe in confusion, violet optics wide.
"I'm your daddy, little guy," he went on, adjusting him in his arms so he could get a secure grip. "So get used to this ugly mug, because it's not going anywhere anytime soon, all right?"
Motormaster stared up at him a moment longer. Then, to Prime's relief, he snuggled up to the red Lambo's chest and relaxed, accepting him.
"Aww… he's cute," Sideswipe noted, smiling down at his new charge. "Hey Sunny, help me with the others, okay? I can't carry them all."
Sunstreaker scowled, looking highly unamused at this new assignment. But Prime caught a smile threatening to break its way through, and he laughed softly. The yellow mech might put on a show of reluctance, but he, too, seemed taken with the new sparklings. At any rate, he didn't refuse Sideswipe's request, and soon he was taking Wildrider and Dragstrip off Mirage's hands, while Sideswipe somehow managed to fit Dead End and Breakdown in his arms as well as Motormaster.
"Take them to Ratchet first thing," Prime advised. "We want to be sure they're healthy and in good repair. Then have Red Alert add them to your room roster."
"That'll go over big with Sergeant Spazz," Sunstreaker noted, and he and Sideswipe made their way out.
Mirage watched them go, frowning. "Those two? Are you sure about this?"
"Positive," Prime replied. "The Stunticons were a rather energetic group before, and I doubt that's going to change. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker have been very restless since the Decepticons at large left Earth, so this will be a good outlet for their excess energy. It solves two problems at once."
"Smart," Hound noted. "Though I'm kind of curious as to how these guys are going to grow up."
"As we all are," said Prime, then motioned for Hound and Mirage to go. He had to prepare himself for another conversation, and he wasn't at all sure how it was going to play out. Hopefully it would go smoothly.
Thankfully, Metronix reacted quite enthusiastically to the news. "More sparklings! Playmates!"
Prime laughed softly and patted the young mech's back. "They're younger than you, and still very new and nervous. I want you to be careful with them, all right? Be gentle, and don't scare them."
"I won't, I won't," Metronix vowed, but he kicked his legs eagerly, optics glittering with excitement. "When do I getta meet them?"
"Any minute now. Remember though – be gentle. If you upset or scare them, a lot of people will be very unhappy."
Metronix nodded, though the look on his face made Prime wonder if his speech wasn't just going in one audial and out the other. He hoped the sparkling was taking his words to spark – he didn't want a repeat of the fighting that had gone on between Metronix and Starscream for the first few weeks, even if that had finally stopped for the most part. And seeing as Starscream, Soundwave, and Shockwave tended to follow Metronix's lead, seeing him as an older brother of sorts, he wanted to be sure he set a good example for the others in dealing with the Stunticons.
The noise level in the rec room shot up a few notches as Sideswipe and Sunstreaker entered, and several mechs paused in what they were doing to turn and stare. A cluster of young mechs gathered around the twins' legs, babbling at the top of their vocalizers and generally raising a racket. Motormaster stomped as he walked, as if trying to make up for his lack of height by being as loud as possible, and Wildrider and Dragstrip were chattering animatedly about something that Prime couldn't quite make out. Dead End sulked behind Sunstreaker, making Prime wonder if he had just been scolded for something, and Breakdown clung to Sideswipe's leg with a shyness that bordered on terror.
"That's them?" asked Metronix, optics wide.
"That's them," Prime replied. "Remember what I told you, all right?"
"'Kay." He slid down from the bench, tucking Spotty under his arm, and approached Motormaster. The black sparkling halted in his tracks and stared at Metronix, cocking his head to one side as if he thought the silver sparkling looked familiar but he couldn't place where he'd seen him before.
"Hi," Metronix ventured, sounding suddenly shy.
Motormaster looked him up and down, then grunted his answer. "Hi."
"I'm Metronix. What's your name?"
Motormaster looked down at his feet, abruptly struck by shyness as well. "Motormaster."
"Mo-tor-mas-ter… that's a funny name."
Prime winced, and braced himself for a bad reaction on the other sparkling's part. He was going to have to talk to Metronix about being more tactful…
"Yeah, it is," Motormaster replied matter-of-factly. "I like it, though."
"Cool." Metronix hesitated, unsure of what to say next. Then, completely unprompted, he held Spotty out to the other sparkling. Motormaster eyed the toy curiously, then reached out and took it.
"That's Spotty," Metronix explained. "You can hold 'im a little while."
Motormaster nodded, hugging the plush leopard close.
"Motor, what do you say?" asked Sunstreaker.
"Oh… thank you." He smiled at Metronix.
Metronix grinned back. "Wanna play Mario Kart?"
"What's Mario Kart?"
"C'mere, I'll show you!" And he grabbed Motormaster's free hand and pulled him toward the viewscreen. The younger sparkling followed, giggling.
"Well, that went better than I thought," Sideswipe noted, stooping down to gather Breakdown in his arms. "Hey kids, wanna go watch? Maybe you can learn how to play too."
"Yah!" Wildrider hollered, pumping his fist in the air. "Beat you there, Dead End!" And he bolted for the viewscreen.
"You always beat me," Dead End whined, but took off after him anyhow.
"Is that a racing game?" Dragstrip asked eagerly, running after his brothers. "Wanna play too!"
Sideswipe laughed, then patted Breakdown's back. "Wanna join them, Breaky?"
Breakdown shook his head and tucked his face into Sideswipe's neck. "Wanna go back to the room. Want Daddy Sunny to read me a story."
Sunstreaker smiled and held his arms out, and Breakdown squirmed from Sideswipe's arms and into the yellow Lamborghini's. "Keep an optic on the others, Sides?"
"Of course. You two have fun."
"Right, because endlessly reading Rainbow Fish to the little bugger is fun," Sunstreaker noted, though he didn't sound nearly as annoyed as his words suggested. He walked out, Breakdown snuggling against his shoulder and looking content for the first time Prime had ever seen him.
Prime chuckled softly and turned his attention back to the crowd gathered around the vidscreen, where Metronix was showing Motormaster the basics of the game while the other sparklings watched and cheered them on. Perhaps this was a highly unorthodox solution to the Stunticon problem – and doubtless the council was going to have a fit when they learned about this. But in his spark, he felt that they had made the right decision. And seeing how quickly Metronix had accepted the newcomers only made him feel more confident in this course of action.
He settled in to watch as Shockwave and Starscream came to watch the game, both giggling excitedly. After so many years of grim war and heavy loss, having sparklings around was proving to be the perfect antidote. And seeing them grow up to be good mechs provided the hope for the future they so desperately needed.
Sunstreaker ducked into his and Sideswipe's room and shut the door behind him, frowning a bit at the cramped quarters. This room had been plenty big for him and his brother, but now with seven mechs trying to co-exist in a space meant for two, it was a tight squeeze for everyone. He'd put in a request for larger quarter with Red Alert, but he suspected said request was a low priority for the security officer at the moment. Maybe he'd have to swallow his pride and appeal to Prime – he'd be able to work out a solution sooner.
Breakdown relaxed in his arms, the quiet and solitude seeming to soothe him. Sunstreaker rubbed his back gently, feeling a sort of kinship with the white sparkling. Given the choice, he preferred to be either alone or with his brother, and he wasn't keen on a lot of noise. Sure, he'd indulge in some rowdy activities with his brother, but he liked to balance that out with something more introspective, such as reading or catching up on his art.
"You okay, Breaky?" he asked, sitting down on the berth.
"You're not so fond of playing rough and loud, are you? Not like your siblings."
He burrowed his face against Sunstreaker's neck as if trying to hide. "…I guess…"
"Hey… it's okay to say yes. You don't have to be exactly like your brothers." He pulled Breakdown down to sit in his lap. "You can like or not like whatever you want. I'm still going to like you no matter what."
A rare smile crossed Breakdown's face at that, and he rested his head against Sunstreaker's chest. "Love you, Daddy Sunny."
Sunstreaker smiled back. He had to admit, he'd been less than thrilled about this assignment at first, especially when he'd found out the sparklings being entrusted to his and Sideswipe's care were regressed versions of the Stunticons. But all five of the sparklings had grown on him quickly, and even if they did get loud and rambunctious at times he realized he didn't exactly mind it. And despite the constant noise and mess they made, it seemed that at least once a day some spontaneous gesture from one of them – a hug from Wildrider, a simple "I love you" from Breakdown, waking up in the morning to find Dead End nestled in the berth beside him – would melt his spark and remind him that it was all worth it.
"What story would you like?" asked Sunstreaker. "Rainbow Fish again?"
Breakdown pondered a moment, then shook his head.
"What else, then? Want a chapter of Harry Potter?"
"Nuh-uh." He looked up at Sunstreaker with wide, worshipful optics. "Want a story 'bout you an' Daddy Sideswipe."
"A story about us, eh? Hmmm… how about the story where we went to Peru to stop the Decepticons from stealing a power crystal?"
Sunstreaker laughed and settled the sparkling better in his lap before launching into an exciting and only slightly embellished tale of the events in Peru. Having a Stunticon hero-worship him was new, but he wasn't about to complain. Trading the eternal hatred of a former Decepticon for the adoration of a sparkling seemed plenty good to him.