*Deep Breath*

I am really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,

really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,really,

really,really,really, sorry I didn't update this sooner.

That, and you guys have been a great audience throughout this whole story; you and your reviews have kept this thing going and I really appreciate all the feedback you've given me, even though I haven't been able to reply to most of 'em.

So yeah, give yourselves a pat on the back people; you've kept this story alive!


...

Memory File # 2037

...

L-33's optics onlined, and the first thing he saw was the dilapidated ceiling of the neglected apartment. He blinked, optical brows creasing, as the memories of last night came flooding back to him; the bar fight, the grey mech, the ensuing chaos, and then their rapid flight from the Enforcers ending in this very residential block.

L-33 blinked again, bringing up his HUD, which told him that his energon levels would be stable for now, but needed refilling. Carefully, he sat up and looked around, optics sweeping over the extremely dusty and highly unfurnished apartment. It was empty save for the couch he lay on, which the grey mech had graciously let the youngster recharge on...

His optics widened, and the young mech quickly whipped his helm around in the direction of the armchair. The last thing he'd seen before falling into recharge was the grey mech settling comfortably into recharge, his massive frame literally filling the chair. Now, with the grey morning light streaming through the filthy mullioned windows, L-33 could see that he was awake, his blue optics fixated on a datapad which looked positively miniscule in his large, beefy servos.

What was he called again? Megi...Mego...Megatronus! Yes, that was it...

L-33 cocked his helm to one side. Megatronus...such a strange name...Pit, scratch that, it was strange for him to even have a name in the first place; low-caste mechs only had numerical codes to identify each other.

L-33 squinted. He hadn't noticed them before, but now that he could have a clear look at Megatronus' frame, he could clearly make out where some black and bright yellow paint had been scrubbed off completely. Especially around certain parts of his limbs, where hazard markings would have been stenciled on. So Megatronus was some sort of industrial worker, then?

Megatronus pursed his lips as he made a few changes to the text, and then he looked up. His face broke into a smile. "Ah, you're awake..."


"Miss Nakadai!"

Miko jumped in her seat, and tore her eyes away from the window to look at Mr. Crane. The man's tiny grey eyes glared right at her, while the rest of the class sniggered, save for Jack and Rafael. "While I do appreciate the fact that you have stopped mindlessly drawing in my classes," Mr. Crane said, "I still do not tolerate students who refuse to give their utmost attention." His eyes narrowed another notch. "And you happen to be one of them, Miss Nakadai."

Miko swallowed. "Sorry, Mr. Crane...It won't happen again...," she mumbled, in a small voice.

Mr. Crane didn't reply; he simply shook his head and hefted the sheaf of papers he held. "As you no doubt are aware, I've just finished grading your assignments," he said, as he began to pass around the sheets. His bald cranium caught the sunlight, shining brightly. "I recommend you look through them carefully. These will be added to your final grade." He paused at Sierra's desk, handing the girl her own paper. "Perfect grades, as usual, Sierra...Good work."

Sierra simply nodded as she received her sheet, and immediately flipped to the next page, business-like as usual. Miko sighed and slumped in her desk as she waited for Mr. Crane to pass her paper over.

She was going to flunk this one...She just knew it...


"Here." Megatronus tossed an energon cube to L-33, who caught it inches away from hitting his faceplate. "You'll need to keep up your strength. Especially after last night." L-33 could only nod stupidly as Megatronus folded away the datapad, stood up and stretched. "Look alive, child; the day's still young!"

The young mech blinked. "Query: Who are you?"

Megatronus looked at L-33, optical brows raised. "Hmm...Straight to the point, eh? I like that..." He sat back down heavily, the weight of his enormous frame causing the arm chair to creak dangerously. "Let's just say that I'm what you might call a scholar of sorts."

L-33's optics flicked up and down Megatronus' immense frame. This bruiser, a scholar? Insane! He looked more the part of a pit fighter than a student. But L-33 politely cleared his vocals nonetheless, and asked, "Query: Field of study?"

"Oh, you know, a little of this, a little of that...History and politics mostly, maybe with a bit of classical literature on the side..." L-33 was frozen in place, his gaze locked onto Megatronus, incredulous. The grey mech raised a brow. "Skeptical, are we?"

L-33 shook his helm. "Apologies. Likelihood of Megatronus' frametype and caste receiving higher studies: Minimal...Offense: Not intended," he added hastily.

Megatronus' brows shot up so fast, that L-33 jumped, startled. "My frametype? Not likely to be educated?" he asked, his gaze still locked onto L-33. Strangely, he did not seem angry or upset at all. "Hmm...Yes, I think I see what you mean...," he said, as he leaned forward in his seat, a digit on his chin, optics clouded in thought. Then, he refocused, and looked at L-33 again. "Tell me, child, what was the first thing that you learnt as a youngster? Before you learned how to read, or count or anything else. What were you told?"


"They're moving it here?" asked Ratchet, optics wide. "But I was under the impression that they didn't trust us with their military secrets."

"Well, it's not like the boys at Lockheed are happy about it either," grunted Fowler, his eyes never leaving the clipboard he held.

Ratchet blinked. "Lockheed...?"

"The Lockheed Martin corporation," explained Optimus, his optics levelling towards the movable tank-treaded platform on which a large winged shap lay, shrouded by a large tarp. "A defense company responsible for the creation of a good portion of the United State's military technology, and one of the few corporations aware of our existence."

"Sworn to secrecy, obviously," said Elita, as she bent down to examine the tarp covered jet. "So this is the VF-11 Thunderbolt..."

"What's it covered in that tarp for?" asked Sideswipe, leaning forward.

"I'm with Sides," grunted Sunstreaker, "We made a huge fuss over it, so let's see it!" The golden-yellow frontliner then bent down and began unhooking the tarp. Fowler reacted.

"Hold it right there, son! That's military tech you're fiddling with-"

But he was too late; the tarp was drawn back, and Sunstreaker whistled. "Wow...no wonder that Seeker chick scanned this..."

The VF-11 was indeed impressive, painted in glossy demonstration colors; white, red and black. The aft section of the craft was taken up by large wings, two thrusters, and a pair of vertical stabilizers. At the front, near the smooth canopy of the cockpit, a pair of canards rested. Composed of entirely of sleek lines and smooth surfaces, and combined with a nose reminiscent of a vicious predatory beak, the Thunderbolt was an imposing machine.

"Heh, I may be a grounder," said Sideswipe, "but I know a good vehicle mode when I see one... And this jet looks se-"

Simultaneous whacks from Ironhide silenced the twins immediately, and they quickly refastened the tarp under the watchful glare of the weapons specialist. "Thank you, Ironhide," said Ratchet, "But I still don't understand why we have to be the ones to look after this machine; alt mode scanning only detects surface details and the necessary interiors."

"Ratchet is right," said Perceptor, his single optic whirring, "Even if that femme did perform a scan of your classified military equipment, I highly doubt she was after the technology itself. Therefore, I do not believe that it is prudent to transfer your flying machine into our headquarters under such circumstances."

Fowler gave a weary smile. "Let's just say that the boys at the Pentagon aren't taking any chances. Trust me, when the top brass heard what happened, they freaked out, something awful." He looked up at Optimus and Elita. "You'll keep the VF-11 safe, I hope?"

"Rest assured, Agent Fowler," said Optimus, "We will ensure that the Thunderbolt will be provided with the best protection we can offer."

"Good...Knew I could rely on you," sighed Fowler, as he tucked away the clipboard. "Bridge me out, Ratchet...I'm gonna need some coffee."

Optimus leaned towards Elita. "Where is Soundwave?" he asked softly, "I have not seen him since this morning."

Elita smiled. "Poor boy's probably still in power-down. According to Bumblebee, he spent a good portion of last night on the television..."

"...I see"


L-33 blinked at the unusual question.

But Megatronus didn't seem angry or upset, so he followed through. He leaned back into the couch, brows creased in thought as he wracked his memories, the cube he held forgotten. Megatronus smiled as he unfolded his datapad again, and leaned back in his chair, the seat creaking loudly in protest at the mech's sheer weight.

L-33 turned the cube over as he blankly stared into its luminescent depths, his processor still puzzling over Megatronus' question. What was it that he had first learned? What was it that Megatronus insisted had been drilled into his processor? What was-

L-33' optics brightened with realization, and he looked up. "Allspark: dictates frame. Frame: dictates function. Senate's Guilds: determines caste. Caste: determines opportunities. Senate Ruling: absolute. Deviation from Senate Ruling: unacceptable."

Megatronus looked at L-33 over the top of his pad and smiled. "Ah, you've got it. Well done."

L-33 only nodded, as he drew his attention back to the energon cube. Suddenly, his fuel tank was vibrating irritably, and without a moment's hesitation, he began to wolf down the cube like a starving scraplet. But Megatronus kept speaking.

"Of course, as you already know," he said, folding away the datapad, "The Senate's ruling was unanimous. The caste system was established to keep the cybertronian population in check. A planetwide system built to usher in the 'Golden Age' we live in today..."

L-33 nodded to show he was paying attention, his mouth still full of energon. He didn't know why, but he felt compelled to listen to what this mech had to say...

"Wipe your chin, boy, you have energon all over it...Anyway, we know that the so-called 'Golden Age' is a...what shall we say?...A bit of a let-down. Take an ordinary cybertronian, for example...mech, femme, it doesn't matter...And let's say he or she could be anything, a medic, an aerobatic, a musician, a politician, a scientist. Are any of those possibilities possible?"

L-33 nodded. "Affirmative. Reiteration: Allspark: dictates frame. Frame: dictates function. Senate-"

"Wrong."

L-33 blinked.

"No, really. That last part is wrong...You see, child, while the Allspark dictates your frame, it doesn't necessarily dictate your function. And the Senate can't dictate how you live or your place in society or whether you have the right to transform...You see, 'Freedom Is The Right Of All Civilized Beings'...That's supposed to be the motto of our race, according to the Senate..."


Miko felt her throat tighten, as Mr. Crane passed her paper over. For a split second, she'd thought she'd seen his lip curl, but dismissed it, as she quickly took up her paper. Immediately, she felt her heart sink, as she saw the large, red encircled 'F' plastered across the top right corner, as well as the words she'd been dreading the most:

See me after class.

There was no point in trying to deny it now; this was going to suck.


L-33 tilted his helm to one side, completely and totally bemused, as Megatronus carried on speaking.

"You see, boy, what Sentinel Zeta Prime decides for you isn't the final word. Even if you turned out to be able to turn into a hovertank, you could still be a sculptor. And even if you ended up as a two wheeler, you can still be an academic, or an architect..." Megatronus smiled. "And that, my dear boy, is why I'm a scholar. I was meant to be a laborer, a miner, according to what the Senate said." He spread his arms. "But look at me now. I went against the Senate's orders, I rejected the system." He grinned. "And that's what I plan to spread. It's time the people realized what they are capable of, what they can do, what they can achieve! A cultural revolution, a renaissance, the ushering in of the True Golden Age of Cybertron!"

L-33 felt his jaw slacken. The things he'd heard... Rejection of the system...Defying the Senate...Incitement of rebellion. This was grounds for treason. This mech before him, this insane, mad, possibly suicidal mech, was just one step away from being an enemy of the state.

He shook his helm. "Apologies," he sighed,"Megatronus' proposal: unsound. Probability of planetwide societal reform: extremely minimal. Probability of unfavorable Senate retaliation: absolute. Summary: Megatronus' mission: insanity. Megatronus in state of intoxication: Likely. Suggested course of action: seek psychological and/or physiological medical assistance."

Megatronus' smile disappeared in an instant, and L-33 decided that he'd really gone and done it now; he'd majorly slagged off the burliest mech he had the pleasure to clap optics on. Any second now, and he was sure to get an unholy beating the likes of which had never been seen before on the surface of Cybertron.

But instead, he got the unexpected. The grey mech's smile crept across his face, followed by a throaty chuckle. Seconds later, it was a booming laugh that was so loud, that L-33 could have sworn that it shook rust flakes from the ceiling.

"You're a funny little mech, you know that?" he chortled, as he lay back. "But in all seriousness...Do you really think Sentinel and his Senate is so omniscient?"

L-33's optics narrowed. "Affirmative. Senate's powers and authority: unquestionable."

"And that is what you choose to believe? Despite the hardships you face everyday? Despite the fact that the Senate denies lower castes like us the right to even transform?" He suddenly leaned forward so fast that he startled L-33. "Speaking of transformation, haven't you ever thought about what it feels like? To transform for the first time?"


Miko tried to quell the dread at the pit of her stomach as the bell rang and the class filed out. She tried even harder to ignore the concerned look Jack sent her as he passed her desk; he didn't exactly know why Miko was staying, but the girl had a nasty feeling that Jack had a hunch. On the other hand, he didn't ask any awkward questions and that was just fine by Miko.

Unfortunately, what wasn't fine by Miko was the brief sidelong glance Sierra sent her way; it uncannily resembled the sort of tetchy look Mr. Crane usually reserved for her, and she didn't like it. Which was odd, because she and Sierra hardly knew each other; they'd barely exchanged any words between them.

"Miss Nakadai." Mr. Crane's nasally voice sounded as soon as the classroom door was shut.

With a heavy sigh, Miko stood up, and made her way to the front of the class. Mr. Crane was busy flipping through a file on his desk, and he didn't look up once, even as Miko halted right in front of his desk. A second later, he flipped the file closed and set it aside, his unsmiling brick of a face turning to appraise Miko. In fact, Miko suddenly recalled that the man never seemed to smile at all, not even rarely.

"Now," he began, as he shifted the file and another sheat of papers to one side, "Where shall I begin with you?"

Miko shifted slightly, her eyes deliberately avoiding Mr. Crane's.

"Let's start with your apparent inability to grasp even the basics of this subject," he said, "So far, ever since you enrolled in this school, you've seen fit to be the most dense student in any of my classes."

Miko felt her heart jolt. 'Asshole,' she thought, as she did her best to keep her expression neutral.

"Of course, to be eligible for a student exchange programme, you have to be fairly diligent in your studies" His eyes narrowed a notch. "And from what I have seen, you seem to have very little motivation to do any sort of real work, nor do you seem to possess any real intelligence. How you managed to become an exchange student, or even how you managed to get a basic education is beyond me."

'You don't know the half of it," Miko thought to herself, her fists clenching, 'You just don't know, and you probably wouldn't even care...Asshole...'

"Let me be frank with you, Miss Nakadai," Mr. Crane said, as he leaned forward, "I don't happen to like you very much...In fact, I actually dislike you...Immensely."

'Asshole...Of course you'd say that, that's what everyone says, but you're different, because you're an asshole...'

"I just can't bring myself to respect you. At all."

Her fists were clenched tighter now, her nails digging into her palms.

'Asshole, asshole, asshole...'

"But, fortunately for you, I'm willing to give you a chance," said Mr. Crane, as he stood up. His chair scraped against the tiled floor with a screech. "You'll get one more chance to put yourself in a positive light. I'll be holding a quiz next week. And I'll make sure to tell everyone it's courtesy of you." And with that, he left, leaving Miko standing in the classroom in blissful silence.

Miko couldn't help it; she released all her pent up anger, and punched Crane's desk, knuckles coming away bloody.

"Asshole...," she hissed.


L-33 felt his spark leap. It was true; he, like all of the lower castes of Kaon, had always wondered what transformation felt like. To feel your body collapse, contort and shift into something else entirely. Because he, like all others of his caste, had their T-Cogs removed when very young, according to Senate guidelines.

Unfortunately, this had a detrimental effect on the population; the constant wondering and desire to transform often left most weak-minded mechs and femmes feeling depressed to the point of taking circuit boosters and other electro-chemical stimulants just to dull the mental pain. L-33 had even seen these unfortunate wretches on the streets sometimes, addicts slumped against walls or comatose in alleyways, too much in a hallucinatory bliss to even notice what went on in their surroundings, or the trash and refuse that seemed to accumulate around them like a rust infection.

L-33 swallowed. "Affirmative," he replied, in a soft voice.

"Of course you have...And just for that, don't you think it's time Sentinel and his Senate came to their senses? Don't you think that it's worth showing them that the common cybertronian has rights?"

L-33's face became panicked. "Negative!" he retorted, "Senate's resources: immense. Sentinel Prime: too powerful!"


Sunstreaker glared at Ironhide, as the red mech left the Main Bay, the VF-11 in tow with him. "Dick...," he muttered, as he rubbed the sore spot where the weapons specialist had hit him.

"Seconded," mumbled Sideswipe.

"Sunstreaker," called Elita, as she passed the twins, "Be a dear and go wake Soundwave, will you? Primus knows, he's been in his room all morning..."

The twins stood together in silence, as one by one, all the Autobots departed the Main Bay to their assigned duties. Sunstreaker grinned at his brother. "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin', bro?"

Sideswipe grinned back. "I think I'm thinkin' what you're thinkin'..."


Megatronus blinked. "No? Really, boy?"

L-33 swallowed, and shook his helm. "Affirmative...Many Apologies. Nonetheless: Affirmative."

"Hmm...I see," mumbled Megatronus, as he reclined in his seat, the chair once more creaking loudly. L-33 started to wonder just how in the name of energon had it not been destroyed by the grey mech's torturous weight yet. Megatronus shrugged, his massive shoulders rising up and down in single heavy movement. "Oh, well, you're still a youngling...You'll understand what I mean eventually." He stood up, stretching once more. L-33 could have sworn he had heard the arm chair sigh in relief.

"Anyway, enough discussion! Let's get you home, boy...Where do you work?"

L-33 felt the lump in his throat he was becoming more and more acquainted with. "Occupation: None. L-33: Recently Discharged. Residence: None."

Megatronus became still. "I...I see...What about family? Or friends? Any one who can help you?"

L-33 felt himself growing smaller. "Negative. Family: Deceased. Known associates: None."

"Ah...You have a problem, then..." The mech suddenly bent down to optic level, startling L-33 again, and wearing the warmest smile the young mech had seen in a long time. "No home, eh? Come with me, then! I'll vouch for you..."


"Back in black/I hit the sack/I've been too long I'm glad to be back!"

Soundwave'soptics snapped open as an unforgiving torrent of AC/DC assaulted his audios. With a strangled shout, he sat bolt upright, only to painfully smack his helm on one of the lower shelves with a loud 'THWACK'.

"Forget the hearse 'cause I'll never die/I got nine lives/Cat's eyes/Usin' every one of them and running wild!"

Optics fritzing, he collapsed back onto the berth, and noticed the Sunstreaker and Sidewsipe who were standing right next to his berth, speakers and sound systems at full blast. Upon seeing their handiwork, the twins high-fived, and bolted from Soundwave's room, laughter and music echoing down the hallway.

"Back in the back/Of a Cadillac/Number one with a bullet, I'm a power pack!"

Soundwave let out a small groan as he swept a servo across his aching optics.

Maybe he should have gotten that security keypad sooner...