Precursors: Etymology.
by Ironraven, with the permission and beta reading of the Botosphere team.

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The little red mech and the little green mech had been alone in the ruined bones of their culture for too many solar cycles.

They had long left the shattered remains of what had once been a great city too far gone for even the major factions to fight over any more. There was nothing there left to fight over: not even daylight shown through the cloud of dust and smoke that filled the great bowl of the valley, the mountains at the rim of the ancient caldera shielded it from the winds that could have brought light back. It had not been war, but devastation that had been waged there. Ash and acid scarred them before they were able to escape what was once their home. Without even light to regenerate by, they had exhausted much of their energon climbing the walls that had stood even when Primus had been young.

They had learned to survive the hard way. Where to find shelter in the ruins, how to salvage industrial and veterinary components to repair their injuries. To keep a thin layer of dust and grime on them so they wouldn't be as reflective. Never shine a light in the dark, never use lidar or radar or ultrasonic imaging, passive sensors only. Move slowly, feet weren't as fast but they didn't leave as deep a track and didn't raise dust. Don't shout, don't drop things, step lightly, lest they be heard. Silence is survival.

They had learned that lesson three nights after they had left the bowl of their city when they had heard someone transmitting. They'd been able to triangulate the location, and started in that direction with the hope of finding other survivors, only to stop when blazing streaks of plasma lanced from the sky. Kinetic energy weapons striking from orbit. Since then, they use hand signs unless otherwise impossible. Then and only then, use spoken words, but never, ever transmit. Even their twin-bond they used sparing; it was thought impossible to eavesdrop on, but they also knew that their quantum bond could make them minutely more detectable to an energon resonance sensor.

How many times had Cybertron completed it's track around it's star since then. Twice? Three times? They weren't sure any more. They had seen the dust trail of a convoy stumbling along what had once been a great road a few tens of solar cycles ago, but they could see the guns of the outriders pointed as much in as out- slaves. They'd huddled in the blasted out foundation hole of one of the few recharge stations that existed in what had been the Green Forest, one of the largest preserved wild spaces on their city-world. Decepticons or one of the smaller independent factions, they had no way of knowing, but they didn't move from cover until they could no longer see any signs of the strangers. Only then did they move out, chasing what they feared might be a myth. Somewhere out there, there were those that followed the old government, they were supposed to be led by a Prime and the Great Healer and the Gaurdians of Simfur, a gathering of the last free people. That was where they were going.

The little green mech's arm flashed up in the post-midday sunlight, signaling his brother to stop, pointing up at a speck that that was growing larger, diving on them. The little red mech reached for him, to throw him into cover, but tripped over a buried conduit, falling flat to his chestplates. Around them tiny geysers of dust rose where projectiles bit at the ground, sprays of molten glass and metal where lasers struck. The little green mech screamed and crumpled to the ground.

The flier hadn't been a Decepticon, just one of the independent bandits. Like the little red and green mechs, they were surviving, scavenging; unlike the little red and green mechs, the bandits preyed on their fellow sentients. The flier transformed in mid air, falling to the ground between them. He raked his weapon along the back of the little red mech, but he was more focused on the little green one. They would have enough energon to last him a long time, all he had to do was drink it from their lines, and the green one was more grievous wounded. His energon would spill out and be unrecoverable. The chemist that the flier had been before the war knew how to filter and distill the energon in that case, but he didn't have the tools and he had a mind flaying thirst for the life giving fluid that made him no more than a beast in a person's chassis.

The little red mech's body burned where the laser had pinholed his armour and cut sensors. The bigger mech was crouching over his brother. As he hurled himself at the flier, he felt something click in his arm, a strange feeling. He remembered his lessons, the targeting system that had long lay dormant in his young arm coming on line. He could remember him and his brother pestering their brother-creators about when their tactical protocols would come online, and being told not until they were older, they had to wait until their ducts had dropped into place. The simulations had nothing on this as aiming points raced across his vision, analysis of damage and design highlighting weak points in his target

"Get away from my brother!" The little red mech's pulse maser raked thin beams of coherent microwaves across the head and neck of their enemy. His shoulder slammed into the crouching flier as the other turned, throwing up an arm. Battle protocols drove the little red mech as he grasped the arm, twisting it, jamming the joint and throwing the bandit down. Step, turn, stoop, stomp, keep twisting and now pull! The shoulder joint snapped, breaking off at the cutaways. His smaller arm had something in it as well- a flamer, spewing star hot plasma, slagged through the empty socket of their attacker's shoulder and burned up through the neck joint than thermag incendiaries.

And then it was over. The little red mech played it back, looking at his memories as if he's watched someone else. "He ain't so tough without a face, brother." He looked over his shoulder and called the little green mech's name. The wind and hiss of melting circuitry was the only reply. "No!"

His brother was laying there, smoking and sparking. Red knees dug into grey-black ash and sparkling glass shards as red fingers found the emergency latches behind green armour. They flew into compartments, spark chamber intact, spark shield active and stable, a major power artery to the leg severed and sparking where it danced against a strut, energon leaking, pinching the duct off with two fingers, the other hand holding the green body, pulling it towards there enemy.

The little red mech didn't think about it. Fingers found the still hot rents in the thin armour of the flier, ripping open the chest crudely, tearing the plates back with rage and fear enhanced strength. Pins and clamps were pulled from the corpse, still warm from an extinguished spark as they were used to pinch off leaks and terminating shorts in the little green mech. The energon reserves were distributed in this one, angry red hands tearing parts from the grey body that would have taken theirs. The little green mech's systems stabilized as their attacker's energon was forced into his body. Then the chest plates were closed and the little red mech could think about what he's just done.

He scrubbed his battered and pained hands in the dirt, trying to clean them, screaming profanity and heresy at the flier's mangled remains. This is not why they were made, the little green mech and the little red mech.

He looked up the blazing ball of their world's star. They had asked "what is that" the first time they saw it; within a solar cycle they were working out the fundamentals of fusion between them. They'd been precocious, vacuums eager to be filled with knowledge. Math, science, language- they had taken to those naturally if whimsically. It had been dealing with other mechs that had been troublesome.

Their brothers had insisted that despite being scions of a wealthy merchant house, they would attend a public creche to learn how to socialize with those younglings from other, more common circumstances, and then spend time with their private tutors. They would learn about the duty and responsibility that came with their fortune and station.

They could take being picked on- they picked back. And roughhoused. And despite being around younglings who's creators were miners and dock workers and other laborers, the little red and green richlings actually liked the company. They had walked the lines between commerce clans and common laborers. Back when they had been young and the world had been as it was supposed to be.

Through their bond, he could feel the warning signals from both their injuries even though he'd manually set his twin's pain sensors to the lowest possible level. He was scared to try put the other into full stasis- as injured as his brother was, he didn't know if he'd be able to do it and not offline his twin. They were twins, one spark, and they were all each other had left.

Their brother-creators were gone, destroyed in the fighting. Their clan, their city. Their home hadn't yet been visited by the war. They knew it was happening, everyone did, and it was a secret to not be thought of in public that their clan supported the Prime's faction while most commerce clans had stood behind the former Defense Forces. On dark nights, it was not unheard of for them to watch blacked out convoys of mechs and femmes driving through emptied streets far below their quarters, or to discover that stores of medical nanites were suddenly in short supply, or to find that the chemical works were making energetic materials that had few usages.

That last night in their city, they were taken from recharge by the wail of sirens, not just across the clan's communication channels but also from audible sirens. They were shouted out to go down, into the underground levels of their building, it would be safer. Mechs were running, footpads and tires clanging and squealing as the airwaves filled with pleas for mercy, for forgiveness. When they asked what was happening, someone grabbed them and flung them down a ramp, telling them to get lower still. Their brother-creators' mentor had shoved them into a waste tunnel and slammed the hatch- they were small enough to fit. No one else had been.

They could hear weapons fire, shouts, scream. The little green mech and the little red mech shivered as gutteral cries called for the leaders of the clan and all stocks of certain materials to be brought before the commander of the troops who had entered the city. The goods were tribute; the little red and little green mechs' brother-creators were executed along with all other elders of the clan. The scientists, mentors, senior tradesworkers and the Priests of Primus were gathered into a group and then they to were executed because the will of the clan leaders could only have been carried out with their assistance. By blade, beam and bullet, one in eight had been extinguished.

There was silence as the troops left followed by the roar of sound and radiation, the world shaking as kinetics and kilokip-yield energy weapons lashed the buildings and ground above them. All they could do was hold each other and shriek in terror as stone and steel and the very atmosphere burned under the rage of Seekers and Decepticon airships.

They didn't know how long they'd been like that. They returned to awareness, and there was nothing but each other. After a time of duration without meaning, they started digging. They'd had both work together to push the hatch aside. They had shoved at it for solars, hearing the rubble shift over it. When they had freed themselves, it was just the twins and rubble. Their city, shattered and melted, much of it still burning. There were bits of metal, cogs and gears and slivers of plate, all melted into tiny puddles. They weren't structural metals.

Body parts.

Mechs and femmes, blasted to slivers by the shockwaves then turned to a rain of flesh by the heat, pooled like mercury after a shower. There had been another timeless time, as their processors struggled to comprehend. As savants, they knew what they were seeing. As feeling sentients, their sparks howled in denial.

The Decepticons had attacked because their clan had openly sided with Optimus after resisting Megatron's tax collectors. The clan leaders said they would send the few with learned in the military arts and many volunteers to stand with the exiled government. No one knew if was Megatron or one of his commanders who gave the order to reduce the city, but they had. The Decepticons still broadcast images of the slaughter- they didn't call it a battle, they called it a "chastisement", a demonstration of the price of defiance.

His emotions tattered beyond usability, the little red mech picked up his brother. If it had been length of sparkless steel, it would have been heavy. But the little green mech had the lightness of life and thus the little red mech still existed. The would be extinguished together or they would be there when the universe ended. They had discussed it a long time ago, and disagreed on which theory was right; they had made a bet as to how all of existence would end. Neither of them had postulated that Cybertronian participation in the universe would end like this; the little red mech was too exhausted to wonder if the universe would notice. But until then, he would protect his brother. The little green mech was the only thing that mattered.

The little red mech rested his brother's helm on his shoulder, cradling the others body gently. Gyros trembled at the weight as he picked up one foot, putting it down, then the other. Cybertron's sun was setting behind them, allowing possibly the last younglings in the universe to chase their own shadow into the long night where maniac mechs and feral petrocats and turbofoxes hunted.

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/Arcee, what is that?/

Arcee thought annoyance at Cliffjumper. He was as good a mech as his best friend, that was how she'd met him. The larger than life joviality of the red mech mixed with Bumblebee's limitless joy with life to make them an utterly irresistible duo. They were both sweet and eager, closer than sisters, and if there hadn't been a war on she'd feel torn between the two former Gaurdians. Her sisters had teased her about it, particularly since she'd tested their mates for many of them. If there was someone out there, maybe it was one of them; if it was, it was probably Cliff. After the damn war. But he could learn to actually ask a meaningful question. She thought query at him as well.

/There, about a tenth north of of our course/

She looked... there. Ninety-eight thousands north of their course there was a single mech, very broad in the chest, trudging through the ash and dust. Her optics zoomed in. No, two, one reddish-orange, the other a hazardous green, both dirty and damaged. The green one appeared to be offline, his oversized arm dragging. The red one stumbled. She could see they were twins as they sprawled.

She'd known several twins. She'd even had a very hectic relationship with a pair of twins. But these two were more twin-like than most others, mirror images rather than identical or not completely identical. Red and green mirror twins. They were both damaged, the green one obviously no longer able to move on his own.

In a lifetime that could last long enough to let one watch mountains rise and fall, see the stars change from the drifting of the galaxy, Cybertronians changed jobs every twenty, fifty planetary cycles. She herself had been part of the Defense Forces reserve (it hadn't called to her as it had to Chromia), been part of emergency services with a specialty in emergency medicine, been a performer (less than two orbitals- she hadn't been very good), even dabbled in law and governance. She'd been a highly respected geologist. But she'd love teaching younglings. It was the career she'd return to time and time again.

It was as a teacher that she thought she recognized them. She threw up a plume of debris as her wheel motors raced, throwing her down the game trail made by generations of sandbucks. /We need to check on them- follow me./

/Arcee, wait up! Hey! I can't fit in the little places like you do!/

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"Everything Arcee describes matches my memories." Cliffjumper came to attention as much as any Autobot other than Prowl or Ironhide ever did. "They were trying to join us, the red one wants to fight."

"And if he recovers, of course the green will as well." Optimus' optics roamed the catwalk over Ratchet's medical bay, taking in his advisers and the two small forms below them. They were old enough to fight and smart enough to survive the wastes, but they were still nearly children in many ways. This was the time when a youngling would be choosing their first career and getting ready to approach their legal franchise as an adult. But to made it this far, they had to have done things even some of his soldiers hadn't. In his spark, Optimus could not tell if they were still young or not, and if not, who was to blame. "They are a dilemma I had not anticipated."

Arcee growled, glaring at the two younglings. "They are too young: they shouldn't be here."

"They want to fight for their freedom. Can we tell them they don't have the right?" Emotions flickered across the bond between the sisters and those bound in their clan as Chromia glared back. "If not with us, where will they go?"

"They'll die. Sooner, rather than later." Prowl's words were cold. "But we could use more messengers- they walked halfway around the planet to get here and it sounds like Sunspot was the one they extinguished." That flier had been on Prowl's targets of opportunity list for a long time.

The mechs and femmes grew silent as the last sparks flew from Ratchet and Evac's work. The red twin looked up from the berth he'd been ordered to lie in. His optics were wide and bright, like a young petrocat begging for a scrap of oil cake, but also filled with the acceptance of pain, like he expected to be kicked. He was resigned, afraid to hope.

Optimus could almost feel the ache in those optics Elita and Starsheen and others looked after the nomadic communities of noncombatants, never staying too long in one place so that the Decepticons couldn't find them. They'd done everything they could to make the civilians not one of Optimus' problems. Not because he didn't care, but because he did. And if he couldn't have a firewall between his spark and his people, he'd lose the war. But if the Autobot warriors failed, then everyone would be gone. That is why Elita had forced him to let her manage that side of the Autobots. He felt her warmth despite the shielding and distance between them, love and confidence wordlessly wrapping around him like a pool of hot oil. He greedily held back his doubts, not wanting to share them with her, but the strong, soothing fingers of her will stroked away the shields, teasing his worries to where she could see them. We to were young once, cherished spark.

Optimus again surveyed the gathered warriors. He'd heard from most of them. Jazz was crouched motionless against a support, lost in the shadows and in thought, his optics half shuttered and dimmed, while his cooling fans were nearly silent. "What say you, my friend?"

It took several long moments before the dark mech spoke aloud. Maybe it was because he'd forgotten that the medbay had electromagnetic dampening to ensure a constant, steady background spectrum, or maybe he needed the time to come back from where he'd been. His visor flashed blue and he pushed himself up the pillar. "I'd say keep 'em, boss. They are untrained and very young, but so was Alpha Prime when he faced the Beast of Treptifal."

Optimus smiled a little. The powers of a seer was less well understood than twin bonds or the Footprints of Primus. Jazz didn't believe he was a seer, he would tell anyone that it was just a myth. There were others who believed; others said it was part of his persona, to be mysterious on one servo and deny it on the other. Or maybe he just didn't realize what he was and what he was doing. But they all got the reference: the First Prime had done battle with a giant turbofox, a monstrous beast that had crushed villages and devoured warriors whole in the early days of their race. It was that quest that had caused Alpha Prime to cast aside his jealousy and make peace with the flier who would become Seeker of Primes, and the closest friend and ally of Alpha after his mate. Their solution was easy- they would harry the beast, draw it away from the clans, and then Alpha Prime would make himself small, crouching and feigning an injury so he would be gulped down in one bite by the Beast while Seeker continued to snipe and attack, forcing the Beast to take his meal quickly, without chewing. Then, once safely inside the workings of their foe, Alpha stood high, cutting his way free through the spark of the Beast of Treptifal at the place the would one day become Simfur.

"Very well. If Ratchet clears them and they can complete their training, then they shall join us. Freedom is the right of all sentient beings; to fight to defend it is their duty. These twins can at least serve as couriers and scouts."

Optimus looked over his warriors. There were signs of protest unspoken in their posture. "It is not a good thing that they should have to, but these are not-" A crash against the the polycarbonate interrupted him.

Below them, Ratchet set down the next wrench he was going to throw. He pointed at Arcee, then down at the med bay floor. He wanted her down there. It made sense. Not only had she been their teacher, she'd been the one who found them. She should be there when he brought the little green mech online.

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The little red mech lept to his feet as his brother stirred. "Hey! You had me worried."

The face plates of the little green mech frowned. "Oww?" It was a question- his last memory had been pain, a flash of darkness, then waking up someplace completely different from where they had last been. A place where he suddenly didn't hurt. He queried various chronometers, frowning when they didn't match. "Oww."

"Yes, oww. You got hurt." The red mech pressed his forehead to his brother's. It was weird, but they always had done that. He had a sinking sensation in his spark, something wasn't right. "What do you remember?"

"Lost. Scared. Sky. Brother. Sky. Brother! PAIN! PAIN! HERE! WHERE!"

"Shhhh... it's ok. We are with the Autobots." A scared and torn red hand pressed down on the green chest plates. The little red mech sent waves of emotion to his twin through their bond, calmness, reassurance, safety, peace. "Do you know what year it is?" Silence. "Do you remember your name?" Silence, optics wide in the green face, fear screaming across their bond. "My name?"

The little red mech looked at the medics who had repaired his brothers. He looked into the optics of the one who'd once had the title of Great Healer. Ratchet looked back, horrified. Of all the fates that could befall twins, this was among the worst.

Arcee shuttered her optics. She knew her fury would flash to her sisters and to their mates, through their clan. Annoying little know it alls they had been at one time, with data well beyond their wisdom. The green mech had little more mind than a newly formatted youngling, his brother little better with the sparkache. A part of her spark wanted to fling stones to the sky, demanding answers from Primus. Warriors like herself and her sisters, or 'Cliff and 'Bee, or Ironhide, or Optimus, maybe they hadn't made this war but they had fought it. They would fight it until they fell. They had done so for ages, wearing their pain and loss as armour. They could return their rage to the enemy, hide their fears behind their camaraderie, crush doubts with the mission. But war coming to children like this, no, no, ten thousand times no. She had fought and killed and destroyed to protect children like these.

She moved to stand beside the little green mech, across from his brother. "Hi. Do you remember me?"

The little green mech blinked. "Teacher!"

"Yes, I was your teacher." She forced the tremor to leave her voice, thankful for the jamming that created a uniform electromagnetic background in med bay. "What do you remember?"

"Things. Nouns. Verbs. Action, reaction. The ratio of the diameter of a circle to it's circumference may be approximated by 3.1415926535897932 for most casual applications."

"What is this?" She pointed to a part of of the little red mech. The little green mech might only be left with the most basic grammer and rote mathmatics; any idiot appliance could do that.

"Mudflap?" His brother and teacher both nodded. His face lit up with joy. "Mudflap!" He pointed at his brother's chestplates, to his spark chamber. "Mudflap. Brother. Brother is Mudflap!"

The little red mech stared. Of all things to be called. "I am n-", but he stopped himself, chilling the anger at the insult. His brother didn't remember his own name, much less his. "Yes, I am Mudflap."

The little green mech laughed with relief. "Remember Mudflap, I remember my brother." He looked at his brother's chest plates and arms. There were green streaks there. "Why green there?"

Mudflap hadn't yet seen to his finish. It didn't matter, he'd take off his plates and walk around with his spark bare and his ducts and gears on display if that is what it took to bring his brother back. He'd forgotten about the places where friction had rubbed away his coloring and transferred his brother's to him. He looked down at them, letting his finger follow his brother's. "Skidmarks- I carried you for a long time, brother. You rubbed off on me."

"Skidmarks." The little green mech thought about it. "Marks made by skids, Skid's marks. Skids." He pointed to his green chest. "I'm Skids! I marked my brother, Mudflap is mine, my brother, I'm Skids."

"Yes, I'm your brother, my name is Mudflap, and you are Skids. And never forget that I will protect you and try to make you whole again." He glanced up at the still horrified medics. "Rest, brother, you are still repairing damage. You need to recharge."

"Don' wanna. Not tired." Despite the ritual protest, Skids slipped into recharge at his brother's urgings.

Mudflap looked down at his brother for a long silence before he sought out to the powerfully built Autobot Chief Medical Officer. "They called you the Great Healer once."

Ratchet snarled. "That was a long time ago."

"Is there a way to make my brother whole, Great Healer?"

The snarl turned to a roar. "Don't call me that!" He'd been given that title by a young news reporter writing about his work in the crash of the Voyager Dawn at Septhelm, where he'd operated for almost fourteen solars without recharge. He'd saved literally several hundred sparks himself, while his handpicked emergency surgical and search units saved thousands. He'd been decorated by the Senate, and had the audacity to not appear at the ceremony. He'd resigned his post as the head of Disaster and Medical Response. Then he'd done everything in his power to avoid the reporters who wanted to talk to the reclusive and sometimes hostile hero who could have asked for anything but wanted for nothing other than to do his job. But there had been one who just could not take a subtle hint and could catch a wrench when it was thrown at her, a young green and white femme named Moonracer. No one had called him Great Healer since... since she... He took a step forward. "I'm not that mech any more!"

"Please, No Longer Great Healer!"

Ratchet reached to grab the younger mech, meaning to physically cast him from the medical bay, but Mudflaps stood his ground. That took courage verging on madness. Hands capable of breaking leg struts fell at the healer's side. "The only thing I could do would be to move some of your processors to his body. I'd have to scoop them out of your compilation and conginition centers and then shove them into his head. You'd both be running around with jury rigged brains that would make you both half wits. You'll probably both forget everything. Assuming I didn't leave you two a couple of mindless drones, because there is a one in three chance that is exactly what would happen if I had a proper medical bay, not a retrofitted mining shaft."

"Do it."

"No, youngling. With what I have for tools now, there's a one in three chance I wouldn't leave you an oversized drill press." A few dozen orbitals ago, Ratchet could have fixed the green 'mech, Skids, without anything more than some memory loss. Being a twin would have made it easy. Lock him into status, take some circuit samples, scan his twin's data processing and sensory circuit architecture, grow the needed parts. It might take half an orbital to get the parts ready to graft in, but it would work. He'd done it before for accident victims, many of them. There might be some personality changes, but their friends and therapists helped them rediscover themselves. But they couldn't make those kinds of parts any more.

There was a crash as knees hit the decking. The little red mech raised his hands pleadingly. " I don't want my brother to be stupid while I'm still smart. Make us match, make us have to be Skids and Mudflaps, but make us match or end us."

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Author's Notes: As always, thanks to the Botosphere for allowing me to work in their verse. This is in part an attempt to reconcile the twins we saw, well, acting like half wits and not only half way succeeding and the literate twins that later tutor Annabelle in literature. Blame Eowyen for the brutality here- I was planning on dropping a medium-small nuke on Skids and Mudflap's home town, but she pointed out that the Decepticons weren't that clean. So I dug into my library of atrocity, paraphrased, and let it go. So it's there fault, I was just going to drop the bomb, she wanted a message sent in the manner of the Viet Cong or the Taliban.

And for my X-men fans, please stand by, Weapon neXt must be concluded for my overall story arc to continue, but at this time, I'm facing a very, very, very long fight scene (dreadfully, almost lethally, dull to write) to get to the conclusion.