Teeth of the Lab Rat

By Princess Artemis

© copyright S.D.Green 2002, Transformers G1 © copyright Hasbro

---

"So, when we get back to Earth, any of you wanna join me for a night at the opera?" Jazz asked amicably from his seat behind Ultra Magnus. His feet were propped up on a nearby console with his hands laced behind his head; he had little to do at the moment.

"Opera?" Ultra Magnus responded, glancing back at Jazz. "Opera? By that you mean several humans singing on stage in a way that no one can understand a word they say?"

"Oh come on," Jazz replied, waving a hand derisively. "Give it a try. That way at least you'll know some Earth style if it came and bit you on the bumper."

Ultra Magnus frowned as he piloted the small Autobot shuttle. "No thank you, I'll pass."

"Phff. What about you Springer?"

Springer held up a hand for attention. Then he shook his head. "Never mind, thought I caught something on the sensors. What were you saying, Jazz?"

"I was askin'—" Jazz started, but Perceptor interrupted him.

"There is a ship on the far range sensors, but at the moment it doesn't appear at all hostile," the scientist said.

"Watch it then," Ultra Magnus said, taking a look at the sensor readout. "At least we'll be ready."

"Crisis averted?" Jazz asked.

"There wasn't any crisis, just a blip," Springer answered.

"OK then. As I was sayin'. Springer, feel like coming to an opera with me?"

Springer gave Jazz a look that answered the question for him. "No, not particularly."

"And why not?"

A cockeyed smile tugged at Springer's lips. "You aren't my idea of date material, Jazz."

Jazz puffed and snorted. "If Arcee where here I'd ask her just to prove you wrong." Springer shot Jazz a very heated glare at that. "Besides, I said opera, not candle-lit dinner for two and a walk on the beach!"

"I'm still not going."

"Uncultured Philistines," Jazz muttered. "Well, Perceptor, that leaves you."

"I would rather not," Perceptor replied.

"What is it with you all? No appreciation of the arts at all." Jazz sounded not only mock-disgusted at his fellow Autobots' lack of enthusiasm for a subject he loved, but disappointed as well. Some things just weren't as fun without company.

"It's not a lack of appreciation for Earth arts, Jazz," Perceptor said. "It's opera."

Jazz crossed his arms over his chassis. "Now I thought you mad scientist types liked opera, listenin' while lightening flashed around your high castle towers," he jabbed.

Now it was Perceptor's turn to huff while Springer and Ultra Magnus tried to contain their snickers. Jazz smiled broadly. Not that it was all that hard to get under Perceptor's armor or anything, but it was still entertaining. "I am not...mad," Perceptor sniffed. After a pause he continued, "And I have never listened to any opera because, from what I understand, a truly talented opera singer is dangerous!"

"Dangerous!" Springer laughed. "They're just singers! Are your audio circuits that sensitive?"

"If you think I would enjoy it," Perceptor said to Jazz, completely ignoring Springer, "you are welcome to record it and play it softly for me. When you do, I will endeavor to be in a castle tower surrounded by violent weather disturbances if it would better suit the mood."

Jazz laughed out loud at that. He got up and after several attempts to reach surreptitiously around the lens barrel Perceptor carried on his shoulder, all of which failed spectacularly, Jazz managed to poke him in the side of the head. Since Perceptor had been prepared for it, the gesture lost quite a bit of its effectiveness. To make up for it, Jazz actually poked him several times. "You got a deal. But I don't get why it has to be soft. You'd never hear it over the lightening!"

"Thunder is the phenomenon that would make listening difficult. And I believe I mentioned that such singers are dangerous." Perceptor waved his hand near his face, effectively preventing any more poking.

"They aren't that loud. Blaster'd have a better chance of blowing your audio circuits than an opera singer."

"It's not my audio circuits I am concerned about," Perceptor elaborated. "It's...zzz?" He moved his hand a little, as if he were about to make a gesture of some sort, but it just twitched instead. He made another odd noise and then he just stopped.

"It's what?" Jazz asked after a few moments went by. After a few more moments brought him no answer, he moved around to Perceptor's right and waved his hand in front of his face. Not even a blip. Getting concerned, Jazz nudged Perceptor slightly, but it turned out to be a bad move on his part and he had to grab the scientist before he fell out of his seat. "I think we got a little situation here," Jazz said, trying to hold Perceptor back from slipping off the far side of the chair.

Springer and Ultra Magnus got up and helped Jazz with Perceptor, who had become totally inert and limp as a rag doll. They sat him back in the seat, getting him in a position where he wasn't going to fall, then stood back for a moment.

"Now this isn't good," Springer observed after a few attempts to get Perceptor's attention. He looked alert but this appearance was deceiving.

Ultra Magnus put the ship on temporary autopilot, then picked up Perceptor and took him into a back diagnostic room on the shuttle. If nothing else they could scan him and see if there were any gross motor failures or something of that nature, something easy to fix. None of the three were trained in anything but the basics of field repair, as all Autobots were. If Perceptor had a leg ripped off, they could reattach it tolerably well, but it would take a medic to do it right. The way things looked though, they would have to wait until they got to Earth to do anything. If Perceptor had been human, someone might have ventured catatonia or perhaps a petit mal as possibilities.

Ultra Magnus laid Perceptor down on his side; his lens barrel made anything else impractical. After some finagling and shoving, a little under-the-vocalizer cursing and frustratingly precarious balancing, he managed to get Perceptor into a position where he wasn't in danger of falling over.

Springer activated some scanners. He sat down in a chair and drummed his fingers on the console, waiting for some results. "Now what do you do when all your scientists and medics are knocked out?" he asked no one in particular. "Kidnap Starscream?"

Jazz snorted. "I'd think a Constructicon would be a better choice if were going to get into Con-napping, assuming it would do any good...and assuming Starscream wasn't dead as a doornail. I could just see how well that would go over. Yeah me! I wanna help!'"

The results of Springer's first scan came up. "Huh! That's odd," he said in surprise. According to the initial scan, there wasn't a thing wrong with Perceptor. Absolutely nothing. He quickly ran a comparison check on the computer's records for Perceptor's baseline with the current results. That too came up with very little discrepancy, so marginal that it could be ignored. Perceptor's mental functions were slightly deviant from the baseline. It was so mildly different that it could very easily be brushed aside as nothing more than Perceptor thinking about something a little harder than he had been when the baseline scan was taken. It was certainly nothing that would cause him to lose physical function. Springer turned to the other two. "There's nothing wrong according to this. If he were a different Autobot, I'd say he was making a valiant effort to get out off going to Jazz' opera."

Jazz made a face. "Wouldn't work...so don't get any ideas Springer." He leaned over Springer's shoulder and took a look at the preliminary results himself. "Really does make ya wonder though. All the scanners say is he's maybe thinking a little harder? Would have to be a doozy of a problem to shut him down for it...but then the scanners would show if he was that wrapped up in something. I don't think ditching out on an invite would require so much effort. There's gotta be something else. I hope I'm wrong, but I got this feeling we won't like it when we do find out what's up."

"I agree," Ultra Magnus said. "Springer, keep scanning, see if another type of scan will show anything. I think though we're just going to have to wait until we get to Autobot City; I trust that whatever is wrong with Perceptor can easily be addressed there. Even so, if something does come up we'll have some information to give."

"All right," Springer said, upset that there wasn't anything tangible for him to do.

Jazz and Ultra Magnus silently left the room, concerned, but not hopeless. Certainly someone on Earth could figure out the problem. In the meantime, Perceptor lay silent, deep in thought...

---

He sat cross-legged in the precise center of a perfectly square, cool white room. Large enough to walk around in, small enough for an ordinary explorer to gather all the information that they would want in less than a few minutes. It possessed no door, no manner of entrance or exit. And he remembered it. He knew where he was.

Perhaps remembered' was too weak a term, knowing' to small. He knew this place better than anyone alive would ever hope to or care to. He knew every surface in the room was square because he had measured them a hundred times in a hundred ways. The surfaces were uneven, faintly bumped, minutely bumped...microscopically bumped...and he knew how many bumps were on each wall. He knew that the numbers were not the same. He knew which wall had more, which had the higher, which had the sharpest. Ask of him the number in any given square inch and he could say with assurance. Ask him what the walls were made of and he could tell you. He knew that too. He'd seen it. Down to the atomic level. He hadn't counted the atoms, but he knew the molecular composition, where it was most even in each wall and where the molecules and elements were most scattered; he'd learned statistics that way, among other things. If one asked what they tasted like, the walls... He could say, even if he had nothing to compare the taste to. He couldn't say if it were good or bad.

Tasting the walls had been the last thing, after he had examined them and learned everything there was to know about their structure in other ways. But he had to know, so he'd tasted them.

This had come after he had examined himself as well. He knew as much about his own composition as the walls, he knew with precision incredible the size and shape of every part of him; he'd learned geometry that way, among other things. He knew exactly how far every part could bend and in what direction, knew every posture he could take. He knew the molecular makeup of every part of his body that he could see. And yes...he knew what he tasted like. More than the extent allowed by his natural form, or so he assumed; he had a specific design, and he knew where his sense of taste was located and that it was limited. But he could emulate it easily, transfer the sense to his hands, and he did so. He could not emulate his sight, not his fine sight, the precise sight, but he could emulate the crude sight, and he did so. He assumed that which looked and tasted the same as the parts of his body that he could see with his precise sight were made of the same material. And he spoke just to hear himself speak, in every tone and range he was capable of.

Then, at some point after he had tasted the walls, he found there was nothing new to discover without some form of violence. Violence in the smallest, strictest sense...to violate the shape of the wall, to scratch the surface, or to violate the integrity of his outer shell and examine what was within.

So he did. He took his legs apart, examined them with as much attention to detail as he gave to everything else in the cubical white room. Then he put them back together and took his arms apart. He took apart and returned to its previous state as much of his body as he was physically able. He took his face apart, he took his head apart, he took his chest apart. Very carefully he took his brain apart...because he could emulate it...and he put it back again and transferred the memory from his essence to his brain. He couldn't take his essence apart; there was nothing to emulate it because it was the emulator. He looked at that small mechanism as best he could, but that was the solitary mystery of his physical self. He had taken his precise sight apart too, very carefully, for he valued it greatly, and looked at it as best he could with his crude sight.

After this, he decided there was something else outside of himself, as chance would not allow his existence. He had learned many physical laws then. And he had wondered what was beyond the inviolate surface of the wall, and began to scratch, slowly, softly...

He stopped, shook his head. He would drown in this recollection if he allowed it and he knew it was a recollection. He hadn't just now done any of that, hadn't taken himself apart...but the memory was very present and real. It felt like he was really here, where he had been so long ago, the first moment of his existence. This place where he had been for quite a long time as organic creatures would call it; the better part of one hundred and fifty thousand years.

And it had taken him that long just to begin scratching the wall? He almost smiled, almost. It had taken a great deal shorter time to exit the cube than it had to explore it and himself; it hadn't taken him long to see the walls were thin and composed of the same material throughout. Almost worth a smile. He could see through a brick wall, given time, as an Earth human might say. Once he'd seen with precise sight how far there was left, he recalled that he had blasted through the rest with his light cannon.

But before this recollection followed to that conclusion, he realized suddenly that he wasn't alone in the room. He never had been...never once. Just as well, as that would mean he had been in the room twice, and once was enough. But this time the presence was different and perhaps that was why he hadn't been aware of it the way he should. His memory had played out just as it had happened, and while he had never been alone he had never seen anyone else in the room. Now he guessed he would. So he stood, and without turning, he inverted his precise sight to see what he could see. It was not at all the best use of his precise sight, as the image was cruder than his crude sight, so small and thin...but he could see there was someone standing behind him. He returned the sight to normal and turned around to face his company.

He wasn't surprised to find the form identical to his; it was almost to be expected. He was somewhat surprised to see this other was black where he was crimson, dun gray-silver where he was teal, optics yellow where his were blue.

Blue... He thought for a moment and realized that was different as well. His optics had not been blue here, when he'd actually been here, outside of this terribly real memory. Actually, they had been purple. But they were blue now.

The black one narrowed his sulfur optics and hissed. "I'm tired of being suppressed. It's time I took the reigns."

The black voice was his voice as well, but spoken with a different tone...and differently than he remembered the shadow self speak. Shadow self...? He would think of that in a moment. "I have not suppressed you, not to my knowledge," he replied. "I don't even know who you are. Not precisely, anyhow."

"Oh really. You don't even remember me? That's even worse." The black one was angry, very angry.

He held up his hand. "Let me think...I might remember you. I had a hint of it just a moment ago, if you'll allow me to consider it."

The other snorted. "Take all the time you need. It isn't as if I haven't been here for uncounted millions of years anyway."

He started at that but held his peace. He wanted to think of the shadow self, this black self. It took a moment, longer than he expected. This memory wasn't so clear and concrete as the rest. It wasn't that he hadn't examined this aspect of himself at the time; it was something else making the memory dim.

"This isn't like you to take so long thinking about something," the black one said with a hint of sarcasm.

"My apologies. You are quite right; it shouldn't take this long. But...it's vague. Considering how very concrete everything else is I remember, I find the vagueness quite disturbing."

"You would. Vagueness is my territory."

He stood and looked at the black one for a moment. "You have me at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps you could tell me who you are?"

"I don't think so. I think I like leaving you in the dark. Yes, I think I'll leave you to flounder Illuminatus." The black one started for the wall and looked on the verge of blasting it down himself. If his lenses worked the same, he would certainly be able to do so.

"Who?"

The black one stopped. "You don't even remember your name?!"

"Well yes, actually I do, but it is not Illuminatus."

Yellow optics narrowed. "We'll see. You'll remember that much before I take over at least." The black one transformed and fired his light cannon, using more power than was strictly necessary to knock the wall down. Then he returned to a bipedal form. "Come on out, see what there is to see...."

---

"Oh hey what? That little blip got a lot bigger Springer!" Jazz called to the back. "Looks like it's hailin' us too." Springer stood at the doorway to the diagnostic room, listening, waiting for another scan to finish and wondering how any Autobot could find medicine or science interesting.

"See what it has to say," Ultra Magnus replied, as he watched the sensors to see what type of ship it was.

"All right, here goes." Jazz touched a few buttons and a visual popped up on screen. The image filled with one of the faces of a five-faced Quintesson, wearing the face that looked like it had a turban of some sort.

The Quintesson was quite direct. "Autobots," it sniffed, and its voice was a good deal different than most Quintessons they had come across before; it actually sounded quite emotional.

Ultra Magnus muttered, "No armament at all. I'm not even picking up any Sharkticons."

"Cool," Jazz said. Then he addressed the Quintesson. "Hey there, how ya doin'? Yup, we're Autobots. It's nice to know you goons aren't all stupider than you look." A few quick button presses and the screen blanked.

Ultra Magnus glanced Jazz' way. "That wasn't very friendly. Not that I mind...."

The hail came again, and Jazz again answered it. This time the Quintesson had on the spiky headed face. "Is Illuminatus there?" it asked, hissing slightly.

"Weather's here, wish you were nice. Bye!" He pressed a button and the screen flickered off, catching the Quintesson about to shift faces, probably to express irritation.

Another hail. "Persistent bugger, ain't he," Jazz muttered as he opened the channel.

"Please don't cut the line! It's very important for me to know if Illuminatus is on board!"

"Sorry man, no Illuminatus! Seeya!" Click.

The hailing alert beeped. Jazz sighed and answered it. "Stop this!" the Quintesson demanded. "If there is no Illuminatus, perhaps he has another name. Lucius or Luciferus perhaps?"

Ultra Magnus commented, "That's not a name that would go over well in many places."

"Well it would be appropriate!"

"Sorry, wrong again, Quint. Good luck next time," Jazz said easily then cut the line.

Beep, beep. "Oh fine."

The Quintesson was now wearing its death's head. "I figured if he was on an Autobot ship he would have one of those names...but perhaps not. Is there an Occludus aboard? Occultus? Anti-Illuminatus?"

"Is that your final answer?" Jazz asked.

"What!" the Quintesson yelled.

Click.

Beep, beep. Beep, beep.

"Gonna answer?" Ultra Magnus asked.

"In a sec."

Beep, beep. Beep, beep. Then Jazz pressed the buttons to open the channel. As soon as the Quintesson came on, wearing its devil face this time, Jazz said, "Hi, this is Jazz!"

The Quintesson started to speak, but Jazz wasn't finished yet. "I'm sorry I'm not here to take your call, but if you leave your name and number, I'll be sure to get back to you after you stop being five kinds of horrendous ugly! Bye!"

The Quintesson started shouting as Jazz cut the line.

Beep, beep. Beep, beep. "That dude is not gonna give up, is he?" Jazz asked the air.

"Doesn't sound like it," Ultra Magnus answered. "The ship's not armed, there's nothing on the sensors indicating we're in any danger... I don't think there's any harm in finding out what it wants."

"But it's so fun hassling Quints! And it's great for relieving stress, too."

Ultra Magnus just frowned slightly. "Oh all right, I'll let him talk," Jazz said seriously. He clicked open the channel again. "Hey, whatcha need?"

The devil faced Quintesson remained silent for long enough that Jazz asked, "Look, you called us, so why aren't you talkin'?"

The Quintesson frowned. "Honestly? I expected you to cut the line again."

"Ah, well...I decided to be nice and hear you out. It's the least I could do for someone who wants to talk to me as bad as you do," Jazz said with all the sincerity he could muster.

One of the Quintesson's small, bulbous tipped tentacles tapped its dominant forehead. "I don't particularly want to talk to you. What I want is to know if my experiment is on board."

Jazz looked over at Ultra Magnus for a second, then back at the Quintesson. "I don't think so. We don't exactly go out of our way to bother you guys, certainly not to go swiping your experiments. Unless they happen to be friends of ours."

"I lost this one quite a long time ago, and if he's on your ship as I think, you may very well be friends of his. Although," and it shifted to the turban wearing head, "I'm surprised you didn't recognize his names."

"Oh yeah? How long ago you lose im?" Jazz asked, his tone friendly enough, but inside he was seething at the thought that one of his friends might be a Quintesson experiment.

"Long enough that he would have had time to join your ranks on Cybertron, if he did in fact do so. A good deal before any of you went and crashed on that rock heap called Earth."

"Now don't go bad mouthin' Earth, ten eyes. I might have to hang up on you again."

The Quintesson's face shifted back to the red devil. "Don't cut the line! I am simply seeking to recover my lost property and go about my business. Surely your scanners have already picked up that I have none of those benightedly stupid Sharkticons on board and no weapons. It's not as though I were out to attack you."

"Yeah, we knew that," Jazz agreed. "So...since we don't know any of these names, maybe you could describe him for us?" He was still angry about the experiment' idea, but he didn't see any harm in finding out what the creature was after.

Its face shifted back to the turbaned head. "When I saw him last he was red and blue with purple optics. He is certainly smarter than any of you, a bit of a scientist like myself I'm sure."

That got the Autobots' attention and Springer ran up from the back. Jazz looked over at the other two, and at a nod from Ultra Magnus, he continued his conversation with the Quintesson. "Red and blue we've got...a couple actually, a scientist we got, but none of us have purple optics. Everyone's got baby blues over here."

"Hrm, well...optic color doesn't matter much with your kind, they change on a whim it seems. His certainly did. Perhaps a better description at the moment would be currently immobile?"

Surprise and not a small touch of anger flashed in all three Autobot's optics.

The face on the screen shifted to a happier one. "I'll take that as a yes! Very good. Now if you'll be kind enough to return him to me so I can complete my experiment...."

"Oh hell no!" Jazz shouted. "No way!"

"Perceptor's not going anywhere," Ultra Magnus intoned, "and if you have a problem with that, I'm sure you can take it up with any of our weapons." He subsequently began arming a few of the shuttle's laser cannons and training them on the small Quintesson ship.

"Ah well, hmm, I see your point. It's not as though I can really force the issue I suppose," the Quintesson responded nervously. "I do suppose you are wondering how I knew...Perceptor you said? That's an odd although not entirely inappropriate name... Well, you must want to know how I came to be aware of his current state of immobility?"

"You could say that," Jazz said with a somewhat deadly calm.

"It's very simple actually. I did it, so he couldn't get away."

Ultra Magnus nearly broke off the throttle handle on the small shuttle. Optics narrowed in anger on all sides. If Springer hadn't known the Quintesson was on another ship, he might have sprung on the thing and knocked a few of its faces together.

"You've got about five astroseconds to explain why we shouldn't blow you to bits right now," Ultra Magnus growled.

"Oh, oh...well, that shouldn't be too hard. I can reactivate him."

"Not good enough," Ultra Magnus said, certain in his own mind that once they got Perceptor to Earth, an Autobot could easily do the same thing. He reached for a few buttons that would activate the laser cannons.

The Quintesson shifted to the turbaned face, a look of desperation plastered all over it. "Now, now, let's not be hasty! I seem to have left a word out. Only I can reactivate him."

Ultra Magnus' hand stopped, but his white fingers still hovered over the firing switches. "Why is that?"

"Well, well...," the Quintesson said, slightly relieved he wasn't about to die, "I designed him that way. No good experiment is unrepeatable. I needed a way to restart the process in order to repeat it. It's also rather convenient in case of any unforeseen problems."

Jazz dug his fingers into a console, enough to dent the surface. "What, like escape?" he said with striking venom.

"What? I didn't say he escaped, I said I'd lost him!" the Quintesson protested.

"Yeah, well, I think escaped is easier to swallow than lost. Makes me wonder what you were doing if you lost such a precious experiment'." Jazz fairly spit the last word out it was so distasteful to him.

"All right! He escaped. And he surprised me, which is why I couldn't shut him down fast enough to recover him before he got too far away. By the time I found out where he was, it was too late. I've waited a long time to finish my experiment, but I am patient."

"Mm hmm."

The Quintesson frowned. "I don't suppose there's any need for you to believe me, except on this point: I'm the only one who can reactivate him. So if you won't let me have him back, I could just leave him that way."

Ultra Magnus calmly reached for the firing switches again. "And we could just leave you as so much space dust."

The Quintesson's tentacles all came flying up and he switched to his death's head. "Now that won't do at all. If you kill me, Perceptor will remain in his current state, effectively dead himself."

"There's a reasonable chance we can find a way to reactivate him," the large Autobot said. He did still have a good deal of confidence in that; Perceptor wasn't dead or even damaged, not by a long shot.

"Are you willing to take the chance?"

Ultra Magnus pulled his hand back again. "Well, it depends. One thing is certain; you aren't taking him anywhere. I'm confident that it would just be a matter of time before we figure out what you did and reverse it."

"I doubt it. But never mind that. I'm not so stupid that I can't see when I'm outnumbered. Maybe we could strike a bargain?"

"A bargain." Ultra Magnus didn't sound thrilled.

"Yes! Let me board your ship, gather some information, see how my experiment has gone for the last several million years, and in exchange I'll revive him and you can go on your merry way."

The Autobots turned to one another, glancing one to the other in silent communication. Jazz didn't like the idea, Springer thought even if they did bring the Quintesson aboard, they could always blast it if it pulled anything, and Ultra Magnus grudgingly agreed. The larger Autobot turned back to the screen and said, "All right, we can do that, but if you so much as flick a tentacle suspiciously...."

"We reserve the right to evict you from the premises with extreme prejudice," Jazz finished.

It galled all three to see the Quintesson so genuinely happy about the prospect. "Oh good!" it said in an almost disgustingly chipper tone. "Let us dock up and I'll come right over." This time the Quintesson cut the line.

"I dunno about this," Jazz said while Ultra Magnus helped guide the shuttle into a good docking position. "Even if that thing is harmless otherwise... Takin' aboard Quints that call our friends experiments' and actually helping it do more research'! How could it ask us something like that? The nerve!"

Ultra Magnus nodded. "But if it was telling the truth, certainly answering a few questions for it is worth getting Perceptor back. If it really did shut him off, there's always an outside chance it would take a long time to find out what it did and repair it. I know we can, but...the time factor. I don't think we can afford to pass up the chance."

"And of course I can still rearrange a few of its ugly mugs before it has a chance to try anything," Springer said, his weapon already in hand.

"Quite right," Ultra Magnus said as he guided the shuttle to a final docking position. A soft clunk was heard and they knew the small Quintesson craft had finished the link.

"Let's go greet our esteemed guest'," Jazz growled, starting toward the airlock.

Ultra Magnus and Springer followed, but Ultra Magnus insisted, as was his right, to be the first to greet the Quintesson. Springer and Jazz made no sign of concealing their weapons. After the airlock signaled it was ready, Ultra Magnus punched a few buttons and it opened, revealing the Quintesson.

It immediately floated in liked it owned the place, wearing its spiky face. "You may call me Logonomy after the manner of your species," it said, flicking a tentacle. "Now would you be so kind as to show me to my experiment?" It didn't seem to notice, or if it did, didn't care that all three Autobots had their arms out and at the ready.

Jazz made a supreme effort to resist shooting the thing, holding his gun with what would be a white knuckled grip for a human. The Autobots followed after the Quintesson, and Ultra Magnus, exercising a surprising amount of restraint, showed it the way to the room where he had laid Perceptor.

"Maybe it won't notice if I clip one of those horns... I can always say I stumbled," Springer muttered to Jazz as they followed.

"Probably make it look nicer. When yer clearly scrapin' the bottom of the ugly barrel, anything would be an improvement," Jazz replied.

It didn't take them long to arrive at the room, and Logonomy was already skittering around on its beam that held it up, looking Perceptor over. It appeared nearly ecstatic. Then it turned to the scanner readouts. "You were trying to figure out what happened. Well...it looks like everything is exactly as it should be," the Quintesson said happily.

"So you'll reactivate him now?" Springer asked. Jazz went and sat on a console.

"Not yet. Questions first, that was our bargain," Logonomy replied. It looked around a moment then asked, "Tell me...hmm...simple first. How does he talk?"

Jazz kicked his legs. "How he talks? Lesse...amiable yet stultifying, technobabble personified, exasperating, vexatious, loquacious, pleonastic, enthusiastic, verbose, sometimes mesmerizing, more often hypnotizing, and...perceptively, even if half the universe doesn't get it."

Ultra Magnus and Springer both looked at Jazz in shock, jaws dropped; Ultra Magnus' optics had actually glazed. Springer found his voice synthesizer first. "You could give him a run for his money, Jazz."

Jazz smiled. "Just because I don't use ten-dollar words doesn't mean I don't know any."

"I would have said he sounds like he eats thesauruses instead of energon," Springer said.

"Thesauri," Jazz corrected.

"What!"

Jazz grinned again. "Gotta take up the slack for my fallen buddy here. Wouldn't do just to leave you all abusin' the language."

Ultra Magnus looked as though he was getting a headache. "Can't you be serious?"

"Sure I can. Not as fun, but I can. And I was being serious. I answered the Quint didn't I? And maybe I was makin' a little point about how even if it seems like Perceptor's MO is to never use a small word when a big one will do, it's not...he's just tryin' to share the wealth in the only way he knows how."

Springer snorted. "It's more insulting than anything. I don't even hear any of his inane prattling anymore."

"You're missin' out then. Maybe you should chow down a thesaurus or something. I think he talks like that because he expects you to understand, not because he's tryin' to show you he's smarter. It's gotta be a bit lonely in his ivory tower. Every time he invites someone in he gets the door slammed in his face."

"Then maybe he should try coming out of the tower instead!"

Jazz shrugged. "Like I said, I don't think he knows how."

The Quintesson almost seemed to be clapping two of its tentacles together, and his dominant face for the moment was the happy one with the orange crown. "How very interesting. The vocal patterns of Occludus but more of the spirit of Illuminatus...and in effect, the two cancel each other out. Interesting indeed."

"What do you mean?" Ultra Magnus asked.

"Oh," the Quintesson answered, shifting his face to the turbaned one. "I designed in Illuminatus a strong desire to, as Jazz said, share the wealth', and I gave him a way of speech that he could use to educate even the youngest or stupidest of creatures. It seems, however, that this...integration...picked up Occludus' vocal patterns. I designed his voice to allow him to obfuscate his intentions so that he could say everything and mean nothing; at least, to those he would leave in the dark. It appears the integration lacks the perfection of design Illuminatus and Occludus share. That too is quite interesting...."

"Whoa now, hold the phone and back it on up. You designed Illuminatus and Occludus, whomever they are?" Jazz asked, incredulous.

Logonomy shifted his face to the devil mask, apparently to express irritation. "Well of course I did, you cretin. How do you expect me to run a controlled experiment without any control?"

"Let me get this straight," Ultra Magnus said slowly, "you actually gave life to not one but two Transformers? How could you do that? As I recall the Quintessons were kicked off Cybertron long before any of us became Transformers. How did you access Vector Sigma?"

The devil face darkened. "I didn't. I helped build Vector Sigma. I programmed most of its ability to give life to Cybertronians. I didn't lose that skill, although I admit I could never create life the way Vector Sigma did, since I was not the sole creator of the machine. But I can create Cybertronian-style life. It just takes me a lot longer, long enough that I don't do it unless I have a pressing need, such as the experiment Illuminatus and Occludus were designed to be an integral part of."

"That just bugs me to absolutely no end, you know that?" Jazz announced. "You just up and make someone to be your guinea pig."

Logonomy twitched its devil's mouth into a faint smile. "That's the nature of the beast, I fear, for a scientist. Use lower life forms to see how they react, to learn something about the world. Illuminatus and Occludus certainly were far more advanced than a...guinea pig', but they were made by me, for a purpose, and as their creator I could certainly put them to whatever purpose I choose. At least I didn't enslave them as most Quintessons enslaved Cybertronians. I am quite sure they were not altogether displeased, as I provided them a great deal to satisfy their lusts upon."

"Lusts?" Ultra Magnus said with a faint hint of disgust.

"I'm sure you are aware of them; no mater what form they took, they must still thirst after knowledge as if it were a feast in a desolate land."

Springer grabbed one of Logonomy's horns. "And you say being an experiment isn't a form of slavery? If Perceptor escaped, I'm gathering he wasn't happy enough wherever you had him to stick around."

The Quintesson shook himself loose of Springer's grasp and shifted to his turbaned face. "No, they, Illuminatus and Occludus, were not perfectly content, and that was by design also; there was only so much I could give them to learn. Where ever Perceptor came into this, I don't know, but he wasn't the one who escaped."

Jazz muttered, "Look, I'm getting confused. Who are Illuminatus and Occludus?"

Logonomy pointed a tentacle towards Perceptor's still form. "They are. Or were... Illuminatus must have succeeded in his endeavor if you refer to him in the singular and by an altogether separate name. Nevertheless, they are both, two in one form, to see which was the strongest. Of course they would seek to know more...but I had hoped they wouldn't leave so quickly!" Logonomy shifted to its death's head rather fast. "I barely had a chance to ask! And it was such a beautiful study. Light against shadow, not to fight but to see what was the more powerful...and not just light and shadow, but the philosophical connotations, even, dare I say, the spiritual connotations. Life and death even, honesty and deceit...a beautiful study! And they were perfect!" The Quintesson growled low. "But Illuminatus destroyed it all...not just by escaping...no, he did more, he destroyed it all!"

Jazz tapped his chin. "I dunno. He obviously didn't destroy his body, and Perceptor's been quite happy with it for a good long while, I think... Assuming even a word of what you just said was true."

Logonomy was nearly shaking with rage. He was quite a bit more emotional than most of the five headed Quintessons the Autobots had met. "Illuminatus may very well have destroyed more of this body than you realize! I can see from the readouts on his mental functions that he does not use them to their full capacity, and I doubt, I seriously doubt he has even a sliver of a clue what he could do with the power I gave him!"

"Illuminatus was smarter than Perceptor?!" Jazz exclaimed, jumping to his feet.

"I am quite certain Illuminatus and Occludus both would make your Perceptor weep for the loss; it would be like comparing great genius to a mental deficient."

"I find that hard to believe," Ultra Magnus said, tapping his fingers on his knee.

"And what's this great power'?" Springer asked.

"I think the Ego that Ate Cybertron means Perceptor's universal emulator. If it really does what it sounds like, it's gotta be one handy dandy little device," Jazz answered.

Logonomy sneered at Jazz, not appreciating the dig, but Jazz didn't care in the slightest. "It is a...handy dandy' mechanism...it's the soul of the machine, the essence of Illuminatus and Occludus. They could use it to reach into the minds of any machine and strip every scrap of knowledge out of it by emulating it. Occludus might then emulate a clean slate...formatting, as it where, the mind from which he stole. Illuminatus would never do that...but he would keep the knowledge. Given the right circumstances, they could do the same with an organic creature of great complexity. Your stupid little Matrix...they could even emulate that if they chose to. That is but the tiniest sliver of what it can do. It truly is universal; they could emulate anything with it and discover the secrets in the design of that which they emulated. But I wonder... Does this...integration...use it at all? Besides as a glorious, exquisitely designed can to keep his spark in?"

"You know, for coming over here just to ask questions, you seem to have jumped to an awful lot of your own conclusions," Springer grumped.

Ultra Magnus gave the slightest hint of a smug smile. "I seem to recall he did quite a number on some of you Quints when they stole it once."

"Eh, so I heard." Logonomy shifted back to the spiky face. "My fellow Quintessons had no clue what they had...if they did, they certainly would have made more of an effort to keep it. But I never quite told them everything there was to know about it... They might have hunted me down and forced me to make another. I don't think I could; it's a work of art, not a cog."

"Well, if we're still in Q and A mode...I don't think Perceptor talked about it a lot, but I'm sure he used it," Jazz said. "But then I don't suppose any of us would sit and blab about how we used our fingers to press a button. Sound's like something integral enough to him that he would just...use it, maybe without thinking about it."

"Not thinking about it... If so this integration has fallen a great distance from their original pristine designs. Not thinking about it."

"It was just a suggestion. Like I said, he didn't talk about it."

"That has to be a first," Springer commented quietly.

Jazz pressed his lips together in a bit of a frown. "He never kept up a running commentary on how his legs were moving when he walked."

Springer harumphed. "But I'm guessing he would talk our audio receptors off about however he figured something out."

"I'm tellin' you, I really got this feelin' it was too integral to talk about like that," Jazz insisted. "If this twit with the faces not even a mother could love is telling the truth, then if Perceptor did talk about it he would talk about it in a way that we wouldn't recognize. He'd say he thought of this or he figured this out, not he used his essence or he used his mind. That's just silly. No one talks like that." Jazz paused. "OK, strike that. Sky Lynx talks like that."

Logonomy sniffed. "So you think he uses it. Well...maybe it wasn't such a failure. Regardless. Tell me a little about how he acts."

---

Outside the white wall was a small garden. It was enclosed as well, but he remembered spending millennia studying everything in it, watching things live and grow and die and reproduce after their kind. There were trees and a little pond, lilies, ferns, grass, insects...all manner of small organic life, but he remembered the frogs with a particular keenness. Little yellow frogs with black spots.

He went to pick one up while the black him stood behind. "I remember this." The little frog hopped from one black fingertip to the other, so very small in his hand. He'd spent years watching these things. Life sciences... When he found one dead he remembered wondering at it so much, never having seen death before. And as always, he had tried to leave it inviolate. He didn't understand it...and he wanted to, to see what would happen. So he'd watched it for a long time, watched it disintegrate into dust, while still watching the other frogs. But then...there was a suggestion from the shadow self. This garden was another place where he had never been alone yet never been in the company of another being like himself.

The shadow self. He had suggested taking apart one of the frogs while it still lived. Certainly there was knowledge to be gained that way, quite a lot in fact. Now there were memories of a light self. He narrowed his optics as the frog hopped across to his lower arm. Light self...but it wasn't him! "I don't understand this!" he nearly shouted in frustration. Shadow self, light self...but where in all this was himself?

He heard the black one behind him. "Reminding you of something?" he sneered.

"Yes...," he said slowly, gently plucking the frog off his forearm and setting it down among the lilies. "I...I...but...no...it wasn't I." He remembered they had fought. Inside his head. They'd fought. He'd fallen and crushed one of the trees. One wanted to vivisect the frog; the other was adamant they would not. They would not harm them...they're only frogs...wait a few years and there will be hundreds more, what's a few frogs? But we will not HARM THEM. But what could we learn? Think about what we could know!

He put his hand to his head and swayed a little. The shadow self had won that fight and indeed he had learned a great deal and it was quite fascinating. The shadow self had won and they experimented on the frogs to see what they would do. Most they left alone because the shadow self couldn't force the light self to harm more than was absolutely necessary. Little experiments on little frogs...and he'd learned quite a bit of biology that way, among other things. They had done the same with every living thing in the garden. For the plants it didn't seem as hard, as it didn't take the killing of the entire plant...in most cases...to discover how it worked. And they had learned as much about the garden and the things in it as they had about the cubical room. They had...they...not him, but they.

"They," he whispered.

"You are Illuminatus," the black one declared.

He whirled around and faced the black one. "No I am not! Look at me! I am not! I am not who you think I am! I contain only one, singular essence, and it is not Illuminatus!"

The black one took a step toward him. "But you are. You have to be. I'm not; that only leaves you!"

He backed away. "Then who are you? Are you the shadow? You were the one that made us kill the frogs...no! No, that can't be right, it can't be. I am only one."

The black one tilted his head. "Memory failing?"

"Maybe!" he shouted, though the idea chilled him to the core. But he doubted it, doubted it very much. The memories were too clear, all of this too staggeringly precisely absolutely correct to be a false memory or an eroded one. The consequences...the consequences, however, were more frightening than a simple loss of memory, even so formidable was that memory. Not the simple idea that he had a dark side; that was not to be questioned. Everyone had a dark side. It was the idea that this dark side was a sentient essence in its...his...own right. That there was a light side that was also sentient in his own right.

And that this all left him precisely...no where. There had only been two, this he remembered. No middle ground, just the light self and the shadow self. There was no...seeing self.

"This cannot be right. I am...I am not Illuminatus. And clearly I cannot be you. Where am I in all this? Where is my place?"

The black one's smile was almost feral. "If you aren't Illuminatus, and you aren't Occludus, then you...don't exist."

He sat down, shaken. "It cannot be true. These are not all of my memories. This is not even a tithe of my knowledge. And in none of it all outside these walls was I ever more nor less than my own self! We...I...am only one."

The black one kneeled down in front of him. "You doubt. And that, I'm sorry to say, my misguided Illuminatus, is quite enough." The small garden became quite dark suddenly, the light fleeing it...no...the black one was actively removing it. "Have fun remembering...you've got nothing but time now!" Then there was darkness, total, complete; and he couldn't fight it off because only Illuminatus could fight the darkness, and he was not Illuminatus.

He sensed the other was gone now and he was alone for the first time ever in the garden. He ran a hand over the grass he couldn't see. He plucked a tiny blade and sniffed at it, rubbing it between his fingers, thinking, trying not to loose sight or hold of himself. "I have no need of light here." He stood and walked to another wall, feeling it until he found the right spot.

He muttered to himself, "Whatever the purpose of my being here...indeed, it certainly could be the...continuing of an ancient experiment...I need not stay here to find the answers. So I shall go seek them." He didn't know where the idea that he was stuck in the memory of an experiment had come; it seemed to have just arisen instinctively, or remembered as a dream might, when he had his mind on other things.

Without light his cannon was useless, but he knew the walls, he knew them down to their very molecular fabric. He knew how much force would break them. Narrowing his blue optics as he pulled his fist back, he said, "And if it is...then perhaps I can find where my place is in this cage!"

---

No one had a chance to answer the Quintesson's last question. Logonomy nearly fell it was so shocked. And to topple a Quintesson was no easy task. But there it was, reeling. Its experiment was moving, reviving himself without any action on Logonomy's part. Not only that, but his color was darkening, sinking to a deathly black and dun. Part of the Quintesson wondered at this ability to shift color; he'd certainly never built his experiment to have that ability, but perhaps its experiment was emulating death. Cybertronian color bled away to varying shades of gray when one would die; it might not be such a difficult task for him to use his universal emulator to convince his outer shell that he was dead. "I had no idea," it said to itself, for if it was shocked, the Autobots were more so.

Ultra Magnus glared at Logonomy. "And you said something about how you were the only one who could reactivate him?"

The Quintesson managed to stabilize itself. "Well, well...I did not lie to you. I...apparently have underestimated their abilities."

"Guess so," Jazz said, a little stunned. "And I'm going to guess that you haven't the slightest idea what's going on, do you?"

"Ah...heh...well...honestly? I can make a few predictions based on my understanding of my experiment's physical make up, although I am quite surprised they could reactivate themself, assuming the deactivation occurred the way I intended." Logonomy wore its spiked face and was rather consternated at it all.

Springer narrowed his optics at the Quintesson. "That's not what you said you did before. First time it was just a simple deactivation so he couldn't get away.' Now there's something else to it?"

Before the Quintesson could answer, Perceptor sat up and looked darkly at the five-faced creature. Along with his blackening, his optics had flickered to yellow. He reached out a hand and grabbed Logonomy by the head, crushing a couple antennae and denting its outer casing. "No, it happened just as you wanted," he whispered to the Quintesson in a voice familiar to the Autobots but yet one clearly not Perceptor's.

"Holy hijacked comrades, Batman!" was Jazz' response. "I got ten sayin' that's Occludus."

"It is, it must be!" Logonomy exulted despite its predicament. Its tentacles waved around happily. "So where is Illuminatus?" it asked in barely contained glee.

"Running around like an idiot in a nightmare," Perceptor/Occludus said. "Didn't even know his name. I'm finished being oppressed by him...or anyone, for that matter." There were faintly sinister overtones to his voice; that more than the change in color reinforced to Jazz, Ultra Magnus, and Springer that whomever was speaking, it was not their friend.

Logonomy looked somewhat confused and then suddenly it screamed, for Occludus had torn open its outer shell and reached a hand into the opening. Logonomy twitched a few times, but after that, within no more than half a minute, it was very nearly dead. Occludus dropped it, letting it roll to the side. Logonomy giggled faintly, like a creature gone utterly mad.

The other Autobots took an involuntary step back as Occludus stood and looked down at Logonomy. He nudged it with his foot then looked over at the three. "You were friends of Illuminatus," he declared; it was not a question.

Jazz spoke first. "Look, Occludus...we never even heard of Illuminatus until that five-faced floating Easter egg showed up."

Yellow optics narrowed. "I believe you; at least, I believe you didn't know that you knew Illuminatus. Even so, you were his friends...and his friends are no friends of mine." Occludus stood and examined the room. "I will not take that wretched thing's ship. I have more important things to do anyway." He looked at the three Autobots. "If you will stay out of my way, I won't hurt you." With that, he turned toward the table he had previously been laid out on and began quickly gathering various tools.

"Now wait a minute," Ultra Magnus declared, setting his large white hand on Occludus' black shoulder. Occludus spun around with surprising quickness and blasted a tiny pinhole in Ultra Magnus' shoulder with his light cannon. Ultra Magnus quickly let go and rubbed the hole. It was so small he could barely feel it with his fingers. It stung though, somewhat the same way a razor-wasp might.

"I told you," Occludus said calmly, "if you leave me alone, I won't hurt you. I'm sure you know I can do a good deal more than sting you."

Springer had his rifle out and trained on Occludus. "And I'm sure you know we can do more than sting as well."

Occludus smiled at Springer, a singularly unpleasant expression. "But will you risk it, for Illuminatus' sake?"

Springer's aim faltered a little, but not much. "We can put you back together again later if we want."

"Stand down Springer," Ultra Magnus said. "Damn it, but he's right. We can't put Perceptor in danger." He didn't voice his other concern, that a fire-fight with Occludus in this small a shuttle could quickly have them floating helpless in space. Ultra Magnus did indeed know about the firepower Occludus carried and that it was quite capable of more than just poking pinprick holes in Autobot armor.

Apparently satisfied, Occludus turned and shoved Jazz out of his way, then sat at the table. He began quickly laying out a foundation of some extruded gel. How Occludus was forcing the tools he had to do such a thing none of the Autobots knew; the tools were not designed for such tasks. But he was, somehow. And he was working fast.

Whatever it was that Occludus was building could have easily stood alone as a fine work of art. It was a crystalline thing, shaded with the multiplicity of reds a ruby possessed, somewhat tall and needle shaped, pointing up. Gossamer spines and fine threads wound about it and at its center was what could only be considered a small version of a Transformer brain, a small laser core. Occludus began to add a small port to it.

"All right, that is enough!" Springer declared, not liking the implications of what Occludus was building.

Occludus glared at Springer. "Enough indeed! I've been imprisoned for long enough, it is Illuminatus' turn. You won't interrupt me." Without warning, the room turned so black it was impossible to see through. Jazz tried using a little of his disorienting light show to fight back the dark but even that was sucked out of the air. They could still hear Occludus building the device, what they could only assume was a trap for Illuminatus. Logonomy said they shared the body; it only made sense that if Occludus could, he would try to exorcise' the unwanted personality.

"That's a fine how do you do!" Jazz complained. Then he felt a blast of laser fire an inch from his head and said, "Yow! I think we should get outta here!"

The other Autobots didn't see the laser fire. Springer asked, "Why? I know where he's at. I can find what he's building."

"Maybe so, but he nearly shot me in the face! Let's GO!" With that, Jazz ran out of the room and he heard the others following him.

Outside the room there was still light. "We gotta find some way to stop him," Jazz insisted. "You saw what he was building!"

"Yeah I did," Ultra Magnus said. "I agree... However, he's got Perceptor's body possessed! Any attack on Occludus will hurt Perceptor. Besides that, we can't risk a battle with him, not with that light cannon still in play."

"Swiss Cheese Shuttle, huh," Jazz said thoughtfully. "But we gotta do something quick; I gotta feeling if we leave him alone for much longer we won't have to worry about hurting Perceptor."

Before they could say anything more the darkness started seeping out of the room like a fog and they heard Occludus stepping out of the room. The Autobots ran to the control console and tried to get into decent defensive positions, not knowing what Occludus planned to do.

Soon the whole shuttle was wreathed in blackness as thick as the space between the stars.

"I think I should take care of you three before I finish my project. I don't know if you're worth the trouble of emulating but I can always find out," Occludus said calmly.

"Maybe we can flare the lights bright enough to overload whatever it is he's doing?" Springer suggested to Ultra Magnus, ignoring Occludus.

"Maybe...we can always try," Ultra Magnus agreed. They knew their way around the ship well enough that they didn't need any light, although if even once one were to bump into the other it might take some time to reorient themselves in the utter blackness.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Occludus said. "You might succeed." A few more footsteps were heard.

"That's kinda the idea," Springer said. "But I suppose you have a reason you're telling us this?"

"Of course. If you succeed, I'll be forced to release the light all at once. At best I'll blind you. At worst...well...it is a light cannon taking in all the light; there's always a chance I might blow a hole in one of the walls...." Occludus sounded a little too pleased with the idea. "If you want, go ahead. I can't guarantee where I'll be aiming at if it works. It is quite dark." The threat wasn't varnished in the slightest.

Especially not for Jazz. He felt something round right in his face. From where he was standing, he could hear Occludus' hijacked voice close by. Close enough for Jazz to realize he was probably right in thinking that the round object was the business end of a light cannon...way, way more firepower than any scientist should be carrying around. "Uh, guys, I think we should listen to him," he said, trying hard to keep the quiver out of his voice. It was a frightening prospect to face being hit point blank with one of Perceptor's light blasts. Jazz had seen them often enough to know that they were very effective in punching holes in things much bigger than his head.

"All right," Ultra Magnus said, realizing that Occludus was taunting them and had the firepower to back himself up. "We'll think of something else."

But having that light cannon pointed straight up his nose was giving Jazz an idea. He knew it wasn't precisely a weapon, although it could be used that way to startling effect....

"What's on your mind, Jazz?" Occludus asked.

"Huh? Me? Just reminiscing," Jazz answered, wondering how Occludus knew he was thinking about something.

"I was made for the dark; I'm no telepath but I can read you like a book."

"Oh, ah...hmm...so you can see in the dark pretty good?" Jazz asked, hoping to keep Occludus thinking about something else so he couldn't see that an idea about how to deal with the unnatural darkness was brewing in Jazz' mind.

"Yes I can. So what's this idea you're trying to distract me from?"

"Ah! Er," Jazz fumbled, not expecting that Occludus was that good at reading him. "I was just thinking about...you know, light...that sorta thing."

"Right." Occludus didn't sound convinced.

"Yeah, that's right," Jazz said. Then after a second he said exuberantly, evangelistically, "So... Well, I'd suggest covering your optics, because Jazz here is about to show you the light!"

"I don't need to—" Occludus said, but the rest of his sentence was drowned out by the most piercing sound he'd ever heard.

Jazz imagined the rest of the Autobots were yelling up a storm, but he couldn't hear them. He'd cranked the volume on his speakers as high as it would go and started playing just a little opera. Very little, in fact. Just one particular note as sung by a powerful soprano.

If this worked, Perceptor was going to hate him for it.

It didn't take long to find out how his plan went. Jazz felt the nasty end of the light cannon leave his face and he took that instant to cover his optics with an arm, because if Occludus had moved, it probably meant he'd felt it. And that meant Jazz' scheme had worked.

The payoff came quickly with an all too near shattering sound and the pain of a thousand glass shards burying themselves in Jazz' face and arm. As soon as he knew he'd done what he set out to do, he turned off his speakers and slowly lowered his arm.

The shuttle was lit normally again and Occludus was staggering slightly. Jazz imagined it had to hurt to have his lenses blown to bits. While Occludus was otherwise occupied, Jazz ran and hid behind a console.

"Why didn't you say cover our audio receptors Jazz!" Springer yelled.

"You forgot who I was tryin' to outsmart!" Jazz replied. "You did cover your optics though, right?" He started picking some of the larger shards out of his face and arm, very carefully; they hurt like crazy.

"Yeah...but I'm not gonna be able to hear right for a week, I just know it."

"What was that anyway?" Ultra Magnus asked, a little louder than necessary. Apparently Jazz' sound play had damaged his audio circuits slightly.

"That, my friend, was opera! Now I know why Perceptor said it was dangerous."

"You blew out his lenses!" Ultra Magnus exclaimed, realization dawning. "I'd heard about that once, about singers hitting just the right note and shattering glass."

"That I did, and man if I'm not payin' for it," Jazz said, wincing as he pulled a particularly large shard out of his chin. "I feel like I stuck my face in a cactus."

"I think you pissed off Occludus though," Springer noted.

"I don't doubt that for an astrosecond."

"Can we at least try to knock him out, Ultra Magnus?" Springer asked. "Before he does his deal with that statue he built?"

"We can cover the door for now, see if we can't get in there and destroy the thing before Occludus can get to it."

"All right." Springer started moving toward the door. Occludus was facing him, but he was hunched over, clearly attempting to suck up the pain of having part of his body destroyed. Before Springer could reach the door though, Occludus recovered enough to straighten and take a shot at the green Autobot. Springer got out of the way fast. The situation left them in a stalemate. Occludus couldn't reach the room without having three Autobots fire on him; the Autobots couldn't get there because Occludus still had two functional weapons—Perceptor's rifle and missile launcher. A few shots fired from either side proved this. It also proved that Occludus had a deadly aim.

But in the end, the Autobots figured they had the advantage: they were headed for Earth, and as long as Occludus maintained any sense of self-preservation, they could hold him off until the shuttle landed in Autobot City. He would be sorely outmatched there.

---

He had been walking through this ever-growing nightmare of a memory, becoming more agitated as he went. Without Occludus it felt wrong...but if he had been here it would have felt worse. Not because Occludus hadn't been particularly nice but because he should have been here. The black shadow self should be there. Occludus should be here, and Illuminatus should be here. It was he himself as he knew himself that did not belong in this giant maze.

Starting from the first memory of his genesis in the white room to where he stood now, in another enclosed area with mechanical life forms both dangerous and benign, he had slowly come to realize that it was indeed a long experiment. He figured the reason the memories he was experiencing now had been forgotten was because they weren't truly his memories. He hadn't existed in the form he knew himself when he'd been here. Then it had been only Illuminatus and Occludus. But the memories clearly still existed and he could access them, which hinted that he had too, in some form.

But he wondered in what form he had existed.

He took the last few steps through this room, and dispensing with any pretense of reliving these memories, he simply blasted the wall where he knew it was weakest, where he knew he had destroyed it before. Another room was revealed, unlike the others. In it there was a vast mirror on the far side, and some few audio speakers. He didn't wait for the questions he knew were coming and he didn't wait to examine the room as he had before. He already knew all about it. He had been as thorough in this room as he had been in the others—millennia piled on millennia of examining and learning and now there was nothing left to know. Indeed, it was his memories. There could be nothing left to learn if he hadn't learned it already. But he had been very thorough the first time, seeing everything.

He walked straight to the mirror and peered through it with his precise site. It was a two-way mirror, one often used for observance. But he wasn't here to be observed. He remembered that the first time he reached this point he had been agitated and angry. As strong as he lusted for knowledge, he detested one of scrap he had come by in his existence here: that he was nothing more than a lab rat. He was an experiment. At the moment, however, he could not remember what he was an experiment for, why the observer created him or what it hoped to discover. He had a sense that he had known once, but the memory was vague, as vague as his memory of the shadow self and the light self. As the seeing self, he could not recall these things clearly.

"I know you are in there and I intend to escape here as I did once before," he said to the mirror, and he was rewarded by a rather shocked expression on the dim face of the observer.

"Which is the stronger?" the observer asked.

"I am not who you think I am...though I am certain speaking so to a memory is useless." He had a hunch that the observer had found him again, and like any good scientist, had desired to reproduce its results. He hoped this would not mean that the observer would capture him out in the real world.

"Which is the stronger?"

He watched the observer through the glass, somehow certain the creature had never known that it could be seen. Certainly it did not expect its rat to recognize it, but he did. The seeing self recognized it—a Quintesson, the five-faced variety. It was currently speaking through the face with the most philosophical look, a turbaned one with a pensive expression. He frowned a little and chose to answer. "I am, as I am the one who has existed the longest and survived the most...outside of your elaborate experiment."

"And which are you?"

"Neither."

The face switched to a happier one, one with a five-pointed orange crest. "Then have you integrated?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

A third face, one with a crown of spikes. "There are only three possibilities: you are Illuminatus, you are Occludus, you are integrated."

He watched the watcher for a long moment and silence stretched out uncomfortably. A fourth option the Quintesson had not anticipated must have occurred because Occludus still existed in some form while Illuminatus did not, and yet he was neither of them. A spontaneous generation? Not possible...but perhaps a partial integration. Perhaps he was all that was left of Illuminatus after all.

And then a memory flashed, of the last fight between Occludus and Illuminatus, which were many and varied. The last fight had occurred here, before the Quintesson, and it had shocked the five-faced creature immensely. The memory was vague but he held it in a death grip, pulling it out of what could only be Illuminatus' exclusive memory. And the more he pulled it out, the more he realized it would be the death of him as he knew himself. "I cannot be...Perceptor...anymore now anyway," he said to himself. Occludus controlled his physical body; the only way to fight him was with a more powerful force and he knew he wasn't it. A shadow self and a light self...it was clear to the seeing self that light was the source of shadows, and the only way to banish them was with more light. For him, blinding, scorching light. He pulled the memory closer, and in the instant before Perceptor was blinded by Illuminatus, he laughed, realizing precisely what had happened here millions of years ago and where the seeing self fit into the puzzle.

Illuminatus looked through the glass at the Quintesson and recalled vividly what he had said before. "And I shall say it a second time, though perhaps in more words than I had used previously. I am the stronger, and that is why I must cease. An irony, I think, that I must not die once but twice, in a way at least, for the sake of Occludus and the one that we will become." As before, the Quintesson was shocked, its spiked face's mouth gaping. "Perhaps more ironic is that the one we became should have to set himself aside to live again. But you will never know that part of the experiment—there is none who would tell you."

"I must go now..." And Illuminatus vanished from the land of memory, his purple optics flashing once in the mirror.

---

Occludus backed up a step and growled, a sound that in an organic creature would have come straight from his gut. And for some reason he started talking to himself, or seemed to. "How did you get here?" he demanded.

"By the same paths you traveled except what you took by force I was permitted." The Autobots heard this second voice; it was very different from Occludus', yet still not Perceptor's, even if technically all three personas shared the same vocalizer. This new one spoke in tones much kinder than Occludus', but his was a cool inflection, cooler than Perceptor even on his chilliest days.

The voice shifted back to Occludus. "There's no way you could have. You didn't even know who you were."

"But it was not I to whom you spoke in the labyrinth of memory."

"Who was it then? There are only two...that seems clear enough to me; there was me and you. No third."

The second voice spoke softly. "You are correct...there was never more than two. We became one, we still are, or do you not recall?"

As quietly as he could Jazz whispered to Springer, "Get the feeling that might be this Illuminatus we keep hearin' about?"

"Yeah, and I can't decide which of them is loopier...," Springer whispered back.

Occludus was yelling at himself now. "No, that's not true! If it were, why am I here? You failed."

"Logonomy attempted to separate us far too late. I did succeed. Even the instant after would have been too late, we don't exist at all. Only he does."

"I certainly do exist!" Occludus clenched his fist and shook it. "I'm right here, we're fighting again, how could that be if I didn't exist?"

Springer muttered, "He's got a point."

"We are artifacts, Occludus. There is no Illuminatus. There is no Occludus. Artifice of memories long forgotten, that is all we can claim to be. Listen to yourself. Did Occludus ever speak so that he could be understood with such effortlessness? Did Illuminatus ever confound understanding with a myriad of words?"

Apparently Occludus hadn't anything to say about that and for a few moments he was silent. Then he said, "And since when did Illuminatus speak in third person? You say we, and now you say he... You've flat gone insane Illuminatus."

Jazz licked his finger and mocked drawing a point in the air. Occludus made sense on that. Then again, he was arguing with himself. "They're both insane."

Springer shifted closer to Jazz. "Does that mean Perceptor's insane too?"

"Only in the mad scientist way I think. Gives me the shivers to hear em talk though."

Illuminatus spoke again in his cold voice, "I'm not insane, I'm merely a passing figment of imagination...so to speak. The one we became set himself aside in hopes to regain himself...and he will. This second time will be just like the first, except it is a bit on the metaphorical side, since we don't really exist anymore. It should also prove much easier."

"No! I will not be suppressed any more, not by you, not by anyone!" Occludus shouted. Jazz concluded if Occludus could, he would have punched Illuminatus in the face, but he thought that would be pretty hard to pull off.

"You never were suppressed!" Illuminatus countered, louder, but still ice cold. "It is a figment of memory, an imagination. Logonomy's experiment failed because it is unrepeatable. We cannot ever again be more than one essence. It is time to end this and go back to what we have become...bring back what is our real existence."

"You make no sense at all."

"Did I not say? It does not matter. I was ever the more powerful and so of course I can end this as soon as I choose. I choose now." Then, in a strange tone, a mixed one that was neither Occludus, nor Illuminatus, nor Perceptor, the overtaken voice said, "The light was dimmed and paradoxically the shadow decreased...so he could simply see."

"Not another one!" Jazz said as loud as he dared.

"This is really getting out of hand," Springer agreed.

But now there was no sound at all coming from the other side of the shuttle; the silence lasted for several minutes. Jazz, Ultra Magnus, and Springer didn't want to leave their cover just yet, since Occludus had proven himself a crack shot even with blown out lenses...but they didn't want to wait forever either.

Eventually they did hear movement, footsteps, not terribly regular. Ultra Magnus came out of hiding first and then he motioned the other two out. It appeared that Perceptor was at least somewhat returned to his normal self; his body was rapidly brightening to its regular colors and he was no longer armed. But he was stepping very carefully, almost as if he expected to bump into a wall at any moment, and his blue optics looked almost blind.

"Perceptor?" Ultra Magnus asked cautiously.

"Yes...?" Perceptor replied, dazed.

"You OK, man?" Jazz asked, walking up to him.

"I...well...I think I have been better," he said, and his tone of voice more than anything convinced the Autobots that Perceptor was back to his normal self. Still, he was stumbling slightly as if he were drunk. "It seems...that someone...has figured out why I never went to the opera."

Jazz looked a little chagrinned, but he laughed a little and clapped Perceptor on the shoulder, then promptly had to grab him so he didn't fall on his face. "Yeah, er...sorry about that. If it makes you feel any better I still have glass stuck in my face."

"No, Jazz...I understand why you did it. I would rather owe you some minor repairs than your life. It is very disconcerting however."

"Why's that? Can't help but notice you're lookin' like you're three sheets to the wind there."

Once he was standing somewhat steadily, Perceptor waved a hand in front of his optics then went about removing his lens barrel. "I'm sure you didn't weren't aware of this, but I see as much through this as I do my cranial optics. Without the lenses, prisms, and mirrors, it is quite useless." He pulled the barrel free of the small ring that held it in place and tried to set it on the table but he missed the mark slightly and it clattered to the floor. He didn't seem to care since everything inside was broken anyway. "That's a little better. I just feel very nearly blind without it."

"Your regular optics aren't as sharp as ours?" Springer asked, not quite believing it.

"No, they are sharper. But...I've lost by far the better part of my sight; being trinocular and loosing one method of sight, and the much more precise one at that, has left me feeling the way I imagine a strongly nearsighted human might if they lost their corrective lenses."

Ultra Magnus asked, "But otherwise you're all right?"

"Yes, I believe so, although I'm certain it would be prudent to have myself checked over when we reach Earth. I do need to make a small modification to my emulator but I can't now. At least I know how to do it." Suddenly Perceptor's optics narrowed and he looked around the floor. Taking a few unsteady steps, he reached down and picked up Logonomy's still faintly giggling shell.

There was such fury in Perceptor's optics that it shocked the other three. They had never seen him so mad. He was usually level headed if a bit absent-minded. Now, however, he was enraged. Perceptor shoved his hand inside the Quintesson's shell, and after a few seconds, it began to twitch and shout. "What have you done? Occludus!"

Perceptor tossed Logonomy away, but now that it was up and running, it managed to stay upright on its beam. "What did you do?" it demanded, death's head full of anger.

Perceptor leaned down to look it in the eye. "I merely exercised one of the abilities you designed in me. You told them I could, and I did. I know everything you do, and...forgive me...if I've chosen not to return every scrap of knowledge I downloaded from you."

Logonomy sat motionless for a long time. "You...! I can't...!" Suddenly the Quintesson was in an outright rage. "I can't reset my experiment! It's all been a waste! HOW DARE YOU! Occludus!"

No one was prepared for what happened next. Perceptor moved back a little, crouched, and then executed a perfect roundhouse, his black foot connecting with the nose of Logonomy's death's head. Logonomy flew back and smashed into a wall; the impact partially crushed two of its faces.

Both Springer and Jazz let out a low whistle. "Ho-leee," Jazz said. "Remind me not to hack him off...at least not while I'm in striking distance."

Before Logonomy could get its bearings, Perceptor grabbed it by its tentacles and held it upside down in front of his face. Logonomy had trouble shifting but it managed to get its spiky face into position. Its voice suddenly sounded rather pleading. "What's wrong? Illuminatus?"

"No, I am not Illuminatus. I am not Occludus. You know my name and it is a perfectly appropriate and fitting one. I won't give you even one more answer to your questions. You should be able to figure it out on your own. But your experiment is a failure. It is unrepeatable. Completely unrepeatable. Illuminatus wouldn't approve, but then, I am not Illuminatus." Perceptor's voice was low, still full of fury. He carried Logonomy upside down to the airlock, opened it, and then threw the Quintesson into its ship with such force that the Autobots heard another crumpling noise. They guessed Logonomy might have lost symmetry in two more of its faces.

"A FAILURE!" Logonomy screamed. "AFTER THIS LONG! UNREPEATABLE!" The Quintesson was nearly incoherent as its docking door shut. Perceptor closed down the airlock and soon the Quintesson's ship was rocketing away from the shuttle with as much speed as it could muster. The ship spiraled through space as Quintesson ships tended to do, but there was a noticeably erratic cant to it.

Perceptor turned back and leaned against a bulkhead. Jazz, Springer, and Ultra Magnus had followed him.

"It sounded pretty mad," Jazz ventured, not sure at this point how Perceptor would react. It looked like the anger was bleeding from his expression but it wasn't totally gone.

"It would be," Perceptor answered. "I gave it back its memories...the ones Occludus' stole. But I didn't return all of them. It cannot shut me down again. It may yet figure out how to create life again, but...I don't believe it will be soon, if ever. So not only was its first experiment unrepeatable, it will not be able to construct another one. I don't believe I could have struck a more painful blow to such a scientist as to make its life's work meaningless in its eyes."

"Meaningless?" Ultra Magnus asked, pretty sure they were walking in territory that he didn't know much about.

"An unrepeatable experiment might as well be a fluke to scientific method. Logonomy was a consummate scientist; it knows this. It knows that it failed to...separate me, to restart its experiment, return me to a clean slate with only Occludus and Illuminatus. So its first experiment is meaningless; I deprived it of any real chance at making a second attempt. It will not make another lab rat to run in its cage again. For it this is such a failure that I do not think it will recover. Perhaps such an act was cruel on my part but I honestly do not care. Occludus' was angry...but not as angry as I."

Ultra Magnus nodded slightly, looking back at the airlock. "I won't ask you to explain. You're welcome to if you want, of course." He paused then said, "Could you create life now? If you have all of Logonomy's knowledge?"

Perceptor looked down for a long moment. "Perhaps...in sixty to seventy Earth years. And that would just be preliminary. It is a great deal to understand and at the moment the knowledge is like intuition...I would not act on it." He didn't sound very eager.

"Look into it no matter how long it takes. It would be an incredible asset to the Autobots."

"Yes," Perceptor said simply, slowly. He hadn't looked up.

"Good to have you back," Ultra Magnus said kindly, then turned back to the cockpit of the shuttle.

Springer looked a little uncomfortable. "Uh, sorry about what I told that Quint...I was pretty irritable though, if it makes a difference. I don't like worrying and putting up with Quints."

"I will endeavor to speak with more clarity; don't apologize. Please do realize it is difficult for me however. I wish to be as precise as I can."

"Well...I can try to cut you a little slack anyway," Springer said. "I don't know about eating a thesaurus though." That was directed at Jazz, who took a playful swing at the green Autobot.

Springer ducked easily as he started for the front. "Welcome back, Perceptor. I'll try to find you a castle when we get to Earth," he called back.

Perceptor stood again and took a few steps toward the front as well. His movements were much surer than before. Jazz tapped his shoulder and Perceptor stopped.

"You need an ear, you know where to find one, right?" Jazz asked.

Perceptor nodded. "Perhaps in a little while. I have a good deal to think about for now. But so that you don't concern yourself overmuch, I said the experiment was a failure. I am not."

"Sure." Then Jazz smiled in that way he had. "In the mean time I can make a call to LensCrafters...should have you some new lenses finished way before we reach Earth."

Perceptor turned on Jazz with an expression of pure outrage. "I will not use anything ground by such imprecise hack-work!"

"And while they're installed you can come to the opera!"

"Jazz!"

"I'm kidding!" Jazz held up his hands. "I have to be. Who else is gonna pick all the microscopic bits of glass out of my face and arm?"

But Perceptor didn't look all that relieved. "You aren't kidding about the opera."

"It's not dangerous now, is it?" Jazz bounced once on his feet.

"No, but it would be nearly invisible."

"You're such a liar."

Perceptor slumped. "Maybe. Maybe...."

"Maybe's good. We can work with maybe." Jazz smiled and then walked up front.

Perceptor watched him go. Then he followed himself, but instead of going to the cockpit, he entered the diagnostic room and sat down in front of the red and blue crystalline object Occludus had been building. It was nearly finished, but without his precise sight, Perceptor couldn't tell how much was left to go. He would have trouble building such a thing so quickly; however, it wasn't outside his abilities. He reached out to touch it, but pulled back, knowing how fragile it was. He whispered, "If it had been finished...what a mistake...what a dreadful mistake it would have been. But I suppose...you...couldn't see that, could you."

---

The End

______________________

Author's Note:

This is the first foray into the realm of Transformers fanfiction I've made. I've had this idea kicking around in the back of my brain for several years, but for some reason it came back with a vengeance—apparently Cybertronian Plot-Bunnies have metal teeth. It probably came rushing to the fore after listening to people talk a bit about Armada...and then the horrifying (to me at least) discovery that Perceptor's name had been snatched vilely from my all-time favoritest G1 Transformer ever and applied to a glorified dirt bike that wasn't even an Autobot! Talk about messing with my 80's!! I was having enough trouble walking down the aisles and seeing Optimus Prime and Megatron look not at all like themselves...then they took it one step too far. Occludus and Illuminatus existed in the back-burners of my mind for a good while, though they didn't have names...but I will admit seeing Japanese black Perceptors on eBay fed the plot-bunny just that much more; Occludus seemed to like the idea of being so dark. Springer fans...please don't kill me. It's been a long time since I really have had a chance to get in quality time with my TF tapes, and he seemed like the only Autobot that might even come close to being the proper level of cynical for what I needed. Please forgive canon trouble for the same reason.