Hey guys, I know it's been a really long time since this was updated. It's been a crazy year! Between two jobs, a promotion, holidays (Happy New Years to everyone, by the way), figuring out how to insurance like an adult (yay adulting), finding time and energy to write has been hard. Or more specifically, finding time to write full chapters has been hard. It's easier to write one-shots of things, short things, fic prompts for other people, because that doesn't require going back and looking through a whole story to make sure everything is still consistent I guess.
(And then there's the unfortunate part where The Last Knight was so bad that I lost all motivation for anything to do with Transformers for like a month, which made writing even harder for a while. I had to fall back on my other baseline fandoms for a while until I could get that fiasco out of my head. Which is why my blog and deviantart is full of a lot of short Star Wars fic and My Hero Academia doodles)
Beastverse: Lio Convoy's quarters
It was not the largest chamber in the base, as berths went, nor was it the most comfortable, but it suited Lio Convoy's purposes. A small screen had been set into one wall - really, it was a human's giant-screen television that he'd managed to secure when meetings with government liaisons were still frequent - and currently displayed a map of the globe. Small purple markers blinked innocently up from the map, multiplying slowly over time.
Lio frowned and tapped at his data console a little more, and on the screen, lines appeared to link the purple markers. They were the locations of every Predacon sighting or attack within the past six months. In and of themselves, the locations didn't seem to have anything to do with each other. A beacon in Micronesia, a sighting in California, rumors of a sea monster off the coast of Maine, flying monsters sighted in Chile. They sounded disorganized, connected by nothing but the badge the involved parties wore. But Lio wasn't so sure.
He had faced Galvatron head-on twice before. Galvatron didn't do "random". If Galvatron was sending his soldiers to these locations, there was a purpose behind it.
Lio sat back on his spartan recharge berth and groaned softly. There was something, some detail he wasn't quite grasping that would make it all fit together. Grumbling, he made another entry in his captain's log, then sent a comm burst up to medbay. A fresh set of optics might find what he was missing, after all, and Apache would no doubt appreciate the break from his tinkering. Unless, of course, he was in the middle of a breakthrough, in which case he would no doubt be irate.
As it happened, Apache had just run Airazor through an updated virus scan and was looking for an excuse to get out of the medbay for a while. Virus scans, while unpleasant, were necessary and useful, but they did take a very long time to complete. Apache entered Lio's quarters without ceremony and leaned on the wall with a sigh.
"Well, what's this about then?" he asked, "I've got to go read the diagnostics in a bit, you know."
Lio did not answer his offhand remark, instead gesturing to the screen. "Look, this is all the Predacon activity we've catalogued in the last several lunar months. Now, I am not imagining things, am I? There has been an upward trend in how often they appear."
"Well," hummed Apache, turning up the magnification on his optics, "Let's have a look."
After a moment, he frowned. "Lad," he said slowly, "Have you calibrated the program to filter for places where the Rift is stronger?"
Lio's optics flickered. "Stronger?" he asked.
"Aye, the places where the walls between realities are….thinner, for lack of a better word." Apache never took his gaze from the screen, his voice soft and thoughtful. "Surely you noticed, with the increased traffic the Rift has gotten stronger. I'm no expert, but I'm beginning to wonder what might happen if it destabilizes altogether. I wonder if two worlds could be permanently linked? Ah, but that's not what I meant to say. I mean, do you recall that stuff that changed our little Cheetor?"
Lio scowled. "That "angolmois" stuff, you mean? Potent, whatever it's made of. What's that got to do with the markers?"
"Well," Apache hedged, shifting uneasily, "The Predacons didn't seem to have much at the time. Don't you think if there was more of it, they'd want some to further whatever it is they're about?"
Lio twitched, remembering the awkward call to Cybertron and Magnaboss's recommendation that keeping angolmois out of Predacon hands become a secondary function of their mission on Earth. "I'll reset the program to look for barrier breaches."
They stood in silence for a few seconds, and Lio struggled with whether or not to voice his suspicions. It wasn't that he didn't think Apache would believe him, or agree with him, he just wasn't certain that he wanted to say anything until he was absolutely sure. But numbers didn't lie. One sharpened row of denta scraped over his lip in thought, then he sighed.
"Galvatron is mobilizing again," he said, and the words felt heavy as they left his mouth to settle in the room.
Apache shifted, the plating beneath his fur rippling in consternation. "You're quite certain, lad?"
Lio waved at the screen vaguely. "I've been collecting the data for the last several hours. When the children first arrived from Other Jasper, attacks were infrequent, usually a lone scout or a few pirates. They were spaced out well, maybe twelve to thirteen Earth-weeks between each incident. Then the delay between attacks shortened to ten weeks. Then eight."
The huge mech set down the datapad and paced to another data terminal in the chamber opening a series of maps and programs. "Factoring in mere sightings, not just open hostilities, they're moving every four weeks. There are small epicenters, webs of activity that will appear in an area and then vanish. But they aren't conclusive enough to point to the location of the Darksyde. More likely they're setting up staging areas until whatever goal they have is accomplished in that area."
The Predacons would not be moving so often and so quickly without openly attacking the Maximals if they were not planning something. Bitter experience had taught them all, and Apache understood why the Convoy was concerned. They were hopelessly, ridiculously outgunned no matter how one viewed the matter - Apache felt a trickle of unease as he realized that, with two of their best warriors and three of their younglings stranded in their world, Optimus Prime's forces were likely in even worse straits.
"We need to find out what they're up to," he said at last. If he had been truly organic, his mouth would have been dry. They had allowed themselves to grow complacent. Galvatron was not to be taken lightly, even at half strength.
Lio Convoy nodded, and tapped one of the purple markers on the screen. "This one. It seems like it's just seismic activity, but considering where the tectonic plates are on this planet, I have my suspicions that the activity is more than meets the optical sensor. I'm sending Stampy."
It was the work of the moment to summon the young scout, who fidgeted, optics wide. "Yes, Convoy?"
Lio's features softened. Stampy, it seemed, was eager to get back out on the field. Duty rotation had been shifted somewhat with the arrival of their temporary guests, and Stampy had been put on communication surveillance for the last several weeks. He was a responsible young mech, and he did his job without complaining, but all the older Maximals knew he would far rather be out and about. (Having Raf present to help him scan made the chore more bearable, of course, but there was a series of standardized tests coming up at the high school that were occupying all the kids' time. As a result, Stampy had been a fidgety mess of responsibility and boredom rolled into one for the last week and a half.)
"We have received increased reports of Predacon activity lately," Lio began, motioning to the screen.
Stampy's gold antennae twitched on either side of his helm in agitation. "R-really? But I scanned all the frequencies, I didn't pick up a thing! Did I miss something? Were there any attacks?"
Lio held up a hand. "Calm down, young one. They were not all attacks. Most of it is movement and suspected movement of their forces. They are employing stealth more and more."
"Then," Stampy frowned and tugged at his lip, muttering to himself. It was a habit he'd picked up from the human Cubs. "Logically if these kinds of movements can't be tracked on our frequency monitor then we must have picked them up on the activity sensors Razor and the other guys were placing last month. But in order to determine actual incidents from natural or human-caused phenomena, you have to look at the black box in each sensor, right? Then-"
Apache laughed and tapped Stampy's helm. "Slow down, slow down there lad! Ack, you'd think we had two Rafaels, wouldn't you?"
A little embarrassed, Stampy cleared his vents and rubbed at the back of his helm. "Er...sorry. But does this mean that since you called me, you want someone to go and scout out one of the sensors?"
Lio nodded with a fond smile. "I trust you to gather information swiftly, silently, and above all, safely. That's why I specifically requested that you be assigned to the Yukikaze, back before we left Cybertron. I need you to go here." He tapped one servo on the screen, sending little flickers of color across the picture. It was a mountain range somewhere in mainland China. "There were reports of a "seismic incident" and it set off the sensor we placed there."
"Convoy," Apache murmured, "May I recommend the lad takes Star Upper with him? Their alt modes are both pretty well suited to the terrain they're going to be in."
Lio nodded. "An excellent suggestion, old friend. Should the activity prove to be Predacons who are still in the area, a second set of optics will serve to watch Stampy's back while he retrieves the data."
"When do I leave, Prime? Er, I mean, Convoy?" He chirped, almost vibrating with excitement. He had definitely been indoors too long.
"As soon as you can find Star Upper, I imagine," Lio answered, overlooking the verbal slip on his scout's part. "Like as not, he's in the training room again. Just check in with Bridge Control before you head out."
"Yes sir!" Stampy saluted and bounded away, leaving the two elder Maximals in a bemused silence.
"Ah, the energy of youth," Apache snorted. "I'm so glad I'm rid of it."
Whatever Lio had been about to say in reply was lost when the map on the wall screen made a soft pinging noise. It had finished recalibrating the search by Rift strength.
Nearly 70% of the marks on the map corresponded to places where the Rift was stronger than it ought to have been.
Arcee was in the corridor when Lio Convoy left his quarters. She looked surprised to see him, and he wondered whether she had been on autopilot, trying to find a room that only existed in her home dimension. Lio paused to let the Autobot catch up, then continued to walk. She seemed to have something on her mind, though she did not speak immediately. After a short silence, the femme seemed to steel herself to broach whatever topic was bothering her.
"Convoy, do you mind if I speak plainly?" she asked.
Lio inclined his helm slightly, encouraging her to say what she would. She returned his nod and frowned.
"Is there any particular reason the children, my fellow Autobot, and I have not been returned to our home dimension? The last time I was here it was a matter of building up a certain amount of radiation or energy of some kind - and something to do with a satellite array. But it's been almost four weeks and none of you have even mentioned the subject."
The femme moved to stand in front of Lio and he saw the desperation in her optics. "I know you've been to my world. You've seen what we're up against. Perhaps it doesn't seem like very much compared to the Predacons, but this is Megatron we're talking about. If the Autobots fall - and they will without reinforcements and morale - then he will destroy the Earth. Every man, woman, and child, every animal and plant. We have to get home."
And that wasn't even mentioning the children's families. However this ended, there would be life-altering repercussions for all three because of Alpha Trion's interference. Arcee suspected that the Esquivels at least would have to be brought in on the secret. They deserved to know what had happened to their youngest son. And June...Arcee's spark ached for June, who knew where her son was and was powerless to help him.
Lio reached out and placed a hand on Arcee's shoulder. There was a pain in his optics that surprised her. "I know-" he began, cut himself off, and began again. "I know what it is to be separated from a child, unable to return to them. I have a son on Cybertron. And I do not believe Megatron is any less of a threat than Galvatron. Galvatron is more powerful in a physical sense, surely, but when I battled the Ancient Warlord, I found him to be fiendishly cunning, hardy and opportunistic. I do not doubt that your forces are in grave danger, Arcee. And if wishes could be made reality, I would already have the five of you back where you belong."
"But-?" Arcee prodded gently, not sure how to handle this vulnerability.
"But with every mech that passes through the Rift between worlds, the more we learn of it. And the more we learn of it, the more it becomes clear that the barriers are unstable. The breach that brought you and Wheeljack here tore a hole in the space over Cybertron that still leaks the regulating substance Trion spoke of." He gritted his denta and began to walk again, Arcee trailing behind. "If we could find a breach wide enough, we might be able to send you all back. But if we cannot stabilize it, you may end up more lost than before."
"And you seem to be suggesting that the wider ones are pretty far from Earth either way," Arcee said slowly. Frustration colored her voice. "So we're essentially trapped until either a breach opens on Earth wide enough to run through, or we find a way to get the kids safely to one of the tears in space without getting scattered across the….what do we even call it? Interverse? Multiverse?" She groaned and dragged a hand over her faceplates in a very human gesture.
"Jack played a videogame like this once," she quipped, "All that guy needed to fix the mess was a really big key to lock all the doors between worlds. What do we get? Rift-goo and uncertainty."
Lio snorted in a failed attempt at keeping a straight face. "I think Break may have played that one. For all that Cybertronians like to gabble on about our neural nets being superior to human computers, it certainly took Break a long time to beat the game."
By now they had come to the lift, and as Arcee didn't really seem inclined to move on anywhere else, Lio shrugged internally and headed up for the main floor. He let a few different lines of thought run simultaneously, almost lazily, in his processor for a few moments before part of the earlier conversation came back to him. A frown tugged at the corners of his mouth. A key. Doors between worlds. There was some bit of buried information in his data files, something relating those phrases to the shards of CyberCalibur, but the pieces weren't coming together just yet. Perhaps he would run a more thorough scan of his databanks before his next recharge session.
When the lift eased to a stop, the two parted ways. Lio stepped out and headed in the direction of the gardens, and Arcee, fitful and restless, made her way towards the Bridge chamber.
There was some kind of very noisy game happening in the usually peaceful room when she got there. It was a little hard to tell, but it seemed to be a very dramatic version of the Earth-game "the floor is lava". Cheetor and Break were jumping from branch to branch, whooping, while Airazor flapped about their heads in an attempt to distract them and make them fall. Wheeljack was stretched out on the ground below, leaning against a tree trunk and lazily drawling "Oh no, I have landed in the lava. I am on fire. Oh, the pain. The terrible pain."
Arcee snorted despite herself at the monotone "suffering".
A few feet away from the nonsense, Polar Claw stood at the central monitors with an expression of slowly deteriorating patience. Considering the concentration required to monitor frequencies, the former miner was growing understandably irritated with his comrades' loud shenanigans. He drummed his servos on the console and hunched his shoulders, trying not to grumble under his breath. There was something….something in the data, a signal he couldn't quite catch. Stampy was better at this, he could hear frequencies Polar Claw couldn't.
"Ey!" he growled at last, "Be quiet for a moment! Cannot hear!"
Startled by the bearlike Cybertronian's gruff rebuke, the younger Maximals settled for a few seconds and crouched on the branches, watching him. Polar Claw hunched over the console and typed quickly, isolating frequencies and decrypting lines of code. Then he straightened and opened a map on another screen.
"Got an energy reading," he announced, turning to look up at them. "Is very big, very...noticeable. Rattrap's sensor in Egypt picked it up."
"Think it's an energon deposit?" Break asked, swinging down to land with a thud. "I mean, it feels like it'd be a weird coincidence for an energon deposit to pop up just a few weeks after Rattrap and Razor place the sensors, doesn't it?"
Polar Claw snorted and rapped his knuckles on the young scout's helm. "What do I always tell you?" he growled, broadening his accent for emphasis.
"Yowch!" Break pulled away and massaged his head with a scowl. "No such thing as coincidence, I know."
Airazor transformed and swung her legs back and forth from where she perched. "So do we check it out or wait until the sensors gather more information? Spots and I are on scout duty this rotation."
"Please say we can go," Cheetor almost begged, "I can not be inside another week, I can not."
With a heavy sigh, Polar Claw typed up a quick report to let know Lio know what was going on, then waved a hand dismissively. "Go then, I can cover the Bridge."
"Mind if we tag along?" Arcee spoke up suddenly. "I need to familiarize myself with Alternate Earth if we're going to be stuck here for an extended period. And Wolfman over there is probably tired of being inside."
"She's not wrong," Wheeljack shrugged. "And if it turns out to be a trap, you won't need to call for backup if you've got a Wrecker along."
Airazor and Cheetor turned bright optics to Polar Claw. Considering the former miner was about the closest thing they had to a Wrecker, not counting Rattrap, he would probably know if this was an accurate statement. Polar Claw met Wheeljack's gaze for a moment, studying him, then nodded. The younger two Maximals exchanged high fives and made for the Bridge.
"Awesome! Nobody jinx the mission!" Cheetor enthused.
"You probably just did, kid," Airazor snorted.
There was a chamber in the center of the great warship that was off-limits to all Predacons. It had once been the primary cockpit of a much older ship, but as the Darksyde had been added onto for years and years, finally becoming the floating city it was now, the core ship had nearly been lost in the sprawl. Now it held rows of tanks, each filled to the top with a violently pulsing substance that threw irregular flashes of light throughout the hold.
As Leo Convoy had suspected, Galvatron had not been idle. While he may not have necessarily known that there were more breaches in the Rift, he sensed the collections of Rift-blood pouring through, and was sworn to collect as much as he could. Even as he sent teams out over a period of weeks to retrieve the precious substance and lock it safely away, it never left his mind that his bargain with the Liege Maximo had not necessarily been made in his favor. "Make us strong", the long-dead Prime had said in one of their clandestine meetings, "By making yourself strong". Considering the fearsome reputation of the mech, Galvatron doubted the wisdom of providing such a being with the power of raw angolmois.
He had another thought altogether, one that only involved Liege Maximo insofar as he could not break their bargain. There existed other worlds beside his own, other realities. He was aware of this now. The young Optimus Prime that had fought in his arena might have been an apparition of the past, or he might have been a Prime from a parallel world, and he didn't know which - or particularly care, to be honest. But if there was one other reality, there were likely more. And now that Archadis had proved it was possible to move between worlds with the Rift Bridge, a plethora of possibilities had opened up to him.
There was no warrior living that could match Galvatron in strength and ferocity - or rather, there would be none as soon as he had finally disposed of the irritating young Convoy - and it was high time every world knew it.
Far from that isolated chamber, high in the upper decks of the great city-ship, tensions were mounting. Battle-Ravages and Cruellocks stuck close in tight groups as they moved to and fro, and the Insecticon pirates refused to leave the small section of the ship they claimed as their own. Even the spying scraplet, Munin, was sticking close to the vents today.
Elephorca was rampaging again. Two entire chambers on the tertiary habitation deck alone had already been all but destroyed, and rumor had it that the abominable monstrosity had devoured a soldier again. Settled well out of reach in the support girders, Swiftclaw and Blackarachnid huddled together and exchanged neuro-darts just in case Elephorca passed their way. Most of the other Predacons found the burgeoning friendship between the two femmes to be highly disconcerting, but considering their particular prowess in sneak-attacks, the average mech was grateful for it today. (And for his own part, the mech once known as Breakdown was just happy that Blackairachnid had an actual friend, and not one she was trying to murder every other day.)
In a back corridor near one of the armories, Soundwave slipped quietly from doorway to doorway, even though he knew that Elephorca and Tarantulas were not in the immediate vicinity. So focused was he on his sneaking that he nearly didn't see Saberback until it was too late. The two sprang apart with matching yelps as they nearly face planted into each other. The Terrorcon grimaced at him and gestured back towards the way they'd come.
"Dodging the Franken-Whale?" he asked dryly.
It was an older human pop-culture reference, Soundwave knew that much, but it still confused him. So he merely nodded and shuddered. "I think he ate a Battle-Ravage again."
"Again?!" Saberback squawked, armor plates bristling. "Is cannibalism usually a problem for Predacons?!"
Hastily, Soundwave assured him that it wasn't, but that Elephorca was….well, there was a lot wrong with the poor spark, having been experimented on so much. Tarantulas kept claiming it was all just because Elephorca was bored and restless. The new guy, Shokoract, was claiming that it was because Tarantulas was messing with his neural net without testing his hypotheses on smaller, less harmful subjects first.
In all honesty, it was probably a mixture of both claims.
"Gah!" Saberback shuddered violently and pantomimed retching. "I guess we should just be grateful he didn't decide to cross-mutate the guy with a scraplet swarm, right?"
Little Ratbat squealed in panic at this suggestion and attempted to burrow his way into Soundwave's armor from the looks of things. Soundwave ignored this in favor of clamping a hand over Saberback's mouth. "Don't even joke like that, my guy," he gulped, "You never know who's listening. Don't wanna give anyone any ideas, do you?"
Saberback curled his lip and nodded. "Good point, my bad."
For a moment, neither spoke, and an uncomfortable silence built up between them. At the far end of the corridor a door slid open and there was a brief stampede of Predacons from one doorway to another, with the sounds of a commotion following behind. Blackairachnid and Swiftclaw trailed at the end firing their darts through the open doorway.
"Move it, idiots, schnell!" Swiftclaw shouted at Soundwave and Saberback, "The neurodarts will put him in a temporary state of paralysis but they don't work instantaneously!"
Then they too vanished through the other doorway.
"Um...shall we retreat to G deck?" Soundwave mumbled, optics wide and staring at the direction the others had fled.
"Oh yes, let's," Saberback gulped.
The lift to the secondary crew quarters deck was a little crowded, but that was to be expected until Elephorca was under control again. And nobody wanted to be around when Galvatron inevitably found out that Tarantulas had lost control of his pet monster again. As the various Cruellocks, conscripted pirates, and volunteer Predacons filed out and scattered among their various chambers, Starscream slipped out of the back of the lift, where he'd been hiding, and moved into his own quarters as quickly as possible. The lock engaged with a soft electrical tone behind him. It wasn't all that different from what everyone else was doing, but Saberback's armor plating rose regardless.
"Oh he's up to something," he muttered, and was only slightly surprised to discover he'd said it out loud.
"Hm?" Soundwave glanced at him out of the corner of his optic. "You know something?"
The new recruit shrugged and scratched his helm. "I mean….it's Starscream. When is he not up to mischief? Archadis wasn't all that surprised by our Starscream, so I figure yours is about the same."
Right. Soundwave sometimes forgot that the Terrorcon team hadn't come from their reality - what a strange thought that was! The idea of there being more than one Starscream was an unpleasant one. But at least it was nice knowing that the carrion Predacon wouldn't be able to pull the wool over the newbies' optics.
"KP says he looks like he's in the middle of putting together a coup attempt," Saberback said carefully, gauging his audience. He'd been a faceless drone before, on the Nemesis. He knew that when you gave Soundwave information of any kind, you had to be cautious, and hope it didn't backfire on you. "All the skulking, the being too agreeable with the boss. Ours did that once, and it turns out he was hoarding Dark Energon so he could make his own undead army."
"KP…? Oh! Killer Punch!" Soundwave leaned against the wall and watched Starscream's door. It remained closed and locked. "He does seem like he's being a little too cooperative, doesn't he? I kind of thought at first it was because Galvatron was trusting Swiftclaw and me with more responsibilities aboard the ship. He may hate Galvatron, but scrapped if he'll let anyone else be in favor with him either. The mech's a walking contradiction with feathery mange."
"Feathery mange!" repeated Laserbeak, detaching from the bat's armor to perch on his shoulder.
Saberback cracked up and reached out to stroke the little deployer's feathery head. "These little guys are a lot cooler than our other Soundwave's deployers. Hey, think you could use them to spy on ol' Screamy?"
"Screamy! Screamy!" Laserbeak echoed gleefully.
With a gusty sigh, Soundwave pulled the small condor down and reattached him to his armor. "Wish I could. But Lord Galvatron gave me orders to secure some parts from a satellite relay - the humans in the area are getting a little too close to being able to detect us - and I deploy in twenty minutes. I'm gonna need both the Tinies for this one."
After a moment's thought, something occurred to Saberback and his optics brightened. "You know who could probably do it?" he asked, then answered his own question. "Crazybolt. That weirdo can steal anything from anyone without getting caught! Not that he's stupid enough to try with most of this gang. But still, I bet he could get Starscream's passkey for the door and we could take a look around, see what he's plotting. Whaddya think?"
It was sneaky and underhanded, sure, but Killer Punch had been getting on his case about making connections with other Predacons, forming alliances and whatnot. Frankly he was starting to sound like a Carrier telling a sparkling to be nice and make friends at school. So he wouldn't have a problem with Saberback teaming up with Galvatron's right-hand-mech, right? Right. Probably.
Soundwave leaned back on his heels and in an instant something cold and calculating had passed over his face. Then it was gone. For a moment, Saberback wondered if he'd made a mistake; he would never have dared to be this familiar with the Soundwave from his own reality, and it did beg the question whether this Soundwave's friendliness served the same purpose as his Soundwave's silence: as a mask. But then Soundwave grinned before activating his mirrored visor.
"I like your style, Saberback. You send Crazybolt my way after I get back, and I'll give him some pointers on what to look for since you're all still getting used to our level of tech."
The two exchanged nods, then Soundwave slipped carefully out of the hall. There was no sign of Elephorca on this level, but one couldn't be too careful.
Saberback remained staring thoughtfully at Starscream's door for a minute or so longer, then he shrugged and turned back to one of the map consoles on the wall - and Primus bless whatever Predacon had actually thought to put maps in the ship. "Now…" he murmured, "How to get back to the hangar without running into the Franken-whale…"
It was quiet in Starscream's quarters, but not so quiet that he had been able to hear the conversation in the corridor. His attention was taken up, rather, with the soft humming of the few shards of CyberCalibur he had collected. He was certain now that they were, in fact, the CyberCalibur, the sword also called Rhisling. It had been very hard to find records of the blade, or even legends, and that was the sort of thing that attracted attention - one doesn't begin inquiries into legendary artifacts of unspeakable power just for kicks and giggles, after all - but really, how many other broken Cybertronian longswords that exuded a kind of energy not found in modern weaponry were there in the universe?
Starscream frowned and carefully pushed the pieces around with a servo. They were glowing. They'd never done that before. Faintly hummed, certainly, but the last time he'd seen any shards glowing was when he had first brought the second piece back to his chambers. Was it possible that they reacted to similar energy signatures? Or to other pieces of the sword itself? But that would mean that there were more pieces of the blade on the Darksyde somewhere. Which...didn't help him at all, really. It was a massive ship with a city-sized population of Predacons and that would be like trying to find a paint chip in a landfill. Of course, it could also be reacting to something outside the ship, which would be a more convenient answer, as it would be easier to explain an outdoor search.
The vulture's thoughts were interrupted by a steady tone emitting from one of the screens set haphazardly into his wall. Starscream had worked very hard (and had to silence a few mechs) to get the secret program running where no one, not even Soundwave or Tarantulas, could trace it. The program collected data related to energy signatures, and he had set it to send an alert any time something potent enough to be a weapon or a piece of the sword came to light. The alert was coming from somewhere in Egypt. Considering the Darksyde was nowhere near the Middle East at the time, that would mean that Starscream would have to request a Ground Bridge. Which would mean he would need a justification for going to Egypt.
But Starscream was clever, and this was barely enough to even qualify as an inconvenience for him. It was the work of a moment to file a false report about an energon deposit in Egypt. Now all he had to do was convince Galvatron to let him go investigate.
Easier said than done.
Starscream failed to secure an audience with him, to begin with. Then his false report was delayed by the Predacons assigned to sorting through Galvatron's messages for nearly two hours by the count of humans. Every second lost was a chance in favor of someone else getting to the energy signature before Starscream, and he was all too aware of this fact. When Galvatron did respond to his report, it was no more than a data signature. He'd treated it just like any other of the myriad energon reports he signed off on daily. That was good, that meant he'd taken the bait.
He'd assigned the ex-pirates to investigate. That was...not so good. While it was not unusual for the command structure of the Predacons to delegate energon investigations to lower-ranked soldiers, it did stand out that in this instance the Predacon who filed the report was excluded from the scouting party. It didn't necessarily mean anything, it could've just been a sleight against Starscream. Nevertheless, the conniving mech felt a greater urge than usual to watch his step. He would have to keep his head down for a little while, more than he had earlier, and try to win back some trust if he wanted to get back out into the field in time to find anything truly notable.
Oh well. If Chromehorn and his pirates found anything of use, he could always waylay them in the hangar and blame them for trying to pocket it themselves. One could never trust pirates, after all.
Wheeljack was frustrated.
He glared down at his arms, covered in dark armor and thick grey fur that marked him as "Snarl" for now, and tried once again to summon his equipped blasters. Once again, nothing happened. Knew I should've just opted for my swords, he thought sourly.
"What's wrong, Snarl?" Airazor paused next to him with an appraising glance. For a multi-changer, he seemed to be having a lot of trouble swapping traits from one body to the other. Where she had grown up on Cybertron, that was something multi-changers learned when they were younglings, but Snarl was behaving as though he'd never done it before.
"Haven't quite worked out the blaster thing yet," he replied in a deceptively casual tone. "This is why I stick with swords and grenades."
Airazor blinked. "You….you don't know how to summon your blasters?" Maybe this was like a Cheetor situation. "How long have you been a double-changer?"
Wheeljack - oops. Try to think of yourself as Snarl or you're gonna slip up, he reminded himself - shrugged and did a little calculating. "Under a month, probably. Time runs weird between this world and mine."
The smaller Cybertronian's optics lit in sympathy and understanding. "Oh! No wonder you can't control it yet! Don't worry, Snarl, that's completely normal. I grew up around multi-changers, they all took about two Earth years to get enough control to swap traits effortlessly." She grinned and the feathers along her helm rose as if in encouragement. "It's weird at first, but you just have to keep working at it. Eventually, you should be able to use Autobot weapons with your Maximal body, or Maximal traits in your Autobot body, or mix and match however you want as long as mass conversion isn't an issue."
"Snarl" perked up at that. Well then, that wasn't so bad at all, was it? He'd already come to terms with this second body for the most part, and had accepted that he wasn't changing his identity, just adding to it. But the idea that he would be able to go back and forth whenever he wanted as soon as he had enough control made things a lot easier to deal with. The hard part would be having the patience to let that come at its own pace. He glanced down and realized that the bird kid - Airazor, right? - was holding something up to him.
"What's this?" he asked, just slightly gruffer than intended.
"Crossbow," Airazor answered simply. "I got it from Apache. We figured you would want to conserve energon in that form, the way we do, so he made an external weapon for you. If you're having problems with your blasters, that's even more reason to try it, right?"
Snarl bared one fang in a half grin and hefted the weighty crossbow. "Has good mass to it. Nice weight. I like it! Do the bolts explode?"
"Erm...not that I know of."
Snarl was visibly disappointed by this, but shrugged and slung the crossbow across his back anyway. "Thanks, kid," he grunted, ruffling Airazor's feathers.
"Kid?!" she squawked indignantly, "I'm not that much younger than Arcee!"
Up ahead of them, Arcee hid a smirk and shook her helm. She turned back to Cheetor, who was staring down at the scanner they'd brought with an amusingly serious expression. "So, Cheetor," Arcee began, lacing her servos behind her back. "Praxus kid?"
Cheetor's audial fins stood upright in surprise, then relaxed. "It's the accent, isn't it?" he asked sheepishly.
Arcee nodded, something like a bittersweet smile tugging at her lips. "I'm guessing you used to have doorwings, right? Bet that made that escape pod you were in a real pain."
The young Maximal glanced at her. "How'd you know about the pod?" he asked.
With a snort, Arcee made a vague gesture. "Ratchet's mission reports, for one. And Jack's been telling me about all of you so I wouldn't feel so out of place while we're here."
Cheetor considered this, then nodded with an embarrassed grin. "Er...yeah, that would make sense."
"Hey kid," Snarl called from behind them, "Did you really call humans "squishy sparkling people" when you first met them?"
Cheetor groaned and covered his optics with one hand, audial fins drooping. "I'd never seen a human before, okay? Primus I wish the guys would stop bringing that one up."
"Don't sweat it, as the humans say," Arcee elbowed Cheetor in a friendly manner. "When my last partner and I landed on Earth, an electrical anomaly in the atmosphere temporarily scrambled his database. He spent four days thinking the dominant species on this planet were called rabbits." She'd never shared that story about Cliffjumper with anyone, not even Jack. But somehow it had just slipped out. Optimus would probably tell her that it was a sign that she really was healing. Arcee hoped so.
Between chuckles, the four lapsed into silence for a little while, focused on maintaining cover while searching out the signal they were tracking. At some point, Airazor took to the sky, soaring high enough that only aircraft would see how large she was. Taking his cue from her, Snarl dropped to all fours as a wolf and bounded ahead to scout. As they were nearing more populated areas, Arcee activated "Sadie" and took to two-wheeling while Cheetor loped along at her side in beast mode.
"Do you…" Arcee paused, searching for the right words. "Do you miss our dimension?"
Maybe she just wanted someone to commiserate with. Maybe she was genuinely curious. Arcee wasn't actually sure anymore.
Cheetor shook a spray of sand off of his head and flicked his ears, narrowing his eyes in thought. Then, a little plaintively, he said, "I don't….think so?"
"I was born into a war on a devastated world, and I lost pretty much all my friends in combat. Cybertron was pretty well wrecked by the time I was around, so I never really had much to miss, y'know?"
It's hard for a motorcycle to visibly wince, but Arcee managed. It was a fair enough statement, considering that according to the reports, Cheetor had only spent a few hours on their Earth and hadn't had time to learn anything about it or feel attachment to it. Did Bumblebee feel that way when comparing Cybertron to Earth? He was about the same age as Cheetor, give or take. He also would've been too young to remember Cybertron before the War. Or, before the War had gotten too bad, anyway. Arcee wasn't quite old enough to remember the fabled Golden Days, but she remembered what most of Cybertron was like before it had been effectively destroyed.
"You should have seen it in the old days, kid," she murmured, a little sadly. "It was something else."
"You should see this world's Cybertron," Cheetor countered. "It's very very weird, but...I dunno, it's…"
"Alive," Arcee finished for him. "It isn't quite Earth, but whoever Cyberformed the place definitely used Earth as a template."
There were about three miles left on the trail before they reached their destination when Snarl reappeared, shaking his paws out with the occasional wince. "How do you get used to this?" he complained, "Running on different kinds of terrain with soft pedes? Gah, I take back everything I ever said about humans and their squishyness. They're hardcore."
"I know, right?" Cheetor laughed, "I asked Raf how he could stand walking around the base barefoot during the summer and I kid you not, he looked me in the optic and said suck it up, tenderfoot."
"He did not!" Arcee gasped. "Our Raf said that?"
"He did!" Airazor swooped low and landed gracefully beside them. "I thought Jack was going to have a heart attack!"
"Well then," Snarl joked, "I know who not to ask for sympathy from while I get used to different climates on paws. Hey Cheetor, did you have trouble adjusting to your new body when you morphed?"
Cheetor looked distinctly uncomfortable all of a sudden and shot a pleading look at Airazor. The older Maximal fluttered up to perch on his shoulders comfortingly. She turned to the Autobots with an apologetic expression.
"Sorry, it's just...you wouldn't ask that if you'd seen how badly the 'Cons wrecked his last body. By rights, he shouldn't have survived at all."
Cheetor shuddered violently, but nodded in confirmation. "But hey, reformats happen all the time, right? No big deal. This chassis just traded the comfort of wheels for extra fuel options, that's all."
He paused, frowning. "Getting my name changed was pretty weird though. That's what I had trouble adjusting to."
Snarl bumped his shoulder in a friendly gesture as they began walking - rolling, in Arcee's case - again. "Yeah? I don't doubt it."
"For real. You picked your "Snarl" alias on your own. So that name belongs to you because you chose it, y'know? But me, I had Alpha Trion tell me point blank that I had to use this name from now on because...I...don't know, actually. Something to do with a paradox, maybe?" The young Maximal frowned, hackles raising slightly. "It took me longer to get used to it because it wasn't my name at first. Sorry, I know that all sounds weird."
As they came into sight of a cluster of abandoned buildings give or take fifty years old, Arcee transformed and shook the dust out of her joints. "It's okay, Cheetor. To be honest that's maybe only the fifth or sixth weirdest thing I've heard of specifically Alpha Trion doing. And it's probably only the eighth or ninth weirdest thing I've heard of all total this year alone. You do you, kiddo, and I'll roll with it."
She took the scanner from Cheetor and marched towards the abandoned buildings. The sensor signal was coming from the center of the cluster, but that really only meant it was in that general area. It wasn't a dramatically specific sensor.
The spaces between the buildings were wide enough for a Cybertronian Cheetor's size and under, but Snarl had to find another way around. His shoulders were just a little too broad. As the other three eased through the empty alleys, Airazor leaned in closer to Arcee.
"So...if Alpha Trion interfering in the lives of us sorta-mortals is only the ninth weirdest thing you've seen this year, what are the other eight things?"
Arcee smirked. "Counting the existence of a multiverse or not counting the existence of a multiverse?"
"Not counting the existence of a multiverse. That one threw me off, too," Airazor clarified.
Just out of range of their scanners, a pair of unfriendly optics watched the two femmes jovially talking through a pair of electro-binoculars. Three of the interlopers were Maximal, the watcher could see that, but the fourth looked like some kind of Velocitronian or one of the other colony Autobot Throwbacks. He didn't much care for them.
Chromehorn lowered his electro-binoculars and gestured to his crew.
To be continued...