Transformers: Heroes by Crystine

Heroic Decepticons AU. A century ago, the eons-old war between the Autobots and the Decepticons suddenly and inexplicably came to an end. Since then, many have gone their separate ways, whilst others still hold onto the bitter memories of war. Now, as Autobots and Neutrals join forces in a new directive to capture every Decepticon still left alive, it appears that the Autobots will finally get their chance to even the score, and defeat their enemies once and for all. But when they become the target of seemingly random, yet terrifying attacks, some begin to realize that the enemy may be much closer to home than anyone could have ever imagined.

Categories: Generation One Characters: Arcee (G1,TFU), Astrotrain (G1), Bludgeon (G1), Bluestreak (G1), Bonecrusher (G1,G2), Brawn (G1), Bumblebee (G1,G2) - aka Goldbug, Chromia (G1), Cliffjumper (G1), Devastator (G1,G2,TFU), Devcon (G1), Dirge (G1), Doubledealer (G1), Drift (G1), Elita One (G1), Fireflight (G1,G2), Firestar (G1), Gears (G1), Groove (G1), Hook (G1,G2), Hot Rod (G1), Hound (G1,Alt), Ironhide (G1,G2,Transformers Movie 2007), Jazz (G1,G2), Jhiaxus (G2,RiD), Laserbeak (G1), Long Haul (G1,G2), Megatron (G1,G2,MW), Mixmaster (G1,G2), Moonracer (G1), Optimus Prime (G1,G2,MW,RM,TFU, Transformers Movie 2007), Prowl (G1,MW), Ramjet (G1,G2), Ratchet (G1), Red Alert (G1), Rumble (G1), Scavenger (G1,G2), Scorponok (G1), Scrapper (G1,G2), Shockwave (G1), Sideswipe (G1,G2,Alt,TFU), Silverbolt (G1,G2), Skydive (G1,G2), Smokescreen (G1,Alt), Starscream (G1,G2,BW,MW,RM), Sunstreaker (G1,TFU), Tailgate (G1), Thrust (G1), Trailbreaker (G1), Wheeljack (G1, Alt), Windcharger (G1,Alt)
Genre: Drama
Location: Library
Series: None
Chapters: 13 Completed: No Word count: 135263 Read: 1380 Published: 03/01/15 Updated: 07/01/18
Story Notes:

Although this story takes a lot of things from the G1 cartoon, it is by no means strictly G1 toon oriented and introduces characters and/or ideas from other continuities (Sentinel Prime, Jhiaxus, Thunderblast and Rook are prime examples). Set primarily on Cybertron and Alternity City, it also deviates from certain key elements common in Transformers canon. For one thing, the general consensus that all Autobots are good and all Decepticons are bad is blurred, and a new meaning to the motivations behind their conflict is offered (which is a recurring theme in my Heroic Decepticons Alternate Universes). Some personalities have been altered from their original profiles as a necessity and their characters developed to a much deeper level than the original cartoon allowed (Megatron being the most obvious example).

I hope you enjoy and thanks for reading. If you would like to discuss any aspect of my work with me, please feel free to post in this thread over at OTCA:

1. Chapter 1 by Crystine

2. Chapter 2 by Crystine

3. Chapter 3 by Crystine

4. Chapter 4 by Crystine

5. Chapter 5 by Crystine

6. Chapter 6 by Crystine

7. Chapter 7 by Crystine

8. Chapter 8 by Crystine

9. Chapter 9 by Crystine

10. Chapter 10 by Crystine

11. Chapter 11 by Crystine

12. Chapter 12 by Crystine

13. Chapter 13 by Crystine

Chapter 1 by Crystine
Author's Notes:
This chapter has undergone many changes and revisions since I first wrote it a few years ago, and is now presented here in its final version.
Transformers: Heroes

Chapter 1


Alternity City, the greatest cybernetic planet within the Destron Space Precinct located in the Gamma Sector, thrived. Its many provinces spanned a massive area that covered most of the planet's surface, and were always alive and bustling with activity. The City's subterranean world, which consisted of several hundreds – if not thousands – of interconnecting layers, was even more incredible, both in population and in size.

The City, in large part, remained divided, unclaimed by any single governing faction or party, and as a result it had become a cesspool for crime, corruption and all manner of clandestine operations. Gangs and crime lords from all over the City fought for domination of the biggest suburban territories, and violence was a common, every day occurrence. Out on the surface, along the busy streets and in between the alleyways that separated the sleek, metallic skyscrapers, passersby ignored as best they could the brawls and skirmishes that were commonplace, as they hurried through on their way home from a long work day, doing nothing to render assistance.

Despite this insane state of affairs within the City, there would be some sort of order. A new, powerful faction would arise and lay claim to this torn, yet vastly resourceful, city. Each passing day saw the opportunity for new leadership to grow stronger and arise from within the planet's murky depths until it had established itself supreme above all others. Inevitable competition between rival groups ensured that only the strongest and the most ruthless amongst them would prevail, sorting the leaders from the followers, the strong from the weak. More importantly, an ever growing, and desperate, yearning and need from the majority of mechanoids and other life forms who inhabited the planet would welcome such leadership, their silent yet pervasive voices demanding some sort of order and justice before the City crumbled under its own chaos.

Within Alternity City's largest Subterranean Base, a steadily increasing number of underground dwellers were now, more than ever before, willing to choose their allegiance and pledge their undying loyalty to the true rulers of the City. For the first time since the Great Devastation during the Third Era, when entire dwellings had been destroyed and very few mechs survived, they could once again grow in strength and numbers. Opportunity for great change was now upon them as the time had finally come for the worthy elite to build their empire, an unstoppable force unsurpassed by any other in the known universe. Then they would take all that was rightfully theirs.

The underground base was a stark, gloomy and unwelcoming network of rooms and tunnels. Well hidden from the rest of the City, it spanned a massive area below the planet's surface, and its advanced defence network made it virtually impervious to enemy surveillance. It was perfectly suited to their purpose. Added to that, they had accumulated enough energy and resources for the next stage of their plan.

The mech watched silently from a darkened corner of the control tower, deep within the bowels of the Subterranean Base. Nothing escaped his notice, not even during the peak of the recharge cycle. He was often the last one online, and the first to awaken. He had become a silent, unobtrusive presence; so much so that the other mechanoids had eventually come to ignore him after many long years, had all but ceased to question his motives, or his purpose for being. He seldom spoke, and refused to become involved in squabbles that frequently arose within the base. All they knew of his presence here was that he served as their supreme leader's personal informant and confidante, and usually answered to no one else.

As two mech-rats scurried across the floor, he hardly turned his head to acknowledge them. Instead, he moved over to one of the security terminals, ignoring the flickering light panel emanating from the adjacent control station as he walked past. The systems were on stand by. He input the codes to access the network with slow and deliberate movements, as if carefully contemplating his every move. The monitor beside the control panel whirred abruptly to life, and a rudimentary map of the security network was displayed before him. He studied it intently.

The High Commander of the regime, as he was known by his subordinates, would expect the usual security report and, just like a reliable chronometer, the mech would provide it. The High Commander would be kept informed of anything and everything that occurred within the underground base... and the High Commander, also, as the mech had learned quite some time ago, kept his true identity hidden so that no one, not even his highest ranking officials, were aware of it. However, the mech knew more about their supreme leader than he cared to reveal: once a high ranking Decepticon, the High Commander's dissatisfaction with the then- state of affairs on his home planet of Cybertron drove him to revolt against those in power. He had eventually been defeated and fled, but had vowed to one day return and take ultimate vengeance upon all those who had stood in his way…

An unauthorized group of signatures appeared on the screen, alerting the mech to a possible security breach. A tracking beacon soon revealed the source of the signatures. Interesting. Mechanoids with transformable configurations. Cybertronian mechanoids with enhanced flight capability.

As he watched the movement of the intruders - five of them in all - he took no action to intercept them, or to stop them. Instead, the mech continued watching them as the jets approached a wide runway within the perimeter to the North. They began to pick up speed at a relatively fast rate, and further analysis confirmed that they were heading towards the primary power grid.

The mech stepped away from the console and silently waited in the semi-darkness, watching them with interest.



Elita One looked out through the cruiser's view screen towards the Red Nebula in the Delta Sector, her hand resting lightly against the bulkhead. She took a moment to recognize the silent emptiness that was deep space, and how lonely it often got out here, indeed – how lonely it was out here but, luckily for her, she was in the company of a very capable and close-knit crew, who commandeered a very capable warship.

She generally liked the feeling of being in command, as she was in this moment. However, their current mission had proven futile thus far, and she realized now that there was no better option but to return home. She shook her head, and turned back towards her crew. "Turn the ship around! We're going home," she ordered, heading back towards the captain's chair and sitting down.

One of her all-femme crew looked up from her navigational console with slight hesitation. "Wait, Elita – we're still detecting a vapor trail–"

Elita One gave a small sigh. "Look, Chromia, we could be detecting Unicron's exhaust port as far as we know – we're not going to waste any more time or energy on this ridiculous wild goose chase," she explained in frustration, and then softened her tone a little. "Don't worry about Cybertron Command. I'll handle them."

The blue femme relented, and returned to her console. There would be no arguing with Elita One - although she did agree with her sentiments - regardless of what Command would think of them when they returned home with nothing. They had been searching this part of space for several weeks now, following one useless sensor reading after another, only to come up empty-handed. They may as well have been chasing their own tail-pipes for all the good that their little recon mission had accomplished. Perhaps intel had got it wrong this time. Chromia turned the ship around on a course back to Cybertron, and stepped back from the console, nodding to the Autobot femme commander.

"Do you know how long it's been since we were part of something meaningful, Chrome?" Elita asked, calling her second-in-command by her nick.

"No, I don't... I haven't really thought about it, to be honest," Chromia replied, walking casually over to her. She and Elita had been the best of friends for the longest time, and outside of duty they completely disregarded their ranks – to Chromia, Elita was just another one of the femmes, and vice versa.

"Four deca cycles, Chrome. An entire warship at our disposal… and we've been on nothing but useless scout missions. Can you believe it?" Elita responded, shaking her head at the thought. "And here we were thinking that we'd be of more use to our own kind."

"Well, they haven't been pointless, exactly," Chromia began, although her conviction was weak. "Besides, somebody had to do it, and we happened to be available, that's all."

"Maybe, but it's a job for first year cadets - not for us. I'm going to speak to Prime about getting transferred to the Gamma Sector. That's where we should be right now."

Chromia looked at her friend, and noticed the inner fire that burned in her optics, the intense desire to be a part of something greater. It was what Elita had been created for, what she lived for, and being away from the front lines for too long caused all her frustrations and resentments to inevitably surface. Part of her understood her friend's need; a deep and rarely expressed part of her psyche that, once she engaged in a fierce battle against an enemy, could no longer be kept under control. Just like the rest of the femmes here aboard the Avenger, they were both warriors at spark. "You think that the rumors are true?" Chromia asked her, after a long pause.

Elita turned to face her, and considered her question carefully. "Yes... I think they are. And I also think there's a lot more going on than even those in Command will ever care to admit."

"Elita... we can't deviate from our assigned mission without going through the proper channels. You know that, right?" the blue femme reminded her gently, reading her thoughts.

"The proper channels?" The pink and white femme replied, laughing sardonically at the thought. "The High Council doesn't play by the rules – so why should we?" She leaned her head back against the chair's head rest in contemplation. Ah yes… the great Cybertronian High Council - the planet's peak governing body - and its direct authority over all of the Command hierarchy's major decisions. Many at Iacon Central had turned a blind optic to their sudden rise to power at the end of the last Great War, which had forced an uneasy cease-fire between the Autobots - who had always recognized the Council's authority and abided by their wishes; and the Decepticons, a group of rebels who had been dissatisfied with the way the Council had run things from the beginning. Effectively, the Cybertronian High Council had quickly put an end to the eons-old war between the two factions, but at what price? Elita couldn't help but wonder whether things had actually improved since then, or whether it had simply replaced one problem for another - one that was possibly far worse, and far more insidious than the one before. And now that rumors of a new and deadly group originating in the Gamma Sector were beginning to surface, she couldn't help but feel that the Council knew more about it than they claimed - perhaps a lot more. Too many incidents from that region of space had been thus far unaccounted for, and an increasing number of reports of Autobots who had gone missing without any reasonable explanation only served to strengthen her conviction. "Don't worry, I won't do anything you wouldn't approve of – I promise. Okay?" She said finally, and smiled reassuringly.

Chromia nodded resignedly. "Okay."



Megatron approached the Command Centre in Iacon Central - the Autobots' main base of operations - and made his way through a labyrinth of hallways, intent on reaching his destination. He did so silently, without any fanfare or warning, moving past the occasional Autobot, who, startled, instinctively stepped aside to make way for him. The Decepticon leader hardly glanced at them, barely even acknowledging them. Even when two security bots realized who he actually was and called for a backup security team, he simply continued past them. He wasn't interested in the usual formalities which all visiting mechs were required to go through in order to be granted permission to enter the Command Centre. "Get out of my way," he muttered dismissively, as he turned a corner into a brightly lit hallway.

The Autobot guards followed him, trying to keep the larger mech within their sights. One of the guards, a blue colored mini-bot by the name of Tailgate, gave his usual, oft-practiced speech he usually gave to any mech who attempted entrance into the Centre without the proper clearance. "Excuse me, sir… you'll need a security pass to enter. This area is off limits to unauthorized personnel. Please leave immediately, or we will have to escort you out-"

Megatron stopped short, turning to face him. "Is that a threat, Autobot?" He looked down upon the smaller bot, optics a fiery red. His fusion cannon was prominently mounted upon his right arm. Satisfied that he had made his point, he turned back and continued at a steady pace down the hall. Tailgate continued after him, much less confidently now, and saw his security backup approaching from the far end of the passageway.

The two guards continued to keep pace behind the Military Commander whilst trying to avoid running into other bots as they entered the busy Control Room. After a few moments, they arrived at a large operations room known as Communications Central. Megatron came to a stop directly outside, as several guards and soldiers surrounded him. Seemingly oblivious of the various standard-issue weapons pointed directly at him, he quickly scanned the area for the Autobot Commander.

"Sir, this is your final warning…" Tailgate began again, but then trailed off as they all turned to acknowledge two approaching mechs, who had been alerted to the sudden commotion.

Optimus Prime, accompanied by Prowl, a high ranking officer and Chief of Security, came to a stop before the Military Commander.

"Prime," the silver mech acknowledged; his red optics intense and filled with the will and determination that was typical of the Decepticon leader.

Optimus nodded and glanced towards Prowl who, upon understanding Prime's unspoken command, vocalized his objection. "Prime, I must insist on having him removed immediately. He is in direct violation of security protocols…" Prowl said, looking the Decepticon leader over, then added with a scowl, "Besides, Decepticon scum isn't welcome around here."

"Prowl, that's enough," Prime interjected, and motioned for the Security Chief to back down.

"But Prime-"

"I said that's enough. I'll handle it from here."

Prowl reluctantly lowered his weapon, then motioned the others to do the same but kept his gaze locked upon the Decepticon leader, ready to take defensive action at a moment's notice if need be.

As the Autobot Commander beckoned for his long-time rival to follow him away from the Communications Centre and towards the Main Conference Room nearby, he spoke in his usual calm and even tone. "You really shouldn't have come here, Megatron. For your own sake, as well as ours."

"Never mind that," Megatron replied a little irritated, as they entered the room. The door closed, and the two of them were now alone. He wasted no time in getting to his point. "Listen carefully, Optimus Prime, because Cybertron's future depends on what actions you take. The Council has been coordinating a silent takeover that has been in the making for many stellar cycles now... When are you going to realize they are simply using you and the rest of the Autobots to further their own agenda?" Optimus watched him silently, giving away nothing of his own thoughts and feelings. It seemed ironic to him that he should now be standing here, alone, in the heart of Autobot territory with the Decepticon leader himself, after not having seen or heard from him in many stellar cycles - perhaps ten or even more - he wasn't certain. Megatron, however, seemed to behave as though only a month had gone by since they had last spoke. He continued, "We have reason to believe several militant groups have already become established in key locations throughout the Gamma Region… it's just a matter of time before-"

Optimus interrupted him with a raised hand. "And you want me to believe that the Decepticons have no involvement with any of them?" Megatron would have given him a look of incredulousness, but he quickly realized that such accusations were only typical of the Autobot Commander and so, instead, he turned away in disgust. Optimus continued unperturbed. "Weren't you the one who claimed that the Decepticons should have total supremacy over Cybertron, and the rest of the galaxy, all those vorns ago? Why would things be any different now?"

The Decepticon Commander looked at him directly. "Yes - if it had come down to a choice between them or us," he rebuked, referring to the various groups who had vied for power and supremacy over the vorns, including the current High Council. "And with the Autobots at their every beck and call, who would remain to ensure the future of our race?"

Optimus visibly stiffened, and backed away, his tone now terse. "That's not true and you know it. The Council had no authority or influence over us. Yes, we sought their advice and they often accepted our help… but that's only because their goals were no different to ours! I would have never approved that which I was not also prepared to accept full responsibility for."

"Ah, yes… but all that has since changed, hasn't it?" Megatron reminded him somberly. After pausing for a brief moment, he continued. "If you refuse to accept what is truth and take the necessary actions, everyone will pay the ultimate price for your shortcomings." His voice was calm and direct, yet his contempt for the Autobot Commander's stubborn belief in what, to him, was nothing more than a corrupt political regime remained evident. "And you, alone, must live with the consequences of your decisions for the rest of your existence."

"And what would you have me do? Force the Council, and perhaps the rest of Cybertron, to submit to your demands?" Optimus rebutted, still unconvinced of the Decepticon Commander's true motives.

Megatron knew that his words of warning would ultimately be ignored, and that the time for such talks would soon run out. Yet he continued in his attempt to make the other see reason. "To begin with, you could grant the Autobots true sovereignty from those who would take away their independence."

"The Council does not dictate our every move, and they are reluctant to do anything without my approval," Optimus defended.

"Is that so? Well then, I suggest you directly refute their next directive, and see what happens," Megatron challenged, almost with a smirk. "You are a fool, Optimus Prime. As long as you remain unwilling to stand up against them, then you will be personally held accountable for Cybertron's ruin."

Optimus had heard enough, and was starting to feel restless. He thought that a slight change in direction might help steer the conversation more in his favor. "I've already spoken with the Council, and they are prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect Cybertron from harm. I see no reason to stop them," Optimus explained, his tone steadfast.

"How many more Autobots are going to die before you start seeing reason?" Megatron's tone was harsh, accusatory.

"Since when did you care about the Autobots?" Optimus fired back, anger at the other's bluntness, then at himself for having taken the bait. He fought to regain control. "It is you, Megatron, who has no proof of what he is saying," Optimus added. Then, as he began pacing slowly across the room, he changed tactic. "Don't you think I would tell you if I believed for one cycle that the High Council had something to hide?" Optimus replied. "But as it currently stands, that would be unfair." He stopped pacing, and looked back towards his long-time rival. "No… in fact, if there's anyone here with anything to hide, it would be you."

"You would like nothing better than for me to confess my involvement in all of this, so that you can lay blame on the Decepticons. Is that not so?" Megatron countered, but did not wait for a reply. "Of course you would. Not only would you gain the support of the masses, but your rightful place as the esteemed leader of the Autobot Alliance would never be disputed. You will have won the hearts and minds of every good cybernetic citizen in the galaxy, while the rest of us 'war criminals' are punished. How convenient for you."

The Autobot leader stood quietly for a long while, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with what had been said, showing no emotion, until finally he spoke again. "I am sorry you feel that way, Megatron. Truly. If there is any mech alive capable of ending this futile struggle and restoring peace on our planet, it would be you. But alas, it seems that it is not to be." When Megatron gave no reply, he continued after a pause. "You should know that the Council has given official recognition to the Neutrals as their representatives." He wasn't sure what kind of a reaction this news would elicit from the Decepticon Commander, but he guessed that it wouldn't be favorable. 

He was right; this news only served to reinforce Megatron's sentiments towards Cybertron's main governing body. Sentiments that were far from positive. "This new Alliance will only make things more difficult," he said finally. "I will not allow them to jeopardize all that we have stood for, Prime - even if it means going directly against their ruling. You know as well as I do that the Neutral-Autobot Alliance is just a cover; They will infiltrate Command and take control, and then they will be left without opposition." His optics were intense once more, his strength of conviction evident. "It's what they've always wanted."

"Perhaps, but we have no evidence as such, and until we do I must remain wary of those who are in disagreement," he replied, and then paused for a few moments. "Megatron... if you stand in the way of Council's decisions... I cannot condone your actions. I will take it as a renewed declaration of war against not only the Council itself, but against the Autobots."

Megatron looked directly towards the Prime Commander, a hint of regret in his expression. "Then nothing has changed." As he exited the room, Prime silently watched him leave.



There was nothing like a refill of refined energon, straight from the tap. It invigorated the systems, recharged an otherwise tired and overworked main processor, and brought an extra spark to the optics. On his days off, Sideswipe liked to do just that – indulge in some non-essential fuel intake.

He was a solidly built, red and black Autobot, taller than the average assembly line worker. Yep, that's what he was – an assembly line automated coil injector worker bot. Fascinating work, he thought with sarcasm, as he placed his order for another energon batch at the front of the Bar Magna – an often crowded and noisy energon bar where common worker bots went to unwind from an orn's monotonous labor. After a few cycles, his order was placed in front of him. He picked it up and made his way to an empty two-seater table at the back of the bar - his usual hangout.

Settling back, and taking in a refreshing mouthful of the pink substance, he allowed his thoughts to wonder. Scanning the room with his optics, he checked to see if there were any new faces around today. He noted the usual worker bots, a couple of Autobot Security personnel, who came in occasionally to keep an optic on things, and a table of Neutrals. He couldn't help but notice the way the Neutrals, in particular, stayed close to one another, as if they were protecting themselves from some external threat by relying on safety in numbers. He shook his head and casually looked away to avoid their suspicions. He had been observing them constantly for the last… what felt like several stellar cycles, and the more he watched them, the more he had begun to question their political motives. Something about them just didn't seem right. The Neutrals had proclaimed themselves a peaceful, non-warring faction, dedicated to bringing Cybertron back to its Golden Era and former glory. In the past, they had vehemently denied any official association with the current establishment, yet things were changing and they now seemed to be doing the very opposite. Granted, the High Council had also denied exercising any political favoritism, insisting that its small group of members operated independently and existed only for the good of Cybertron as a whole, yet that had not stopped them from appointing the Neutrals as their official intermediary faction all the same.

The two Autobot Security mechs came and went, and the bar finally quieted down. A pink and white femme passed by him then, holding a small data pad in her hand, and he glanced up at her. She caught his gaze, and stopped.

"Sideswipe, is that you?" she started, slight surprise in her voice.

A smile appeared on the mech's face, and he nodded casually. "Hey, Arcee. What are you doing here?" he answered.

"I've just completed my application. I was actually just passing through on my way back to Iacon Central," she explained, then smiled. "It's so good to see you again, Sides. How long's it been?"

"Too long," Sideswipe replied. "So, what's the application for? Or is it top secret?" He asked, nodding towards the data pad.

"Oh, no. They're advertising for trackers, so I thought I'd give it a go. I know it's not my area of expertise, but I figured what have I got to lose? Good posts are really hard to come by. Going back to Iacon might help me get a foot through the door, maybe even help get me back into the ranks." She handed him the data pad, and took a seat beside him. "Here, tell me what you think."

Sideswipe slowly sat up straight, and watched her intently as she spoke, before looking down at the data pad and reaching out his hand to take it. He studied the data for a few kliks, and then handed the pad back to her. "Looks like you've got a good set of skills. They'd be crazy not to take you back." He smiled.

The femme nodded her head, and fell into quiet contemplation as she read through her application again. She seemed satisfied with it. She gave him a small sigh and a shrug. "Thanks." Then her expression suddenly changed and her optics glowed brighter as she looked back towards him. "Oh! Why don't you put in an application as well? It'd be fun, and we'd be doing something meaningful, helping the Autobot cause. Just like old times!"

Sideswipe didn't give her a reply; instead he indicated towards his energon container, and then looked towards the bar. "Listen, can I get you something?"

"Oh, no thank you. I've really got to get going soon. I'm just looking forward to going home, to be honest," she replied with a small sigh of relief.

"Look, Arcee... I'll be honest with you." He said, motioning towards the data pad in her hand. "I can't go back there again... and if there's any truth at all to the rumors I've been hearing lately, I don't think I want to be involved, anyway. Besides, they won't want me back, not after my colorful service record."

"Oh, you don't know that for sure," she replied, trying to reassure him. "They wouldn't hesitate to take you back, you're too valuable." She further reflected upon what he had just told her. "What rumors, Sides?"

Sideswipe looked down at the table, averting his optics. "Oh, you know...  they're just stupid rumors." He shrugged. "They probably don't mean anything." He seemed to change his mind and wished that he hadn't mentioned any rumors to her in the first place. "I don't trust the new Alliance, anyway."

She thought for a moment before replying. "You mean... the Alliance with the Neutrals?" she asked, and he nodded. She instinctively lowered her voice slightly as they glanced over towards the table of Neutrals across the room. The group of mechs was getting louder by the klik with every additional refill of energon consumed. She nodded with understanding. "They believe themselves to be superior."

Sideswipe sensed that to be true. In fact, he would probably guess that most Autobots sensed it, too. "Well, that's not surprising. I've been watching them… and let's just say that there's more to their new accord than meets the eye."

"Do you mean their sudden partnership with the Council?" She asked, curious.

Sideswipe shifted in his seat a bit, hesitating with his reply. "Yeah. But don't ask me to explain things any further, Arcee... I'm still just trying to figure out exactly what in the Pits is going on," he said.

Arcee sensed he was telling the truth, and that whatever it was that he thought might be going on, weighed heavily on his mind. "I understand," she reassured him. "Just be careful and stay out of trouble, okay?"

He looked at her with amusement, happy to be changing topic. "Hey, me, careful? Nah. Unless my name's not Sideswipe." He replied in jest. Back when he was a part of the Autobot army, he had a reputation for pulling off all sorts of crazy and dangerous stunts, both on and off duty.

She shrugged. "Well, can't a femme show some concern for a mech? Especially a mech who happens to be one of her best friends."

He laughed in amusement and sat back, holding her gaze. "You needn't worry about me, Arcee. I can take care of myself."

"I'm sure you can." She looked at him thoughtfully. "So... how are you finding life as a civilian?"

He shrugged. "It's okay, I guess. I do miss the action, though… and being away from all my friends for so long hasn't helped, either."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," she said, quietly reminiscing over her own experiences during these past few mega cycles. "Things are not like they used to be, that's for sure."

He nodded in agreement. "Yeah." Since Cybertron Command's restructure after the end of the last War against the Decepticons, many of the remaining Autobots had transferred to non-military stations. Some helped upgrade or rebuild the city, whilst others involved themselves in diplomatic missions on other worlds, or became involved in scientific or medical endeavors. They had built themselves a new life, hoping that the notion of war would eventually become just a fading memory, and the heavy burdens of loss and sadness that each still carried deep inside his spark would disappear back into the shadows of a long forgotten past, even if for only a little while.

Essentially, the Autobot army had been reduced to nothing more than a shadow of its former glory. Even the Decepticons, once a mighty force to be reckoned with, were now seldom heard from. He wondered what had become of them… what would eventually become of them all.

"Sideswipe?" He heard the femme next to him saying, and realized that he must have become lost in his own thoughts.

"Oh," he said promptly, turning to look back at her. "Sorry. I was just thinking…"

Arcee smiled reassuringly, and they both sat quietly together for a few moments. "I better get going," she finally said, and stood to leave. "If you change your mind... come find me, okay?" she added as an afterthought.

"I will," he replied, and smiled back at her. He waved goodbye as he watched her exit the bar, then sat back in his seat and slowly finished off the last of his energon.



During the later part of the day, the Maintenance and Repair Bay of Central Iacon was usually deserted, save for one or two medical officers and a few maintenance drones scattered about the place, and today was no exception. The busiest time usually occurred in the early mega cycles, when duty shifts were just beginning and the various resident bots and personnel from the Command Centre would visit here for their scheduled maintenance routines.

Now, within the main operating theater in the central part of the complex, all of the overhead lights were dimmed, and in the middle of the large room stood two mechs, bent over a repair berth. A single, bright green spotlight illuminated their work area from above. They were both silently engrossed in their work, their concentration focused and intense. Atop the berth lay an offlined mechanoid. His chest compartment was open as the two mechs worked on him, carefully sorting through various fuel lines and wiring assemblies with the utmost care and attention.

One of the mechs, a tall, red and white colored Autobot, stopped working for a few moments, stepped back slightly and straightened. He let out a heavy sigh, and placed the precision instrument that he had been using down on the table next to him. Then he quickly glanced at the monitor screen that displayed the mech's life signs, satisfied. "I'll let you finish," he said, his voice gravelly and rough. The other mech nodded silently, but did not look away from his work. "It sure ain't like it used to be around here," he then muttered in a low voice, shaking his head.

Silence followed for a long while afterwards, as the mech who was now bent over the berth finished his work, and carefully put away his tools. Then, finally, he looked back. "What do you mean, sir?" He addressed the Chief Medical Officer in a curious, yet respectful, tone.

"Eh?" Ratchet asked, lost in his own thoughts, and then realized what the other was referring to. "Ah. Nothing," he replied, but privately reminisced of times now past. "Just talking to myself, is all." His student looked at him quizzically, but did not question him further. "Not bad for a security officer. You're almost ready to perform that procedure on your own. You won't need me watching over you anymore."

"Well, I... I don't know about that, sir. I mean, there's still so much I don't know..." The other red and white, security-officer-turned-medic-in-training replied.

"Ah, you're doing just fine. You're too self-critical, you know that? You've gotta learn to trust yourself more," Ratchet reassured him, then walked over to the mechanoid patient. He looked down at the silent figure for a few kliks, and carefully set the berth controls to auto recharge cycle. "But I think you've done enough here for tonight. Go on, get some recharge yourself."

"Yes, sir," the medic replied, and then hesitated. "Uh... sir?"

"Hmm?" Ratchet looked up at him, slightly puzzled. "What is it, Red Alert? What's the matter?"

If Red Alert didn't know his mentor any better, he would have thought that the CMO sounded almost annoyed with him, impatient even. "Oh, nothing, sir, nothing's the matter..." Red Alert quickly responded, not wanting to create unnecessary concern. When he didn't continue, Ratchet turned his attention fully upon him, and folded his arms across his chest, silently waiting for him to speak. Red Alert realized that he would look very silly if he did not explain himself now, so he cleared his vocalizer and gestured with his hand, in emphasis of his nonchalance. "Well, it's just that, me and the other mechs... over at S and D... we – well, we got to talking... about some things that happened before the New Era..." He trailed off, uncertain. Maybe this had been a bad idea, after all.

Ratchet did not reply straight away, but instead listened intently to the new apprentice, observing his every mannerism in his own quiet, intimidating way. He nodded slowly. "Yeah...?"

It seemed safe enough to continue. "...We thought that maybe – you could tell us a bit about it?" Red Alert seemed tense.

Was he really that difficult to approach? Ratchet wondered about himself. He laughed, making a soft, yet deep sound that few mechs rarely got to hear. It was common knowledge amongst the medical and scientific officers who worked around here that Ratchet did not laugh much, nor did he take jokes very well, especially during the working shifts. But those same officers weren't privy to his off duty activities, which he generally kept to himself and away from his role as the Chief of Staff. "Well, what exactly do you want to know?"

This response took Red Alert slightly by surprise, but he did a good job of covering it up, and quickly recomposed himself. "Ah... well..." He pondered, deep in thought. He didn't think that he would get his chance so soon. "The... Dark Plague, for example. A lot of mechs I've spoken to believe that it almost wiped out the entire Autobot army, shortly after the war ended. That you, along with another officer... I don't recall his name... managed to discover a cure just in time... yet, when I searched the archives I couldn't find any information on it. According to the public records, it's almost as if it never happened."

Ratchet nodded his head. The memory of those critical events suddenly came flooding back to him. "Wheeljack," he said simply, almost to himself.

Things sure weren't the same around here anymore, he thought dryly. Not since the New Era began, anyway. It was quieter now, more peaceful, since the last known Decepticon threat had been quenched, and the Dark Plague had been brought under control. Gone were the days of endless emergency medical calls during the middle of the recharge cycle, of soldiers being dragged into his med bay with broken limbs and burned out power units, desperate and leaking energon, waiting to be saved from permanent deactivation as they fought valiantly against the chronometer for their very lives. And he would do everything he could to save them, no holds barred. It was his job, after all. Granted, he had saved many more lives during his long service than he had lost, and for that he was grateful. However, these days, well... it just seemed to him that he wasn't needed anymore, not as much as he used to be. There were no more injured from the war, because there was no more war.  These days, med bay activity consisted mainly of scheduled maintenance and upgrades – all very safe and predictable. Which was a very good thing, he thought. But it meant that things just weren't the same for him anymore. Perhaps, he should retire from service for a little while, hand med bay operations over to mechs like Red Alert and the others. They were certainly more than capable of taking care of things around here. He had taught them all they needed to know.

Red Alert looked puzzled. "Excuse me, sir?"

"Wheeljack," Ratchet repeated matter-of-factly. "The name of the other officer was – is – Wheeljack. And yes, it happened, all right. It ain't something I'm going to forget too easily." Ratchet began to slowly move around the large room, making sure that all tools and data files had been neatly put away, and that all security systems were active. The two maintenance drones, which had been silently standing by, obediently returned to their wall recesses and powered down for the night.

Red Alert followed him, ever curious and eager to know more. He couldn't believe that he had managed to get the Chief Medical Officer to even begin to speak to him about this part of Cybertron's history – a part that was very much shrouded in mystery. He rarely ever spoke to Red Alert about anything other than repair work. "Then why... what happened to the records?"

Ratchet continued to finish up his final tasks for the night, not bothering to look back at the young apprentice as he spoke. "How should I know? I'm a Medic. I don't deal with the Archives." 'Medic' was, of course, their adopted term for Maintenance and Repair Specialist. Ratchet sensed the other's uneasiness at his remark, and decided to give him a more appropriate answer. "Look, I don't know why it's not in the recorded archives... maybe it's restricted to high level personnel only. But I was there at the time, and I know what happened first hand." Ratchet stopped what he had been doing for a moment, now curious. "Why the sudden interest, anyway?"

But Red Alert had been expecting that question, sooner or later. "Well... I was researching enhanced virus programs as part of security and prevention, when I came across some undesignated medical files, marked only with the codename and no authorization signature. So I asked around a bit but... well, nobody seems to know much about it, other than what I've already mentioned. I thought that maybe you might know something..."

"Uh huh." Ratchet seemed satisfied with that answer, and Red Alert eased considerably. He walked to the exit, ready to set the outside door lock, and waited silently for Red Alert to follow him out. "All I can tell you is that if it ain't in the public records, then it's probably something you don't want to be asking about too much – at least, not to any of the higher ranks." A pause, and then, "Then again, maybe you should."

Great, Red Alert thought sardonically, that was helpful. He watched the red and white mech seal the door closed and input the security code on the control panel. "Sir... you are a high ranking officer," he said, stating the obvious.

Ratchet gave a slight nod, but did not give an immediate reply. He paused, taking his time observing his student. "Yeah, I guess I am. The Dark Plague was the codename for a virus... Highly effective, engineered to perfection... almost. Myself, and a few others, literally worked against the chronometer to find a cure for that damn thing. We were finally able to reverse its effects by using a high level Decepticon code... but not before a lot of damage had been caused, and many Autobots lost their lives."

Red Alert's optics glowed brighter as he took in this new, first-hand information. "So... did you find the Decepticons responsible?"

Ratchet's expression suddenly turned sour, and he grimaced. "Yeah... we found him, alright. He should have been terminated for what he did, but he pleaded not guilty during his trial and so, with some persuasion from Decepticon Command, the High Council decided to exile him instead." Then, after a pause, he added, "If he ever shows up here again, I'll terminate him myself,"

Red Alert could hardly believe what the Chief Medical Officer was telling him. "But… why isn't any of this in the archives?"

"I don't know. All I know is that I'll never trust another Decepticon - not after something like that. I almost wish that damn war never ended..." Ratchet confessed, recalling the unpleasant events of the past and how, after a long and devastating war that had been fought between the Autobots and the Decepticons, it had all just suddenly, and inexplicably, come to an end - as if all that he and his friends had ever fought for, and all the mechs who had so valiantly given their lives for the cause, now meant absolutely nothing. At least for him, it was a bitter pill to swallow. "A thousand more lives could have easily been extinguished in one recharge cycle because of that virus," he concluded.

His apprentice medic looked up at him in awe, and bewilderment. "So... who was the mech responsible?" He could not help but ask the inevitable question. If nothing else, he could make a note in his security files for future reference.

The senior officer looked back at him, his gaze steady. His optics seemed to be burning with some obscure, yet undeniable truth, and a past that was better left buried. "Afraid I can't tell you that. Direct orders." He shook his head exaggeratedly. A pause and then, "But he was a high ranking Decepticon, that's all I can tell you." Red Alert was fascinated, yet visibly disappointed that he wouldn't be able to learn the identity of the war criminal. After a long silence, Ratchet continued. "But that's nothing for you to be concerned about. Right now I'm depleted and I gotta get some recharge. I suggest you do the same."

Red Alert nodded. "Of course," he replied, as the Chief Medical Officer turned around and began to head down the empty hallway. "Oh, and, thank you, sir," He called out after him.

Ratchet did not give him a verbal response, but instead raised his hand in acknowledgement, waving goodbye for the night. Red Alert smiled to himself as he watched the red and white form slowly disappear around the corner. Then he finally turned around and headed off in the opposite direction.



Other than the typical background hum that emanated from the central computer console, the quiet buzz from the personal energon processor over in the far corner, and the regular beeping from the security monitors, Optimus Prime's personal quarters were silent. Lights had been activated to maximum intensity, and the large view screen that normally looked out over Iacon's eastern suburbs had been set to display a live visual of Cybertronian space. Stars gently filtered through, while an occasional meteoroid or other space debris quietly drifted past, but other than that, the view did not alter much at all. Such a view would generally be considered uneventful or uninteresting, boring even, to some, but to the Prime Commander, it was peaceful. It gave him time to think, to ponder. It reminded him of the sheer magnitude of creation, of the universe, of everything that existed and co-existed within it. A stark reminder that Cybertron, and all the lives that depended upon it for their very survival, was but a mere speck of creation, a tiny, microscopic piece of the larger picture – the much, much larger picture. It was a humbling thought.

Indeed, he was the philosopher at heart as much as he was the scientist or the strategist, though he would seldom admit to it.

Optimus, seated at his desk, looked down at a list of data files. He had done this for Primus only knew how long; had served as the Autobot Commander for what seemed like eons. Yet, it seemed to him, that every solar cycle, no matter how many times he had made a critical command decision or how many Great Wars he had lived through – and, there were many – continued to bring a new experience, a new challenge for him to conquer. And every day, he continued to learn from such experiences, to conquer such challenges, and to rise above them.

Despite all his accomplishments, and even as the most highly respected and experienced Prime in the surrounding sector of Cybertronian space, there were some things that even he could not learn to live with, or come to fully accept.

The data files stared back at him relentlessly, demanding his attention, the Cybertronian symbols on the screen in front of him bright green against a dark backdrop. He activated the touch screen and scrolled down, slowly reading the messages, deliberately taking his time. Security reports, maintenance schedules, recruit lists... right now, all of this could wait. Then, the file he was interested in: an encrypted message from special ops, a field report.

Every time he had played back that file, he could not shake off the feeling that had come over him. Even now, as he contemplated listening to it one more time, the apprehension and unease threatened to return ever more strongly, and he feared that he may never be rid of it. He had listened to the recording several times today already, and each time it had only left him with more questions than answers.

He looked away from the screen, his optics drifting towards the communications panel. Green lights flickered silently, an indication that the com system was operating normally. He noted that the main channels were online, and that his own private line was currently on standby. Next to that was a direct line to Council Chambers, isolated and secure.

He leaned back in his chair and looked back at the view of space; silent yet unforgiving, despite its magnificence. Many wars had been fought amongst those stars, as many battles won as had been lost. A battle ground that had been his greatest ally just as much as it had been his worst enemy. It took no sides, gave nothing of itself, and yet would take everything in return. Many lives had been claimed in that battle ground, soldiers sacrificed for the greater good, for the honor and freedom of their race...

Optimus looked back down at the file names, returning his thoughts once again to the present day. Then he reached towards the touch screen, almost without thinking, and activated the file. An authorization prompt was displayed, insurance against unwanted access from the optics and audios of mechs who should not be privy to its contents.

"Teletraan II: Access file, clearance code: zero, one, four, nine, zero, zero, four, command code: priority one alpha, voice authorization: Optimus Prime."

'Authorization: granted.' A few moments passed, and the prompt disappeared. Silence.

"Play transmission," Optimus stated. His tired voice indicated his low charge state, due to a lack of proper rest. He would have to do something about that soon or he would be hearing about it from the Chief Medical Officer at his next scheduled maintenance, something he would gladly avoid if he could.

'Playing transmission.' A pause, and then a beep.

'Special Ops Team Leader, First Lieutenant Jazz here, Cybertronian stellar date 143602.4.168.5. Reporting from XR-5's Mining Station, right in the heart of the Gamma Sector's Main Asteroid Belt. The team and I have just secured the perimeter... we've encountered no life signs so far, kinda expected something by now, though. Looks pretty empty, but... my spark chamber's telling me something's definitely not right around here...'

Optimus listened to the recording in silence, not moving a micrometer. He thought that he could hear Jazz's uncertainty and agitation as he spoke, and the more he listened to the transmission, the more he felt certain that his first lieutenant was definitely sensing something that no mech borne of the spark of Primus should ever have to experience. Unfortunately, and as per usual, Jazz's feelings proved to be accurate. A long silence followed – the part of the transmission that was probably the most difficult for anyone to have to hear.

'What in the... oh dear Primus... what in the... Pit happened... here? I... I think I'm gonna purge...'

More silence, followed by the faint clatter of footsteps upon rocky ground. The sound of weapons being charged was then followed by the echo of distant voices, barely audible. Jazz giving orders, and acknowledgments from team members. Optimus recognized the familiar routine of a highly skilled special operations team.

'...Fifty, sixty... maybe more... cybernetic life forms... or the remains of what were once filled with spark... appear to have been attacked... in the most malicious... Sixteen, uh... no, seventeen... seventeen of 'em are barely recognizable, blown apart from the inside out... energon covering the walls... some of these poor slaggers hung from their main fuel lines, left to die here... two Autobots, slag –'

Jazz's voice faltered audibly, as he relayed as best he could the sight before him without breaking. He continued, with difficulty.

'Transmitting a visual... what in the slag pits happened here... who... or what... would have done this? I ain't seen anything like this before... not even during the Great Wars... not even a 'Con could do something like this...'

Optimus quietly watched the visual as it came up on screen, still unmoving. He watched, and saw what Jazz and his team had seen first hand, earlier in the solar cycle. Devastation and slaughter, the chilling presence of death in every direction; but it was much more than that. It was much worse.

'Tracker... round up the team, we're leaving. We'll call in the clean up crew... nothing more we can do here now…'

Another slight pause and then, 'Jazz out.'

Optimus ended the transmission, and turned off the visual. He took a moment to gather his thoughts in silence. Who could have done something like that, indeed? Or, what? To attack a military outpost was one thing, but a mining station? What could anyone possibly hope to gain by murdering a group of helpless, unarmed miners? If it was precious deposits they had been after, why hadn't they just taken what they wanted and left? Why the carnage, the needless death and destruction? Why? Two of those murdered had been Autobots, as Jazz had mentioned during the transmission. Mechs that Optimus recognized by name... had seen them around the base, had even conversed with them a few times...

If this was not a sure sign that a terrible menace was existent and operational at this very moment, then what was? How many more lives would have to be sacrificed before someone put a stop to this? This was no coincidence, and it was definitely no 'accident,' as some had been quick to proclaim – it could not be. This was deliberate, malicious, and evil. Any fool could see that. And any good Commander would not wait for another incident like this to occur, not if they could do something, anything, to prevent it. In fact, anything would be better than to just stand by and do nothing.

"Locate Jazz," Optimus ordered the Command Center's central computer network. A few moments passed, moments that felt like an eternity had passed, until the computer finally responded.

'Jazz has been located in Private Quarters 02-401, Third Level.'

Good. That meant he was currently off duty. Optimus reached across to the communications panel, and activated his private line for a direct link to his first lieutenant. He waited a few kliks and then spoke. "Jazz..."

A few more kliks went by, and then the familiar voice of the special ops agent came over the speaker. "...Prime? What can I do for you?" His usual, friendly tone was a welcome sound, and Optimus felt instantly at ease.

"I was hoping we could talk..."

"Uh, sure... right now?" Jazz replied.

"Yes. If you can. I'm in my quarters," Optimus continued, but did not give any further explanation.

"Sure, no problem." A pause and then, "I'm on my way."

"Thank you, Jazz." He said, and closed the link.

Optimus reminded himself that most mechs would be off duty by now, and probably resting. He knew that he should be doing the same, and started to have second thoughts about his request for the late night visit. This could wait till tomorrow... couldn't it?

After a few moments, Optimus stood up and made his way over to the view screen, which still showed a live visual of Cybertronian space. He pressed a button on the nearby control panel, and the view suddenly changed into the Iaconian skyline once again, stark and bright against the backdrop of a glittering, starry sky.

The streetscape below appeared mostly empty, save for the usual, quiet activity during this time, late into the recharge cycle. It looked like a safe and peaceful city. Yet Optimus, if he were to be truly honest, knew that it was far from it. For eons, he had fought for peace and order on Cybertron against the threat of the Decepticon regime. Unsatisfied with the status quo, the rebel Decepticon group had risen against the laws and order of the Council and, as a consequence, against the Autobots themselves, as their unofficial representatives. Then, the Council had finally put a stop to the war by offering the rebel group an ultimatum: either they accept a cease-fire and relinquish any control, or be destroyed. Megatron, the Decepticon leader, surprised everyone by accepting their terms, though to this day Optimus was troubled by the unexpected turn of events. Sure, the war ended, and that's what he had wanted all along - indeed, what the Autobots had wanted all along - but he knew that it was very unlike Megatron to back down from any fight, especially if it meant that his power or position on Cybertron would be weakened. Something else must have convinced him to acquiesce to the Council's demands, but as to exactly what that something else was, Optimus was at a complete loss to explain it. Every Decepticon he had queried since had remained tight-lipped, and Megatron himself never spoke of it afterwards. Furthermore, the Council had also wanted the Decepticons disbanded, but Megatron had managed to gather his remaining followers and hide out in an unknown part of Cybertron. After a short while, the search for them was abandoned. It was not until recently, when Autobots were found murdered or had started to disappear without a trace, and news of off-world trouble had begun to surface, that the Decepticons, bit by bit, reappeared once more. Many Autobots, including himself, had accused the small band of Decepticons of playing a part in the current misfortunes that had befallen them, perhaps even of being the masterminds behind the evil deeds, but this could not yet be proven.

He must have lost track of time then, because he soon found himself jolted out of his thoughts by the sound of the door chime being activated. Ah, that must be Jazz. "Please, enter," he commanded, and the door slid automatically open. He turned around to face his visitor. "Thank you for coming at such short notice."

Jazz stood in the doorway for a few moments, observing his Commander intently beneath his trademark blue visor, which disguised his optics underneath. Then he smiled warmly, and took a few steps inside. The door closed behind him. "You're welcome, Prime. Any time."

Optimus ushered him in and offered him a seat, which Jazz gladly took. "Would you like a drink?" He offered, indicating the energon dispenser in the corner. He went over to it without waiting for a response, and poured a container full.

"Ah, no thanks," Jazz said, politely declining the offer, then leaned back in the chair and watched Optimus take a few sips. "So, what did you want to talk to me about? I hope I'm not in any trouble," he joked.

Optimus smiled at him, the battle mask that he usually wore currently retracted, and shook his head. "No, not this time."

"Ah, well, that's good, 'cause I was starting to get a little worried, you know? You calling me in here in the middle of the recharge cycle... ain't always a good sign," he replied. He paused, observing Optimus' demeanor more closely, and changed his tone. "Something up?"

Optimus did not respond straight away. Instead, he placed his energon container down next to the dispenser, and paced slowly across the room in contemplation. His tall, blue and red frame projected a strong sense of leadership and authority. Jazz waited patiently for him to speak, not in any hurry. "Jazz, do you remember your first mission into Destron Space?"

"Hmm?" Jazz did not expect such a question, and he took a little time to think on it. "Uh... yeah, as a matter of fact, I do. It was many vorns ago, during the Great Devastation, they call it. Can't say it turned out to be a great success or anything... quite the opposite. Why do you ask?"

Optimus turned back to face him. "I remember it clearly. I was the one who gave the intercept order."

Jazz stared back at him silently. Then he nodded slowly. "Yeah... yeah, I recall."

Optimus continued speaking, as if Jazz was hardly present. "Many soldiers were killed during that mission... good soldiers. They were killed because I hesitated to take that first move... because I gave the order too late. I could have prevented it, had I followed my own spark's guidance."

Jazz shook his head, unsure of where this conversation would lead to. "Optimus, that was a long time ago... and besides, you couldn't have known –"

"Ah, but I did know, Jazz." Optimus nodded slowly, recalling that time long ago, a time when he was barely experienced as a Prime Commander. "I did know. Even then, I knew."

Silence filled the quarters, and the two mechs were still, each quietly contemplating the other. Jazz was a highly skilled officer, and as reliable and trustworthy as any mech that Optimus had ever known. But Jazz was also as mysterious and unreadable as the optics he kept hidden underneath his visor.

"That's why I'm not going to allow it to happen all over again," Optimus finally spoke.

Jazz nodded, but said nothing. He thought it would be best to simply allow the Prime Commander to say what he needed to say, in his own time. He was here to listen, and that's exactly what he would do.

"You saw something on that Mining Station, didn't you, Jazz? Something you did not mention in your official report," Optimus continued. He was calm, composed, more curious than anything.

Jazz was about to reply, but then Optimus gestured for him to stop, indicating to his friend that he need not give him a reply – at least, not just yet. "Something's happening. You and I... feel it, sense it. I have felt it within my spark, within the Matrix that I carry, just as real as you sit before me now. Yet, I cannot say for sure what it is or where it comes from... I cannot fully fathom its presence anymore than I can fully fathom the very essence of the Chaos Bringer himself. Nevertheless, it is here among us."

Optimus paused for a few moments, and Jazz took the opportunity to respond. "You're right... there was something on that Station, something I can't explain... it wasn't anything that I could see, but it was there... I felt it," he admitted, his voice low, tense.

Optimus nodded in understanding and acknowledgment. "We must do all that we can to stop the Decepticons and those who sympathize with them before it's too late... before Cybertron itself becomes the next casualty. Our planet cannot survive another war."

The black and white mech listened intently to the Commander's words. He tilted his head slightly. "You so sure the Decepticons are behind all this?" He said slowly, deliberately.

"I've known them for a lot longer than you have, Jazz. Believe me; I wouldn't be saying it if I thought that there was a slight chance they weren't involved somehow. But there's just been too many incidents, too many promises made only to be broken, so that they might return in full force, ready to claim Cybertron as their own once again." Optimus replied, anger surfacing as he spoke. "This time it is no different."

"Uh huh," Jazz acknowledged, considering his words carefully. "Well, if there's anything I can do to help..."

A pause, and then, "What I'm about to ask of you will place you in immediate danger, if you accept," the Commander said sombrely. "But there's no one else I can trust. However, I will fully understand if you refuse. No Autobot should be commanded to do what I would request of you, and should you accept, you must do so willingly and without regret."

"Hey, that's my job; to do all the crazy things that no other Autobot in their right mind would dare to do," Jazz said in his usual, light-hearted way, and waited for his Commander to continue.

"Very well. I want you to 'defect' to the Decepticons," Prime said, his voice harsh in the stillness of his private quarters. "Gain their trust. Find out exactly what they're up to… and why." The first lieutenant nodded slowly, assimilating his new mission, but said nothing. "Oh, and… if possible, see if you can find out why the war ended. It may have some bearing to what's happening now."

"Alright," Jazz replied. "If that's what you want me to do. I'll be happy to."

Optimus gave him a nod of gratitude in return. "Thank you, Jazz. You have my full authorization to use whatever means necessary to succeed in your mission. No one, besides yourself, will know of it, except me. Tell the other Autobots whatever story you wish, but your true mission is to remain classified… and off the record."

"I understand..." Jazz replied, then with curiosity, "Is this a Council directive?"

"No…" Optimus replied simply. "This is strictly between us."

Jazz slowly leaned back in his seat, contemplating in silence for a few more cycles as Optimus looked at him directly, placing the utmost trust in his fellow officer and long time friend. "I know I don't need to tell you this, Jazz, but please be careful. I don't want to lose you." Jazz nodded silently in understanding. Optimus then turned away towards the large view screen, and continued speaking. "The first time I viewed your transmission from the XR-5 Mining Station several mega cycles ago, I thought I felt something... something that I had not felt since the New Era began... and the more times I listened to it, the more I became certain of what I now know to be true. What I've felt – and also what you have felt, sensed... first hand, on that Mining Station – is a memory of which I have kept locked deep inside me for the longest time... a darkness that has plagued every atom of my being for the hidden knowledge of its existence. At first, I would convince myself that it wasn't real, that it was just part of a mental fragment borne from the darkest of our experiences... and then, eventually, it became nothing more than a distant memory. Until now. Decepticons are no longer our only threat, Jazz... there is something much more sinister that sustains them; it gives them their strength, their drive... but the enemy that we once knew, is no longer the same enemy. We can no longer trust anyone but ourselves. And now we must learn the truth. Only then, can we know what we are truly facing. The Last Great War never ended at the end of the last vorn, Jazz... it began."

Chapter 2 by Crystine
Author's Notes:

After a long break away from fan fiction due to a huge shift in life circumstances - mostly good - I am very glad to finally be able to continue with this story.

Thank you to all readers for your patience and continued interest, and thank you to the reviewer for your thoughts and feedback.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the story.

Transformers: Heroes

Chapter 2


"That was too easy," bragged Thrust, one of the five Cybertronian jets, as he watched his comrades discharge a succession of laser blasts at the bulkhead door that sealed the only access way to the main power grid.

"Getting past the perimeter was the easy part. There's probably a security team on its way right now to intercept us. We haven't got much time," Dirge rebuked. They were somewhere near the northern perimeter of Alternity City's Subterranean Base.

"Hey, are you gonna help us out here or are you just gonna stand there looking pretty?" Thrust snapped, rather annoyed. "Slag, this bulkhead won't budge!"

"C'mon, let me take a look," Bitstream, the data engineer, interrupted them. He had to shove Ramjet aside, the last of them to cease firing. "I'll bet there's an easier way to do this." As he stepped forward to examine the lock on the door, the other four fell silent. Dirge kept glancing back down the runway behind them, agitated. Only Acid Storm, the quietest of them, appeared to be unfazed by their current situation. "Ah... ha," Bitstream finally spoke, then fell silent again.

"Ah ha? What ‘ah ha'?" repeated Dirge, nervousness escalating in his voice.

Bitstream spoke methodically, carefully selecting his words. "Ah... ha, an encryption code I've never seen before. Curious." The others waited for him to continue, but he simply stood there, silently running through a multitude of different algorithms in his cranial circuits in an attempt to find a hack that might work.

"But, can you break it? Like Dirge said, we don't have much time," Thrust reminded him, and aimed his missile launcher at the door, prepared to use brute force should the blue engineer fail with his softer approach.

Bitstream held out a hand. "Wait. I think I just... might... have it. Bingo!" He proclaimed triumphantly, but no sooner had he done so when a single laser shot rushed past him from seemingly out of nowhere, almost scorching one of his wing tips. The five jets jumped into action, immediately looking for cover and returning fire back down along the tunnel.

"I knew it!" Dirge called out, though his comrades seemed unperturbed by the sudden assault. Several yards away, a team of security personnel fired relentlessly upon them, periodically taking cover behind the shallow recesses formed by the various bulkheads that lined the tunnel walls. From what Dirge could determine, there were six mechs in all. "C'mon, let's find a way out of here," he called to the other jets, but they had other ideas.

"No, Dirge. We can take them," Acid Storm replied, as he fired a well-aimed torpedo into the enemy's midst. "Let's finish this." A small explosion sounded from the far end of the tunnel as the projectile met its intended target. Crackling of electrical energy and bright sparks followed, accompanied by muffled shouts of alarm.

Bitstream glanced towards the door, then back at the four jets. It was unlocked. "Cover me, guys. I'll only need a few kliks." Without waiting for a reply, he retracted his weapon and made for the bulkhead control panel. Pressing the green-backlit button, the heavy door slid open, and he disappeared inside.

"Two down, four to go!" Ramjet boasted amidst more weapons fire. He lifted his right laser level to his shoulder, and aimed it down the tunnel. There was a scurry of activity as the four security bots struggled to take cover from the sudden onslaught of their laser fire, as the four Cybertronian fighter jets joined Ramjet in his offensive.

"Piece of cake!" Thrust exclaimed, as another bot slammed against the bulkhead with a surge of electrical discharge. It was clear that the diminishing team of security personnel was no match for their superior firepower; however, this was of little reassurance. It would only be a matter of time before an emergency request for back-up would trigger a security lockdown of the area, and if they were still here when that happened... well, they were as good as slagged.

"Bitstream! Hurry the frag up!" Dirge yelled through the doorway, glancing towards his team mate.

Bitstream didn't look up. He seemed unperturbed by all the commotion going on outside in the tunnel. "Just... one... more... klik-" And then, no sooner had he spoken, than a sudden, sector-wide power failure shrouded them in darkness. The whining down of power units, followed by an eerie silence, was all that could be heard.

"Bitstream?" Dirge called again, switching on his night vision. The two remaining security bots down the tunnel had ceased fire, and had probably retreated to alert their chief of security. Nevertheless, they were nowhere in sight.

"Yeah... hang on... working on it," the engineer mumbled as he worked against the clock to complete his task before the power systems rerouted and came back online. He determined that he only had about twenty kliks before then. Dirge, followed by Ramjet, Acid Storm, and then Thrust, made their way into the control room after him.

"Bitstream?" Dirge repeated, unnerved. "Hurry up - we don't have much-"

"Yeah, I know, I know! Almost there...." He finally stepped back from the console and turned towards the others. "Transmission in progress." As they watched, a small pin point of light flashed on and off on the console in front of them. Bitstream had inserted a control crystal into one of the empty terminal slots, and it was now infiltrating the data network with its electronic tentacles, searching for its target system. After a few moments it stopped flashing, and emitted a solid green light. "Ok, let's get out of here before-" But he didn't finish his sentence, as the lights flickered back to life and the computer terminals rebooted with a whir, distracting him.

Dirge, their official Commander in charge for this mission, albeit a reluctant one, led the way out of the control room and back into the tunnel. "Ah, frag..."

"What's the matter?" Thrust asked behind him, but as he stepped out into the hall with the others, his question was answered. He and his team mates became suddenly aware that they were completely surrounded by Base security. Several laser weapons were pointed directly at them.

"Disarm your weapons, and stay where you are." The leader of the Base security team commanded them.

The four jets looked to Dirge for their next move. For a moment, it appeared as though he would surrender, but as he slowly began to retract his blaster, stealing a glance at his team mates behind him, he lunged forward and slammed against the leading security mech with the full force of his body weight. "Disarm this!" His anger had been roused, and his optics had changed color to a darker yellow. The security mech gave way easily, struggling against the weight of his opponent as they both impacted the ground.

Dirge's brash move was just the cue that Ramjet needed, and before the other security mechs had time to react, he was crashing through three of them at once, throwing them off their feet and driving them backwards into the bulkhead wall, head-first. At the same time his other team mates opened fire, and soon the tunnel was a frenzy of laser blasts, scorched by power surges as searing plasma came into contact with electrical conduit.

Each side took as much damage as they gave, and initially it looked as though the Cybertronians had the upper hand in the skirmish. But the Base security units proved to be more resourceful than they had first appeared; as one mech was knocked offline, another two would readily take his place.

Thrust had taken quite a beating, and was fighting to stay online. His comrades weren't looking much better than he felt, either, as they collectively had their backs against the wall while they continued to defend themselves against their opponents. "Dirge... Dirge!" Thrust called to his superior. "We gotta get out of here now if we're all going to get away in one piece. I can't..." He faltered, his optics starting to dim to a critically low level. "I think I'm losing power..."

Ramjet was doing all he could to cover him, but it was a losing battle. Bitstream had damaged a main internal sensor on his right upper torso and it was starting to leak coolant. His built-in fail safe mechanism would keep him relatively stable, but if he didn't get the necessary repairs soon, he would find himself entering preventative shut down mode. Dirge continued to discharge laser blasts into his opponents, but a feeling of panic and dread was slowly beginning to seep into his consciousness as he realized that although they had the superior weaponry, they were severely outnumbered. He could compute the likely outcome of this battle, and it wasn't good.

"Bitstream, can you initiate another sector-wide power failure?"

Bitstream replied from close behind him, shaking his head at Dirge. "No. The backup systems have been rerouted; they won't accept any more external commands."

"Alright, then I guess we'll have to - ah!" Dirge began, but was cut off by a direct laser blast to his chest. He lost his balance and toppled backward into Bitstream, who managed to catch his fall. Dirge's shield armor was starting to lose its integrity. They couldn't take too much more of this.

Bitstream looked across at Thrust. The blue and red jet was on his knees, one arm outstretched in a feeble attempt to ward off some mechs who were fast closing in around him.

The Base security personnel were beginning to retract their weapons, growing ever confident in their assured victory. The leader of the team continued to give out orders. "Arrest them!"

The realization that they had been defeated began to quickly dawn on the five, and they remained unmoving, resigned to the fact that they could no longer avoid their fate. They would probably be interrogated, and then terminated by whoever ran this underground military post. Their mission had not been entirely in vain, however; as far as Dirge understood, they had successfully transmitted the encrypted message, and while it had been a high risk errand, it had also been an errand worthy of the Decepticon cause, and for this reason he would have no regrets, no matter what may befall them now.

It was on account of these very thoughts that Dirge did not register right away what happened next. In fact, it felt as though his cranial circuits had been fried; confused and defeated, he wasn't exactly in his best frame of mind to interpret what his senses were picking up. All around him, darkness fell once again, and he wasn't completely certain that he hadn't gone into shut down mode. In fact, if it hadn't been for the sudden, powerful shock blast that had originated from somewhere further down the tunnel, he would have believed just that. A pinkish-white glow of plasma illuminated the area, and he witnessed it impacting the security mechs in front of him, taking several of them out in one blow. The leader had narrowly avoided its devastating blast, but as he turned around to try and get a lock on this new threat, a second plasma bolt hit the front of his head full force and he fell backwards onto the floor. A blackened and charred cranial unit was all that remained of the unit leader's head, sparking and smoldering beside Dirge. The Cybertronian jets scrambled back towards the control room for some kind of shelter against this new, unknown danger, unsure whether they would be next in line for sudden obliteration. Acid Storm was attempting to drag Thrust back inside the room, and finally managed with Ramjet's help. Dirge and Bitstream followed them inside.

"What in the Pits is going on?" Ramjet whispered loudly the same question that was on all of their minds. No one answered him, because none of them had an answer. Outside in the tunnel, more shock blasts were relentlessly being sent towards the Base mechs, making short work of them.

"What happened to the power?" Dirge asked, but again, no one had any answers. He was struggling to be heard above the commotion outside. He took a moment to think on their next move. "Is Thrust still online?" He asked, glancing towards Ramjet and Acid Storm.

"Yeah... I'm still here. Barely," Thrust answered, his voice almost too low for them to hear.

Dirge nodded reluctantly. "Bitstream?"

"Oh... yeah," Bitstream looked down at the damage he had sustained below his shoulder, and touched the leaking fluid with his hand. "I'll be alright."

"You better be, because we're getting out of here right now." Outside in the hall, the shock blasts had finally ceased. The area was still in darkness, and now the only sound that could be heard was the sizzling of burned-out circuitry. Focusing upon the scene with his night vision, Dirge carefully stepped out into the open tunnel, and looked about. He had to deliberately avoid the piles of mech bodies that now lay strewn across the floor. They had all been terminated where they fell.

He looked down the tunnel, in the same direction the shock blasts had come from, hoping to catch a glimpse of what - or who - had done this. But all he could see were the stark, metallic walls that made up the tunnel; no other life form was in sight. "Come on!" He motioned for the others to follow him, precariously began to make his way down the hall, and then quickly broke into a run.

He had no idea how, or why they had escaped, but he was surely glad for it in that moment and did not waste an astrosecond trying to find out. There would be time for that later; all that mattered was that they high tailed it out of there. And that is exactly what they did.

The main Conference Room inside the iconic Command Center suddenly became so still and quiet that one could almost hear a pin drop. This was not quite what the dozen or so senior- to mid-ranking Autobot officers gathered around the conference table had been expecting to hear since they had risen from their recharge cycle this morning. Mixed reactions in the form of low whisperings and emotive gestures began to slowly spread across the room until it finally became apparent; some were immediately happy with the announcement, whilst others seemed overwhelmed, their true feelings yet to emerge. But, all in all, Optimus was satisfied with the effect it had had on his team.

"Would... would you care to repeat that, Prime? Just so I know I haven't actually gotten my wires crossed or something?" Hound finally spoke up, excitement underlying his tone. It was a rhetorical question and one that he didn't really expect the Autobot Commander to answer.

"You heard him loud and clear, Hound; he just said we get to kick some Decepticon can - and it's just about darn time, too!" Ironhide replied, elated about the news.

Optimus raised a hand, indicating for them all to stop and listen to the rest of what he had to say, before they started arriving at any definite conclusions. "No - that is not what I said, Ironhide... old friend." Once they had all quieted down again and he had regained their attention, he slowly lowered his hand. "Now, I know it's been hard on all of you, for what has seemed like millennia - and it's true; it has been hard, on all of us. But we can't go back to the way things were. We must look to the future - a peaceful future - and I cannot condone any more unnecessary violence, from any Autobot."

"Then how do you expect us to carry out these new orders? With all due respect, Prime, but the Decepticons aren't just gonna lay down their weapons and turn themselves in without a fight," Ironhide replied. Silverbolt, who was seated next to the senior Artillery Specialist, nodded in agreement.

"Of course not," Optimus replied, giving careful consideration to his answer. "Think of it as just a formality. We have the support of the Neutrals now. They have promised full co-operation in ensuring that our joint objectives are achieved as quickly, and efficiently, as possible." He paused, and noted some slight uneasiness amongst his crew. Jazz, who sat beside him, was the only one to offer little reaction; he simply observed the proceedings with the utmost calmness, as if he had no opinion in the matter at all. "The fact is that the Decepticons are scattered, and vastly outnumbered. They no longer hold the same power or influence they once had. All I'm asking you to do is to help the Alliance bring them in peacefully, one by one."

"Well I, for one, would be glad to see the end of them. Maybe now, if we can all start looking with hope toward the future, like Prime said," another mech spoke up, from the far side of the conference table. All optics glanced toward him. "Primus only knows... what many of us went through... the lives needlessly destroyed because of them..." Ratchet trailed off, too filled with regret and sorrow to finish his sentence; but he felt that the others here understood, agreed with his sentiments.

"But what will happen to them?" Another mech spoke up, his voice inquisitive, directing his question back towards Optimus. "The Decepticons - I mean. What will happen to them once they've been brought into custody?"

Optimus looked into the optics of the fine warrior. Like many strong and proud Autobot soldiers before him, Hot Rod expressed the telltale spark and burning desire of a mech who sought to fulfill his life's purpose in dedicated service, fighting in the name of justice, honor, and freedom against all forms of oppression. Optimus clasped his hands together and leaned back in his seat. "I suspect that they will be given a fair hearing... possibly undergo some form of retraining, if they show promise, so that they may be reintegrated back into society as productive members of our race." He gave a small shrug. "But that would be mostly out of our hands, as the High Council will have the final say. Nonetheless, they have assured me that the matter will be handled with the utmost discretion, and consideration for their welfare, as well as for the safety of our own." As he finished speaking, a cacophony of voices broke out all at once, as they argued the pros and cons of this new directive amongst themselves.

Jazz observed his fellow Autobots with what was a mix of both curiosity and empathy. A group of such varied and individual personalities, each with his own, unique way of looking at the world, and with his own story to tell... all gathered together in this one moment in time; not because of their differences, but because of their similarities. They were all here because they all shared a common goal, Jazz realized, a common vision that encompassed not only themselves, but all of Cybertron as well.

But would the inevitable end of the Decepticon regime mean the end of all conflict on Cybertron, and a return to a more peaceful way of life? There were so many questions that could not be answered, questions that had been playing on Jazz's mind for quite some time. And what of this new alliance between the High Council, the Neutrals and the Autobots - was it really about overseeing the safety and security of their home planet in an effort to maintain peace and order, just like it had been during the Golden Era? Or was there something else going on underneath the surface, something that was understood only by a select few? Of course, it was all just speculation at this point; nothing could be relied upon as absolute fact or certainty. Indeed, what this new Alliance was really asking of him - and of all Cybertronians, for that matter - was to trust it, fully and inexorably. Yet the one thing that Jazz had learned over his long stellar cycles as a special operative, was that trust was something that was all too easily sought, yet very rarely found - and for good reason. He thought back to what he had seen on that Mining Station, and then to his conversation with Optimus a few days earlier. His leader seemed convinced that the Decepticons had something to do with the mysterious incidents that had been occurring ever more frequently and, given the long and drawn out history of rivalry between their two factions, so did just about every other Autobot he had spoken to. Perhaps they were right. But before he could commit himself fully, agree to the complete disbandment of the Decepticons and all that they stood for and, most importantly, agree to trust the new Alliance wholeheartedly and without reservation, he had to be sure, beyond all possible doubt, that what they were doing was right. And in order to do that, he thought, he would need to find some real answers.

"Prime," Jazz glanced over at their leader, hoping to catch his attention for just a moment. "Prime, may I be excused?"

Optimus looked over and gave him an affirmative nod, then wondered how his best Special Operations agent, who had not spoken a word throughout the entire meeting, was going to get around the Council's new directive in order to fulfill his mission. Then he realized he didn't really have anything to worry about; Jazz would probably find a way. He always did.

Each control station within the Command Center fulfilled a specific function, and each was integral to the smooth operation of the large security networks that connected the major provinces under the jurisdiction of the Cybertronian Empire. The largest of these, and the most influential, was Iacon - the epicenter for all official military and diplomatic dealings alike - a vast and complex region divided up into three main sections; the outer Province, Central, and Sub-central. Then there were other provinces, such as Polyhex or Antihex, which were virtually off limits to the general populace; a range of precautionary measures had been put in place to ensure that no non-military personnel ever ventured within them. However, these provinces were not yet fully under the protection of the Empire; they were dangerous, known hotspots for all manner of organized crime and illegal activity. This was not surprising, considering that they were formerly Decepticon territories before they had been reclaimed, at least to a certain extent, with the ushering in of the New Era.

"Elita... Elita! Wait up! Think about what you're doing before you regret it - Elita, please..." Chromia's attempts at getting her friend to listen to reason were almost beyond hope. They'd just arrived home from their unfinished mission in the Delta Sector and Elita One, Combat Specialist and Captain of the Avenger, was now on a personal mission of her own. She strode straight through the Command Center and on down the adjacent corridor, ignoring the surprised glances directed her way from the operators stationed at their posts, or the security system warnings informing her to follow the correct procedures upon entering the Command Center area. She ignored them all, defiantly making her way towards a hallway to their left, her best friend trailing behind.

"I've had enough with following obscure orders for deca cycles at a time, Chrome, and being given the run around. Haven't you? To the Pit with it. What's the worst that could happen?" The pink and white colored femme gestured with both hands to emphasize her point, whilst waiting for Chromia to catch up to her. "I get demoted and the Avenger gets decommissioned?" She laughed an incredulous laugh, and shook her head. "Are you coming?"

Chromia looked back towards the Command Center, hesitating. She shook her head. "No... no, I'll wait. The worst that could happen? We all get sent to some out-of-the-way military outpost where they won't have to worry about us for a little while - like deep within the Delta Sector, or worse... the Wastelands."

"That's not going to happen - trust me. Not after I'm done speaking with our dear Commander." Elita One affirmed confidently, as they approached the large doors that led to a closed conference room. "I'll talk to you soon," she said, and input her security access code to open the doors.

Chromia sighed as she watched the doors give way with a swoosh, then slowly turned around and headed back towards the main center of operations. She realized she hadn't checked in at Central Iacon for a long while and decided that now would be as good a time as any, while she waited for her best friend to handle ‘official business', as Elita liked to refer to it. Briefly, she wondered if Elita would be alright, but then dismissed the thought - the leader class femme had faced far worse situations in the past, and could take care of herself just fine.

Lost in her own thoughts, she almost stepped into the path of a mech.

A cheerful voice greeted her happily, as the mech stepped aside to avoid a minor collision with the femme. "Hey, Chrome, what's up? Haven't seen you around in quite a few... hope everything's all okay."

Not many mechs called her by her nick, ‘Chrome', and she turned around to face him with a smile. "Oh, hello, Jazz... It's nice to see you, too. Everything's fine," she replied, faltering slightly. "Just the usual round trips out to the Delta Sector, nothing special. How about you?"

"Well, that's good to hear." Jazz paused slightly, glanced across the hall, and shrugged. "Prime's got me working on the missing bot cases... you know, see what I can find out."

"Oh, I see." Chromia nodded. "Well, I hope you find the Decepticons responsible. The rumors I've been hearing about them lately are just terrible, Jazz," she said, genuinely concerned.

"Ah, now don't you worry too much, you hear? We're going to get to the bottom of things, one way or another...." Jazz replied, trying to sound reassuring.

"Elita's going to see if we can't get reassigned to the Gamma Sector," Chromia explained, after a moment of hesitation. "She thinks that's where all the action is - and you know her; if she isn't in the middle of it, she isn't happy."

An expression of slight concern crossed Jazz's face as he heard this. "Huh. The Gamma Sector? Just got back from there myself... Elita's right about one thing; something's happening out there. Not sure what... though it ain't somewhere I'd be willing to head into again so soon - not without getting myself fitted with a cast iron manifold, as they say." It was Jazz's turn to hesitate, then, "Just... be careful, okay?"

The light blue colored femme looked at him curiously, though apprehensively, and a sobering thought suddenly entered her mind. Whatever danger Jazz was alluding to, it sounded quite serious, going by the tone of his voice alone, and if Elita One got her way... they may just be placing themselves into more danger than what they could handle alone. "Sure... okay. I'll let Elita know."

"'K, well, I've got a few things I gotta do..." Jazz gestured down the hall towards the restricted area. "Give my regards to Elita and the rest of the crew."

Chromia nodded in acknowledgment, and gave him a little wave goodbye as he continued on his way. As she stood there reflecting on Jazz's timely words of warning, a feeling of uneasiness swept over her.

As the sealed doors to the Conference Room slid open, Prowl's personal warning system alerted him to a possible security breach, and he stood up from his seat, ready to perform his duty as the Chief Security Officer. When he realized who had just let herself in, however, he sat back down again. This was Prime's business.

"Elita-!" The Autobot leader, abruptly standing up and turning towards her, was just as surprised by her sudden entrance as Prowl had been, but for different reasons. He lowered his voice a little, realizing that they would be overheard. He pulled her aside. "Elita... what are you doing here? I thought you were out in the Delta Sector -" His voice was now barely more than a whisper, but she didn't seem to care about that at all.

"We were in the Delta Sector; but we decided to return home," she corrected him, hands on hips, glaring steadfastly at her selected partner.

As if that had explained everything. He waited for her to continue, but when she said nothing more, he sighed and took a step back in resignation. With their meeting effectively over, the remaining mechs in the room silently understood that he needed to speak to Elita alone, and respectfully made their way out of the Conference Room without needing to be told. Prowl was the last to leave; hesitating for only a moment before he received a knowing look from Prime, he closed the doors behind him.

Now that they were alone, Prime turned back to his partner and gestured for her to take a seat. She hesitated but then accepted his invitation, and he followed suit. He asked the beckoning question. "Why?"

"Why?" She reiterated, mock bewilderment in her voice. "Oh, you mean, why did we decide to return home?" She made a frustrated gesture as if she had given up trying to explain the basics of fluid dynamics to a stubborn young bot. She shook her head, and looked back towards the Prime. "Permission to speak freely, sir."

"Come on, Elita... don't be like that. Did something happen out there?" When she gave him no response, he decided to just let her speak. "Alright, go ahead."

She seemed satisfied with that, and her optics dimmed slightly in contemplation. "Optimus..." she began, her voice softening considerably. "We can't stand by any more and watch while our planet - our home - is threatened. I mean - do you have any idea how long it's been since we've actually done something useful? Since we've truly contributed something meaningful to our cause? Since... Oh, I don't know - since we've felt like Autobots? All we've been doing these past few deca cycles is-"

"Elita-" Optimus stopped her before she became too distraught. Something was obviously bothering her a great deal, and he was trying hard to understand exactly what that was. "Elita - what are you talking about?" Genuinely perplexed, he tried to sound calm, reassuring, and she seemed to settle somewhat.

Elita sighed, took a few deep breaths. "What I'm trying to say is... I just, I want to be involved. I want to be here, with you and the rest of the Autobots... help out in any way we can - maybe help find out what's been going on around here, you know? I've heard reports... some of our own have disappeared... found murdered, for Primus' sake!" She searched his optics for answers, but got none. "So... I'm requesting a new assignment."

Optimus was silent for a long moment. "Elita... you know I can't just-"

"Please, Optimus..." Now it was her turn to interrupt him, and plead her case. "Please... just speak to whomever you need to speak to, but get us reassigned. My crew needs this - I need this."

Optimus looked away from her gaze, not sure what he could possibly say to comfort her. The truth was that there were protocols that had to be followed, rules that governed the kind of missions they could get involved in; rules that ensured order, that an efficient command structure remained in place so that peace and, ironically, freedom, could prevail on Cybertron. A sudden, unscheduled mission just wasn't something that he could grant her at a moment's notice. A reassignment like that often took several days, sometimes even months, to be given approval. First, she would need to put in an official request. A decision would then need to be made; the intended objective would be weighed against current resources and the priorities of other existing missions. Her track record would be evaluated, and a final assessment would then determine whether she would be the best operative for the task. Then, if permission were to be granted, the official briefing could begin. But that alone could then take another several months. "Elita, do you have any idea what you're asking? Why can't you just carry out your current assignment to its completion? You've got, what - two, maybe three - mega cycles left on it? It's going to take that long just to get you reassigned. Besides... we don't need an extra team here right now. We've got all our bases covered," he explained, looking back at her.

A look of despair, and disappointment, crossed her face. "You've got all your bases covered? Are you so sure about that? From what I've heard, you're losing more good mechs every day... and there's not a damn thing that either Autobot Command, or the Cybertronian High Council, are doing about it! And now, you're going to go after every Decepticon?" She emphasized, exasperated.

"How did you know about that?" Optimus asked her suspiciously.

"Come on, Optimus! I wasn't sparked yesterday. I do have some connections in the Command chain. Or have you forgotten that I'm a senior officer as well?" She paused, gauging his reaction, but he was silent. She gave a sigh, and softened her voice a little. "Look, you barely even know what you're dealing with here. The Autobots - they're already way in over their heads in all of this and they don't even know it... if it weren't for this new alliance with the Neutrals... I‘d honestly hate to think what might happen..." She trailed off, not wanting to speak of the possibilities of a losing scenario.

"Elita... you're overreacting."

She stared resolutely into his optics, as if her very essence were piercing deep into his spark. "Am I?"

A good starting place to look for answers, Jazz decided, was the Archives. These were located in the restricted access area of the Command Complex, and required a high security code to enter. Fortunately, as a senior officer he had the necessary authorization, and within just a few kliks he was inside. The room was essentially a large bank of data storage units containing historic records - some of them dating back to even before the Last Great War began. The vast majority of information stored here, however, included completed maintenance schedules, medical records, field reports, and personnel files - much of it useless to his current quest.

Jazz stood in the center of the room and wondered where he should begin. Save for the constant hum of the power cells, it was so quiet he could almost hear his own fuel pump churning. Exactly what he was looking for he wasn't too sure - all he knew was that whatever clue - however small - that might help him shed some light on the current goings on and, subsequently, on how he might best go about his latest endeavours, would be in here, somewhere.

But where? "Gotta start somewhere..." Jazz thought aloud. "And somewhere's always better than nowhere..." He walked over to the data bank nearest to his left, and began searching through the main category headings on the view screen. "Ah... here we go, history - Cybertron... stellar date... let's see..." He stopped, paused, and then hurriedly searched through the sub headings. When he found the dates he was interested in, he opened the corresponding data file, and began to scan through it. "Hmm, let's see... ‘End of oppression due to civil unrest between the Autobot forces and the rogue group of militants...'" Jazz paused, his voice gradually reducing to a mumbled whisper as he continued reading. "'The final confrontation at Kaon against the resistance fighters resulted in an undisputed victory for the Autobot-Neutral Alliance and the reclaiming of complete authority for the new Cybertronian Empire, as agreed to by all parties, signed hereto, the new Governance Ruling Agreement of star date 143,501...'

Jazz stopped reading, and then began another search for Governance Ruling Agreement in the Archives. He quickly found it, and as he began to read through its particulars, a feeling of unrest slowly grew within him; a feeling that he would later find hard to shake.

Ratchet's thoughts had been distracted ever since the conference this morning. His fellow officers weren't helping matters; all they could talk about was how they were going to capture their first Decepticon and "re-educate" him into a new way of thought. He saw no harm in them delving head-first into the excitement of their new directive, but being around their high-spirited scheming all day long made for a very tired and overwhelmed chief medical officer and so, after several mega cycles in their company, he retreated to the stillness and quiet of his quarters.

He looked around his sparsely furnished room - an antiquated med kit behind reinforced glass, a hollowed-out power core on display, a cranial unit stand - until his gaze rested upon a metallic trophy that hung unassumingly on the far wall. ‘Awarded to Autobot Chief Medical Officer Ratchet and Autobot Chief Engineer Wheeljack, for their joint contribution to the field of advanced nano-technology, stellar year: 143,489', it read in fine print on the bottom. Ratchet grimaced, almost undetectably, at the bittersweet memory it triggered. "...advanced nano-technology, huh," he read softly, vocalizing the words, then shook his head. Advanced multi-system virus, more like, he thought. And what good had the accolade done for the Autobots who had died? Nothing, he thought again, with derision, and turned abruptly away from that painful memory. There was no time to wallow in regret now. The past was the past, and should be laid to rest, once and for all. Yet, as hard as he tried, he wasn't able to forget.

He reached over to his com unit from the desk where he was seated and dispatched a request for Red Alert to come and see him at his earliest convenience. It wasn't an urgent matter; whether he gave him the news today or tomorrow morning didn't really make much difference to Ratchet. He suspected, however, that the up-and-coming medical officer would, more than likely, want to be informed as soon as possible.

Ratchet did not need to wait too long to get a response.

"Sir?" A curious, hesitant voice interrupted the silence in his quarters.

"You got a few kliks? I wanted to talk to you about a few things."

"Ah... yeah, sure. I'll be right over?"

"Good," Ratchet answered in the affirmative, and severed the link. He sat back in his seat, data pad in hand. He looked over the particulars in the younger bot's personnel profile, privileged information that only a senior ranking Autobot like himself had access to. Yes; Red Alert's service history was exemplary. He was curious, intelligent, and a quick learner, even if slightly neurotic at times. Whilst his primary function had been security, especially during the latter years of the last vorn, he had now proved himself to be a fine medic as well. In fact, of all the recent recruits that had come and gone through the doors of his Repair Bay, he was the best.

The door chime lit up, and he pressed a button on the control panel in front of him. The door to his quarters slid open, and he gestured for the mech outside to enter.

"Red, take a seat," Ratchet offered him, and as his guest did so, he switched off the data pad he had been holding and put it aside. He took a few moments to collect his thoughts, not in any particular hurry. "How do you think you're going?"

"I... uh," Red Alert began, but then hesitated in confusion, unsure how to respond.

"Try to be at ease. This isn't any formal hearing, you know," the senior medic replied after sensing the other's uneasiness.

"Oh, huh! Right... of course," Red Alert nodded, and placed both hands on the armrests of his chair in an effort to calm himself. He had no idea what to expect, especially since Ratchet rarely, if ever, called lower ranking Autobots into his private quarters. Perhaps he was in some sort of trouble, or perhaps he would be asked to help deprogram and recycle another stack of primary neuro-control chips during his time off - either way, he was more than a little anxious to find out why Ratchet had requested to see him off duty.

"With your medical training... how do you think you're going?" The CMO clarified.

"Oh, right - yes - it's going... I'm -" Red Alert winced, rebuking himself silently for his awkward display of nervousness. He cleared his vocal units, and tried again. "I'm going fine, sir."

"Hm. That's good to hear." He sat back and watched the other bot for a long moment. "Now, let's see how much you've learned. Recall the last fuel pump flush operation you assisted? Tell me what you did wrong."

Red Alert looked up at Ratchet, concern on his face. "I, uh... fuel pump flush..." He repeated quietly, and looked down in thought. Retrieving the details of that particular event from his memory banks, he searched for any errors that he may have made. He remembered the operation quite clearly and, as far as he was aware, he had done his job exceptionally well. He slowly shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I..."

"No?" Ratchet leaned forward across his desk, his optics staring accursedly at Red Alert. "Come on, think! What did you do to divert the main fuel line before the flush?"

"Uh... " Think, Red, think! The bot berated himself; he should know this. "Well, I... helped prepare the intake unit and separated... separated the... the fuel line from the pump housing..." He paused, wondering whether or not he was on the right track.

Ratchet nodded. "And?"

"And... uh..."

"And, what tool did you use to separate the line?"

That seemed obvious enough. "Oh, I used the adjustable release lever-"

"Stop right there," Ratchet cut in. Then he stood up, retrieved a small tool from the emergency kit that he carried within his forearm chassis compartment, and walked around to his student. "You mean this?" He said, holding up the small, metallic object. "This... is for emergency repairs. It is not meant for a specialized procedure such as a fuel pump flush. You understand?" He set the tool down on the desk with a thump, and bent forward to make his point.

Red Alert looked up in surprise, and slight disappointment. "Oh, yes - yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir." He paused in thought, and then spoke up again. "It's just that, well... you see, I thought... since you had been using it yourself for similar procedures, you know... I thought that it'd be alright to use it for the flush." He caught Ratchet's optics, and saw that they betrayed his thoughts, which seemed to be elsewhere entirely. The two observed one another in a moment of silence, and Red Alert found himself wishing he could read his mentor's mind.

Ratchet straightened, and then seemed to relax a little. "Uh huh." He picked up the tool, walked back to his seat, and slowly sat down again. "Let me tell you something, kid. Don't ever get sloppy on me, you hear? Unless it's an emergency, always use the right tool for the job. No excuses."

Red Alert cleared his vocal unit. "Yes, sir." He acknowledged, without hesitation.

"Good," Ratchet continued. "Now, tell me why you were late for your duty cycle today."

Again, Red Alert was caught off guard. "Late? Oh." He hadn't even realized that his slight tardiness - what, half a breem, maybe? - had been noticed. "Uh, yes, sir." That was the best he could come up with, and silently berated himself again.


"No, sir. I mean, yes, sir! I was... well, a bunch of us bots were talking in the rec room, and I... I guess I must have lost track of the time." Red Alert explained, feeling suddenly unsure of himself.

"I see." Ratchet considered him for a few moments, and Red Alert thought that the CMO deliberately wanted him feeling self-conscious, for some reason. "And what were you talking about?"

"Oh, just the usual, you know... mech stuff. Nothing important, sir," Red glanced down at his hand, turning it over slowly, wondering where all this was going.

Finally, his superior spoke. "I'll bet. Make sure it doesn't happen again."

Slight relief. "Yes, sir."

Ratchet picked up the data pad, and activated the small screen. He took his time bringing up the information he wanted, and then slid the unit across the desktop to Red Alert. "After all, it wouldn't be a good way to begin your new schedule." He motioned for the lower ranked Autobot to pick up the pad in front of him.

Red did as he was directed, began to scan down the display, and a look of confusion slowly crept across his face. "Sir... this... this isn't my duty table. It's yours..." He looked up, unsure of what he was supposed to make of it.

Ratchet shrugged. "Nope, it's yours now, kid. That's if you want it."

"I... I'm not following. Sir?"

"I've decided to take a break from the Repair Bay for a little while, and I need someone to fill in. You're the best I've got at the moment," Ratchet explained in a casual, no-nonsense tone, as if what he had just said was the most normal thing in the world.

"But - but, sir," Red Alert looked up from the data pad at the CMO, then back down again, slowly shaking his head in bewilderment. "I can't just take over the Repair Bay, just like that! I mean... I haven't even finished my training yet. I'm..." He began to protest.

"You know enough. And you're good." Ratchet paused, offering no further explanation. "Look, do you want it, or not?"

Red looked back up into the senior mech's optics, and again he saw an untold longing in them, a faraway look that he dared not query. As the news of his newly acquired status and position began to dawn on him, he began to feel a sense of trepidation and excitement that was inevitably starting to build up inside him. "Sure - I mean, yes!... Yes." He nodded in understanding, and tried to keep his eagerness under control. "Thank you, sir." He took a deep breath, optics brightening with the prospect.

Ratchet nodded in satisfaction, and smiled briefly, for the first time today. "Good. See me tomorrow morning at the usual time, and I'll give you the necessary authorization codes. Don't be late. In the meantime, I want you to read the full data file, get acquainted with your new responsibilities. You're dismissed."

"Yes, sir." Red Alert slowly stood up, still overwhelmed with the news of his promotion. He needed time to gather his thoughts, reorganize his schedule - he would definitely need to call Smokescreen and Bluestreak to cancel their off duty get-together they had planned for the later part of the day. They would be disappointed, but he could always make it up to them some other day. "Uh, sir?"


"May I ask... why the time away?" Red's curiosity finally got the better of him; he quickly put the question out in the open, before he could change his mind.

Ratchet looked up at his student and grimaced, was about to tell him that he was pushing his luck inquiring about things that were none of his concern, but then reconsidered. Maybe telling the younger bot wouldn't be such a bad thing, after all, and he saw no real harm in it. He sighed, and diverted his optics back to that imaginary, faraway place again. "I just need some time away from here, that's all. Don't worry, I'll be back sooner than you know it - you can count on that." He paused, and Red waited patiently, listening intently for anything more he would offer him. "The sooner all the trouble with the Decepticons is over and done with, the sooner things can get back to normal around here... but until then, I've decided to help out."

Red Alert contemplated this new information, and thought carefully about how he should word his next question. "Trouble with the Decepticons, sir? Sounds... intriguing." He had a rough idea of what Ratchet might have been referring to, but it was based only upon rumors; what a bot had told another bot, who then had told him.

"Ah, that's right; you wouldn't know about it." Ratchet considered divulging some of the details of his new assignment, and wondered whether it should be going to the other mech's audio sensors at all. Rumors were prone to spread like an out-of-control oil blaze around the Command Center, especially when the lower ranking Autobots had anything to do with them. But, sooner or later, the information would get out, regardless; better that Red Alert got to hear about it directly from him now, than from some convoluted rumor later on that was bound to cause more trouble than it was worth. "Senior officers have been requested to help round up the Decepticons and bring them in." Ratchet shrugged. "So, I volunteered."

Red Alert's optics became brighter with this new information, and he was momentarily lost for words. "But I thought... there weren't many of them left on Cybertron? Decepticons, I mean." He couldn't hide the excitement in his voice. This was the kind of action that every newly enlisted Autobot dreamed of being involved in and, these days, the more experienced ones as well. Whilst he was no new recruit himself, it had been a very long time since he had been out on the front lines, engaged in battle alongside the other regulars, and he missed it just as much as any other Autobot might miss it.

"Well... even one Decepticon is one Decepticon too many," Ratchet answered, and offered him no further details on the matter. "Now, get out of my sight, before I change my mind."

Red Alert had to make a conscious effort to snap out of his sudden fantasy about being out on the battle field, helping his close-knit team of trusted Autobots subdue one of the enemy, and returned his attention back to his superior. "Yes, sir," he said, and headed towards the door, which automatically slid open as he approached.

"Oh, and... one more thing," Ratchet's gravelly voice trailed after him.

Red stopped and turned back expectantly. "Yes, sir?

"Stop with the "Sir" already. From now on, call me Ratchet, agreed?"

The ex-security officer visibly relaxed, and gave a small smile. He nodded, "Sure thing... Ratchet." He said, and walked away.

Why, there was no better time to be a mini-bot on Cybertron, Brawn thought, trying to convince himself through his own self-talk, than right this orn. Well, even if he didn't believe it himself, he was sure that his fellow mini-bots would. But then, they'd probably believe anything he told them. "So, fellas, how about a visit to good ol' Macaddam's?"

He stood just outside the Command Center, having completed his duty cycle, and the hour was late. Four other mini-bots were clustered around him; Windcharger, Gears, Cliffjumper, and Bumblebee.

Bumblebee looked doubtful. "The Oil House? Optimus warned us not to go into that place, Brawn."

"Optimus said this, Optimus said that..." Brawn mocked, altering the pitch of his vocal unit to match. "Look, I don't give a frag. I'm going. Besides, I've been dying to get me a bit of that fresh off-world oil, and you can't get that stuff anywhere else on Cybertron. Who's with me?"

Windcharger shrugged and nodded, Cliffjumper grinned, and Gears simply crossed his arms across his chest, a grim expression on his face.

"Great," Brawn acknowledged with a smile. "Let's go." He set off eastward toward the sub-level access way, and the three of them followed after him, leaving Bumblebee behind.

"Wait, guys...!" The yellow mini-bot called out after them, waving for them to stop, but they had already disappeared around the corner. He could hear Brawn and Cliffjumper singing a tune together as they walked, in anticipation of their fun night out. Bumblebee sighed, looked around him. The night air was refreshing, cooling his intake system as it circulated around his power core. He had nowhere else to be right now. Ah, what the heck, he thought, and broke into a fast walk in an effort to catch up to the others.

As the five mini-bots approached the Oil House, a burly looking security bot greeted them at the entrance. He held out his hand and presented them with an input pad. "Good evening, Autobots. Please input your security codes."

The five of them looked at one another in confusion. This was highly unusual; in all the vorns that they had been coming to this place - from virtually the day of its relocation from Kaon right up until now - no House bouncer had ever requested their security codes. "Uh, hey, Strom, what's up?" Cliffjumper finally spoke up.

"Please input your security codes," Strom repeated. Then, pointing with one finger towards the display screen, "Right here."

"Alright, is this some sort of joke? Well, ha ha. Come on, let us in, we're thirsty already," Brawn said, stepping forward.

"Sorry, Brawn, I've got my orders. Input codes first, then I'll let you in," the bot insisted.

Windcharger was both annoyed and a little amused all at once, but more than that, he was curious. "Orders? Whose orders? Let me go speak to your boss. He can't say no to us."

Strom hesitated. "Well, that may be true, most of the time, but not this time. The instructions are very clear. I need your security codes or I get my behind hauled into the trash compactor."

"Ok, ok, don't get your wires twisted." Windcharger shrugged, then leaned forward and input his security code. "Will you at least tell us what this is all about? Are we in trouble or something?"

Strom shook his head. "Nah. Nothing like that. There's a new rule come into effect here: no Decepticons allowed, period. I've got to keep a record of everyone that comes through here." He held out the pad to Brawn, who snatched it roughly and quickly input his code, then passed it to Cliffjumper.

"No Decepticons?" Brawn questioned, a little uncertain. "But what about, you know, the... unspoken rule?" He was, of course, referring to Macaddam's long established 'no respect of faction, only credits' policy.

The bot replied, opening the doors to let them through as Bumblebee was the last of them to input his code after Gears. "It's been suspended." He took back the pad and said, "Thanks for coming. Enjoy your stay," before the doors closed behind them.

Windcharger spotted an empty table across the room over near the bar and headed towards it. As they all took their seats, a waitress bot hovered towards them holding an empty platter. "Welcome to Macaddam's," she chimed sweetly. "What'll it be, boys?"

"Do you have any of that exotic lubricant? You know, the one imported from Nebulos...?" Asked Brawn.

The waitress' optics lit up in recognition. "Nebu-oil. Our finest import and an excellent choice, sir. Coming right up." She turned to the others. "And what can I get you fellas?"

"I'll just have a regular medium-grade," Windcharger ordered.

"Make that two," Gears piped up.

"Okay. So that's two regulars-" The waitress repeated, but was interrupted by Cliffjumper, who stuck three fingers up.


"Oh, okay, make that three regular servings of energon..." She said, before turning to Bumblebee. "And how about you, sweetie?"

"Oh, uh, nothing for me, thanks," Bumblebee replied, embarrassed.

The waitress put on a mock show of disappointment. "Ohhh, are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm good, really," He said, smiling back at her.

"What's a matter with you, Bumblebee? Out of credits? Here, make that four, on me," Brawn offered, and gestured to the waitress to add to their order despite Bumblebee's apparent intention of sobriety.

"You really didn't have to do that," Bumblebee said, after the waitress had left to fill their order.

"If you're not drinking with us, Bumblebee, you'll make us all look bad," Brawn replied.

"Oh," Bee could think of nothing more to say to Brawn on the matter. He really didn't feel like a drink, but he thought it was probably best not to argue the point with him. "So... what do you think's going on with the Decepticons?" He asked the others, changing the topic.

Windcharger shrugged. "Who knows? I didn't get the memo."

Gears added, "Where there's Decepticons, there's always trouble rearing its pretty head." He then looked over at Cliffjumper, who was tracking a tall femme bot as she walked past them towards a table occupied by a rowdy group of mechs - presumably Autobots from a neighboring province. "Forget it, 'Jumper. She's out of your league."

"Hey, I wasn't-" Cliffjumper defended, startled by the comment, but then changed his mind. "Oh, ok, so maybe I was. So sue me," he said smugly, making his friends laugh.

Windcharger looked around the large public area of the Oil House. It was occupied mostly by Autobots, and most of them appeared to be having a great time. There was live musical entertainment in one corner, and the lighting had been dimmed to create a moody, surreal atmosphere.

The waitress returned with their drinks and quickly set the containers out on the table in front of them. "Enjoy your drinks, boys," she said again with a smile, and then left to take orders from a nearby table.

Brawn picked up his container and lifted it to his mouth. "Here's to us!" He said, then let the precious oil trickle down his throat.

The night wore on, and one round of drinks blended into another as the group of mini-bots lost track of time. It must have been well into the early hours of the morning, Bumblebee suddenly realized, checking his internal chronometer. "Oh, frag..."

"What?" Cliffjumper said, slouching in his seat, container of energon in his hand.

"I'm on duty first thing in the morning. If I don't get some recharge now, I'm gonna get into trouble."

"Bumblebee," Brawn replied, and then paused as he considered what he was going to say to him; he was obviously too drunk to think straight. "Here, have another... it'll make you feel better..."

Bumblebee frowned. Whilst he had indulged in two energon fills, that had been well over an hour ago; he was the only sober bot left amongst them. "No, thanks, Brawn. We really should-"

"Hey!" Lemme... lemme tell you something. You wanna hear something? Who wants to hear something?" Brawn interrupted, waving around an empty canister in the air.

"Yeah... better be good," Windcharger replied, looking at Brawn with glazed optics. He looked as though he was going to throw up the contents of his fuel reservoir any moment now.

"Ok. Here goes." Brawn looked in turn at each mini-bot, making sure he had their full attention. Gears had been sitting almost motionless in the same spot for a good hour, and had not spoken much at all; Bumblebee was beginning to wonder whether he should notify the med bay, just in case. "Being a mini-bot... sucks metallic balls..." He blurted out.

Windcharger laughed, and Cliffjumper spat out his mouthful of energon. "Beg your pardon?"

"You heard me," Brawn continued, answering Cliffjumper. "We mini-bots, we get shafted all the time..." The others quieted down to hear what he had to say, too over-energized to bother responding, so they let him continue. "Come on, now think about it... when's the last time we got invited to one of Prime's closed conferences? Or got to share the same duty station alongside a regular Autobot? Well, lemme tell you; never. It's never happened."

Bumblebee thought about Brawn's point, and had to admit that there was some truth to it; no mini-bot had ever had the privilege of participating in one of the senior conferences, even when lower ranking regulars did. But it wasn't always this way, he recalled; only since the start of the New Era. "Brawn, don't you think you're being a little over-dramatic? I mean, there's probably a very good reason-"

"Ha!" Brawn cut in. "Okay, lemme give you an example." He pointed his finger at the yellow bot, fighting to keep himself from toppling over his chair in his intoxicated state. "You, Bumblebee. Recall the time when there was a fuel shortage, and Prime had allocated all the available fuel cells according to a priority system by rank?"

"Well, sure, I remember that. But that was-"

"Do you remember what priority he gave to us mini-bots?"

Bumblebee answered, speaking softly. "Yeah... five."

"That's right," Brawn said loudly, almost shouting. "Priority five. The lowest priority available to any Autobot. Even the new recruits got a higher priority than we did."

Cliffjumper nodded. "Yeah, that's right." Brawn now pointed a finger at him.

"And you, Cliff. Remember when you got yourself lost in the Badlands?" Cliffjumper nodded. "Well, when you sent out a distress signal... guess how long it took Prowl and his team of Angels to respond?"

The red mini-bot shrugged. "Soon as they picked it up, I thought."

"Wrong! It took them two days, Cliff. Two whole days to rescue you. Bet you didn't know that, huh?" Cliffjumper shook his head slowly, assimilating this new information. He remembered that incident as if it had happened only yesterday, and had assumed, all this time, that his rescue had simply been delayed due to the strong signal interference in the location where he'd been found.

Brawn turned to Windcharger. "And you," he continued, "You don't really believe that claptrap about being allowed to team up with the Aerialbots on their next assignment, do you?"

Windcharger stared at Brawn, his easy-going demeanor dissolving. He didn't like where this was going. "How do you mean? Prime himself reassured me that he'd put in an official recommendation, and-"

"Ha! Come on, 'Charger, don't be so naïve." Brawn had his full attention now, and he spoke more slowly, wanting to emphasize his point. "An official recommendation is nothing more than an official recommendation. Prime can't offer you a spot with the Aerialbots anymore than he can promise to find the fabled Lost Key to Vector Sigma."

Windcharger put down the empty container he had been holding and thought about Brawn's words for a moment before responding. "Oh, yeah? Well, what would you know, anyway?"

"What's your point, Brawn?" Bumblebee interjected, and silence fell upon them as they all awaited Brawn's response.

"The point is, in their optics... we..." Brawn indicated with his finger in a sweeping circle around the table, pointing to each of them in turn, "are not their equals. Why, we 're nothing more than a plain old nuisance to them; worthless mini-bots." He laughed suddenly, a loud, sardonic laugh. "And you know what the funny thing is? I'll tell you. The only reason they still allow us to take part in any half-decent mission, is because half the original Autobots are either absent, missing, or unavailable."

Bumblebee shook his head. "I say you're wrong, Brawn. I mean, there's probably a good explanation for all those things, anyway."

Brawn looked at the yellow bot for a few long seconds, and then fixed his gaze upon the others. Finally, he leaned back in his chair and stared down into his empty drink canister. "Eh, have it your way, then. Just don't come crying to me when you find you've been ousted out on your behind because some new recruit's taken your place..."

Silence followed, as each mini-bot contemplated Brawn's confronting point of view. There were mixed feelings about the matter all round, yet none of them were to speak any further on the subject. They were all in need of a good recharge cycle as it was.

"Come on, guys. We've been here long enough," Bumblebee said and, without waiting for the others, got up from his seat and left the Oil House.


Chapter 3 by Crystine

Transformers: Heroes 

Chapter 3


Elita One stood on the command deck of her cruiser, looking out towards the darkened front view screen. In the quietness that surrounded her she hesitated momentarily, and then carefully pressed a button on the console in front of her. “Record message,” she stated.

Elita One: Senior Recon Specialist, Autobot Co-Commander, and Captain of the Warcruiser Avenger. Cybertronian stellar date: 143602.4.182.”

Pause. Sigh.

“Delete message. Recommence recording… Optimus… I hope you’ll forgive me. I hope that in time, you’ll come to see that…”

Frustration, then another pause. “I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, since last we spoke. It was so good to see you again, Optimus… you’ve no idea how much I’ve missed you.” Pause. “But… I couldn’t help but notice that... well… the Autobots just aren’t the same anymore. They’ve lost their spark. Oh, it’s not obvious or anything… What I mean is… they – we’ve – forgotten our dreams. Do you remember, before the Great War, Optimus, when we would walk down the halls together, and we could hear laughter? And do you remember the promise we’d made one another? ‘Protect Cybertron from all harm, no matter the cost. No matter what it takes.’

Pause. “Well, look at us now. If you’re honest with yourself… you’d see that things aren’t the way their supposed to be. Where is the great and noble Autobot army now, fighting for justice and truth? Most of us are… well, we’ve all but forgotten why we were sparked in the first place. I mean – we’re Autobots, for Primus’ sake! We don’t take orders from anyone – let alone from… from a bunch of elite mechanoids who don’t care about us. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see that what I’m saying is the truth.”

Another pause, and then a deep breath. “So… I’ve decided to depart for Alternity City. I’m not sure when I’ll return. Please… please… don’t try to stop me. I don’t want to disobey you, but I can’t just stand by anymore and watch things get worse.

“I know you don’t agree, but I’ve got to do what I feel is right. I trust that, some day, you will understand, and forgive me.”


“Forever yours, Elita.”

Groove, so fascinated by the Crystal Gardens to his right – surrounded by a low lying embankment just south of Iacon – that he did not notice, at first, the quiet footfalls that seemed to be following him from a distance. To his left was the outer reaches of a sprawling industrial area, isolated groups of factory blocks visible upon the flat expanse, dotting the landscape as far back as the optics could see. Startled by the sound, he stopped in his tracks and slowly turned around to see if there was anyone there, but he could see nothing unusual. It was dark, and mostly quiet, as he walked along the familiar back streets, and he thought that he must have imagined it. No one else would be around here at this time of night, he assured himself.

Returning from an errand for Hound, the Protectobot had been on his way back to Autobot Headquarters when he had decided to take a small detour along the way, as he sometimes did. He wasn’t like the others; he preferred the company of a quiet, starry night sitting amongst the crystal formations, dreaming about what it would be like to spend his days visiting exotic worlds like Archa Nine, or even Earth, rather than a wild night out with the ‘bots, getting up to no good.

He shrugged to himself, and continued along the metallic road that shimmered coldly in the dusky light.

The sounds resumed behind him, only louder this time. He quickened his pace considerably and initialized his photon pistol. Just in case, he thought, as he gripped the gun in his right hand.

“Hey… Autobot!” He heard from behind him, and Groove halted to a sudden stop. The sound of the footfalls had also stopped suddenly.

Turning around quickly, he held his weapon out in front of him, and that’s when he saw them. A group of three mechs, unfamiliar to him – Neutrals, he realized, obvious from their white armour and the golden, gleaming symbol of the Neutral Alliance emblazoned upon their chests. He lowered his pistol. “Who, me?” He called back to them.

He heard laughter, almost mocking, but he wasn’t sure. The tallest of them responded, his voice deep and resounding. “Yeah, you. Hey, why don’t you put that weapon away? We’re not gonna hurt you, you know.”

Groove looked down at his weapon, and deactivated it. “Oh, you mean this? Sure, no problem. Sorry about that,” he said, putting the pistol back into its compartment. “I thought you were – well…” He started, embarrassed.

The three Neutrals approached, walking casually up to him. Groove couldn’t help but notice that they were large, all three of them towering above him. Were all Neutrals this big? He wondered. He’d never noticed before. “You thought we were... what?” The middle mech prodded, “’Cons?” He laughed, and the other two followed suit.

Groove chuckled nervously. “Heh, yeah…’Cons. Not in this neck of the woods.” As he spoke, the other two mechs walked around either side of him, and looked him up and down, as if they were appraising some sort of rare and valuable prize.

Then, one of them turned to his comrades. “Almost wish he were a ‘Con,” he remarked, off-handed.

Groove looked at them, perplexed, and began to feel like he had picked the wrong place, and the wrong time, to be out and about. “Look, I… I gotta get going. I’ll catch you later –” But as he started to step away, a large hand rested firmly upon his shoulder. He jerked instinctively.

“Come now, we’ve only just met. You haven’t even told us your name,” one of them said from behind him, and Groove realized it was the same one had his hand upon him.

Play this cool… just, play it cool. “Uh… Groove,” he replied, feigning confidence. “And… yours?”

Again, laughter, almost mocking. The largest spoke again, as he stooped closer, his face up against Groove’s. “We don’t have names,” he replied, vocalizing the words slowly, and then grinned. This elicited more laughter from his companions.

“Hey, quiet!” One of them interjected, and the largest mech looked up towards the other two.

“What is it?” He shot back, his voice a low growl.

“I thought I heard something.”

The three of them fell deadly quiet, looking about them with weapons raised, listening and waiting. Several long kliks passed. Finally, the large mech dismissed the alert as a false alarm. “It’s probably nothing.” He turned his attention back to the Autobot. “It’s not wise for any mech to be out all alone. Any of us would be forgiven for making the simple mistake of thinking that you were a ‘Con.”

Groove’s entire internal systems were on high alert, as he tried to think of a way out of his current predicament. He still wasn’t entirely sure what they had in mind for him, though he guessed that it probably wasn’t good.”You can’t touch me… I’m… I’m an Autobot. We’re supposed to be…” His throat caught, and decided that it might be better if he remained silent. Should he plead with them? Beg? He didn’t know. He found himself wishing that his gestalt members were here now.

“Aw, don’t worry… this’ll be over before you know it!” The large Neutral reached forward and grabbed Groove’s arms, whilst his two companions pointed their weapons at his head.

A hateful sneer appeared on the Neutral’s face and, in a moment of unrealized terror that would become his main torment for many stellar cycles to come, Groove came to know, first-hand, an unbearable, yet unfathomable, evil which now hid behind the cold and calculating optics of his aggressor.

Even as his body was torn to shreds, it was his spark that screamed out in a desperate plea for help, before he was mercifully off-lined.


A safe distance away, Scavenger realized that he had just become the only witness to the cruel and callous attack of an Autobot. He had watched, and heard, the entire incident, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, remaining frozen to the spot since the violent attack had begun, and unable to move, like one of the great stone sculptures that could be found within the famed Crystal Gardens nearby. Even after he watched the three Neutrals as they dragged the off-lined bot away, out of sight, he waited a good, long while before stepping out from behind the low-set factory wall that he had used as a cover.

Scavenger knew that, being a Decepticon, he was already taking an extreme risk being so close to Autobot Headquarters. And, secondly, he also reasoned that, being a Decepticon, there was nothing that he could have done to help Groove anyway, even if he had wanted to.

But his fellow Decepticons needed him; they were short on crucial minerals as it was, and over several months he had ventured ever closer to Iacon in an increased effort to retrieve any discarded, yet useful, materials and take them back to the hideout. With resources running so low, the Decepticons had to make do with whatever they could find, and this often meant risking their very lives just to survive. It was a difficult time, though he couldn’t ever remember a time when it hadn’t been.

Still, Scavenger never complained, and this had worked mostly in his favour. He never asked for more than his fair share of anything, and always did what was required of him, regardless of how difficult, or how dangerous, the task at hand.

Which is why he was here now; he had been searching for discarded scraps outside of an Autobot recycling facility, when the incident had occurred. At first, he thought, upon hearing the commotion, that it was just another rowdy group of Alliance mechs, walking back to their quarters after a wasteful night over-energizing and consorting with any femme who was willing, and lonely, enough to give them the attention they sought – if they were lucky to find one. But it had soon become obvious that what he was witnessing was something far more serious than he had at first anticipated.

He stood, still motionless, the Cybertronian night sky above twinkling with stars, and wondered what he should do now. He thought that it would be best, and probably safest, for him to just forget that he had witnessed the whole thing; just head straight back to the hideout, get as far away from here as possible before anyone saw him. However, his curious nature got the better of him, as it always did. If he could just follow those Neutrals, maybe find out where they had taken the Autobot, and why, then his curiosity would be satisfied. And that kind of information might even prove valuable to Scrapper and the others; maybe even the boss would approve.

Even as he debated with himself, he was already beginning to make his way to the road. He would only get a little closer – just enough to see whether they had left any trace of their existence. Of course, he would need to be very quick about it, and he would need to make doubly sure that no one saw him, or followed him.

As he approached the road with as much stealth and caution as he could muster, he saw that the three Neutrals were long gone, and so, too, probably, was the Autobot. He stopped at the road’s edge, peering down along the winding track, and was about to give the whole idea a miss when he spotted a small object lying on the opposite pavement. He hesitated a moment, checked the area for any sign of life, and then, satisfied, stepped out onto the road and headed towards the object.

He carefully bent low and picked it up, then reached across to examine the fresh residue on the metallic surface of the pavement, smeared in long, thin tracks that followed the road into the distance – a trail of evidence – mech fluid, from the victim’s inert body as it had been dragged away by the assailants.

Scavenger stood up slowly, and then followed the trail as far as it would go. He hadn’t travelled more than ten or so mechanometers when it abruptly ended. He looked about him, wondering what he might find, then quickly transformed into his excavator alt mode and set his power shovel’s search filter to detect Autobot signatures.

Not more than a few minutes later, his detector alerted him to a positive signal, and he transformed himself back into robot mode. He found the discarded body a few steps away to his left, lying next to an access port that led down into the underground network of tunnels. The hatch to the access port had been left slightly ajar. The sight of Groove – or what was left of him – made Scavenger step back in repulsion, and a pang of regret rushed through his circuitry. He disliked Autobots in general, it was true, but this he could never wish on anyone.

The Autobot had had his throat crushed, severed fuel lines protruding from the deep gashes that ran down along the front of his chest and back. It looked as though he had been passed through a shredder, his internal circuitry and cabling ripped inside-out and left hanging loosely, his body still being drained of its vital energon. His facial plates had been smashed, and one optic was crushed; the other had darkened to an ominous black. A fixed expression of terror, a mouth gaping open in a silent scream, was the only clue that remained of the Autobot’s last moments online.

Scavenger dared not touch the body for fear of leaving any imprints; instead, he took a few moments to gather enough courage and then bent down for a closer inspection. The first thing he noticed was that Groove was missing several internal parts. However, they had left his personality circuit and spark chamber intact.

Why any Neutral would do this to an Autobot was well beyond him; and Scavenger imagined how much worse off a Decepticon might have been in the same situation, if that were even possible, and he shuddered at the thought. None of this was making any sense to him at all; but, what he did realize was that if Groove were to undergo immediate emergency repairs, there may be a slight chance that he could be saved. Unfortunately for Groove, however, he was powerless to do anything to help him. If the Autobots found out he was here, he would be captured, charged with serious assault, and held in their custody for an indefinite period of time. And he simply could not afford to take that chance.


One hour earlier…

Optimus slammed his fist down upon the console, a little harder than he had intended. Prowl looked up from his post, slight concern for his leader. “Prime?”

The large red and blue mech sighed in resignation and leaned forward against the console with both arms. “I’m sorry, Prowl.” Then he straightened and deactivated his private com link. “It’s… Elita,” he explained reluctantly.

Prowl gave him a knowing look, nodded respectfully, and then turned his attention back towards his monitor read-outs. The night duty cycle was almost over, yet the Chief of Security showed no signs of slowing down. “If there’s anything I can do to help…”

“No…” Optimus shook his head. “Thank you,” he added. Prowl silently acknowledged him, continued analysing security data.

Optimus began to slowly pace the large Control Center. Something was obviously bothering him and, after a few minutes, Hound, seated at his post, felt like he should say something in order to try and alleviate his Commander’s concerns, or at least take his mind off his troubles. “Uh, Prime?”

Optimus stopped pacing, turned towards their Chief Tracker. “What is it, Hound?”

“Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you… there was a minor malfunction in one of the control systems at a scrap metal plant nearby… just south of here,” he reported casually, glancing at his view screen.

This seemed to draw some interest from the Commander. “Is it suspicious?”

“Uhh… there’s been no report of any suspicious activity, no. Still, you never know, I guess,” Hound concluded.

“Hmm,” the Autobot leader pondered. “That’s not the first incident we’ve had in that part of Iacon recently.” He turned his attention to the Security Chief. “Prowl, how many Level 2 incidents have been reported in that area over the last… month or two?”

Prowl hit a few buttons, and analysed the fresh data that appeared on his view screen. “Four, over the last two months. Two of them involved Decepticon sightings near some recycling facilities.”

Optimus considered this information. “Was anything taken?”

Prowl glanced at the report. “No, nothing was reported missing,” he stated matter-of-factly.

Ironhide, having heard the conversation from his post at the rear of the Control room, offered his opinion. “I’ll bet those Decepticreeps are running real low on energon right about now. Why, they’re probably desperate enough, and dumb enough, to go snooping around our scrap yard in search of whatever beryllium chunks and half-empty canisters they can get their hands on.” He chuckled derisively with the thought, amused by it.

Hound glanced back over his shoulder towards the red Artillery Specialist. “You’re so outdated, Ironhide. The last time they were called ‘Decepticreeps’ was probably when you were still fresh in the Academy, getting beat up by senior year bots.” Hound couldn’t help but grin in amusement at Ironhide’s expense.

“Ah, shut yer trap, Hound,” Ironhide rebuked. “What would you know, anyways? You probably spent most of your time gathering magic crystals out along the Hydrax Plateau instead of attending class like ya were supposed to.”

This elicited a few chuckles from a number of Autobots in the adjacent Communications Center as they overheard the exchange. They couldn’t help it; Ironhide’s vocal unit seemed to have its volume control set constantly to high.

“All right… Hound,” Optimus said, steering the conversation back onto its original track, unamused by their jibes. “Send someone down to check the nature of the malfunction, and see if immediate repairs can be made.”

“No problem, Prime,” Hound replied, a smile of amusement still on his face, and checked through the list of available Autobots who were currently on duty. He found the mech he wanted, and flicked a switch on his console. “Groove… can you spare a few minutes? I’ve got an errand for you.”

As Hound relayed to Groove the details of his task, Optimus turned to Prowl again. “Prowl… I’d like you to go down to South Iacon as well, and set up a telemetric perimeter.”

Prowl looked up from his console, a data pad in hand. “That’s no problem, Prime. I’ll get right onto it just as soon as this cycle ends.”

Prime gave him a curt nod, looking satisfied. “Good. The next time the Decepticons attempt to enter our industrial complex, we’ll catch them red-handed, and bring them in.”

“Understood.” Prowl smiled at the thought, looking forward to apprehending his first Decepticon.

Within the secure walls of Alternity City’s Subterranean Base war room, Astro stood in the far corner, patiently awaiting the High Commander’s arrival. He was immensely powerful, despite outward appearances, and could just as easily hold his own in any combat situation against a leader class mech. The Base’s Second-in-Command, a warrior who called himself Jhiaxus, was also present, as was Jhiaxus’ assistant, Rook, and the de facto leader of the Neutrals and former Autobot, Sentinel Prime.

The four of them stood gathered around a table, awaiting the great High Commander. The tabletop’s sleek, rectangular surface was formed from a blend of the cybernetic planet’s native core rock, and a metal alloy mined off-world. At the head of the table, closest to the entrance, was a large, empty chair.

The small gathering did not need to wait long, as the High Commander entered the room, flanked by two guards. He took the empty seat, and the four took their own seats after him, as was customary. His gaze surveyed the room until it came to rest upon the former Autobot. “Sentinel… I am most pleased you are here at such short notice. We have much to discuss.” There was a pause, and the room was silent as the mechs all waited for the High Commander to continue. “But, before we get into other matters, there is a minor problem of security that needs addressing.” The Commander’s voice rumbled low, its edge raspy and threatening. He looked towards the mech seated opposite him across the table. “Astro, report.”

Astro delivered his report without delay. “My liege, the northern perimeter was breached shortly after the fourth hour by five Cybertronian mechanoids of unknown identification. They were able to momentarily de-active the primary power grid before being intercepted by our security teams… however, they managed to escape.” His blue optics looked steadfastly toward the High Commander, his face expressionless. While not as large, or imposing, as the present leader mechs, he nevertheless exuded a strong and quiet confidence that was difficult to break through. Not even the High Commander’s sudden stirring of restrained anger could shake his self-assurance.

“Escaped? How were they allowed to escape?” The red orbs of the Commander’s optic sensors glowed in irritation.

Rook interjected to answer. “My liege… the surveillance equipment seems to have disengaged during the power outage… we have no information regarding the purpose of their intrusion. Two of our security teams were… destroyed during the confrontation; however… the incident is still under investigation and we are doing everything possible to find –“

“Enough!” The Commander growled. “Increase our defences along the entire perimeter. Do not allow any intruder to come within one mechanometer of our territory. Is that well understood?”

“Yes, my liege,” Rook responded, not wanting to aggravate the Commander any more than necessary.

“As for those Cybertronian intruders…” The High Commander continued, pondering his next instruction. “Find them, and destroy them.”

“Yes, my liege,” Rook repeated.

Before the Commander could continue, Astro spoke up. “Allow me to assist in the search… with your permission, of course, my liege.” The Commander turned to him, apprehensive. The sudden request was, indeed, unusual for Astro. “I… have an intimate knowledge of Cybertronian flight capability, and understand their weakness more than any of you here,” he explained.

“Hmph.” The Commander nodded slowly. “Very well.” He looked towards Rook with a nod of his head. “He will assist you.”

Rook looked uncertainly at Astro, who returned his gaze with his usual quiet confidence, then looked back towards the High Commander and bowed his head. “Yes… my liege.”

The room fell silent as the High Commander now turned his thoughts towards other matters. He looked across at Sentinel, who was seated at his right. “Sentinel. Have more… supplies… been secured?”

The red and black Prime nodded. “Right on schedule, High Commander.” Sentinel’s physical size and stature matched that of the High Commander’s, and was almost as menacing; the arsenal of personal weapons he carried was nothing short of impressive. “The second shipment has arrived and awaits your inspection.”

“Ahh… very good.” A quiet pause, as the great mechanoid considered the current state of his growing regime. “Have you anything else to report?”

Sentinel leaned forward slightly, his voice slowed in emphasis. “There have been some… new developments… from Cybertron.”

This seemed to pique the High Commander’s interest and, it seemed, his anger as well. “Cybertron?” Sentinel nodded, and the High Commander released a low growl.

A smug expression appeared on the Prime’s face. “It appears… that the Cybertronian High Council has considered our request. The Alliance has orders to capture every Decepticon in the Gamma Sector. They are now… essentially wanted outlaws.”

Sentinel looked around the room, observing each mech’s reaction to this news. Jhiaxus, silent since the meeting began, listened intently; Sentinel had guessed that he would be most pleased with such news, and this now showed. It was well known amongst the elites that Jhiaxus despised Autobots and Decepticons alike, as did the High Commander himself; they both harboured a deep hatred for the two factions, each for their own reasons.

Astro’s thoughts on the matter were virtually unreadable. Sentinel knew little about the mech, though he did suspect his Cybertronian origins. Rook, however, was the most uncomfortable amongst them, and this was plainly obvious. He seemed agitated by the news, though he tried to conceal his feelings on the matter; it was no secret to them that Rook was a former Decepticon.

“In fact,” Sentinel continued, “the Neutral Alliance has been granted delegation of authority.” His gaze slowly returned to the leader mech as he spoke these words.

The news satisfied the High Commander, just as Sentinel had also predicted. “I see. You have done well, Sentinel. You may yet earn my trust.” He paused, and then clasped his hands together in contemplation. “And what of the Commander of the Decepticons? Has he made an appearance?”

Sentinel shrugged slowly, a look of irreverence upon his face. “He has yet to take a stand… however; I do suspect that he is incapable of any persuasive action, given his limited resources and… scattered troops. In my opinion, he is of no threat to anyone.”

The High Commander nodded slowly in agreement, a wicked grin spreading broadly across his beast-like countenance. “Then… with the Decepticons being taken care of, and the Autobots under our control, Cybertron will finally be mine.” What sounded like a muffled gurgle emanated from somewhere deep down inside his evil core.

As Sentinel and Jhiaxus gleefully collaborated in the takeover of the home world under the High Commander’s direction, Astro quietly observed them with what appeared to be a calm indifference that could have fooled Primus himself. He had noticed Rook’s continued uneasiness from the moment the word Decepticon had been uttered, and wondered what had motivated him to abandon his former allegiance in favour of a ruthless dictator, all those stellar cycles ago. He still recalled the day that Rook was first introduced into their ranks, under Jhiaxus’ wing, all too eager to make a good first impression.

As Astro contemplated these thoughts, the subject of the meeting suddenly took a different turn.

“On the subject of Autobots, my liege, I have brought a gift. Consider it a token of my appreciation… of our friendship,” Sentinel was saying, and waved towards the guards that stood by the entrance. They disappeared, and quiet descended upon the room as they anticipated the arrival of Sentinel’s ‘gift’. After a short while, the guards returned with a mech in their custody, and presented him before the Commander.

He was a tall, yellow-colored Autobot, although his outer armour was dull and in a state of general disrepair. It looked as though he had been to the Pit and back several times and, from the looks of him, had taken a few extra beatings to boot. He was in restraints, gagged and unable to speak, though his optics conveyed a look of stubbornness and defiance.

The Commander looked him up and down, relishing the sight before him. “Well, well...” He turned to Sentinel. “Who is this delightful Autobot?”

“He refuses to reveal his identity, my liege. He has proven to be a stubborn one, even under some… gentle persuasion. He was discovered snooping around our relay station.”

The High Commander leered at the Autobot prisoner, already anticipating the delight that would be had with his new toy. He stood up to take a closer look at him, and the Autobot instinctively turned his head away in disgust, as he struggled to break free from the guards’ strong grip upon him, but to no avail.

The towering, menacing form of the Commander would have terrified even the most street-hardened mechanoid. Extending one large arm towards the Autobot’s face, revealing clawed fingers, the tyrant slowly ran the razor sharp tips gently down one cheek, caressing it mockingly. “How much does he know?”

Sentinel shrugged. “More than any Autobot should know. I would suggest his termination.”

The Commander nodded, his gaze remaining steadfast upon the Autobot. “Your suggestion is noted.” He growled a low, ominous growl, and tilted his head, analysing his victim. Then, he stepped back, and dismissed the guards. “Take him to my chambers. I will deal with him later.”  The guards immediately did as they were told and exited the room with the Autobot prisoner in tow.

The Commander turned back towards the mechs seated around the table, studying each of them carefully in turn. “There is one other… matter that needs to be dealt with. Jhiaxus has uncovered the strong possibility of a dissenter amidst our ranks…” He said this slowly, threateningly, his voice seething with mistrust and unspoken accusations. “This… traitor is to be found, and brought to me at once.”

Jhiaxus’ face contorted in glee at the thought of the dissenter’s fate at the hands of his High Commander, as his eagerness got the better of him. “That pleasure would be all mine, liege.”

Astro remained expressionless as his cybernetic cranial unit computed all probable scenarios and outcomes with lightning speed. The answer made itself clear: returning to Cybertron, sooner rather than later, now remained his only course of action. 

Prowl had not been expecting the turn of events that would unfold for him that day, when he set out for Iacon’s south with his trio of mechs. He had decided to bring Smokescreen along with him for this task, as well as Streetwise, and Tailgate.

It was a typically quiet night, and during the nineteenth hour he did not expect to see anyone about. All the factory workers would have returned to their recharging blocks several hours ago, leaving the industrial suburb all but deserted.

It didn’t take long for them to reach their destination – an out-of-the-way spot beside the Crystal Gardens where he planned to set up their first telemetric point. Prowl handed Smokescreen and Streetwise a small case each. “Smokescreen, set up the second point, then report back to me.” He turned to Streetwise, and gave him similar orders. “Streetwise, you’re responsible for the third point.”

The two Autobots nodded. “Yes, sir!” Smokescreen replied emphatically in mock salute, and grinned, before he and Streetwise set off to go their separate ways. Prowl watched them go, and then turned to Tailgate.

“What about me?” The smaller bot said, looking up at Prowl.

“You can help me here,” Prowl replied, then said no more as he started setting up his equipment.

“Oh, ok… sure. Anything you say, Prowl, sir.” Ever since Prowl had asked him to accompany them here, the mini bot had become nervous and excitable. His over-eagerness to please had immediately irritated Prowl, though the Chief of Security had said nothing of it. Instead, he had tried his best to tolerate Tailgate’s peculiar behaviour and simply get on with the job. The truth was, Prowl had only selected him for this task because he had been the only other bot available at such short notice.

After several minutes absorbed in his task, Prowl stood from where he had been crouching. “Tailgate, would you pass me the-” He said, but stopped short when he turned around and realized that Tailgate was nowhere to be seen. “Tailgate?” He sighed, and folded his arms across his chest. He opened his com link. “Tailgate, report to me at once.” The line crackled, but there was no response. “Tailgate,” Prowl repeated impatiently, “Do you read me?” Still no response. He was about to give up, when a distant voice came over his speaker.

“Prowl… sir… you better come quick… it’s… it’s G- G…” Tailgate’s unsteady, stuttering voice was unnerving, and Prowl couldn’t tell whether it was due to the mini-bot’s general nervousness, or whether it was due to something else entirely.

“Tailgate, hold your position.” He locked onto the com signal, and isolated Tailgate’s location. A couple of mechanometers due south-east; he would be there within a few minutes.

Having secured into place the first telemetric point, Prowl started on his way, and opened another com channel. “Smokescreen, have you set up the equipment?”

“Uhh… yes, sir, I’m just about all done here.”

“Good. I may need your assistance; make your way to Tailgate’s location as soon as you can.”

“Sure thing.” Smokescreen replied over the link, and disconnected it. Prowl then relayed similar instructions to Streetwise.

After a short while, the three of them met up again. They could see Tailgate further ahead just in front of them. He appeared to be kneeling down next to an access port, hunched over as if he were about to purge, though they couldn’t tell for sure as his face was turned away from them.

“Tailgate?” Smokescreen called out, and started to step forward to get a better look, but Prowl stopped him, a strong hand grasping his shoulder.

“Wait.” Prowl instructed, and looked around apprehensively. “Something’s wrong.” He looked at Smokescreen and Streetwise. “Wait here,” he said, and before either of them were aware of what was happening, Prowl ran ahead towards Tailgate, his pellet gun drawn and ready. “Tailgate,” he called out gently, almost whispering, as he came up behind the mech, then stopped short suddenly, his control circuits feeling as if they might momentarily lose critical integrity. He walked around and knelt slowly beside Tailgate, who was muttering indecipherably and looking as if he might be on the verge of a mental breakdown.

“Who… who would… d- do this… who… who would… do this…” Tailgate seemed to be saying, over and over.

Prowl reached out, placed a comforting hand on Tailgate’s shoulder. He slowly stood up and turned back towards the other two Autobots, but they had already approached and were now staring, horrified, at the scene before them. Streetwise, in particular, did not take it well at all.

Streetwise… Prowl realized, but before he could do anything about it, it was already too late. Transforming into his car mode, cannon mounted on his roof, the Autobot interceptor had sped across the expanse in a southerly direction, heading towards the nearby road in hot pursuit of the perpetrator before anyone could stop him.

But Prowl didn’t have time to think about Streetwise right now.

He had to ensure that Groove was taken to Autobot Headquarters as soon as possible, if there was still a chance that he could be saved.

He activated his com link once again, switched it to visual. “This is an emergency. I repeat: this is an emergency. I have an Autobot in need of immediate medical attention. His situation is critical.” Prowl paused, and waited for acknowledgment from the other end that his message had been received.

“Prowl, this is Optimus. I’ve sent Ironhide to your location, he’ll be there soon.”

Prowl breathed a quiet sigh of relief. He hadn’t expected Prime himself to take his call, but he was grateful for it nonetheless. Groove would be in good hands very soon. “Streetwise is already in pursuit. I’d like to apprehend whoever did this and bring him in,” Prowl reported, keeping the Prime informed, before closing the link.

Remaining close to Tailgate, they watched over Groove as the three of them waited for Ironhide to arrive.

It wasn’t too long before they heard the red van approaching from a good distance away, the screech of his wheels echoing down the neighbouring embankment as he raced against the clock. Prowl grabbed Tailgate by the shoulders and managed to get him back on his feet, just as Ironhide slammed on his breaks, stopping short in front of them in his alt mode. His doors opened, and Prowl bent down to lift Groove’s body, carefully supporting the head and shoulders. He waited for Tailgate to lift him from the waist and legs, so that the two of them could move him into the waiting van, but Tailgate hesitated, still gripped with shock and confusion.

“Tailgate, help me lift him,” Prowl said, but Tailgate’s reaction was too slow as Smokescreen, quickly stepping in, helped Prowl lift Groove upwards and into the van’s interior until the Protectobot was safely on board. Prowl then steered Tailgate inside after him, and slammed the van doors closed. Waving Ironhide off, the red van revved his motor unit and took off back to Iacon with no time to spare.

Prowl opened a new link, waited for the other end to respond.

“This is Red Alert.”

Prowl took a few moments before informing the Acting CMO of the incident. “Prowl here. Red, standby; an emergency vehicle is on its way to you. We have an Autobot casualty in critical condition.” A pause, and then, “Prepare for emergency procedures.”

The voice on the other end replied. “Standing by. What is the nature of the emergency?”

“Multiple injuries… several missing internal components… victim unresponsive.” Prowl’s link momentarily disconnected, but then came back online. “Red? You’d best just see for yourself. Prowl out.” He disconnected the com.

Groove’s life was now out of their hands; all that was left was to find the mech responsible, hunt him down, and take him into custody for questioning.

Of course, if it was a Decepticon they were chasing, as it would most likely be, the questioning would be rather brief. Prowl was fairly certain that the prisoner would be suitably punished for his crime, before he was handed over to the High Council. He did not know what might happen to him from then onwards, nor did he care; all that mattered to him was that justice would be served.

Prowl looked across at Smokescreen, then transformed into his vehicle mode. “Come on; let’s go find whoever did this. We can’t let him get away,” he instructed, and they both followed Streetwise’s signal to its location, which was only a short distance away.

By the time they had caught up with him, the interceptor had already secured his target. He was transformed back into his robot mode, and his photon pistol was pointed directly in front of him. And there, within the gloom of the surrounding shadows, was their Decepticon assailant, his back against a wall, laser pistol drawn in front of him.

Streetwise burned with an intense rage, threatened to annihilate the enemy right then and there. “Come on, you good-for-nothing slagger!” He called out, seething in rage. Streetwise very rarely showed this side of himself, but in this particular situation, it was more than understandable. Groove was like a brother to him, and a member of the same gestalt team; despite their minor differences, he had sworn to always look out for him.

It was only Prowl’s voice, pleading with him to back down, that saved the Decepticon from suffering the torment that the interceptor had in mind for him.

Smokescreen approached the enraged Protectobot, and gently pulled him away. “Come on, let Prowl and I handle this. There’s nothing more you can do.”

Streetwise brushed him aside, his weapon gripped tightly in his hands. “Oh yeah, well… how about, I can tear his optic sensors right out!” He replied, loudly enough so that the Decepticon could hear him clearly. “How about we start with that, huh?”

“Cool it, Streetwise,” Prowl said, and stepped out in front of him. He turned his attention towards the Decepticon. “Scavenger, you’re under arrest. Come with us willingly, and we won’t be forced to deactivate you.” Prowl informed him, his voice calm and in perfect control.

Scavenger didn’t respond straight away. He was looking frantically about for a way of escape. Confronted by three Autobots who had him cornered, however, he knew that trying to flee would not be his best option.

Prowl repeated his demands, and gave him one last warning, before finally Scavenger spoke. “I… haven’t done anything… let me go.”

Slagger!” Streetwise snapped back at him. “You’re a liar! You’re gonna pay for what you’ve done, you piece of scrap!”

Prowl moved closer towards their captive. “If you’re found innocent, then the charges will be dropped against you. In the meantime, however, you must come with us. Now, deactivate your weapon and hold your hands out in front of you.”

Scavenger watched as the three Autobots began to move closer, all of their weapons pointed towards him, and he realized, then, that he didn’t stand a chance against them. All he could think to do now was to try and reason with them. “…What charges?”

“Deactivate your weapon, and hold your hands out in front of you,” Prowl repeated, ignoring his question.

They were almost upon him now, just an arm’s length away. Scavenger saw no other option but to deactivate his weapon and retract it, then he slowly lifted his arms out in front of him. An energy restraint was placed around both his wrists, and then he was being forced to his knees.

The three Autobots retracted their weapons, and Streetwise stood in front of him. A look of smug satisfaction was written across his face, and he looked down upon the Decepticon as if he were nothing more than useless, filthy scum.

Scavenger looked towards the ground, trying to avert his optics, but felt his head being forced upwards roughly by his chin. He realized it was Streetwise, who was bending down towards him. “Why’d you do it, you worthless piece of slag?” The Protectobot’s voice seemed to be calmer now, slightly more composed than it had been a little earlier, though it belied his true feelings. “What’s a matter with you, can’t answer a simple question, Decepticon?” Streetwise continued. Scavenger remained silent, but this only seemed to encourage the interceptor even more. His optics blazed with vengeance, and in a moment of rage he raised his right fist, and slammed it down hard into the side of Scavenger’s facial plate. The Decepticon was knocked to the ground with the force of the blow.

Prowl instinctively stepped forward to stop the confrontation, but Smokescreen held him back. “Let him do what he needs to do,” he persuaded gently, giving him a look that conveyed much more than any words he spoke. Prowl hesitated, then conceded with some reservation, before slowly stepping away.

Streetwise bent over the Decepticon, and picked him up roughly by his shoulders. His face guard was cracked, and his visor dimmed slightly, before steadying again. “Come on, if you can give it, you should also be able to take it!” Streetwise taunted, and then a powerful left hook sent Scavenger toppling to the ground once again.

Scavenger knew that it was pointless to resist, or to insist upon his innocence, as it would only get the Autobot riled up even more. He couldn’t really blame him, in a way; having just found his team member’s torn and lifeless body lying abandoned somewhere out on the streets – trying to fathom the unbearable torment he must have suffered at the hands of his aggressor – it was only natural that the first thing on Streetwise’s mind would be to take his revenge upon the assumed suspect – particularly when it happened to be a Decepticon.

So he gave up trying to resist and gave in, taking another blow, and then another, and then another, amidst taunts and insults, and accusations, until Prowl finally put a stop to it.

“All right, Streetwise. I think that’s enough for now. Let’s get him back to Headquarters,” he said, then relayed a message over his com link, informing Optimus Prime that they had captured their first Decepticon.

The main Control Center panel beeped, the red emergency light alerting the crew back at Autobot Headquarters. Normally, Prowl would have responded to the incoming call, but the Security Officer had left his post at the end of the duty cycle a short while ago to set up the telemetric points in south Iacon, as Optimus had requested of him.

The Autobot leader, still in the Control room, didn’t think twice to answer it. He pressed the button, and Prowl’s image appeared on the view screen. “This is an emergency. I repeat: this is an emergency. I have an Autobot in need of immediate medical attention. His situation is critical.”

Optimus took immediate action, as protocol demanded of him. The only available emergency vehicle he could despatch at such short notice was Ironhide, who had since left to recharge for the night. He didn’t like to disturb the officers off duty, but an emergency such as this was always the exception to the rule. He looked over to the mech who now occupied Hound’s usual post. “Bluestreak, tell Ironhide to respond to the emergency without delay.”

Bluestreak operated the controls with lightening speed. “Right away, Optimus!” He responded, almost before his Commander had finished conveying the instruction.

The Autobot leader turned back to the main screen. “Prowl, this is Optimus. I’ve sent Ironhide to your location, he’ll be there soon.” He could see the obvious relief on Prowl’s face.

“Streetwise is already in pursuit. I’d like to apprehend whoever did this and bring him in,” Prowl added, and then closed the link without awaiting a response.

Optimus switched off the visual feed, then turned around and walked out of the Control room without saying another word. Bluestreak watched the Prime go, as fearful uncertainty, and curiosity, threatened to overwhelm him.

Optimus was not in the best of moods, and the sudden emergency call did not help matters. Elita One had been on his mind since he had received her recorded message earlier that day; he had tried to locate her in an attempt to talk some reason into her, but she had blocked her signature with a priority one authorization code. Later, he had tried to trace her on a Level 1 com channel, but she had refused to respond, which now left him no other choice but to take further steps to stop, or at least hinder, her unauthorised departure.

If he couldn’t stop her from leaving, then the least he could do was prevent her from taking her crew with her.

He located the femme commander’s first officer with his internal tracking system, and steadfastly made his way through a labyrinth of hallways and elevators until he finally reached the ground floor of the Command Center, and entered the senior officer’s off duty lounge. Startled mechs looked up from what they had been doing in surprise, and straightened respectfully as the Prime walked in, ready to take orders if called upon. But the Prime’s expression and general demeanor spoke of irritation and impatience. “Chromia?” He directed his gaze at the blue femme seated in the far corner. She had been discussing the details of her team’s last mission with Moonracer, another member of the all-femme crew, and looked up in expectation as she heard her name being called.


“May I have a word with you?” He asked, and then added as an afterthought, “Please?”

“Of course,” she replied politely, glanced momentarily at Moonracer, then stood up and walked over to him.

“In private,” Optimus said. He turned around and walked out of the room, not waiting for her response.

Chromia looked over at Moonracer once again, who gave her a perplexed expression, and slight concern, before she followed Optimus outside. “Yes… sir.”

Optimus led her into a side corridor and, satisfied that no one was within hearing range, turned to face her. “Chromia, do you know of Elita One’s whereabouts?” He asked bluntly.

“Uh… no,” Chromia answered slowly. “We’re scheduled to depart in… five mega cycles. She should be in contact with me before then.” She paused, waited for Optimus to tell her what this was all about. He looked deep in thought, troubled. “Optimus… is there something wrong?”

The red and blue mech stiffened, and his voice took on a more authoritative tone. “Elita One intends to depart for Alternity City without prior approval. If she continues on her current course of action, she will be disobeying direct orders. Are you aware of this?”

Chromia’s expression changed to one of mild shock, and then concern. “I… I didn’t know that she was…” She started. “No, I didn’t.” Then added as an afterthought, “Though… knowing her, it’s not surprising.”

“Chromia,” Optimus continued, subdued anger now threatening to surface. “Do you have any idea what this could mean for her, or your crew?”

Chromia knew full well the implications of disobeying direct orders, but was at a loss to know how she might avert such a situation. “Of course…”

“As Commander of the Autobots, it is my responsibility to warn you that if you choose to aid her in any way…” He trailed off, as he considered how best to put this to her. But he didn’t have to finish his sentence.

Chromia nodded reassuringly. “Yes, sir. Of course.” Then added, “I’ll speak with her.”

Optimus nodded, and his large frame relaxed somewhat. “Good. I don’t want to have to strip either of you of your rank, nor would I wish to place your crew under supervision with limited privileges for direct violation of the Autobot Senior Officer code of conduct.”

“Of course, sir. I understand,” she reaffirmed, despite her lack of confidence in her ability to stop Elita. But what else could she tell the Autobot Commander?

Optimus took a step back and, turning to go, added his final say on the matter. “And… you and the rest of your crew are forbidden from leaving Iacon Central, until informed otherwise. It is for your own good. Is that understood?”

Chromia’s optics widened in surprise and her jaw slackened a little as she took this in. Her head nodded in obedience. “Loud and clear…”

Optimus gave her a nod, satisfied with the outcome of their brief dialogue, and walked away, leaving her alone to contemplate the quandary.

‘Please enter your security code.’


‘That code is invalid. Please re-enter your security code.’


‘That code is invalid. Please re-enter your security code.’

“Oh, for the love of Primus,” Arcee exclaimed sotto voce, and input her code one more time. “Zero, two, five… eight, three, three, one, delta…come on… please work.”

Teletraan II repeated the same error message in its usual droll, feminine voice. Arcee sighed, and leaned against the sealed outer doors that led into Iacon Central. Glancing around her, she drew her attention to the sights and sounds of the large exterior of Autobot Headquarters. Every so often, an Autobot would walk past her on his way back to his quarters after his night shift was over, and she felt a tang of regret. Perhaps she had been away for too long, but being here again after more than a vorn made her feel as if she didn’t belong. Since she had arrived here a few breems earlier, she had not been able to recognise a single mech. Strange faces, with terse smiles, would offer her a cursory glance and a curt nod before they briskly continued on their way, their thoughts elsewhere.

Maybe this just wasn’t meant to be.

As she slowly started down the wide steps that led back to the outer platform, she was startled by a voice to her right, one that was strangely familiar. “Hey… is that you… Arcee?”

She turned around to see who the voice belonged to, and a surprised, though agreeable, look appeared on her face when she saw him. “Red Alert?”

“Wow… it is you! Well, I’ll be fragged!” Red quickly placed a hand over his mouth and glanced around him in a mock gesture of embarrassment. “Oops, now that’s no way to talk in the presence of a lady mech. What was I thinking?” He rebuked himself mockingly, then stepped forward and greeted her warmly, taking both her hands in his.

“Red?” She chuckled warmly in response. “Well, it’s great to see you, too. Really…” Her optics lit up in delight. “It’s so nice to see another familiar face again.”

“Well, no one expected you to show up here today. So, what’s up?” Red asked her, intensely curious, then reconsidered. “No, wait, say nothing just yet. I’ll tell you what… join me for some energon, and you can tell me all about it. That is, if you’re not busy right now?”

Arcee smiled in surprise, a little taken aback at his overt friendliness towards her. “Well… oh, okay sure, why not? I was only trying to report in to the Command Center with a dead security code,” she explained exasperatedly, gesturing towards the red backlit control mounted on the large double doors nearby.

Red looked perplexed for a short moment, before realization hit him, and he smiled assuredly. “Oooh, yeah… hey, don’t worry about it. Security changed all the codes... what was it, a couple of stellar cycles ago?” He shrugged, and beckoned for her to make her way back towards the double doors. “Please, after you.”

As Red showed Arcee through the halls and annexes of the Command Center, she looked around in awe, a little dazed. “I can’t believe I’m here… after all this time,” she reminisced aloud, while Red quietly listened as they walked along down a hall lined with metallic, silver sculptures raised on pedestals. She stopped at one of them, and tilted her head up to examine the intricate work of metallic art. She read the plaque at the bottom. Prime Nova. In memorium: First Age of the Primes. Next to it, a similar sculpture indicated its likeness. Sentinel Prime. Matrix bearer: Third Age of the Primes. She reached up to touch the gleaming surface, but then pulled backed uncertainly.

Red had stopped walking, and now turned to watch patiently as she was mesmerised by the figures. He nodded his head in agreement. “Yep… our mighty predecessors, without whose heroic sacrifices we would probably not be here today.”

Arcee turned to look back at him, startled. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I got a little side tracked, and… I’ve never seen these…”

“Ah, that’s okay. Take all the time you want.” He smiled. “They were moved here from storage in Altihex only last stellar cycle,” he explained.

“Oh, I see,” she replied, and continued again down the hall. “I… have so many questions, Red. I don’t know where to begin.”

Red strode alongside her. “Well, how about… wherever you like?” He offered encouragingly, after some thought.

Arcee smiled sheepishly at him, considering his offer. “Okay… what about… how have you changed so much?”

Red wavered momentarily, then tilted his head in contemplation. “Who, me?”

“Yes. I mean, not in a bad way,” she assured him. “But you do seem different, somehow. I don’t know.” She shrugged, and her optics met his.

“Well, you know, the Great War changed a lot of us…” He offered.

She nodded. “Hmm, that’s very true.” They continued walking a little further, until they finally arrived at another, smaller set of double doors. There was a plaque overhead, inscribed with Cybertronian letters: Maintenance and Repair Bay of Central Iacon.

Red input his security code, and the doors opened. “This way.” He led them inside, as the automatic overhead lights were activated.

Arcee’s gaze widened in bewilderment, and then she looked over quizzically at Red. “Are you going to tell me why you’ve brought me to the Repair Bay, or do you just enjoy keeping me guessing?”

Red laughed, and shook his head. “Nah. You’ll never guess,” he said, grinning. “Acting Chief Medical Officer, at your service,” he introduced himself, and extended his hand in a mock gesture of greeting.

“No… seriously?” Arcee started, genuinely surprised. “My, haven’t we come a long way?”

“Thank you,” Red replied, unable to hide his sense of pride. “Actually, it’s only been a few days… but still. Oh, I’ll be right back.” He said, and walked over to the back room, disappearing momentarily out of sight. When he returned, he was holding two canisters of energon in his hands. He offered one to her.

“Thank you,” she said, and took the canister. She opened the seal and took a sip.

“It’s the good stuff, you know.” Red affirmed, and swallowed a mouthful of the liquid from his own canister.

“I can tell.”

He could see that she was impressed, as a look of approval appeared on her face. “So… what could have possibly brought you to the greatest and mightiest of all Autobot cities?” He asked with emphasis, waving his arms outwards. “The grand and majestic Iacon Central, after all this time?”

“Well…” she began. “I guess, with all the stuff that’s been going on. I came back to offer my help. I heard they’re recruiting trackers, so I thought… why not?”

“Trackers?” Red pondered this information, a little unsure. “Oh! Yeah… that’s right. Yeah, you’ll probably need to speak to Hound about that; he handles that kind of stuff.”

Arcee nodded. “Oh, okay, great.” She fell silent, an awkward moment between them.

“Although… if you don’t mind me saying so, Arcee, I think you’d be better suited to something a little different,” Red finally replied.

“Oh… such as?” She asked, curious.

Red let out a deep breath. “Oh, well, I don’t know. Maybe artillery, or even surveillance –” He began, but was stopped, then, from making any further suggestions by the sudden beeping from his com unit. “Huh, wonder who that could be?” He said, and shrugged. “Excuse me a moment.” He activated the com link. “This is Red Alert.”

A voice crackled over the link, and he waited patiently for the mech on the other end of the line to speak. “Prowl here. Red, standby; an emergency vehicle is on its way to you. We have an Autobot casualty in critical condition.” A pause, and then, “Prepare for emergency procedures.”

Red’s optics lit up in nervous expectation. “Standing by. What is the nature of the emergency?”

The voice on the other end answered him again. “Multiple injuries… several missing internal components… victim unresponsive.” The link went dead momentarily, then came back online. “Red? You’d best just see for yourself. Prowl out.” Red closed the com link, then slowly turned towards Arcee, his thoughts racing at a million miles an hour in anticipation of the incoming emergency.

Arcee stepped back a little. “I… I’d better get going…” she started, not wanting to get in the way of something serious, and turned to leave.

Red was jolted out of his thoughts. “No! Wait… please. Stay.”  He called out after her, and then burst into action, pulling forth an operating table from a wall recess, and connecting up various monitors and equipment in preparation for his incoming casualty. She turned questioningly towards him. “I might need your help,” he continued.

“My help?” She repeated, confused. “But I… I’m not authorised–”

“I’ll instruct you, don’t worry,” Red interjected quickly, as he busied himself around the repair bay, retrieving tools and other equipment. “Just trust me, okay?”

Arcee stood there uncertainly, but then nodded in agreement. “Okay.” She watched him work, and then began following his lead. “What do you need me to do?”


Chapter 4 by Crystine

Transformers: Heroes

Chapter 4


“Prowl wasn’t kidding,” was Red’s first thought as he glanced down at the Autobot lying motionless upon the operating table, getting a good look at him for the first time since he had been brought into the med bay only a few seconds ago. He looked up at Arcee. “He doesn’t look good. The first thing we need to do is get him stabilised. Make sure he doesn’t lose any more vital fluids.” He said quickly, as he moved around the table connecting various cables and monitors to the off-lined Autobot. He bent down to get a better look at Groove’s condition, assessing the extent of his injuries, while making a mental note of what repairs were required, in order from most urgent to least. He began disconnecting various components and removing damaged panels.

“Is he going to be okay?” Arcee asked, concern in her voice.

Red looked at her, then back to his patient, but didn’t answer her question. Instead, he began searching for one of his instruments. “Pass me the probe,” he said instead, and Arcee pointed to a small, sharp-looking instrument on a nearby side table. “No – that one over there.”

“This one?”

“Yes.” He grasped the tool from her as she offered it, all the while remaining focused upon the patient.

They were quiet for some time, as Red Alert worked on Groove’s chest area. “Arcee?” He said, finally, looking up at the pink and white femme. She had been attentively standing by, watching his every move, fascinated by his work. Red looked around the med bay, and then pointed towards a storage unit across the room. “He needs a new power core. You’ll find them over there.”

Arcee hurried over to where he was pointing, opened the storage panel, and retrieved a cylindrical unit. She walked back over and carefully handed it to him. “He was missing his power core?” She asked, a little surprised.

Red began positioning the unit into the receptacle inside Groove’s chest. “Yeah,” he said in disbelief. “And a whole lot of other components as well.” He shook his head, trying to comprehend what had happened to him. He looked over at one of the monitors, studied the read-outs that were moving slowly across the screen. He initialized the power core, keeping his optics steadily on the monitor. Groove’s body reacted with a jolt, then lay motionless once again. “Slag…” Red said softly to himself, then attempted the same thing again; still the same response. He sighed in frustration, and gently removed the power core, examining it.

“Should we try another one?” Arcee asked him, hopeful yet uncertain.

He paused, inhaled deeply, and slowly shook his head. “No, that won’t help. There’s nothing wrong with this one.” He paused in concentration. What had he missed? Why wasn’t the power core linking in with Groove’s systems? Then he had an idea. It was an unlikely explanation, but then again, this did appear to be a highly unusual case.

He picked up the probe and carefully searched for a small groove behind the power core receptacle. After a few moments, he retracted the probe. It was as he feared; the small recess was empty. He slowly straightened, placed the probe to one side. A look of concern came across his face.

“Is he going to be alright?” Arcee asked. Red Alert turned to face her, unsure of how he was going to explain the situation to her. He didn’t want to worry the femme, but Groove’s condition was serious. “Red?”

“He’s in a stable condition, for now. But without his Primary Systems Link, he’s not going to be able to accept a new power core.” She listened quietly as he explained the problem. “We can keep him on external power support, but his spark chamber will be isolated and without a backup source.”

“Can we replicate a new one for him?” Arcee suggested, thinking back to her days at the Academy, long ago, when she had received a rudimentary run-down of emergency repair procedures.

Red Alert shook his head in resignation. “No… a primary systems link can’t be replicated that easily. It’s like a spark chamber; no two are exactly alike – once it’s gone, it’s almost impossible to replace.”

“So… that’s it? We can’t do anything more for him?” Arcee stared down at the damaged Autobot, and a sudden feeling of sadness engulfed her. Red remained silent. “How could a mech do this to him?... I mean, why would they?” She asked in a soft voice, almost whispering.

“I don’t know, Arcee.” Red replied in controlled anger, though she understood that his anger was not directed at her. He hated feeling this helpless, and he wished that there were something more he could do for Groove. His systems had been stabilised, and he was now connected to life support, but it wouldn’t be enough. Red took a deep breath, looked up towards the ceiling for a long moment, and then started to walk towards the main doors. “Come on, let’s get out of here,” he said to her, and she quietly followed him out of the med bay.

During the early hours of the next day, there was much commotion outside the main Conference Room. Autobots and a few Neutrals from various stations around the Command Centre had gathered there, demanding to know more about last night’s attack, and maybe even get a good look at the Decepticon responsible.

“Alright, now why don’t you all just back off a little? Give us a bit of room,” Ironhide was saying, amidst the excited cacophony of voices that were now all speaking at once. Prowl stood next to him, arms crossed, trying to keep the growing crowd from encroaching upon them, but to no avail.

“Is he going to make it?” A voice called out from the crowd, inquiring about Groove’s condition.

“Justice must be served! Let’s find them all and take ‘em out, one by one!” A tall mech at the back of the crowd called out, his fist in the air. The crowd cheered in agreement, and the bustling and shouting grew more intense. “The Decepticons won’t stand a chance!” More cheers from the crowd.

“Now… wait just a nanosecond,” Ironhide was telling the assembled mechs, yelling over the top of them. “We’ve no doubt that justice will be served-”

“What of the victim? Is he going to be okay?” Another voice cut in, anxious, and the crowd quietened to hear what Ironhide had to say.

“I’m sure Groove’s going to be just fine. Why, he’s in good hands, don’t you worry too much about him,” he replied, trying to sound confident.

But the crowd wasn’t satisfied with his answer, and resumed their shouting and questioning all at once.

Down the hall, Ironhide could see two bots approaching and, when he realized that the taller one was Red Alert, he let out a sigh of relief. “Ah, Red’s here. Thank Primus.”

“Hey, now, that Arcee?” Jazz said, turning his head in the direction of the hallway. He smiled, pushed his way towards them. “Hey, Arcee! Long time, no see! Heh heh,” he greeted her warmly, and she returned his welcome.

“It’s great to see you again, Jazz.” Arcee looked around delightedly and greeted each of them in turn, old friends who were happy, albeit surprised, to see her again.

Jazz then nodded towards Red Alert. “So, how’s our patient doing, Red?”

Red’s expression was serious, and he shook his head slowly, not daring to speak too loudly lest the Autobots in the crowd should overhear him and start a riot. “Who are we waiting on?” Red said instead, changing the topic.

“Prime,” Jazz responded, then gestured towards the hallway. “And speaking of the devil, here he comes now.”

Red turned to look behind him and saw the tall, red and blue Autobot leader steadily approaching them. Optimus stopped in front of the gathering, and then turned his head towards the unexpected visitor. “Arcee... good to have you back.” He acknowledged, and she smiled gratefully in return, but he offered her nothing further. His mind was on more important matters.

Prowl opened the door to the Conference Room and allowed the small group of waiting Autobots inside before the door sealed closed again, safely separating them from the angry throng outside.

They all took their seats, and waited patiently for Prime to commence the meeting. Arcee had been allowed to join them at the last minute, on Red’s recommendation. Also present, in addition to Ironhide, Prowl, and Jazz, was Hound. Ratchet was notably absent.

“Red, what’s Groove’s condition?” Optimus began, sounding almost cold, distant.

Red took a deep intake of air. “He’s in a stable condition, but he’s hooked up to an external power source.” Red paused, and looked towards Arcee, then back to the Prime. “Without his primary link, he’s not going to last long.”

Optimus sat back slowly, processing this information. The others in the room shared a common expression of concern and compassion for their off-lined comrade. “How long does he have without it?”

Red Alert let out another deep breath, shaking his head. “I’d say one month, at best; after that, the best we can do is put him into semi-permanent stasis.” Red paused, wanting to give them some sort of hope, but he could think of nothing else. “Without that component, we can’t help him.”

Optimus nodded in understanding, and then turned to Prowl. “Is there any chance that we can get that component?”

“We checked the entire area where Groove was found. If it had been left behind, we would have retrieved it by now.” The Chief of Security reported, trying to ignore his own feelings of disappointment and despair, which were starting to threaten the stability of his normal reasoning.

“Has Scavenger been questioned? Perhaps he knows where it is,” Prime continued.

Prowl shook his head. “He hasn’t spoken a word since we brought him here,” he explained. “He’s refusing to talk.”

“I see,” Optimus returned, and then fell quiet as he weighed up their options.

Ironhide leaned forward, his right fist making contact with the conference table. “Why, that’s no problem at all. I can get him to talk, if you’ll let me, Prime!” His voice was angry, frustrated.

“Thank you, Ironhide. I’m sure that none of us here doubt that,” Optimus responded. “However, a slightly different approach might be worth a shot.” They all looked back at him expectantly. Optimus nodded towards Jazz.

The First Lieutenant gave him a knowing look. “Only too glad to oblige,” he replied, smiling confidently, then said no more.

“Good.” Optimus looked back at the others. “In the meantime, Hound; transmit a planet-wide broadcast to all Decepticons giving them two options: surrender willingly, or risk permanent deactivation. Their recent acts of hostility against the Alliance can no longer be tolerated.”

Hound appeared deep in thought, a little shocked. “Ah, Prime?”

“Yes, Hound?”

“Are you sure you want to do that? A prior warning might give them enough time to find a way of escape…” The green tracker pointed out.

“I agree with Hound,” Ironhide added, “For once. Wouldn’t it be better if we just took them without warning?”

Optimus nodded. “Maybe so, however; they may also think twice before they decide to attack another innocent Autobot.”

The assembled officers contemplated his reasoning, and quietly agreed.

After a few moments, Red Alert broke the silence. “Oh, sir? May I make a small request?”

“Go ahead.”

Red looked towards Arcee. “In Ratchet’s absence, I’d like to officially bring Arcee on board as my assistant.”

The femme was speechless; her optics widened in surprise, and she placed a hand over her mouth. This had come as a total shock to her, but Red only smiled.

Optimus thought on it for a moment, and then made his decision. “Granted.” He looked around the conference table at each of them, and then stood up from his seat. “Now, is there anything else?” No one replied. “Good. Keep me updated, all of you,” and, without further ado, Optimus exited the room.

After the meeting at the Subterranean Base, Astro had tailed Rook for quite some time, following him and watching his every move from a safe distance, until, finally, Rook was alone.

The former Decepticon had just finished compiling a detailed personnel report for Jhiaxus, and was now headed to the Second-in-Command’s quarters with the intention of handing it to him. As he was making his way down the long, gloomy corridor, solid steel and rock all around, he was startled by someone calling out his name in a harsh whisper. “Rook! Rook!

Rook stopped walking and glanced around. “Who is that?” He called out uncertainly.

“Rook! Over here.” The voice called out again, and Rook turned towards its direction. Astro stepped out from the shadows, his tall, blue frame only half-visible.

“Oh, it’s you…” Rook said, looking somewhat relieved. “What do you want? I’m busy.”

Astro stepped closer, until he stood in front of Rook. He held a laser pistol casually in his right hand; it was pointing down towards the floor.

The green and white colored mech took a small step backwards, staring at the pistol. “What do you think you’re doing with that?” Rook slowly lifted his hand with the intention of activating his com unit, but Astro stopped him. The gun moved towards his head, and Rook spread his hands out in a gesture that communicated his willingness to back down.

“You are coming with me,” Astro said simply, and reached forward to grab Rook’s arm. Rook struggled in his grip, tried to push him away, but it was no use; Astro was larger and significantly stronger than he was. He led Rook back down the hall in the opposite direction.

“Will you at least tell me where we’re going?” Rook asked, obviously annoyed.

“Just keep walking, and don’t stop until I tell you.”

Scavenger sat motionless in his holding cell, somewhere deep underground within the heart of Autobot territory, restraints still secured around his wrists and lower legs. He didn’t know exactly where he was, and his internal com link to his team members did not seem to be working. He was essentially alone and unable to contact anyone for help; nor had he any way of letting them know what had happened to him, or where they might find him. The small, darkened cell gave him an intense feeling of loneliness, and an overwhelming despair had enveloped him from the moment he had been forced down here through the connecting tunnels.

He could see a number of holding cells adjacent to his own, as well as some across the hallway, but they were all empty. As far as he could tell, there was not another living spark around; even the Autobots refused to spend any time here if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

Prowl had attempted to interrogate him earlier, when they had first brought him down here, but he had remained quiet, refusing to answer any of his questions, and the Security Chief soon gave up. He had been grateful for the fact that Streetwise had not been with him, particularly after he had already taken the liberty to exact some punishment upon him for his alleged crime, and Scavenger had no doubt that he would be more than willing to do so all over again. He had guessed that he would be blamed for attacking that Protectobot in Iacon’s south late last night, and he had guessed correctly.

In the deathly quiet of his underground prison, Scavenger heard the sound of footsteps approaching, and he became anxious. Had they sent someone else down here, to try and extract information from him; this time, perhaps, with a little more persuasion? He didn’t know if he would be able to stay strong and resist their efforts, should his captors resort to unreasonable, even perverse, means. The last thing he wanted to do was to betray the Decepticons, or his team mates, and… if it had to come down to it – if his Autobot captors left him with no other choice – he would sacrifice himself for the cause. But he hoped that it would never come to that.

So, when he saw Jazz, the Autobots’ Special Operations Team Leader, emerging from the shadows in the hallway, he did not know what to make of his unexpected visit.

He had met Jazz briefly a few times in the past, when their paths had crossed during some clash or another between their two factions, but he had to admit that he didn’t know a lot about him; he usually made it a point not to get to know any of the Autobots on a personal level, as he believed that it was much safer that way.

He watched Jazz carefully, without moving his head, as the Autobot disengaged the cell’s energy bars, stepped inside, and reactivated them again. The thought of taking this opportunity to escape had momentarily crossed his mind, but then he thought better of it. Even if he were able to move freely and overpower the Autobot, he doubted very much that he would be able to get very far once outside the cell. This was a high security facility, designed to prevent even the most dangerous of mechs from escaping. Not even Unicron himself would be able to find a way out.

Finally, Jazz spoke to him, placed a canister of liquid on the bench beside him. “I brought you some of the good stuff. Thought you may need it…”

Scavenger remained motionless, making no effort to accept, or even acknowledge, the generous offering. It was true that he was low on fuel, and he could have done with a refill right about now, but he didn’t trust the Autobot’s motives.

Jazz caught on, and tried to reassure him. “Look… I’m not here to torment you, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m not into treating prisoners unfairly.” Jazz watched him intently, but the Decepticon’s optics remained hidden beneath the red visor he wore, and his face guard covered the rest, so he was unable to read him easily. “Alright then, suit yourself. I’ll tell you what, though – I’ll leave it here for you, anyways; just in case you change your mind.” He said, indicating the can of energon. Scavenger did not respond, nor did he react at all.

Jazz moved slowly towards the bench, and sat down on the opposite end. He did not want to alarm the prisoner, or give him any reason to mistrust him more than he already did. “You know… if it helps, we could talk about what happened last night. No pressure, o’ course,” Jazz said, speaking in his usual, easy-going and friendly manner. No response. Jazz sat there quietly, intent upon the prisoner; he was in no hurry, and had nowhere else to be right now. “You know… things should never have gone this far,” he said, rather unexpectedly, an unusual truth which had emerged from somewhere deep within his spark. It didn’t matter that the mech he happened to be sharing it with was one of the enemy. And, with no one else around to hear them, what difference would it truly make, anyway? He continued. “I mean, the whole… war between our factions.” He paused, studied the Decepticon carefully. “Heh… I mean, look at us Autobots. Here we are…” He indicated with his arms, spreading them out in a gesture of mock grandeur. “Champions… ultimate freedom fighters… yeah, that’s us, alright – the heroic Autobots… all safe and secure in our ivory tower, and what have we to show for it all? I mean, sure, we got our freedom… and I guess that’s all that matters.” He turned to look at Scavenger again. He hadn’t moved, but Jazz could tell that he was listening; Jazz had a sort of intuition about such things, if a bot could call it that.

“I remember once, during the Great War… two of us, we’d just been hit by an incoming, out along near the escarpment that divides the Kaon city state into two. I’d called for back up… he’d been hit pretty bad, but those missiles just kept coming at us, and I was sure that that night would be the night we’d both be finally meeting our maker.” Jazz leaned back against the cell wall, recalling that night from his memory banks. “But then… something happened… and for the life of me I still can’t explain it to this day. Something appeared in the distance, far above us… some type of jets, they were; it looked like they were redirecting those missiles away from us...  and at first I thought it might be the Aerialbots come to rescue us. I tried to signal them, scanned their signatures.”

Jazz leaned forward, thinking carefully about his next few words. “And that’s when I realized that they weren’t ‘bots at all. They were Decepticons.” The holding cell fell into silence, and Jazz turned to look at the prisoner. The only reaction he got from him was a subtle tilt of his head towards Jazz. “I never included it in my report, you know, and my partner had been too heavily damaged at the time to have even noticed them.” He smiled to himself, but more in disbelief at the memory of that day than for any other reason.

Jazz carefully watched Scavenger’s reaction. He looked so defeated and alone, sitting here now, that he couldn’t help but feel empathy for him, no matter what he may have done. “From that day on, I always figured that I owed you guys one,” Jazz continued. “That someday, I’d find the opportunity to repay that gesture – whether it had been intentional or not.” Jazz shrugged. “Like I said, I never did find out exactly who or why, but if it hadn’t been for those ‘Cons that day, we would have surely ended up on the scrap heap.” A long moment passed in silence.

Jazz slowly stood up, and headed towards the exit. “Well, I guess I better be going,” he said, and deactivated the cell bars. As he stepped outside into the hall, he thought he heard Scavenger say something, but his voice had been too low for him to hear. He turned back towards him.

The Decepticon was looking up, and Jazz sensed a reserved desperation. He spoke again, pleading, clearer this time. “I didn’t do it…”

“He did what?” Elita’s voice blared over her private com link. “Chromia, how could you let him do that?”

“He gave me no choice! What else was I supposed to do?” Chromia replied, exasperated. She had headed back to her quarters almost an hour ago, where she had anxiously awaited her captain and best friend to contact her.

Elita gave a sigh from the other end. “Oh, I don’t know.” A long pause followed, and then, “Look, are you with me or not?”

The blue femme was distraught. “I can’t, Elita. I’ll be disobeying direct orders... That’s a serious offence.”

“You think I don’t know that?” returned the leader class femme, her frustration obvious. Chromia listened, but didn’t reply straight away. Instead, she simply allowed her best friend to continue speaking. “I heard about what happened last night. It proves my point – things are only going to get worse, and no one in Command’s doing anything about it!” Another long pause.

“You could have told me, you know…” Chromia said finally.

The com link was quiet, and then, “Yeah… well. I didn’t want to get any of the crew into trouble, that’s all.”

“Elita… this is crazy. I mean – where will you go? And what if you get into some sort of trouble? Who’s going to help you, then?” The line was quiet on the other end, and Chromia began to wonder whether she had said the wrong thing.

There was a sigh. “I’m departing in two breems. If you’re not here by then… I’ll just have to leave without you.” A slight pause, and then the line disconnected.

Jazz stepped back into the holding cell and reactivated the energy bars. They appeared instantly behind him. He walked back towards the bench, sat down once more. This time, the prisoner was tracking him, his optical sensors remaining locked upon him.

In all truth, Jazz had not expected such a confession, and he was taken aback by it. He wasn’t aware of any Autobot, including Prowl, or even Optimus himself, who had even considered the possibility that this Decepticon may actually be innocent of the accusations that had been made against him. Could it be true? He took his time, and then looked towards him, matching his gaze, studying him.

There was always the possibility that Scavenger had lied to him, of course; his only motivation being to escape, which was understandable in his situation, and Jazz was well aware of this. Despite the possibility, however, he had a strong sense that he had told the truth, and Jazz was not about to simply disregard this inner knowing, regardless of how unlikely, or impossible, the circumstances might appear otherwise. It was this very sense that had seen him safely through many difficult situations in the past, and he wasn’t about to ignore it now.

“You saw what happened?” He asked.

Scavenger remained motionless, silent, and then turned his head away, looking down at the cold, metallic floor of the holding cell. He was still for a long while, before he replied in a quiet voice. “No,” he said.

But what Jazz had heard instead was, ‘Yes’.

Whatever it was that he had witnessed last night, he was refusing to even talk about it. Perhaps he was afraid to; perhaps, he didn’t want to tattle on his comrades. Or, perhaps…

Jazz wasn’t sure, but he did intend to get to the bottom of it, whatever the truth may be.

“Well, that’s too bad. Groove’s in pretty bad shape. Whoever did it… they knew what they were doing,” Jazz explained, as Scavenger listened quietly.

After a few long moments, Scavenger spoke up again, changing the topic. “What’s going to happen… to us?”

The black and white Autobot watched him closely. “‘Us’? Oh, you mean… the Decepticons?” Scavenger remained still, not saying anything further, but waited for Jazz to answer him. He couldn’t lie; the Decepticons were not in a good position and, in his view, their future did not seem promising. He shrugged, took a deep breath. “I really can’t say for sure…” he started, and then his expression turned to one of regret. “But, I want you to know… that I don’t think it’s right.” No response, but he continued, regardless. “Like I said before, this whole thing’s just gotten way out of hand.”

There was another long pause, and then Scavenger leaned his head back against the cell wall. He spoke once more. “If… I never see ‘em again, could you tell ‘em that… that I’m sorry.”

Jazz realized that he was talking about his fellow Constructicons. “Hey, probably won’t ever come to that, now,” Jazz said, trying to lighten the mood, but it was a weak cover, and they both knew it. The situation did seem to be all but hopeless. “I tell you what… I’ll try to put in a good word for you, and maybe it won’t be as bad as all that.” That was the best he could offer him, for now.

Scavenger continued to sit there in silence, unmoving, non-responsive, as Jazz left him alone again in the cell.

Astro led Rook all the way out to the Base’s main space port, making sure they weren’t seen, then, looking around at the various cruisers that were sheltered there, he found one that he liked. “Come on,” he ordered Rook, and forced him towards a sleek, black warship, gun still pointed at his back.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Rook challenged angrily, when he saw Astro entering a high level security code on the black warship’s access panel. “This ship belongs to Jhiaxus! He’s going to melt you to scrap if he finds out you’ve been anywhere near it!”

“He’ll have to catch us first,” Astro replied calmly, as the ship’s main hatch suddenly slid open.

“How did you get that code?” Rook asked him accusingly, astonished.

Astro ignored him, forced him inside the ship, and then sealed the door closed again. As he was about to turn back to Rook, the smaller mech pushed him against the wall, and then frantically tried to reopen the hatch.

Quickly recovering from the sudden move, Astro grabbed Rook by the shoulders and forced him away with a strength that completely overwhelmed him. Rook was thrown hard against the floor of the cruiser. Astro redirected his gun towards him, standing over him.

“Why… why are you doing this?” Rook pleaded with him, his voice apprehensive, back flat against the floor.

The taller mech bent down towards him, and then offered him a hand up, but Rook refused it. Instead, he slowly started to get up on his own.

Astro lowered his pistol. “We’re getting out of here,” was all he said. He walked over to the command platform, and powered up the cruiser. Lights and various control terminals whirred to life in response.

“Yes… I can see that,” Rook replied. “But, why?

Astro seemed very reluctant to shed any light about his intentions. “You’ll thank me later,” was all he said.

Rook grew ever more exasperated. “You’re crazy. You want to get us both killed! That’s it, isn’t?” Astro ignored him, so he tried a different tactic. “All right, how about this: let me off this cruiser, at once!” Rook was seething with anger.

Astro busied himself with the controls, initiating the cruiser’s engines and programming the navigational system. “Just keep quiet, and make yourself useful.”

“I won’t cooperate with you at all until you tell me what the frag is going on!” Rook continued, raising his voice, stepping in between Astro and the ship’s defence console until he was right in his face.

Astro sighed, stepped away from him. “All right, have it your way,” he replied. He walked back to the main platform and took the captain’s chair. “Here’s how thing’s are going to play out.”

Rook seemed to back down a little, happy at least to be getting some sort of information out of the mysterious mechanoid.

Astro continued. “You and I are going to be picking up another passenger. We’ll have to find him first, however; and you’re going to help me do that.” Rook could only look at him now, dumbfounded.

“Then, once he is safely on board, we’ll depart for Cybertron,” he continued, and then paused, waited for Rook’s incredulous response. He got it.

“You are crazy,” Rook said, convinced beyond any doubt. “Who the frag are you?”

“That’s not important. The real question is… who are you?” Astro threw back at him.

“Who am I? Who am I?” Rook threw his hands up in the air in a gesture of incredulousness. “I’ll tell you who I am! I’m Rook; personal assistant to Jhiaxus, the Second-in-Command to the one and only, Most High Commander of Alternity City. And if you don’t let me go – right now – I’m going to be your worst nightmare!”

Astro appeared to be completely unamused by Rook’s emotional outburst. Instead, he replied slowly, “That’s not who you are.”

Rook stared at him blankly, disbelieving, and then decided to give in. “Alright, Astro. I’ll tell you what. I’ll play along. Let’s see where this goes. And then, you can let me go. Deal?” Rook offered.

Astro shook his head. “No deal.” Rook bowed his head, not sure what else he could do. He was being held against his will by a mad-mech who planned to transport them both all the way back to Cybertron in a stolen cruiser. He finally sat back down on the floor, head in his hands in defeat, as Astro gently guided the cruiser out of the space port.

Jazz sat alone in the main recreational area, which was located on the ground floor right in the heart of the Command Centre. He appeared to be overly introspective, and quite unlike his usual self.

“Hey, Jazz?” A soft voice called out to him, and he was startled out of his reverie.

He looked up. “Arcee,” he greeted her, trying to sound as upbeat as possible, but failing.

“Mind if I join you?” She asked, indicating the empty chair at his table.

“Be my guest,” Jazz replied, offering her the seat. “So, how’s the patient?”

She sighed. “His condition hasn’t changed. We’re still trying to figure out how to help him.” She sounded solemn, distraught. Then she changed the subject. “It’s great to be back…” she said, and smiled. When he didn’t respond, she tried again. “Want to talk about it?”


“Whatever’s troubling you, Jazz. I might have been gone a long time, but you’re just as easy to read as you’ve ever been. You don’t fool me.” She reached out a hand, placed it on one of his. “I’ve always hated seeing you this way.”

Jazz sighed, conceded. She was right. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to talk about it. “Heh… it’s nothing. Maybe the attack on Groove last night… hit me a little harder than I expected, you know?”

Arcee nodded with compassion, retracting her hand. “I feel even worse for Streetwise, and the rest of the Protectobots.”

Jazz leaned forward, clasped his hands together in thought. “How’re they taking it?”

She shook her head. “Not well.” Jazz nodded in understanding. “In fact, they were furious,” she continued. “They sought an expedited verdict, and have just been granted their request for the Decepticon’s permanent deactivation, first thing tomorrow-”

“Hey, now, hold on just a minute… they did what?” Jazz looked at her in shock, clearly unnerved by the news. His voice became irritated, almost angry, and his expression turned cold.

Arcee drew back a little in concern, puzzled. “I’m… sorry, Jazz. I–”

Jazz stood up suddenly. “’Scuse me,” he said, and walked out of the rec room without turning back.


When he reached the Control Room, several bots were already present, talking amongst themselves.

“Ah… Jazz, I was just about to send for you,” the Autobot Commander greeted him. Beside him stood Prowl, Ironhide, and two of the Protectobots; Streetwise, and their leader, Hot Spot.

Jazz dispensed with any greetings, which was very unlike his usual, cheery self.  “Just when were you planning on telling me?” He said, looking towards Optimus and Hot Spot. They returned expressions of confusion, so he decided to clarify the issue. “You’ve all decided to become judge, jury, and executioner, all of a sudden?”

“Jazz...” Optimus began, realization hitting him. Though he still wasn’t exactly sure why his First Lieutenant should be so upset.

“Hey! Have you seen the condition Groove’s in? And it’s no thanks to that piece of Decepticon scum!” Hot Spot interjected, raising his voice in anger. He was far taller and more heavily built than Jazz, but this didn’t seem to intimidate the head of Special Operations. “As far as we’re all concerned, he’s better off dead!”

“That right?” Jazz shot back. “You speak for all here, then?” No one said anything, unsure what to make of Jazz’s unusual reaction. “Well?” He repeated, looking at each of them in turn. “Prowl?” The Security officer looked down toward the floor, unwilling to meet Jazz’s gaze. “Ironhide…?” He turned to Ironhide, who looked back at him, a grim expression on his face.

“You’re not supposed to be siding with them, Jazz!” Ironhide challenged, a little angry himself at Jazz’s unexpected accusations.

“I ain’t siding with them, Ironhide. All I’m saying is that every mech deserves a fair trial, no matter who they are.”

“Decepticons deserve what they get!” Ironhide retorted, retribution evident in his tone.

Jazz ignored him. “Prime… just give me a little more time. I can find out what happened to Groove.”

Optimus let out a small sigh, inaudible. “I can’t, Jazz. It’s already been decided.”

All optics were now on Jazz, silently questioning him, as if he were being accused of attempting to deprive them of the justice that they so desperately sought. “What’s… been decided, exactly?” Jazz did not want to ask this, but he needed to know for sure; in the unlikely event Arcee had been misinformed.

Prowl informed him of the decision, as calmly and unemotionally as he was able. “The prisoner is to undergo a permanent deactivation.” So, it was true.

Jazz fell quiet. He knew how a permanent deactivation was usually carried out – he had had the misfortune of witnessing one first hand – and was well aware of how cruel and excruciating they actually were. In fact, the term ‘permanent deactivation’ was misleading; it was a procedure that had originally been designed as a form of elaborate punishment. The deactivated victim was subjected to a methodical extraction of every vital component within his structure, essentially pulling him apart piece by piece, in the most painful way possible, until all that remained was the tormented spark encased within its chamber; a prison that it would have to endure for the rest of eternity. Not many mechs knew what the procedure actually involved, nor had they ever seen one being performed. “When…?” he asked in a low voice.

“At five hundred tomorrow,” Prowl said simply.

Jazz turned to Optimus again, beseeching him. “Prime, this is wrong…” His anger had disappeared now; it had been replaced by regret. “There’s got to be some other way.”

But the faces around him stared back resolutely, and mixed emotions of anger, resentment, and apprehension strongly pervaded the room.

“Jazz...” Optimus said again, trying to get him to see things differently. “I have no choice-”

But Jazz was too disheartened, too disappointed, to hear him out. “This isn’t who we are,” he said simply, shaking his head. “It isn’t who we are,” he repeated, and walked away.

A few minutes after the Avenger had been scheduled to depart, Chromia found Elita One sitting in the captain’s chair of the war cruiser, staring out the main view screen. The ship was powered down, and the only source of illumination was the emergency backup lighting. The Co-Commander was alone.

“Elita?” Chromia called from behind her as she approached. There was no response. “Elita?” She called again, more loudly, but Elita remained unmoving. “What happened?” Chromia asked her, as she came to stand in front of her. “I thought you were leaving?” Chromia looked around the dim ship in disbelief.

Elita had her hands clasped together; chin resting on top, elbows leaning on the console in front of her. She looked deep in thought, yet her expression gave none of her thoughts away. Finally, she looked up at Chromia. “Not without my crew,” she said simply.

The blue femme looked at her exasperatedly. “But… I thought you said…”

Elita sighed. “I know what I said…” She shook her head slowly, leaned back in her chair. She looked up at her second-in-command, palms facing upward in a shrug. “You were right. I’ll need a crew – my crew – if I’m going to do this at all.”

There was a noise behind them, and they turned to see where it was coming from; Firestar, a red colored femme, and Moonracer, a green one, had boarded the ship. The latest arrivals came no closer when they saw the two of them up on the command platform.

“Firestar… Moonracer?” The blue femme inquired, unsure why they had come here. They must have followed her.

The red femme gave them a small shrug. “A captain needs her crew.” Moonracer was grinning. They had been informed of Elita’s plan, though Chromia had relayed to them the direct orders from Command; that they were not to assist her in any way, and that they were to remain at Iacon.

Chromia looked at the two of them in surprise, and then concern. “Do you know what you’re risking, just by being here?” She admonished them.

“Well, sure,” Moonracer replied, excited. “But where’s the fun in obeying stuffy orders?”

The second-in-command was speechless. She didn’t quite believe that Moonracer understood the full implications of what they were doing. “Firestar?” She asked, hoping that she would speak more sense.

“Sorry, Chrome,” the red femme said, “but I agree with Moonracer… this time.” Moonracer gave her a poke in mock hurt. “Come on, let’s get this ship off the ground,” she said, ignoring the green femme, and headed for the navigational console, as Moonracer followed behind, a skip in her step.

Chromia looked back towards Elita One in bewilderment, and then gave her a shrug. “Well, it looks like… we don’t have a choice.” Then, she started towards the navigational array, helping Firestar initialize the engines and set course for their destination. “We’re all crazy,” she said, astonished, shaking her head.

Moonracer giggled. “I know, right?”

The ship’s systems burst into life, and the engines hummed steadily in the background. Elita One slowly stood up, and watched her crew as they guided the ship off its launch platform and into Cybertronian space. She couldn’t be more proud of them as she was now, or more afraid for them.

“Alternity City, here we come,” she said quietly, and smiled to herself.

The next duty cycle was slowly approaching, though most mechs were still in recharge.

Jazz had remained in his quarters after the confrontation in the Control Room, but had found himself unable to go into recharge mode. Then, when Optimus came to see him, he did nothing to stop him from entering his quarters. The Prime closed the door behind him.

“Jazz…” He began. “I owe you an apology. You were right; I should have said something to you earlier.”

Jazz looked at him resignedly. “Nah, no need for that. Like you said; you had no choice.”

Optimus slowly walked over, took a seat opposite him. “The High Council decided that it would be the most appropriate course of action, considering what he’s done… and, it may deter similar incidents from occurring in future.”

Jazz nodded slowly. “And you agreed with them, just like that? Just… let them make the judgment call without considering all the evidence?” Accusation was underlying his tone, though it was barely detectable.

The leader mech sighed. “Jazz… what I don’t get is why this is bothering you so much. Is there something you’re not telling me?”

Jazz acknowledged the Autobot leader, nodding slowly. “Prime,” he began carefully. “What if I were to tell you that Scavenger wasn’t the one who attacked Groove?” The question hung in the room like a sudden bee sting, the pain of its implication unavoidable.

Optimus didn’t respond straight away; he didn’t have a ready answer. But when Jazz said nothing more, he felt as though he should speak up. “Do you have any proof of that?

Jazz looked away from the Commander’s gaze, and shook his head in disparagement. “When did we start believing in ‘guilty until proven innocent’?”

The Autobot Commander visibly stiffened, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “You know it’s not like that, Jazz.” He sighed, wanting to put his point across in the right way. “Jazz, we should never forget… what we Autobots have had to endure over the centuries, at the hands of the Decepticons. Many of us will never be able to forgive them. And… believe me when I tell you… that no matter how much time passes… or how much they appear to have changed… they will never… be anything other than what they are.” It was now Optimus’ turn to convey his anger and frustration, his voice laced with a bitterness and resentment that had been forged many, many eons ago. “They will always be Decepticons, Jazz. You turn your back for just one minute, and they’ll turn on you. They look out only for themselves.” Prime stood up to leave then, and placed a knowing hand upon his shoulder. “No matter what happens… don’t ever forget what they truly are.”

And with that, the Prime Commander left him alone in his quarters.

To be free amongst the stars, in pursuit of her dreams… there was nothing more satisfying, no greater reason for being. Elita One was again reminded of the great sense of purpose this always gave her, as her ship travelled through space, intent on reaching the Destron Space Precinct. Since their departure, she had experienced a peace of mind that had eluded her since she had returned to Cybertron and, with greater clarity and sense of awareness, her thoughts drifted back towards Optimus Prime.

The Autobot leader had been the primary source of her strength for as long as she could remember, had supported her and encouraged her whenever she had needed him most. They had faced much together, seen both the good and the bad, their individual hopes and dreams had always been mutual and inseparable. Now, it seemed as though they were drifting apart, and she wasn’t sure whether this had been her doing, or his.

For the good of Cybertron, he would often state. For the good of all. And she’d never had any reason to doubt him, or question him. What had happened since then? When had things started to change between them? These very questions were on her mind, when Chromia looked up from her console, alerted. They had been on course for almost four hours, and were finally approaching their destination. Alternity City – the greatest artificial testament to the most advanced cybernetic technology in the known universe, hanging starkly in the blackness of space – occupied the view screen in front of them, a multitude of smaller satellites orbiting its enormous circumference like tiny insects.

“What is it?” The captain asked, speaking for the first time in several breems.

“It looks like… some sort of anomaly directly in our path. I can’t make it out…”

Elita One stood up from her seat, moved towards Chromia’s station. She leaned forwards, examined the data. “Have you tried a sub-space scan?”

The blue femme shook her head. “First thing I tried.”

Elita One stepped back. “Can you enhance the image?” She said, and Chromia tapped a few buttons. The anomaly appeared in the main view screen, larger now. It looked as if a portion of space had been distorted, and was visibly moving closer towards them.

“Elita-” The second-in-command began, but her captain was already one step ahead of her.

“Activate shields!” She commanded, and no sooner had she done so than the first torpedo hit their ship head on. The sudden attack had appeared from seemingly out of nowhere.

The entire ship and crew jolted with the impact, as Chromia worked frantically to raise their defences. She made it just in time, before the second torpedo hit them again.

This time, the impact was less damaging, though it was still very much felt.

“They’re using concealment technology,” Elita One informed them, speaking to no one in particular. “Frag it.” Another torpedo knocked them slightly off course.

“Adjusting...” Chromia informed her captain. “If the torpedos continue… at this rate, I won’t be able to stay on course,” she added in frustration.

Elita looked over at Firestar, who was seated behind the weapons array. “Firestar, see if you can get a manual lock and return fire!”

As the torpedoes kept coming, Elita One and her crew did the best they could to thwart the attack, but they had veered off course, and one of the ship’s power cells had already been severely damaged. Firestar targeted the cloaked vessel as best she could, but it seemed to be able to pre-empt her every move, and her laser fire kept avoiding its target.

“Shields aren’t holding!” Chromia reported.

“Divert any backup power to shields-” Elita One yelled out, before the ship took a closer hit that had almost sent them spinning off into space. She and her crew were thrown about the deck as if they were micro-bots. Chromia slammed hard against the floor, as Firestar and Moonracer barely managed to hold onto their seats. Elita was picking herself up, and moving towards Chromia to offer assistance. “Are you okay?” She asked, helping her up.

Chromia nodded as she shakily got to her feet. “Who-who could be doing this?” She asked, perplexed. “Decepticons?”

Elita’s expression was grim, but she didn’t reply. She wasn’t sure. “Come on, we’ve got to get the shields back up–” But then another direct hit sent them veering towards the navigational console. “Shields are low on power. The vessel is within close range!” Moonracer reported, taking over Chromia’s function.

They all turned towards the main view screen. “Slag it…” Elita One was saying, but Chromia could hardly hear her. She had her optics fixated upon the view screen, her mind trying to make sense of their current predicament. The anomaly had changed its course, and was now attacking their ship’s starboard engines. Alternity City was all that could be seen in front of them now, spinning slowly like a ball rotating on its axis, as it loomed ever closer. The vast expanse of the city scape filled every inch of the view screen, revealing the built up streets and multi-layered complexes that formed an enormous, interconnected network bustling with microscopic activity.

In one crucial moment where time stood still, the ship crashed into a communications tower in one of Alternity City’s many industrial complexes; however, the landing could have been much worse. Elita had managed to activate her in-built temporal manipulation ability at the last moment; her quick thinking had lessened the damage of the full impact, and had prevented them from going into stasis lock.

“Hey, any of you guys seen Scavenger?” Scrapper, the leader of the Constructicons, asked the rest of his team mates. “He was supposed to meet us here.”

“He probably got himself caught. I did warn him not to venture too close to Autobot territory,” replied Hook, their engineer. “But, did he listen? No.

Long Haul, their transporter, looked concernedly at his team leader. “Do you think we should go and find him? It’s too risky for any of us to be out there – especially now.”

Mixmaster, their chemical expert, looked up from his work. “Yeah. They’re really out for our energon.”

“I say we crush them, before they crush us,” Bonecrusher contributed, speaking his thoughts out loud.

“A hundred of ‘them’ to every one of us? I don’t think that’s going to work, Bonecrusher,” Scrapper reasoned.

“We could get Scavenger back, if we formed Devastator,” Mixmaster suggested.

“Sure,” replied Hook. “But we still need Scavenger to combine properly, remember?”

The five of them were standing on the remote outskirts of Polyhex; a region of Cybertron where Autobots rarely ventured. However, after the broadcast that had been sent out from Central Iacon recently, that would soon all change. The Alliance really seemed to have it in for them.

“Well, we can’t just abandon him out there,” Scrapper reasoned. “If anything, we need to stick together more than ever.” He looked out towards the distant horizon. Iacon Central was barely visible from here, a tiny dot in the sky that was a little bigger than all the others. At this distance, each large city complex looked mostly like any other. “Come on; let’s get back to the hideout. Maybe we can get some help.”

As Scrapper began to lead the way back, the distant whirring of an engine made him stop in his tracks and look around warily. His four team mates made no sudden moves, as they looked concernedly towards their team leader.

“Where’s that coming from?” Long Haul said with apprehension, his voice lowered.

No one answered; they looked back towards the horizon, afraid to avert their optics from it for even a second. They all shared the same thought, yet none dared voice it for fear that, somehow, it might become realized.


There had been times during Jazz’s life when he had felt this way, but never had it been so intense, so incomprehensible, a feeling. Had he been wrong to question his superior – the very leader of the Autobot army? His long-time friend, and comrade-in-arms? Perhaps he had stepped out of line; perhaps he had said too much, gone too far?

He didn’t know. All he knew was that the events which were threatening to unfold within the next two hours were crucial and, wrong or right, he had to make a choice, before it was too late; it would be a choice that he would never be able to take back.

They will always be Decepticons, Jazz. You turn your back for just one minute, and they’ll turn on you.

Jazz exited the grand Command Complex of Iacon Central, then broke into a half-run as he transformed into his vehicle mode – a sleek, blue, white and black Cybetronian hover car. He directed power to his engine and steadily increased speed as he took the shortcuts and sideswiped around corners, heading for the main road that led west. It was still dark, and the stars twinkled brightly down upon the cyber city and its surrounding streets. Few mechs were about at this early hour. Manoeuvring the slick roads at almost top speed, he swept past the occasional pedestrian, who barely recognized him or had time to safely avoid him.

Once he was far enough away from Iacon’s main hub, he slowed down a little, and considered his options. If he followed the road all the way to its very end, he would find himself right in the heart of Polyhex. This city state had been Decepticon territory for as far back as he could recall; however, with the Alliance’s strong influence and intervention in recent years over most of Cybertron’s affairs, he could no longer be sure of that. If he were to venture into this region, Jazz would be taking his chances in what he might find there now.

But, to Jazz, the alternative would be far worse; and he knew that he would never be able to live with his conscience if he did nothing. Had it been any other Autobot in his position, they would not have had the nerve to go further than the Iacon border, out of fear of reprimand, or even for their own safety. Jazz, however, was different. He did not think twice about such consequences. All that mattered to him was that he completed his objective, and nothing, or no one, could stop him from doing so. This inner strength had always given him the courage and the determination required for his function as a special operative – and now was no exception.

Time seemed to pass quickly, and before he knew it, he was approaching the border. His engine whined loudly; he was not too concerned about being detected; in fact, the opposite was true. The road became narrow as he sped along its course, the illuminated pavement on either side emitting a soft blue light. The multi-level blocks of the inner city had made way to a flatter, less populated area, which then ended abruptly at Iacon’s edge. As he crossed the border connecting the two city states, Jazz did not hesitate or slow down at all, but continued to focus on the road ahead for a good while, following its winding curves and straight runs, until he eventually picked up a familiar signal. He continued on towards it, until, finally, it led him all the way to the Constructicons' meeting place.

Seeing his speeding vehicle heading straight towards them, the five green and purple Decepticons transformed into their vehicle modes, attempting to evade the lone Autobot, but Jazz swung his hover car around hard, sweeping behind them until he came head to head with the small group, his headlights illuminating them brightly. As the five of them transformed back into robot mode, weapons drawn, Jazz transformed as well, but he did not retrieve his own blaster. He held his hands out to his sides, palms facing forward, in a gesture of openness.

The leader of the five stepped slowly closer, scanning the Autobot for hidden weapons, and then momentarily looked towards his comrades with uncertainty. “What do you want, Autobot?” He called, weapons directed towards the enemy.

Jazz wasted no time, and got straight to the point. “Scavenger is being held at Autobot Headquarters. We’ve got to do something fast, before it’s too late.”

Scrapper looked at him in confusion, then scanned the area searching for other Autobots, just in case he and his team were about to fall into an ambush. He shook his head. “Why – why should we believe you?” He called back, trying to stall for time. Maybe, if they all made a run for it now, they might avoid getting captured.

“Look,” Jazz returned, his voice becoming impatient. “I’m not asking you to believe me. You don’t have a lot of time; if you want to save your friend’s life, you’ve got to do exactly as I tell you.”

Scrapper was silent, as he considered the options, and the possibility that the Autobot may be telling the truth. “What if we were to convert you to scrap right now? Five against one; you wouldn’t stand a chance.” Nervous chuckles came from his team mates behind him, but soon the merriment stopped almost as quickly as it had begun, as Jazz stepped forward suddenly, right into their midst. His expression was one of restrained anger as he faced Scrapper head-on.

“What, you think I’m kidding? You think I’d be risking my own tail pipe right now, coming out here into Decepticon territory, all on my own, just for fun?” Jazz then tried to drive his point home. “You don’t believe me… fine; take me if you want, I won’t resist.” He held out his hands, and they could see that he was all but defenceless.

The five Decepticons were in utter disbelief; in all the time they had been online, they had never known any Autobot to act this way, and it was downright unnerving, to say the least. Looking back on this moment, Jazz would later realize that his fearless, single-minded attitude was probably the one thing that had tipped the balance in his favour, had played a huge part in their realization which was soon to follow.

One of the other four, Long Haul, finally spoke up behind them, nervousness in his voice. “Let him talk, Scrapper. We got nothing to lose if we just hear him out,” he said.

“Yeah… except Scavenger if we don’t,” Mixmaster added in a low voice.

“And he is alone, just like he says,” Hook reminded them; referring to Jazz. “There’s no way he’d be able to take us all on - not by himself.”

Jazz waited expectantly for the five of them to arrive at a decision. Then, finally, Scrapper conceded, lowered his weapon. “All right. So… talk,” he said.

Jazz sighed a small sigh of relief. “Like I said, Scavenger’s in serious trouble. If we don’t get to him within the hour, he’ll be permanently deactivated.”

Sudden shock and confusion threatened to overwhelm Scrapper, who remained speechless for quite a long moment. “‘We’? Why… why would you want to help us?” Jazz could sense his confusion, his indecisiveness, and wished that there was something more he could do.

“Listen to me…” he started, trying to get them to understand. “It’s a long story, and I don’t have time to tell it right now. You’re just going to have to trust me,” he said, even as obvious distrust was evident upon all their faces; after all that had happened between their two factions over the course of centuries, it was understandable.

“Trust you? How do we know you won’t lead us right into a trap?” Bonecrusher said, speaking for all of them.

“Yeah, after that broadcast… every sentient robot in the galaxy – and his pet Dinobot – is going to be hunting us down. We’re as good as scrap,” Mixmaster reminded them all grimly.

Jazz understood their concern, and for a moment it seemed to him that he would never get through to them. But then he had an idea. He opened up his chest compartment, and retrieved a small device from near his spark chamber. He carefully handed it to Scrapper, and then closed up his front panel again. “Here. My life is in your hands now,” he said, showing no sign of backing down, or changing his mind, after such an extremely risky, and unlikely, move.

Scrapper looked down at the small key, which had been placed into his open palm. He shook his head in disbelief, and stared at Jazz, red optics incredulous beneath the visor he wore. “You… you won’t stay online long without this.”

Jazz nodded. “That’s right. A life for a life; it’s your call – because if your friend is terminated at the hands of the Alliance, I wouldn’t want to stay online, anyway – knowing what I know.”

Chapter 5 by Crystine

Transformers: Heroes

Chapter 5


Scrapper held onto the small key, staring down at it. The object felt as foreign to him in his hand as golden Electrum. He had to make a choice; one that could either save his team mate’s life, or possibly condemn him to an eternal torment that would be far worse than termination. He knew that, as leader of his gestalt, the responsibility of whatever the outcome of his final decision must rest on him alone. Could he trust this Autobot? This Autobot, who was playing a very dangerous game with his own life, as far as any other bot would see it; what could he possibly have to gain by placing his life into their hands? He must have some ulterior motive, Scrapper concluded. But, even so, did it really matter? If what Jazz was saying was true, then he saw no other option but to go along with him. The master designer of the Constructicons finally made his decision, and handed the small device back to Jazz. “Here, take it. If you’re going to be helping us, you’ll need it,” he said simply. “It won’t be of any use to us.”

The head of Special Operations stood, unwavering, as he continued to face the five Decepticons square on. His blue visor hid the seriousness in his optics, though no one there questioned his sincerity at that moment. It had been understood by them all and, now, a necessary level of trust had been established between them. Jazz slowly nodded in acknowledgment after a long moment, and then reached out his hand towards Scrapper’s open palm and picked up his key, all the while maintaining his steady gaze. The combiner team members did not speak another word, nor dared make another sound, as they all watched Jazz reopen his chest compartment, and carefully restore the small device back where it belonged. When this was done, Jazz looked back towards the five Decepticons. “All right,” he said, and then turned towards the horizon, his gaze fixing upon Iacon’s distant skyline as he began to formulate a rescue strategy. “Iacon’s heavily monitored in all directions, right up to the outer Province and some way beyond the border, but especially in the south and west.” He paused, considering the best options available to them. “Which means, I’m the only one who’ll be able to get him out.” He turned back to Scrapper. “Once I’ve done that, we’re not going to have a lot of time; if we’re even lucky enough to get within proximity to Iacon’s border undetected; after that, the chances of the two of us entering into Polyhex without being pursued by Alliance security patrols is going to be a bit of a crap shoot. Escaping on my own is one thing, but having Scavenger along for the ride is going to slow us down.”

Scrapper nodded in agreement with Jazz’s evaluation of the situation. “That’s true; speed isn’t one of our strong suits.”

“Nor can he dig his way out of this one,” Long Haul remarked. “If we can go and find help, we might be able to–” he continued, but Jazz interjected, shaking his head.

“No, there’s no time for that. It’s going to have to be just us, and now or never.”

“So… what can we do?” Scrapper asked.

Jazz looked at them each in turn, and then, slowly, a small smile appeared on his face, his head tilting expectantly. “Well, who’s up for some demolishing?”

By the time Jazz had made his way back to Iacon Central, it was morning and the duty cycle had already begun. For one terrifying moment, he wondered if he might already be too late, but then he noticed the large crowd of Autobots and Neutrals gathered just outside the Command Centre. They looked as though they were anticipating some important event, and were yelling and shoving against one another as they demanded that the Decepticon prisoner be transferred for deactivation without delay. It appeared that there was still time, and Jazz checked his chronometer. It was a few minutes past five hundred; the angry mob would surely be causing delays. Scavenger should still be in the high security block, which was not too far from here; turning away from the Command Complex, Jazz quietly slipped away without being seen, and headed towards sub-sector two which, in turn, led to the underground connecting tunnels.

As he moved quickly down through the first darkened passageway, he was relieved that there were no other mechs about. His footfalls echoed all about him, and he got the odd impression that he was being watched, though Jazz knew that this was not possible. The tunnels here were an ancient relic, carved out long ago when Cybertron was still a young planet. They were gloomy and narrow, and had never been upgraded; this was probably due to the fact that they had been seldom, if ever, used – at least since the last Great War – until recently.

Finally, Jazz stepped out into the long and narrow corridor that led to Scavenger’s holding cell, having input the correct access codes in order to open the heavy bulkhead door that separated the tunnel from the main cell block. He hurried down along the corridor, until he finally reached his destination.

Sudden relief swept through him, when he saw that Scavenger was still inside the small holding cell, looking just as he did when Jazz had last seen him yesterday. The energon canister that he had left for him had been emptied, and it now lay discarded on the floor of the cell. Jazz deactivated the cell’s energy bars, and then stood in front of the Decepticon, watching him intently. “We’re getting you out of here,” he informed him. “Come on, get up,” Jazz told him, unsure of how it would be received, and hoping that time was still mercifully on their side.

Scavenger was watching him also, but then he turned his gaze down towards the floor, remaining motionless.

They didn’t have time for this. “Get up!” He repeated, and then he added in anger, “Unless you want to be permanently deactivated within the next breem or two, you’ve got to come with me right now, you hear?” This time, he didn’t wait for a reply, but instead moved towards the Decepticon. Scavenger tried to avoid him, but he had nowhere to go; he was cornered by the walls of the small holding cell. Jazz ignored his attempts at resistance; instead, he grabbed the prisoner’s hands, deactivated the energy restraints that were still around his wrists, and then freed his lower legs. When he was done, he pulled him up from the seat and forced him towards the cell’s open entrance.

He could tell that Scavenger was in a state of confusion, and knew that in order for this rescue to succeed, he would need his full cooperation. Once they were outside the cell, Jazz paused to hear for the sound of any approaching mechs down the hall, but there were none; it was eerily quiet down here. He turned back to Scavenger, who had his hand ready to retrieve his laser pistol in defence, but Jazz stopped him, holding back his hand. “Easy, now,” he said, gently. “I’m not here to hurt you; I just want to help.”

After Jazz’s talk with Scavenger the other day, he had been able to come up with a detailed profile of the Decepticon. He usually did this whenever he encountered any mech he didn’t know very well, but especially when they were relevant to a mission. That was one of his skills; he was able to analyse and then sum up the inner workings and motivations of any individual, given enough time to study his subject. In this case, he figured that the best way to get Scavenger on side was to tell him what his comrades would be expecting of him. “Alright, listen up,” he said, making sure he had Scavenger’s full attention. “I was able to contact the other Constructicons. They were looking for you.” Jazz watched his response; he gave none, so Jazz continued. “That’s right; I spoke to Scrapper. He’s asked me to help get you out. As a matter of fact, they’re all waiting for you right now, near the outer Province.” Jazz paused, looked back up the corridor to make sure there was no one approaching. Then he resumed talking, though more slowly. “He said to tell you to trust me. He said that if you don’t, he’d make you electro-plate the new camouflaging tower you’ve all been working on, from top to bottom, into a new color.”

No sooner had Jazz said this than the Decepticon’s demeanour suddenly changed. Rather than the quiet, reserved mech that he had been ever since he was taken into custody by the Autobots, Scavenger became more cheerful, even revealing a kind of innocence that Jazz would later find endearing. “He – he said that?” He asked Jazz, his voice anxious yet filled with hope, as he thought about Scrapper’s supposed promise. He realized that Jazz could not have possibly known about the construction of their new tower, unless he was telling the truth, and really had spoken to Scrapper.

Jazz nodded, and couldn’t help but smile. Well, that worked like a charm, and Jazz was certainly pleased – so far, so good; but they weren’t out of the woods just yet. “Yep. But there’s no time to talk right now. Just follow me, and do exactly what I tell you.” Then he started back up the corridor, without waiting for Scavenger’s reaction.

“Hey, wait for me!” Scavenger called out, and hurriedly followed after Jazz. Other than the obvious fact that it was a gloomy and isolated, high security cell block, there was something about this place that made Scavenger feel incredibly uneasy, but he couldn’t say exactly what that was. All he knew was that he was more than a little anxious to get out of here as quickly as he possibly could and, if an Autobot was going to help him do that, then he would be the last mech to complain about it.

Astro had landed the cruiser on an unused landing platform within one of Alternity City’s vast, cosmopolitan space ports, but he had not moved from his seat at the control platform and, after several minutes had gone by in silence, Rook looked up at him quizzically from his spot on the floor. “Now what?” He asked sardonically.

Astro finally turned to his captive, his gaze steady, arms crossed. He spoke calmly, assertively. “We’re not going anywhere, not until we’ve had a chance to talk.”

The smaller mech looked at him blankly. “Talk? About what? I’ve already said everything I need to say.”

“Suit yourself,” the blue mech responded, as calmly as ever, and went back to the display screen in front of him, bringing up a list of all available public terminal points in and around the space port.

Many long minutes of silence went by, and Rook became increasingly agitated with each second that passed. Until finally, he couldn’t tolerate it any further. “Would you please just tell me what is going on?” No answer, so he tried again. “Well, you can’t just stay here! What if Jhiaxus comes looking for us? What if… what if raiders from the Predacon region find us and turn us into–”

“Rook,” Astro interjected. The green Cybertronian looked fearfully at Astro, his wild imaginings beginning to get the better of him. “Rook, would you calm down, please? None of those things are going to happen.”

Rook shook his head in bewilderment. “Is that a promise, I suppose?”

Astro shrugged. “Sure. So long as you help me out.” He paused, and then added, “Willingly.”

Rook considered the absurd proposition. After all, what did he have to lose? He was stuck here, in this space cruiser, without any way of contacting the Base for help. Finally, he nodded in resignation. “All right, you win. Let’s talk.” He tried to appear sincere, needed Astro to believe that he was prepared to co-operate, at least for the time being. “I’m listening. Go ahead.”

Astro watched him a long while, studying him, searching for his true intentions. Finally, he began. “You might not believe what I’m about to tell you, but I think you should hear me out.” Rook waited expectantly, his interest piqued. “But before we go into that, tell me what you know about the Great Devastation.”

The mech appeared to be utterly confounded by the seemingly irrelevant change of topic. “What does the Great Devastation have to do with anything?”

The blue mech leaned forward, held his gaze steady. “Everything.”

Rook nodded his head in an effort to comprehend. “Oh. Alright. What do I know about the Great Devastation?” He repeated. “Hm, now, let’s see… the Great Devastation occurred during the Third Era – or, the Third Age of the Primes, if you prefer–”

“Skip the history lesson,” Astro cut in. “What do you know about it?”

“I’m – I’m sorry, Astro, but you’re just going to have to give me a bit more of a hint. I have no idea what you’re looking for. I wouldn’t know any more about the Great Devastation than any other mech, if you want to know the truth of it.”

Astro acknowledged him. “Okay. Here’s what I know about the Great Devastation. It was a time of great conflict, not only between the rival factions on our home world, but also between Cybertron and its neighbouring star systems. The Autobots had a losing battle on their hands, and so an accord was struck between the Autobots, under Sentinel Prime, and the Decepticons.” He paused in emphasis, released a long, slow exhalation. “But, as you would be aware, that agreement was never implemented.”

“That’s right,” Rook acknowledged. “The Decepticons fell back on their promise, and the first Great War broke out.”

“Ah, except that the Decepticons never rescinded any promise.” Astro watched him closely, looking for any signs of weakness within the other mech. “Oh, no, no…” He said slowly, in a low voice. “You see… The Decepticons were facing a very real danger… of being destroyed – but not from any outside source – oh, no… you see, Rook… it’s always been an internal struggle that has threatened to tear the Decepticons apart, from the inside out.”

Rook thought upon these words, and then shrugged. “Well, then, nothing’s really changed, has it? Not that I should care anyway, one way or the other.”

“Let me finish,” Astro rebutted him, then slowly exhaled before he continued. “Many were not aware of this at the time, but the truth is… there have always been those who have secretly despised the leadership, who’ve wanted to mould the Decepticons into something that they never wanted to be. So, when the accord had been declared one mech, in particular, decided to take matters into his own hands and, soon after, he staged a revolt against Megatron and his loyalists in an attempt to overtake him as leader. Of course, it failed… however, not without cost. As an immediate consequence of that incident, the Autobots withdrew their support entirely, the accord was made void, and… well, you know the rest.”

The smaller mech contemplated this information, remaining silent, slight concern upon his face. Rook was not entirely convinced just yet, Astro could see, but doubt was beginning to form in his mind, which is exactly what Astro wanted. “I… always thought it was Megatron who...”

“No. Never forget who it is that records history, Rook,” Astro reminded him.

“But what I still don’t get is…”  Rook started, as he tried to understand where all this was going. “What does any of that have to do with… what you're doing?” He indicated at the space cruiser around them.

Astro sat back in his chair, arms crossed. “Why don’t you take a guess?”

The mech shrugged, genuinely confused by the whole situation. “If I had any inkling at all, I would tell you. You can be sure of that.” Then he paused, and became curious. “How would you know all about the Great Devastation, anyway? Were you there?”

Astro ignored the question, but instead replaced it with another. “Are you aware of the identity of that mech, Rook? The one who revolted?”

Rook gave him a look which conveyed the obviousness of the answer. “Well, of course. Everybody knows. It was Scorponok. But he was killed during the battle at Darkmount. So what?” When Astro did not answer, he rephrased. “No, wait, don’t tell me; it wasn’t Scorponok?”

Astro gave him a rare smirk. “No, you’re correct. It was Scorponok.”

A pause, and then, “Okay, so… what am I missing?”

“Scorponok was never killed during the battle at Darkmount.”

This seemed to hit Rook like a ton of ore; he was speechless. Astro gave him all the time he needed to process the new information. “But… that’s not possible…” He said in a low voice, barely audible. He looked up at Astro. “I saw it with my own optical sensors; he was destroyed.”

The blue mech shook his head slowly. “No.” Then, he leaned closer towards Rook, wanting to make a point. “But that’s not what’s important, Rook. What’s important is the choice you made.” For the first time since Astro had taken him away from the Base, he was accusatory, anger clearly evident in his tone, and Rook, for the first time since he had even met this mech, was afraid of what he was going to do or say next.

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rook defended. He did not like where this conversation was heading, nor did he want to be reminded of a time long ago, when things had been very different, not only for him, but for them all.

“Don’t you?” Astro continued, his anger not showing any sign of abating. “Let me remind you, then,” he said, and stood up from his chair as Rook, for one fearful moment, recoiled in anticipation of some horrible punishment that was about to be inflicted upon him. But Astro did not approach him; instead, he walked over to the cruiser’s main view screen and looked out. “You were given an opportunity; one opportunity… you could have helped stop much of the turmoil and confusion that was happening at the time. But, what did you do?” He paused, awaiting Rook’s response, but all he got was silence. “You could have stopped them, Rook. You could have stopped Jhiaxus… and even Scorponok. When the Decepticons needed you most, you turned your back on them. But, you’d made your choice, hadn’t you?” He spun around to face Rook, his optical sensors locked on to him like a tractor beam.

Rook didn’t know how to respond. He sat there on the floor, his head hung forward, wanting all this insanity to end. “I did what I had to do…”

But Astro ignored his distress, as if he were enjoying seeing the other mech in such torment. However, this needed to be done and, sometimes, the only way to be kind was to appear cruel. “Admit it, Rook; you failed us, didn’t you? You turned to Jhiaxus for protection, when Megatron had already placed his trust in you.” Astro said these words spitefully, almost vindictively. He moved closer to the smaller mech, who was beginning to lose control of his emotional state.

“Stop it! I don’t have to listen to this!” He was saying, but Astro reached down and pulled his hands away, made him look into his optics.

“But you acted like a coward… didn’t you? You could have helped us, Rook. You could have proven yourself worthy of the Decepticon name, acted with pride, and honour!” Astro said this last word forcibly, raising his voice. Rook tried to pull away from his grip, but he was too weak. “But you didn’t, did you? Answer me!

Rook was visibly shaken by this sudden confrontation, and was too afraid to speak. Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, Astro released his hold on him, and turned away. He took a seat in the command chair once again, his attention back to the display screen.

Jazz led the way past the bulkhead door, using high clearance access codes, and then on through the tunnels, moving as quickly as he could. He remained focused on his goal, and on full alert, not speaking a word unless it was necessary. Eventually, they reached the entrance that would lead into the last tunnel directly ahead of them, and then onto the network of roads that encompassed sub-sector two; however, Jazz did not take this route. There was commotion up ahead in the main tunnel, and he knew that an Autobot security team was on its way down and would be here any minute now. He motioned for Scavenger to remain quiet and to stay close, then quickly moved down a side tunnel that veered off to the right. This passageway was narrower and darker than any of the others, and would eventually terminate at North-Central Iacon.

By the time the security team arrived at the tunnel intersection where the unlikely pair had been standing only a minute before, the two of them were nowhere to be seen; they just kept moving, and did not slow or turn back for even a second, until the end of the passage had been reached. Here, Jazz was confronted by a sealed exit – a split door consisting of two separate panels that met diagonally in the middle – and he stopped to examine it. If he used the access code to open the door, they could be traced, as he knew they surely would be once the security team was alerted to the Decepticon’s disappearance. The only other way was to force it open. Jazz set to work, skilfully removing the control panel that covered the input pad, and then carefully disconnected some wiring. The pad went dead, as its power was cut. “There, that ought to do it.”

Scavenger watched him with keen interest, as the Autobot proceeded to rewire the auxiliary data port beside the input pad. He used a terminal probe from his right hand to establish a new connection, and then reprogrammed the door for manual override. Finally, he turned back towards Scavenger. “I’m going to need your help here,” he said, and then indicated for him to grab hold of one of the door panels, while he grasped the other. Scavenger did as he was instructed, and they simultaneously forced the two panels apart. They gave way easily, and Jazz noted that the Decepticon was considerably stronger than he was.

On the other side of the door, the tunnel became noticeably larger as it turned into a modern, undercover passage, its walls and ceiling lined with a smooth metallic finish and circular lights arranged at regular intervals. “This passageway extends all the way through North Central. Follow me, and stay close,” he told Scavenger, and then transformed into his vehicle mode. The Decepticon did the same. While he would be considerably slower than the Autobot in his alternate mode, he would still be faster in comparison to his robot mode; Jazz would just have to reduce his speed to ensure that Scavenger could keep up with him.

They set off down the passageway, and Jazz adjusted his speed to match. They weren’t moving nearly as fast as he would have liked, but it would have to do; he intended for them to take the least used route in order to avoid any unnecessary encounters. “Don’t stop for anyone, and don’t look back,” he advised the Constructicon.

Jazz moved in and out of various interconnecting passages, in an effort to steer clear of oncoming traffic or to avoid being seen. This wasn’t entirely possible, but he did his best and, as they approached the undercover exit, emerging from the relative safety of the enclosed passageways out onto the busy streets of North Central, he realized with relief that they had managed to come this far, more or less undetected.

“Uh oh,” Jazz said in a low voice, as he stopped momentarily to survey their surrounds. They were still in their vehicle modes.

“‘Uh oh’?” Scavenger asked nervously. “What does that mean, ‘uh oh’?”

“What that means is, security has been alerted and all available Autobots and Neutrals are searching for you as we speak,” Jazz informed him. “I just received the broadcast.” He found a road nearby that was momentarily empty of any traffic, and started heading towards it. “Come on, the longer we stand around here, the better your chances of getting caught.” As the two of them kept to the road, which led out towards the north-west of the city state, Jazz decided he would need to employ a diversionary tactic in order to misdirect the Alliance away from their escape path.

He established a com link to Autobot Headquarters, and transmitted a message. “This is Jazz. Let me speak to whoever’s in charge of the search team.”

After a few moments, Prowl responded. “Do you have any information on the prisoner’s location?” He asked, and it almost sounded accusatory. Jazz noted an unusual coldness in Prowl’s voice, and suspected that the disagreement in the Control Room the other day might have had something to do with it.

“As a matter of fact, I do. I’ve picked up a Decepticon signature moving east. Transmitting the co-ordinates to you now,” Jazz said, and waited for a response.

“Co-ordinates received. Prowl out–” The Chief of Security was about to disconnect the link, but then Jazz stopped him.

“Just a klik – Prowl?” He said, trying to sound as convincing as possible.

There was a long pause before Prowl spoke again. He sounded reluctant, distant. “What is it, Jazz?”

“Listen… I just wanted to apologize for the other day. I was out of line.” He spoke these words carefully. Every moment counted towards the success of the rescue as he stalled for time; even if it meant having to say some things he didn’t quite mean.

Prowl was unsure how to respond to him. Finally, he said, “I’m glad you’ve come to your senses, Jazz. Prowl out.” The link was disconnected, and that was the end of that – at least as far as Prowl was concerned, Jazz thought.

He hoped that he had bought the two of them enough time to arrive safely at the designated meeting point. If his message to Prowl had been successful, the security teams would now be diverting most of their search efforts to the co-ordinates he had just offered them – which would lead them to an underground materials storage facility – though it would only give Jazz a few more breems, at most, before the search team realized that the Decepticon they were pursuing was long gone, presumably well on his way east. Which suited Jazz just fine.

As they both proceeded towards the west, the road opened up into a fast lane. Occasionally, an Autobot or two would drive up close behind them, and Jazz would momentarily prepare to take some drastic action in order to shake them, but then he’d be relieved to find that they simply wanted to overtake, and so he’d let them pass without protest. At the speeds they were currently doing, he couldn’t blame them.

As they approached their destination, now only two hundred or so mechano-meters away, a white hover vehicle pulled up alongside them, and ordered them to stop.

Jazz did as instructed, and Scavenger pulled up behind him. The white vehicle transformed into a robot, and Jazz saw that it was a Neutral, his golden emblem emblazoned proudly across the right side of his chest, just below his shoulder. He must have been patrolling the area when he received the same broadcast that Jazz had and, when he saw the Decepticon, must have put two and two together. Jazz transformed into his robot mode.

“You…” The Neutral started, pointing towards the green and purple power shovel behind Jazz, and then moved his wrist up towards his faceplate in order to activate his com link.

Jazz shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

The security mech stopped, and then slowly lowered his arm as he looked at the Autobot, a puzzled expression on his face.

“If you activate your com link…” Jazz began to explain, and then retrieved his photon rifle faster than the Neutral could react, pointing it in the middle of his chest. “I’m just going to have to blast you a new armour plating.” That was the best he could think of in the moment, but it would have to do; Jazz did not have time to negotiate.

The Neutral stared back at the Autobot, and then looked down at the weapon pointed towards him. It was the last thing he saw before his optical sensors overloaded with the sudden surge of a photon blast. The force of the blast at such a close range hurled him to the ground. Jazz looked over towards Scavenger, who hadn’t made a move. “At least I know my new weapons upgrade is effective.” He retracted his rifle, and transformed back into his vehicle mode. “Come on, we’re almost there,” he said, and they continued down the road once more, heading west. There was no doubt in Jazz’s mind that the Neutral would soon be requesting backup, once he had sufficiently recovered from the rifle blast, but at least he had been slowed down by a few crucial minutes.

Astro remained seated in his command chair for a long time, continuing to ignore Rook completely, as if he were hardly there. He had not left the cruiser, nor had he made any sort of attempt to depart from the space port and, after several breems had passed, Rook had recovered from the initial shock of their confrontation. He had nothing left to do now but think about what had been said, the buried memories which had been purposely hidden away in his unconscious for so long were now vying for his attention, threatening to undermine his mental stability as they demanded to be acknowledged all at once.

Rook held his head in his hands, caught up in an unwanted inner conflict that had suddenly, and unexpectedly, been forced upon his consciousness. He had never asked for this, only longed to return to the safety and security of his place under Jhiaxus, in servitude to the High Commander. He had nothing else to live for.

After a long time had passed, Rook spoke, breaking the silence. “I was given an ultimatum… I – they would have terminated me,” he said in a low voice. Astro finally looked at him, hands clasped together as he sat back in his chair. He remained silent, allowing the other to continue speaking. Rook inhaled deeply, looked down at the floor. “Alright, I was a coward. Afraid. Is that what you want to hear?”

“Keep talking,” Astro said calmly, his anger now dissipated.

“What – what more can I tell you?” Rook looked up at him suddenly, fear in his optics. “You brought me here… to punish me, is that it?”

Astro shook his head. “No, Rook. You’re not here to be punished.”

“Then… why? Why are you doing this to me?” He was almost pleading. “I – can’t help you. You must understand, that I – have nothing… nowhere else to go. The Base is where I belong,” he added, softly, almost regretfully.

“That’s not true. That’s why I brought you here,” Astro responded calmly, wanting to reassure the former Decepticon.

Rook shook his head in confusion, his thoughts in a knot of turmoil. “I don’t understand…” Anger was now also beginning to surface.

Astro remained deep in thought for a long moment, before he finally gave him a reply. “Do you believe in second chances?”

“Second… chances…” the green mech repeated. “Second–” He shook his head in bewilderment. His thoughts began to explore those two words, and they sounded alien to him. Second chances? No, not for him; there was no such thing as second chances, not where he had come from. “No,” he said, finally.

“Then, what is it that you believe in?”

Why all these questions, questions, questions? Rook had no answers, none that seemed to satisfy Astro, at the very least. “I believe in…” He began, frustrated, but then realized that he really didn’t know what he believed in. Perhaps, he believed in nothing at all.

“Do you even know what you serve – why you serve?” Astro interjected. No response. “Come on, Rook. You must know why. Who are you?”

That question again. Rook stood, stepped towards the larger mech, his anger now stirred. “No, you listen! You… whoever the hell you think you are. This isn’t a joke! Now, either you tell me exactly what it is you want from me – or you let me go, right now!” Rook was leaning over the console, his face in Astro’s.

The blue mech met his gaze, but was unperturbed by Rook’s most recent tirade. Rather, he gave him a knowing smile – albeit a small one. Then, suddenly, Rook retrieved his weapon, held it out in front of him, the tip of the barrel almost touching Astro’s nose tip.

Astro started to get up from his seat, but Rook stopped him, appearing to have taken control of the situation. “Now… open the hatch, he demanded, but Astro remained motionless. “I said, open the hatch–”

But no sooner had Rook finished making his demand than his captor, in one swift move, grabbed hold of his wrist and forced the weapon aside, as he stood up to his full height. “You have it in you, Rook,” he stated, determinedly. “Don’t let them take away who you are.” Rook was incredulous, and tried to move away from him, but it was no use; his grip was too strong. Astro ignored his attempts, and continued talking. “Let… me… give… you…” He said, slowly emphasizing every word. “…that second chance.”

The tension within Rook suddenly turned to vapor, like jet exhaust. Something within him had finally clicked; Astro could see it in his optics.

Critical moments passed, and then Rook was released, free to recompose himself. Astro watched him, and then, slowly, he reached across to a button on the control panel behind him. The door of the cruiser suddenly slid open behind Rook.

“You’re free to go, if you wish. Or… you can start over,” Astro informed him. “It’s your choice.”

Rook remained still, his thoughts and emotions in a state of conflict, his head pounding with the realization that, should he find the courage, and the strength, he could take this opportunity that was being offered to him, right now, and rectify something within him – something that he had not been able to shake from his conscience, ever since he had turned away from those who had given him their trust so very long ago. Slowly, he retracted his weapon, and then turned towards the open hatch, walked towards it. He was only a step away from leaving the cruiser and returning to the Base that had been his home for over two vorns. But he hesitated, and slowly turned back towards Astro, who made no attempt to stop him. Finally, he reached his hand towards the access panel by the doorway, and pressed a button. The hatch sealed closed.

He inhaled deeply, and then slowly nodded his head in acquiescence. “Very well,” he said, quietly. “I would like to start over.”

“Hey, look; here they come now!” Long Haul alerted the others, as he pointed towards the nearby road.

For a little while, Scrapper and the rest of his Constructicons had started losing hope for the successful rescue of their team mate. For one thing, an hour had already passed since they had watched Jazz head into Iacon by himself; in addition, the odds were already highly stacked against them, whichever way they were to look at the situation. Even if Jazz had reached Scavenger in time, how would the both of them be able to safely make their way back through Iacon?

Scrapper was just about to give up and head back to Polyhex; the longer they waited around out here, the more chance that they, themselves, would be captured as well.

Thankfully, he did not have to make that decision, as he saw the Autobot appear around the corner in the distance. Scavenger was following closely behind.

“Well, I’ll be…” Hook began, pleasantly surprised.

But, as they continued watching, they saw Jazz suddenly transform back into robot mode, just as he was about to swerve off the road. Something, or someone, was firing at him, the shots narrowly missing the Autobot’s head as he ducked for cover behind a railing. There were now several blasts being fired towards him, while Scavenger, who had also transformed back into his robot mode, was firing his laser pistol back at the unseen assailants.

As Scrapper watched, a group of mechs revealed themselves as they appeared around the corner. It was a security team consisting of both Autobots and Neutrals – seven of them in all. But that wasn’t the only problem; there were several flight capable Autobots now approaching in the sky above them. Scrapper thought that they looked like the Aerialbots.

Nearby, Jazz was shouting over the noise of fire blasts and the angry shouts from their pursuers. “Scavenger, your team mates are just beyond this road!” He said to the Constructicon, who had just joined him behind the railing. Jazz indicated in the direction across the road, towards the designated meeting place. “You’ve got to make a run for it. I’ll cover you as best I can.”

Scavenger hesitated, looking back towards the security team that was now closing in on their position. He turned back towards Jazz, but the Autobot was already returning fire blasts at the security team in an effort to stop their advance. “Go, now!” He ordered the Decepticon, who did as he was instructed and burst into a sudden run, clearing the railing and sprinting across the road as fast as he could whilst trying to avoid enemy fire. Though he had been unbearably slow in alt mode earlier, he was surprisingly fast on his feet. Jazz watched him, as he adjusted his full-spectrum beacon to create a visual distraction against the oncoming assailants, effectively blinding them. It was only a temporary measure, but it would be enough to slow them right down during these decisive moments, before their optics recovered.

Jazz did the best he could to ensure Scavenger’s safe passage across the last stretch of road, and it was just enough. At the last second, moments before he was reunited with his team, Scavenger was hit by a blast. He lost his footing and hit the ground, as shots continued to fly around him in all directions. As he struggled to get back up, he saw his team mates finally reaching for him, helping him up; their own weapons now actively returning fire upon the enemy team. The Aerialbots were circling overhead ever closer, and had started taking shots at them from the air in an attempt to stop them in their tracks.

Scrapper wasted no time; he knew what needed to be done. “Are you able to combine?” He asked above the sounds of laser fire.

Scavenger nodded in the affirmative, and then Scrapper gave his team the order to form Devastator.

* * *

There was a saying on Cybertron; you are always greater than the sum of your parts, and this had certainly come to mind as Jazz watched the six reunited Constructicons merge into their Combiner form.

Devastator loomed above the retreating Autobots and Neutrals, who had momentarily stopped shooting at the Decepticons as they watched the awesome transformation take place before their optics.

The powerful super-robot easily swept aside the security bots with its arms, fists clenched, making short work of them. The mechs who had arrived on the scene shortly after them now sought to take cover, awaiting new orders and watching the large green robot as it demolished railings and other low-lying constructions on its slow rampage down the road.

Watching the unfolding scene from behind his railing, Jazz had been all but forgotten by the security bots; if they had been actively pursuing him before, they were leaving him well enough alone now, as they turned their complete attention towards the new Decepticon threat. It provided him with the perfect opportunity to quietly slip away, and he dropped down into an underpass, disappearing from sight.

A few moments later, Prowl arrived at the scene, accompanied by Optimus and Ironhide. As they transformed from their vehicle modes and back into robots, they stared at the super-robot in disbelief. A very long time had passed since any of them had witnessed the Decepticons pull a stunt like this.

“We can’t let them get away, Prime!” Ironhide said, imploring the Autobot leader to give the order.

Optimus kept his optics on Devastator, observing his current course as the Combiner successfully cleared a path in front of him, laying to waste anything that dared get in his way. “He’s heading west, towards Polyhex,” he determined, and activated his com link. “Aerialbots,” he said over the link. “Are you able to stop Devastator?”

Silverbolt, the leader, replied over the link. “Sure, those Decepticons are as good as scrapmetal,” he said with assurance. Even as the link disconnected, the three Autobots watched as the five Aerialbots began to form Superion, their own Combiner robot, in mid-air.

After the formation was complete, Superion descended to the ground, and took his position in front of Devastator, blocking his path. It looked as though his red, blue and white nemesis was more than eager for a fight, poised for action, both fists clenched and ready to deliver a hammering to his opponent. As he lunged forward without much warning, Devastator reached out his arms to grab hold of the Autobot gestalt as it charged towards him, and they were locked in close combat, strength pitted against strength.

Any smaller mechs remaining in the area soon scrambled to get out of the way, as the two titans fought against one another, the road surface underneath them reverberating with the impact of giant feet as the rivals clashed.

Devastator was markedly taller than Superion, and his strength was unmatched, although his reaction time was slower. Despite this, it wasn’t long before he managed to overpower the Aerialbot team, as they were slammed into the wall of a factory compound, its metallic exterior crumpling with the enormous force of the impact. Devastator clenched his right fist and drove it into the wall, though it missed Superion’s head by a fair margin as his opponent moved out of the way.

Superion fought to regain his balance, but the Cunstructicon gestalt had already grabbed onto him, preventing the giant robot from standing upright. Superion kicked at him in an attempt to force Devastator to release his grip, and it worked as Devastator fell backwards onto the road.

As the two super-sized robots proceeded to pick themselves up from the ground, Devastator turned westward along the road, and started heading towards a bridge nearby. As he stepped onto it, Superion approached from behind, threatening to stop him from crossing it. Devastator turned towards Superion as he was pulled back, a large white hand on his shoulder. The Aerialbot team attempted to throw a punch at Devastator’s head, but the green and purple robot closed his hands around the fist. Now, with a firm grip around Superion’s wrist, he pulled back hard and then released his grip, essentially yanking his opponent forward, and Superion was thrown over the bridge’s railing, head first.

While this move had slowed down the Aerialbots’ attack, it did not stop them entirely. With the Aerialbot team in freefall and the ground rapidly approaching them from beneath, there was no time for them to engage their flight engines as Superion; he would have impacted the ground, due to his large size. Instead, the gestalt team un-combined in mid-air, and thereby managed to avoid crashing down into a busy road below.

Each Aerialbot engaged their individual flight capabilities, and were now flying back up towards the bridge, in pursuit of Devastator.

By the time they resumed their positions against the Decepticon Combiner team, this time individually from the air, they noticed that Devastator was already on the other side of the bridge, one arm raised in mid-air as he was about to slam down a large fist upon its deck. They opened fire upon him, but it was no use; their individual weapons were useless against the super-sized Decepticon. Neither did they have enough time to recombine, as they watched the bridge collapse under the strength of the devastating impact. This would essentially block all ground vehicles from reaching the Decepticons along this route.

For the Constructicons, the flight capable Aerialbots still remained their most immediate problem. Directly behind them, Polyhex spread out into the distance. They knew its layout better than anyone; and now all they had to do was make it safely to the nearest access point, which would then lead them down into the vast interconnecting tunnels that made up the city state’s complex underground labyrinth.

Before the Aerialbots could attempt to come together to form a second Superion, Devastator aimed his plasma beam rifle in their general direction, and unleashed a searing hot stream of electro-photons upon the Autobots in the air.

Silverbolt and Skydive narrowly missed a direct hit by the plasma stream; however, Air Raid and Slingshot were not so lucky. They spiralled out of control, mid-flight, smoke expelling from their jet engines.

Silverbolt hesitated, deciding whether he and the remainder of his able-bodied team mates should continue with their assault upon Devastator, or whether he should call a retreat. Without Air Raid and Slingshot to combine, they would be more or less useless against the giant robot. Another searing plasma beam swept across the sky towards him, and he had to take evasive manoeuvres to avoid getting hit by the blast. Skydive and Fireflight, still in the air beside him, did the same.

He watched as Air Raid and Slingshot landed on the ground below them, and he gave the order to his two remaining comrades to withdraw from the air.

Silverbolt and his Aerialbots may have lost this battle against Devastator, but it had only strengthened his resolve. He vowed that next time they would be better prepared, and the Decepticons would not get away so easily.

Weakened, though not defeated, Elita One took stock of their situation, and realized with displeasure that their crash landing was one huge setback that they couldn’t afford. Not only had she just placed her entire crew in immediate danger, but they were now at the mercy of whatever marauding party would get to them first – the cruiser would most likely be boarded, searched, stripped down for parts, their last remaining resources stolen and, finally, they would all be taken hostage to end up as trophies in some mad mech’s underground torture chamber.

She was certainly not unaware of Alternity City’s notorious reputation for harbouring some of the most feared criminals in the Gamma Sector, nor was she naïve when it came to understanding her own limitations, as well as her crew’s. It was because of her that they were now stranded here, and it was her responsibility to help get them all to safety, even if it meant that she had to abandon the cruiser.

“Chromia…” She whispered hoarsely, struggling to make her way across the floor of the ship on her knees and elbows towards her second-in-command. She coughed, sputtering, her cooling systems over-working in an attempt to counteract the effects of the sudden surge of power that she had expended only a few seconds ago. “Chromia?” She shook the blue femme, who lay peacefully still on the floor near the main view screen. “Chromia?” She repeated. The femme stirred, moaned quietly in a state of semi-consciousness. “Chromia… wake up,” she coaxed, hopeful.

One minute later, and Chromia was alert. She looked around, the signs of obvious damage to the Avenger beginning to bring back the memory of the crash. “Elita…? What happened?” She asked, moving her hand to touch her head.

“We were attacked. Come on; help me with the others. We’ve got to get out of here, fast,” her captain informed her, matter-of-factly, her feelings of guilt about the crash kept strictly off limits. She moved away from Chromia in search of Firestar and Moonracer, satisfied that she had not suffered any major injuries.

Chromia slowly sat up and watched her go, then checked her internal self-repair systems. Somehow, she had avoided the worst of the impact; whatever damage she had sustained had been minor, and would be fully repaired within the hour. Shakily, steadying herself against the cruiser’s support beam, she carefully stood up and shook her head in an attempt to clear the slight buzzing which emanated from her right audio sensor. Glancing around, she cautiously headed towards her console, hoping that the ship’s computer was still online. It was, but the monitor display was intermittent. Her fingers swept over the controls, attempting to bring up a display of the ship’s condition. The image showed that the cruiser had crashed, nose-first, into the side of what looked to be a communications tower located in a far north district of Binaltech, one of Alternity City’s most densely industrialized cities, and where highly sought-after technologies could usually be found. “Great…” She whispered to herself, giving voice to her thoughts. She entered a new command, and the monitor flickered to a different read-out. “We’ve lost… two of our engines… the shield emitter is virtually non-existent.” She sighed, and then continued reading out loud. “Our communications array is down… the hull has sustained a huge fracture–”

“None of that matters now,” Elita called out to her, holding Firestar steady as she helped her into a chair.

Chromia looked up at them, and then headed over to Moonracer, who lay slumped over the terminal at her station.

“’Racer?” She prompted the femme, and then gently moved the femme’s frame until she was seated back in her chair, her head tilted upwards. Her optics were darkened, indicating that she was off-line. “’Racer?” Chromia tried again, gently. She looked back towards Firestar, who was steadily recovering from her own injuries. “’Star?”

The red colored femme glanced over and started getting up from her seat, as she reassured Elita that she was all right. Chromia moved aside and allowed Firestar to check Moonracer’s vital signs. After a few long seconds, she sighed with relief, looked at Chromia. “She’ll be all right, Chrome. Give her system time to adjust; she should be awake in a few breems.”

Chromia, relieved, thanked her, and the two of them walked back towards their captain.

Firestar, still overwhelmed by the sudden turn of events, looked around at the cruiser, taking in the damage it had sustained. “It’s going to take us… at least several orns to repair the damage, provided we even have the necessary parts to rebuild.”

But Elita One shook her head; she had other plans. “We can’t stay here. Chromia, salvage anything you can, including any power cells, tools and equipment. Firestar, I need you to backup all the ship’s data, as soon as you can. Then destroy anything left behind that has a Cybertronian signature. Including the on-board computer,” she ordered, ignoring their looks of surprise. “As soon as Moonracer is awake, we’re leaving,” she added.

“But, Elita–” Firestar started in protest, but Elita One stopped her.

“I don’t want to hear it,” she said, and then headed towards the command platform, turning away from them. “Please, just do what I asked.”

Sideswipe hurried out onto the streets of south Iacon, as soon as his shift was over; there were only so many coils he could look at in one day before he would go insane. The truth was, that he had other things on his mind today, his curiosity fuelled by a rumour he had overheard at the factory, and he could hardly wait to find out more about it.

An Autobot who he didn’t recognize was walking in front of him, and he broke into a sprint to catch up to him, tapping him on the shoulder. “Hey!”

The bot turned around, startled, his hands raised in the air in a gesture of surrender. “You don’t want to hurt me,” he said, startled by the taller, red and black Autobot. “Please… I don’t have any credits–”

Sideswipe stepped away from him, not wanting to frighten him. He looked like a new cadet. “Relax!” He said, “I’m not going to rough you up, don’t worry. I just wanted to ask you a few questions, that’s all.”

The mech looked at him warily, and then quickly glanced up and down the street. He lowered his hands in relief. “Look,” he said, “I… I don’t know anything, okay? Just leave me alone.”

“Come on, help me out here. What are you so afraid of, anyway?” Sideswipe asked him.

The bot began to turn around, slowly walking away, but Sideswipe moved in front of him, blocking his path. “You’re new, aren’t you?” The bot looked at him, confused, so he elaborated. “A new recruit… you know; with the Autobot-Neutral Alliance?”

The bot’s expression changed to one of recognition, and he nodded warily. “Yeah… Well, what’s it to you?”

Sideswipe shrugged. “Just curious. Say, uh, I was just wondering if you knew anything about… a recent attack around these parts?”

“An attack?” The bot stopped to think, and then realization hit him. “Oh… yeah. I don’t know much about it, though. Sorry but I can’t really help you,” he replied, and then tried to walk around the larger bot in an effort to continue on his way. Sideswipe remained an obstruction in his path, and the bot grew increasingly annoyed. “May I pass, please?”

Sideswipe smirked. “Not until you tell me everything you know,” he threatened, his arms crossed in front of his chest. He tried to look as domineering as possible, though without appearing too frightful. This wasn’t the first time Sideswipe had coerced new cadets into doing things for him, and most probably would not be the last.

The bot sighed, and gave up. “You are intolerable, you know that?”

“Thank you; it’s nice to meet you, too,” he replied, tongue-in-cheek. “Now, tell me about that attack,” he prodded.

“Well, like I said; I only know what I heard from others…” He paused, and all the while glanced frequently about, as if he were afraid that someone might be watching them. His voice dropped in volume a notch or two. “I don’t know… some Decepticon attacked one of the Protectobots… left him near deactivated. I heard he’s in bad shape, might not survive.”

Sideswipe watched him carefully, listening to every word. “And?” He said.

“And… nothing,” the bot replied, shrugging. “Look, that’s all I know, okay? I swear.”

Sideswipe was about to let him go, but then decided to try one more time. “Is there anything else? Anything at all that you can tell me?” He prompted.

The bot shook his head again. “No–” Then he stopped, tilted his head in thought, as if he had just recalled a minor detail that may or may not be relevant. “Well, there was one thing…” But then he reconsidered, shrugged, “Eh, it’s probably nothing,” he said.

Sideswipe uncrossed his arms. “No, tell me,” he cut in, “What is it?”

The bot looked around again, and then moved closer to Sideswipe, lowering his voice further. “Promise me you won’t tell anyone I told you?” He asked, looking worried.

“Sure, I promise. What is it?” The red and black Autobot reassured him, growing impatient.

“Well… I overheard some bots talking, and… don’t quote me on this or anything, but they said that Autobot parts are starting to turn up in weird places now… they said that that’s why the Protectobot was attacked.”

Sideswipe shook his head in confusion. “Wait – Autobot parts? What do you mean; what parts?”

“You know – parts,” he emphasised, waving his hands to indicate their own bodies. “Parts!” The bot’s tone sounded frustrated, as if Sideswipe should have already known what he had meant by it.

Sideswipe suddenly drew back. “Oh – you mean–?” He said, looking down at his own frame.

Yes! Yes, that’s exactly what I mean!” The bot appeared frightened – terrified, in fact. As if he may very well be the next unlucky victim.

He tried to move away again, but Sideswipe stopped him. “Wait,” he said, pausing to think. “So… what… I mean – who’s behind all this?”

The bot shrugged. “The Decepticons, probably.” He waited for Sideswipe to assimilate that information, and then spoke again. “Can I go now?” Sideswipe did not respond, but instead allowed the bot to push past him, as he stood there deep in thought. He watched the cadet hurry off down the road until he had disappeared completely around a corner.

Sideswipe started down along the street, unhurriedly. The conversation with the bot had placed him into a particular frame of mind – one that, if allowed to follow its course, would end up leading him into unforeseen territory.

He watched the skyline bask in a gentle, pink glow as Cybertron’s star dropped gradually below the horizon. As Sideswipe rounded the corner, he didn’t notice, at first, the two mechs who were talking near the entranceway to a sub-level access point. He stopped short and, remaining unnoticed, quickly ducked back behind the corner. Curious, he boosted his audio receptors to amplify the signal until he could hear them quite clearly.

He could tell by the way they spoke that they were Neutrals; he had observed them for long enough now to be able to pick out the distinct sounds of their voices, and their particular, though barely discernible, dialect. They appeared to be speaking casually, and every so often one of them would laugh at something the other had said.

“…I hope I get a weapons upgrade,” one was saying. “How do they expect us to do our jobs with these standard issue toys?”

“You know they can’t rush things, especially now,” said the other. “Just remember what Unit four-oh-two told us.”

Unit four-oh-two? Sideswipe thought, perplexed. What the frag did that mean? He continued listening.

“Yeah, yeah, I remember. If it were up to me, though, we’d already be in command,” the first Neutral said derisively.

The second one snorted in amusement. “You’re so full of hot air you’d put Sentinel to shame, you know that?”

There was silence for a time, and Sideswipe thought he’d heard enough, but as he started to step away, the first Neutral spoke again. “Hey, what time’s the delivery? We’ve been waiting here too long already.”

“Should be here any minute,” the second one replied, and then silence fell between them again. Almost half a minute went by, and then Sideswipe heard the sound of a vehicle approaching from the sub-level transit route. “See, told you,” the Neutral said, as he confirmed the arrival of their freight.

The two Neutrals waited until the vehicle had pulled up to their access point, and then the second mech said, almost as an after thought, “Come on; let’s get this stuff back to Antihex before any slagger sees us.”

Sideswipe waited quietly until the two Neutrals had disappeared down the transit route, then slowly stepped out and stood in front of the access point where they had been talking only moments before.

He looked around him, hesitating, unsure of his next move. He could follow them, sure, find out what these Neutrals were up to, but that would mean that he might eventually have to confront the truth.

Watching the Autobot-Neutral Alliance’s slow, but certain, rise to power after all these years had started to take its toll on him, and it was time now, finally, for him to move forward. Even if for no other reason than he might finally come to learn what had become of his brother.

A few more seconds passed, and then Sideswipe stepped through onto the sub-level transit route, not looking back.

Chapter 6 by Crystine

Transformers: Heroes


Chapter 6


The Autobot Chief Medic stared up at the exterior of the large, imposing building that housed the remains of Autobots who had long since departed this physical plane. Situated near the Archives, it was not a place he liked to visit too often; the memories it triggered of the Great War and all those who had valiantly, though tragically, lost their lives were sometimes more than he could handle.

However, this particular day was different. Ratchet focused his thoughts upon a single purpose, and slowly walked up the steps that led into the entrance hall of the Autobot Mausoleum. The entire foyer, with its high ceiling, basked in a soft, golden incandescence, illuminating the flat metallic displays adorning the walls, which were meticulously lined up along each side. The images depicted various highlights of the past Ages; the Autobot Matrix of Leadership being passed to Optimus, the monumental confrontation at Kaon that had led to the end of the Great War, the rebuilding of Iacon after the Great Devastation. All iconic moments in Cybertron’s history – moments that Ratchet would rather forget.

He input his access code and the large double doors slid open, allowing him to enter the final resting place of comrades who had passed. The chamber was eerily quiet, enveloped in semi-darkness, and Ratchet activated the lights. Immediately, a harsh brightness flooded the interior space and the repair specialist imagined that he sensed the sparks of the deceased Autobots stirring suddenly at his intrusion, waking them from their eternal slumber. Of course, he did not believe in stories of ghosts, regardless of rumours the younger cadets liked to spread around, and he quickly banished the thought.

He slowly walked down one side of the chamber, along a row of crypts, and read the name on each plaque as he passed by them. Many of these Autobots had been close to him, and his spark pulsed in regret as he remembered their time amongst the living. He had almost reached the other end of the mausoleum, when he finally stopped.

He stood in front of a large statue; it stood out amongst the rest, as it had no crypt behind it, unlike all the others.

“Wheeljack, old friend…” he spoke, audibly to himself, albeit softly. Feelings of sadness flooded through his circuitry, and he was unable to stop the sudden onslaught of emotions which threatened to engulf him. But then, after a few moments they passed and were replaced by memories of the Great War.

He was taken back to a moment in time that remained ever vivid in his mind; a memory that he had often replayed over and over.

He had been working alongside Wheeljack in his workshop, analysing the nano-sized particles of a foreign agent extracted from one of the many victims that had succumbed to what had been dubbed the Dark Plague. The sample was encased in a high security containment unit, and had been placed under a microscope. Wheeljack had shaken his head in disbelief. “The advanced technology in this… I’ve never seen anything like it,” he had said, leaning over the sample. “It’s intelligent, like a virus that’s evolving and adapting at a rate faster than anything I’ve ever seen before.” He had continued to study the sample with intense focus, the particles attempting to escape their prison whilst he observed them. Finally, he had stepped away, a sudden thought entering his head. “Ratch, would you make me a promise?”

“Hm?” The medic had replied, somewhat sceptical. He had known Wheeljack since the beginning of the Golden Age, and well enough to know that his promises usually turned out to be nothing more than requests to help him test out some newly constructed device he had recently designed.

“If this virus takes me, promise me that you’ll safeguard my research data, and that you’ll continue looking until you’ve found some answers?”

Ratchet had been taken aback by his friend’s sombre request, had rebuked him for his pessimism. “It’s not going to take you, and I won’t make any such promise.”

Wheeljack had ignored his refusal to accept the possibility that Wheeljack, or even he, might yet become victims of the Plague. “We’re the only chance the Autobots have to find a cure, Ratch. If I’m gone, you’ll be their only hope. Promise me you’ll do that one thing for me, please?” He had said, a solemn conviction and determination in his voice, and Ratchet, begrudgingly, had finally agreed.

Ratchet looked up at the monument, recalling that promise, and the cure which had eventually been found – although under very suspect circumstances; Wheeljack had suddenly, and quite inexplicably, disappeared, but had left behind a Decepticon code buried within his research data. The Autobot engineer had managed, somehow, to discover this code and decipher it, but his research notes had also contained the name of the Decepticon responsible for engineering the virus and, thanks to Wheeljack’s discovery, the named criminal had been arrested soon afterwards and charged with not only genocide, but also with the alleged murder of the Autobot engineer.

But alas, the body of his best friend was never recovered.

Wheeljack’s statue looked soulfully down at Ratchet, and the chief medic thought that he could hear his voice, a soft echo haunting his audio receptors. He wondered whether he might be glitching, and then he remembered why he had come here in the first place.

Despite all that had happened, some part of him was compelling him, driving him ever onwards to find the closure that he so desperately needed.

He would attempt to discover, once and for all, what had happened to his best friend so that he could, finally, lay him to rest.

About an hour after the successful rescue of Scavenger from the Alliance, Jazz had headed back to Iacon Central, keeping a low profile and avoiding other mechs as much as possible; he had needed that time to himself to re-evaluate his position and decide what he was going to do next.


If he returned to the Autobots, he would have to find a way to explain to them why he had helped a Decepticon escape, especially one who was, to their optics at least, responsible for a serious crime, and one who had been officially marked for deactivation by the Cybertronian High Council – which meant that, whilst Scavenger was safe for the time being, there was a high likelihood that the Alliance would eventually catch up with him and his comrades – and if not sooner, then later.


But what other options were available to him? He could leave Iacon for a little while, or possibly request a transfer to Altihex. But that wouldn’t help matters and, besides, he wanted to find out what had happened to Groove, and discover what the Decepticons’ intentions were. The way he saw it, he would either have to come up with some kind of cover story for his role in Scavenger’s escape and hope that the other Autobots would believe him… or, he could consider an entirely different strategy; one that had been playing on his mind ever since Optimus had called him into his private quarters to talk, several weeks ago. That option, however unlikely or impossible it had seemed at the time to carry out, was now starting to make the most sense to him, as if providence had played a part and now it was all starting to fall into place.

Jazz approached the Maintenance and Repair Bay, and the double doors opened automatically. A few Autobots were on duty inside, attending to routine maintenance tasks. Red Alert was showing Arcee how to realign a sensory array on one of the off-lined mechs laid out on a table, but he stopped and looked over as the head of Special Operations waited patiently to see him.

“Hold that thought, I’ll be right back,” he told Arcee, and she nodded, smiled uncertainly at Jazz.

As Red made his way to the double doors, Jazz stepped through into the large med bay. “Hey, Jazz…” He greeted, in a lowered voice. “Didn’t think we’d be seeing you here so soon,” he said.

“Is everything all right?” Jazz asked him, though he already had a strong suspicion that the senior Autobots were not too happy with him.

The Acting Chief Medic gave him a doubtful expression. “Well… Prowl was asking if I knew where you were. I think he wants to speak to you.”

“Heh. I bet he does,” Jazz replied simply, then changed the focus away from himself. “Mind if I take a look at the patient?” He said, indicating with one hand to a berth over in the corner. Groove was lying there, looking so still and lifeless that it made Jazz feel instantly uneasy.

Red looked towards the patient, considering the request. “It’s just that… I’m supposed to let them know if you’re here. I’m – sorry, Jazz. I really don’t want to get involved or anything, but…”

“Direct orders?” Jazz finished for him. Red nodded. “Well, you do what you gotta do. I won’t be more than a few kliks,” Jazz told him, and then walked over to Groove. Red hesitated for a moment, and then shrugged, headed back over to Arcee; he supposed there wouldn’t be any harm in allowing him to see the patient.

Jazz stood over the berth, carefully taking in the sight before him. He scanned the patient, recording every detail to memory, but that wasn’t the reason he had come here. He was looking for something – anything – that was not apparent, not immediately obvious to the untrained optic. He tried to imagine the Protectobot’s last few moments, the terrifying ordeal he must have gone through before being brutally off-lined. Something about the expression. There was fear, horror in the mech’s face… yes; that was obvious enough. But there was also something else, another emotion there. Something that he had seen before in the faces of terminated victims. The Mining Station at XR-5 on his last mission, he recalled with regret.


Yes, that was it. Realization. As if Groove had learned of something before he had lost consciousness… something that he had not expected at all.

Jazz had seen all he needed to see, and quietly turned to leave the med bay, but was startled to see Prowl waiting for him at the bay’s entrance. He appeared as patient and aloof as he always did, arms crossed in front of him.

“Jazz, a word please?” He said, as the First Lieutenant approached him. Prowl did not wait for his response, but signalled for Jazz to follow him out of the med bay and into the hall outside. He made sure no other mech was in audio range, and then got straight to the point, his voice low, yet terse. “I’ve received various reports claiming that you were seen helping the Decepticons escape. Is this true?”

Jazz held his gaze, not giving away any of his thoughts or intentions. “And if it was? You going to have me terminated as well, without waiting to hear what I’ve got to say?”

Prowl grimaced, his frustration now surfacing. “Jazz, this isn’t a joke! What the Pits were you thinking, providing deliberately misleading information to our search teams?” He was angry, and for an all too fleeting few seconds did not hold back. “Do you have any idea what that looks like, Jazz? What you’ve done?” The Special Operative remained quiet, his full attention upon Prowl, his own anger kept well under control. Prowl inhaled deeply, thought about how he was going to say what he needed to say next. “Jazz, you leave me with no choice…” His voice was calm once again. “I’m going to have to take you into custody, at least until I’ve spoken to Prime,” he hesitated, waited for the other mech to respond.

“On what grounds?” Jazz challenged him.

“Please don’t make this any more difficult than it needs to be –”

“I asked you a question,” Jazz said stubbornly. “On… what… grounds? I want to hear you say it.”

Prowl sighed in frustration. All right, if that’s the way he was going to be, fine. He spoke slowly, deliberately. “Jazz, as First Lieutenant of Cybertron Command, you are forthwith charged with assisting the Decepticons  – war criminals – by aiding their escape; providing false information in a deliberate effort to mislead our search teams; and assaulting fellow Autobots and Neutrals, in direct violation of the Autobot-Neutral Alliance Code of Honour, and of the Cybertronian High Council’s directives. Is that clear enough?”

“Yeah, it’s clear enough.” Jazz said, and then added, “Let me speak to Prime first.”

Prowl hesitated, and then nodded. “He’s on his way here now.” He glanced back towards the med bay doors, imagining Groove on the table inside, and recalled the day they had found him, helpless and torn, possibly beyond salvation. “Was it really worth it, Jazz?” He asked the black and white mech, regret in his voice, as he tried to fathom the motivations behind his fellow officer’s recent actions, but coming up short.

Jazz did not reply, and they both stood in the hall, each observing the other, each wondering how things had ever been allowed to come to this. Several minutes passed by in silence, until heavy footfalls could be heard coming from the other end of the hall, getting louder with each step. Jazz did not turn around to acknowledge the Autobot leader’s approach, but waited until Prowl had stepped aside, and the large mech faced him directly. He was obviously disappointed.

“I’d like a word, Prime,” Jazz said, not waiting for the other to speak first.

Optimus nodded once. “Not here,” he said, and indicated for them both to follow him, as he silently made his way back down the hall. Jazz gave Prowl a look of dissatisfaction, and then caught up with the Autobot Commander as he led the way to the private Conference Room. 

Ratchet had headed to Maccadam’s Old Oil House in an effort to take his mind off his current thoughts. Seated at a table within a small nook, away from the distractions of the larger crowds, he observed the busy bar with a watchful optic, scanning every bot who entered and exited, unconsciously searching for someone. He wasn’t sure who he was looking for, but it didn’t really matter all that much; the main thing was that he needed time alone to think, away from the Autobot’s central hub of operations, at least just for a little while.

With the recent developments involving the Alliance, including their increased efforts to put an end to the Decepticon regime, Ratchet had begun to feel more and more uneasy, and anxious. This feeling had turned into an ever-disturbing presence in the back of his mind as reports had gradually started coming in from different parts of the Gamma Sector, reports of Autobots who had been brutally attacked and left for dead, or who had gone missing. He should have realized what was occurring much sooner, but he had been too caught up with his own internal struggle. He had made every effort to suppress the anger and frustration which had plagued him – and the sorrow, too – emotions that, for too long, had remained buried deep within an inaccessible part of his mind. But then they had begun to emerge to the fore, growing ever stronger, until they threatened to take control of him unless he could find the courage to confront them.

It had almost reached the point where he could no longer function without the fragmented memories of his chequered past constantly interfering with his mental processes and his work.

Even now, as he watched mechs walk by his table, acknowledging him respectfully in recognition of his senior rank, any slight trigger could send him back to that place within his troubled mind; that void of emptiness which had never truly ceased to haunt him.

He could suddenly hear the shouts from across the hall, the darkened med bay as the power momentarily went offline, Autobots being dragged onto operating tables as they cried out for someone to help them, their outer plating losing integrity at a terrifying rate as the Dark Plague took hold of them – insidious and cunning as a heartless beast of prey from Ceti Alpha Seven, yet many times more terrifying. Autobots he would never see again, or ever be able to help.

A pair of Neutrals walked past and smiled at him, as he was shaken from his memories, and he gave them a respectful nod in acknowledgment. They resumed talking between themselves, the taller mech laughing loudly at something the femme had said.

Ratchet shook his head in an effort to return to the here and now, and he thought of Red Alert taking charge of the Repair Bay in his absence. He hadn’t doubted for one second that his willing student would do a fine job ensuring that all remained under control over there, or that he could handle any repairs that needed to be done, no matter how large or how small the task. He was glad for it, too, because it meant that he would be able to focus upon other things – take a little time out to sort things out in his head before his assigned team of Autobots departed for Polyhex.

Prime had selected a team of five who had volunteered for a mission to secure the former Decepticon-controlled province. The group would have the support of several backup teams, and would be headed by an Autobot who was stationed at Altihex.

Deep in thought, Ratchet did not notice the three mini-bots who had entered the bar. They spotted him in the far corner and, after a few moments of hesitation, casually ambled towards him.

“Hi, Ratchet,” one of them said in greeting, and Ratchet looked up at the uninvited guests. Bumblebee, Cliffjumper and Brawn stood beside him, and Ratchet acknowledged them all with a frown before he looked away again. Bumblebee remained unperturbed by the medic’s apparent disinterest in their company. “Mind if we join you?” He said, and then took an empty seat across from Ratchet. Brawn sat next to the repair specialist, while Cliffjumper slipped into the seat beside Brawn, not waiting to be invited.

Bumblebee appeared to be in good spirits, and Ratchet decided against just getting up and walking away. Instead, he sighed, looked down at his unfinished canister of pink fuel. “Something I can help you with?” He said.

“Oh, no, not really,” the yellow mini-bot said simply.

Ratchet looked at the three of them with a wary optic. “What are you three doing here? Don’t you have work to do?”

Cliffjumper, the red colored mini-bot seated next to him, answered. “Nah, my duty cycle doesn’t commence for another hour. I’ll just be on watch, besides,” he said.

“Well, I’m busy, too,” the repair expert told them.

“We haven’t seen you around much, lately,” Bumblebee commented, wanting to make conversation.

“That’s because I haven’t been around,” the red and white Chief Medic told them.

“Oh!” Bumblebee started, suddenly remembering something. “Did you hear about Groove?”

Ratchet shrugged. “Yeah, I heard.” The mini-bot waiting expectantly for him to say something more, but the medic remained silent.

This time, Brawn had something to say about it. “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you care that he’s this close to dying?” He indicated with his two index fingers, bringing them almost together.

Ratchet looked back at the mini-bot, unafraid of his accusatory remark. “Of course I care,” he rebuked him in irritation. “More than you know.” A few moments passed in silence, and then he sighed, releasing the tension that had formed between them. “Red can handle things over there. I won’t be able to help Groove any more than he can.”

Brawn appeared to back off, satisfied with his response. He felt just as much anger and helplessness as any of the other Autobots, after they had all learned what had happened to the Protectobot. Brawn only wished that he had been there the night of the attack, been given the opportunity to offline the Decepticon responsible with his own bare hands. “I suppose you know about the Decepticon, too?” He asked. “How he escaped?”

Ratchet nodded, the frown returning to his face. “It’s no surprise, really.” He paused, and the three of them gave him a look of uneasy disapproval. “We’ve grown too complacent,” he explained, indicating around the large bar at the Autobot majority. “Too reliant on others. Too afraid to do what needs to be done.”

“What others?” Bumblebee asked, curious. “What needs to be done?”

“Shut up, Bumblebee,” Cliffjumper reproached him, and the yellow mini-bot looked at him with uncertainty. “Don’t ask stupid questions,” he clarified.

Ratchet continued, expressing his pessimism and disappointment with the current goings on. “Stop the Decepticons. Take back our Primus-forsaken planet, for starters. If we’re not careful, the past is just going to repeat itself.” The three of them watched Ratchet in silence; they had no ready responses for him. He shrugged. “But we sure as hell don’t need the Neutrals and their over-inflated sense of self-importance telling us how we should run things.” The three Autobots returned blank expressions; and it was apparent that they did not possess the same depth of knowledge about the Alliance hierarchy that he did. “Look, never mind that,” Ratchet continued, changing the topic. Then, something caught the corner of his optic, and he stood up to leave. “If you’ll excuse me, there’s someone I need to talk to,” he said, and left the three to their own devices.

Ratchet approached the front of the bar where an Autobot stood facing away from him. He was predominantly blue and red, and was leaning casually against a wall, watching one of the femmes across the room as she chatted happily with a large-framed Autobot.

The medic placed a light hand on his shoulder, and the mech turned around in surprise. “Well, well; if it isn’t our favourite medic,” the Autobot greeted him cheekily. “Thought you were off chasing Decepticons?”

“We’re making final preparations before we leave,” the medic replied. Not a huge fan of small talk, he got straight to the point. “Listen, I want to talk to you,” he said.

“Yeah,” Smokescreen shrugged. “What about?”

Ratchet glanced around them, and then indicated towards the exit of the bar with a nod of his head. “Come on, let’s go for a drive.”

The Autobot nodded. “Whatever you say, Ratch,” he replied, and followed the chief medic out of the Oil House.

* * *

“I got a small favour to ask,” Ratchet told the red and blue Autobot car as he led them through the streets of east Iacon, taking in the sights and sounds of the busy district while they talked. Smokescreen did not reply, only waited for him to continue. “You remember back during the Plague, when the cure to the virus was found encrypted within Wheeljack’s research? Well, something just didn’t add up back then, and it’s been bothering me of late.”

The two of them remained quiet as they both reminisced on the events of the past. “You want me to find someone for you?” Smokescreen guessed.

“Talk to him, more like,” Ratchet corrected him. “I can locate him easily enough – he’s in Iacon – but he’s not too interested in fighting our battles anymore, least not since we last spoke, anyway.”

“Ah…” Smokescreen replied, knowingly. “Sideswipe.” He mentioned the Autobot’s name as though it had a stigma attached to it – as if it were best left unspoken.

“Well, I’d appreciate it if you could pass on a message for me. He might not listen to me, but he might listen to you. Besides, I’ll be leaving for Polyhex within a few mega cycles.”

“Sure; I can try, but I can’t promise you anything, Ratchet,” Smokescreen advised the repair specialist.

“I understand.” Ratchet slowed to a stop in front of Wheeljack’s old workshop. “Come on, I want to show you something.” Ratchet transformed into his robot mode, and opened the door to his former friend’s work space.

Smokescreen transformed as well, and followed the Autobot medic inside. The door sealed closed behind them, and Ratchet activated the overhead lights.

“Whoa…” Smokescreen said, looking around the workshop. It seemed as if Wheeljack had suddenly up and left in the middle of one of his projects, various pieces of equipment and half-completed constructions absent-mindedly left behind. “I didn’t know this place still existed. It’s almost as if…” Smokescreen began, walking up to the main work bench and hovering a hand gently over it, as if he expected the table and its contents to suddenly disintegrate with the slightest touch.”Well… as if he had never left.” He looked up at Ratchet, who was studying him intently.

“When he went missing… I couldn’t clear this place out. I just couldn’t,” Ratchet tried to explain.

The blue and red theoretician nodded in understanding, as he carefully picked up a laser cutter, turned it over in his hands. On the end of the bench, a data pad rested atop a tool box, still connected to a main terminal, as if someone had carelessly put it aside in the middle of a data transfer but then had later forgotten about it. Smokescreen placed the cutter down carefully and walked over to the data pad, picking it up. He held it up, examined it. “He must have been a real genius… discovering that cure in time,” he commented.

Ratchet walked over, took the data pad from his hand. “He was one of the best.” Ratchet said, putting the data pad back down. “But did he find the cure?” He shook his head slowly, lowered his voice. “I’m not so sure anymore.”

Smokescreen’s expression changed to one of puzzlement. “What do you mean?” He looked around the room, searching for an explanation. “Wait a second – so, if… if Wheeljack didn’t find the cure… and you didn’t find it… then…” Ratchet just looked at him and grimaced, as Smokescreen voiced the obvious question. “…Who did?”

“That’s something that I’ve been asking myself for a long time,” the medic finally said. “But… the more I try to come up with an answer, the more it evades me.”

“So, then… what does Sideswipe have to do with this?” Smokescreen asked, increasingly curious.

Ratchet shrugged, inhaled deeply. “He was the last one to see Wheeljack… before he disappeared. I figure he might know something that could help.” He paused, and considered the possibility of that scenario. “Maybe there’s some… small detail, or… I don’t know – about what happened that he forgot to mention. It’s worth a try.” Ratchet walked across to a desk in the corner of the workshop, and the top drawer slid open. He reached in gently, and retrieved a small object from inside the compartment before the drawer closed again. Staring down at it, he seemed to become lost in a time that had long since passed, but before Smokescreen could say anything, he returned to the present moment with a start. He handed the object to Smokescreen. “Here… give him this. Tell him… tell him it’s from me, and to come find me.”

“What’s on it?” the other Autobot asked quizzically, as he held up the data chip.

“It’s a recorded message,” Ratchet said simply. Smokescreen waited for him to continue, but he did not elaborate any further.

“Sure thing, Ratch,” Smokescreen finally said, as he flipped the small object up in the air and caught it before he put it safely away into a small compartment in his forearm.

“Thanks,” the medic said. “I owe you one.” 

The door to the Conference Room slid open and Optimus stepped inside, waiting for his two officers to follow him. But Jazz stopped short outside the door, looked back at Prowl. “Alone,” he stated obstinately. Prowl glanced at their leader, who finally nodded, and Prowl left them to talk in private as the door slid closed.

“All right, Jazz… I’m listening,” Optimus said, taking a seat.

Jazz remained standing. He wanted this to be as brief as possible, but he took a moment to collect his thoughts before speaking. “Prime… I know this will be difficult for you to understand right now, but… I was just trying to do my job.” Prime remained silent, unsure what Jazz was getting at. “Remember your request?” He prompted, as he watched the Commander’s reaction intently.

Optimus looked up at him, and a new realization seemed to enter into his awareness. He had asked Jazz to infiltrate the Decepticon army by making it appear as though he had defected. “Yes… but not like this, Jazz.” He looked disappointed, almost sorrowful.

“Why not?” It was an honest enough question, and one that Jazz felt deserved an answer. Optimus gestured with one hand, looking for the right words. He couldn’t find any. “The way I see it,” Jazz continued, “What I did makes it believable. Anything less and it just wouldn’t work.” He paused, sighed. “You still want me to do this, right? ‘Cause if you’ve changed your mind...” Jazz said, trailing off.

“No,” Optimus finally said, shaking his head. “It’s just that, I thought… you wanted to help them...”

Jazz took a long, slow breath. He was not about to lie to his Commander, or misplace his trust in him, and so he had to be honest, whether Prime would understand or not. “I do want to help them,” he confessed softly.

“Jazz–” the Commander started, but his First Lieutenant cut him off before he could say anything more.

“Just… just hear me out, okay?” Optimus sighed, nodded, waited for him to continue. “You asked me to find out why the war ended… and gain the Decepticons’ trust, right?” Optimus nodded in the affirmative. “Well, I can’t do that without also allowing a part of me to become involved… to see things from their perspective, and as they really are – and not just as we think they are. Otherwise, the whole mission’s a lost cause… and you will never find the answers to your questions. Now, I gotta ask you, what is it that you truly want?” He paused, watching Optimus’ reaction.

“I’m not sure what you’re asking me, Jazz,” he said.

“Do you want me to tell you what you already know, and what everyone else already knows? ‘Cause I could probably do that for you, no problem. Or… do you want to know the truth? Even if it means having to put aside our differences… even if only for a minute? Because if you’re not prepared to face things as they are without your blinders on, then I suggest you withdraw your request, and I’ll forget you ever brought it up in the first place.”

Optimus was taken aback by Jazz’s candid words, and they seemed to hit him hard, though he did not allow his emotions to show. “Of course… the truth is all that matters,” Optimus said after a while.

“Good. Then, let me do what I need to do, the only way I know how to do it. And, if nothing else, I’ll promise you one thing; you’re going to get what you need to know, and not just what you want to hear – whether you’ll accept it, or not.”

Optimus leaned back in his chair, his First Lieutenant’s words impactful and unanticipated, and he withdrew, becoming introverted. Neither of them spoke for a long time. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Jazz?” He finally asked.

Jazz shrugged. “No, not really. But, like I said, it’s up to you.”

Optimus sighed in resignation. If he couldn’t trust Jazz at least, then who could he trust? “Very well. I hope to hell I’m making the right decision.” He paused, taking his time. He was uncertain, hesitant. “I’ll let the others know you won’t be returning to Iacon.” Jazz nodded in understanding, listening carefully to the Autobot Commander. “And… Jazz?”

“Yeah?” The black and white Autobot asked quietly.

“Don’t come back until you’ve found what you’re looking for. Is that understood?”

“Understood,” Jazz replied, and then turned and exited the Conference Room in silence.

A short while later Jazz left Iacon behind, and was not to return again for a long, long time.

“You owe me five credits, aft-face,” said a burly mech, his arms crossed, as he stood behind a red and yellow Cybertronian jet leaning against a counter at the front of a currency exchange terminal, somewhere in an eastern suburb of Binaltech. Two other mechs accompanied him.

“I don’t owe you anything, so frag off,” the jet-former replied, without turning around to acknowledge the three of them.

“Oh, yeah?” But the jet continued to ignore him. “Hey, look at me when I’m talking to you, bit-for-brains!” He stepped closer towards the jet, ready to teach him a lesson.

The Cybertronian did not turn around to face him. He appeared to be totally unafraid of the three mechs behind him, even though he was notably smaller in size than the largest of the three. “Why would I want to look at your ugly head?” He said simply, and began to walk away from the counter, having collected his credits.

He was stopped in his tracks by a large hand upon his shoulder, and immediately he extended his left arm in a sudden block, throwing the hand off him. The jet immediately went to throw a right hook into the large mech, but was held back by his two companions, as they grabbed hold of his arms. The jet struggled to get free of them, but it was no use; he was no match for the two of them. “Let go of me!” He demanded, but the large bot only laughed at him in smug satisfaction.

“When will you learn, Comet?” The bully said to him, sneering. Other mechs in the room looked on in alarm, but then started to back away, too afraid to get involved lest they were drawn into the confrontation.

“Slag off!” Comet replied rudely, and one second later he was rewarded with a large fist making direct contact with his jaw. His head jerked backwards with the force of the impact, and then was doubled over as a second blow was driven into his chest. He struggled to recover from the assault, kicking out, but the mech stepped back in safety.

“Aww, you hurt my feelings,” the mech said in mock regret. “What do you say, fellas? Has he learned his lesson yet?” His two lackeys laughed in derision, focusing their attention away from their victim for a split second, but that was all Comet needed. He kicked back at one of them, who faltered enough for the jet to pry his arm free of his grip, and then rammed his elbow into his face. The second lackey tried to secure his hold on him, but he was thrown backwards into the counter behind them. Free of their grip, Comet managed to dive out of the way just in time before the large mech fired a laser blast in his direction.

It missed Comet by a good margin, and he scrambled to take cover behind the counter. Security alarms were activated amidst shouts of surprise by the onlookers, and he fired his own weapon back at the bully before he bolted for the exit and then out into the busy street outside. The three mechs attempted to run after him in pursuit, but he had disappeared from their sight by the time they had stepped out into the middle of the street in search of him.

Comet did not stop running until he had passed two major intersections and then, once he was fairly certain he had lost them, he stopped and leaned against a building, glancing back in the direction he had come.

He took a minute to recompose himself after the close encounter, and leaned his head back against the wall, optics dimmed. As he looked up, he noticed the sign on the building’s exterior; Roundup’s Exotic Entertainment, and shook his head at the thought of what he might find inside. He really wasn’t in the mood for any sort of entertainment, exotic or not, and was about to walk away when a figure suddenly appeared beside him. He turned towards it, moving his arm suddenly to force the mech up against the wall, before he realized, with regret, who it was. “Oh, it’s you,” he said flatly, stepping back.

She brushed herself off in annoyance. “Well, who did you expect, gorgeous?” It was a Cybertronian femme, her robot mode predominately purple and yellow. What looked like wings stuck out from her back; the split hull from her speed-boat alternate mode. She grabbed his arm and started to lead him towards the entertainment building, but he refused, pulled away from her.

“Leave me alone,” he told her, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Come on… I’ll buy you a drink,” she coaxed him. “You’re too wound up. You need to enjoy yourself more, Comet.” She noticed the minor cut he had sustained from the skirmish, and went to run her fingers down his cheek, but he pushed her hand away.

“I said, leave me alone,” he insisted.

She crossed her arms, and frowned. “Fine. Then, I guess you don’t want to hear the latest news from Cybertron?” she said, trying to entice him.

“I don’t give a slag about Cybertron,” Comet retorted, anger in his voice. “And I don’t give a slag about you, either.”

“My, my, aren’t we touchy today,” she said, seemingly offended, but then her expression softened again.

“Look, I told you not to follow me,” he said bluntly, and began to turn away.

“I saw the other seekers,” she called out suddenly. He stopped in his tracks, and then slowly turned around to face her.

“What other seekers?” He demanded.

She shrugged, gave him a sly smile; she had gotten his attention. “Cybertronian,” she teased. “I don’t know – they looked a lot like you, actually.”

Comet carefully considered this new information. “What… were they doing here?”

“How should I know? I’m just telling you what I saw.” Then, she grabbed his arm again, pulled him towards the building’s entrance. “Come on… just for a few minutes, I promise,” she said sweetly. “Please?”

Finally, he relented. “Fine,” he said, as she led him inside the building.

In a suburb north of Binaltech, four femmes drove down a side alley in their alternate modes, staying relatively close together. Inside their vehicle compartments, they carried what they had been able to salvage from the recent attack upon their ship.

Elita One slowed to a stop in her car mode, and scanned the adjacent building. It looked abandoned from the outside, and her scan confirmed this; the building appeared to be unused, and was empty. She transformed into robot mode, and aimed her pistol at its sealed door. One blast was all that was needed to break the seal, and she kicked open the door, indicated for the other three femmes to follow her inside.

After they transformed into their robot modes and took a brief look around the place, Elita addressed her crew. “Welcome home,” she said dryly. “We can stay here for a while. At least until I can make some alternative arrangements.” Chromia nodded silently, and the four of them placed all their belongings to one side. “We can set up a temporary base and monitoring station. I’ll go and find some energy sources first thing tomorrow.”

“Ohh, can I go with you?” Moonracer pleaded. She had since recovered from the crash landing and was eager to explore Binaltech with the other femmes.

“No,” Elita told her sternly. “There’ll be plenty of time for that later. I need you to stay here.”

Chromia began sifting through her tool box, looking for a molecular welder and laser cutter. “I’m going to need more materials than what we’ve got. I’ll go with you tomorrow,” she informed Elita without looking up.

The femme commander hesitated, considering her request. “All right. Firestar? You stay here with ‘Racer. Chromia and I will leave early; probably be gone before your recharge cycles end.

Firestar nodded in the affirmative. “I can set up things here, secure the building and…” She looked over at the green femme. “Moonracer can help me rebuild the long range scanners that we salvaged from the ship.”

The sharpshooter looked back at her and nodded. She was not particularly looking forward to that particular task, but she was happy to be able to help out, nonetheless.

“Good,” Elita said, as Chromia began to put together a makeshift recharge unit. “Then it’s decided.”

Comet did not trust Thunderblast as far as he could throw her. She had a notorious reputation for taking advantage of mechs in power for her own gain, regardless of their allegiance or where their loyalties lay. Still, Comet was well aware of her modus operandi, and was one of the few who did not fall for her guile. Nevertheless, his natural ability to resist her manipulations made her useful to him as a source of news from around the Sector.

He looked down at his cubed container of fuel; its form was quaint, and it reminded him of days gone by on Cybertron, when he and his comrades had seen better days, had held onto hope for the future. He pushed the drink aside bitterly, not wanting to be reminded of things which he had tried so hard to forget all these years.

“So, what’s up your afterburner, anyway?” The purple and yellow femme prodded, sipping at her own cube.

Comet sighed. “What’s it to you?” He said. He looked around the entertainment suite, saw several alien mechs and cybernetic humanoids mingling and listening to what must have been music to them, though he found it grating.

“I care about you,” she said coyly, watching him intently. “There’s something about you, though… I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

Comet smirked. “You don’t give a scrap about anyone, least of all me,” he told her.

She smiled playfully. “And who do you care about?” She threw back at him, but she knew what his answer would be before he said it.

“No one.” He leaned back in his seat, gave her a defiant expression. Comet’s yellow air intakes atop his shoulders and the wings that projected from his back were carried with an unconscious pride and an air of stateliness that Thunderblast found so alluring, despite the mech’s dull and marked outer plating caused by many years of adversity and neglect. He was a mech who had fought countless battles, and had endured through many tough times on the streets of Alternity City, yet he had survived where other mechs would have met their demise long ago.

“I don’t believe that for a minute,” she said.

“You think you know me?” He challenged, his impatience now evident.

Thunderblast thought about this for a moment before answering, taking her time. “I didn’t say that. But what I do know is that you’re not even sure you know yourself anymore.” Comet looked at her sceptically, but let her continue. “I think… that you care about your friends on Cybertron far more than you’ve ever let on.”

He shook his head sardonically. “My so-called friends don’t care about me, so why should I care about them? To the Pits with them all,” he replied, and Thunderblast sat back, watching him with interest.

Yes, there was something about Comet that she couldn’t quite figure out, and it drove her absolutely insane. She didn’t know much about his past, and he only ever offered little tidbits every now and again, when she was lucky enough to find him in a relatively good mood – which wasn’t very often.

She tried a different approach, and changed the subject. “The Autobots are making their move; they’re taking complete control of Cybertron, even as we speak… I’ve heard they’ve almost wiped out the Decepticons, too.”

Comet stiffened visibly. “That’s not possible,” he retorted. She couldn’t tell whether he was upset, or simply sceptical about the news.

“Why not?” She asked, curious.

“Because!” He started. A waiter-bot suddenly interrupted them, offering them more drinks, but he brushed him aside in annoyance. “The Autobots are not that powerful on their own. They couldn’t possibly hold such a position without...” He trailed off, as realization slowly dawned on him. “The Alliance,” he stated, quietly to himself. How long had it been since the Neutrals had started cooperating with the Autobots in an official capacity? Since the end of the Great War, he recalled.

Thunderblast was nodding, smiling. She was rather enjoying his reaction, probably for her own selfish reasons. “It’s probably already too late, anyway,” she taunted, leaning forwards as she held his gaze. “All your former Decepticon comrades… probably all extinguished by now, wouldn’t you think?”

“I… I don’t give a slag about any of them – not any more!” His anger had been roused as he stood up from his seat, knocking the cube full of liquid to the floor.

But his little outburst did not seem to deter her in the slightest. “Don’t you? That’s too bad; they could do with all the help they can get, right about now.”

Comet was visibly trembling, as he tried his best to control his anger, but it was not working. “I can’t help them!” The words burst forth, as he raised his voice at her. “Even if I wanted to, I can’t help them!” He turned around and swiftly headed for the exit.

“Comet!” Thunderblast called after him, standing up from her seat. “Comet!”

But it was too late; he was gone.

Thunderblast sat back down slowly, sipped at the rest of her drink. Then, she started chuckling softly to herself, and plotted her next move.

Astro navigated his way through Axel’s interplanetary space port, located just beyond Binaltech’s outer edge to the south, as Rook followed closely behind. Jhiaxus’ former second-in-command had not spoken much after they had abandoned Jhiaxus’ cruiser, and appeared to be a little nervous.

Astro stopped beside an information terminal and scanned the area, searching for a Cybertronian signature.

“So, what now?” Rook asked, glancing warily around the space port. It was busy, as travellers hurried past on their way to their destinations. Near one of the departure terminals, a small group of security guards stood watching the passengers as they scrambled to board their designated transport ships. The common transport system was often slow, and only offered limited destinations. It was also expensive, and the security scans were often overbearing.

“Now… we head north,” Astro said, and began to lead the way through the crowd. “Stay close.”

Their way north was slow on foot, as the unruly crowd proved to be a constant obstacle in their path; it took them almost half an hour to finally arrive at the space port’s north exit. Nevertheless, it helped to provide a good cover for them as they determined to keep out of the way, and out of sight.

The last thing they needed was the unwanted attention of powerful mechs, especially those from the Subterranean Base; Astro was certain that the High Commander had been alerted to their absence by now, and had probably sent out a search party after them.

Heading out into a main street, they were just about to turn a corner when Astro placed a hand on Rook’s shoulder, stopping him in his tracks. Then he stepped back, indicating for Rook to do the same, and to remain quiet. Not more than a nanosecond later, a large mech walked passed them, accompanied by a group of four others. Rook caught a glimpse of him; he was a Pretender - a powerful robot warrior disguised with an outer shell which gave him a quasi-organic look.

“Bludgeon…” Astro whispered, recognising the warrior instantly.

The warrior had gone no further than a few steps, when he stopped suddenly, suspicious. He slowly looked around him, sniffing at the air as if endowed with a keen sense of smell that could hone in on any prey. Astro instinctively charged up his laser blaster, held it up to his side, and then waited quietly, fully alert. Rook took the cue and did the same, and then waited for Astro to give the signal.

Bludgeon let out a low growl, sensing them close by. He was often hired by the High Commander to hunt down and assassinate mechs who had, for one reason or another, ended up on his bad side – Astro and Rook included. The warrior slowly retraced his steps in the direction he had come, approaching the two of them ever closer, until, finally, he was upon them, trying to corner them, but Astro was too fast for the large warrior. Laser blasts erupted in a sudden, frantic conflict. The mech was temporarily blinded, but he was difficult to knock out; he stood his ground, roaring at them, lunging forward with his sword drawn in a terrifying show of might. The sword slashed through the air, narrowly avoiding Astro’s arm as he kept the samurai at bay with his laser weapon. Rook stood behind him, but the team of mechs that accompanied Bludgeon were fast closing in around them.

“Run for it! I’m right behind you,” Astro shouted back at Rook, indicating towards the opposite end of the main street. Rook hesitated, still firing his weapon at the group of mechs, and Astro pressed him again. “Go!” Finally, Rook bolted, pushing his way through the pedestrians on the busy sidewalk. Astro followed him a moment later, and the two of them sped down the street as their assailants attempted to follow them through the crowd.

On Alternity City, it was easy to disappear amid the throng, and Astro used this fact to their advantage. Within a few minutes, they had lost Bludgeon and his minions. He stopped running and rested his head against a pylon, retracting his blaster. Rook stood next to him, still a little disorientated from the sudden encounter and near miss.

“That was close,” Astro said, after they had both had time to recover.

“Yes, too close,” Rook added. “I hope that whoever you are searching for is well worth all of this.”

Astro glanced across at him, pushing his weight against the pylon and starting down the street once more, heading north towards Binaltech. “Oh, he’s worth it,” he replied, as Rook followed after him.

After their narrow escape from the Subterranean Base, Dirge and his team were able to force an entry into a refining plant, where they had been able to spend several days restoring their systems after the damage they had sustained during the battle. With the help of Bitstream, Thrust was able to restore full power to his systems; Dirge and Bitstream had also recovered without too many problems.

“Where are we, exactly?” Ramjet asked the others, as he walked over to some long transportation tubes that ran down the length of the access corridor beneath the plant’s main factory floor, leaning against them. They had managed to stay out of the way and undetected from the workers, who rarely ventured down here. Every now and again, activity could be heard from one of the transportation tubes, as freight was sent along from the plant out to a nearby pick up bay.

“I think we’re still in Hitec…” Dirge shrugged. He was referring to Alternity City’s capital, and where the Subterranean Base was located. He sat on the floor of the corridor, leaning against the wall.

For a while, no one spoke, until Ramjet asked another question, changing the subject. “What the scrap happened back there?”

Their team leader answered him again, taking his time. “Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that we successfully carried out our mission, just like Megatron asked us.”

“Yeah, but we had some unexpected help,” Ramjet reasoned, stating the obvious. “Otherwise, we would have all been scrapped for sure.”

Silence fell between them once more, as they each tried to come to terms with the reality of just how close they had all come to being confronted with their own termination.

“What was the transmission all about, anyway?” Thrust asked, curious, though he knew what the answer would be before he asked it. “Eh, don’t tell me; it’s on a need-to-know basis.” Dirge didn’t respond, which indicated that he was right. “So, where to next?” He inquired, turning to Dirge.

“Binaltech,” the blue and black team leader said flatly. “We should be on our way back to Cybertron within the next day or two. At least, that’s the plan.”

Bitstream, listening quietly to their conversation, spoke up. “I can’t wait to get back to Cybertron. This whole place gives me the creeps.” The other four jets indicated their agreement.

“Too bad we can’t get off this slaggin’ cesspit sooner,” Acid Storm commented. He was not particularly fond of Alternity City, a sentiment which they all shared.

“Well, we’ve got to stay invisible until we can meet up with Astrotrain,” Dirge reminded him. “Until then… we’re sticking to the schedule.”

Silence fell about them again until, after several minutes had passed, Dirge finally stood up and started making his way down the darkened corridor, not looking back. “Come on, let’s move.”

Optimus Prime was fully preoccupied with the mission ahead of him. Ultra Magnus, a highly regarded Autobot, had originally been scheduled to lead his small team into Polyhex, but the Autobot leader had decided to replace him at the last minute.

Elita One’s words interrupted his thoughts, as her recent recorded message kept repeating in his mind over and over again. He had since learned that she, and the rest of her crew, had departed Cybertron, and by doing so had gone against not only standard Alliance protocol, but also his own wishes. That, along with Jazz’s recent departure, had made him question his effectiveness as Commander, but also his effectiveness on an inter-personal level. In addition, he was none too happy with the recent Decepticon show, when Devastator had made his escape into Polyhex, and part of him believed that he might be able to rectify that situation, somehow, by taking some immediate and direct action; needless to say, he did not want to return to Iacon or the High Council empty-handed.

His thoughts settled on the memory of his last conversation with Jazz. He trusted his First Lieutenant with his life, that much he was sure; however, Jazz’s willingness to want to see things from the Decepticons’ perspective had left him feeling anxious. He knew how stubborn Jazz could be about his feelings, and the last thing he wanted was for him to suffer the scrutiny of his fellow Autobots, particularly after what he had done. In the end, he thought that it was best for Jazz to leave Iacon indefinitely, rather than have him undergo a long and tedious trial process. He knew that the special operative could look after himself, but what bothered him most was the impact that the truth might have on Jazz, when he finally discovered it for himself.

Optimus stood outside of Iacon Central, each of his team members present and accounted for. Every officer had been selected to take part in this mission for various reasons; Ratchet had been restless of late and had volunteered, surprising everyone; Hot Rod was an obvious choice, as was Bluestreak – they were both skilled warriors, and always eager for some action. Trailbreaker was a remarkable defence strategist and a valuable addition to the team.

“Alright, Autobots,” he said to them, as they stood in an ordered line in front of him. “Let’s get this show on the road.” Transforming into his large semi-trailer truck mode, he pulled out onto the runway that led west out of Iacon, the others transforming and following closely behind.

The convoy of five proceeded through the streets at a steady pace, with several backup teams accompanying them, keeping a good distance behind the leading team. Despite their best intentions they drew unwanted attention to themselves, as pedestrians and onlookers stopped what they were doing to look on in admiration, offering the teams their support and encouragement. The Autobot leader had a reputation in Iacon which preceded him; though it did, at times, get in the way of his objectives and slowed him down.

Just over an hour later, they arrived at the site of Superion’s recent confrontation with Devastator. Alliance construction crews had already been despatched to begin repairs and rebuild the collapsed bridge. Optimus led them through the underpass and a short while later they reached the Iacon border, Polyhex now clearly in their sights.

The Autobot Commander slowed to a stop, as he surveyed the landscape before them. The fortress at Darkmount, deep in the heart of Polyhex, could be seen as a small speck in the distance.

“Where do we begin, Optimus?” Trailbreaker asked from behind him.

“Let’s head for their most likely stronghold,” he replied. “If we can secure Darkmount, they will have nowhere else to go.”

“If that’s their hideout,” Trailbreaker agreed. “We should be able to draw them out easily enough.”

“They won’t stand a chance,” Hot Rod added, thrilled by the prospect.

“We’ve got the advantage; it’ll be an easy mission, I’d say,” said Bluestreak, one of the Autobots’ top gunners.

“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves,” Optimus corrected them. “We may have the strategic advantage, but remember; they’re still Decepticons, and will use every trick in the Archives to try and evade our efforts. Just be on the alert.”

As they headed off once more, in the direction of Darkmount, they were not aware that they were being tracked by an unobtrusive and virtually undetectable miniature Decepticon spy; a spy whose sole purpose was to relay all gathered information back to his protector.

Comet turned westward towards Binaltech and began to cover distance on foot.  His form as a Cybertronian tetrajet enabled him superior flight capability, allowing him to arrive at a destination in the shortest amount of time, but this mode would have attracted too much attention and, besides, he had no particular place to go; all he wanted to do in this moment was get as far away from Thunderblast, or any other mech, as possible.

Most mechs never recognized him, though despite this he still felt as though he was constantly being pursued by those who would be more than happy to exact their long-held resentments upon him. If caught he would be handed over to the highest paying war lord on Alternity City, or elsewhere in the Sector. Comet, as he was known around Binaltech, would fetch the ultimate price for any bounty hunter who knew of his existence.

Fortunately, he had not yet been discovered. Not even Thunderblast, who thought herself quite clever and manipulative, had any idea who he truly was. Either way, he didn’t owe her anything.

His recent conversation with her, however, had left him in a state of agitation, and he now sought to be left alone. Despite his charisma and his natural ability to charm the afterburners off any mech, too many years spent on Alternity City had taken its toll on him, and he rarely sought the company of other mechs; when he did, it was often to his disadvantage.

Then, suddenly, that’s what he felt like right now; a little bit of disadvantage. He veered left into a small alley, where several tall unit blocks stood stacked up against one another. They were the most affordable blocks in this part of town, and were mainly occupied by low level workers, or junk bots, which was the derogatory term for them.

Comet found the small unit he was looking for, and beat his fist against the metal door. “Detritus!” He called, and then waited before trying again. “Detritus, open the door, you piece of scrap!”

A few seconds passed in silence until, finally, the door opened with a swoosh sound. “Comet? What the frag do you want? I told you I’m not offering my services,” he said in an irritated voice. Detritus was a heavy built Cybertronian mercenary who had left his home planet long ago to reside on Junkion; he was currently on business visiting Alternity City for a brief stay, or at least that’s what he had told the seeker.

“I don’t want your services. Just let me in for a cycle,” Comet demanded, and pushed past the Junkion into his small quarters.

“Comet, what the frag–” He began, and then watched as Comet began searching the small space, opening compartments and looking under the various contraptions and data pads that littered the shelving unit and table. Detritus leaned across and placed his left hand over the seeker’s shoulder, pushed him backwards. Comet was thrown against the wall, and he landed heavily on the floor, a mobile holo-imager crashing on top of him. “Don’t you know it’s rude to look through some one else’s stuff without asking?” Detritus told him angrily. “You know, I have a good mind to just send your aft to Hitec on the first transport out.”

Comet picked himself up, leaving the imager on the floor. “Where is it?” He demanded, ignoring the mercenary’s threats.

“Where’s what?”

“That transceiver you took from me!” Comet explained, his voice rising in anger.

Detritus’ expression turned to one of surprise. “Oh, no, you don’t; you left it here, so now it’s mine.”

“It’s not yours, and I want it back,” Comet insisted. “Hand it over,” he demanded, holding out his hand in expectation.

“Slag off,” he said bluntly.

“Hand it over!” Comet said, pointing his left arm-mounted blaster at the other mech.

Detritus stared at the black muzzle, but then gave the seeker a disapproving look. “You can’t be serious?”

“Oh, I’m absolutely serious,” Comet replied, holding his gaze steady. “You want to try me, go ahead.” He raised the weapon up higher, levelled it at Detritus’ face.

Detritus gave him a smug expression, and then slowly reached across to a table compartment and opened it. He slowly retrieved a small device, and held it up. It was imprinted with the Decepticon faction symbol. “You want this?” He asked.

“Give it to me,” Comet replied, holding out his other hand.

Detritus slowly smiled. “All right… you want it so bad, I’ll tell you what. I’ll trade you for it,” he said, negotiating.

Comet considered his proposal. Sure, he could just blast a hole right through the mech’s armour plating, take back the device and run, but he didn’t really feel like making another enemy today; he already had plenty of those in Binaltech as it was. “What do you want for it?”

“Oh… how does… fifty credits sound?” Detritus said, teasing him.

“It’s not worth anywhere near that much,” Comet lied. “No deal.” He was about to charge up his blaster, but then the mercenary stopped him, holding up his hands.

“Okay, okay! I was only teasing,” he said quickly. “What the hell do you need that communication device for, anyway?” He asked, in an attempt to stall the seeker. “I thought you’d given up on them.”

But Comet wouldn’t buy into his game. “That’s none of your business, Detritus. You get one last chance.”

The mech contemplated the situation, and what might be a reasonable trade for the device he held in his hand. It was of little use to him, but he was quite certain that he could easily sell it to one of his contacts for a good price. “All right, how about fifteen credits?” He proposed.

Comet considered his offer, and then made him a counter-offer. “Seven. And you also get to live,” he finally replied.

“You drive a hard bargain, Comet,” Detritus commented, before accepting his terms. “I guess you leave me with no choice.” He flipped the device into the air so that it landed neatly into Comet’s open hand. The seeker retracted it into his arm compartment, lowered his weapon arm, and handed over the promised credits.

Feeling somewhat better, Comet left the Junkion’s quarters without saying another word.

Chapter 7 by Crystine

Transformers: Heroes


Chapter 7


The twilight descended upon Alternity City, and Binaltech's scene changed as the usual day time activities were replaced with an altogether different sort, the diversity of mechanoids and cybernetic life forms roaming the city streets seeking their next thrill. However, a fair number of them were destitute, their continual search for energy to survive the only reason that justified their miserable existence.

Comet was grateful for the impending cover of darkness, as he carefully avoided stepping onto a non-functional mechanoid. He recoiled in disgust, and ran past the poor wretch. Probably a beggar right up to his last days, until a marauder from one of the nearby ruling clans mercilessly ended his life.

To be truly independent and free from slavery, yet remain functional on Alternity City was an accomplishment that only seemed to be achieved by a rare few. Nonetheless, even those who had managed to evade a fate worse than death would eventually have to confront their deepest and darkest fears, and make the ultimate choice between succumbing to his demons, or fighting for his very spark. In this regard, Comet was no exception.

Ever since he had come to this planet, he had endured a never-ending battle, not only for his very survival, but for his sanity as well. As he slowed to a stop around a darkened corner of a narrow alleyway, these thoughts bore at him. He gripped the transceiver tightly in one hand, and imagined what it would be like to experience self-deactivation. Would the pain finally end? Would the relentless anguish and torment of a mech who had already been through the very depths of hell suddenly be forgotten, replaced by blissful forgetfulness? He had imagined this alternative existence many times, yet each time he had been unable to bring himself to that point of no return.

The transceiver he held seemed to be the only thing that kept him from teetering too close to the brink of insanity. It offered him comfort, and feeble hope, but also bitter disappointment and despair; the memories it evoked welcomed, yet also rejected by him.

He slowly opened his hand and stared down at the device. It lay there inert; a small, black token that beckoned him to acknowledge its purpose, its potential to be able to finally break him, or help save him. He wasn't sure which, had always been too afraid to find out.

But he couldn't continue the way he was going, this much he now knew. Perhaps the recent news from Cybertron had triggered something within him, a need to confront whatever had caused him to end up in such a miserable and lonely existence, whatever had torn him away from all those he had known and cared for to be forced into this harsh, alien world. Whoever had allowed – no, demanded his exile.

The sound of sharp metallic blades scraping against one another suddenly alerted Comet to the ever-present dangers of a life on the streets. From out of the shadows, a deadly presence emerged to make itself known. Comet remained where he was, the entity watching him as a beast observing its prey, waiting for the right moment to strike him down so that it could claim him as his prize.

Comet did not flinch, nor did he attempt to evade the bounty hunter. No, he would no longer run or hide. This time, he would confront his enemy, regardless of the outcome; he would finally surrender to what must be, and allow fate to decide, once and for all, his destiny. "So, Lockdown," he said, speaking the bounty hunter's name with a surprising calmness and strength that he had not been aware he possessed since he had been banished from Cybertron more than a vorn ago. "What am I worth? A hundred credits? Two hundred?"

The bounty hunter moved slowly closer, prepared to strike with lethal accuracy at a moment's notice. His silent, alert poise belied his deadly tendencies. "Ah, more than that. Much, much more than that… Comet. Or… should I say…" He uttered in a threateningly low voice, emphasizing each word, but then trailed off; the final, unspoken word playing on the tip of his tongue.

Comet slowly closed his hand around the transceiver, held on to it as if it gave him strength, deepened his conviction. He looked straight past Lockdown and into the darkened alleyway, prepared himself for what he knew would soon come. "I'm worth more to you alive," he stated.

"Hmm…" Lockdown tilted his head to one side, contemplating how best to handle his game. "Perhaps." With swift precision, he brandished his double swords in front of the seeker, and then slowly moved one of the blades to Comet's neck, whilst the other was pointed directly in front of his spark chamber.

"How long have you been following me?" Comet asked. He appeared to be unafraid, as if fear itself had voluntarily taken a back seat in his mind.

Lockdown hesitated, unsure of the seeker's intentions. "For long enough," he replied, and then, in a swift and violent move, he brought the handle of his sword down upon the side of Comet's face. The blow instantly weakened him, and he found himself with his back on the ground, wincing at the sharp sensation of electrical energy as it overloaded his circuitry. It gradually subsided, and Lockdown was standing over him, savouring the seeker's suffering.

"What's the matter; lost your touch?" Comet goaded him. His voice sounded more abrasive than usual. "Whoever sent you… would be disappointed."

But Lockdown saw through Comet's ploy, and laughed quietly. "It seems that your many years in exile have taught you nothing," he observed, with contempt. "Your sharp tongue will get you nowhere with me."

The seeker began to slowly move into a sitting position, but was stopped as Lockdown held out a sharp blade to his throat. The bounty hunter retrieved a device with his other hand, and Comet saw that it was a circuit dampener. If he allowed Lockdown to subdue him with it, his chances of escape would be over.

Yet Comet could not see a way to evade capture; Lockdown was the most infamous bounty hunter in the entire Gamma Sector, and for good reason. His reputation preceded him, and most mechs trembled at the mere thought of being on his blacklist. Indeed, he had captured a countless number of renegades and wanted criminals, paying no heed to their race or affiliation; all that mattered to him was that he was handsomely rewarded for his efforts.

Comet felt the transceiver that he still held firmly in his right hand. He considered activating it, and slowly lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender.

The transceiver had been in his possession ever since he had arrived on this planet, yet, in all those years, he had never once dared use it. What had he been so afraid of? To discover that those he had once known, had trusted with his life, had truly abandoned him? That if he were to contact the remaining Decepticons, they would turn him away, reject him? He supposed that he had been too afraid to find out the truth, had not found the courage to face his worst fears.

But, now, he had nothing more to lose. And he was tired of running, tired of fighting for his existence. He looked up at the bounty hunter, unafraid, his optics steadfast. And before Lockdown could stop him, he activated the small device.

The early morning hours in one of Binaltech's far northern districts were eerily quiet, the ambiance almost nothing like that of the inner city, with its constant noise and heavy traffic. Elita One had quickly learned the name of the suburb, shortly after her crew of femmes had arrived here: Koltar. She and Chromia had left their makeshift base only a few minutes ago, and were scanning the surrounding area for any indication as to where they might be able to source raw materials for conversion into energy.

"What are we going to do, Elita?" The blue femme asked her team leader.

Elita looked out towards a distant structure. It was a large dome that overshadowed all of the surrounding buildings. "Well, we're here now… so we may as well find out what we can, but only after we've taken care of our most immediate needs." She started walking along the road that would take them directly to the large dome, and then transformed into her vehicle mode. "Come on, that dome's an energy accumulator." Chromia transformed as well, and the two of them drove quietly towards the large structure.

After several minutes, the dome came clearly into view, looming directly ahead of them. It stood luminescent against the darkened sky. Elita stopped in front of it and initialized another scan, taking note of the structure's layout and access points, as well as its level of security.

She transformed into robot mode. "Let's get a little closer." Chromia transformed as well, and they both began walking toward the dome's perimeter wall. They arrived at a sealed entrance that could only be accessed with a secure code.

"Elita… how do you plan on getting past security, let alone getting us inside the dome?" The blue femme asked, looking doubtfully up at the metallic wall.

"They're good questions, Chrome… questions which I do not have answers to – yet." The pink leader class femme glanced around, taking in their surroundings and then, transforming her hand into a hook, she aimed it upwards, ejecting an attached line. It flew neatly over the wall, and the hook caught onto the top edge. She pulled it taught, testing it. "But I'm sure we'll figure something out," she said, before scaling the wall. Once she was at the top, she looked down at Chromia and indicated for her to follow her up.

They both jumped down the other side, looked around and then quickly made their way towards a stack of large canisters, using them as a cover before guards in the distance were alerted to their presence.

"What now?" Chromia whispered. "There's at least four sentry bots stationed at the front."

"Six," Elita corrected her. "There's two more behind that transport platform." She paused, strategizing, before speaking again. "We can take them."

Chromia looked at her nervously. "Elita… what if reinforcements arrive?"

Elita One hesitated, and then held up her hand in sudden caution.

"What is it?" Chromia asked in a low whisper.

"Did you hear something?" She replied, as she looked around behind the canisters. It was still dark, and she couldn't see anything past the obscurity within her normal range of vision. She activated her optic sensors' broad spectrum range and tried again. This time, she saw the source of the sound.

"No…" Chromia began, but before she could ask another question Elita had moved out from behind the canisters and had darted towards the side of a nearby loading bay.

She indicated for Chromia to do the same, and then pointed upward towards the sky. "There…" She said, as they both hid from view just inside the empty bay area.

They watched as a solitary shuttle descended, landing only a short distance away from the outer edge of the perimeter wall, out of sight.

"Is that who I think it is?" Chromia said in quiet disbelief.

Elita nodded. "What the hell is he doing here?" She wondered, slightly irate. The last thing they needed right now was any sort of interference – particularly from a Decepticon.

"Maybe he followed us here?" Chromia suggested.

"Maybe," she replied. "Maybe not…" Then, before she could say anything more, they both watched as a predominately grey mechanoid jumped down from the top of the wall. He had purple highlights on his wings, and was obviously the transformed shuttle they had seen only moments before. He appeared to be unaware of the two femmes; either he hadn't bothered scanning the area or, if he was aware of their presence, he didn't seem to care.

Elita wielded her electromagnetic pulse scrambler, held it out in front of her. "Ready?" She told Chromia, who barely had time to draw her own weapon, a modified grenade launcher, before Elita moved out from under the bay's cover.

The two femmes approached the lone Decepticon, who had his back to them. "Turn around, slowly," Elita ordered him.

The mech turned around to face them and, as he realized who he was dealing with, a look of mild astonishment crossed his face. "That wrecked cruiser belonged to you… didn't it? The one that crashed in the tower just north from here?" He took a step cautiously toward them.

"Stay right where you are," Elita One warned him, "unless you want me to blast you a new one." The Cybertronian triple changer stood where he was, watching them with curiosity. "What in the blazes are you doing here, Astrotrain?" Elita One demanded.

After a few seconds of contemplation, he answered. "I should ask you the same thing." The femmes exchanged glances, silently trying to determine whether he posed any threat to them. He must have noticed this, and spoke again. "I wasn't following you, if that's what you're thinking."

Elita One held her weapon steadily, still aiming it towards him. "Alright, but that's still no reassurance."

Astrotrain made a pacificatory gesture with his hands. "Look… I don't want to cause you any trouble." He paused, observing the femmes with interest. "Looks to me like the two of you are here on your own."

"That's no concern of yours, Decepticon," the femme leader replied warily. She looked about, made sure that the guards around the other side of the dome hadn't noticed them. It appeared to be safe for the moment. "I suggest you leave, before you alert the sentry," she concluded.

The triple changer shook his head. "No way; I'm not leaving until I have what I came for."

The femme leader moved a step closer towards him, her weapon pointed threateningly at his chest. "Perhaps you didn't quite hear me," she said, her anger roused.

Chromia stepped forward and placed a hand on her arm. "Wait, Elita…" She said to her, and then spoke to Astrotrain. "What are you here for?"

He looked from one to the other, considered what, if anything, he should tell them. Finally, he glanced towards the dome structure. "Energy. What else?"

Elita was incredulous. "There's no way you were going to get inside on your own." She looked around again, trailed her weapon. "There must be others here with you; darn it."

"I'm here on my own," he tried to reassure her, but she remained suspicious, distrustful.

"So, you're saying… you can get inside?" Chromia asked him.

Astrotrain shrugged. "Sure. I've done it once or twice before."

Chromia turned to her friend. "Maybe… he can help us, Elita," she said.

Elita shook her head, kept her gaze focused on the triple changer. "No way he can be trusted."

"Think about it… we've just lost our only means home… and, right now we need energy – probably just as much as he does." Chromia hesitated, and then added, "Besides, we're not on Cybertron… no one has to know that we ever saw him." The femme leader bit her lower lip as she considered her friend's words, but remained unconvinced.

"She has a point," Astrotrain interjected, speaking calmly.

Elita ignored him. "Chrome… he could be lying. Besides, we don't need him; we can do this on our own."

"Suit yourself," he interjected again, growing increasingly frustrated with the femme leader. "But one thing's for sure; you're going to need to know how to disable the internal alarm system, and that's if you even manage to get that far on your own."

"What if he's telling the truth?" Chromia pressed. "If we get caught, there's no telling what will happen to the others."

Elita remained quiet for several seconds as she decided what they should do. "Why would he even want to help us, anyway?" She asked the blue femme, though the question was directed more at him.

Chromia had no answer for her. She hadn't even considered that question; she had only thought of the mutual benefit, should they work together. After all, the three of them were all here for the same thing; energy, and on Alternity City, survival often mattered more than what side you were on.

Before she could say anything, Astrotrain saved her the trouble. "I'll tell you what; I help you… and you can repay the kindness later. How's that sound?"

The pink femme hesitated. "And how do you expect us to do that, exactly?" She said to him, sounding doubtful.

He shrugged. "I won't ask for much." He paused, watching them. "I'm only here for a short while… all I want to do is return to Cybertron without the Autobot-Neutrals up my tail pipe."

"Sorry to disappoint, but there's not much we can do about that," Elita One replied, lowering her weapon. She hesitated before continuing. "I can't promise you anything… but, if anyone comes looking for you... we don't know anything. It's the best I can offer."

Astrotrain nodded, smiling. "Sounds good to me," he said, and then glanced toward the dome. "Let's get it done."

"How do you propose we get to Cybertron? As far as I can see, we're stranded here… in the planet's most deplorable city, with no mode of transport, and no place to stay…" Rook and Astro had been navigating through the busy streets of Binaltech for almost an hour, keeping a safe distance from the night crowd, yet at the same time making sure that they did not become too isolated. The closer they approached the city center, the noisier and more encroaching the crowd became, to the point that Rook had to almost power down his audio receptors. "Tell me… you do have a plan?"

Astro kept walking, unperturbed by his companion's doubts. "Don't worry about transport. We can always find another shuttle." He smiled to himself, almost enjoying Rook's uneasiness. It had been a long time since Astro had been active on his own. A long time, indeed; and he wanted to enjoy every minute of it. He no longer needed to concern himself with playing the role of confidante to the High Commander of the Subterranean Base – a role which he had performed exceptionally well. Now, with the changing times and the unfolding state of affairs on Cybertron, he had been instructed to return home, which was something that he had quietly been looking forward to for many years. Rook, however, had not been a planned part of his mission; that decision had been his own initiative, and one that he was certain the Decepticon leader would approve of.

Rook was silent for a little while, as he contemplated Astro's unconcerned, almost nonchalant manner which was very far removed from the reserved, quiet mech he thought he had known throughout their time at the Base. "Why did you do it?" He asked, finally, just audible enough for the blue mech to be able to hear him.

"Do what?" Astro slowed to a stop at a busy intersection, and watched the mass of city dwellers move past them with an ebb and flow that reminded him of a pumped oil stream.

"Help me," Rook said simply. Astro turned to the smaller mech, his gaze steady. "How did you know… I–" He faltered, unable to find the right words.

Astro contemplated his reply. He knew what the other had meant without the need for him to have to explain it. "I've… lived through many Great Wars, probably more than most mechs. And I have known soldiers… many of whom forgot their purpose, their reason for being," he began. He spoke solemnly, yet with an assuredness that Rook found almost fascinating. "I've seen what drives us… what motivates us, compels us to do what we do. The fear that we all carry deep down within our sparks; the inner torment… Decepticon, Autobot, Destron… it doesn't matter – it is always the same. Some… find their strength, and learn to use it, though they often require… some encouragement. But those who succumb to their fears eventually self-destruct." He paused, and gave Rook a knowing look. "You, my friend, have always been a Decepticon at heart, though you have yet to understand your part." He scanned the area, indicated down a main thoroughfare. "Come on, this way," he said, and started walking along the wide street.

Rook followed after him, though his thoughts were still on recent events, and how his life had been irrevocably changed ever since Astro had convinced him to leave the Base.

As Astro honed in on his target, the two approached a large subway entrance, and they moved quickly down the flight of steps that led to one of Binaltech's major inter-city transport terminals. At the bottom of the steps he came to a sudden halt, grabbed Rook by the arm as he indicated across to a waiting area.

Rook shifted his gaze to the center of the space, where several commuters awaited the next subway carriage, most of them seated in one of the many chairs that were arranged in rows. But he could see nothing out of the ordinary. "He's here?" He asked, looked back towards Astro in confusion.

Astro shook his head, and then nodded towards one of the seats at the back. "There's a Cybertronian here who might be able to help us," he replied.

Rook looked again, but could not spot any commuters who even remotely resembled a Cybertronian mechanoid. He shook his head. "I don't see him."

"That's because it's not a he; it's a she," the blue mech informed him, with his characteristic assuredness. Then he moved forward into the waiting area, pulling his companion along with him. "Her name's Thunderblast. Just let me do the talking."

"Wait…" Rook didn't have time to assess the situation, as Astro proceeded to take a seat opposite her, while indicating for Rook to do the same.

Astro crossed his arms in front of him, and regarded the purple and yellow femme with quiet contemplation, before he spoke. "Hello, Thunderblast," he greeted her. "I hear Sentinel's quite pleased with you of late."

Thunderblast shifted her gaze in his direction, looking surprised. Her expression slowly turned to suspicion. "And who the slag are you?" She asked scornfully.

Astro ignored her question. "Where's Comet?" He asked.

"Why the hell should I tell you anything?" She replied, in total bewilderment.

His gaze remained steadily fixed upon the femme, as Rook observed their interaction in disbelief. "Because if you don't… I'll just have to let Sentinel in on your little secret."

Thunderblast opened her mouth in shock, and was about to say something but then changed her mind. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Astro leaned forward in his chair, lowered his voice. "Don't you? Let me remind you. Offering Trannis classified information in return for a privileged position within his little outfit…"

The femme became irritated, resentful. She stood up, indignant. "Now, you look here… whatever your name is! I really don't see why that's any concern of yours," she told him, and began to walk away in a hurry.

Astro followed her and, quickly catching up, he pushed her up against a wall, spoke into her audio receptor. "You can call me Astro," he whispered, "and everything you do is a concern of mine." She tried to push him away, but he held her firm.

"Get away from me!" She struggled against his grip and then, realizing that she would never be able to match him in strength, tried a different tactic. "Look, I don't know where Comet is, okay? Now let me go!"

The blue mech shook his head, feigned disappointment. "Don't lie to me, Thunderblast. I know you've been in contact with him."

She looked back at him, exasperated. "That doesn't mean I know where he is," she defended, and then added, "Besides, he's not the type who likes to be easily found. If you ask me, Comet has some serious issues… and he's not easy to get along with, either."

"Never mind that. Just tell me where you last saw him," Astro insisted, as he slowly released her.

She pushed against him, and then recomposed herself. "Oh, I don't know… at some entertainment venue… called Roundup, or something like that. Not too far from here," she said, indicating towards the east. "Are you happy now?" She glanced towards Rook. "What are you looking at?" She asked him, hands on hips, her tone contemptuous.

Rook, his optics covered by his visor, did not give her a reply. Instead, he watched as Astro continued to question the femme. "Did you speak to him?"

Thunderblast shook her head. "No!" Astro began to move towards her, but she backed him off with her hands. "Okay, okay… no need to get your coils in a wind." She crossed her arms, gave them both a sullen look. "I might have spoken to him… for a brief period." She shrugged. "But then… he got a little upset and left in a hurry." The two mechs watched her with curiosity. Behind them, the subway carriage had pulled into the station along its anti-gravity tracks, barely making a sound. She glanced nervously at the commuters as they alighted. "Listen, guys, it's been nice knowing you, really… but I don't want to miss my train," she said, and began to slowly back away from them. "See ya!" She waved, regarding them haughtily, and then burst into a run towards the carriage.

The two Cybertronian mechs watched her go as she mingled with the rest of the passengers who were waiting to get on board. "Should we follow her?" Rook asked.

Astro shook his head. "I don't think we're going to get much more out of that femme." He turned to Rook. "Come on, I think I know the place she was talking about."

The smaller mech remained deep in thought, and then inquired with incredulousness. "She knows Sentinel Prime?"

"She knows a lot of mechs," Astro replied, and then began to lead the way out of the subway terminal, as Rook kept pace behind him.

As Astrotrain shot straight up into the air and out of sight over the top of the dome structure, the two femmes made their way around to the front, walking straight up to the four guards.

"Hey, fellas," Elita One began. "Looks like you've been asleep on the job." The guards started towards her, but Elita stepped safely out of their reach.

"Hey! You two aren't supposed to be here. Leave, now, before we have to call security."

The leader femme was unperturbed by their response. She placed her hand on her hips. "You've got bigger problems." One of the guards gave her a stern look, and she pointed up towards the top of the dome. "There's someone up there."

The four of them looked upwards, and that was all Elita needed to take the nearest guard bot by surprise. She executed a powerful, precise spinning kick, her foot impacting his face and sending him reeling backwards. In the same instant, Chromia performed a jumping front kick, her heel making contact with a second guard's chin, snapping his head back and throwing him off his feet. Before the remaining two guards had an opportunity to defend themselves, the femmes drew their weapons, and blasted them. From somewhere on top of the dome, the sound of metal being torn apart could be heard.

When Elita was certain that all four guard bots were deactivated, she sprinted towards the nearby transport platform, in pursuit of the sentry bots stationed there. However, they had already witnessed the skirmish and were retreating from her advance. She slowed to a stop, watching them as they used the platform to descend below ground. Chromia ran up behind her, catching up. She shook her head, and then spoke to her second in command. "I can't believe we're doing this." She turned around, sprinted back to the main entrance. "If he doesn't show up in the next thirty seconds, I'm personally going to hunt him down and hand him his aft."

"He'll show up," Chromia replied, as she arrived at the entrance, while Elita unsuccessfully attempted to open the doors. The button on the side panel wouldn't grant her access, though she kept trying, more in irritation than anything else.

Elita finally gave up, leaned with her back against the door. "What makes you so sure?"

Chromia shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe you're right; maybe this was all just a bad idea. I mean, who'd ever thought we'd be stealing energy, of all things?"

The pink femme looked at her disparagingly. "Chrome… we're not stealing… we're–" She looked for the right word, but there was none. "Ok…" She sighed. "But what other choice do we have?"

The door she was leaning on began to open, and she leaped away and turned around, weapon drawn.

"Alright, all's clear." It was Astrotrain. He had kept his word. He waved them inside impatiently. "I'd say we've got about less than five minutes all up. Come on, don't just stand there!"

Chromia gave her best friend a discreet smile of relief, as the pink femme ran inside the dome. She followed quickly after them, as Astrotrain closed the door behind her, and then proceeded to show them the way through the multi-tiered structure. He headed towards some wide, spiral steps, and began to climb them as the femmes kept pace with him. Spread about the floor nearby were four deactivated guards.

After a minute or so, they arrived near the top of the dome, where the primary accumulator was housed in an enclosure. Astrotrain forced the panel open, detached the collector pipe and then began siphoning energy directly into his energy absorber, underneath a panel on his chest. When he was finished, he offered the pipe to Elita One, and she and Chromia began collecting the energy into compressed storage units with a small converter she had brought with her.

After a few minutes, they heard commotion coming from below, and were alerted to security guards rushing into the building and spreading out as they began searching the area. "Up there!" They heard one of the security bots say, as several of them ran up the steps after the three of them.

"Time's up," Astrotrain said, as he transformed into his shuttle mode, leaving his side door open for them. "We're out of here."

"Almost done…" Elita One called out behind her, as two guards approached the top level, pointing their weapons towards them. She knew that the three of them could easily take out these guard bots, but they would very soon be joined by several more, and would have them cornered.

She detached the pipe from the converter, and then Chromia helped her move their cargo into the shuttle, as several of the guards began blasting at them with their laser weapons. Chromia responded with a shot from her launcher, which temporarily disrupted the team of bots, sending them into disarray. The two femmes jumped aboard, as Astrotrain closed his hatch and lifted off into the air. He headed straight up towards the thin ceiling that held the large accumulator tube in place through the very center at the top of the dome. A hole had already been punched through the ceiling.

As Elita looked out through the main view screen, the laser blasts continued to shoot up at them through the hole. She shook her head in disbelief. "I can't believe we're doing this."

"Doing what?" The blue femme asked.

Elita looked at her. "Trusting a 'Con," she said, her voice barely audible.

Chromia shrugged. "Stranger things have happened, I guess…"

"I heard that, you know," Astrotrain said, as he moved effortlessly through the air. The break of day was just beginning to light up the horizon, as Alternity City's adopted giant star rose to greet them.

Elita ignored his comment, changed the topic. "You lied to us. You've never been inside that building before, have you?" she confronted him.

Astrotrain was quiet for a while before responding. "I never said I'd been inside that one before. Besides, I got you both in, didn't I?"

"Pfft… typical," Elita scoffed, off-hand.

Chromia gave her a doubtful look. "He did help us, Elita. That's got to count for something, right?" She said in a low voice.

Astrotrain cut in, changing the subject. "So… where to now?"

"Anywhere's fine by us," Elita replied, not wanting to give away the location of their temporary base.

"Suit yourself," the space shuttle said, as he began to drop down out of the sky, veering towards a side alley. He landed gently, and opened the door to let them out. Once they had both disembarked, he transformed back into his robot mode, and then looked around, checking for any sign of trouble. The area seemed to be safe enough. He watched as they transformed and sped down the alleyway without saying another word. Then, as soon as they had turned a corner and were out of sight, he headed in the opposite direction.

The sub-level tunnel system in Antihex was much like the one in Polyhex; a confusing web of unwelcoming, gloomy passageways. At least, that's what it felt like to Sideswipe, as he raced in vehicle mode along the transit-route that led from Iacon's south to an outer region of Antihex. For several breems, he had followed the freight vehicle that carried the two Neutrals down the sub-level tunnel, until he reached an access point that terminated just outside some kind of large storage compound. As the freight car came to a stop some distance away, he silently transformed back into his robot mode and took cover inside a small recess set inside the nearby wall. He watched in silence as the two Neutrals disembarked from the vehicle and began unloading sealed containers into the adjacent storage area. Once they had completed their task, the empty carriage continued along the transit route, quickly disappearing out of sight. He kept his gaze fixed upon the open door to the storage area, which looked like a vast storehouse filled with crates and more sealed containers, and contemplated his next move.

Having kept a safe distance from the Neutrals, simply observing them for so many years, Sideswipe felt as though he'd finally hit a stone wall. If he wanted to get a much deeper understanding of what was truly going on with the Alliance, he decided that he'd have to take a few risks, and this situation could prove to be just the opportunity he needed to get a little closer to them. He took a few moments to formulate some kind of strategy in his head, and then inhaled slowly, deeply, before pushing off the recess wall and walking directly up to the open doorway.

The inside of the storage area consisted of rows of shelving units and cargo bays. He made his way toward a shelf to his right, and saw that it was filled with reinforced containers. He picked one up and examined it, noticed that there was no designation mark attached to it, which was, in itself, unusual. Storage containers back in Iacon always carried an identity seal and a corresponding designation mark, but these appeared to have neither of those things; nor was he able to open the container.

He heard some distant voices that were coming from the far side of the room, and placed the container back on the shelf. The two Neutrals he had followed were speaking to a third, who sounded like he was giving them orders; probably their superior, Unit 4-0-2, Sideswipe thought with sarcasm. He began to slowly walk towards them and, as they looked up to see who was approaching, he put on his most charming smile. "Hi, there!" He greeted them, as they looked at him circumspectly. "Listen, uh… I must have gotten a little lost. I'm really sorry, and I hate to bother you and all, but… maybe you could help me out?"

One of the Neutrals spoke in a low voice to his comrade. "He must be one of the recruits." Then he addressed Sideswipe. "You're in the wrong sector, Autobot. All non-Neutral recruits are to assemble at the ancillary headquarters."

Sideswipe's optics lit up in feigned excitement. "Oh! Of course… I don't know how I ever got that one wrong. Um…" He scratched his neck in a show of puzzlement. "Ancillary headquarters…?"

"Yeah. Just keep following the tunnel; it'll be the next large building you see, to the left," the Neutral informed him, indicating towards the adjacent transit route with his finger.

The red and black Autobot nodded gratefully. "Oh… 'kay. Thank you, thank you so much," he said, as he started to step away from them. "You've been a great help! I owe you guys one," he finished, with a smile. He broke into a jog back towards the open doorway, before turning left out of sight.

The small team of Autobots had made their way steadily along the main road that led to Darkmount, for almost an hour. The landscape seemed deserted, as if it had been abandoned long ago, and for a good while Ratchet thought that they'd never encounter another living mech, let alone any Decepticons. But another part of him half expected that they would be ambushed at any moment, or perhaps find themselves in an unexpected battle against Devastator.

He and his team members came to a stop behind Optimus, as their leader approached the end of the road. Behind them, he could see four Neutral backup teams waiting to assist them should the Autobots have need of them.

A large, solitary tower stood against the clear sky in front of them. A tall, thin spire at its top pointed upwards, reaching into Cybertron's atmosphere like a giant needle piercing into the heavens. The former ruins of Darkmount fortress, ancient remnants which had occupied this very same spot for several millennia, had obviously been removed. The location looked nothing like what Ratchet remembered.

"Hm, the Constructicons have been busy…" Optimus said out loud, to no one in particular. He paused for a moment in silence, before issuing orders to his senior officers. "Let's remain cautious. Ratchet, you and Hot Rod go around to the left. Trailbreaker, you and Bluestreak go right. I'm going to see if there's any way inside that tower. We'll all meet back here." He paused again, and then ordered, "Remember… let's try to avoid any traps, and stay on guard."

Ratchet nodded. "We'll try, Optimus." Then, he and Hot Rod began to head towards the side of the structure, scanning for any sign of life or activity as he went. While Hot Rod kept pace beside him, the Neutral teams held their positions, standing on the alert and ready. "This is unusual. The readings I'm getting don't indicate that there's anything here at all. It's almost as if the whole structure just doesn't exist."

The orange and red Autobot beside him looked up at the large tower in puzzlement, and then slowly approached its featureless, metallic wall. "Huh; that's odd." He extended one hand, ran it along the smooth surface. "Feels real enough," he commented.

"I can't seem to pick up any power emanations of any kind," Ratchet continued. "I just don't get it."

"Do you think it's some kind of a decoy?" Hot Rod asked.

Ratchet shrugged. "Could be. Come on, let's–" He replied, but was startled by a strange sound. He looked around them warily, expecting an enemy attack, but saw nothing unusual. Then, a glimpse of something moving in the distance, a metallic gleam, caught his attention. "Over there! I thought I saw something," he said to Hot Rod, and motioned for them to investigate further ahead.

Hot Rod raced in front, disappearing around the back of the tower. Ratchet began to follow him as he rescanned the area, but his readings still showed nought. "Hot Rod, wait up–" But as he approached the rear of the structure, he stopped short. "Hot Rod?" He repeated, though this time his tone expressed sheer confoundment.

The scene that greeted him was nothing like what he had expected. In front of him, a flat, metallic landscape stretched out as far as he could see. There were no other structures to speak of, no roads or transit routes, no subterranean access points. All the ruins of what once used to be Darkmount fortress seemed to have completely vanished, replaced by the stark, metallic surface. But what worried him most of all, was that Hot Rod was nowhere to be seen.

Ratchet motioned for one of the backup teams to move closer, while he retraced his steps; perhaps his partner had followed the tower right around and had returned back to their starting position; however, even as Ratchet thought of this possible scenario, he had already dismissed it as unlikely.

Two of the other Neutral teams were hovering around the front, looking uncertain. Ratchet approached them, and demanded to know what was going on. "Where's Optimus?" He said, looking around.

One of the Neutral bots hesitated in his reply. "I… don't understand it. One minute he was just here, and then the next…" The look of confusion upon his face was genuine, and Ratchet shook his head. He continued on around to the other side of the tower. Perhaps Optimus had decided to team up with Trailbreaker; he could think of no other explanation for his apparent disappearance.

As the other side of the tower came into view, the repair specialist slowed to a stop and slowly looked around. It felt as if he were experiencing a bad dream; right in the heart of Decepticon territory, and now his Autobot team mates were suddenly nowhere to be seen. How was this possible?

Bewildered, and lost as to what to do next, a sudden sensation of what felt like suspended animation overtook him without warning.

The auxiliary headquarters in Antihex were easy enough to find. Stepping off the transit route, Sideswipe arrived at an empty courtyard that led to a modern looking building, which featured a large, golden metallic plaque fashioned into the Neutral emblem right above the entranceway doors. Sideswipe approached the steps in front of the building, and began to have second thoughts. Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea, after all. What if he were treated with hostility? He knew that officially, Autobots and Neutrals shared a common goal, and had entered into a formal agreement to take responsibility for the safeguarding of the planet. Yet, he couldn't help the feeling that, as an uninvited Autobot, he wouldn't be welcome here.

He stopped in front of the doors, and noticed immediately that he would require an input code to get inside. Hesitating, he recalled his former Autobot security code. He had not used it since he had been dismissed from active service in the Autobot army soon after the end of the Great War, and strongly doubted that it would work, but he had nothing to lose in trying. He was about to press the buttons on the keypad to input the code, when the doors slid open and a mech walked out of the building. He offered the Neutral a curt nod and a smile, and then quickly slipped past him and inside the structure before the doors sealed closed again.

The interior consisted of multi-levelled open spaces, unlike the Command Centre in Iacon. Upon a second level platform, a large Neutral stood looking down at a small assembly of non-Neutral mechanoids. They all looked like typical Autobots, though he could not get a clear view of their faction symbols or their faces, as they all had their backs turned to him. Sideswipe did not immediately recognize any of them, though that was probably due to the fact that they were all new recruits, as he himself had been referred to only a short while ago; however, there was something about the group that just didn't sit right with him. Why would the Neutrals be recruiting Autobots? He looked down at his own red faction emblem in the middle of his chest, an instant reminder of all he had been through since the Great War and the start of the New Era, as well as future battles which he knew he had yet to face. He instinctively crossed his arms and looked out across the small gathering. Sauntering closer to the crowd, he attempted to fit in as the Neutral prepared his speech. Then, once a few more bots had entered the building, the group quietened down as the announcement began.

"It is no accident that you are all here. Each and every one of you will have a very important role to play in the coming days." The Neutral paused dramatically, as he observed the mesmerised crowd. His voice was authoritative, its very nature commanding absolute respect from his followers. "And each of you will play your part to perfection. That is why you are here. Let there be no mistake. Yes, you are Autobot, yet you have all been summoned to a higher calling. Each and every one of you has been especially chosen to become a part… of the new revolution!" His voice increased in volume, and it seemed to resonate all around the large interior of the building. "A revolution that will change… the very foundations of what you are all used to. From this day forth, you will continue to go about your daily tasks, resuming your function amongst the Autobots… and await your orders. The coming of the new Supremacy draws inevitably closer, and you have all been entrusted to ensure that our secret remains safe, until that day… when Autobot… or Decepticon… is no more."

Sideswipe had to keep from the sudden shock and anger that threatened to overwhelm him. He shook his head, looking away from the speaker, as he tried to comprehend what he had just heard. The crowd remained fixated upon the Neutral, as he raised his fist in the air, glancing from one Autobot to the next in smug satisfaction. The speaker's attention finally focused upon Sideswipe and his smile slowly faded, replaced by an expression of caution and irritation. He waved at one of his assistants, who nodded and then rushed towards the platform that led down to the ground floor.

"Uh, slag…" Sideswipe said in a quiet whisper. His cover had been blown, and he needed to get out of there. He headed towards the entrance doors, but they were sealed closed. Glancing behind him, he saw that the assistant had been joined by three others, and were steadily heading his way. Realizing that he wouldn't be able to escape through the doors, he approached the Autobot crowd instead, addressing them. "Why are you allowing this to happen? They're using you! Don't you see that? What the slag is wrong with you all?" He shouted, trying to get their attention, and they turned to face him. For a moment, it looked as though Sideswipe might get through to them. "You're Autobots, for Primus' sake – don't listen to them!" He continued, pointing towards the Neutrals, who had now surrounded the crowd. They were closing in on him, and he backed away, taking cover in amongst the crowd.

Their superior pointed towards Sideswipe from his position on the second level, and gave orders to those below. "Don't let him get away!"

All of a sudden, Sideswipe found himself fending off a multitude of arms, as both Autobots and Neutrals sought to grab hold of him. He ducked out of their way; fortunately, he was quicker than the Autobots, but ultimately it was the anger that he felt which granted him the motivation and determination to escape their clutches.

Noticing the main doors beginning to open once again, he pushed his way through the crowd and bolted towards them. A startled Autobot moved away from the entrance as Sideswipe rushed past him. Without looking back, he transformed into his vehicular mode and sped away from the building, covering the empty square outside within a matter of seconds, before he swerved right onto the transit route and disappeared.

The sensation lasted only a few micro seconds, though Ratchet could have sworn that an eternity could have passed and he'd have never known it. He had not been ready for what confronted him when he awoke; though, in hindsight, he supposed that it hadn't been entirely unexpected, considering that his team of Autobots and accompanying Neutrals had encroached into the heart of familiar Decepticon territory uninvited, despite the recent reclaiming of the province following the new directive to outlaw their enemy.

He picked himself up from the floor following a sudden loss of balance, and looked around. Energy bars immediately surrounded him in a circular prison, though it was too dark for him to see anything clearly beyond them. The rough ceiling above him looked to be made of an alloy-enhanced rock. He cycled his visual range through from infra-red to x-ray, but it still didn't help; even his scans came up blank. It was as if there was nothing really here. He reached out to touch the energy bars in puzzlement, and then pulled his hand away as a sudden jolt of plasma energy scrambled the micro circuits in his hand.

"Like a turbo-rat caught in a steel trap," a voice suddenly echoed within the quiet chamber.

Ratchet turned about, looking for the owner of the voice. He did not see anybody there, though he thought the voice sounded vaguely familiar. "Who said that?" He said, growling. "Show yourself." There was no response, so the chief Autobot repair specialist prodded further. "What's the matter, you too afraid?"

"You Autobots aren't too smart," the voice said again. Then, its owner revealed himself, stepping forward and stopping just short of the bars. The soft glow that emanated from the columns of energy was enough to illuminate the immediate surroundings, including the smaller mechanoid.

The Autobot looked down upon him in obvious disapproval. "Rumble… What's going on here? Where are the others?" He demanded accusingly.

"What others?" The smaller robot replied.

"Don't play stupid with me. What have you done with them? Let me speak to Prime." Ratchet's voiced conveyed what he felt; impatience, irritability, and the feeling of having been cheated.

Rumble stood looking up at him, his red visor hiding his optics, and with them any expression that might have given away his thoughts and feelings. He shook his head. "Sorry, but that's not up to me."

"Now you listen here. Get me out of this cage right this cycle, or you're going to wish you'd never been sparked," the white and red Autobot threatened.

"Hey, you should never have come here," Rumble replied defensively.

Ratchet crossed his arms in front of his chest, and grimaced. He was obviously not going to get any meaningful answers from this obnoxious Decepticon mini spy, so he tried a different approach. "You know… I never thought I'd see the likes of you again. Thought you and your ilk didn't survive the War." A moment of silence fell between them, before he spoke again. "Soundwave did survive… didn't he?"

Rumble shrugged. "What do you care?"

Ratchet shook his head in disbelief, as if Rumble's answer exactly proved his long-held belief that all Decepticons were the same; conceited and self-serving. "I don't get it. You're all so darned determined to get your way; you'll go to any means to do it." Ratchet was finding it harder and harder to keep his anger and frustration under control.

Although he had never had any personal conflicts with Rumble, the blue Decepticon did, nevertheless, represent the despised enemy faction; the faction that had not only been at the very heart of the Great Wars, but had also, somehow, brought the dark plague upon them. To Ratchet, Rumble also represented the very reason why so many Autobots since that time had tragically lost their lives, often under terrifying, and sometimes highly circumspect, conditions. "You've no regard for Cybertronian life – you're all murderous thieves…" He trailed off, aware that if he continued he'd break into a fit of anger, and that's the last thing he wanted to do right now; show the enemy his weakness.

Rumble was about to open his mouth to say something in response, but then thought better of it. Perhaps it was best he wait until one of the other Decepticons had a talk with the Autobot. Of course, the accusations that had just spouted from Ratchet's mouth gave him more than enough reasons to want to deactivate the unwelcome visitor right here and now, but he had heard it all before and, in a way, had gotten used to it, had learned not to react so much.

He decided that the Autobot wasn't worth it and began to turn around and leave, when Ratchet spoke again. "Tell me something. Do you actually enjoy it?" His voice had lost its aggression, though the underlying derision and repulsion that he felt towards the Decepticons remained. "Do you enjoy… watching your victims suffer as you look into their optics, as you drain the last trace of energon from them, as you watch their life sparks slowly extinguish?" The chamber fell quiet once again as neither of them moved until, finally, Rumble slowly turned around to face him again. Behind him, a larger, blue and white Decepticon emerged from the darkened recesses of the chamber.

"Well, I'm glad to see you are both doing fine," Ratchet said with obvious sarcasm, addressing the larger Decepticon. His frustration was surfacing once more. "Now, get… me… the… frag… out of here!"

Soundwave's red visor and face mask made it impossible for the Autobot medic to determine his intentions, which frustrated him more than he cared to admit. He realized then just how many Decepticons actually wore a face mask, compared to Autobots he'd known, who rarely did; he had always believed that to do so was a sign of disrespect amongst his kind, and a privilege that was usually reserved only for the Prime.

"First, we have a message for you Autobots," Rumble spoke once more, but this time his tone had taken on a much more serious tone that hadn't been there before. "Go tell your Alliance that we won't back down, and we won't surrender. Don't try coming back here again, 'cause if you do, we will do whatever it takes to defend ourselves." Then he began to retreat back into the shadows.

"Hey, now wait just a minute, come back here–" The Autobot called out after him, but it was too late. The two Decepticons had vanished back into the darkness just as quickly as they had appeared, and he found himself alone again in the chamber.

A few more seconds went by, before that sensation of non-physicality and timelessness, as if he were travelling beyond the reaches of time and space itself, unexpectedly enveloped him once more.

Optimus Prime recovered quickly from a sudden sensation of being in an altered state of consciousness. The experience had come upon him without warning; all he knew was that one moment he was approaching the tower, and then the next, he was inside a small, well-lit, empty room, polished metallic surfaces on every side. Part of the room was enclosed behind energy bars, where he now stood, and directly across from him a sealed door appeared to be the only exit. He had no idea where he was, or how he'd gotten to be here, although if he had to hazard a guess he would say that the Decepticons had used some kind of teleportation technology that he had previously not been aware they possessed. He was probably still in Polyhex, though to assume any more than that would just be relying upon mere speculation.

His first reaction was to activate a com channel in an attempt to contact the rest of his team. "Trailbreaker… Ratchet. Do you read me?" He was greeted with nothing but silence, not even the familiar static that sometimes filtered through a normal broadcast. "Trailbreaker?" He tried one more time, before realizing that he was essentially alone, cut off from any means of communication, and he wondered, regretfully, whether the rest of his team had not fallen into the same trap.

Absorbed in his thoughts, he berated himself for not having anticipated the possibility of such a covert ambush. Had he underestimated the enemy's capabilities, their strategies, their resources? Perhaps he had become overly complacent, had relied too much upon the Autobot-Neutral Alliance to keep the Decepticon threat under control. He replayed these thoughts over in his head, while looking for a possible way out of his current predicament, when the door on the other side of the room silently slid open. He watched as several Decepticons entered, and immediately recognized each one. It did not surprise him in the least to see them here now; the Decepticon leader himself, followed by all six of the Constructicons.

He walked up to the bars, as close as he could get without touching them. "What have you done with the rest of my team?" He demanded, not wasting a moment.

"I've done nothing with them," Megatron replied, speaking calmly yet deliberately. He stepped closer towards the Autobot leader, stopped short in front of him. The Constructicons remained where they were, quietly observing the exchange. "Why did you come here?" The Decepticon leader demanded to know.

Optimus looked at him defiantly. "Let me speak to them," he said, ignoring the other's question.

"The same way you allowed Scavenger the same privilege?" Megatron replied. The mentioned Constructicon watched with quiet interest beside Scrapper and Mixmaster, who both stood beside him in protective stances.

"That's not the same thing, Megatron," Optimus returned, glancing towards the former prisoner. "Scavenger has been condemned for the serious assault of an Autobot. Or did he fail to leave out that minor detail?"

"Oh, yes… condemned." The Decepticon leader slowly paced the small room, parallel to the bars. He took his time before responding, facing away from the Prime. "For being a Decepticon."

"There were no other mechs in the vicinity when Groove was attacked. What would you have me believe – that he did it to himself?" Optimus spoke in anger, and at that same moment he heard Jazz's words in his mind, as clearly as though his First Lieutenant had spoken them only yesterday.

'Prime, what if I were to tell you that Scavenger wasn't the one who attacked Groove?'

"Your arrogance blinds you." Megatron turned back towards him, slowly pacing until he stood in front of him again. "If you really want to know what happened to Groove… perhaps you should ask Sentinel Prime." He paused, observing the Autobot leader's reaction. Optimus gave nothing away; it helped that his battle mask covered most of his facial features. Megatron continued speaking. "I'll keep this brief. The Neutrals have no business within Cybertron Command, just as the High Council had no business issuing their directive against us. By doing so, they have broken an agreement. So, if a war is what they are after, then that is exactly what they will get."

"What… agreement?" Optimus asked. He appeared confused, unprepared for the words that Megatron had just spoken.

The Decepticon leader disregarded the question. "That no longer matters. What matters is that if you know what's good for you and your Autobots, you'll stay out of Polyhex… and put an end to your Alliance with the Neutrals."

Optimus' blue optics remained fixed upon Megatron, conveying stubborn defiance. "You know I can't do that. Don't turn this into another war, Megatron. You won't survive." It sounded almost as if he were pleading with him, hoping against hope that it would never have to come to that.

"You really don't get it, do you?" Megatron's tone was stern, determined. "The Autobots are nothing more than collateral in your Alliance… and you are too proud, too foolish, to see it." He finished speaking, and then started to walk back towards the door.

"Wait, Megatron…" The Autobot leader called after him. "If you allow Scavenger to return with us to Iacon… I will try to convince the High Council to give him a full trial, if you and the rest of the Decepticons will leave Cybertron. At least that way… there's still a chance. It's the best I can do."

The Decepticon leader stood with his back turned to him, and for a while it looked as though he was contemplating Optimus' offer. But after several long seconds, he gave Optimus his answer. "I've negotiated with them once before… to overturn a conviction. It won't work a second time." Then, he opened the door and exited the small room without looking back. The Constructicons quietly followed him out and, as the door closed behind them, Optimus stared at the empty space in front of him, alone again with his thoughts.


Chapter 8 by Crystine

Transformers: Heroes

Chapter 8


Sideswipe kept to the least used roads on his way back to Iacon. He needed time to process what he had just experienced in Antihex, and to decide his next move. He had long suspected that the Neutrals were keeping up a front; he had known that they were not as impartial or altruistic as they wanted everyone else to believe, but he never would have suspected such a dangerous, clandestine agenda underlying their true motive.

It was only now, as Iacon's iconic Command Center came into view before him, that he realized just how much the Autobots were in danger. However, the danger did not come from any Decepticon this time – no, the reality was much more sinister than that, and not just because it all seemed to be unfolding right under their very noses – the worrisome part was that very few, if any, Autobots had any clue about what was actually going on. There were so many questions that he now needed to have answered but, also, so many questions that he could now answer. The Neutrals were the one piece of the whole puzzle that had never seemed to fit together correctly. Until now.

Speeding ahead, he engaged his brakes a little too late as he approached the grand entrance and overshot his mark.

"Hey, watch it!" A gruff voice called out, and he realized with annoyance that it was a mini-bot. He had almost run him over in his vehicle mode – a sleek, red hover car. Transforming into his robot mode, he approached the mech with the intention of offering him an apology. "Why don't you watch where you're going?" The mini-bot reprimanded him.

"Look, I'm sorry, but I didn't see you and–" Sideswipe stopped in front of him, looked down upon his much shorter frame. He could have intimidated him easily enough, if he'd had the inclination.

"Yeah? Save it for someone who cares." The small, yet tough-talking mech was already in a foul mood, and their minor altercation had only made it worse.

He was beginning to test Sideswipe's patience. "You know what? That's just fine with me, Brawn," he replied and then started to turn away, heading towards the large, double doors that led into the Command Center within Iacon Central.

"Hey! I remember you…" The mini-bot called out after him, and Sideswipe hesitated, turned back. "You're Side-slagger…" He mocked, laughing at him. The sound made Sideswipe want to cringe.

"It's Side-swipe, and if I'd known it was you, I would have just run you over!" He shot back.

"Oh yeah… well, I dare ya!" Brawn replied, placing his hands on his hips, and then paused in thought, appraising him. "Didn't think you'd have the mettle to show your face around here again."

Sideswipe couldn't believe Brawn's blatant insensitivity; if that was how he truly felt, the least he could have done was keep his unwanted remarks to himself. Sideswipe opened his mouth to say something in reply, but then changed his mind. Instead, he shook his head in disbelief, and started to walk away again. He didn't need this; he had bigger problems to worry about right now.

"What's the matter, Side-swipe, forgotten how to act like a true warrior?" Brawn continued to mock him as he watched the taller Autobot walk away.

Sideswipe couldn't listen to him any more; the nerve of that mini-bot was proving to be too much for him to take, and he spun around, shouted back at him. "Why don't you go and stick your head in the waste processor, Brawn? I don't have time for your ignorance." Brawn stared back at him critically, but made no further comment.

Sideswipe turned his back toward him one more time and continued on his way. He didn't stop until he reached the double doors to Iacon Central, making his way determinedly up the wide steps. He input his security code at the door panel, half-expecting to be denied entry and, sure enough, was confronted with an error message from Teletraan II. He looked about, pausing for an instant before attempting the same code a second time. He received the same error message, and slammed an open hand against the door, leaned against it in frustration. "Come on… open up," he tried to coax it, but he knew that it was a pointless exercise.

'Please enter your security code,' the central computer requested, ever patient.

"Apparently, I no longer have one," he said aloud, and then shook his head. Turning around, he began to head back down the steps, looking for an alternative means of getting inside the Command Center, but was stopped by a friendly voice from behind him.

"The codes were all changed." He turned to see the welcome sight of Arcee. "Here, maybe I can help." She walked up to the doors, and input her code. The doors slid open without issue.

"Thanks!" He said, and smiled at her warmly. "It's sure good to see you again."

She smiled back at him, led the way inside. "And why is that?" She teased.

"Oh, no reason…" He trailed off, glancing back towards Brawn, but the mini-bot was nowhere in sight.

Thankfully, she changed the subject. "So, have you decided to rejoin the ranks, then?"

"What?" Sideswipe started, confused, but then quickly caught on. "Oh… well, no. Not exactly." She waited expectantly for him to continue, and an awkward silence followed before he explained further. "Actually, I need to speak to Prime about something…"

"Optimus isn't here at the moment, but you can speak to Prowl, instead?" Another minute went by as Arcee led the way in silence, and then they slowed to a stop in the hallway that led through to the Control Room. "Well, here we are. You'll need proper authorisation to enter beyond this point," she informed him in a friendly manner.

He nodded, and thought that her optics conveyed a subtle, unexplained sadness, despite her cheerful manner. "Thanks. Really. For everything." He looked about the brightly lit hall, and memories of times now passed came flooding back into his main processor. "I can’t believe how much things have changed since I was here last."

"That's exactly what I thought, too." Arcee looked at him empathically. Her expression showed slight concern, though she didn't make any further comment.

Sideswipe paused, and returned her gaze. "Arcee… I'm sorry, where are my manners?" He sighed, shook his head. "I completely forgot to ask about you. How have you been?"

She shrugged, smiled again. "Great. Everyone's been so wonderful. I've been assigned to help out in the med bay. It's… kind of a dream come true for me, actually."

"That's great. I'm happy for you, Arcee. I really am."

She thought that he seemed distant, his thoughts a million miles away. "Is there anything I can do to help?" She asked him, her voice soothing.

"I'm not sure." He refocused his gaze upon her once more, deciding whether he should confide in her before he spoke to the Autobot higher-ups about the Alliance. Right now, she was the only Autobot he knew that he could really trust. "I–" He shook his head, looked away. "I don't know how to tell you this, Arcee…" He still wasn't certain himself about the implications of sharing what he'd just learned about the Neutrals. Letting the other Autobots know would most likely create a division amongst them; some would undoubtedly fight to stay with the Alliance, whilst others would bravely face the truth of the situation, whether they liked it or not. He was almost certain that there would be consequences to blowing the cover on the Neutrals' agenda that he hadn't even thought of yet.

She nodded in understanding, ever patient. "If I have something difficult to say, I find that, sometimes… the best way to deal with the situation is to just come straight out and say it."

Sideswipe contemplated her words, took his time doing so. He respected her, not just as an Autobot, but also as a good friend. He inhaled deeply, and then exhaled slowly. "Okay. I think… the Autobots have made a huge mistake." Arcee nodded, listening carefully as he spoke, genuinely interested in what he had to say. She did not want him to feel uncomfortable; it was obvious that something weighed heavily on his mind and, whatever it was, she sensed the seriousness of it. He would not have come back to Iacon Central otherwise. "Forming an alliance with the Neutrals. They're bad news, Arcee – real bad news. And I think… we might all be in danger."

A look of consternation crossed her face, and she tried to make sense of what he had just told her. He did not need to convince her of the truth of his words, nor did she need to know all the details about what he may have seen or heard recently that had caused him to come to such a drastic conclusion. She lowered her voice, placed a hand on his arm. "I'll go and find Prowl. Will you be alright to wait here? I shouldn't be too long."

"Sure," he said, taking another deep breath. "Go ahead; I'll wait here."

"Okay," she replied, and then started down the hall towards the Control Room, her pace quick and light.

Sideswipe waited in the hall, watching her go until she was out of sight.

Optimus had spent almost an hour in the holding cell, alone. Being isolated from the rest of the Autobots was difficult enough; however, not knowing where they were, or even if they were still alive, was something that he could barely tolerate much longer. His thoughts kept returning to recent events; Elita and her crew's sudden departure from Cybertron; Jazz's consequential actions against the High Council's directive; Groove's critical condition back at Iacon and; now, the immediate danger to his small team of Autobots, who had more than likely also been captured by the Decepticons.

So when Megatron eventually re-entered the small room, this time unaccompanied, he felt a certain sense of relief, despite the circumstances. As the leader of the rival faction stood before the cell's energy bars, he couldn't help but feel unsettled by the strong, red glow that emanated from his optic sensors.

"I have listened to your proposition, Optimus Prime… and now you will listen to mine," Megatron said, his tone steady, uncompromising. Optimus faced him, but said nothing, allowed him to speak. "I have tried to reason with you, on several occasions, and all for nothing. So, instead, I'm going to give you an ultimatum, which is simply this: you must give me your word… that no Decepticon shall come to any harm at the hands of the Alliance... and, in return, I shall allow your Autobot companions to go free… along with the Neutrals who accompanied you here."

The Autobot leader looked back at his long-time adversary with restrained anger, though he was not surprised at the other's proposition – in fact, he should have expected something like this. "You know I can't ensure the safety of any Decepticon – especially if they continue to violate the rulings of Cybertron's governance agreement. Why don't you just let my team go… you have me… isn't that enough?"

Megatron shook his head in mock disappointment. "What use are you to me alone, Optimus Prime? I simply wish to ensure the safety and well-being of those under my command. Surely you, yourself, can understand that. But, if you decide to turn down my offer… well, then… I cannot guarantee the safety and well-being of your own team."

Optimus groaned in frustration, turned away from him. Considering his options, he realized that the lives of his friends and fellow officers depended upon the decision that he was about to make. After a long moment in thought, he turned slowly around to face Megatron once more. "What's to stop me from simply going back on my word, the minute you've released us?"

The question was not one that the Autobot Prime Commander would have usually asked. Megatron held out his hands in a conversational gesture, palms open. "You are free to take that course of action, if you wish. Although, I hardly expect a Prime's promise to be without integrity or honour, and worth nothing. Only you, and your conscience, must bear the consequence of such a decision."

As much as Optimus hated to admit it, Megatron was right. He could make a false promise, give his word without any intention of honouring it afterwards; but, was he prepared to live with such a dishonourable act? As the Autobot's Prime Commander, speaking truth had always been synonymous with fighting for freedom and justice; values that he was not prepared to put aside for anyone, not even now. He had an obligation, a certain code of honour to uphold, and the current situation did not justify going against it. Megatron knew this, of course, and was using it against him to get what he wanted, but it would leave him with little choice. "Very well… I will instruct… the Autobots under my command to cease enforcing the Council's directive. However… I have no power to tell the High Council or the Neutrals what to do in that regard."

Megatron listened to his response, gave it serious consideration. "I accept your promise." He gave a half-smile, satisfied that he had finally gained some ground with the Autobot leader. "I knew you'd make the right decision, Optimus Prime."

The Decepticon leader left the room and, after a minute, Optimus felt himself unable to stop the process as he was instantly transferred back outside the tower, unconscious.

Sideswipe instinctively straightened as the Autobot Chief of Security appeared in the hallway from the main Control Center, accompanied by Arcee. The mech slowed to a stop in front of him, looking him up and down as if he were appraising a new recruit. It made Sideswipe feel uncomfortable, but he refrained from commenting.

"Sideswipe," Prowl greeted him, his tone detached, formal. He gave a slight nod of his head. "It's good to have you back."

He couldn't determine the sincerity of Prowl's words, nor was he able to determine what his reaction was going to be after he'd said what he had come here to say. "Ah… yeah, look, I'm not here to…" Sideswipe hesitated, briefly glanced at Arcee for reassurance. She was smiling calmly back at him, her optics offering unwavering encouragement. He inhaled slowly, and then began again. "I've got to speak to Prime about the Alliance. It's important."

Prowl waited for him to continue, but when he didn't, he prompted for more information. "I see. Prime is currently away on assignment… and has left me in charge." He paused, contemplating the situation. "Whatever it is that you wish to tell him, you can tell me."

Sideswipe nodded affirmatively. "Alright…" He replied. "Look, I just came here to warn you all…" He faltered, tried to find the courage to speak what was on his mind.

"Just tell him what you told me, Sideswipe," Arcee guided him gently, noticing his difficulty. "You'll do fine."

He nodded, and then stared back at Prowl's reserved, expressionless face. Perhaps it was just a façade he put on – his own way of masking deeply buried sentiments from a mental torment that he was not allowing himself to acknowledge. Not a single Autobot that he had ever known had been left untouched by the Great War, in one way or another. 'You should never judge a bot by his color', his twin and brother, Sunstreaker, had always told him; or, in this case, by his lack of expression. He fought to push those memories out of his mind, not wanting to focus upon his own inner turmoil. "To tell you that the Alliance with the Neutrals has to end. They've been lying to you from the beginning. If you don't do something now, it'll be too late. They're already planning a take over, even as we speak."

"I see," Prowl replied uncertainly. "Sideswipe… you are making an extremely serious accusation. You do realize that?" He did not doubt Sideswipe's sincerity, or the fact that he truly believed what he was telling them; his main concern was whether the former Autobot warrior wasn't deluding himself. Sideswipe looked confused by his question but did not respond immediately, so he sighed, nodded his head. "Very well. Let us talk somewhere in private. Please… Follow me," he said, and then turned and started to walk back up the hall, towards the Command Center.

Sideswipe hesitated, glanced at Arcee, before catching up to walk behind the Second-in-Command.

* * * 

Prowl sealed the door to the Conference Room closed before taking a seat at the table. He indicated for Sideswipe to do the same, taking his time before speaking. "There's no easy way to tell you this, Sideswipe, so I'll be honest with you." He sighed, exhaled slowly, carefully. "As I said earlier, the accusations you made are serious. Of course… we cannot disregard any important matter that comes to our attention… however, what you're saying – you must understand that for the Alliance to even consider investigating the validity of such accusations… will require at least some plausible reason."

The room fell quiet, as Sideswipe absorbed Prowl's words. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Wait – so… what you're telling me is, you're not going to do anything about it?"

Prowl sat back in his seat, folded his arms in front of him. "Not at all. In fact, if there's any truth to it… rest assured that appropriate action will be taken."

Sideswipe placed a hand under his chin in contemplation, looked down at the floor. "'If there's any truth to it,'" he repeated. "You know, if I didn't know you better, Prowl, I'd say that you think I'm making this all up." He looked up at Prowl; as usual, his expression was unreadable. "I… do know you better than that… right, Prowl?"

A long moment of silence followed, and Sideswipe was beginning to feel that perhaps he might have a harder time getting his message across to Autobot Command than he had first thought. When Prowl broke the silence, his tone was harsher. "You should be thankful that I'm even taking the time to listen to your… as yet, unsubstantiated stories. As non-military personnel, the Alliance is under no obligation to take what you say under advisement, let alone respond to your accusations."

"Accusations?" Sideswipe rose slightly from his seat, his palms planted firmly down on the table top. "I can't believe what you're telling me, Prowl. What the hell's gotten into you?" The blue light of his optics dimmed slightly as anger and frustration began to well up inside him. "Did you even comprehend one word I said?"

Prowl did not appear intimidated at all by the former warrior; if anything, his volatile behaviour only helped justify his own position. "Every word." He stood up and walked towards a wall terminal, proceeded to monitor a data stream on a small display screen in front of him. His back was turned towards his ex-comrade as he spoke. "You are convinced… that the Neutrals, and the Alliance, pose a threat to the Autobots. You base this on the claim that they have been deceitful in their dealings with us, and that they are planning to undermine our joint leadership… which would, by the way, effectively cancel the governance agreement; the very agreement that has guaranteed – and continues to guarantee – both us, and them, not only the safety and security of all Cybertronians against the Decepticons and their allies, but also the sharing of all resources for our mutual benefit." He paused, considering his next question carefully. "Can you give me one good reason why they would want to work against us?"

Sideswipe gave an exasperated sigh, slowly sat back down again. "Look, I have no idea why – all I know is that it's the truth. I witnessed them talking about it with my own sensors – I was right there among them!"

Silence filled the room; and the uneasiness between the two was palpable. Prowl took his time answering, ignoring the agitated state of the other mech. Finally, he exhaled, slowly and deliberately. "There's also another consideration… that needs to be dealt with. It concerns you, Sideswipe."

This caused Sideswipe to sit up suddenly, cautiously alert. He did not like where this conversation was heading. "Yeah… how so?"

Prowl stiffened, and then turned to face him again. "The circumstances of your dismissal from active duty–"

"I don't see what that's got anything to do with any of this," he rebutted quickly, cutting the other off mid-sentence.

"Please… let me finish." Prowl's blue optical sensors gazed back at him; he emanated self-assuredness, and the authority that naturally came with his rank.

Sideswipe sighed, sat back again. He waved one hand dismissively, looked away. "Go ahead." There was nothing Prowl could tell him that he hadn't already heard before, anyway.

Prowl spoke slowly, cautiously. "As I was saying, your… dismissal from active duty occurred as a direct result of your unwillingness to cooperate with your superiors. You were spared the embarrassment of an officer's review on compassionate grounds. However, in order for Cybertron Command to take your perspective into consideration, your past breach of our code of conduct will need to be reassessed." He paused, sighed empathically. "Are you aware of what that would entail, Sideswipe?"

The former Autobot officer got up from his seat. "Yeah, I'm aware." His tone was filled with disbelief, and only added to his growing anger. "You know, I never thought I'd see the day when the Autobots would place more importance on protocol than they do on the very real possibility of the destruction of our race!"

"Now, don't you think you're being just a little unreasonable–" Prowl interjected, beginning to lose his patience. He was spared from having to continue the conversation by an incoming alert on his communications link. "Excuse me one moment," he said to Sideswipe, and activated the channel. "This is Prowl." Silence followed as the message on the other end was conveyed to him in private. "I see. I'll be there shortly." He closed the link, looked up at the red and black Autobot with a look that spoke of a sudden, untold tragedy, and for the moment, at least, their disagreement was forgotten. He sighed in resignation. "I'm needed in the Repair Bay." He paused in thought as he decided what he should do with Sideswipe. He couldn't just turn him away; doing so now would only ensure that he never returned to Iacon Central. Neither could he leave him alone in the Command Center without a valid security code. His only other option was to keep him under his supervision – at least for the time being. "You are welcome to accompany me," he offered finally, and then moved towards the entrance of the Conference Room, pressed a button on the door panel. As the door slid open, he indicated patiently for Sideswipe to exit the room ahead of him, and they both started towards the Maintenance and Repair Bay in silence.

Ratchet awoke from what had felt like a long, yet restless, slumber. Disoriented, the first thing he became aware of was that he was lying with his back to the ground. Directly above him, he saw the familiar sight of Cybertron's orange-tinged sky as the day began to give way to night. He sat up warily, unsure of where he was or how he'd gotten here, and then the recent memory of his encounter with Rumble and Soundwave flooded back into his processor.

Looking about, he noticed that same tall tower that sat atop the former site of Darkmount fortress to his left – the one that his team had been investigating before they had all unexpectedly disappeared. He stood up, checking his internal systems, and was relieved to find that he was functioning normally, except for a slight energy drain from his power core.

Then he remembered Optimus and the others who had arrived here with him, and he slowly began to realize that they were nowhere in sight. However, something else caught his immediate attention, and he started away from the tower, towards the Neutrals.

Each one of them was sprawled on the ground, unmoving. "What in the…" He whispered, astounded.

Vorns of specialist repair experience then took over, and he rushed towards the nearest fallen bot, checking for vital signs. After a few moments, he moved on to the next one, and then the next. After checking several of the Neutrals, he stopped, stepped back a little.

The eeriness from the scene before him reminded him of the haunting atmosphere that always followed a devastating massacre. The difference here, however, was that every Neutral on this battle field had not been massacred; he had simply been off-lined, and drained of his primary energon reserves. Each would need to be transported back to a maintenance facility for refuelling, but there was nothing that a full recharge couldn't fix, other than battered pride. He sent out a general assistance broadcast, waited for acknowledgment.

How four teams of Neutrals had been overpowered in this manner, he could not have guessed, though he could say, with almost certainty, who was responsible.

"The Decepticons…" A deep, familiar voice spoke from behind him, and he turned around with a start. Relief flooded his circuits when he saw the large, blue and red mech standing there.

"Optimus. Thank the Heavens you're all right," Ratchet replied, and then saw the concern in the Autobot Commander's optics as he witnessed the scene before them. He looked slightly defeated, but was otherwise fine. "Eh… they'll be okay. I've called for assistance; maintenance teams should be here soon." He waved a hand towards the unconscious Neutrals. "Though next time, I doubt they'll be as fortunate."

Optimus relaxed his shoulders, visibly relieved. "Hopefully, there won't be a next time." He sighed. "What about the other Autobots; have we heard from them yet?" He sounded tired, withdrawn.

Ratchet shook his head. "Not yet. I only just…" He searched for the right words. "Woke up a few moments ago."

The Autobot leader activated his communications link so they could both hear it. "Trailbreaker… do you read me?" The two of them waited for a response, but after a long moment there was only the crackling sound of static.

Ratchet shook his head in thought. "Maybe they're still–" He began, but then was cut short by the sound of a voice that suddenly came over the link.

"Prime? This is Trailbreaker…" The channel sounded weak, the voice distant.

Optimus glanced towards the tower. "Trailbreaker, do you know where you are?"

Trailbreaker seemed to take his time in responding. "Uh… hold on…" There was a slight pause as the defensive strategist got a lock on his position. "I'm about… one hundred megamiles from Central Iacon… bearing south-east… several sub-levels down." The two Autobots looked at one another in perplexity.

"Is Bluestreak with you?"

"No… I'm alone." He sounded uncertain, confused. "Prime… I don't remember how I got here. One moment I was with the rest of the team, and then the next…"

"Don't worry… I think I know what happened. Can you make your way back to Headquarters?" Optimus asked him.

"Yeah, shouldn't be a problem. Uh… Optimus? There's something else…" Trailbreaker said, and then faltered.

Optimus waited for him to continue, but the voice on the other end of the link remained quiet. "What is it, Trailbreaker?"

More silence followed, and then Trailbreaker's voice came through abruptly. "I'm not quite sure how to explain this, Optimus… but, I think – there's something… down here with me."

Optimus stood motionless as he listened carefully to the transmission. "Some… thing?" He asked, seeking clarification.

"Yeah. Like I said, I don't know how to describe it. I mean… I don't see anything, exactly, but… I can sense something... if you know what I mean. It's pretty dark down here, though."

As Trailbreaker was speaking, Ratchet was suddenly alerted to his own com link being activated. He nodded towards Optimus, and then answered the transmission. "Ratchet here, go ahead."

"Ratchet? Oh, hey, we sure are glad to hear your voice!"

"Hot Rod…" Ratchet identified the voice on the other end, more for Optimus' sake than for any other reason.

"That's me. Bluestreak's here, too." Unlike Trailbreaker's voice, Hot Rod's came across loud and clear. "We're on our way back to your location."

"Good to hear you're both alright."

"You'll never guess what happened! We were transported to an underground tunnel of some kind – I think it was still in Polyhex, but–"

"Save it for later, Hot Rod. Just meet us back in Iacon, soon as you can, would you?" Ratchet replied, unamused by the Autobot warrior's excitement, though relieved that he, and Bluestreak, were both unharmed.

"Oh… okay, sure thing."

"Good. Ratchet out." The Autobot medic closed his com link, and looked over at his Commander, who had also ended his communication with Trailbreaker. "Looks like we're all present and accounted for… in a manner of speaking," he said, and thought better of asking about Trailbreaker's odd message.

"Let's head back to Headquarters," Optimus said, thankful that Megatron had kept his promise, at least.

The two of them transformed into their vehicle modes and started on the main road back through Darkmount, just as two maintenance teams arrived to transport the unconscious Neutrals to their nearest command post, most likely in Antihex.

Neither spoke a word for the rest of the journey back to Iacon.

Astro looked up at the illuminated sign that adorned the side of a grey, metallic building. 'Roundup's Exotic Entertainment', it read in large, hard-to-miss Cybertronian letters. "This is it." He sounded unimpressed, scanned the area for any recognizable signatures.

"Well?" His companion, Rook, waited expectantly.

Astro shook his head. "Nothing." He began to walk away, heading back down the main street.

His partner watched him go, and then called after him. "Wait, so… what now?"

Astro stopped, turned back towards Rook. "We'll keep searching until we find him," he answered, as if there was nothing else to say.

"Can you at least tell me who it is that we're supposed to be looking for?" Rook asked him, frustrated with the thought that, apparently, Astro still did not trust him. "I simply want to help."

The blue Cybertronian hesitated, looked up towards the early morning sky. "All I can tell you is that he's Cybertronian…"

"I already knew that," Rook answered him tersely. He looked at Astro critically, walked up to him until they were face-to-face. "Is he Decepticon?" Astro returned his gaze, but said nothing, so Rook tried asking him again, more forcefully this time, demanding an answer. "Is he Decepticon? Answer me!"

"I can't tell you that–" Astro repeated, but Rook would not take no for an answer.

"Damn it, Astro. If you want me to help you… if you want to truly give me that second chance you talked about… then you've got to start trusting me!" Rook's yellow optics glowered in frustration under his visor and, for the first time, Astro saw his conviction, and an inner strength that had been buried within the mech for far too long.

Finally, Astro began to let down his guard. "You're right," he said quietly, and slowly exhaled before continuing. He nodded purposefully. "He is Decepticon."

Rook took a small step back, solemnly taking in the information. "Would it be safe to say that you've already tried locking onto his signature? Signalled his private com link?" In normal circumstances, these methods should have worked, but it was obvious that this particular situation was far from normal.

Astro nodded affirmatively. "His unique signature is… untraceable. And, as far as his private com link goes, it's been deactivated."

"I… see," Rook replied, intrigued. "So, other than looking for Cybertronian signatures, I don't suppose you have any other way of tracking him down?"

Astro slowly shook his head. "No. I've… been able to monitor his activity, until recently, but his patterns of behaviour have become unpredictable as of late." Astro started back down the street, resumed his scan for any possible signs of the Decepticon, until Rook interrupted him once more.

"Forgive me if this sounds untenable, but… have you tried scanning through all encrypted Decepticon transmission frequencies?"

"Of course, that's one of the first–" Astro began, but then stopped in his tracks as a sudden thought entered his processor. "Wait just one astro-second…" He adjusted his internal scanner to pick up additional signals from coded Decepticon emergency transmissions. "It's unlikely, but a possibility, nonetheless."

Rook had to hurry after him to catch up, and they walked together in silence, until they had travelled a few blocks. "I'm… picking up a very erratic signal," Astro said in surprise, and began to move quickly along the main street before turning right into a smaller access way. "It's coming from a Decepticon transceiver. Rook, you're a genius."

"I beg your pardon?" Rook replied, perplexed.

"It appears… the signal's integrity is severely degraded." He walked along at a fast pace, almost as if he were afraid that if he stopped or slowed down now he may lose the life line. "It's unstable." After several more minutes, Astro stopped, looked about. They were in a narrow alleyway, a good distance from the main thoroughfare. "This is where the signal ends." He looked about, searching for anything that might resemble a transceiver, but he could not find anything.

As Rook stepped forwards, the sound of metal clinking against the smooth, stone surface of the alley way was picked up by their audio sensors, and he stopped, bent low to look for the small object that he must have flung aside with his foot. He reached down to pick it up and, after examining it, carefully handed it to Astro. The object was, indeed, a Decepticon transceiver. However, it looked as though it had been crushed underfoot by a large Dinobot. "Is this what we're looking for?"

Astro's expression was one of deep concern, something that Rook had never seen from him before. "He's in trouble."

From the moment he arrived at the Maintenance and Repair Bay, Sideswipe felt like he were on the outer looking in, part of some sort of semi-dream state and unable to take command of his motor circuits.

"Dammit, we're losing him…" Red Alert, the temporary Chief Medical Officer and Ratchet's new prodigy, stood over a berth, fully focused upon his unconscious patient. His voice was laced with anxiety. His ability to handle the situation was not a concern, however; whether his patient would survive another day, was. "Arcee, try to boost the power signal… take it to maximum tolerance levels."

His assistant stood right beside him, only too willing to help in any way she could. She was so focused on the medical emergency that she hadn't noticed Prowl or Sideswipe enter the med bay. "Won't that risk permanent damage to his neural circuitry?" She asked nervously.

"Yeah… but right now, he doesn't have any other options. He's as good as gone if we don't do something," he explained, carefully observing the monitor readouts.

Arcee nodded in understanding, and glanced over at the patient's gestalt team mates, Hot Spot and Streetwise, who stood watching the events unfold at the foot of the berth.

A third Protectobot, Blades, stood in front of Sideswipe, removed from the activity. He had his arms crossed in front of him, and an expression of pure bitterness and resentment was etched upon his face. Sideswipe imagined what he might be thinking at this very moment, and guessed that it probably involved a particular Decepticon, and how he was going to be terminated at his hands.

The room was eerily quiet as Red Alert and Arcee concentrated on their task; no one else dared speak or move. The pink and white femme turned a knob near the external power source by a fraction, and then waited intently as Red relayed immediate feedback.

"A little more…" He said, and she complied, though she couldn't hide the stress and worry that she felt. Beside Groove, the indicator panel that displayed his vital signs showed his critical state. "Okay… okay… that's good." Red Alert let out a tentative sigh of relief, stepped back from the berth, and then watched the indicator panel until it showed a stable signal. He glanced up towards the onlookers, and then noticed Prowl's presence. "Sir… I'll need your authorisation for what I'm about to do," he said, briefly looking towards Sideswipe.

Prowl walked towards him, stood over the berth as he looked down upon their patient. "How is he?" He asked.

Red hesitated in his reply, reluctant to speak too candidly in front of Groove's closest friends. Hot Spot caught his expression. "Whatever it is… you can tell us, Red," he said, prepared for the worst. He spoke for all of his team mates. "It's… not your fault what happened. We know you're only doing your best."

Red nodded. "Alright. The truth is… we almost lost him. He's practically surviving on backup reserve. If we keep him on life support much longer, it'll be completely depleted. His only hope now is to place him in semi-permanent stasis. That'll buy us a little more time. But we need to do it now."

Hot Spot looked doubtful. "What's the risk?"

Red glanced at Arcee and Prowl, before returning his attention to Hot Spot; he saw the familiar faces of friends that he trusted with his life. "There's… always a risk that we might not be able to bring him back. And that's even if we're ever able to restore his missing component."

The Protectobot leader nodded in understanding, and then looked over at his fellow team member, an unspoken communication between them, before turning back to Red Alert. "Do it."

Prowl watched them. He nodded towards the repair specialist, silently authorising the procedure. Then he stepped away, returned to stand beside Sideswipe. The former warrior had his full attention fixed upon the scene before him, as if mesmerized by it.

Several minutes passed by in silence as they all watched the procedure being carried out, reluctant to speak or utter a single word. They watched as Red Alert carefully accessed Groove's spark chamber, rewired its connections. It only took him less than a breem, and after he was done he checked the monitor readout and indicator panel until they both showed minimal electrical activity, and then nodded solemnly towards Hot Spot.

Streetwise, who had not said a word to anyone since the emergency had begun, now spoke up. "Come on, let's get out of here. There's nothing more we can do for him, anyway." His voice was like acid.

"Where are you going?" Hot Spot asked him before he could leave the med bay.

"Does it matter?" The white interceptor retorted. The tension between them arose suddenly, and was felt by all in the room.

Arcee, in an effort to alleviate Hot Spot's anxiety, reassured him, placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Let him go, Hot Spot. He'll be alright." The Protectobot leader hesitated, and then nodded in acquiescence. She was right; he probably just needed some time alone.

Streetwise took the cue, and headed towards the med bay doors, but then Sideswipe grabbed his forearm on his way past, stopping him in his tracks. "Hey, what do you think you're doing? It's not safe for any Autobot to be out there – not any more," Sideswipe warned him.

The Protectobot looked at him as if he had fried a few logic circuits. "Let go of me," he replied contemptuously, pulling his arm away, but Sideswipe's grip was strong. "…Sideswipe." Streetwise acknowledged the other's name as if it tasted of bitter energon. He tried to pull his arm away once more, and was successful; his arm came free with a hard swing, almost striking Blades.

As Sideswipe watched Streetwise exit the med bay, he called out after him. "I'm warning you – just stay away from any Neutrals!" When he got no response, he finally turned towards Prowl. "Prowl– Sir… Let me speak to Prime," he requested one more time, this time with added determination.

"I'm sorry, Sideswipe, but as I have already explained–" The Chief of Security began, but was cut off by the Autobot.

"Please! I wouldn't have come here at all if it wasn't important. Unless you want to see another Autobot end up like that?" His voice rose in volume, as he indicated towards Groove. "It could be any one of us next time – perhaps Blades here, or even myself!" He looked around the med bay, determined to make his point. "What about Arcee over there? Don't you even care about what might happen to us?"

The Autobots present all stopped to listen as he began to draw their attention, his indignation obvious for all to see. Prowl hesitated uncertainly, before deciding on a change of tactic. "Of course I do – that's not the issue here. However–"

"Then what is the issue, Prowl? Because I'm starting to think that I may have made a mistake returning to Iacon Central," Sideswipe confessed, angry.

Prowl remained unperturbed by the other's outburst, and ignored his last remark. "However… I'll be willing to deliver your message to Prime myself… provided that you do not disseminate your… information… to anyone else – at least for the time being. Needless to say, we wouldn't want to create unnecessary panic." He paused, cautious. "Would that be acceptable?"

Sideswipe contemplated Prowl's proposal. It was probably the best he could expect to get from Autobot Command, especially considering his past record, and his current official status as a former officer of the Autobot army: dismissed without penalty. "Fine," he replied, and walked out of the Maintenance and Repair Bay without looking back.

"Do you suppose it was left here on purpose?" Rook watched as Astro deactivated the transceiver, and patiently waited for his companion to reply.

"It's hard to say." Astro visually scanned the alley way on all general frequencies, looking for any clue that might indicate whether the Decepticon was anywhere nearby, but there was no sign of him. "Come on, we'd better head back, just in case we're not the only ones who've picked up the signal," Astro said, and started to make his way back up the alley. He stopped suddenly, sensing danger, and slowly retraced his steps towards Rook, grabbing his arm. "Get ready to move…"

Rook became wary, but before he could ask why, a large, ominous figure appeared from around the corner. It was an enhanced, orange and grey jet-former; a sight that was all too familiar to Rook. It scowled at them, and Rook exclaimed in shock. "Jhiaxus…!"

Astro did not wait one astro-second longer, and together they bolted down the alley as fast as they could go.

Jhiaxus roared after them, engaging his jet thrusters in robot mode and shooting forwards through the air down the narrow alley way. "Traitors!" He bellowed, enraged. There was the crackling sound of sparks as Jhiaxus' oversized frame scraped against the walls of structures on either side of the alley.

The sudden whine of a missile launcher was followed by an explosive impact. A projectile had narrowly missed Astro as its target, but the force of the blast had flung him sideways into a wall with an audible crash, and had demolished part of a multiple storey building. Rook, realizing that Jhiaxus was almost upon them, a second energy-blast missile already launched, threw himself down to avoid its impact, and then scrambled towards Astro, who was still recovering from the first detonation. There was no time for words now, only action; he grabbed the blue mech by his arm and forcibly guided him towards an opening in the alley to their left. They stumbled out of Jhiaxus' way just in time as the Second-in-Command of the largest Subterranean Base on Alternity City shot past them at high speed.

"Are you damaged?" Rook asked, helping Astro to his feet. The taller mech shook his head, looking back towards the alley, and then the both of them broke into a run down the path before them. Behind them, they could hear their assailant as he landed on the ground, turning back the way he had come. He emerged at the entrance to the narrower pathway, and began to pursue them on foot.

"We need to lose him, fast!" Astro called out to Rook, and risked a few precious seconds as he turned around to deliver a volley of laser blasts towards Jhiaxus. This seemed to slow the mech down, but it was not enough to stop him as he continued to approach them.

Rook fired his own laser weapon, but they were no match for him. Jhiaxus sneered at them, reloading his missile launcher, and then fired it at them once more.

"Hey, Sideswipe… mind if I ask you something?"

Sideswipe looked up from his seat at a table in the main recreational area on the ground floor of the Command Center. It was Blades.

"Shoot," he replied unconcernedly, took a gulp of the energon that was sitting in the cylindrical container in front of him.

"Listen, uh… I overheard you talking to Prowl earlier. And I was wondering…" The red and white helicopter took a seat opposite him, not waiting for an invitation. "Because if it's got anything to do with what happened to Groove…"

Sideswipe stared at the Protectobot, his optics intense. "I've no idea what happened to Groove." His tone was curt, almost defensive.

Blades did not appreciate the Autobot's apparent indifference. Perhaps Sideswipe had his own personal demons to deal with, as they all had – in fact, he was certain of it – however, that was no reason to treat him with any hostility. "Then… what was all that stuff you were saying about the Neutrals?" He prodded.

The red and black Autobot shrugged impatiently. "Maybe you should go ask Prowl?"

Blades shook his head incredulously, his frustration increasing. "Hey, what the frag is your problem?"

"I don't have a problem." Sideswipe sipped at his energon.

"Oh, yeah?" Blades stood up to leave; he obviously wasn't going to get anywhere with the mech. Looking down at him, he suddenly saw a very different Sideswipe to the one he remembered. "You know… I almost wish Sunstreaker had never interfered with affairs that never concerned him. We'd all have been better off if he'd just kept his mouth shut."

This seemed to snap Sideswipe out of whatever state he had been in. He rose abruptly from his seat, pushed his canister of energon aside. It slid halfway across the table top. "What did you just say?"

Blades took a step back, already regretting his bluntness. "Look, I'm only after some answers. I didn't really mean anything by it–"

"The slag you didn't," Sideswipe replied, threateningly. "Why don't you just get out of my sight before I do something we'll both regret?"

During their heated exchange, Smokescreen and Bumblebee had entered the recreational area, and were unable to completely avoid staring at the two Autobots as they walked past them.

"What are you looking at?" Blades called out, before facing Sideswipe again. "Here's some advice for you; keep up that attitude of yours, and believe me you're not going to win any favours – not around here." Then, having said his piece, he walked out of the rec room, leaving Sideswipe to contemplate his final words. Sideswipe sat back down slowly, reached across for his container.

He hardly noticed as Smokescreen approached his table, taking the same seat that Blades had occupied only moments ago. "Hey, welcome back," he said in greeting, attempting to diffuse the tension. He did not wish to upset the estranged Autobot any more than he already was. "Don't take what he says to heart. He's just worried about Groove," he added. "We all are."

Sideswipe avoided his gaze, though he listened; he was already starting to calm down. "Thanks…" He said, and then finished the last of his energon, placed the empty container down on the table. "Well, I'd better be going. Wouldn't want to overstay my welcome, you know?"

As he stood up to leave, Smokescreen stopped him. "Oh! Hold on a second… before I forget." He retrieved a small object from one of his forearm compartments, held it out in the palm of his hand. "Ratchet asked me to give this to you."

Sideswipe looked down at the data chip in puzzlement. "What's on it?"

"I don't know, exactly. All he would tell me was that it's some kind of recorded message." Smokescreen relayed Ratchet's request as best he could, but was somewhat disappointed that he couldn't elaborate on it further. "I'm glad you're here, actually. I was about to go out and find you." He watched as Sideswipe took the data chip from his hand. "I hope it's of some use to you. Oh… he also wanted you to go and see him."

"Thanks." Sideswipe paused in thought, and wondered what Ratchet would possibly want to talk to him about. "Last time we spoke, he'd made it clear he wasn't too interested in what I had to say."

The blue and red Autobot gave him an apologetic shrug. "That's funny… he said something similar about you. Though, you never know… things might have changed since then."

Sideswipe looked at him contemplatively, almost pensive. "I sure hope so," he said, and walked out of the rec room.

This time, Astro was prepared for the oncoming missile, and he threw himself down, flat on the ground, to avoid it. However, as he started to pick himself up again, he felt a sharp pressure against his back, and realized that Jhiaxus was standing over him, pushing him down with the tip of one of his rifles. The other one was pointed towards Rook.

"Him, I had suspected…" Jhiaxus said, indicating towards Astro. "But you, Rook. I am extremely disappointed in you," he taunted his former subordinate. A cold gleam emanated from his optics.

Rook stood motionless, paralysed by fear. He could not hide the sheer terror that he felt as he stared back at his former superior. Jhiaxus recognized this, and did not hesitate to play upon it. "How could you turn against me… after all I've done for you, Rook? Imagine my surprise… when I discovered what you'd done… turning your back on your friends… only to side with this… traitor." Jhiaxus emphasized the last word, looking down at Astro with such contempt that it seemed as though his gaze would burn a hole right through the mech. He looked back at Rook, abruptly, his voice now menacing. "Why did you do it, Rook? Why did you betray me? Answer!"

The smaller mech reacted with a jolt, his mouth slightly open in shock as he struggled to think of what to say. "I…" He started, but was unable to complete his sentence.

"Very well, then…" Jhiaxus interjected, impatient. "If you can't talk, then maybe he will." The large jet hooked a foot underneath Astro, and roughly turned him over, so that he was facing upwards, his back now to the ground. The rifle that had been pinning him down was now threateningly pressed against his face. Jhiaxus gave Astro a malevolent glare before driving a fist down hard, across his cheek. The impact was so violent that Astro sustained a deep cut to his upper lip. Energon from the gash began to trickle down his face and chin.

"No! Please, leave him alone… I– I'll tell you whatever you want to know," Rook pleaded suddenly, without thinking.

Jhiaxus turned his attention back to his former assistant, a grin slowly spreading across his face. "So, it appears that you have a soft spot for this… worthless scrap-pile. I do find that rather intriguing, despite my revulsion." He said this last word with obvious spite, and then laughed; it was a cold and callous sound that frightened Rook beyond what words could describe. The last time he had heard Jhiaxus laugh in such a manner, he had stood by and watched him pull apart a Decepticon prisoner piece by piece before finally having him – or, more accurately, his disassembled parts – smelted down at a nearby ore refinery. "Oh, don't worry – I'll make absolutely sure that he receives his just reward," he said, mocking the mech beneath him. Astro lay on the ground motionless; he did not speak a word, nor did he give away any of his thoughts or emotions. "But as for you, Rook… you have made a terrible mistake. However, since I am in a rather generous mood, I am willing to… forgive your transgression. Return with me to the Base… and I will spare your life."

This sudden confrontation with Jhiaxus was more than Rook could handle, as he felt his resolve beginning to weaken. He looked down at Astro, and was reminded of all that had happened between them since he'd taken him away from the Base against his will. He had vehemently protested Astro's actions, had even despised the mech for what he'd done with an almost uncontrollable need for revenge. But then, over a period of time, slowly but surely, that had somehow all changed. He felt that he had formed a closer bond with Astro in the short amount of time that they'd spent together than he'd ever experienced with anyone at the Base over the many vorns he'd served there.

"Well, Rook, what have you decided?" Jhiaxus reminded him, growing ever more impatient. "I haven't got all day."

"I…" He looked down at Astro once more, and was reminded of the inner strength and determination that radiated from those blue optic sensors, how much he had wished he could emulate the same qualities. "I… wish to–"

But before Rook could give his answer, a sudden barrage of energy blasts impacted Jhiaxus from above them. Rook looked up in confusion, and saw a purple and grey space shuttle hovering low in the sky.

Jhiaxus, oblivious to the source of the sudden assault upon him, cried out in surprise, looked about. Distracted, he could not stop Astro as the blue Cybertronian took the opportunity to roll away from under him.

Astro aimed his laser blaster towards the enemy jet and opened fire. He was soon joined by Rook and, along with the help of the airborne Decepticon, the three of them quickly managed to turn the tide in their favour. Jhiaxus faltered, tried to aim his missile launcher up towards the recent arrival, but he was finding it difficult to get a lock on the target as weapons fire assaulted him from all angles, incapacitating him.

Looking up, Astro noticed a hatch opening up underneath the shuttle and he waved, indicating for it to take them up. It complied; within a matter of astro-seconds a powerful force field was projected towards the two of them, and they found themselves quickly being pulled up towards the craft.

Below them, Jhiaxus attempted to stop them, but he was too slow. They were already inside the shuttle as it flew away, high into the air, leaving Jhiaxus far behind.

Astro, relieved beyond words that he and Rook had escaped with their lives, leaned his head against the shuttle's interior. "Nice timing, Astrotrain. How in the Pits did you ever know we were here?"

Astrotrain laughed. "Actually… I wasn't looking for you, Astro. I was tracking a Decepticon transmission. Though, it seems to have stopped now."

"That's because we got to it first," Astro explained, holding up the damaged transceiver in his hand. "Jhiaxus must have picked up the same signal." He looked towards Rook. "Astrotrain, you remember Rook, don't you?"

"Sure…" Astrotrain replied, but then was silent for a long time.

Rook couldn't help but feel uncomfortable; he'd forgotten all about the Decepticons he used to know, so very long ago, before he had turned against them. He realized that Astrotrain – in fact, all of them – had every reason to mistrust him, and for a brief moment he feared that they would all now take their revenge upon him.

However, when Astrotrain spoke again, he seemed to hold no such grudge towards him. "Welcome back, Rook. We Decepticons have to stick together, now more than ever." Rook had not expected him to be so forgiving, and it took him by surprise. He felt unworthy, undeserving of it.

Then Astro spoke again, addressing him. "Thank you, Rook," he said, with clear sincerity.

The green-colored mech became increasingly uncomfortable, though he was not displeased. "For what? I wasn't much help to you back there."

"That's not what I saw," Astro replied simply. He touched the gash on his lip, wiping away the energon.

Rook contemplated his words, but did not give a reply. Instead, he asked Astro another question. "Aren't you curious about what I was going to say to Jhiaxus?"

The blue mech looked at him steadily, and then shook his head. "No." He paused for a brief moment, and then added, "I already know what you were going to say. I trust you."

Rook slowly sat down beside Astro on the floor of the shuttle, and then, for the first time in a very, very long time, smiled to himself.

It wasn't until several hours after Sideswipe had left the Command Complex, when he'd arrived back at his private quarters, situated in a small, nondescript apartment block in South Iacon, that he finally found the courage to play back the message on the data chip. He had no definite idea of what he might find on it, though he half expected it to contain a recorded message of Ratchet, or even Prime himself, giving him some pertinent advice about reconsidering his position, reminding him of his duty as an Autobot, perhaps even requesting that he apply to return to active duty. But he dismissed these thoughts; receiving such a message was highly unlikely, to say the least. Autobot Command had strict rules and procedures in place, designed to prevent Autobots just like himself from compromising the structure and integrity of Cybertron Command. If he wanted to return to active duty, he would have to go out on a limb, request a pardon and, if he was fortunate enough to be granted a reassessment, he would have to work his way up to the top all over again. It almost didn't seem worth it, not after the events that had surrounded his dismissal.

So when he connected the data chip's play back mechanism to an auxiliary data port in his fingertip, unlocking it with his unique signature, he did not expect at all the message that he was about to be confronted with.

A holographic image of a tall, yellow Autobot appeared in front of him. His arms were crossed, and a look of cynicism pervaded his expression.

Sideswipe almost stumbled onto his recharge berth as he stepped backwards in shock, and then slowly sat down upon it. "Sunny…" He whispered, his optics locked upon the image of his twin brother as the recorded message began to play.

"Sides… I've tracked Bludgeon to Alternity City… and you're probably as mad as the Pits at me right now. Please don't try to follow me here. We don't need the both of us getting our afts thrown into detention, or worse.

"I know… you were only trying to look out for me, and I get that, I really do… and I probably shouldn't have said those things to you. Although you should know that I didn't mean any of it, and… and I'm sorry. You'll always be my brother, no matter what. I trust you with my life. If you don't know that already, well… then I guess, I should have done a better job at being a brother to you." There was a long pause as Sunstreaker's holo image concentrated upon what he wanted to say.

"Anyway… uh, oh yeah, I guess I should mention that it's… Cybertronian stellar date 143491-4-092-19–"

Sideswipe stopped the play back, sat motionless in his quarters as he fought to overcome the flood of emotions that threatened to engulf him. That stellar date was more than a vorn ago; in fact, it was almost the same day that Sunstreaker had left Cybertron – reason and destination unknown. It was also the last day that Sideswipe had heard from his brother, after a huge disagreement had created a rift between them only one day earlier.

He had no idea why he had not been aware of Sunstreaker's message until now, more than one hundred stellar cycles after it had been recorded, or why Ratchet had had it in his possession.

He inhaled deeply three times, and then resumed the play back.

"Look, I know you don't agree with me about the whole thing with the proposed Alliance… but, I know what I saw and I just won't ignore it. I know that Sentinel's involved with this virus in some way… but I don't have all the details just yet." The hologram of Sunstreaker rubbed at his helm, hesitated. "It's like I told Optimus… If Sentinel has anything to do with this new Alliance, I'm not hanging around." Another long pause, and then, "I wish things had turned out differently, Sides. The last thing I want is to alienate you as well."

Sunstreaker's moving image glanced briefly to his right, looking out for something unseen. After a moment, he turned back towards Sideswipe. "I'm going to try and get another message through to you soon, let you know what I find out. I figure it's not going to be easy, but I'll try. If all goes well, I'll see you again soon. Sunstreaker out."

The holographic image flickered off, and Sideswipe dared not move, as if he might somehow lose the last existing memory of his brother that he had.

All these years, and he had thought that Sunstreaker had abandoned him completely, that he had left Cybertron without even bothering to let him know where he'd gone, or why he'd left. All this time, and he had falsely believed that Sunstreaker had never forgiven him for the stupid things he'd said and done.

But, now, this message changed everything.

Chapter 9 by Crystine

Transformers: Heroes

Chapter 9


The first thought that entered Comet's mind as he gradually regained consciousness was the question of whether he was alive and still functioning, until he realized that the answer to that question was self-evident. As his various internal systems slowly returned online, he initiated a diagnostic self-test, and the results confirmed it; he was still intact, even though he had been certain that Lockdown would have terminated him. Unless, of course… the bounty hunter intended some other purpose for him, one that Comet had not yet considered. He recalled how Lockdown had knocked his transceiver out of his hand the night before, and then had overpowered him, locked a circuit dampener onto his neck before carrying him away.

The circuit dampener… he tried to move but, as expected, could not; he had lost all motor control. He realized that his optic sensors must also be affected by the dampener, because his vision was blurred and all he could see were shadows. Oddly enough, however, his audio receptors seemed to be unaffected. He could hear every sound with crystal clear clarity.

Comet wondered where he was. The sounds that he was picking up were mostly unfamiliar to him, though he could tell that he was in a large area of some sort, possibly inside a cargo hold or control room. His first supposition was that he was somewhere on Lockdown's ship, which was probably tucked away out of sight in some subterranean space port. It was even possible that he had already left Alternity City, and that he was being taken to some unmarked prison colony, though he knew that he was far too valuable to simply be disposed of in such a manner and the more that he thought about such a possibility, the more he believed it to be unlikely; rather, it was far more likely that he was still on Alternity City, though his precise location was completely unknown to him.

The question that was now foremost on his mind was what, exactly, had Lockdown been directed to do with him. His mind came up with a few notions, but none of them were particularly pleasant and so, after a few cycles, he forcibly removed those thoughts from his mind. In the stillness of the space in which he now found himself, Comet's focus shifted suddenly to his last conversation with Thunderblast, and how she had casually mentioned Cybertron and the other seekers. Who they might have been, or why they had come to Alternity City, he could not guess. Thunderblast had never been very forthcoming with her information, and had always been a tease; however, he was no fool and was well aware of the games she liked to play.

The sound of something metallic moving in the background caught his attention, and his recent memory of Thunderblast was soon forgotten. He listened carefully in an effort to determine the source of the sound and, sure enough, it occurred again. He decided, with caution, that it wasn't the sound of another mech in the space with him; rather, it was more like the sound that a mixed bag of parts would make if it were turned upside down and its contents emptied onto the floor all at once.

This was soon followed by another sound, though it was louder and seemed to be coming from somewhere closer to him; it was the sound of metal being crushed inside a compactor, Comet realized grimly, and he was overcome by a sudden urge to get as far away from this place as possible.

It slowly began to dawn on him that he was inside some sort of processing facility, probably the type that recycles scrap metal or the like. Knowing full well what this might mean for him, he began to wish that he hadn't surrendered to Lockdown so willingly. It was true that he had not wanted to continue living his current existence; yet, by the same token, he had never anticipated that he would have to endure such a horrific and, he had to admit, unceremonious end.

Remarkably, his vision gradually began to improve, but he knew that this could not be possible because of the circuit dampener that was fastened to his neck. He briefly considered the possibility that he might be hallucinating, but this, also, was unlikely; other than his disrupted motor control mechanisms, his internal diagnostics continued to indicate that his neural circuitry was functioning normally.

As his optics came fully online, the shadow forms in his field of vision gave way to clear outlines and colors. Observing his surroundings, he realized that he was staring up towards an expansive, domed metallic ceiling. There was just enough light to make out details in the distance, though he wasn't able to turn his head to get a better idea of exactly where he was.

The sounds of churning machinery returned abruptly, and Comet was certain that it was coming from a conveyor belt system. He felt his sense of panic heighten, and desperate thoughts of escape began to rush into his main processor. He tried to move again, but his efforts were futile. If he could only think of some way to remove the circuit dampener from his neck, he'd have a chance at escape.

But then a voice suddenly spoke to him in his head, as clearly as if it had spoken into his audio receptors, and for a moment his world seemed to stand still. You have the power within you… focus your will on the device.

It sounded familiar, the voice of someone he had known over many vorns, since the beginning of his creation. Who is that? He asked in confusion, his mind still in shock, but he received no answer. He tried to move again, but all that he could manage was a low groan.

Focus your will.

There it was again. He tried to make sense of the words, but in his current state he was finding it difficult to focus on anything. Still, he had to try. He had nothing to lose in doing so.

Comet concentrated his efforts on quietening down his mind so that he could center his thoughts upon the circuit dampener with a singular, purposeful intention. As his focus intensified, he saw within his mind the device loosening its grip on him, the integrity of its force field gradually weakening, deteriorating, until, finally, its hooks retracted and he saw it fall to the ground, inert. As he held onto this mental picture, he felt an electrical disturbance building up around the dampener, and he realized, in astonishment, that this was not part of his imagination. Distracted for only an instant, his imagining dissolved into nothingness, and in the same moment the electrical sensation ceased.

It's impossible… I can't do this! His internal voice called out in frustration. It was no use; he'd never be able to disconnect that dampener by using sheer force of will alone, no matter how hard he tried, and he began to resign himself to his fate once more.

You have the ability… just focus your will.

This was followed by a vision that passed through his mind, in a sudden flash that lasted no more than a few astro-seconds. A distant memory, long forgotten; he was lying down upon a berth, in a semi-conscious state. A mech was bending over him, working on his main systems.

That voice… it belonged to the mech in his vision. Who was he? Someone familiar, yet Comet had never seen him before. It didn't make any sense.

You must try to focus. The mech's voice again, encouraging him, almost reassuring him.

I can't. Please… Comet pleaded. His resolve was beginning to weaken as a range of emotions coursed through his processor. He had never asked for any of this… had only wanted to correct what had gone wrong, to set the record straight. How did he end up here, now, more unsure and uncertain of his place in the universe than he had ever been before? Please… leave me alone.

But the mech's voice only became adamant, more forceful. Try to focus!

Please… stop! His own anger surfacing, a strained cry surged forth from his vocal processor.

In the midst of his turmoil, he realized with a newfound clarity that his vocal processor should not have been able to make any sound; the circuit dampener should have made sure of that.

Try to focus.

Finally, Comet relented. His air intakes were working harder than normal, more than likely to compensate for the effects of the intrusive dampener upon his systems. Alright… I'll try, he conceded, ignoring the sounds of scrap metal in the background as it was reduced down to nothing inside the compactor. Again, he concentrated on focusing upon his goal and then, after a cycle, the image of the circuit dampener reappeared in his mind. This time it was clearer, and he felt as though he had some control over it. He wasn't sure how that was possible, but he continued to exert his will upon it, nonetheless.


The subtle electrical buzzing around the device gradually returned, and with renewed determination he willed the dampener to detach itself from his neck. I can do this… He told himself, in an effort to hold onto the thought. Focus…

His mental exertion was immense. He held onto the image in his mind as if his very life depended upon it until, just as he was beginning to lose concentration with the intense strain of his effort, a sudden surge of electrical energy engulfed the dampener, and Comet's head jerked back in shock.

He lay there quietly, listening to his air intakes, too afraid to move for fear that he would discover that his attempt had failed. But then, gradually, he began to turn his head to one side, and he looked around in bewilderment.

"I did it…" He said softly, and became aware that he could speak normally again. "I did it!" In a sudden burst of energy, he sat up, felt for the dampener on the side of his neck. Sure enough, it was still there, and he pulled it free. It detached easily, and he held it out in front of him, examining it. It looked as though its circuitry had been fried.

Elated, and with an immense sense of relief, he stood up and looked around. He was, indeed, in a scrap metal processing facility. Looking down at his feet, he saw that he was standing on a large pile of broken and discarded components, many of them belonging to once-functional mechanoids. The contents of the pile spilled over onto a conveyor belt system, which transported the refuse to another part of the facility where a compactor was in operation. He could see now how close he had actually come to being reduced to raw materials.

Comet looked down at the non-functional dampener that he still held in his hand and, with a renewed will to live, let it fall from his palm and into the pile of scrap metal under his feet.

A soft, yet distinct, beeping sound emanated from Astrotrain's console, and Astro jumped up, ran over to it.

"Jhiaxus is right behind us," the shuttle informed him.

"You won't be able to outmanoeuvre him." Astro checked their current location on one of the displays. "Not in the air."

The shuttle jerked violently to one side, as an energy missile narrowly missed them. "Alright, hold on tight," Astrotrain said, and he began his descent, swooping down towards Binaltech at his top-most speed. Astro looked out through the front view screen, and watched as the heart of Binaltech city rapidly came up to greet them. He watched as a succession of energy blasts shot forward through the air in front of them before exploding in clouds of smoke and debris, impacting into the street below. Astrotrain skilfully avoided most of the missiles, but one of them detonated against his vertical stabilizer, and he began to spiral out of control. For several moments, he fought to regain navigational control but it looked as though he would not be able to avoid a crash landing. However, just before he was about to slam into one of Binaltech's crowded main streets he straightened himself out with a ninety degree turn.

He continued to glide through the air just above the ground, not slowing down, as startled pedestrians realized all too late that they stood directly in the path of the oncoming shuttle. A few missiles continued to impact the street in front of them, and Astrotrain wasted no time; he continued down the main thoroughfare until a large entrance off to the right quickly came into view. Turning sharply, he aimed downwards and then through the open entranceway, giving pedestrians barely enough time to duck out of the way. Slowing his speed, he hovered down the main flight of steps until the subway tunnel appeared before them, and then headed straight towards it. He made a sharp right turn into the tunnel, avoiding a carriage that was approaching the platform from the opposite direction.

Rook, who now stood behind Astro, felt the floor underneath him move out from under his feet; it was a sensation that reminded him of being inside an anti-gravity field. In the same instant, the walls of the shuttle rearranged seamlessly into a different configuration and, after a moment, he realized what was happening. He reached out instinctively with one hand to steady himself against a nearby structural rail. Astrotrain's console, which had reduced in size and taken on a different arrangement, now displayed a layout of Binaltech's extensive subway system.

Astrotrain navigated his way through the vast labyrinth of tunnels, and after a few cycles it became apparent to the three of them that Jhiaxus was no longer pursuing them.

A few moments earlier, Jhiaxus had sped through the subway entranceway and then landed at the bottom of the stairs with a show of might, transforming from jet to robot mode while brandishing his missile launcher. He had ignored the fearful shouts of alarm from amongst the crowd of commuters, and had pushed his way past them as if they were his worthless underlings.

His sole intention had been to track down that purple and grey shuttle and destroy it, along with the two traitors it harboured, but it had mysteriously disappeared; all that he could see around him were unsuspecting commuters, and two subway carriages moving along the tunnel. One of them had slowed to a stop to pick up passengers, while the other one – a much smaller carriage – had left the platform in the opposite direction, and had already moved out of sight.

He grunted in anger, and then ran back up the flight of stairs before transforming back into his jet mode and taking off, soaring into the sky.

Comet's repeated attempts at busting his way through the ceiling of the processing facility had failed. The entire perimeter appeared to be reinforced all round with an energy barrier, and he could not get beyond it. The only doors leading into the enclosure were sealed closed with secure codes, and he saw no other exits or openings. For the time being, at least, he wasn't going anywhere. He leaned against one of the large, automated machines, and considered his options.

With all the scrap metal and spare components surrounding him, perhaps he might be able to rig up some kind of snare, in case Lockdown returned. With this in mind, he carefully began to search through the piles of junk, looking for anything that might be useful; tools, discarded arrays, a set of probes, wiring looms – anything that was still mostly intact and hadn't been destroyed beyond recognition. As he went about his task, he tried his best to avoid staring into the faces of the dead – their broken, darkened optic sockets staring back like wraiths – but it was almost impossible to do. There were many more bodies of terminated mechs here than he'd first thought, and he recognized many familiar species from in and around the local Sector.

It didn't take Comet too long before he'd put together a small collection of salvaged items, and he quickly cleared a space on the floor before laying out each object upon its surface. As he carefully examined each piece, he couldn't help but notice the sound of something quietly stirring in the junk pile closest to him. He hesitated, before deciding that it was probably just a turbo-rat, but after a few seconds he saw something move within the periphery of his vision, and this time his curiosity got the better of him.

He stood up and stepped closer to the pile, bent down to inspect it. The glow from his optics intensified momentarily as he became aware of the source of the movement. He immediately recognized the damaged and torn, yet still largely intact, yellow frame of the mech, half-buried underneath discarded power cores and empty canisters. It was an Autobot, his red faction symbol still clearly displayed upon his chest.

Comet hesitated, watching with apprehension, as if the mech might suddenly rise up out of the scrap heap and lunge towards him in a zombie-like state. But the longer he observed the mech, the more he became aware that the Autobot had been left here to die, in a semi-functional state and helpless.

The Autobot must have sensed his presence, because he slowly turned his head towards him. Comet moved closer, until he was face-to-face with the Autobot, and then studied him carefully for vital signs. The mech's blue optics still emanated a gentle glow, though it was weak and barely detectable. Comet reached out a hand and carefully grasped the Autobot's chin to tilt his head more towards him, checking for a reaction. He got one, as the Autobot looked back at him with an expression of eerie calmness, as if he had already resigned himself to the fact that he would soon face termination. The Autobot moved his mouth in an effort to speak, and after a few moments his vocal processor stuttered to life. "Help… me," he said.

Comet drew his hand away, and stared at the Autobot in shock. He had not expected to find any mech here alive, let alone with his senses still intact. "Please…" The mech said again. Comet stumbled backwards, and then quickly regained his footing as he spun about, looking for something. In a sudden burst, he kicked away odd pieces of junk that lay strewn across the floor near his feet, and then returned to stand over the Autobot's head. Bending low, he grasped the fallen mech underneath his upper arms and then dragged his frame backwards, pulling him out of the junk pile and towards the cleared space that he had just created on the floor.

Without warning, Comet reached across and opened up the Autobot's chest panel, examining his internal circuitry. Then, after a few cycles, he closed the panel again. "You've sustained heavy damage, but you'll live… provided we can get you out of here," Comet informed him. The Autobot stared back at him, and Comet felt as though the intensity of his gaze penetrated his very spark. It made him feel uncomfortable, and he shifted position.

"Thanks…" The Autobot said to him. His voice sounded strained, as if he had to concentrate upon every word to get it to vocalize properly. "And… who… the slag… are you?" He added, after a pause.

Comet responded, amused. "That's just what I need; an Autobot with an attitude."

The Autobot attempted a smile, but control of his facial expressions was obviously impeded by the damage he had sustained. "I… don't… think… we've met… before. What's… your name?"

Comet shrugged. "You can call me Comet, but I don't see how knowing my name is going to help you."

"Comet… huh?" The Autobot paused, and a long moment passed before he spoke again."You're… Decepti… con… aren't you?"

This time Comet hesitated, turned away from him. "No," he answered finally.

"I… don't… believe you…" The mech replied.

"Oh? And why not?"

The Autobot slowly shook his head. "Red… optics… for starters… also… you're… a seeker… and… a liar."

"Well, the color of my optical sensors has nothing to do with it," Comet replied indignantly, "nor does my transformation mode."

"There's… no… such thing… as… an Auto… bot… seeker," the Autobot responded, and then he lay still for a long time, saying nothing further.

Comet let him be. It would give the Autobot a chance for his internal repair system to do its work, but it wouldn't restore his linkage, which had been too heavily damaged by whatever punishment he had endured. It was obvious that he'd ended up on some war lord's bad side, and on Alternity City that wasn't a hard thing to do; having been in similar situations more times than he could count, Comet was all too aware of this fact.

* * * 

A whole hour went by before the Autobot spoke again. Comet, kneeling on the floor beside him as he concentrated on his assortment of broken and incomplete mechanical components, looked up, startled, when he heard the irregular, drawn-out voice. "Huh?"

"I… was… just wonder… ing… what you… were… doing," the Autobot said.

"Oh." Comet shrugged, picked up a relay. "It's no use, anyway." He turned to look at the helpless Autobot. "If I don't find a way out of here soon, Lockdown will be back for me. And if he finds you here as well… you're going to wish you weren't alive."

"Lock… down? Wow… who… have you… ticked… off?" The Autobot replied, intrigued.

Comet shook his head. "Nobody."

The Autobot let out a weak chortle. "See? You… are… a liar." Comet ignored his comment. Instead, he stood up in frustration, kicked an empty canister out of his path. It ricocheted off a large robotic arm with a clang. Then he looked up at the domed ceiling in contemplation. "Hey… I'm sorry…" The Autobot said from behind him. His apology sounded sincere.

"Hm?" Comet turned back around to look down upon his battered frame. "What for?"

But the mech didn't respond; instead, he appeared to be studying Comet intently, and the seeker once again felt the uncomfortableness of his penetrating stare. "Why… are you… helping… me?" He asked.

"Helping you?" Comet replied, amused. "What gives you that idea?"

The Autobot thought about his response. "You… could… have… just… ignored me… left… me on… that… junk… pile… to… die." A pause, and then he added, "Isn't… that… what… Decepti… cons… do?"

Comet grimaced. "I told you before, I'm not–" But he stopped mid-sentence, unable to complete it.

"You're… not… what?" The Autobot pressed. "Decepti… con?" He turned his head slowly away from the seeker.

"It doesn't matter," Comet said finally, before changing the subject. "Anyway, that's enough about me. How did you end up here?"

After a moment, the Autobot answered. "It's… a long… story. You… probably… don't… want to… hear it."

"Well… that's up to you. It doesn't look like we're going anywhere any time soon." Comet walked over to a nearby scrap pile, sifted through it until he found a power pack. It was depleted, but undamaged.

"Is… there… any way… out of… here?" The Autobot said, turning his head towards the seeker again.

"No." Comet knelt back down on the floor beside him, power pack in one hand. He began to remove its outer covering. "I don't even know where here is," he confessed.

The Autobot gave him an amused look. "Don't… you?"

Comet briefly looked across at him. "Why, do you know where we are?"

The Autobot gave him a strained half-smile, happy to be able to help in some way. "We're… in Hitec," he said.

"Hitec?" Comet repeated, as he pulled the outer covering off the power pack. He examined its terminals, and then proceeded to connect an energy transfer cable from his wrist to the unit. "Well… that makes sense. At least I'm still on Alternity City." A few minutes passed by in silence, and then he disconnected the power pack from his wrist, placed the small unit down on the floor. He turned his attention back to the Autobot. "You're going to be of more use to me fully functional again," he informed him, referring to the mech's immobilized state.

The Autobot looked up at him. "Glad… to be… of… service," he said, with an obvious hint of sarcasm.

Comet ignored his remark. "I can fix you. But I'll have to take you temporarily offline." He reached across, positioned one hand underneath the Autobot's head.

"It's… not… like… I have… any… choice… right?" The Autobot replied, attempting to make light of his situation, but he did not try to resist.

"Don't worry; you won't feel a thing, Autobot," Comet responded. He found the access port behind the mech's helm and opened it up. "Ready?"

"Wait–" The Autobot started. Comet paused, waited for him to say whatever it was that he needed to say. "Call… me… Sun… ny," he said, finally.

Comet's expression did not change. "I know who you are," he replied simply, before deactivating him.

Optimus, hands clasped together supporting his chin, faced his senior officers in silence. They were all seated around the Conference Room table, waiting for him to speak. Immediately upon his return to Iacon, Optimus had called for an emergency meeting. He hadn't spoken a word to anyone other than to his second-in-command, who had requested to speak to him alone, but Optimus had waved him aside with a gesture of his hand. "Not now, Prowl," was all he'd said, and Prowl had instinctively known not to press the issue.

Whatever the reason for the meeting, most of the Autobots gathered knew that it was a serious matter, and none of them dared to be the first to speak. The tension in the room was quite palpable.

It was several breems before Optimus finally spoke. "Autobots… there's no easy way for me to say this." He paused, sighed deeply.

"Ah… Prime?" Ironhide looked concernedly at his leader. "Whatever it is… we can handle it. You can count on us." Murmurs of acknowledgment and support rose up from around the table.

"Thank you, Ironhide…" Optimus replied, uncertainly. "But you won't like it." The room fell silent again, as the Autobot officers waited uneasily for him to continue.

"As of this moment, I order you all to abandon the search for Decepticons. Do not pursue them, and do not attempt to apprehend them. Unless your life is in immediate danger, do not engage them in combat or confront them." Optimus' tone of voice was determined, his message clear and unmistakeable. His steadfast gaze moved from one Autobot to the next, and he clearly saw expressions of surprise and shock upon each of their faces.

"But… Prime?" Ironhide spoke again. "I don't understand…"

A few of those gathered looked towards Ratchet and Trailbreaker, as if they may be able to offer some clarification, but the two Autobots seemed just as confused and uncertain as the others.

After a long moment in contemplation, Hound spoke up. "Has… the High Council given you a reason… for rescinding their directive?"

Optimus considered his reply carefully. "This… has nothing to do with the Cybertronian High Council." Hound shook his head in puzzlement, as the Autobot leader continued. "I gave Megatron my word, in return for my team's release." He turned his head towards Trailbreaker and Hot Rod as he said this, and realization slowly dawned on the both of them. Bluestreak, also, put two and two together as he slowly began to understand what must have happened during their recent mission to Polyhex. Only Ratchet remained expressionless, even though Optimus had mentioned nothing about this to him either.

"But… we can't just let 'em get away with everything they've done – just like that!" Ironhide protested in anger, his hands clenching into fists on the table in front of him.

Optimus remained calm, his tone steady. "I'm sorry, Ironhide… but I've made my decision, and it's final." He stood up, looked towards his second-in-command. "Prowl, I want an update. I'll be in my quarters," he said, and then exited the Conference Room without another word, leaving the gathered Autobots in a state of disappointment and confusion.

* * * 

Prowl pressed the button on the door panel, and watched as it changed from an amber light to a green, welcoming glow, before the door retracted into the wall. Optimus had been expecting him, and immediately beckoned him to enter. Prowl stepped past the Autobot leader into his quarters, and the door slid closed behind him.

"Optimus…" Prowl began. If he had any concerns at all about the brief meeting that morning, he did not show it. "I have the report you requested." He held out a small data pad, and Optimus looked at it, nodded in acknowledgment.

"Thank you, Prowl," he said, but did not take the data pad. Instead, he made a sweeping motion with one hand and then turned away, walked over to the large view screen which overlooked east Iacon.

Prowl took the cue, and cleared his vocal processor. "There have been no reported Decepticon sightings or attacks whatsoever… our maintenance schedule is up to date… all energy reserves are at normal capacity–" He paused, sifting through the detailed information displayed on the small, hand-held screen in front of him. "Ah… there's been an influx of sightings… primarily from Antihex…"

Optimus turned away from the view screen and back towards Prowl, his interest piqued. "What kind of… sightings?"

Prowl considered his reply, his words deliberately chosen. "Of… Autobots… who were previously reported missing."

The blue light from Optimus' optical sensors intensified for an instant, as the news entered into his main processor. He tried to make sense of the information, but the longer he thought about its implications, the less he was able to get a grasp on it. Prowl, too, looked as though he could offer no explanations. "I see…" He said, after a long moment. "I want you to bring them in for review. Find out what happened to them."

"Yes, Optimus," his Chief of Security replied, and sighed deeply before continuing. "Groove has taken a turn for the worse. He is currently in semi-stasis. He is still alive… but we have little hope for him."

Optimus noticed Prowl's difficulty as he spoke about Groove, so he simply nodded, changed to a different topic. "Is there anything else?"

Prowl hesitated, inhaled slowly. "There is one other matter."

Optimus turned away and looked out of the view screen to the busy streets below. "Go ahead."

"It concerns… Sideswipe," Prowl said.

Optimus did not reply for a long time, and Prowl remained as he was, not speaking another word until the Autobot Commander was ready to hear more. "Sideswipe," he repeated, recalling the name of a mech who had long ago become lost to him.

"Yes. He requested to speak to you. He… claims that he witnessed the Neutrals – that they're preparing some sort of takeover…" Prowl faltered, suddenly feeling as though the very utterance of those words had placed him into a strange, alternate reality; one that he was not at all used to. To Prowl, the very idea of a Neutral-led rebellion against the Autobots was simply too incredulous to even consider, and he knew that Optimus would feel the same way.

"A planetary takeover?" Optimus looked back at Prowl, and then steadily paced towards him until his large frame loomed above that of his Security Officer's. "Are you absolutely certain?"

Prowl nodded his head affirmatively. "That is what he told me. He was… quite persistent."

Optimus stepped away from Prowl, walked over to a chair and slowly sat down. "How is it possible? Perhaps…" He spoke quietly, disbelieving yet struggling to understand the possibility of such a claim. Finally, he looked back towards Prowl. "Perhaps, he is mistaken..." He said, but his tone was filled with uncertainty. After a long moment of silence, Optimus spoke again. "Contact Sentinel, tell him I wish to speak with him, at once."

Prowl nodded again. "Understood."

"Thank you, Prowl. That will be all." Optimus watched Prowl silently exit his quarters and, for some time afterwards, he remained where he was, unmoving.

Since Jazz had left Iacon, he had had plenty of time to think. He had gone over recent events in his mind, many times over, and each time he had tried to convince himself that he'd made the right move. Eventually, he'd stopped concerning himself with the way he'd left things with Prime and, to a good extent, Prowl, too. He had never meant them any harm, but the way he saw it he had had no other choice and, besides, if he could somehow find out not only what had happened to Groove, but also what had happened to countless other Autobots over the last several stellar cycles, he might be able to help shed some light on the entire situation and, then, maybe those at Iacon Central might come to understand why he'd taken such drastic actions, and perhaps even forgive him.

From one corner of a small, out-of-the-way oil house in the outer region of West Polyhex, Jazz had sat at his table, alone, for over an hour. He'd seen only two mechs walk by; one of them had been a Neutral, and the other he wasn't sure; could have been an Autobot, though in these parts that was highly unlikely. However, it was equally unlikely that it had been a Decepticon, for several obvious reasons.

"Hey, Jazz… what's up?" A mech appeared in the shadows behind him, and Jazz turned around in surprise.

"Do you always make it a point to sneak up on bots like that?" He asked, facing the mech.

The Autobot was larger than Jazz, and probably looked a lot more intimidating as well, though this was probably due to the fact that he had received some upgrades from the time he'd spent with the Decepticons. He walked around to the empty seat opposite Jazz, gazed down at him. "Sorry, I guess I can't help myself," he said.

Jazz shook his head, gave him an easy laugh. "No need to apologize, Drift-bot. Thanks for meeting me here." He gestured towards the chair in front of him. "Take a seat. Can I get you anything?" Jazz watched as Drift sat down, shaking his head. "Alright. So, I figured you still owe me one," he continued, getting straight to the point.

"Yeah, I remember, Jazz. So… what can I do for you?" Drift replied.

Jazz leaned back in his seat, tapped his fingers on the table in front of him. "I just want to ask you a few questions, that's all."

Slight concern appeared on Drift's face. "I do something wrong?"

Jazz chuckled. "Nah, nothing like that. This has nothing to do with you, as a matter of fact."

The Autobot stared at the Special Operative, rubbed his chin in thought. Jazz was the type of mech who was very difficult to work out, mostly because he played his part so well that no one could ever tell whether he was hiding something or not. "Then what's it got to do with, Jazz?"

"The Decepticons," Jazz replied, not pulling any punches. Now it was his turn to take the other by surprise.

"Oh…" Drift suddenly became uneasy. "Look… you know I don't have anything to do with them, not anymore."

"Well… I was hoping you could help me out with some information." Jazz watched him intently, looking for any vulnerability in the mech that he could use to his advantage.

Drift inhaled deeply, shook his head in disbelief. "I really don't think there's anything helpful that I can tell you about them."

"Heh… why don't you just let me figure that part out?" Jazz hesitated, sensing the other's reluctance. "I'll tell you what; tell me exactly what I want to know, and I'll call it even. How's that sound?"

Drift shifted in his seat, and gestured with a nod. "I can't promise you anything, Jazz… but you can go ahead and ask."

"Were you at the final battle when the Autobot-Neutral Alliance proclaimed victory over the Decepticon forces?"

Drift thought about Jazz's question for a moment, and then shrugged. "No. Why?"

"Huh. No reason. Except that I wasn't there either, nor was anyone else I've asked," Jazz replied. "Seems kind of strange, don't it?"

"I'm not sure. As I said, I wasn't there," Drift asked, puzzled.

"Do you know anyone who was?" Jazz asked, unrelenting.

"Well, I mean… it was an infamous battle. There were probably several who took part. From what I recall, it's how the Decepticons lost most of their army." Drift paused, and the look on his face told Jazz that he wasn't as confident as he sounded. "It should be all there in the official records. Why don't you just go and check the Archives?"

Jazz shrugged, gestured with open palms. "See, that's the thing, Drift; I already checked the Archives. You wanna know what I found?"

Drift was cautious. "What?"

"Nothing. Not a single name mentioned. Not even a casualty list… nothing."

A moment of awkward silence followed. "Look… the Archives are huge. It's possible that you weren't looking in the right place." Drift hesitated, shook his head. "What are you trying to say, Jazz?"

"I'm not trying to say anything. I'm only asking questions, that's all. And you still haven't answered mine, so let me ask you again. Do you know of anyone who fought in the final battle at Kaon – Decepticon or Autobot?"

The Autobot infiltration specialist turned his head away from Jazz's unwavering gaze. "I'm sorry, Jazz, but I can't really help you with that. I was deep undercover when it all happened. By the time I returned to base with my scouting party… it was already over. Victory for the Alliance had been officially declared… and those of us – Decepticons, I mean – who still remained, fled."

"And you didn't witness any casualties?" Jazz asked, curious.

Drift shook his head. "No… we were told that our fighters had all been destroyed in battle… there weren't any left alive."

"That's too bad…" Jazz said, his voice lowered, as he carefully watched Drift's reaction.

Drift's demeanour suddenly changed. "Eh, they had it coming to them."

"You think the Decepticons deserved what they got?" He probed, ignoring the other's uneasiness.

"I thought this wasn't about me." Drift turned back to Jazz, returned his gaze.

"It isn't. I was just wondering," he replied, and then changed the subject. "Look, I need some way to get in contact with them. I figured you might be able to help me with that."

Drift became wary, and he looked at Jazz as though the black and white mech had a few transistors missing in his cranial circuits. "You can't be serious."

Jazz's resolve remained steadfast. "I've never been more serious, you can count on that."

"No way. There's no way I'm going to try and contact them for you, Jazz. You can forget it." Drift leaned back in his seat, his arms folded in front of him.

Jazz looked at him amusedly. "I'm not asking you to contact them for me."

Drift's frame relaxed slightly, but he continued to remain on guard. "But you just said–"

"I just said you might be able to help me out," Jazz interjected. "You were practically one of them… I was hoping you might know of some way I'd be able to draw their attention without alerting the Autobots – or the Neutrals."

Drift shook his head doubtfully. "It's been more than a vorn since I had anything to do with them. And even if I knew of a way, there's no guarantee it'd still work." He hesitated. "Jazz… whatever it is you're planning on doing, I've got to warn you; stay away from them. They're extremely wary of any Autobot, and don't like it when outsiders intrude upon their territory. Believe me… there's no telling what they might do, especially if they know you're on your own."

Jazz listened quietly and when Drift had finished speaking, he nodded. "That what I need to do – intrude upon their territory?" Drift sighed, hesitated, and Jazz persisted. "I'm just asking for a sure-fire way of getting their attention, without Alliance interference."

"Alright, Jazz. You want to know how to get their attention, I'll tell you." Drift had become frustrated, almost impatient, with Jazz's stubbornness. As the Special Operative watched him expectantly, in absolute calmness, Drift opened a private com link. "I'm going to transfer you an encoded distress signal." Jazz accessed the link, and allowed the data to be transferred into his processor. When the operation was complete, Drift severed the link. "If you transmit that signal I just gave you on a secured channel, one of them should come to your location. If it's still active. But just remember that it's meant for Decepticons – If they find you instead, there's no telling how they might react."

After a long moment in contemplation, Jazz slowly nodded. "Thanks…"

Drift shrugged. "Don't mention it. I guess now that makes us even?" He stood up from his seat, looked down at Jazz. "Just – be careful, Jazz," he said and, without waiting for a response, turned around and walked out of the oil house.

After the meeting with Prime that morning, Ratchet had headed straight to his quarters. He had thought, briefly, that he should stop by the med bay and check up on Red Alert, but then reconsidered; instead, a quick call over the com link confirmed that everything was under control, save for Groove's critical situation, though he couldn't do anything about that, anyway.

He had felt that something within his own systems wasn't quite right, and had decided that he should get an early recharge cycle. He had put it down to the recent events in Polyhex, and the unfamiliar Decepticon technology that he and his team had unexpectedly been exposed to when they had all dematerialized, and then rematerialized, back into solid reality; it must have caused an electrical disturbance in his circuits, somehow, but despite what he felt his internal diagnostics did not indicate that anything was particularly wrong with him.

He lay down on his berth and powered down. As his mind slowly began to drift into semi-consciousness, he fully expected to get a full, undisturbed, seven-hour rest, but after only a few cycles it became apparent that that was not to be.

It had started like any other dream – random symbols and images that made no logical sense, conjured up from ethereal, non-corporeal realms – but that's where the resemblance to any other dream ended.

Ratchet found himself back at the Masoleum, standing in front of the familiar statue of his best friend. He looked around in alarm and then down at his own frame, touched his arm in an effort to determine whether he was physically present. As far as he could tell, he was not in any dream.


A familiar voice suddenly called out to him, and he spun around, almost drawing his weapon. There was only one mech who had ever dared call him by his nickname.

"Wheeljack?" He called back apprehensively. This could be another Decepticon trick, he thought with a sense of loathing.

"Ratch… over here." Ratchet spun back around to face the statue, and froze in sudden shock. There, in front of him, stood Wheeljack, more solid and life-like than he'd ever remembered him to be.

For a moment, Ratchet completely forgot where he was, or how he'd come to be here. As the initial shock began to subside, however, he wondered whether the mech that stood before him wasn't some sort of cruel illusion – the Decepticons, somehow, playing with his memories and emotions in an attempt to break him down.

"You're not Wheeljack." His voice sounded odd to his audio receptors; rough, distant. "You… you can't be."

"Ratch, you're the only one who can help me." It was unmistakeably Wheeljack, right down to his mannerisms and posture, the way he'd always stand with his knees bent, feet slightly apart. "Please, time's running out."

Ratchet hesitated, sceptical. "Help you? I can't help you. You're… you're not even real."

Wheeljack seemed to ignore his words, but took a step closer towards the medic. "Voice override command: 'nine, zero, four, three, three, one, zero, Cyber Jack.'"

Ratchet stared back at him in confusion. It had sounded like some sort of access code, but any more than that he had no idea what it might be for or what, if anything, he was meant to do with it.

He felt his world slowly fading, being pulled back to some distant, other reality, and he tried to hang on, fearful that another opportunity like this might not come again. "Wait–" He called out, and hesitated as he tried to make sense of what was happening. "How… how do I know it's really you?"

Wheeljack began to dematerialize in front of him, and Ratchet rushed forwards, reaching out a hand, but it passed right through his best friend. Before the apparition faded completely from his vision, however, it spoke to him again, his familiar voice still clear. "You made me a promise, Ratch. Find my research notes, and you will find the answers."

"No, wait…" Ratchet replied suddenly, desperately trying to hold on to what must have been an activated memory fragment. But it was too late; his friend was gone. All that remained in his place was his lifeless statue, a poor tribute to the once lively and high-spirited Autobot engineer.

Before he knew what had happened, Ratchet found himself back in his quarters, his systems fully online. He checked his internal chronometer in confusion, and realized that the recharge cycle had only just begun.

Several Autobots were gathered inside Communications Central. Most of them were between shifts, and after the official meeting, had felt the need to share their concerns and, for many, their frustrations.

"Something's up with Prime. He's not acting like himself anymore," Ironhide complained, trying to keep his voice below normal audio range but failing. Hot Spot and Silverbolt stood on either side of him, while Bluestreak, Hot Rod and Trailbreaker stood in front of him. All together, they formed a small circle.

"He's had a lot on his mind lately. Maybe you should cut him a little slack, Ironhide," Trailbreaker responded.

Ironhide looked doubtful. "Well, I hope you're right, 'Breaker. 'Cause I don't know how long I can just stand by and watch while the Decepti-creeps are allowed to run around free, and there's not a darn thing that any of us can do about it," he said, his words filled with frustration.

"You're not the only one who feels that way," Hot Spot informed him. "Streetwise? Didn't take it too well at all. I'm worried he's going to go and do something stupid… and Blades now, too."

"Well, I don't blame 'em," the munitions expert replied. "In fact, I have half a mind to tell Prime exactly what I think about his latest order."

"You're… you're not thinking of defying it, are you? The order, I mean?" Bluestreak asked nervously, looking worried that Ironhide would even consider taking such an action.

Ironhide shook his head. "Nah… I'd never go against Prime's wishes, Blue, no matter how much I might disagree with them. But I must admit the thought did cross my mind a few times since the meeting this morning."

"So now, we're supposed to just let the Decepticons go free?" Silverbolt spoke what was on his mind, his tone incredulous. He had not been present at the meeting, and did not quite believe Prowl when the Security Officer had passed on the new orders to him over his private com link.

"Straight from the boss's mouth," Ironhide replied.

"I don't get it. They wouldn't think twice about turning us all into scrap metal, so why should we treat them any better?" The leader of the Aerialbots continued.

"Well, if you ask me… Prime did the only thing he could have done. It's the only way we're going to defeat our true enemies once and for all." This time it was Hot Rod who had spoken. They all gave him puzzled looks, as if he had just blown a logic circuit.

"What in the name of Primus are you talking about, Rodimus?" Ironhide asked him, but Hot Rod did not get an opportunity to respond because in that same moment, a voice from nearby addressed the small circle of Autobots.

"Don't you all have something else you ought to be doing?"

It was Optimus Prime, standing at the entrance to the communications complex. His arms were crossed in front of him.

Ironhide turned to face him, slightly self-conscious. He had no idea how long Prime had actually been standing there, listening in on their conversation. "Ah… sorry, Prime. Now that you mention it, I do have a few errands to run…" he explained, before heading off.

Bluestreak and Trailbreaker stepped past Optimus, giving their leader a respectful nod, as Hot Spot and Silverbolt watched them go before they, too, went their separate ways. Hot Rod was the last to leave the communications area, and as he went to follow the others out, he felt a strong hand upon his shoulder.

"Wait, Hot Rod. Not you," Optimus said.

"Sir?" The red and orange warrior looked towards his leader expectantly.

"What did you mean when you said it's the only way to defeat our true enemies, and that it was the only thing I could have done?"

"Our enemies…" Hot Rod trailed off, a distant look in his optics as if he were trying to understand something that was impossible for him to figure out.

"Hot Rod," Optimus prompted, gave the Autobot warrior a stern look. "What were you talking about?"

"I… I've never experienced anything like it before. That weird teleportation thing that happened to us yesterday? It must have activated some dormant circuitry or something within me because… I had another vision, only this time it was much more real than any of the others I've ever had before," he explained. "It felt so life-like."

Optimus slowly withdrew his hand from Hot Rod's shoulder, inhaled deeply. "Go on."

Hot Rod shrugged. "I don't really understand what it all meant, to be honest, but… it's like I could see two different realities. I think it was showing me our possible futures."

"Our futures?"

"Yeah… our," Hot Rod repeated, indicating with a sweeping motion of his arms. "I mean, Cybertron's. The Autobots', you know?" As Hot Rod spoke, his gaze drifted about the room as if he were searching for something that he couldn't quite see. "In one future… there was devastation everywhere. All the Autobots… we were gone. It looked like… the Great Devastation had hit Cybertron." He paused as he recalled the horrific scene from his vision, and his expression took on a sombreness that Optimus rarely saw in him.

"I… see," the Autobot leader said in a lowered voice.

"The other future…" Hot Rod shook his head slowly, as if momentarily confused. "The other future was the complete opposite. All the Autobots… we were all okay. And everything was okay, you know? Like there was finally peace, and… and we'd… won." His gaze fixed upon Optimus as he spoke the last word.

This was not the first time that Hot Rod had confided in him about a vision he'd experienced. They had all turned out to be accurate in one way or another, and Optimus knew better than to simply ignore them, especially when they contained such powerful messages.

Optimus slowly nodded, considered Hot Rod's words carefully. "Then… we must do all we can to ensure that a Second Great Devastation does not occur." With deep regret, he realized that the decision he had made recently must have been in error, and he bowed his head. "It seems then… that I've made a grave mistake by going against the High Council's directive."

Hot Rod, startled, gripped the Autobot leader by his forearm. "What? No… no, no, no… you don't understand, Optimus," he said, alarmed. Optimus looked up at him uncertainly. "Look, I know how this is going to sound… but, it's what I saw. I don't know how to explain it." Hot Rod paused, struggling to find the right words. He shook his head in confusion. "The Decepticons… they were there… in that future."

"We must stop them before they bring about a Second Devastation," Optimus stated, the conclusion obvious.

But, to Optimus' surprise, Hot Rod shook his head. "No… no, no… not that future! They weren't in that future at all." Hot Rod's gaze fixed upon Optimus Prime once more. He seemed to be reliving his vision as he stood there, mesmerized by it. "The Decepticons – they were all here as well… but in the other future."

Firestar performed a final test of the rebuilt long range scanner that her crew had salvaged from their ship, and then stepped towards Chromia, pleased with their team effort. "Alright. We're all done here." She looked over at Elita One, who had just disconnected her secure com link. "Elita?"

"Hm?" The femme commander looked across at Firestar, and then walked over to the work space.

"I've also hooked up a basic alarm system."

Elita nodded, hands on hips. "Good work, Firestar." She hesitated, thinking. "Let me know if you pick up any Cybertronian life signs."

Firestar nodded, and thought that she could sense what was on Elita's mind. "Are you worried about Astrotrain?" Elita had informed her about their recent encounter with the Decepticon, and it was the first thing she thought of as she noticed her commander's slightly concerned expression. "He knows we're here, on Alternity City."

Elita sighed, looked up towards the building's run-down ceiling. Then she shook her head. "This isn't Cybertron, 'Star. We could encounter far worse than a bunch of Decepticons."

"Still." But Firestar left it at that. She had to admit that Elita had a point; Alternity City was home to the most contemptible mechanistic life forms in the Sector, far worse than had ever existed on their home planet. "Speaking of Cybertron… we might be able to rig up a long distance transmitter with some spare parts we have lying around." She turned towards Moonracer, who was busy studying a map of Binaltech. "'Racer?"

"Binaltech's got everything..." The green femme said in fascination, fixated on her map.

"'Racer! Do we have enough to build a transmitter?" Firestar asked her, ignoring her friend's fascination with the mega-city.

Moonracer finally looked up, distracted. "Huh? Oh… umm, not sure… hold on one astro-sec." She stood up from her seat and sprinted over to a makeshift bench nearby, sifted through various items. After about a cycle, she looked back towards them with an uncertain look. "Well, our beam array was damaged so we'll need a new one of those… but, other than that, shouldn't be a problem," she explained, shrugging in a casual manner.

Firestar nodded. "Thanks." She turned back to Elita. "You'd be able to send a message to Optimus… let him know what's happened. Just a thought."

Elita was about to say something in response, but then she stopped herself. She paced across the room to one of the building's viewing apertures, and looked out into the alley beyond. She was quiet for a long moment. "I–" Then she shook her head. "We need a few replacement parts, anyway." She tuned to look back at the three of them. "There's someone here who may be able to help us," she said, and then picked up some equipment and backup weapons, handed them out to her crew. "I'll worry about Optimus later. Come on," she added and walked towards the building's entrance, waiting for the others to follow her.

Once they'd all stepped outside, Chromia sealed the door behind her with an encryption code. "Where are we going?" she asked, but Elita One had already transformed into her car mode and had raced ahead down the alley, leading the way southward.

"Binaltech," Moonracer replied, smiling happily, as the three of them caught up with their team leader.

* * * 

Chromia looked out across one of the main city streets and scanned the tall, multi-level structures that filled every square inch of the inner city spaces. She nodded towards the largest metallic facade directly in front of them. "Well… that one looks like some kind of mega-complex for spare parts. Anyone got any credits?"

Elita One shook her head. "No." Her team mates, all in robot mode, stood close beside her. She continued to walk down the main street, as multitudes of passers-by moved past them like relentless ocean waves. "Come on."

"This place sure is busy!" Moonracer commented, mesmerized, as Chromia grabbed her by the arm and prompted her onwards.

Elita One and her crew made their way through an access tunnel that led down one level, until they arrived at a bustling, underground communications hub. Multitudes of mechanistic and cybernetic beings crowded around the many terminals, or waited their turn in long queues, eager to use the general communications exchange service.

But the Autobot femme commander kept moving, leading them along a large, well-lit transport route, until they had left the hubbub of the exchange far behind. The enclosed space in front of them gave way to a more secluded, quieter section of the city, where the route terminated into a large, rounded structure. A sealed entranceway was its only discernible feature. "Well, this is the place…" Elita One announced, standing before the entranceway. Her expression was one of uncertainty.

"Are you sure?" Chromia asked her.

Elita strode towards the structure, and pushed a button on the side panel. "We'll find out." After a few moments, the door disappeared into the wall and, sure enough, a tall, blue and white, well-built Cybertronian mech stepped out to greet her.

"Devcon," she acknowledged with a nod, and the mech quickly scanned the area, looked at each of the femmes before beckoning them inside.

"Elita One, welcome to my little corner of the galaxy," he said, as the door slid quietly closed again behind them. The interior of the structure was deceptively larger than what it appeared from the outside. It was a well-lit, richly adorned space containing several gaming tables, while a small bar occupied a far corner.

Elita One looked around at the private gambling room and the handful of patrons who were absorbed in their games, and shook her head. "You run this place?"

Devcon showed the femmes to an empty table, and they each took a seat. "Nah, I'm just visiting. I'm good friends with the owner." He clasped his hands together, smiled at them. "Can I get you lovely femmes anything?" Moonracer returned his smile, but said nothing.

"No," Elita replied. "We won't stay long." She paused, watched him with interest. "It's been a while, Devcon. Didn't think I'd find you here."

Devcon shrugged. "There's plenty of work for me in Binaltech; the place is crawling with low lives." He leaned forward, placed his elbows on the table top. "So… I hear Cybertron Command isn't too happy with you."

The femme commander hesitated, slowly nodded her head. "You could say that."

Devcon shook his head in disbelief. "Wow…" He looked back at the femmes in contemplation. "Time sure changes things, doesn't it?"

Elita did not respond directly to his comment, but inhaled deeply. "You're still hunting fugitives, then?"

"Fugitives… criminals, scum bags – you name it." Devcon smiled at her, his manner easy going and relaxed. "It's good to see you again, Elita. I'm glad you thought of me," he added.

"Well, this wasn't exactly a planned visit," she replied, shrugging. "Our cruiser was attacked just before we arrived here. We lost all our energy reserves, and most of our equipment. Not to mention we have no way of getting off this planet. I was hoping that you might be able to help us out."

Devcon looked at her, intrigued, and then gazed at the other three femmes. "Are you… all looking to return to Cybertron, then?"

Chromia glanced across at Elita. "Since we're already here, we figured we may as well hang around a while – see what we can find out about the strange stuff that's been happening within the Sector. Many Autobots are being targeted, and we want to know why."

The Autobot crusader listened intently, and then nodded. "Funny you should mention that. I've been following a few clues myself." His expression changed to quizzical. "I don't suppose you know anything about the Subterranean Base in Hitec?"

Elita shook her head, while the other three femmes drew blank expressions. "Sorry; I don't know anything about it."

"Huh," Devcon replied. "No matter." Then he looked across to the bar, indicated to the bartender with an open hand. When he looked back towards the femmes, he changed the subject. "So, do you have any idea who attacked your cruiser?"

The femme commander shook her head again, sighed. "No idea. Whoever it was, they were cloaked."

"Cloaked, huh?" Devcon watched as the bartender brought over a tray holding five containers of energon, and then set each container down on the table in front of them. "Please, it's on me," he said, indicated for each of the femmes to take one. Once the bartender had left, Devcon lowered his voice instinctively, leaned across the table top. "I happen to know of only two outfits on Alternity City that might have access to that kind of technology."

"Hmm… let me guess – Decepticons?" Firestar interjected, as she took a sip from one of the energon containers.

Devcon looked directly into her optics, and shook his head. "Nope."

Chromia shrugged, perplexed. "The Predacons?"

He gave her a brief tilt of his head. "It's certainly possible, but unlikely. Most of them went into hiding after the Great War; they haven't been seen on Alternity City for many stellar cycles." Devcon lifted his container of energon to his lips, took a gulp.

"Then… who?" Chromia asked determinedly.

"The Supremacists from the Base in Hitec, as I mentioned earlier. Or…" He paused for emphasis, watching the femmes' reaction, but they said nothing further, only looked back at him in expectation. "Or…" Devcon repeated, his expression now uncertain. "The Neutrals."

Chapter 10 by Crystine

Transformers: Heroes

Chapter 10


Within the Conference Room of the iconic Command Center in Iacon Central, Prowl checked the incoming alert, and immediately opened a communications link to Optimus Prime. “Sir… Sentinel has arrived. I’ll send a security team to meet him right away.”

“No, Prowl. I’ll do that myself. Thank you,” the Autobot Commander’s voice answered him after a momentary pause.

“Understood.” Prowl disconnected the link and sat back in his chair, allowed his thoughts to return to the Autobot he’d just finished interviewing. In the quietness of the room, he went over the responses in his mind, and then checked the name and designation of the next Autobot who was scheduled to present himself for a review that morning. And then, right on cycle, the door chimed. Prowl stood and headed over to it, pressed the button on the control panel, and took a few seconds to observe the Autobot standing on the other side of the door as it opened. He beckoned him to enter, and the Autobot did so without hesitation, taking a seat at the conference table without waiting to be asked.

Prowl sat down again in his seat opposite and watched him with his usual, impassive manner. “State your name and function.”

“My name is Roadburn; my function is Class 4 Courier, sir.”

Prowl nodded slightly. “Where are you currently stationed?”

The red Autobot remained motionless, almost expressionless, as he answered the questions without emotion. “I am currently stationed at the Transport Control Tower within the Autobot-Neutral Command Outpost in Antihex.”

Prowl nodded again; so far, the replies were standard. Now for a not-so-standard question. “You were one of the Autobots who was reported missing on star date 143601.4.70… are you aware of what happened to you?”

“No, sir. I was not aware that I was missing or absent from my station for any length of time.”

“What were you doing on that star date?”

“Performing my duties, sir.”

Prowl watched the Autobot’s behaviour closely. Roadburn was lying, or his memory had been compromised; either way, Prowl didn’t like the responses he was getting – added to that, they were almost identical to the previous Autobot’s responses. Finally he stood up, indicated for Roadburn to follow him out of the room. “You are hereby relieved from active duty until further notice.  You are to submit to a complete systems check at the Maintenance and Repair Bay immediately. Is that understood?”

Roadburn slowly stood up and walked past Prowl towards the exit. “Understood, sir,” he replied, and started down the hallway without looking back.

Nine, zero, four, three, three, one, zero, Cyber Jack.

The code kept repeating over and over in his mind.

Ratchet had not been able to power down again for a recharge. His thoughts kept returning to the vivid dream he had just experienced and, after several breems of attempting to dismiss the whole thing as just some silly glitch of his memory, his curiosity and indomitable need to unravel the puzzle of his best friend’s disappearance had finally gotten the better of him.

He’d headed out to east Iacon, alone, in the hopes that, by some small miracle, he’d be able to make some sense of his dream.

But the closer he’d gotten to Wheeljack’s old workshop, the less likely it seemed. Perhaps he was wasting his time and besides, there were more important things he could be doing, such as making sure that Optimus Prime and the rest of those who’d participated in the recent mission to Polyhex had not been adversely affected by their strange experiences; they’d have no other choice but to submit themselves to a thorough check-up upon his say-so, should he decide to exercise his authority on the matter.

Still, some basic, instinctive part of him would not allow him to stop or turn back. So, he kept on driving, his thoughts continually returning to that same, cryptic message.

Nine, zero, four, three, three, one, zero, Cyber Jack.

He had already checked Wheeljack’s research notes thoroughly and several times during the past vorn. In fact, he knew them back to front. Every line of code, every description of the plague, even down to every last comment his friend had inserted after each new piece of experimental data. He wasn’t sure, exactly, what bothered him more; that the only new piece of information he had to go on had come from some dubious vision he’d just experienced or that, for the life of him, he could not work out what Wheeljack’s message was supposed to mean.

He pulled up outside of the workshop, and transformed into robot mode. Approaching the building, he input his access code and watched as the door quietly slid open. He activated the overhead lights and quietly looked around. Wheeljack’s research notes would not be here; Ratchet had removed them long ago, locked them away inside a secure storage facility off-site for safe keeping.

‘You made me a promise, Ratch. Find my research notes, and you will find the answers.’ That’s what puzzled him the most. He already had the research notes, and there wasn’t anything in them that could help him find any sort of real answers.

“Dammit, Wheeljack,” he said aloud, venting his frustration. “If you think that by some miracle I’m going to save your sorry aft–” The research notes. Wait a micro-second. What if…

What if… the research notes that Wheeljack had referred to in his vision were not the same ones Ratchet had found in the engineer’s old workshop? He wasn’t even aware that there might be a second set of notes, as yet undiscovered; in fact, the possibility hadn’t even crossed his mind – not even once.

It was still a long shot. But what else could he do? He had nothing to lose, so he carefully set about searching the room for anything that might remotely resemble research data. It was a pointless exercise, he knew, but he decided that he needed to begin somewhere, which was always better than nowhere.

After going through all the usual places – inside drawers, on shelves, inside storage units – he realized that he would have to do something much better than this. Perhaps Wheeljack had hidden his research notes. The possibility certainly wasn’t out of the question, particularly if he had wanted to keep them away from someone’s prying optics. For what reason, Ratchet had no idea, but he had to entertain all possibilities if he was going to uncover any new information, however unlikely it seemed.

He slowly walked over to one end of the main work bench, and looked down at the data pad lying there. Disconnecting it from the main terminal, he gently put it aside and then powered up the terminal, watched it as it suddenly flickered to life.

Scanning through the stored files, there was nothing there of interest. He’d already searched through this database before, but it had never occurred to him that Wheeljack might have locked the research notes away in some inaccessible location. With this in mind, Ratchet narrowed his search to display only high security clearance files.

He stared at the display screen in utter surprise. “Well, I’ll be damned…” There, as clear as day, were a set of research notes. He immediately noted the date stamp on them; it revealed that they were an earlier copy. Wheeljack‘s original notes.

Ratchet hit a few keys on the terminal’s control panel, and the words ‘Access denied’ appeared across the screen. The files required some sort of security code to open.

Access code. Voice override command.

Nine, zero, four, three, three, one, zero, Cyber Jack.

That must be it. Ratchet took a moment to gather his thoughts, prepare his mind for some untold secret the files had been closely guarding for more than a vorn – if, indeed, there was one. “Nine… zero… four… three… three… one… zero… Cyber Jack,” he said and, after a few tentative seconds, the computer replied with the message: ‘Voice command accepted.’

Ratchet inhaled deeply. “Alright, old friend, show me what you got,” he said, and began to read through the notes.

Sentinel Prime radiated just as much authority and power as Optimus Prime remembered of him. He stood tall, accompanied by a small, personal legion of Neutral warriors, and observed the Autobot leader with an air of unspoken eminence as he approached. “Ah. Optimus Prime… it is good to speak with you again. How long has it been?”

“Too long, old friend… too long.” Optimus faced his predecessor and mentor, watching him with reserved awe. Though Sentinel was physically larger, Optimus’ assured sense of purpose and strong-willed determination placed him on an equal footing with the former Autobot. He noted Sentinel’s entourage, but said nothing of it.

Sentinel smiled confidently. “I understand that you have something urgent you wish to discuss?”

“That is correct. Thank you for coming at such short notice.” Optimus indicated for him to follow him into the Command Center.

“I came as quickly as I could.” Sentinel turned to his security team, directed them to remain where they were before he followed the Autobot leader inside the command post unaccompanied.

They walked together along the brightly-lit halls in silence for a short while, until Optimus spoke again, his pace steady. “Were all those guards really necessary?”

There was a pause as Sentinel assessed his question before shrugging it off. “One can never be too careful, especially with the recent… Decepticon attacks.” Another pause, and then, “Of course, I’d be more than happy to send you extra reinforcements. Perhaps… we could discuss some defensive strategies whilst I am here?”

Optimus did not give him any reply, but instead showed the former Autobot leader to an unused briefing room adjacent to Communications Central, where they would be able to speak in private.  He ordered for high-grade refreshments to be brought to them, all the while contemplating Sentinel’s position. It wasn’t until the attendant had served them their drinks and had closed the door behind him upon exiting the room that Optimus finally answered Sentinel. “Do you believe the Decepticons are responsible?”

Sentinel seemed taken aback by this question, but his expression of incredulity was quickly masked by concern. “Do not drop your guard in the face of the enemy, Optimus Prime, and do not allow them to deceive you, or permit the seeds of doubt to take root within you. The moment you do that is the very moment that you have lost the battle.” He kept his gaze fixed upon the Autobot Commander, watching him intently, and then leaned forward slightly. “But I sense doubt in you. Have you forgotten who and what you are?”

Optimus tapped his fingers lightly on the table top, and then slowly exhaled. “No. I only seek the truth, Sentinel.”

The red and black Prime straightened, took on an authoritative demeanour. “The truth? Isn’t it obvious?” Optimus did not answer him. “Perhaps… if you would tell me what is troubling you, I can do something to help. But if you don’t talk…”

Optimus sighed, slowly nodded. “There have been… some incidents… that I have yet to fully understand.”

Sentinel was unwavering in his assurance. “Do not be fooled by what you can only see or hear, for such distractions are only there to test you, Optimus Prime. Think of it… as a guiding force, to help forge you and strengthen your resolve. All great leaders must travel the warrior’s path, and conquer it, should they wish to defeat their enemies.” He paused for a long while, contemplating his former student. “Do you remember what I told you long ago? I warned you about the coming of the Great War, and what would occur should any Decepticon be allowed to remain functional.” Optimus remained motionless, listening to his words. “Did not the Great War come to pass… exactly as I had foretold? Do you doubt the validity of my words, just as I spoke them all those vorns ago? Tell me… Optimus Prime… he who seeks the truth… what is it that you are afraid of?” Optimus forced himself to look away, the intensity of the other’s gaze somehow too much to bear, but Sentinel was relentless, as if he could glimpse into his spark and capture the essence of his very being. “If you truly care about Cybertron, and the danger that the Autobots must soon face, then you will listen very carefully to what I have to tell you.”

“What do you mean… what danger?” Optimus’ optics glowered, suddenly alerted, and for an instant nothing else mattered to him but the safety of his home planet, and all those who ultimately depended upon him.

Sentinel gave him a knowing nod. Now that he had the Prime’s full attention, he was certain that his message would not be easily overlooked. “You must forgive my… hesitation, but I did not want to say anything until I was absolutely certain.”

“You must tell me what you know…” Optimus’ voice was tense, though he tried his best not to show what he felt.

Sentinel‘s expression hardened. “I have received information that the Decepticons have been covertly gathering their forces from all over the Sector, for some time now. They plan to attack soon – but you will not realise it until it is too late. If nothing is done, Iacon will be the first city to fall, and before the third day it shall lie in ruins.” Optimus imagined that he felt a barely discernible drop in the room’s temperature, as if an eerie coldness had begun to fill the space around him. “Together, we must stop them before they bring about the war that will end all wars.”

“No… it’s not possible. The Decepticons were defeated during the battle at Kaon. They are no match against the Alliance.” Optimus understood full well Sentinel’s uncanny ability to know things he couldn’t otherwise know; his former teacher had accurately predicted the Last Great War before it had happened in a way that Optimus had never understood – yet it had all come to pass exactly as he’d described, including the Dark Plague and the unexpected end to the war. He was reminded that Sentinel never revealed the identity of his sources, except to say that he utilized the services of highly trained informants who were able to infiltrate any command structure without too much trouble.

The war that will end all wars…

Sentinel nodded in understanding. “Indeed. However… things have changed. I do not know how, but they will return in full force, and they will refuse to negotiate with us. Time is of the essence.”

Optimus slowly leaned forward, this sudden revelation news to him. “How can you know this?”

Sentinel gave him a shrug and a small smile as reassurance. “I have my sources.”

“There have been rumours of a Neutral takeover…” Optimus’ voice remained calm, despite the seriousness of the statement; he could no longer ignore the growing number of Autobots who had insisted that, in one way or another, things were not as they seemed.

The former Prime held his gaze steady. “That is preposterous. Where did you hear such rumours?”

Optimus lowered his voice, yet the conviction of his words remained. “I, too, have my sources.”

“Surely you do not believe there is any truth to them?” Sentinel’s own voice softened significantly, and he inhaled deeply before answering. “It is clear, then, why you have come to doubt our cause. You cannot allow yourself to be weakened by those who would deceive you… you must remain strong. The Alliance needs you, Optimus Prime, now more than ever. Are you willing to throw away our future because you are willing to listen to such lies?”

“Of course not. However… I cannot believe that my own trusted warriors would lie to me.”

“Ah… yes. Dare I mention your trusted Jazz… who disobeyed direct orders in an act of utter betrayal? Or, perhaps, your precious Elita One… who, along with her merry crew, departed on an unauthorised expedition into the Gamma Sector only to be brought down by the enemy, and who now remains stranded on Alternity City?” Sentinel spoke candidly, almost harshly, in order to drive home his point.

Optimus visibly stiffened at the mention of Elita’s name as anger stirred within him, though he wasn’t sure whether it was directed towards Sentinel, or Elita herself. “Elita One… is she alright?”

Sentinel’s expression softened once more, a glimmer of empathy in his optics. “For now… though, I fear for her safety. There are many on Alternity City who would seek to harm her, should they find her. You… were not aware of her situation?”

The Autobot leader shook his head. “No. We have not spoken since she left.” He looked up at him suddenly. “I must go to her.”

“No.” Sentinel shook his head. “You will be needed here, on Cybertron. But you needn’t worry; I can arrange to have her returned to you… if you so wish.”

Optimus hesitated. It was an offer that he found very hard to turn down. On the other hand, however, doing so would only serve to widen the existing rift that had come between him and Elita One. Ultimately, though, her safety was more important to him than any resentment she may feel towards him. He finally nodded in acquiescence. “Make sure that she comes to no harm.”

Sentinel smiled graciously, glad to be of help. “Of course – you have my word. Now… as for Jazz, I can send additional search parties to assist in apprehending him–”

“No,” Optimus cut in before the other could finish his sentence. “That won’t be necessary. He has been granted a special leave of absence.”

“I see.” Sentinel looked back at him with a wary optic. “You still trust him, don’t you?”

Optimus wondered just how much Sentinel knew about Jazz’s off-the-record mission, and was about to reply when he was interrupted by the beeping of his com link. He watched Sentinel intently, allowed several moments to pass before answering his com. “Go ahead.”

“Prime, this is Prowl. Sideswipe’s just arrived. He is demanding to speak with you, sir.”

“Tell him I’ll be there shortly–” He was cut short by Prowl, who spoke with a terse, strained voice.

“Prime… I think you should deal with him as soon as possible.”

Optimus did not need to be told a second time; the urgency in Prowl’s voice, more than anything else, indicated that something was wrong. “Very well. I’m on my way.” He disconnected the link, and then looked back at Sentinel. “I’m afraid that something has come up. Perhaps… we could continue this discussion later?” He stood up from his chair, and opened the door to the briefing room to let them both out.

Sentinel followed him out into the Communications Center, smiling warmly. “Ah, of course… your duty as Autobot Commander must always come first.”

The first waking thought that went through Sunstreaker’s processor as he regained consciousness was that he had crossed over into the heavenly abode of Sparks, guided by the Light of Primus. Then his short-term memory module kicked in, and he remembered his encounter with the rather unconventional, outspoken, reluctant Decepticon who had told him his name was Comet. Then he recalled the unfortunate events that had landed him here, inside a secure scrap metal recycling facility in Hitec, owned and controlled by the self-proclaimed Master of the Universe himself – though to everyone else he was known as the one and only High Commander of the Subterranean Base. Or was that the Supreme High Commander? He couldn’t quite remember.

Not that it really mattered. What mattered was that he was still alive, yet those who he had left behind on Cybertron more than a century ago were in very real danger. It had taken him all this time to finally comprehend the true extent of the evil that was the Autobot-Neutral Alliance, and the bizarre, controlled manipulation that was behind the Dark Plague and, to a large extent, the Last Great War. The implications were profound, and he became overwhelmed by it all, at a loss to know exactly what to do with the knowledge he now possessed. He realized, with grim clarity, that this very knowledge had almost cost him his life.

From the edge of his optical sensors, he could see Comet, his back turned to him, working on some kind of device that he’d put together from junked parts, and he hesitated. He looked down at his damaged and heavily beaten frame, and slowly willed his right hand to move, then his left knee joint. Relieved, he slowly pushed himself up onto both elbows and sat up. It seemed that Comet had, indeed, fixed him, just as he’d said he would. But despite his apparent deed of kindness, Sunstreaker’s programmed survival instincts told him not to trust anyone who even remotely resembled a Decepticon, regardless of their words or actions, and he saw himself fatally damaging the seeker’s spark chamber and permanently deactivating him using his electron pulse blaster whilst he had his back turned.

He quickly berated himself for his instinctive programming and for allowing such thoughts into his processor, and grunted, reminding himself that Comet, despite all outward appearances, had saved his life and, regardless of whether this act had been intrinsically selfish or not, he owed him at least the same in return.

Comet glanced back at him, alerted to the Autobot’s conscious state by the grunt of his vocal processor. “Oh. You’re awake. Good. I can do with some help.”

Sunstreaker watched as Comet returned to his task, and for a long while remained where he was. He had no idea whether the seeker could be trusted, but after his recent ordeal at the hands of the High Commander, Comet did not concern him nearly as much as he once would have. He slowly stood up, careful not to place unnecessary strain on his newly repaired linkage, and made his way over to Comet. Standing shakily on his feet, he dropped down to sit beside him. “Not sure what… I can do to help. I’m a… warrior… not a mechanic,” he said. “Besides, I’m dangerously low… on fuel…” he added uncomfortably, trying to ignore his internal warning systems of his low power situation. He was quietly thankful, at least, that his vocal processor was returning to normal functioning.

Comet responded without skipping a beat, putting down his current project carefully on the ground and reaching across to pick up a dirty canister that was half-filled with a translucent pink fluid. “Here, this should get you through another couple of days, at least.”

“Ah, thanks…” Sunstreaker tentatively reached out to grab it. “What about you?”

Comet shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“Oh…” Sunstreaker ingested the fuel, and then placed the empty can down on the ground. He sat there in silence for a time, allowing his internal fuel converter to process the liquid into a useable form of energy. “So… what’s that you’re building?” He said finally, nodding towards the device.

Comet picked it up again and proceeded to connect two loose wires together. As he did so, a surge of energy suddenly crackled across the connection. Comet quickly disconnected the wires before the surge caused the power pack to overload, and then he shook his head and sighed, handing Sunstreaker the device. “Here – maybe you can get it to work.”

Sunstreaker took the assembly and carefully examined it, turning it over in his hands. Comet stood up, his attention now diverted to the sealed doors of the facility as he began to walk over to them. Sunstreaker followed the wiring from the terminals of the power pack unit to the rest of the makeshift assembly and then gently put it down again, silently admiring Comet’s valiant attempt at putting together a triggered explosive from a collection of discarded and mismatched components. It could almost work, except… “I can see your difficulty. You need a regulator.”

Comet attempted to force the door panel control away from its wall recess, but the presence of the energy barrier made the task impossible. Nonetheless, he kept trying. “Yes… but I don’t have one at hand, unfortunately.”

The tall, yellow Autobot slowly stood up and looked around. He saw the many piles of scrap metal that filled the space around them and watched as powerful machinery nearby continually processed the material. His mind once again brought his electron pulse blaster to his conscious awareness, and he transformed his right hand and forearm, extracting his weapon. Holding it in his hand with a firm grip, he felt reassured by its presence, the feeling of power that it gave him as his finger played with the trigger. He saw Comet turn to look at him, standing motionless and on alert, and flipped the weapon around in his hand with one swift, easy motion, then held it out towards the seeker. “You do now,” he said.

Comet made his way back to him, keeping his optics focused upon the weapon but reluctant to take it. Finally, he shook his head. “You’re going to need it. We’ll find another regulator–”

Sunstreaker interrupted him. “Just take it. If we don’t… get out of here, my weapon’s… not going to be of any use to me… if I’m dead, now is it?” His tone of voice was insistent and aggressive.

Comet observed the Autobot with interest, and realized that he probably wouldn’t take no for an answer, so he accepted his offer and took the weapon. Then he began to disassemble it.

Sideswipe tried to ignore the sidelong glances being cast his way as he looked about the large, enclosed waiting area on the ground floor of the Command Center. At first, Prowl had told him that it wasn’t the best time to speak to Prime and had refused him entry, but then Sideswipe had insisted, threatening to make a scene outside the Command Center if his request to see Prime directly continued to be ignored, so Prowl had reluctantly agreed to let him inside, and had told him to wait here.

Sideswipe became more agitated with every passing second until finally, after what felt like stellar cycles, he saw Prowl re-emerge from the entrance to the main Command Center, Optimus Prime by his side. He rushed forwards in anticipation; there was so much that he wanted – no, needed – to say. “Optimus…” He started in greeting, approaching the Prime Commander, but then took a step back in sudden shock, turning his head to gaze upon the large frame of Sentinel Prime as the leader of the Neutrals stepped away from behind Optimus and into full view. For several tense seconds Sideswipe stood motionless, as if petrified, unable to speak or move. Then his optics widened with alarm and what looked like dread, as he recoiled inwardly, his defensive mechanisms fully engaging.

Optimus, noticing his panic, attempted to dissipate the sudden tension as he looked for a way to try and prevent what he feared might happen next. “Sideswipe... it is good to see you again.” He stepped slowly forwards, extending a hand out to the Autobot, but Sideswipe was no longer registering his presence, his audio sensors now deaf to his words.

In a move that took everyone by surprise, Sideswipe retrieved his missile launcher from its shoulder mount and pointed it directly at Sentinel, all the while not taking his optics off the former Prime. “You!” He could feel his warrior instincts kick in, and he momentarily redirected the launcher at Prowl, fully prepared to make good on his unspoken threat if the Chief of Security made a wrong move to try and intervene. “Don’t!”

Prowl glanced towards Optimus, ready and willing to take whatever action was necessary to stop Sideswipe from his aggressive actions, but the Autobot leader gave him no indication to that effect. Instead, he gave Prowl a silent nod that told him not to take any immediate action, at least for the moment. Optimus would try to handle the situation his own way, before the use of force became necessary.

Sideswipe watched this interaction, knew that Optimus would first try to negotiate with him in a peaceful manner, and he used this opportunity to confront Sentinel Prime, training his missile launcher towards him once again. The large entry hall suddenly fell quiet as several Autobots and Neutrals around them stopped in their tracks to watch the unfolding confrontation. “You…” Sideswipe spoke in a soft, ominous tone, his launcher shaking from the unbridled anger and humiliation that he felt. “My brother was right about you… he was right about you all along… but you had us all fooled... didn’t you?” He shook his head slowly in disgust, gave Sentinel a twisted sneer. “Tell them!” He shouted suddenly, and Prowl instinctively reached for his weapon, but Optimus held out a hand, signalling for him to hold back.

Despite the hostility that was being shown to him in this moment, Sentinel remained calm and in control. He held out his hands in a show of pacifism, as if he were being unfairly victimized yet was all too ready to forgive his aggressor, should Sideswipe start to see reason and decide to back down. He carefully took a step forwards, but Sideswipe would have none of it. “Tell them!” He insisted again, and stepped closer to reassert his dominance with his missile launcher. “Tell them the truth, Sentinel. About the virus… and what you did to my brother…” He glanced briefly towards Optimus Prime and, for the first time since the Last Great War, each recognized the other for who he truly was – a friend who, burdened by responsibilities that no mech should ever have to endure alone, had lost his way. “…What you’re doing…” He forcibly looked away from Optimus, refocused upon Sentinel. “Tell them, Sentinel Prime… tell them the truth… tell them who… what… you really are. Nomorelies!

Sentinel’s expression was filled with sympathy and concern for this obviously troubled and emotionally unstable Autobot. Careful not to make any sudden moves, he spoke gently, reassuringly. “I understand your concern… Sideswipe. Please, put your weapon away. I can explain everything… if you’ll only give me a chance to help you.”

Sideswipe’s expression only hardened, his arms visibly shaking from his anger. “Help me? You want to help me – then tell me where my brother is!

Before Sentinel could respond, Optimus spoke up. “Don’t do this, Sideswipe. Please… you are only doing yourself harm.”

Sideswipe refused to look at him, and he shook his head in defiance. “No! Can’t you see what’s happening? Don’t let him fool you.” He paused, and a moment of such strained silence followed that the background whisperings felt like they were assaulting him at full volume. “He’s a traitor!” He burst out suddenly, his voice resoundingly loud as it infiltrated the surrounding space.

But Sentinel remained unperturbed, almost unaffected by Sideswipe’s accusations to the point that it appeared unnatural. He gave Optimus an assured nod, letting him know that he was more than capable of taking control of the situation. “I do not know what has happened to your brother… please.”

“Why should I believe anything you say?” Sideswipe’s face contorted into a vengeful smirk. “I should have listened to him. He tried to warn me about the Alliance. He tried to warn us all… but I didn’t listen… oh, no… I just let him leave! Sideswipe shook his head, and then turned to Optimus, his weapon still locked on Sentinel. “And now… he’s probably dead… because of me! Because of him!” He indicated towards Sentinel, and felt himself losing control as the anger and hurt he’d harboured deep inside for so long were suddenly given expression, as he stood face to face against the very mech who was responsible for all his suffering.

“Sideswipe…” A gentle voice suddenly called out from behind him, and he turned sharply around to face Arcee. “Don’t do this to yourself, please.”

But that split second of distracted focus was all Sentinel needed; Arcee’s shocked expression, one hand over her mouth, was the last thing Sideswipe’s optics registered before he felt himself crash violently to the floor – a well-aimed, powerful impact from Sentinel’s blaster knocking him offline.

“Well,” Comet said, holding the crude bomb in his hand and walking back to the doors. “If this doesn’t stop him, nothing will.” He looked for a suitable location to place the bomb, and finally secured the explosive to an anchoring point in the wall only a couple of mechano-meters from the doors.

“Now what?” Sunstreaker asked, as Comet returned to face him.

“Now we wait,” the seeker replied, sitting back down on the ground.

Sunstreaker peered down at him. “What if… it doesn’t work?”

Comet shrugged. “You could always pray to Primus, and hope that we find some other way of escape.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Comet… but if I didn’t know you any better… I’d say that you’re not too concerned.” Sunstreaker slowly sat down on the floor across from him. “Oh, that’s right… I don’t know you. Do I?” But Comet did not answer him; he seemed lost in some distant, long forgotten memory. Or, perhaps he was avoiding the question; Sunstreaker didn’t know.  “Alright. So, what’s your plan… if we do get out of here, you know? That is… if you have a plan.”

Comet seemed to refocus his attention back to the real world. “Plan? Well, first, I’m going to take control of the Hitec Base… and then, once I’ve done that, I’m going to use Scorponok’s army to take Alternity City. Then, Cybertron won’t stand a chance against me,” he said wryly.

Sunstreaker looked at him intently, unsure of the seeker’s intentions. But then he began to chuckle, before breaking into laughter as he caught the satire in Comet’s speech. After many moments, he regained his composure and spoke again. “You know about Scorponok?”

“Only enough to know that he’s the biggest slag maker this side of the galaxy. Along with everyone who works for him.” Comet leaned his head back and rested it against a drum that had been cut in half and then discarded. “So, Autobot… how did you end up here?” He asked after a long moment. When Sunstreaker did not respond straight away, he added, “If I were to fathom a guess I’d say that you’ve had an unfortunate encounter with the slag maker himself.”

Sunstreaker recalled the moments of his capture and subsequent torture and humiliation at the hands of Hitec’s High Commander, and replied. “It… was my stupid fault. I’d tracked Sentinel’s movements to a nearby relay station… and that’s where I found…” He faltered, found it difficult to continue.

Comet slowly raised his head, intense red optics watching him. “You found what?”

Sunstreaker looked downcast, his expression sorrowful. “I wanted to get a closer look… I was caught off guard… didn’t see his two goons behind me.”

“What did you see, Sunstreaker?” It was the first time that Comet had used his name since they’d met, and he looked up at the seeker in unspoken encouragement.

However, the memory of his recent discovery was anything but encouraging, and he found it too difficult, too painful even, to put it all into coherent words. Still, he tried. “Autobots… what was left of ‘em, anyway… deactivated. Dead.” He sat there, quietly staring down at his hands, forcing himself to remain still lest the anger that dwelled deep within him should be released in a sudden, uncontrolled outburst.

Comet looked away for a brief instant, contemplating the implications of what Sunstreaker had just told him. “You said that Sentinel Prime has something to do with… all of that?” He asked.

The yellow Autobot slowly nodded. “I wasn’t sure before.” He inhaled deeply, tried to re-center himself. “But now I know for sure. He helped create the Plague, and possibly even…” He paused, thought about how to form his next sentence. “He may have even played a part in bringing about our own war…” Sunstreaker indicated the two of them with a wave of his hand as he spoke these words. “The war between us – Autobots… and… Decepticons.”

Comet listened carefully, his expression fixed, unchanging. Then it was his turn to speak his truth, to allow himself to acknowledge the anger and disappointment that had held his own conscience hostage with an iron grip since the day he had been banished from Cybertron. “The Autobots blamed that virus… on a Decepticon.” Comet stood up, feeling uneasy, and turned away from the Autobot. “One of us.”

He heard Sunstreaker’s voice from behind him, and his preliminary fears were alleviated; the Autobot did not accuse him or judge him, but seemed to empathise with him, understand him. “I remember. He… was sentenced to death, wasn’t he?”

“Yes.” Comet’s voice was filled with bitterness, though he managed to control it, directing it away from his present company. For reasons that he didn’t fully comprehend, he welcomed this conversation, finding comfort and reassurance in a most unlikely source – an Autobot. “I…”

Sunstreaker sensed the seeker’s difficulty and genuinely wanted to help him. “Listen… Comet… I think we ought to stick together. Help each other out, you know? Once we get out of here.” Comet did not respond, so he continued. “If I help you conquer Alternity City… well, maybe you’ll help me find a way to return to Cybertron… so I can try to warn the others.”

Comet turned back around to face him, his arms crossed in front of him. “You mean, if we get out of here… and if I’m willing to tolerate the company of an arrogant, self-important Autobot such as yourself,” he said, though with a hint of a smile.

Sunstreaker shrugged. “Hey… if I’m willing to put up with one overbearing, conceited… overconfident, cocky Decepticon such as yourself… then you could at least try to do the same for me.”

Comet laughed; a spontaneous, care-free response that meant much more to him than he’d ever let on. “We’ll see,” he said.

“The Neutrals!?” Chromia exclaimed in exasperation, looking towards her team leader. “Elita?”

The pink and white femme took a few moments as the penny dropped. Her voice lowered considerably in volume. “I should have known… I should have seen it. This whole time… I can’t believe it.”

“So… what, exactly, are we talking about here?” Moonracer said, confused. “You should have seen what, Elita?”

“Shutup, ‘Racer,” Firestar rebuked, as they all waited for the femme commander to continue speaking. Devcon remained silent, watching them, allowing them the space they needed to arrive at their own conclusion.

“The rumours from this Sector… the Autobot disappearances soon after the sudden end to the war at home, especially at a time when the Decepticons were far from being defeated…” Elita rose from her chair, slowly paced away from them in thought. “The Cybertronian High Council’s increase in power soon after the formation of the Alliance…” She spun around to face her crew. “Think about it… why would the Neutrals attack our ship? We’re supposed to be their allies.”

Chromia interjected. “That’s if it was the Neutrals. We can’t be sure. I mean, how do we know it wasn’t… the Supremacists – as Devcon mentioned – or someone else entirely?”

“Such as?” Elita rebutted, and then went back to her seat, looking Chromia straight in the optics. “Okay, just humor me for an astro-second – let’s just say that it was them. It would explain why the Neutrals formed an Alliance with the Autobots, and why the Council then gave them power to act on their behalf… power that could be used to gain total control… with the combined numbers and additional resources to pull it off… and what about their directive to capture all Decepticons – why?”

“Elita – listen to yourself. It all just sounds… crazy!” Chromia replied, shocked that her friend was actually thinking the impossible.

“I know…” Elita sighed. “And maybe… maybe that’s what they’re relying on.”

Firestar spoke next. “But it still doesn’t explain why they attacked our ship. Or… why Autobots are being targeted.”

Elita nodded. “True, and that’s exactly what I intend to find out.” She looked back at Devcon. “We’d appreciate any help, Devcon, and if there’s any truth at all to what I’m saying, then that attack on our cruiser is only a part of something much bigger than any of us realize.”

Devcon contemplated her words carefully and then slowly nodded. “I’ve got no plans to return to Cybertron any time soon… but next time you’re in need of a space cruiser, just let me know.”

Elita relaxed her shoulders a little and smiled. “Thank you,” she said.

Jazz had arrived at Darkmount’s central co-ordinates, and had been surprised to find that the ruins of the former fortress no longer existed; instead, a large, spired tower was all that stood in their place. He had transmitted the encoded distress signal that Drift had given him several hours ago, and had remained parked not too far from the main road in his alt mode, watching and waiting for something to happen.

But nothing did. He had watched as a couple of Neutrals scanned the area from a safe distance and then left, but other than that there was nothing to indicate the presence of any Decepticons, let alone that they had picked up his signal, or even knew he was there.

As he waited with waning expectations, he entertained several scenarios in his mind as he mentally dealt with all the possible outcomes of his current course of action. He considered the most likely event that the Decepticons would capture him; he doubted that they would terminate him on sight, but that possibility always remained active in the back of his mind. With some effort, he pushed the thought away, and then reaffirmed his resolve; this was an all-or-nothing deal, and he realized that it was easier for him to fully dedicate himself to his current direction for all it was worth rather than try to look for alternatives. Any reservations that he felt he would just have to ignore.

As the fading daylight gave way to the blanketing darkness of the night cycle, Jazz got the distinct sense that he was being watched. His scanners did not reveal any obvious presence, though he had learned long ago not to rely solely upon his external sensors, and remained alert, ever-watchful, and then his patience finally paid off.

There, perched atop the spire, Jazz could make out a small, robotic shape that resembled a bird of one of the many organic alien species known to exist. Laserbeak, Jazz thought with both a sense of relief and trepidation at the same time.

Jazz was not certain how long the Decepticon spy had been watching him, nor whether he was here in response to the signal he’d sent out, but what he was certain of was that he had come to the right place; wherever there was Laserbeak, there’d be other Decepticons as well – however many of them there were. Several minutes went by, as each continued to watch the other, neither of them moving. Then Jazz took action. He transformed into robot mode and began to slowly walk towards the tower. He tried to appear non-threatening; his movements were deliberate, and he did not retrieve his weapon. He kept his sights on Laserbeak, watching him intently, hoping that he wouldn’t fly away and disappear before he’d had a chance to give him a message.

Laserbeak suddenly lifted himself up into the air, hovering near the spire, and projected his telescopic viewer from the top of his head, most likely to get a close-up look at the Autobot. Then he swooped down and landed on top of the tower.

Jazz did not slow down until he was only a few mechano-meters away from the structure. Then he stopped and peered up at the Decepticon, half expecting to be fired upon at any moment. “It’s just me here,” Jazz called out, his voice sounding weak in the vast, desolate expanse around them, and then paused to watch the mechanical bird’s reaction. “Tell Megatron we need to talk.”

He watched as Laserbeak received his message and, once it had become clear that the Autobot did not have anything further to say, Laserbeak lifted off into the air once more. With a high-pitched screech, he doubled back and disappeared behind the tower.

* * * 

More time passed, and Jazz remained where he was. Any moment now, he would come face-to-face with one or more members of the Autobots’ declared enemy, and he’d have to bring to the fore all his improvisational and negotiating skills if he was going to pull this off successfully. But, as it turned out, his initial encounter with a Decepticon did not quite happen face-to-face.

He heard the familiar sound of a weapon being readied from somewhere behind him, and he knew that the moment he’d been waiting for had finally arrived. Without turning around, he slowly raised his hands and waited for the other to make a move.

“Why are you here… Jazz?” A mech said from behind him.

Jazz instantly recognised the voice; it belonged to the leader of the Constructicons. He thought carefully before responding; an honest, direct approach would be his best option. “I just want to talk.” A long moment went by in silence, and then he added, “I’m alone.”

“Turn around… slowly.” Jazz immediately did so. His blue optics met the red visor of the green and purplish-magenta Decepticon, his own visor retracted in an open and non-threatening gesture. Scrapper slowly lowered his weapon, but kept his gaze fixed upon the Autobot. “How did you know about that frequency?”

It took Jazz a few seconds to realize what Scrapper was referring to. “Drift gave it to me.” When he realized that the Autobot’s name might not mean anything to him, he clarified. “Ah… you might have known him as Deadlock.”

The Constructicon did not react at the mention of either name, but instead changed the subject. “Megatron’s agreed to meet with you.” He paused, and then his voice lowered a little. “We told him about… what you did for us.”

Jazz nodded in understanding. He knew, instinctively, that his request at a meeting would never had been granted so easily had he not risked his own life to save Scavenger, and he was thankful for the opportunity.

But it could still all too easily come to naught, if the Decepticons suspected even the slightest hint of trickery; this was the first thought that came to Jazz’s mind when he heard the sound of screeching tyres rapidly approaching their location from the main road in the distance. Jazz grimaced, watched as Scrapper raised his weapon again and turned his head towards the source of the noise.

A lone car, probably an Autobot, was heading straight for them at top speed, his form mostly obscured by the darkness. This could not be happening at a worse moment. “I don’t know anything about it… I swear,” Jazz said in alarm, hoping beyond reason that Scrapper would believe him. “I might have been followed,” he added, though he was pretty sure that he hadn’t been. Scrapper ignored him, and instead stood his ground, watching the approaching car.

As he came into view, the mech transformed into robot mode and immediately brandished his photon pistol at Scrapper. “That’s what you get for trying to help these scum bags… isn’t that right, Jazz?” He called out after several tense moments.

Jazz shook his head in disbelief. “This isn’t what it looks like,” he said, and watched as Streetwise made a dismissive gesture, but he could tell that the Protectobot was angry, ready to explode at any moment. “You really shouldn’t have come here.”

Streetwise ignored Jazz; all that seemed to matter to him now was exacting his revenge for the brutal attack of his team mate, beginning with the Decepticon standing in front of him. Charging up his photon pistol, he brought it level with Scrapper’s spark chamber, and appeared unaffected by the fact that Scrapper’s own weapon was still trained on Jazz.

“Streetwise… put your weapon away,” Jazz told him, as calmly as he could, but he was ignored yet again. “That’s an order, Streetwise.”

Streetwise shook his head incredulously. “I don’t take orders from a traitor!”

Jazz’s voice became firmer, his tone darker. “I outrank you, or have you conveniently forgotten that fact?” Jazz weighed the possible outcomes in his mind. He knew that Streetwise was a highly intelligent and capable tracker, but he also knew that he could be easily played when his emotions got the better of him, as was evident now. Jazz took a few steps forward, drawing his own weapon, hoping that Streetwise would take the bait.

Streetwise did, indeed, react, but not quite in the way Jazz had expected. The Protectobot immediately fired a couple of shots at Scrapper, hitting the Constructicon in the chest, and then, barely a micro second later, he had his pistol aimed squarely at Jazz before he fired off another two shots.

Jazz did not have enough time to pre-empt his move. He felt the force of the blasts impact his midsection, and he fell to the ground, his blaster knocked out of his hand. Scrapper stumbled backwards but did not fall; the hits he had taken had not been sufficient to disable him and, without hesitation, he fired back at his attacker.

Like a mad mech, Streetwise cried out in rage, turned and began to charge towards the Constructicon with all the strength he could summon, spurred on by pure hatred and revenge. He tackled Scrapper to the ground, and the two of them were locked in a battle of brute strength as each fought to overpower the other.

Watching the scene unfold before him, Jazz slowly reached across for his blaster. Several other Constructicons appeared from somewhere near the tower, and then rushed forwards to help their team mate, blasters at the ready. They stopped when they saw Jazz on the ground nearby, and for several moments were unsure of what to do.

Jazz set his weapon to maximum intensity, then carefully aimed it at the enraged Protectobot and fired.

Dirge looked around at his team of flyers and wondered whether Astrotrain had abandoned them all, or had simply forgotten that he was supposed to have met them here several hours ago. He had been strictly forbidden to make contact with the triple changer on his com link, except under the direst of circumstances, and their circumstances, although uncertain, were certainly not dire.

Thrust got up from his seat on a bench and walked over to his team leader. “That glorified space train’s forgotten all about us. What are we going to do now?” They had arrived in Binaltech right on schedule, but it had soon become apparent that Astrotrain was a no-show, and so the five of them had taken shelter inside a crowded information exchange hub, where they had a good chance of hiding from the optics of any would-be pursuer in plain sight, at least for the time being, provided that they hadn’t been followed.

Dirge gave him an annoyed look. “Something might’ve happened. We don’t know for sure. All we can do now is wait.”

“Fine…” Thrust grumbled in frustration, but then returned to the other three jets in resignation.

The blue and black team leader continued to peer out into the Binaltech crowd, watching the horde of city denizens come and go, and then stiffened slightly as he caught sight of a solitary figure moving towards them. He magnified his optical sensors to get a better look at the form; a smaller framed, yellow and purple Cybertronian femme. He decided that she would pose no threat to them unless, of course, she was not here by herself, but Dirge could not see anyone else with her, and so he remained where he was, watching with detached interest as she came right up to him. His team mates all rose from their seats and went to stand beside him.

“Well, well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise?” She greeted them, putting on a show of affection and admiration. “What brings you boys to Binaltech, hm?” She grabbed Dirge’s arm, pulling herself towards him.

Dirge tried to pull his arm away, but she clung to him. “Do I know you?” He asked, peering suspiciously down at her.

The femme laughed playfully. “Not nearly as much as you should,” she replied. Her expression became solemn as she noted the disapproval upon his face, and then distanced herself from him. “Okay, how about we start over? I’ll introduce myself to you, and then you can all tell me who you are. How’s that sound?” She offered. No one answered her, and so she continued, grinning. “Great. I’m the femme of your dreams… but you can call me Thunderblast,” she said, half-joking. She pointed at Dirge. “Oh, let me guess. You’re the leader, right? Dirge?”

He glanced uncomfortably over at Ramjet and Thrust, who stood to his left, before looking back at her. “How’d you know my name?” He replied sternly, crossing his arms in front of him.

But Thunderblast simply smiled at him admiringly, and then moved closer to Thrust, lightly caressing his arm with her finger. “And you… you look like my kind of mech. Strong, smart… oh, I know you! Why, you’re…” She hesitated, and the red jet took the bait.

“I’m Thrust,” he said, and she smiled.

“Thrust! Of course. That’s a great name. Really suits you.”

Dirge interjected her fun before she could get any further information out of his team. “Look, Thunderblast… I don’t know what exactly you’re after, but you should really be running along now...”

The femme gave him an insolent, almost hurtful, look. “Well, if that’s what you really want, then fine, I’ll leave.” She turned to go, but then stopped short, made a gesture that indicated she’d almost forgotten something really important. “Oh… by the way… I spoke to your friend just the other day. I’ll let him know you said ‘hi’.” She began to walk away, but then Dirge stopped her.

“Wait…” He rushed forwards, caught her by the arm and roughly spun her around. “What do you mean? What friend?” He demanded. She pouted, looked away, and he snarled. “Come on… don’t play games. Who did you speak to?”

She attempted to break free of his grasp, but it was all just part of her act; she was playing with his emotional responses and he was buying right into it. Loser. “Alright, I’ll tell you… if you let me go.”

Dirge released her, and watched as she rubbed her arm. Then she looked up at him with the most sincere expression she could manage. “Something’s happened to Comet – I think he might be in some kind of trouble.” Then she smiled teasingly. “But you knew he was here, right?”

“Comet?” He frowned. “We don’t know any Comet. And I’m getting really tired of your–”

She looked at him quizzically, her yellow optics narrowing. “You mean to tell me you don’t know Comet? He’s a Decepticon seeker – one of you guys!” She wiggled a finger towards Bitstream and Acid Storm. “Well, more like one of them! Except maybe a little taller, a little more – I dunno, handsome?” The two seekers behind Dirge gave her disparaging looks, but she ignored them. “Look, I’m telling you the truth. But don’t believe me if you don’t want to – that’s your business.”

Dirge scanned the immediate vicinity to ensure they were still alone. They were. “How’d you know about us?” He asked her finally.

Thunderblast offered them an elusive smile. “Let’s just say… I’ve had my optics on you all – for a little while.”

Dirge leaned threateningly closer. “Yeah? Why?” He demanded, drawing out the last word in emphasis.

She huffed at him impatiently. “Because – can’t a femme admire a group of striking Decepticon jets from a distance? Besides… it’s what I’m good at.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. The only thing you’re good at is being a pain in the afterburner.”

“Oh, you have no idea!” She giggled, and then checked her internal chronometer. “Oh, would you look at the time – I’ve gotta run. It was really nice meeting you guys!” She smiled mischievously, and then gave them a wave before turning to leave.

Dirge watched her go, her small, nimble frame quickly disappearing into the crowd, before turning to his team mates. “Who the frag’s Comet?” He asked them.

“No idea,” Thrust replied, as the others shrugged or shook their heads, equally clueless.

As the all-femme Cybertronian crew re-entered the busy communications hub, Moonracer grabbed Elita’s arm and pointed. “Look! Isn’t that…” She paused, trying to recall a name, but then gave up. “I know her from somewhere.”

The femme commander stopped to track the femme in the crowd, and then looked over at Chromia, who nodded.

“That’s Thunderblast…” Chromia said wryly. “Now what can she possibly be doing here, I wonder?”

Elita One gave her a knowing look. “That femme’s nothing but trouble. We’d do well to stay away from her prying optics.”

“You can say that again,” Firestar replied, glancing towards a group of mechs in the distance, a clear view of them obstructed by the crowd. “Looks like she has her hooks into those Cybertronian jets – check it out.”

The other three followed her gaze, taking a closer look. They could make out Thunderblast’s smaller frame as she waved a quick goodbye to the jets before turning and walking away from them. “They’re not just Cybertronian jets, Firestar. They’re Decepticon jets,” Elita informed her. “Come on, let’s go talk to them.” She began to walk towards them, but Chromia stopped her.

“Elita! What are you doing?” Chromia looked at her quizzically. She hesitated, and then added, “Look… I know that you want to find out what’s going on – we all do – but do you really think it’s wise to let them know we’re here?” She said, gesturing towards the five jets, who were now talking amongst themselves.

The femme commander backed down, respecting her friend’s counsel. “I suppose you’re right. I just… how did we let this all happen, Chrome? How did any of us let this happen?”

The blue femme looked into her friend’s optics, and saw the all-too-familiar inner fire that had attracted Optimus to her in the first place. “’We’?” She paused, concerned, unsure of what Elita was trying to convey to her. But then she understood. “Elita… if what you said is true... it isn’t our fault. None of it is our fault.” The compassion in her voice resonated strongly. “We couldn’t have known.”

Elita took one last look at the Decepticons in the distance. “Come on… we’re going to need some credits,” she said, before turning and walking away.

Jazz looked down at the still unconscious Streetwise lying face down on the floor beside him, and hoped that his little show of vengeance had not caused too much damage. The two of them were alone in a small, empty room, behind energy bars to one side. A sealed door was set into the wall opposite.

He had checked the Protectobot’s vital signs a short while ago, and was satisfied that his state was not critical; he had aimed and fired his weapon with the sole intention of stopping Streetwise’s assault of the Constructicon, and it had worked. But he had no memory of what had occurred afterwards, or how the both of them had ended up in this holding cell.

The Protectobot stirred awake, and after several seconds pushed himself up with his hands, staggering to a standing position. He quickly noted the energy bars, and then spun around to face Jazz. “Where the frag are we?” He asked in anger.

Jazz did not return his gaze, but turned his head towards the sealed door across the room. “Inside a Decepticon holding cell, most likely.” His voice was calm, yet there was a calculated impassiveness to it that Streetwise didn’t like.

“Hey, what the hell were you thinking… helping them out the way you did? Have you forgotten what side you’re actually supposed to be on?” Streetwise confronted Jazz, raising his voice at him. “Those fraggers are going to pay for what they’re doing – every last one of them!”

“They can probably hear you, you know,” Jazz said, ignoring the other’s ire.

“Good. Then I hope they hear this.” Streetwise turned away from him, and then spoke through the energy bars into the empty room. “You’re all a bunch of slaggin’ cowards! You hear me, Decepti-creeps?! Your time’s up!” But all that he got in return was silence. “Let me the frag out of here!” Streetwise kicked at the energy bars, and felt the shock from the plasma as it kicked back at him, surging through his systems.

“Give it a rest, Streetwise. It’s not going to get you anywhere,” Jazz told him, and then added, “You shouldn’t have followed me here.”

“Hey, for the record, I didn’t follow you here,” Streetwise answered. “And as far as I can tell, Jazz… you’re no better than they are, so don’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t do.”

Jazz didn’t bother arguing with him. Streetwise was obviously angry and unreasonable, and there was nothing to be gained from trying to explain to him the truth of the matter, particularly when he wasn’t listening.

They spent the next half hour in silence. Jazz used the time to try to figure out his best strategy from this point onwards, and what he was going to say should he be questioned on Streetwise. Meanwhile, the Protectobot did his best to ignore him, and Jazz was quite content to let him be.

Then the door opened and three Constructicons entered the room.  Jazz immediately recognised them; Bonecrusher, Scrapper, and Scavenger – the one whose life he’d saved, and probably the reason that Streetwise was here in the first place.

The three of them came to stand near the energy bars, Scrapper in front, all with their blasters at the ready. Streetwise snarled at them. “Let me out of here, you slaggers, or you’re all going to regret the day you were ever created!” He said to them threateningly.

Scrapper ignored him, his gaze resting upon Jazz instead. The energy bars disappeared, and Scrapper motioned with his blaster for him to step forwards into the small room. “Come with us,” he said.

Jazz did as he was told. As Streetwise watched them, his fuel pump churned in agitation; all he could think about was what had happened to Groove. “You pieces of scrap!” He cried out, and tried to push his way past the three Decepticons in an effort to escape the holding cell.

But his attempt at breaking free was futile as he was pushed roughly back into the wall behind him, the energy bars reactivating before he had time to charge forwards again.

Streetwise watched Jazz being led out of the room by the Constructicons before the door closed again behind them, and then he was alone in the holding cell.


Chapter 11 by Crystine
Author's Notes:
Feel free to post any comments or questions about Transformers: Heroes at:

Transformers: Heroes

Chapter 11


Jazz was led down several levels below ground until the three Constructicons guiding him came to a stop inside a large room, where a small group of Decepticons were seated around a table. He immediately recognized the three other Constructicons, as well as their Communications expert, Soundwave and, directly across from the entrance where he stood, the leader of the Decepticons himself. Scrapper and his two companions took their seats, and then all optics were fixed on him.

He remained motionless as he surveyed the small gathering with a characteristic collectedness – a part of his easy-going yet capable nature that he was well-known for amongst the Autobots. The moment that he had been waiting for had finally arrived; his opportunity to learn more about the Decepticons’ true motives was here, and he had no intention of blowing it.

Megatron was the first to speak, breaking the silence that had settled inside the room. “My Constructicons told me what you did for them. I suppose you expect us to return the favour?”

Jazz realized how his request to be here must look to them now. “Return the favour?” He repeated quietly, “Oh, no… I didn’t come here to ask for any favours,” he replied, making sure that he came across as non-threatening as possible. There was a pause, and Jazz continued. “I, uh… want to apologise for Streetwise… I had no idea he was going to show up like that.”

Megatron made no comment regarding his apology; instead, he gestured with a hand towards an empty seat. Jazz went to take the seat offered, and then Megatron spoke again. “Did Prime send you?”

“He doesn’t know I’m here,” Jazz replied.

“Hm.” Megatron leaned back in his chair, observing the black and white Autobot with interest. “Then, why did you come here?”

Jazz cleared his vocal processor. “A couple of reasons. But, mostly, to try to learn the truth about everything that’s been going on.” He turned to look at the Constructicons, and his gaze rested upon Scavenger. “I was also kinda hoping that I might be able to ask Scavenger… about what happened the night Groove was attacked.”

No one moved or spoke a word, and then Megatron leaned forward slightly, his expression one of apprehension and doubt. “Scavenger was not responsible for that Autobot’s misfortune – there is nothing further to be said on the matter,” he said determinedly. “As I have already told Prime; there will be no exchange, and no further negotiations.”

Jazz had no idea why Megatron had mentioned Prime, nor what he had meant by exchange, but that wasn’t important right now. He did not want any misunderstanding to occur between them. “I didn’t come here to accuse Scavenger. In fact, I think he’s innocent,” he answered with his own determination, looking resolutely back at the Decepticon leader. His words seemed to have the desired effect on all in the room; sensing their surprise, he continued speaking albeit in a softer tone. “Look, all I’m asking is that you just hear me out.”

Megatron considered his request, and after a few moments made his decision. “Very well,” he said simply, and gestured for Jazz to continue.

The Autobot First Lieutenant gave him a small nod in gratitude, and then turned his attention back to Scavenger. “When it was just you and me in that holding cell, you told me you didn’t do it… and I believe you.” He paused, watching the Constructicon closely, who remained motionless. “But you also told me that you didn’t see what happened.” Jazz slowly shook his head. “I think you did. I think you know who attacked Groove that night.” Before anyone could jump to Scavenger’s defence, Jazz raised his hands momentarily in reassurance. “Now, I can understand why you didn’t want to say anything then and, like I said, I just want to know what happened… I’m not here to accuse you… because, if I’m right… well, it changes things.” He paused and glanced back at Megatron, whose expression was impassive. “According to the official report, Scavenger was the only one in the area that night, other than the Autobots who later found Groove, of course… and it got me thinking – if Scavenger’s innocent, like he says… and, let’s say that an Autobot wasn’t responsible, either… then that leaves only one other possibility.” Jazz looked back towards Scavenger, as the other Decepticons in the room waited expectantly to hear what he had to say. “Scavenger… I know you don’t have to tell me anything. But I’m asking for your help, and I need you to know that this isn’t just about Groove… this affects everyone… including the Decepticons.” For the first time since Jazz had arrived here, Scavenger met Jazz’s gaze, though his visor and face mask hid his expression. Then he slowly looked away again, casting his optics down at the table, saying nothing. “I also want you to know that everything I told you in that holding cell was true.” A long moment passed by in silence, as Jazz allowed the Constructicon time to think over his request. “That night… you witnessed a Neutral attack Groove, didn’t you?”

Scavenger lifted his head up and glanced across at Scrapper sitting beside him, who gave him a reassuring nod, before he focused his attention upon Jazz once more. Then, finally, he spoke. “No… not one.” His voice sounded surprisingly self-assured, yet also carried an undertone of vulnerability. “Three.”

The gentle background hum of life support systems and the soft, overhead security lighting was the first thing that Sideswipe was alerted to when he regained consciousness, and immediately he knew that he was in Iacon Central’s Repair Bay and that it was the recharge cycle. Then the memory of his confrontation with Sentinel hit him like a hydraulic hammer, and he groaned, inhaled deeply to try to clear his confusion. His main processor felt sluggish – as if he had spent the previous evening overcharging at the Bar Magna – but he knew that that was not the reason for his unplanned stay in the med bay. His memory of the event was clear enough; Sentinel had shot him in the back when he wasn’t looking. Bastard. He really needed to be more careful, to keep his temper under control if he wanted to avoid a similar incident in future.

He tried to sit up from his berth, and discovered that he was hooked up to some cables that led to a monitor off to his left. Wrapping his right hand around the cables, he gave them a quick, sharp yank. They disconnected easily. Sitting up, he looked around the med bay and noticed that, save for Groove in semi-stasis nearby, he was alone. Sliding off the berth, he reached out a hand to steady himself as his feet touched the floor. Then he took a few steps forward and almost collapsed, though his determination and strong will spurred him on as he internally reset his equilibrium circuit until he was steady on his feet again. He reached the med bay doors and looked out into the hallway, first in one direction and then the other. It was quiet, empty; he felt that there was something amiss, but then he pushed that thought out of his mind before starting down the hall towards the Control Center.

Glancing behind him, he was not paying attention to where he was going and collided into something as he turned the corner. It was a large mech. A mech much larger than him.

But before he had the chance to realize the mech’s identity, he found himself being shoved forcefully against the wall, a pair of strong hands pinning his shoulders. A menacing, twisted scowl appeared in front of him, the mech’s face only mere inches from his own.

It was Sentinel Prime. “Ah… Sideswipe.” The voice was cold, deliberate; a whisper that belied its venom. “Tsk, tsk, tsk... that little stunt you pulled… I really should have your head for that.” Sideswipe remained frozen to the spot, too afraid to utter a solitary word, yet unable to take his optics off the leader of the Neutrals. “Well, do you have anything to say for yourself? You sorry excuse for an Autobot!” Sentinel’s voice was harsh, grating, yet easily remained in total control. Sideswipe visibly stiffened as he attempted to back away from him, though the wall behind him prevented him from doing so. He was filled with loathing and bitterness for the mech, yet he remained silent, refused to speak. “Whilst it would be much easier and, dare I say, far more pleasurable for me to simply have you terminated,” Sentinel continued, “I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to give you a chance to redeem yourself.” He paused, watching for Sideswipe’s reaction.

The red and black Autobot stared back at him, this time in desperation and uncertainty, his processor racing through several possible implications of Sentinel’s words, but the more he did so the worse those possibilities became. He tried hard to focus on regulating his air intake in a vain attempt to mask his fear, but it felt as though Sentinel was seeing right into his very spark. “Why… should I do anything you say?” He barely managed to vocalize his words, yet he felt compelled to confront the truth of his situation. He was tired of watching and waiting, and of allowing those he cared for the most to continue to suffer the consequences of his actions – or non-actions, as the case may be.

Sentinel snarled at him, pushed him harder against the wall. “Why? Why? Because if you don’t do as I tell you, you will never see your brother again!” He hissed, embodying pure malice and a depraved satisfaction from knowing that he had the upper hand – that as long as he played this particular card he had Sideswipe completely under his control.

Sideswipe’s anger and resentment threatened to surface once more, and he tried to throw Sentinel off him, but the mech was too strong. He had to fight with every ounce of strength within him to speak in a steady voice. “So… you know where he is?”

Sentinel backed off a little bit. “…Yes.”

Sideswipe’s expression hardened and his entire frame began to shake from the emotion as he fought to stay in control. “He’s… still alive?” His voice was barely a whisper.

Sentinel seemed to gain a certain satisfaction from Sideswipe’s vulnerable condition, and he played it now for all it was worth. He released his hold on the mech, took a step back and then slowly smiled at him. “Oh, yes… your brother is still alive. Though, he won’t be for too much longer.” He watched Sideswipe’s reaction: the pain and sorrow of the thought of losing his brother a second time too much for the Autobot to bear. “Oh, but don’t worry. Do exactly as I tell you… and you will see him again, I promise you.”

The loathing and need for vengeance that Sideswipe had felt only moments ago towards Sentinel was quickly replaced by the fear for his brother’s life, but also the faint glimmer of hope that he may, after all these years, finally get the chance to reunite with his brother again. And that, against all the odds, was all that mattered to him now, and his head slowly nodded in acquiescence. His utter humiliation and sense of betrayal would not fully register upon his conscience until later. “What do I have to do?”

Scavenger’s admission had left Jazz near speechless. If Groove had been attacked by only one Neutral who had acted on his own, that would have been one thing – but to have three of them gang up on the victim with the deliberate purpose of removing several of his components – not only was that downright disconcerting, but it also hinted towards a far more widespread corruption within the Neutral ranks than he had previously considered possible. How far up the hierarchy did it actually go? Was Sentinel Prime, the leader of the Neutrals, even aware of the corruption… and, if so, possibly even be involved somehow? It also explained why the High Council, which had allied itself with the Neutrals, would have wanted Scavenger terminated as quickly as possible – before he would have the chance of exposing the truth about them.

It also pointed to the ever increasing possibility that many of the Decepticons could actually be innocent of the crimes that they had long been accused of. More than ever before, Jazz was able to fit more pieces of the puzzle together, to see with greater clarity the reality of what might really be going on – not only with what had happened to Groove, but with many preceding incidents as well – how it all tied in together, and how the possibility of a corrupt Alliance would change everything.

Jazz did not respond; he was still in a quiet state of shock and disbelief, though he did not need to because then Scavenger spoke again. “I saw them attack the Autobot… the things they did to him. It was…” He faltered, recalling the memory of that unpleasant night.

“Did Groove provoke them in any way?” Jazz asked, finding his voice again. He already knew the answer to his question, but wanted Scavenger to confirm it for him.

The Constructicon shook his head. “No. They approached him. Then they started mocking him.” All optics in the room now rested upon him, including Megatron’s.

Jazz nodded in acknowledgment. “What happened next?”

Scavenger looked down at his hands, turning them over repeatedly in a gesture that Jazz could only construe as nervousness. “I watched them drag him away. I… I wanted to know where they’d taken him, so… I followed their trail. That’s when I found Groove lying next to a tunnel entrance close by… but those Neutrals were long gone.”

Jazz paused in thought, watching Scavenger intently. “He was violently attacked. Had several parts removed, including a vital component. Unfortunately, he’s not going to live much longer without it. But what I still don’t get is why...”

“Yeah, that’s the first thing I–” Scavenger began and then stopped suddenly. His whole frame stiffened, as if he had just seen the ominous Spark of the Chaos Bringer first-hand. His hands slowly moved apart, and he shifted uneasily in his chair.

“What is it?” Jazz prompted, his voice calm and reassuring. “Scavenger, is there something else you saw?”

Slowly, Scavenger rose from his chair and, very carefully and deliberately, retrieved something from a compartment in his forearm. He glanced at his team mates, and then briefly at Megatron before he tentatively made his way around the table and towards Jazz. He stopped short a few feet behind the Autobot Head of Special Operations, who had to turn around in his chair to face him.

At first, Jazz had no idea what the Decepticon’s intentions were, nor what it was that he was holding in his hand. He waited for Scavenger to say or do something more, but when he didn’t Jazz rose from his seat to approach him. As he did so, Scavenger slowly opened his hand to reveal a small object, extending his arm out towards him.

It was at that moment that Jazz realized what he was holding. He reached out gently to pick up the object, and then carefully held it up to examine it. “Groove’s missing systems link. I don’t believe it.” Before he had time to think through the possible implications of this unexpected turn of events, Scavenger spoke again, dropping his arm back down to rest by his side.

“I picked it up on the pavement where Groove was attacked.” He paused, watching Jazz’s reaction. He wasn’t sure how the Autobot would take this new information. “But, then… I forgot all about it.”

Jazz looked away from the component and back towards Scavenger, trying to make sense of what the Constructicon had just told him. “I’ve got to get this back to Iacon as soon as possible,” he said, his voice unmistakeably urgent, almost desperate. His thoughts were now racing, as he realized that Groove’s only chance for survival henceforth rested upon his actions alone. He could take the component back himself, though he’d rather avoid returning to a place where he’d no longer be welcome – not when there was another, better way. Streetwise.

He turned towards Megatron, who had been watching the entire exchange with reserved interest. “I know you don’t owe me anything… and I wouldn’t be asking you if it wasn’t to save Groove’s life. But, please… let Streetwise go free,” Jazz explained. When Megatron did not respond straight away, he became increasingly distressed. “You’ve got to believe me. Please, I’ll do anything you want – just don’t let Groove die, please–”

Megatron had heard enough. He stood up and held up a hand as an indication for Jazz to stop. “You do not need to plead for the Autobot’s life. You have already proven your word, and your worth.” He shook his head in a show of perplexity. “You are an Autobot, yet you do not behave like the others. If it weren’t for your actions, even at the risk to your own life, Scavenger would have been terminated. For that, we are in your debt.” Then he turned to the Constructicon leader. “Scrapper, take the component to the prisoner and then release him.” Scrapper nodded in acknowledgment, and Megatron turned back to face Jazz. “You are free to go as well,” he said finally, and started to leave the room, but Jazz stopped him.

“Wait–” The Decepticon leader halted, waiting for Jazz to continue. “I know how this is going to sound, but… I can’t go back to Iacon – at least… not until Prime has learned the truth.” He paused, inhaled slowly. “What I’m trying to say is…” He faltered, finding it hard to find the right words. But, then, Scrapper stood up from his chair and walked around the table to stand by his side.

“Megatron… I think what Jazz here is trying to say is that he’d like to stay with us, and help expose the Alliance… not just for the Autobots’ sake, but for ours as well.” Jazz looked at the Constructicon leader in quiet astonishment and thankfulness. Yes, that was exactly what he wanted. “That is, if you’ll allow him,” Scrapper added.

Megatron considered his words for a long moment. “The Alliance… yes. What do you know about it?” He asked Jazz.

“Not a great deal, other than the fact that a lot of things about it don’t make sense,” Jazz replied, as he recalled to memory everything that he had seen and heard since his mission to XR-5’s Mining Station. “Unless, of course, it isn’t exactly the friendly, benign outfit most bots seem to think it is.”

Megatron took a step closer towards him, holding his gaze steady. “Tell me, what is your area of specialty?”

Jazz responded in a casual manner. “Special operations, mainly – though, I’m flexible.”

“Hm. I see.” The silver mech paused, evaluating him. “But you are also one of Prime’s confidants, are you not?”

“You could say that,” he replied, unperturbed by the Decepticon leader’s line of questioning. “Though, we haven’t exactly been seeing things optic to optic lately.”

Megatron walked over to stand behind Soundwave, as he pondered his next question. “Yet you are willing to turn your back on your friends to help us?”

Jazz looked down at the floor introspectively. When he gave his reply, he spoke softly, yet deliberately. “The way I figure, they turned their backs on me.”

The Military Commander looked towards his Communications officer. “Soundwave?” He asked, and Jazz picked up a certain amount of weariness in his voice; it was barely detectable, but it was there.

“He is telling the truth,” was all the mysterious, blue and white Decepticon offered his leader, but it seemed to suffice.

“Very well,” Megatron replied, before steering the conversation back to Scrapper. “It is an unusual request… and one that I would not normally consider. However, if you trust him…” He said to the Constructicon, “Then you shall take responsibility for this Autobot.” He paused, walked towards the exit. “I shall return soon. In the meantime… Jazz is welcome to stay,” he said, and then disappeared out of the room without any further instructions.

Jazz watched him leave, and then turned to Scrapper. “Thank you,” he said.

The Constructicon gave him a small shrug. “Eh, it’s the least we can do. Besides, the more help we can get against the Alliance, the better. Come on, let’s get that component to Streetwise,” he said, indicating the primary systems link still in Jazz’s hand. Then he led the way out of the room and back up to the holding cell.

* * *

“I’ll wait here,” Scrapper informed Jazz as the two of them arrived just outside the door to the small room that held Streetwise.

Jazz nodded, and then opened the door before stepping inside. He noticed Streetwise sitting on the floor of the cell, cross legged, and facing the opposite wall; his back turned to him. Jazz walked up quietly to stand before the energy bars, watching to see whether Streetwise was alerted to his presence, but the Protectobot did not move from his spot. “Street?” No response. “Street… I want you to know that I’m only trying to help. It ain’t fair, what’s happened…”

Streetwise suddenly stood up, turned to face him. “Fair? What do you know about fair, Jazz?”

“Street, please just hear me out, okay?”

“No – I think you should hear me out!” Streetwise said, pointing, his anger once again getting the better of him, so Jazz decided to just let him speak. “Thanks to these Decepticons, Groove’s as good as dead. But, then, what did you do? You helped them get away with it! Then, if that weren’t enough, you come here, only Primus knows why, and you act like you’re one of them!” He shook his head in disappointment, his hands clenched into tight fists. “I mean, I don’t get it. What’s gotten into you, Jazz?”

Jazz watched him pace the small space of his holding cell, and realized that there was nothing he could really say in his defence that would help Streetwise see things from his perspective, so he kept his reply short and succinct. “I understand how you feel,” he said, though he couldn’t hide the defeat that he felt, and his own sense of disappointment.

Streetwise laughed derisively. “No, Jazz. You don’t. Because if you did, you’d want nothing to do with these murderous scum-bags.” Jazz said nothing in response, but it was the words that Streetwise uttered next that would torment him for a long time to come.

“I’ll promise you this right now, Jazz – if you ever show your face in Iacon again, I’m going to make sure that you get exactly what you deserve. I’m going to make sure that you and all your Decepticon buddies suffer in exactly the same way Groove was made to suffer… even if I have to do it myself.” His gaze locked onto Jazz’s, and the Autobot Special Operative saw an unforgiving coldness in the Protectobot’s optics that struck a new kind of dread deep within his spark, one that he’d never known before. “That is, if I ever get out of here alive,” Streetwise finished, a twisted scowl taking over his expression.

Jazz felt as if the stark, metallic-grey room was closing in on him and an irrational, almost desperate need to get out of there as fast as he could suddenly came over him. He had to fight with all his strength just to remain where he was. He nodded sorrowfully, reached out a hand through a gap in the energy bars and then opened it for Streetwise. Groove’s primary systems link rested in his palm. “Here. Take this with you back to Iacon.”

Streetwise carefully picked up the small object as he realized with sudden shock what it actually was. The scowl was slowly replaced by dazed confusion and surprise, but Jazz had already turned to walk away.

As he pressed a button on the door panel and waited for the door to slide open, all he could think about was just how unwelcome he truly would be, now, amongst his own kind, should he return to Iacon. He exited the room without looking back or saying another word to Streetwise as the door closed quietly behind him.

Outside in the hall, Scrapper was patiently waiting for him just as he had promised. Jazz paused, rested his head against the wall and looked up at the ceiling as he tried to regain his composure. Then he reactivated his visor, and the disappointment and despair evident in his optics were no longer observable to another living spark.


He turned his head to acknowledge the Constructicon.

“Everything okay?”

Jazz nodded, though the expression on his face belied his true feelings. “Yeah. Everything’s just fine,” he said, and then followed Scrapper as they both began to make their way back to the other Decepticons. 

The Conference Room at Iacon’s Command Center was beginning to fill with Autobots. There were mixed sentiments among them, and no doubt there were many questions they wanted answered, though not one of them was prepared to speak a single word until Optimus Prime commenced the scheduled meeting. Immediately to Prime’s right sat Sentinel, who had been invited to participate and contribute to discussions, and to Prime’s left was Prowl, holding a data pad and speaking over his com link to Red Alert, requesting the mech’s immediate attendance.

Optimus did not wait for the Acting Chief Medical Officer to arrive. “Before we begin with the reports, I’d like you all to welcome Sentinel to Iacon, if you have not already done so. He has agreed to stay for as long as necessary, and has kindly offered his assistance.” He looked around the room at the seated Autobots while Sentinel sat motionless, his hands clasped together in front of him. No one spoke a word, so he continued. “Prowl?”

“Sir, I’m just waiting on Red Alert to arrive,” the Chief of Security replied. “He’s on his way.”

Optimus nodded, and the room fell silent. There was an air of uncomfortableness that seemed to grow stronger with each passing second, until Ironhide broke the silence. “Ah, Prime? We heard about Sideswipe… is he going to be alright?”

Before Optimus could reply, Prowl intervened on his behalf. “Sideswipe is in good hands. Red Alert will provide us with a full report as soon as he arrives. Please, be patient.”

Ironhide, frustrated with Prowl’s stoic response, let out a sigh of frustration but gave him no reply, instead uttered something under his breath that no one was able to catch, other than Trailbreaker who was seated beside him.

Then, Sentinel cleared his vocal processor. “Optimus, if I may?” He asked, as graciously as he possibly could. Optimus nodded in the affirmative, and he smiled, turned to address the gathered Autobots. “I must extend my sincerest apologies to you all for my recent actions. Sideswipe gave me no other choice but to use force in order to defend myself. I know that I speak for everyone here when I say that we are all deeply concerned for his… emotional and mental well-being. It is evident that he is a deeply disturbed and confused individual… and, now more than ever, he needs all our help and support. I would also like to reassure you all that I will not be laying any charges against him. My only wish for him is that he makes a complete recovery.” There was murmuring around the table as the gathered Autobots offered him their understanding and agreement.

The door to the conference room slid open, and Red Alert stepped inside. He glanced quickly around the room, and then took an empty seat beside Prowl. “Sorry I’m late.” Prowl ignored his apology, gave him an expectant look. “Ah, right. My report.” Red wasted no time, looked to Optimus as he began. “Sideswipe is in a stable condition – sorry, was. He sustained only minor damage.”

“Was?” Prime repeated with slight concern in his voice.

Red Alert brushed it aside, nodded. “He must have discharged himself sometime during the recharge cycle. I haven’t seen him since,” he explained, none too pleased with the rebellious patient, but the former Autobot warrior’s behaviour was all too familiar.

“I see,” Optimus said simply. “What about Groove?”

Red shook his head in disappointment. “No change.”

The Autobot Commander nodded, and then Prowl took over. “Do you have the results for the full systems check-ups I authorised?” He asked Red Alert. Red looked back at him in confusion, so Prowl clarified for him. “The priority list of Autobots stationed at Antihex… I sent them to the Maintenance and Repair Bay for a complete systems check… do you have the results?”

All optics in the room looked expectantly at Red Alert, who touched his forehead with the tips of his fingers in an effort to recollect the entire list of patients who had reported in to the Repair Bay during the last few mega cycles for a full systems check. To his dismay, he could not recall a single one. “Sorry, Prowl. I haven’t had any…” He trailed off, and then clicked his fingers in sudden realization. “Oh! Right, of course...” He nodded in acknowledgment, and then shook his head. “They never showed up.”

Prowl straightened in his seat, placed his data pad down on the table. “I beg your pardon?”

“They never showed up for their appointments. Not a single one.” Red Alert shrugged; he was at a loss to explain it any further.

“Are you sure?” Prowl queried uncertainly.

“Yes, sir. Check the logs if you like.”

Prowl considered the situation, and then made his decision. “That won’t be necessary.” He turned to Prime. “Sir, permission to apprehend and detain the following list of Autobots for their failure to obey direct orders.” Prowl pushed the data pad across the table for Optimus’ perusal. The Autobot leader picked up the pad and scanned through the list, as Prowl explained the situation further. “They may have been compromised. If so, they pose an immediate threat to our security.”

“Understood.” Optimus handed him back the data pad. “Do what you must–”

He was cut off by Sentinel, who leaned across to reach for the data pad. “May I see that list?” Optimus nodded his approval, and Prowl passed it to him. Then, after a brief glance through the list, Sentinel handed the pad back to Prowl. “These Autobots are all stationed at the Autobot-Neutral Command Post in Antihex. My own teams work with them often. If you would allow me, I can have them apprehended and brought in. It will be no problem.”

Optimus considered his mentor’s request, and found no reason to refuse him. “Very well.”

Sentinel nodded, pleased, and then smiled.

Soon after the meeting had ended, Optimus retreated to his quarters in the hopes of spending some time alone. As the Commander of the Autobot army and co-leader of the Autobot-Neutral Alliance, there was a lot that he needed to ponder, many decisions that he still needed to make. He did not particularly favour the heavy responsibilities of leadership, to be sure; nevertheless, he accepted them without reservation or complaint.

If truth be told, he was worried about Elita and, though he’d never admit it to her directly, missed her company tremendously. The two of them were alike in so many ways, yet so different; he trusted her judgment and respected her opinion, probably more than any other Autobot’s, and he felt ashamed of the way he had treated her recently. But it was too late to tell her that now; all he could do was wait, and hope that Sentinel made good on his promise to bring her safely back to Cybertron.

Then there was Jazz. Perhaps he’d made a mistake, asking his First Lieutenant to accept such a dangerous mission into Decepticon territory. Though, Jazz’s recent words still troubled him.

What if I were to tell you that Scavenger wasn’t the one who attacked Groove?

He had refused to listen, had tried to convince his friend and confidant of the Decepticon’s guilt. Yet he knew Jazz better than that, should have known that his First Lieutenant would never have said such a thing without good reason.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door chime, and he hesitated. He considered denying the visitor, ordering them to leave him alone, but then the chime activated a second time, and again a third, and so he relented and opened the door to his private quarters.

He did not expect Ratchet to charge in, without even offering him words of greeting. “Prime, we need to talk,” he immediately said, and his anger, although restrained, was undeniable.

“Ratchet…” Optimus acknowledged. “What about?”

The Chief Medical Officer roughly pushed a data pad across his desk. “Take a look at this.”

Optimus looked down at the pad on his desk. Whatever this was about, surely it could wait until tomorrow. “What is it?”

“Just read it!” Ratchet insisted, all notion of rank seemingly put aside.

The Autobot leader sighed, picked up the pad and scanned the list of files before looking back up at Ratchet in puzzlement. “These are Wheeljack’s laboratory notes…”

Original laboratory notes,” Ratchet corrected him, and then gave him an expectant look. “There’s an entry in there that appears to have been later deleted. Read it,” Ratchet pressed.

Optimus was in no mood to contend with the Autobot Chief Medic. He began to read through the contents of the first file until, after a few minutes, looked back up at Ratchet in puzzlement.

“If that Decepticon was responsible for coming up with the cure to that virus… then, why would he have also been the one to create the virus in the first place? It just doesn’t make sense.” Ratchet placed both hands on the desk to steady himself, his head down.

But Optimus had no immediate answers for him. He placed the pad back down on the desk and stood up, paced towards the live visual display of Cybertronian space on the wall. The room was quiet as he considered the seriousness, and the consequences, of Ratchet’s discovery, until finally he spoke. “It… certainly raises more questions than we have answers to.”

Ratchet looked back up to face his Commander. “I just don’t believe it. But it’s right there in Wheeljack’s notes. If it’s true... and he is innocent… Damn it, Optimus, after all this time…” He sighed in resignation. “Just what in the Pit is going on?”

“I don’t know, Ratchet… but, it is evident that someone didn’t want us to know the truth.” Optimus turned to face his Chief Medic. “It would also explain why Wheeljack might have gone missing,” he added.

Ratchet nodded, and then slowly paced the room in deep thought until, after a long while, he spoke his mind. “I think we need to find him. If he’s still alive somewhere out there… he might be able to shed some light on all of this...” He turned back to Optimus, a weak glimmer of hope in his optics. “And, maybe – he might even be able to tell us what happened to Wheeljack.”

“Elita! Elita… wait.” The femme Commander’s second-in-charge called out as she struggled to keep up through the crowded city pavement. Grabbing hold of her arm, she forced her best friend to acknowledge her. “Elita, would you at least tell us where we’re going?”

The pink Autobot slowed to a stop, and then pointed up towards large, lit-up letters above the entrance to a richly adorned establishment. “There,” she said simply.

Firestar and Moonracer stopped short right behind them, and they both looked up in puzzlement as they realized what their team leader had in mind.

“You can’t be serious…” Firestar vocalized her thoughts out loud, as Moonracer’s face lit up in surprise, her optics widening in anticipation.

Elita turned to face them. “Well, why not? Unless any of you have a better idea,” she said, looking at each of them expectantly in turn. “Didn’t think so. Come on.” She waved at them to follow her inside, but Chromia stopped her.

“Wait. ‘The Gambler’s Den’?” She read the words on the building aloud, incredulous.  “What exactly are we supposed to do here?”

“Win us some credits,” Elita offered matter-of-factly. “What else?”

“But, Elita…” The blue femme paused, mentally gathered together all the many reasons why this was a really bad idea. “We don’t have any credits to gamble away! And, besides… none of us here are any good at it–”

“Ooh, let me try! Please?” Moonracer quickly cut in, her hands clasped together in prayer.

“’Racer – no!” Chromia rebuked.

“Oh, please! Elita, let me try, please? I can do it!” The green femme continued, beseeching their team leader.

When Elita said nothing to dissuade her, Chromia shook her head as she looked down at the pavement, her hands on her hips. “I can’t believe this…” She muttered in a low voice.

“Moonracer’s always said how she’s dreamed of experiencing the Big City,” Elita explained. “Well, since we’re here, why not let her have her fun?”

The green femme was ecstatic at the opportunity that had just been offered to her, and she jumped up and down in glee. “Yesss! Oh, thank you, Elita! Thank you!”

The femme Commander retrieved a handful of credits, and handed them to Moonracer, who took them appreciatively. “Here. That’s all we have. It’s not much, but it’s something.” Then she started towards the grand entrance of the luxurious gambling hall. “Come on.”

The three femmes followed their Commander into the brightly-lit foyer, where it opened up into several other rooms. Moonracer looked around until she finally settled upon the main gaming room, and Elita indicated for her to go inside.

Several tables and gambling machines occupied every available space of the large hall, and to the left was a bar and lounge. The three femmes watched Moonracer as she disappeared amongst the throng of patrons, her face beaming with excitement, and then they took some empty seats in the lounge area.

“So… how many credits did you give her, exactly?” Firestar queried, curious.

Elita shrugged. “Five.”

Chromia simply shook her head in disbelief, while the red femme snorted in response. “Well, I hope you have a backup plan,” she said.

“That’s all I know. One cycle I’m on Cybertron, and then the next…” Comet trailed off, shrugged dismissively. The discarded half-drum that he had been using to lean his head against earlier had now become his makeshift seat. Sunstreaker sat opposite him on the floor, watching him play idly with a non-functioning automatic release switch.

“You mean you don’t know why you were sent here?” The yellow Autobot asked. They had spent the last half hour sharing stories of earlier days on Cybertron, though the conversation had remained more or less casual. While Sunstreaker had tried hard to get Comet to open up and share more of his personal story, he could not get him to do so, nor could he deny that this frustrated him to no end, though he had no idea why he should feel this way about a Decepticon who he’d only recently met. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Comet had saved his life. Or, perhaps, there was something more to the seeker than met the optic.

“No.” They sat together in silence for several moments, the constant churn of the recycling machinery in the background the only sound to keep them company. He was about to say something further, when Comet spoke again – only this time, his voice took on a bitterness that Sunstreaker had not heard from him before. “I can’t go back. They abandoned me…” The words were barely audible, and he had to adjust his audio processor to make sense of them.

They?” Sunstreaker asked, but Comet did not expand upon it further. His face was turned away, his expression hidden from view. “Comet?” He prompted softly, not wanting to upset him more than he already was.

When Comet turned to face him, his intense gaze suddenly made him feel uneasy. “They abandoned me! Banished me here. What other possible explanation could there be?” He spoke with such anger and resentment that it caught Sunstreaker off-guard.

“You… you think your own kind abandoned you?” Sunstreaker said incredulously. He shook his head in disbelief. “No – why would they?”

I don’t know!” Comet could no longer hide his pain and he looked away again; he fought to keep his voice from breaking but was fast losing the battle. “I… I don’t know.” Then he stopped talking, sat in silence for a long while.

“Comet… maybe you’re wrong. Maybe they didn’t abandon you at all,” Sunstreaker offered finally. He spoke softly, comfortingly. “I… I know what it’s like to leave behind those you care about, and believe me…” It was his turn now to share his own feelings of regret that he had not been able to shake since he’d left Cybertron more than a vorn ago. “They probably had no choice.” Comet remained motionless, listening yet unwilling to share the circumstances of his exile any further, so Sunstreaker said nothing more on the subject.

It was just as well, because at that same moment the doors to the facility suddenly opened. Comet jumped into action, all discussion of the past along with the switch that he had been idly holding now completely forgotten. He ducked down behind a nearby scrap pile, and indicated for Sunstreaker to do the same. “Get down!” He ordered, motioning with his hand, and Sunstreaker quickly moved behind another scrap pile, using it as a cover.

Several moments went by, and Sunstreaker felt as though time had slowed. He kept his gaze fixed upon Comet, who was directly in his line of sight, and watched as the seeker kept a close optic on the incomer, tracking him, his blaster at the ready. It was too risky for him to do the same, since his scrap pile was not as concealed as Comet’s.

But Sunstreaker did not need optics to hear the deliberate footfalls, sense the ominous presence that was moving purposefully through the facility towards them. The incomer made very few sounds as he stepped forward, and then let out a low grunt. Before Sunstreaker knew what was happening, Comet had moved out from behind his scrap pile and was crouching down right beside him. “I’m going to try to direct him towards the explosive,” he explained quickly, his voice just below a whisper. “Wish me luck,” he added, before leaping out from behind the scrap pile.

Comet stopped several mechano-meters ahead of the Pretender, his arm-mounted weapon raised threateningly. “Don’t come any closer!”

The robot warrior laughed mockingly. His sword, now drawn, shimmered with pink energy along its length. “Ah… just the stupid fool I was looking for,” he replied menacingly, his voice a low rumble.

It was then that Sunstreaker realized, with mixed feelings of trepidation and excitation, the identity of the incomer. “Bludgeon…” He whispered to himself, as he tried to settle his frantic thoughts.

“Why don’t you just go back to the slag heap you came from?” Comet insulted the samurai warrior, and hoped that the explosive he had anchored to the wall wouldn’t be spotted. “You and your Supreme Lord spark-mate, you worthless pieces of scrap!” He continued, inching a few steps closer towards the wall.

Bludgeon’s mocking laughter faded and was replaced by a snarl. “I’m going to enjoy crushing your very spark with my bare hands!” He threatened, and then lunged forward with an angry bellow, his sword held high in front of him.

Sunstreaker looked up from behind his cover just in time to see Bludgeon step close enough to trigger Comet’s makeshift bomb. The surge of the power pack made a high pitched noise before it overloaded, and then the wall exploded in a magnificent show of sparks and plasma energy. Bludgeon did not know what had hit him; he was instantly knocked offline. The impact of the explosion caused him to hit the ground violently, his body bouncing off a discarded manifold and then rolling over a few times before coming to rest on his back. His left arm had been blown cleanly from his body, and his left optic was shattered. His Pretender shell had sustained a large tear down the middle, from which mech fluid was already leaking.

The yellow Autobot warrior slowly straightened; his optics fixated upon Bludgeon, he began to make his way towards the offlined assassin while Comet, who had safely avoided the blast, waited several seconds before he went to stand behind Sunstreaker.

“Well… that worked better than I thought,” the seeker said smugly, more than a little satisfied.

Sunstreaker turned to look at him in astonishment. Still in shock after having witnessed his long time adversary so easily defeated, a nod in agreement was all he could manage.

Almost half hour had passed since Moonracer had disappeared to try her luck at the gaming tables, and Chromia was beginning to worry. “Where in the Pits is she? Surely she doesn’t still have those five credits you gave her?”

“I’m going to go look for her. Wait here.” Elita started to get up, but was stopped by Firestar pointing with a finger in the direction of the tables.

“Speaking of our little femme, here she comes now.”

They watched as Moonracer bounded up to them, ignoring their concerned looks. She beamed at them, held out a credit token in her hand.

“Well?” Chromia asked, curious.

Moonracer giggled. “Well… here, take it!” She said, jumping up and down in a celebratory dance.

Elita grabbed the token from her and had to do a double take. “’Racer…” She looked up at the green femme in astonishment. “How did you…?”

Moonracer grinned proudly. “Piece of oil cake!” She said.

“Let me see that,” Firestar cut in, pulling the token from Elita’s hand. “No way...

She showed it to Chromia, who shook her head to make sure her optical sensors were functioning properly. “Five hundred credits? ‘Racer… how’d you do it?”

“It was easy,” Moonracer answered. “Do you want to try? I can show you–”

“No,” Chromia quickly responded, raising a hand to back her off. “Thank you, Moon, but I think we’ll leave all the gambling in your capable hands.”

“Oh, okay. Well, if you’re sure...” Then she looked back at Elita, her optics widening in thought. “Oh, can I go again… please, Elita?”

“Oh, no. Uh-uh,” the femme Commander replied sternly. Moonracer’s face fell, her shoulders slumping slightly, and Elita sighed, tried to explain her reasoning. “’Racer, you’ve done really well… I mean, these credits will certainly come in handy. But, you wouldn’t want to push your luck.”

“Aw.” She took a seat beside Firestar, hands in her laps. “Okay.”

Elita sighed again, turning the token over in her fingers. “But… if I were to let you go again…” She said after several moments.

Moonracer’s face lit up like a homing beacon. “You mean it?!”

Elita gave her a resigned look, handed her back the token. “Here, take fifty, but hold onto the rest.”

“Oh, thank you, ‘Lita! You won’t regret it, I promise,” Moonracer answered, and then jumped up from her seat and rushed back into the crowd.

“Think she’s cheating?” Firestar asked the other two femmes in a casual manner.

“Hm. Maybe,” Elita replied.

Chromia considered the possibility before shaking her head dismissively. “Nah…” Then she stood up, motioned for the other two to do the same. “Come on; let’s go watch her – just in case.” Shrugging, Elita and Firestar rose from their seats and followed her into the multitude of enthralled gamers.

Watching the three femmes from the bar nearby, the spotter downed the rest of his liquid fuel before casually, though guardedly, activated his transceiver and spoke into it. “Yeah. It’s Doubledealer. Yeah… thought he might be very interested to know who’s at The Den… Elita Oneno, I don’t know.” He began to move slowly through the seated patrons in between the gaming tables, making sure he kept a safe distance behind the Autobot femmes. “Yeah. Got it. Will let you know.” Then he cut the transmission and, after a brief pause, walked up to the Roulette table to stand behind Moonracer.

Several long moments passed before Sunstreaker had recovered sufficiently to be able to speak again. “Is he dead?”

Comet shrugged, knelt down to examine the body. “Unfortunately, no. Just offline.” He stood up again, kicked Bludgeon in his side to show his disgust. “Come on, let’s get out of here,” he said, and started towards the open doors of the facility, but was stopped by Sunstreaker.

“Wait…” Comet glanced back around to witness the Autobot simply standing there, staring down at the offlined mech.

Sunstreaker carefully, cautiously, knelt down, extended a hand out to hover tentatively over the skeletal-looking face before withdrawing it again in a sudden change of mind. He seemed mesmerized by the Pretender, almost as if he were overcome with morbid fascination. Then he stood up again, took a few steps back, though his optics were still fixated upon their defeated foe. Comet went to stand quietly beside him, unsure of what was going on with the Autobot and feeling altogether uncertain about how to handle the situation. He crossed his arms in front of him, looked back down at Bludgeon’s motionless body. “He’s going to be really mad when he wakes up, you know,” he offered, trying to make light of the situation. “We should go now while we still have the advantage.” Still no reaction from the Autobot. “Or… we could stay here, wait for his goons to come by just so we can kick some more aft. Hey, I’m easy,” he said, shrugging.

That seemed to break Sunstreaker’s silent reverie, and he cracked an apologetic smile at the seeker. “Sorry. It’s just that… I’ve been trying to track this guy down ever since I followed him here to Alternity City.” He paused, reflecting upon the few times he had come close to overpowering the Pretender, only to have his attempts thwarted by the powerful warrior. “And now…” He trailed off, gesturing with his hand at the fallen mech.

Curiosity suddenly got the better of Comet. “Why on Cybertron would an Autobot like you waste his time with a slag sucker like him?”

Sunstreaker sighed regretfully. “Long story… but, remember how I said that I know what it’s like to leave behind those you care about? Well, he’s the reason I left Cybertron behind,” he said, nodding towards Bludgeon. “Only I did it against direct orders. I knew that Bludgeon was involved with that virus somehow because I had caught him trying to gain access to one of our labs… so I confronted him and he told me that if I didn’t keep quiet I’d end up like Wheeljack, our resident scientist. I tried to warn the Alliance, but was told to stay out of it. Sentinel had insisted that he would take care of Bludgeon himself… but then, soon after, I overheard them both talking in private, and that’s when I knew that something wasn’t right.”

Comet had remained perfectly still, listening intently until Sunstreaker had finished speaking. “So, you decided to follow Bludgeon to Alternity City by yourself,” he said, finishing the story for him. “…against your brother’s wishes.”

Sunstreaker looked at him in astonishment. “Yes. But… how did you know about my brother?”

The seeker shrugged. “It makes sense, from what you’ve already told me.”

“Oh.” Sunstreaker turned away from him, walked a few paces as he sought to gather his thoughts. “I should never have left the way I did.”

“Well, does he know how you feel?” Comet asked him in his decidedly straightforward manner.

“I tried getting a message to him a few times… but I had no way of knowing if he ever received them.” Sunstreaker walked back to stand beside the seeker. “Then… after a while, I just stopped trying.”

Several moments of silence passed between them, and then Comet returned his attention back to the situation at hand. “So… what do you want to do with him?” He said with contempt, motioning with his thumb at the still offlined Bludgeon.

“I’m… not sure.” Sunstreaker looked uncertainly down at the warrior. If they simply left him here, they could be long gone by the time he awoke. Alternatively, he could try to interrogate him; try to find out who was responsible for those deactivated Autobots he’d found at that relay station, along with the extent of Sentinel’s involvement. “I mean, he must know something about Hitec’s operations…”

But there was a third option that he had not considered – at least, not until Comet brought it up. “Yes… we could question him, find out what he knows,” Comet affirmed, nodding, “or… we could just kill him.”

Sunstreaker stood motionless as he considered the consequences of that particular course of action. He had never killed anyone before in a premeditative manner, and the very notion of it made him feel uneasy. “You mean… just like that?” He said finally.

Comet noticed his discomfort, though he made no attempt to alleviate it. Instead, he reached down to pick up Bludgeon’s sword, which lay only a few feet from the warrior’s inert body. Then he held it up, examining its lethal blade, before offering it to Sunstreaker. “Here, finish him off with this.”

The yellow Autobot fought to overcome the quandary of his conscience, and reached out to grasp the sword by its hilt. Then he carefully positioned its tip so that it was pointing directly at Bludgeon’s spark chamber. The weapon felt powerful in his hands, and he experienced a macabre sense of satisfaction with the knowledge that his enemy would soon be slaughtered by his own sword.

But if he killed Bludgeon in cold blood, he knew that there would be no going back.

He raised the weapon above his head, ready to plunge the blade deep into the mech’s heart, but then, gradually, he lowered it again, dropped his arm down to his side, sword still in hand. “I can’t…” He said.

Unfazed by the Autobot’s momentary show of weakness, Comet grabbed the sword from him and, before Sunstreaker could make sense of what was happening, the seeker had plunged the sword’s tip straight into the Pretender’s spark chamber with a mighty thrust, and in less time than the flicker of an optic, the deed was done.

Sunstreaker watched in stunned silence as Bludgeon’s body twisted and writhed as surges of electrical energy pulsated through it, the very life force irreversibly draining away, the spark extinguishing in a sudden flare of blue light. Then the body became still once again, its remaining optic now only a pool of empty blackness, and it was over. Bludgeon was dead.

Sunstreaker looked towards Comet and, for the first time, understood exactly what this Decepticon was capable of.

Astrotrain led the way through one of Binaltech’s many exchange hubs, accompanied by Astro and Rook. His orders had been to rendezvous with several Decepticon jets, but the recent close encounter with Jhiaxus had prevented him from doing so until now. “They’re going to have my aft,” he said, as he stopped and looked around for any sign of them.

“Over there,” Astro said casually, as he scanned the area.

Astrotrain turned to see where he was pointing, and then nodded. “Ah, that’s them.” He recognized the familiar forms of the Decepticon seekers; four of them were seated on a bench, while the fifth stood a few paces away from the others, peering out into the crowd. As he and his two companions started towards the group, he called out to them once they were clearly within audio range. “Hey, you five seem kind of lost. Need any help?”

Dirge, the blue and black team leader, spun around as his four team mates got up from their seats at the sound of Astrotrain’s voice.

“There you are, you slagger,” Dirge grumbled in greeting, walking over to him. “Where the Pits have you been?”

“It’s nice to see you, too,” Astrotrain replied glibly, ignoring Dirge’s obvious discontent. “Sorry I’m late; we got a little side-tracked.”

Dirge sized him up, his expression grim. He nodded towards the smaller green mech beside him. “What the hell is Rook doing with you?” He asked, doubtful, before turning to observe the unfamiliar Cybertronian accompanying them. “And who’s he?”

Before Astrotrain could reply, Astro answered for him. “You can call me Astro.”

There were blank expressions from the five jets. “Astro, huh? Never heard of you,” Dirge said.

Astro ignored him, instead turned to Astrotrain. “You remember that Decepticon transmission you were tracking earlier?”

Astrotrain nodded. “Sure.”

“Good. You’re going to help us find the one who sent it,” Astro asserted. “And then you’re going to take us all home,” he added, after a pause.

The triple changer took a few moments to consider Astro’s instructions before nodding in acquiescence. “Sure thing.” He seemed unperturbed by Astro’s clear exertion of authority; Dirge, however, would not accept it so readily.

“Hey, we’ve already got our orders. Astrotrain’s returning to Cybertron with us,” Dirge said, gesturing towards Astrotrain and his own team of seekers.

But Astro did not appear intimidated by him at all. “Not any more; there’s been a slight change of plans.”

Ramjet, the grey and white jet standing beside his team leader, cut in; he was just as confounded, if not bothered, by Astro’s apparent lack of respect for them as Dirge was. “Now, you look here – I don’t know who the hell you think you are, Astro, but no one tells us what to do except for Megatron,” he said, his voice angry, as Thrust, Bitstream and Acid Storm stood resolutely by in silent support.

“Then… I suggest, if you don’t want to disobey Megatron’s direct orders, that you do exactly as I tell you,” Astro replied, without hesitation.

Dirge was about to reprove him for his self-proclaimed position of authority, when he stopped short. “Wait a nano-second…” He stepped closer towards the strange mech, scrutinizing him. “You’re…” Then he pulled away in suspicion. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

Astro gave him an unreadable expression. “That’s not important right now. What is important is that we find Comet before they do.” The Decepticons gathered all listened intently to what he had to say, including Rook; it was the first time he had heard Astro mention the missing mech’s name.

Dirge tilted his head to the side, recalling his recent encounter with Thunderblast. “Did you just say Comet?”

Astro nodded. “Was he here?”

“I have no idea, but…” Dirge started. “Some femme was telling us about a Comet just a short while ago.”

“A femme, huh?” Astrotrain queried, his curiosity piqued. “Cybertronian?”

 “Yeah. Real piece of work, too,” Thrust commented.

Rook glanced up at Astro, and their thoughts were the same. “Thunderblast,” they said in unison.

“Yeah, that was her,” Dirge confirmed. “You two know her?”

“Not in a way she’d like, I’m sure,” Astro replied. “What did she say, exactly?”

Dirge hesitated as he recalled the details of his conversation with the femme. “Not much. She said she’d spoken to this Comet recently… then mentioned that he was in trouble. She didn’t say what kind of trouble, nor did I bother to ask.” Astro nodded in contemplation, and Dirge added, “Oh. She also said that he’d been here.” The eight of them stood there in silence as they each considered Dirge’s account. Then Astro turned away from the group in thought, as Rook watched him carefully.

“What are you thinking?” Rook asked him, away from the others’ audio sensor range.

Astro shook his head uncertainly. “We’ve got to return to the Base…” He said quietly.

Rook’s optics widened in fear at the very suggestion. “The Base? As in…”

“Yes, Rook; as in the Hitec Base.”

“No… you can’t… I won’t!”

Astro watched as the smaller mech stood his ground, his protestation attracting the triple changer’s attention.

“He won’t what?” Astrotrain asked, concerned.

Astro exhaled slowly. “If Comet’s been captured, then there’s only one place I can think of where they would have taken him.”

Rook spoke up before Astrotrain could respond. “If we return to Hitec, we’ll be captured for sure – if not by Jhiaxus, then by one of the High Commander’s many other servants.”

“You mean aft-kissers,” Astrotrain corrected him.

“…Right. The place is swarming with them. It’s a suicide mission!” Rook complained in exasperation.

Dirge, having overheard, offered his view. “He’s right. It’s suicidal. We barely got out of there alive ourselves,” he said, indicating behind him at his team.

Rook seemed to calm down somewhat, quietly thankful for Dirge’s insightful opinion. Astro hesitated, and Rook found his atypical uncertainty rather odd.

“Besides, how can we be sure that Comet is still functional? If he’s been captured, then–” Dirge started, but Astro cut him short.

“No. They’d want him alive.” Astro did not elaborate, nor did any of them bother to question him on the point further.

“May I make a small suggestion?” Astrotrain said finally, and then continued without waiting for a response. “If we can’t go to them, then… maybe, we can get them to come to us.”

After a brief moment, something inside Astro clicked and he looked across at the triple changer, a satisfied smile spreading across his face.


Chapter 12 by Crystine

Transformers: Heroes

Chapter 12


Yess!” Moonracer clasped her hands together in excitement, bouncing gleefully up and down as she watched the winning numbers light up on the spinning Roulette wheel. “Come to Moony…” She said to herself as the gaming attendant handed her a proportion of the total credits on the table.

“Hey, you’re pretty good at this. Mind if I watch?” A masculine voice said from behind her.

Moonracer giggled. “Well, sure! If you want–” She turned to face the mech. He was a tall, blue Cybertronian with a right shoulder mounted missile and an Autobot symbol prominently displayed in the middle of his chest. “Oh, hey! You’re an Autobot!” she said in pleasant surprise.

The Autobot smiled at her. “Sure am… at least, last I checked,” he answered her.

“Oh, of course! Well, what I meant was… I mean–” Moonracer paused, and for the first time in a long while began to feel a little self-conscious.

“Oh, let me guess,” the Autobot interjected reassuringly. “You were wondering what a strong and capable mech like me is doing in a place like this? Well, quite frankly, my dear, I find you utterly captivating.” His voice was soothing, and his undeniable self-confidence came across strongly.

Moonracer was caught off guard by his charm, and she bit her lower lip. “I… um,” she said, pointing behind her with her thumb. “You know, I really should be going…”

“No – please, stay,” he said, feigning concern. “If I’ve offended you–”

“Oh, no… I wasn’t offended. I mean, you didn’t offend me. I just – well, you know…” She started, and then chuckled as she realized how silly this whole conversation must have sounded.

“’Racer?” It was the familiar voice of the femme Commander.

Moonracer’s face lit up as she welcomed Elita One, who now stood beside her along with Chromia and Firestar. “Oh! Hi, Elita!” She proudly handed her the credits she’d won at Roulette. Her winnings were nowhere near as substantial as her beginning streak, but it was still impressive.

Elita looked down at the credits placed in her hand and slowly nodded in approval, hand on hip. “And you haven’t been cheating… of course?

Moonracer looked taken aback. “Cheating? No way, Elita – I swear!”

The Autobot, who had been listening in on their conversation, cleared his vocal processor. “It’s true – she didn’t cheat.” The three femmes glanced over at him in confusion and he added, “I was watching her play.”

Firestar crossed her arms in a defensive gesture, while Elita sized him up. “Oh. And you must be…” She said.

“Of course… I’m sorry, where are my manners? Name’s Double,” he answered, smiling.

Elita noticed his Autobot insignia, and then directed her attention to Moonracer. “He a friend of yours?”

The green femme shook her head. “No… we only just met.”

Elita looked back towards the Autobot. “Double… interesting name.” Then she suddenly changed her focus, as if no longer interested in learning more about this Autobot. “Look, we’ve got to get going. Chrome?” She said, indicating towards the exit with a nod of her head, and then turned to leave.

“Hey, listen, uh… how about a round of drinks?” Double called after her. “On me?” Elita One hesitated. She really did want to source that beam array they still needed for a long distance transmitter, now that Moonracer had won them enough credits. She was about to decline his offer, when he said something that caught her attention. “They know you’re here.”

A feeling of coldness ran through her as he uttered those words. “I beg your pardon?” she said, now on guard.

Double casually motioned for them to follow him towards the bar, trying to remain as low key as possible. “Come on,” he said, indicating with a nod of his head.

The femmes watched as Double headed over to the bar to order some drinks, then exchanged glances among themselves. “I get a bad feeling about this, Elita,” Chromia said.

Elita nodded in agreement. “Me too,” she replied, and then motioned for the three femmes to follow her. “Stay on alert,” she warned them, as she led the way after Double towards the bar.

* * *

It wasn’t until Double had showed Elita and the femmes to an empty table in a separate lounge area adjacent the main gambling hall at The Den, encouraging them to each take a seat, that he spoke to the femme Commander. “You’re lucky I found you first. You’ve got a price on your head.”

Elita did not appear surprised at the revelation. “Yeah, I kind of figured that when our cruiser was attacked,” she said, taking a sip of energon as she eyed the unfamiliar Autobot with a certain amount of scepticism. “Tell me, why don’t I remember seeing you back on Cybertron?”

Double responded with a casual tilt of his canister. “Probably because I’m part of special ops. We don’t usually have much to do with normal military efforts.”

“I see…” Elita was not entirely convinced, but let the matter slide. “Have you been following us?”

Double shook his head. “Nope. I happened to notice – I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?” He said, looking across at Moonracer with a smile.

“Moonracer,” Elita answered for her.

“Right. Moonracer,” he repeated. “That’s a pretty name.” The green femme returned his smile, as the other femmes watched the two of them with reservation. “You know, she seems to have quite a knack for gambling. I think she’s a natural,” he continued.

“You know, it’s probably just beginner’s luck,” Firestar retorted, attempting to deflect the beguiling influence he appeared to be having on Moonracer in particular, who couldn’t help smiling.

Elita finished the rest of her drink and stood up, almost slamming the empty canister down on the table. “Right, well, thank you for your hospitality, Double, but we really do need to get going now. Let’s go, girls,” she said to the femmes, and then turned to leave.

As the rest of her team stood up to follow her, all four were stopped dead in their tracks by a group of six mechs standing right behind them, blocking their path. To their utter surprise and disbelief, the mechs were all Neutrals. Elita turned slowly back towards Double, who now had a weapon pointed at her. “Going somewhere?” He asked, as his previously calm and casual manner all but disappeared, replaced by a scowl upon his face. He nodded at the six Neutrals. “Take her,” he ordered them, indicating towards Elita One, and they began to close in on her. Chromia and Firestar tried to stop them, but three of the Neutrals already had their laser blasters pointed at them.

“I knew this was a bad idea,” Chromia said to Firestar in frustration, as Moonracer reached out in an attempt to grab onto Elita One. But it was no use; the Neutrals were too strong as they held her back.

“Chromia, find help–!” Elita managed to say, before she was silenced with a blaster shot to her chest, causing her to go offline.

“Elita, no!” Moonracer exclaimed. “Let her go, you double-crossing scum-bag!” She said to Double, who stood watching them, a smug expression on his face. “How could you?!”

“As I said before, your dear Commander has a price on her head,” he explained, and then motioned to the Neutral team to leave the lounge area. They did so, carrying Elita One’s inert frame away with them. “Now, you three will stay right here and behave yourselves,” he continued, as he began to leave the lounge, his rifle still trained on the remaining three Autobot femmes. “If you don’t want any harm to come to her,” he warned.

Watching helplessly as Double disappeared out of the lounge area, the three femmes saw no other option but to do as he’d told them.

Streetwise had no idea how he’d ended up back outside the solitary tower at the site of the former Darkmount castle, nor did he care. He scrambled to his feet and checked to make sure he still had the small component that Jazz had offered him only moments before. Relieved, his hand closed tightly around the object, and then he started down the road back to Iacon even before his wheels had hit the ground, transforming into his patrol car mode.

Boosting power to his engine, he tried to keep his mind on the task ahead, but after all that had happened he couldn’t believe that one of their own kind had betrayed them; in the midst of his rage he could not comprehend how or why Jazz, of all mechs, had had Groove’s vital systems link in his possession, though the more he thought about it the more he came to realize the implications of Jazz’s possible involvement in Groove’s attack. Had he played a deliberate part in all of this since the very beginning, all the while convincing everyone of his innocence? Streetwise couldn’t prove any of it, of course, but it was all now starting to make a lot more sense to him.

But the question of whether Jazz was guilty or not would have to wait. The most important thing right now was that he get Groove’s component back to the Repair Bay as fast as he could. He opened an emergency communication channel to Iacon’s Command Center, and waited for a response.

“Iacon Command here. What is your emergency?” Though it wasn’t stated, by the sound of the mech’s voice Streetwise was certain that it was Prowl on the other end.


“Yes. Please state the emergency.” Prowl sounded distant and somewhat distracted – a character trait that was very much unusual for him.

“This is Streetwise. I’ve got Groove’s systems link. I’m headed for the Repair Bay; I’ll be there in less than half a mega cycle.” There was silence on the other end, and Streetwise thought that maybe his com link had been momentarily disconnected. “Prowl? Did you hear me? I said I’ve got Groove’s systems link!”

“Yes, Streetwise, I heard you,” Prowl replied curtly.

“Well, could you let Ratchet know so he can get ready to bring Groove out of stasis?” Streetwise continued impatiently.

A few moments went by, and then Prowl acknowledged him again. “Understood. Stand by,” he said, and then cut the link without any further explanation. A few moments later, Red Alert’s voice came over his com.

“Street?” Red Alert asked. “You’ve found Groove’s P.S.L.?”

“Not exactly…” He began, reluctant to go into any details.

A brief pause and then, “But you have it?” Red Alert questioned disbelievingly.

“Yeah. I have it with me. I’m on my way to Repairs right now.”

A slight pause as Red assimilated the news. “Okay. I’ll be waiting,” Red Alert said, and then added, “Hurry,” before closing the link.

Streetwise increased power to his engine, breaking the cautionary speed limits as he passed through south central Iacon, determined to save his team mate’s life.

* * * 

Groove was beginning to take on the pale, washed out color that signalled the beginning of death. Standing by Red Alert’s side, Arcee waited anxiously for Streetwise to arrive with the patient’s vital part. She was overcome with mixed feelings of excitement and dread as she stared down at the Protectobot still in semi-stasis on the med bay berth. His systems had unexpectedly begun to deteriorate over the past few days, and neither Red Alert nor even Ratchet himself could offer a probable explanation for it.

So when Streetwise had contacted them several breems ago with the completely unexpected news of the safe recovery of Groove’s stolen systems link, she had cried out in joy, had even shared an embrace with Red Alert.

“It’s not over yet,” the Medical Officer had told her in a low voice, wanting very much to offer her his words of comfort but not quite knowing what else to say.

She had gently pulled away, nodding in understanding. “I know, I know…”

Then they had focused upon preparing the area for the emergency operation that they would soon need to perform if Groove was to have any chance of survival.

Arcee had notified the other three Protectobots as soon as she’d heard the news. Hot Spot and Blades had told her that they would be there before the end of the duty cycle while First Aid, who had just returned from an assignment in Altihex, promised to get to the med bay as fast as he could, even offered his assistance if he made it back in time for the procedure.

When Streetwise eventually burst through the Maintenance and Repair Bay doors with Groove’s component clutched tightly in his hand, the place was relatively quiet and sparingly occupied, save for Red Alert, Arcee, and their critical patient.

“Red! Red! I’ve got Groove’s systems link–” Streetwise yelled out, and then stopped in his tracks when he saw his team mate’s grave condition. “Are we too late? Red?” He asked in a sudden panic.

Red Alert took the component from his hand and then immediately went to work on the dying patient, not even stopping to acknowledge the distraught Streetwise; that job would rest upon Arcee’s shoulders.

She forcefully yet gently guided him away from the berth while she spoke in a soothing, comforting voice. “No, we’re not too late – he’s still got a fighting chance, but you need to move away if we’re going to have any shot at saving his life.”

Streetwise faltered, backing away slightly, though his gaze remained fixated upon his fallen team mate. “He looks terrible… why does he look so bad?” His gaze suddenly turned towards Arcee, who continued to gently guide him away.

“You did well, Streetwise. Recovering his systems link was the best thing you could have done for him,” she said, empathy in her optics, trying to reassure him.

“But what if he doesn’t make it? What if it’s too late?” Streetwise said, his panic resurfacing. “What if he’s already dead?”

“Arcee! I’ll need your help here!” Red Alert suddenly called out over his shoulder, and she quickly glanced towards him before looking back at Streetwise.

Her tone became firm, though her voice was still kind. “Listen, the rest of your team mates will be here very, very soon, but I’m really going to need you to stay right over here, okay? Can you do that for me?” She drew her hand away from where it had been resting on his arm and dashed across to the emergency berth, though she did not take her optics away from Streetwise until she was sure that he had calmed down enough to heed her request.

“Arcee, I’ve reinstalled his link. I’m ready for the power core, but I’ll need you to let me know if there are any incompatibilities in the power signal and compensate accordingly,” Red Alert explained, talking quickly. “It’s going to be especially critical when we bring him out of stasis.”

“Got it,” Arcee replied, and stood by the monitors ready for Red Alert to begin the next step in the delicate procedure. She watched as Red Alert carefully, yet working as quickly as he could, positioned the power core within the receptacle in Groove’s chest, then went to work restoring Groove’s spark chamber connections, effectively taking him out of semi-stasis.

Red Alert paused momentarily for a deep intake of air. “Initializing…” He said, and then activated the power core as Arcee continued to monitor the signal output. After a few moments, Arcee sighed in relief as Groove’s systems accepted the new power core without any problems. Red stepped back, watching as Groove’s colour gradually began to return to a normal shade before he finally turned his attention to Arcee, deep relief evident on his face. “I think we did it, Arcee…” Then he laughed – a triumphant, nervous laugh – and she smiled back at him – the tension and worry that had been building up within her own systems finally allowed to be released.

“Is he okay? Can I speak to him?” Streetwise’s concerned voice distracted their reverie.

Red Alert slowly turned back to face him, properly acknowledging the tough Protectobot for the first time since he’d made the emergency call a little over half hour ago. “Uh…” He began, still caught up in the emotion of the experience. “Yeah… I think he’s going to be fine.” He paused in reflection before answering Streetwise again. “Oh… he won’t be conscious for a while yet, though.” Then he looked to Arcee before smiling again. “I don’t want to wake him too soon… give his systems a chance to recover.”

Arcee, still smiling warmly, nodded in understanding. “Great work, you two,” she said in encouragement. “…Great work.”

After several hours covering a large proportion of inner city Binaltech, the Decepticons managed to track down just the femme they were looking for. They had picked up her Cybertronian energy signature, despite the fact that she had made a simple modification to its frequency in an effort to prevent anyone from tracking the signal. Astro had eventually found a way of demodulating it so that he could read her original signature and consequently pinpoint her location.

Not surprisingly, they found her sitting inside one of Binaltech’s many exotic refuelling outlets.

“Good. She’s alone.” Astro glanced towards the establishment, tracking the femme with his internal sensors. “Though, she’s transmitting some kind of message.”

Rook, standing by Astro’s side as per usual, looked up at him. “Can you intercept the message?”

Astro shook his head. “No, but it’s not important.” Then he glanced around at the other Decepticons until his gaze settled upon the blue and black jet. “Alright. She’s all yours.”

Dirge nodded solemnly. He had practiced in his mind what he was about to do many times over during the last several hours, from the moment the eight of them had settled upon the details of their plan. Whilst he hadn’t been overly thrilled in having been nominated by his fellow Decepticons to play this particular part in their scheme, he hadn’t outright refused it, either. In fact, in a way he was rather looking forward to it.

Without another word, Dirge activated the door to the establishment and disappeared inside.

Brawn, Bumblebee, Cliffjumper and Gears had been sorting and stacking medical and various other supplies inside the receiving and dispatch facility of Iacon’s Maintenance and Repair Bay for well over an hour. They had remained relatively quiet for the most part as they concentrated upon their task, until they were almost done.

“Brawn?” Bumblebee’s voice broke the silence.

“Yeah?” Brawn answered without looking up.

“Do you remember that night at Macaddam’s? You know… when we all got over-energized?”

Brawn looked up slowly, as Gears let out a low groan. “Yeah, that’d be every other night,” he replied facetiously.

“…Do you remember what you told us? About being a mini-bot?”

After a brief pause, Brawn returned to the container of spare relays he had been putting away on a shelf. “Nope.”

“Well… I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately,” Bumblebee continued, unperturbed. “And… I honestly believe that it’s not all as bad as you think.”

Brawn sighed, stepped away from the shelf. “Well, good for you, Bumblebee. You can believe whatever you want to believe.” Then he turned to the other mini-bots. “Alright, fellas, looks like I’m done here.”

Cliffjumper hauled the last oil barrel on top of the transport platform and straightened. “That’s all the oil from the last shipment.” Then he turned and walked over to join Brawn.

“That’s a lot of oil. More than we need,” Brawn said inquisitively, holding an elbow in one hand and his chin underneath the other hand.

Gears, who had not spoken for a while, looked up from the data pad he was holding. “Ever since we’ve pooled our resources with the Neutrals, our inventory has more than doubled.” As he spoke, the green light on the access panel beside the double doors activated, and the doors slid open. As they did so, the four mini-bots turned to see who it was.

“Hey – you’re not supposed to be here,” Brawn started, as the tall frame of the black and red Autobot appeared in front of them. “How’d you get in here?”

Sideswipe walked into the bay and hit the panel button to close the doors. “You’d better watch your mouth, small fry. Don’t forget I still outrank you.” He wasn’t about to forget their encounter outside the Command Center so easily.

“Hey, who are you calling ‘small fry’? Why I oughtta–” The demolitions mini-bot threatened, taking a step towards him with a fist held high.

Gears placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, don’t get your gears out of whack, Brawn.”

Brawn hesitated, sneering at Sideswipe. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t call security,” he threatened.

Sideswipe showed no sign of being intimidated by him. “Maybe because I am security.”

The mini-bots appeared shocked by his answer – even Bumblebee, who stopped what he had been doing to join them.

“Security? I thought you were officially dismissed?” Cliffjumper asked in puzzlement.

Was,” Sideswipe corrected him. Then he moved over to the shelving units containing various medical instrumentation, started to search for something.

“So, you’ve been reinstated?” Bumblebee asked in amazement.

“Uh-huh,” he replied simply.

“Wow – congratulations, Sideswipe… welcome back!”

“Thanks, Bumblebee.”

Brawn, however, still had his reservations, not to mention a distinct dislike for the Autobot warrior. “Oh, yeah?” He paused as he tracked the mech’s every move. “Did Prowl reinstate you?”

Sideswipe found the item he had been looking for; a reducing field micro-beamer, primarily used in medical procedures to clear out unwanted code that might have been assimilated from a virus within an Autobot’s self repair mechanism. “Nope. Sentinel Prime, actually.” He walked back towards the exit, ignoring their looks of surprise and uncertainty. Then he opened the doors again, stepped outside and turned back to face them, his hand resting on the access panel. “See you around,” he said, before the doors closed after him.

Dirge took the empty seat opposite Thunderblast without waiting for an invite and leaned across the small table with his elbows in front of him, in a pose that he hoped she would find intimidating. “Well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise?” He greeted her, using almost the same phrasing that she had used when she’d first introduced herself to his team of Decepticon jets several hours ago.

She sat up straight with a start, quickly deactivated her com link. “Oh, it’s you again. What do you want? Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Dirge shrugged. “We should talk.”

Thunderblast gave him a pout. “Oh, yeah? What have we got to talk about?” Then she glanced around in apprehension, but did not notice anything unusual – as far as she could tell, the small outlet was filled solely with regular patrons simply minding their own business. “How did you find me?”

Dirge spoke deliberately, his voice low yet intimidating, though he tried to act as casual as possible. “You were easy enough to track down.”

His answer seemed to worry her somewhat, though she tried not to let it show. She sighed in annoyance. “What the slag do you want to talk about? I’m a very busy femme, you know.”

“Yeah… I bet you are,” Dirge retorted, smirking. She waited impatiently for him to continue, not the least bit amused. He glanced over his shoulder for a brief moment, as if he were alerted to something. Then he lowered his voice again, speaking softly to her. “Look… I couldn’t help but notice you were being followed earlier.” He glanced around again in all directions. “I think you’re safe now… for the time being, anyway. You just gotta stay low for a little while.”

She looked back at him incredulously, not entirely convinced but not wanting to put his word of warning to the test, either. Her gaze darted in all directions. “And why should I believe you?”

Dirge said nothing straight away as he watched her reaction; she was growing more uncomfortable with every passing astro-second. “You don’t have to believe me… that’s your choice,” he said, shrugging.

“Look, if this is about Comet – I swear on Primus I have no idea where he is!” She blurted.

Dirge feigned puzzlement. “Comet? Nah…” He replied, shaking his head dismissively.

Then she stopped, tilted her head questioningly. “Then… what is it that you want from me? I mean, you don’t honestly expect me to believe that a Decepticon would go to all the trouble to find me just to help me out? I wasn’t sparked yesterday, you know.” When he didn’t offer her a reply, she tried once more, watching him intently. “Would you at least tell me where the rest of your Decepti-pals are?”

The conehead grimaced. “Why do you need to know?”

“I don’t,” she said, a mischievous smile now playing upon her lips. “Not really. I just thought it kinda strange, you know? You being all by yourself and so… lonely,” she added, smirking.

But Dirge would not be fooled by her wiles, though he continued to play her. “Why? You think you can fix that for me?”

Thunderblast burst out laughing, and he forced a rare smile. Then she bit her lower lip, not entirely trusting his motives. “Well… what if you’re not my type?”

The Decepticon jet shrugged. “Oh, I’m sure I can make it worth your while.” She giggled at his response, and then he stood up. “Come on… We should talk somewhere more private.”

She hesitated for a brief instant, before jumping up from her seat and following him as he started towards the exit, curiosity finally getting the better of her.

Sideswipe stared down at the still offline Protectobot, grasping the small, precision medical instrument in one hand. Groove seemed at peace, content in his own dream-like world, and for a brief instant he wished that he could trade places with him, even after what he must have experienced during the night of his attack. At least Groove’s life had been saved – thanks to his recently restored systems link, which could not have waited much longer – and he would soon be reunited with his team mates when he was brought back online.

‘I know… you were only trying to look out for me, and I get that, I really do… and I probably shouldn’t have said those things to you. Although you should know that I didn’t mean any of it, and… and I’m sorry. You’ll always be my brother, no matter what.’

The memory of Sunstreaker’s holo image flooded back into his processor like a tidal wave and he flinched, tried to resist the urge to turn and run out of the med bay, and simply disappear, leaving Iacon and all his troubles behind. He was well aware of the strong possibility that perhaps Sentinel had lied to him, was manipulating him into doing what he wanted – but was he prepared to take that chance and stake his brother’s life on it?

The answer was no. Sentinel may have very well told him the truth, and he couldn’t simply ignore that possibility.

“Sideswipe?” A gentle voice called his name from somewhere close by, but it did not register through his audio processor the first time. “…Sideswipe?” He was jolted out of his thoughts with a start. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t want to startle you.”

“Hey, Arcee.” He looked across and smiled at her, though it was strained. “Congratulations,” he added, indicating towards Groove with a tilt of his head. “When’s he coming back online?”

“Well… Red wants to keep him here a while longer… a couple more mega cycles at most, I’d say.” She hesitated, sensing his tension, though he seemed guarded. “You know… we were worried about you. When you just left like that, not knowing where you were…” He did not give her a reply, so she added, “Or whether you were okay or not.”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he answered finally, but then trailed off on his own, private train of thought, looking away again.

“Oh, listen… the rest of the Autobots will be arriving soon. They want to be here for Groove when we bring him back online, you know? Help him readjust to things. Answer any questions he might have. He’ll probably want to know what happened to him…” Arcee explained, and Sideswipe simply nodded in acknowledgement. “You’re welcome to join us, of course.”

He turned to her again, studying her petite features, her piercing blue optics. “Uh… thanks, Arcee, but no thanks. I’ve got some stuff I gotta do.”

“Oh.” She looked back at him with concern. “Well… sure. That’s okay. I understand.” She smiled at him, and he smiled back at her with that same, forced smile. “Well, I’d better be going. I’ve got to help Red with some scheduled data backups. Let me know if you need anything, okay?” When he didn’t reply, she smiled once more and headed for the Repair Bay’s double exit doors, but stopped to turn back one more time. “Oh, by the way… congratulations, yourself! I heard you got reinstated!” She said, waving, before disappearing down the hall.

“Yeah… thanks,” he said flatly. Though he was alone once more, he wouldn’t be for too long.

One breem later, Sentinel Prime appeared in the doorway. He was so quiet that Sideswipe was not alerted to his presence until he had spoken. “Do you have it?”

Sideswipe did not turn around to face the former Prime. “Yeah… I got it.”

“Good. Place it beside the Protectobot.” Sideswipe did as he was told and placed the micro-beamer he’d retrieved from receiving and dispatch a short while ago down on a table beside Groove’s med berth. Then he remained motionless, awaiting Sentinel’s next instructions. He received them almost immediately. “Leave now. Be ready when I call for you again.”

Without speaking a word, Sideswipe stepped away from Groove and headed straight for the med bay doors. He deliberately tried to keep his gaze diverted away from Sentinel Prime’s optics as he walked past him on his way out, but was stopped short when Sentinel unexpectedly grabbed hold of him with both hands.

“Oh. There’s one more thing…” Sentinel said to him in a low voice, releasing his grip on the warrior almost immediately, who had to force himself to look up at the former Prime; Sentinel’s powerful, imposing presence was a sombre reminder of just what kind of mech Sideswipe was actually dealing with. Sentinel extended a hand towards him, revealing a small vial containing a bright green powder. “Here… take it.”

Sideswipe continued to stare at the former Prime’s optics, and then his gaze began to gradually move downwards until it came to rest upon the vial. He picked it up, held it in front of him, his impassive expression masking deep, troubled emotions.

“I assume you know what this is?” Sentinel asked him, and Sideswipe replied with a small nod. “Good. Think of it as a small… incentive. Now, go.”

Sideswipe’s hand closed around the vial, and then he continued on his way out of the med bay in silence, not looking back.

It felt like a long time had passed before Dirge finally arrived at the dwelling complex, located in an outer region of northern Binaltech, with Thunderblast in tow.

Dirge had kept the location a mystery during their journey; he had insisted that the fewer anyone knew about the place, the better – in fact he’d told her that, as an added precaution, not even his own team mates knew of its existence. He had also told her that there was no chance that anyone would be able to track them to their location. She’d still had her doubts, of course, though she’d eventually decided to drop the subject.

Thunderblast stepped off the transport platform which had taken them one level down, and had to partly retract her alt mode hull wings in order to comfortably fit through the narrow passageway that opened up before them. “Are you sure we haven’t been followed?”

The Decepticon remained silent, patiently leading the way ahead until he came to a stop in front of a set of sealed doors. “Sure, I’m sure. This is it,” he said, and then activated the access panel by the doors.

Wait–!” Thunderblast reached her hand out to touch Dirge’s forearm. “Look, I don’t know if this is really such a great idea, after all.”

“Why, are you afraid?” Dirge taunted her.

“Um, no… no, of course not,” she rebuked him, not wanting the tall seeker to think that she was intimidated by him in any way, and casually retracted her hand.

The doors slid open, and Dirge indicated for her to step inside. “Come on…” He waited patiently as she stepped into the room and then followed her inside, sealed the doors closed again. He activated the overhead lighting, and watched as Thunderblast studied the small quarters, moving slowly around the room as she did so. It was furnished with its own energon dispenser, lounge area and recharging berth. A stack of data pads and various precision instruments filled a nearby shelf, while a screen, set into one wall, displayed an image of their home planet. She finally turned her full attention back to the Decepticon jet.

“So… these are your private quarters, huh?” She asked, intrigued.

Dirge shrugged, walked over to the dispenser and filled two canisters with high-grade. “You could say that.” Then he walked over to her and handed her one of the canisters, which she accepted graciously. She was starting to relax.

“So, Dirge… what’s a handsome mech like you doing on Alternity City, anyway?” She probed, taking a seat in the lounge area while beckoning for him to join her.

He slowly walked around to sit beside her, placed his canister down on a table nearby. “I’m here on official business.”

“Ooh… official business?” she repeated playfully. “Tell me more.”

“What’s there to tell?” He replied nonchalantly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, drawing circles with one finger around the rim of her canister. “Like, maybe… what is it that you really want to tell me, Dirge?” She downed her energon in a few gulps, and then placed the empty canister down on the table.

Perfect. “Like I said… you were being followed.” He paused, and it looked as though he had more to say but was having some trouble saying it. “And, besides…” He added as an after-thought.

“‘And, besides’ what, Dirge-y?” She pressed, curious, smiling admiringly at him. “You know you can tell Thunderblast anything,” she enticed, her hand gently caressing his forearm.

He sighed, and tried hard not to cringe in front of her. “Uh…” He cleared his throat, resisted the urge to push her hand away. “I, uh…”


“If you tell anyone, Thunderblast, I swear I’m going to–” He started, but Thunderblast pressed a finger to his lips.

“Shhh… your secret is safe with me. I promise.” She nudged him and pressed herself against his arm, still caressing it.

He cleared his throat again and then spoke in a low voice. “You, uh… you – really are the femme of my dreams.” Uttering these words to Thunderblast had proven to be a much more difficult exercise than he’d first anticipated, but it got him the desired response.

She widened her optics in shock and awe, and then giggled gleefully. Staring back at him in satisfaction, she wondered why she’d never noticed his attraction to her before, and made a promise to herself that she would definitely be making up for lost time. “Tell me, Dirge… what’s your fancy, hm?”

He feigned naivety, wanting to stave off her advances for as long as he possibly could – at least until the highly unstable compound he’d slipped into her energon drink had taken effect. “My… fancy? What’s that?”

She looked at him quizzically, giggled again. “You know, your fancy… hot linking… power core combining… spark bonding… you name it.”

“Oh.” He rubbed his chin in thought, wondering how to respond to her. He did not particularly fancy sharing any kind of experience with Thunderblast, whether it involved hot linking or not, but he couldn’t tell her that – at least, not just yet. “Uh… actually…”

But only a few astro-seconds later Dirge was spared the effort as Thunderblast slipped into his arms, inert. She was mercifully offline.

Sentinel took careful, deliberate strides as he approached Groove’s berth. Making sure he was alone, he picked up the micro-beamer from where Sideswipe had left it for him on the berth-side table.

He moved around to one of the med bay’s terminals beside the berth and inserted the device into a small receptacle, accessed the control program on the terminal with a high level clearance code and input some commands. Once this was done, he deleted the relevant log file, exited the control program and then retrieved the micro-beamer from its receptacle.

He activated the small device, watching as the precision probe protracted from its casing, and then carefully leaned across Groove’s offlined form, reaching down to access a port behind the Autobot’s black helm. He inserted the shaft of the micro-beamer into the port, its flexible probe extending and searching for Groove’s memory module. Once it had found and locked onto its target, the probe initiated the process of collapsing the module’s information field.

Sentinel released his grip on the device, stepped back and waited for the operation to be completed. He had only a short window of opportunity; the other Protectobots would return shortly, as would the attending medical officers who would oversee Groove’s activation – but less than one quarter of a mega cycle was all the time he needed.

* * *

Half a mega cycle later, Iacon’s Maintenance and Repair Bay had become the center of activity within the Command Complex. A number of Groove’s closest friends and allies were gathered, forming a wide circle around his med berth; the Protectobots Hot Spot, Streetwise, Blades and First Aid; Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Bluestreak, Hound and Prowl; as well as Ratchet, Red Alert and Arcee, in their official capacity as the attending medical officers. Sentinel Prime was also present for the occasion, standing behind the gathered crowd and watching with his arms crossed in front of him, his face largely expressionless; other than the former Prime, each and every Autobot in the room was present for the purpose of sharing in the joyous moment when Groove would finally awaken to rejoin their ranks as a fully functional Autobot – something which had seemed almost impossible just one day earlier.

As Red Alert guided the procedure, the atmosphere in the room was thick with expectation and excitement, though no one dared utter a word. The procedure was simple enough, and wouldn’t take more than one or two minutes to complete; check the patient’s vital signs, perform a routine systems check and then, if all indicators were within normal operating parameters, reactivate the patient by transmitting a pulsed boost signal along his master control pathway.

Arcee checked the monitor readout carefully, and then checked it again just to be certain. Even though Groove’s systems had shown stability for several hours already, she wanted to be absolutely sure that the activation proceeded smoothly and without any problems. It also helped that Groove had the immediate support and encouragement of everyone around him as soon as he was brought back online. “Alright… we’re good to go, Red.”

Red Alert exchanged a deeply purposeful glance with Arcee, and then with Ratchet, who stood by watching them, though he would not interfere with the process unless he was needed. Then he bent over Groove, opened his chest panel and connected a pulse gun to the master control port, which would transfer and distribute the pulsed signal to where it needed to go. Red Alert hit the trigger, sending a jolt of directed energy into Groove’s systems. After a few astro-cycles, he hit it again, disconnected the gun, and closed up Groove’s outer armour plating. Then he stepped back to stand beside Arcee, and joined the rest of the Autobots as they intently fixed their gaze upon the Protectobot, waiting expectantly for him to demonstrate the first signs of his return to the fully conscious world.

Over the next two minutes, Groove’s optics increased in brightness and intensity, and his face seemed to glow with a strong, vibrant energy, the very life force flooding back into his systems to fill every extremity and every component of his physical structure. Then he let out a low groan, his head turning slightly to look up at his fellow Protectobots. “What… happened?”

Arcee couldn’t help but smile as she tried to hold back the overwhelming surge of emotion; feelings of empathy and compassion that rose up from the very spark of her being. She stood patiently by and watched as the Protectobots reconnected with their team mate, exchanging words of gratitude and encouragement and sharing in the joy of his simply being alive.

After several minutes, Optimus Prime quietly approached Groove’s berth to stand beside Hot Spot, the leader of the Protectobots, who respectfully made room for him. Optimus gave him a nod in acknowledgement, but did not immediately approach or speak to Groove, who slowly sat up on his berth, his closest friends by his side, looking up at the Autobot Commander. “Optimus…” He said in greeting.

Optimus moved to stand in front of him. “It is good to have you back with us, Groove. On behalf of us all.”

Groove gave him a gentle smile. “Thanks. It’s… good to be back.” He looked around at his fellow Autobots, and contemplated the reason for their presence here in the med bay, as well as the circumstances that had led up to this moment. The next few words he spoke would confuse some and take others by surprise, though they would please the former Prime, who stood quietly in the background. “Did… something happen to me?”

Optimus glanced over at Red Alert, Ratchet and Arcee, who had come to stand beside him, though their expressions told him that they were just as uncertain as he was. He turned back to Groove, his voice gentle yet firm. “You mean you don’t remember anything at all?”

Groove hesitated, holding a hand to his helm, and then shook his head. “No… sorry, Optimus. I don’t remember a thing.”

Listening in on the conversation behind the gathered Autobots, Sentinel Prime nodded his approval and satisfaction, a small smile appearing on his face. Then he turned around and walked out of the med bay.

She awoke with a start, her vision blurry and with a headache that was almost unbearable. She groaned, recalling her encounter with Dirge at the refuelling outlet followed by his invitation back to his private quarters, and realized that she could not be experiencing the after-effects of having over-energized because, as far as she could remember, she’d only had that one canister. As her vision readjusted to normal levels, she tried to sit up and realized that she couldn’t.

Startled, she also realized, in a moment of rude awakening, that she was still in Dirge’s private quarters, strapped to a chair with energy restraints. “Why you slag sucking, double-crossing low life scum bag!” She called out at the top of her vocal unit, her surprise turning quickly into unbridled anger as she struggled against her bonds. “How could I have been so stupid?! And to think… I ever wanted anything to do with you, of all mechs! Let me go, or I’ll have you hunted down and handed over to the High Commander! Do you hear me? Dirge!” She appeared to be alone in the room, and while she wasn’t picking up any energy signatures she sensed that, somehow, her captor was still very much nearby, and could probably hear her. Then she stopped suddenly to listen to the sound of movement, and tried to turn her head to glance about her but the restraints held her head firmly against the chair. “Dirge? Dirge! Hello? Why don’t you show yourself, you coward?!” Then, finally, just as much to her relief as to her apprehension, a mech stepped in front of her view and stood looking down at her, arms crossed in front of him; however, when she realized who it was an astro-second later, a sense of disappointment and dread swept over her.

“Dirge was only carrying out orders,” Astro said. “And, I must say, he did so very well.”

“What the hell do you want?” She managed to say, though her voice wavered with nervousness and uncertainty. Two other mechs now quietly appeared beside Astro, watching her, and she groaned and tried to turn her head away, not wanting to meet Dirge’s gaze. The other mech, standing on the other side of Astro to his left, was a little smaller than the average-sized Decepticon, and she now recalled seeing him once before at one of Binaltech’s many transport terminals, though she had no idea of his name.

“I think you already know what I want,” Astro replied.

Thunderblast exhaled sharply, her frustration and total contempt for this particular mech apparent. “I told you! I have no idea where Comet is! Now, let me go!”

Astro dropped his arms by his sides. “Not so fast. I believe you.”

A look of puzzlement crossed her face, her anger momentarily put aside. “You… you do?” He gave her an affirmative tilt of his head, and she did not expect his next order.

“Dirge… I think we can release her now,” Astro said with a casual wave of his hand, and the seeker nodded, moved towards the femme. She remained quiet as Dirge deactivated the restraints that held her to the chair, a small hint of a satisfied smirk on his face, and she realized that whatever words or sentiments he had confided in her when he’d first brought her here had all been lies.

Once she was freed, Dirge stepped away from her. Astro sat down on the lounge seat opposite her, leaning across with one elbow on the arm rest in a casual manner. He continued to watch her, when she spoke first.

“So… does this mean I’m free to go… then?” She asked, slowly rising from her chair and rubbing a hand along both her hull wings as if she were dusting them off. She strongly doubted that they would just let her walk out of here.

Astro shrugged, answered her casually. “Well, that depends.”

“On… what?” She asked with caution.

“On how much you value your life.”

Thunderblast frowned, placed her hands on her hips in a defensive gesture. “Now you listen here, Astro, I have a strong mind to let my boss know where you are – and believe me, he’s not going to stop until he’s sent his whole fleet after you. Then you’re going to be really sorry any of you ever decided to cross me!”

Astro did not respond to her threat; rather, he allowed her to vent her anger in full before finally sitting up straight, peering up at her. “Are you done?” When she didn’t reply, he continued. “Good. Now, this is how it’s going to work. You’re going to contact Jhiaxus and tell him that Megatron is offering to make an exchange for Comet.”

The femme looked at him in bewilderment, open-mouthed. “You’ve got to be kidding me?”

“Nope,” he said, shaking his head.

“An exchange for Comet…” She repeated, glancing tentatively around at the three Decepticons in the room. “An exchange… for what?”

“Not ‘what’. Who,” he corrected her. She slowly turned back to look at him, and her entire frame went still. But then, aware of what she must have been thinking in that moment, he relieved her concerns. ”Don’t worry; Jhiaxus isn’t interested in you.”

She let out a slow exhale before venturing to ask. “Okay. Then… who?”

Astro clasped his hands together, keeping his attention focused upon the femme. “Me.”

She stared at him in disbelief, and then turned her back to him, one hand still on hip, the other hand upturned in mid-air. “Okay. You’re crazy.” No one said anything, and she turned back to face the blue Cybertronian once more. “I mean… okay. First of all, even if I knew how to get in contact with Jhiaxus… why the slag would I ever agree to help you?”

Once again, Astro replied with a calm assuredness that Rook had come to know of him. “And… secondly?”

“Secondly…?” She sighed in exasperation. “Secondly, I mean – how do you even know that I won’t try to double-cross you?”

Astro smiled. “Getting in contact with Jhiaxus shouldn’t be a problem… I’m sure that Sentinel Prime will be happy to help, once you’ve told him about our offer of exchange. As for why you would agree to do as I’ve asked? It’s the same answer as to why you won’t try to double-cross me. You see, while you were offline I took the liberty of making a few enhancements to some of your internal coding. From now on, we’ll be able to track your every move, intercept every transmission you send and receive. Also, as an added precaution… if you don’t do exactly as I tell you, your autonomous control system will shut down. If that happens, your main processor will begin a critical cascade failure… which, as you know, will cause you to be permanently offlined.”

Thunderblast stared at him in utter disbelief, and had to slowly sit back down in her chair to allow the sordid news to fully sink in. “But… I mean… how could you?”

Astro leaned back in his seat, gave her a small shrug. “You have nothing to worry about, as long as you do what I tell you.”

It was several long moments before Thunderblast finally spoke up again. “Comet is really that important to you?” When Astro didn’t respond, she inhaled deeply, and then exhaled slowly. “Well, you’re not going to give me much choice, are you?” Another pause and then, “Will you at least do something for me, Astro?”

He glanced briefly towards Dirge and Rook, and wondered whether he should consider her request. “What would that be?” He said to her.

“After this is over and you have your Comet, promise me that I’ll never have anything to do with any of you, ever again!”

Astro looked back at her thoughtfully. “Well, I can’t promise you that,” he answered, amused. “But I’ll do my best.”

When Megatron returned to Darkmount after a couple of mega cycles, accompanied by Laserbeak, the Decepticon mini spy, he did not have good news to share. “Sentinel Prime is already in Iacon,” he informed the Decepticons present, as Laserbeak returned to Soundwave’s chest compartment. “It is only a small matter of time now,” the Decepticon leader concluded. They were all gathered in the primary control room, one level below the surface. Jazz was with them.

“We need to warn the others still on Alternity City,” Scrapper said.

Megatron nodded. “They will have received my previous instructions, though I cannot easily get in contact with them.”

The room fell quiet as each mech in the room contemplated Cybertron’s current state of affairs, and their part in it. Jazz watched them intently and, whilst he was grateful for having been allowed to stay, nevertheless he couldn’t help feeling a little uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because he, as an Autobot, represented their long-time adversary. Or, perhaps it was simply due to the fact that he wasn’t sure how best he might be able to help them. Perhaps the reason was both but, either way, watching them now he became aware of an underlying, yet undeniable, vulnerability about them.

He was probably the only Autobot in a long time who had been able to get this close to the Decepticons and, being given the chance to observe them first-hand, he’d begun to see them in a way that he had never expected, had not counted upon. They were not the cruel, domineering, evil enemy that the rest of the Autobots had always accused them of – far from it, in fact. Of course, there had been many encounters in the past, during the Great War but particularly during the Great Devastation, when there had been no mercy shown to Autobots by Decepticons – however, Jazz realized, those Decepticons had been an entirely different breed to Megatron and his loyal followers.

In the short time that he’d spent in their company, Jazz had noticed camaraderie among these Decepticons, but also a strong sense of purpose and belonging; while this insight should have surprised him, somehow it didn't. He recalled that incident near the dividing ridge in Kaon, during the Great War, when his life and that of his comrade’s had been saved by two Decepticon jets, and was encouraged by it, comforted by it.

“Well… what about the others?” It was Scavenger who had spoken. He sounded uncertain, his voice wavering. He did not elaborate further but, other than Jazz, they all seemed to know what he was talking about.

“He’s right. It may be our last chance,” Mixmaster agreed, though he, too, sounded nervous.

The Decepticons all looked expectantly at Megatron, who did not answer them straight away; he also seemed troubled by whatever it was that they were discussing, and Jazz sensed a certain amount of heavy-heartedness in the room that had not been there before.

“If we’re going to get ‘em back at all,” Scrapper said, tentatively, “we probably should do it sooner rather than later, before the Neutrals destroy the Detention Banks.”

Jazz looked across at Scrapper upon mention of the Detention Banks, and began to realize what they must be planning. Located in a heavily guarded, yet isolated sector deep below Iacon known only as “Quadrant Epsilon”, the Detention Banks contained prisoners of war who had been condemned and sent there for deactivation. While many of the prisoners were kept in stasis, others were not so lucky. “The Detention Banks…?”

They all glanced over at him, and for a moment he wondered whether his interest in their affairs was unwelcomed, but then Megatron answered him. “Yes. Towards the end of the Last Great War, many of us were captured and sent there by the Alliance.”

“But you don’t know for sure that they’re still alive?” The question had been a difficult one to ask. Jazz felt their collective sadness; the thought of many of their comrades being kept at the Detention Banks, not knowing whether they were still alive or not must have been a heavy burden on them all. He could not even begin to imagine how he might cope in the same situation.

Scrapper shook his head sadly. “No… but we have to try.”

Jazz redirected the conversation back to a previous track. “What makes you say the Neutrals are going to destroy the Banks?”

Megatron replied. “Once Sentinel Prime gains complete control, he will seek to destroy us all… until there is nothing left of us – not even a crypt.”

Jazz gave him a look of puzzlement. “Hold on an astro-sec… you say Sentinel’s going to take full control as if it’s a guaranteed thing,” he said, trying to make sense of the situation. “I mean… for starters, how could he even begin to pull something like that off?”

It felt as if the Decepticon leader could see right through his visor, holding his gaze steady. “We have known about a planned takeover by the High Council for some time now, but it is only recently that we have learned the extent of Sentinel Prime’s involvement. The fact that he is here, now, in Iacon only serves to confirm our suspicions.”

Jazz turned his gaze away from the Decepticon. He couldn’t help feel a deep sense of betrayal by the Alliance, and it hit him now all at once. If what Megatron had just told him was true, then there’d be no telling what might happen next. He knew how much Optimus trusted Sentinel Prime, as his long time mentor and friend, and also knew, probably better than anyone else, how much the Autobot leader would be devastated should Sentinel suddenly turn against him and the rest of the Autobots. The likelihood of such an event happening seemed utterly absurd – impossible, even – though, unlike Optimus, Jazz was able to confront such a possibility without being blinded by the same level of emotional attachment and trust that Optimus demonstrated towards Sentinel, no matter how ludicrous it all seemed. Furthermore, he could see no reason at all why Megatron would want to mislead him – especially after everything that he’d shared with the Decepticons since Scavenger’s rescue. Many long moments went by before he spoke. “I’ve got to warn Optimus…” But his voice was a mere whisper.

Megatron could clearly see Jazz’s difficulty in accepting the truth of the situation, though he didn’t blame him. Sentinel was generally very well liked amongst the Autobots, and his reputation for wisdom and his strong power of influence over others far preceded him. Still, it would not serve Jazz or anyone else if he were to be anything less than truthful. “It may already be too late for that,” he said. “You know as well as I do how stubborn he can be.”

As much as Jazz didn’t want to hear it, he knew that those words were true. If there had been any chance at all of relaying a warning to Optimus before Sentinel had arrived in Iacon, there was virtually no chance of it now. Nevertheless, Jazz needed to believe that there was still hope. “Still, I’ve got to try,” he said, echoing Scrapper’s sentiments. Then he glanced around the room at the Decepticons, who all looked back at him intently, as if he were some strange enigma that they hadn’t quite figured out yet. He knew exactly how they felt about their missing comrades who, as far as any of them knew, may already be lost to them. “Tell you what,” he said at last, carefully considering his words. “I’ll do what I can to help you get into the Detention Banks…” He began, and then trailed off. He knew that the Decepticons would have a much better chance of succeeding in their plan with his unique knowledge and abilities as a special operative. He also knew that if the Decepticons had any inclination at all to help stop Sentinel Prime, they would do so. He did not need to say anything.

After giving the matter some thought, Megatron replied. “Very well.”

When Optimus agreed to speak privately with Sentinel Prime inside the main conference room near the Communications Center, he did not, in his wildest imaginings, ever suspect what his old friend was about to say. It was completely beyond belief, and entirely unexpected.

“Optimus…” Sentinel began, looking directly into the Autobot leader’s optics. He did not offer Optimus a seat, nor did he offer him any words of congratulations for Groove’s recent recovery. “An urgent matter has come to my attention, and I believe it only fair that I hear it directly from you first, allow you the opportunity to explain the situation… if there is any truth to it at all.”

“What is this about, Sentinel?” Optimus asked, completely unaware of what his former mentor might be alluding to.

Sentinel inhaled deeply, pausing to collect his thoughts. “There’s no easy way to ask you this, Optimus, as I simply cannot believe that you would be capable of treason…”

Optimus offered no hint of an emotional reaction. “Treason?”

“Yes.” Sentinel turned away from him, paced the length of the room. “It is my understanding that you recently gave the order to cease carrying out the Council’s directive to search and apprehend all remaining Decepticons on Cybertron.” He paused for a long moment, his head looking down at the floor, and to Optimus it felt like an eternity had passed before Sentinel spoke again. But, eventually he did. “Is it true… Optimus?” He asked softly, facing him once more.

The Autobot leader turned his head away from Sentinel’s questioning expression, and slowly took a seat in one of the empty conference room chairs. “I had no other choice… my team had been captured by the Decepticons… their lives would have been in danger had I not agreed to Megatron’s terms for their release.”

“Then… it is true?”

“Yes. It is true,” Optimus finally admitted, but did not elaborate further. No matter what happened, he would never regret that decision.

“Optimus… do you realize what you have done? Not only have you refused a directive from the Cybertronian High Council, but you have also placed me in an extremely difficult position.” For the first time since he’d arrived in Iacon, Sentinel’s voice carried with it a tone of underlying anger as he spoke to Optimus – one in which he did not try too hard to hide.

“I did it to save not only the lives of my fellow Autobots, but also the lives of many Neutrals–” Optimus started in defence, but was cut short when Sentinel suddenly burst out in unrestrained bitterness – a side of him that Optimus had rarely seen before.

“The Neutrals?! Any Neutral would gladly give up his own life in exchange for the death of a single Decepticon!” Sentinel’s optics glowered with an intense hatred, but then he seemed to calm himself down almost as quickly as his temper had flared. “Do you not understand, Optimus? I have no other choice now but to enforce the rules as set out by our Governance Agreement. Do you have any idea what that allows me to do in this situation – what I must do, as is not only my solemn duty but also my right?”

The Autobot Commander remained still in the face of his old friend’s unforeseen resentment and frustration. “I am aware of the Agreement, and I deeply regret that I have disappointed you… but you must also realize that the safety and well-being of those who are under my care is more important to me than anything.”

Sentinel studied him for a long moment before stepping closer, his steady gaze fixed upon the Prime. “So… does this mean that you will not rescind your order?”

After a few moments in serious thought, Optimus gave him his final answer. “I cannot.”

Sentinel straightened, his expression filled with consternation and utter regret. “Very well,” he replied, and then exited the room without another word.


Chapter 13 by Crystine

Transformers: Heroes

Chapter 13


As soon as it was clear to the femmes that Double would not be returning for them, Chromia led Firestar and Moonracer out of the dedicated lounge area of The Gambler's Den and back out onto the city street. There was no sign of the doublecrossing Autobot or his team of henchmen anywhere.

"Grrrrr! Just wait until I get my hands on him! First, I'm going to wring his neck, and then I'm going to–" Moonracer began, every bit as angry as she sounded, now that her fear had dissipated.

"'Racer…" Chromia interjected.

"–make him wish he'd never laid an optic on Moonracer!"


Moonracer let out a sharp exhalation and frowned. "What?" She replied in exasperation.

"I know you're upset – we all are – but that's not going to help get Elita back, is it?" Chromia reminded her, taking command of the situation as second in charge of her team.

Moonracer's anger began to subside, and she asked the question that was on all their minds. "What are we going to do, Chromia? We have to get her back."

The blue femme nodded in understanding, and took another look around the crowded city street, trying to think of what they should do next. Then she sighed. "She could be anywhere by now."

Firestar offered her input. "Maybe we can ask Devcon for help? He would know this place quite well."

Chromia considered her suggestion, but she had another idea. "I think the best chance we have right now is to return to our base and try to detect Elita's signature using our long range scanner." She paused to catch Moonracer's attention. "'Racer, how quickly will you be able to get our transmitter up and running?"

The green femme considered the situation. She'd still need to source a new beam array, and then remembered the five hundred credits that she'd won when she first went to try her luck at The Den. She'd promised Elita that she would only risk fifty of her winnings for her second try. "I still have four hundred and fifty credits! That should be more than enough to buy us the array," she informed them, beaming with pride.

Chromia nodded in satisfaction. "Good." She surveyed the street around them again, and then pointed ahead. "There's a large complex on one of the main streets further up. You can stop by and see if you can pick one up from there before we return to base. Come on, let's go." And with that, she led the way north through the bustling city square.

Hitec's narrow streets left Sunstreaker with an unexplainable sense of foreboding – as if something could be watching them at any moment, invisible, lurking around every dark corner ready to jump out at them. He tried to shake off the feeling but couldn't; it stuck like glue, so instead he focused upon his companion and wondered why Comet seemed to be completely unafraid of anything, even now as they walked along a deserted alleyway under the cover of waning darkness – the only sources of light being the stars in the night sky and the faint glow of the main city district in the distance.

"Aren't you worried about getting caught?" He ventured. Comet kicked an empty canister out of the way with his foot, but said nothing. The clanging sound that it made as it tumbled away from the alley and out of sight irritated the Autobot slightly. "I mean, if I were you…"

Comet turned to face him, pointing a finger at him. "Well, it's a good thing that you're not me, then. Isn't it?"

Sunstreaker was taken slightly aback by Comet's abrupt show of resentment. "Hey, I didn't mean to upset you." He couldn't understand where the anger and antagonism was coming from, or why it had been directed at him, but the last thing he wanted to do was to get on the seeker's wrong side. He was tired of being alone and only longed to return to Cybertron to be reunited with his fellow Autobots; but, more than anything else, he longed to see his brother again.

Comet hesitated for a moment before backing down. He dropped his arm to his side and turned his head away slightly. "On Alternity City, worrying about anything will only get you killed. I can't afford to worry."

The Autobot looked out towards the eastern skyline, and took a few moments to contemplate their recent escape from the Hitec scrap metal recycling facility, and how lucky he was to still be alive, despite everything that had happened to him. He had Comet to thank for that. "Is that how you've managed to stay alive here for so long?"

Comet looked back at him. He studied the Autobot for a long moment before finally answering. "No," he said in a quiet voice, shaking his head slowly. "The truth is… I should be dead already."

"Why do you say that?" Sunstreaker was genuinely puzzled by his companion's unexpected remark; whether he knew it or not, Comet was a powerful Decepticon warrior and only a select few on Alternity City could truly rival him in both cunning and skill.

"Isn't it obvious?" The Decepticon shrugged. "I've got the Supremacists on my tail, not to mention probably half the bounty hunters in the quadrant… and that's not even counting the doublecrossing scum on Alternity City I've managed to tick off…"

"I don't get it." Sunstreaker gave him a look of puzzlement. "I mean, are you top of the black ops' most wanted list or something?" When he received no immediate reply, he stared at Comet disbelievingly. "No… Comet, what did you do?"

"I told you – nothing." Comet started walking again down the alley, leaving Sunstreaker wondering after him.

Whether the estranged seeker was telling the complete truth he really couldn't say for sure, though whatever misdeed this Decepticon may or may not have committed, it essentially didn't matter to him. He only wished that Comet would confide in him a little more – perhaps the seeker just needed a little more time. "Hey, wait up." Sunstreaker sprinted to catch up until he was walking beside him. "Wait, so… what now?"

Comet slowed to a stop once again, looked around them in contemplation. Finally he nodded, having made his decision. "Do you know how to get to that relay station from here?"

"Relay station…" Sunstreaker looked at him oddly, and shrugged. "Which relay station? I mean, there're plenty of them around here–"

"The one where you got yourself captured," Comet explained, cutting in. "The one where you saw deactivated Autobots?" Sunstreaker fell quiet; he was not too keen on revisiting that relay station again. "Well?"

"I, uh…" He hesitated. "Yeah, I know how to get there."

"Good," Comet said, waited for him expectantly. "Then, let's go."

The yellow Autobot remained where he was. "Would you at least tell me why you want to go there?"

Comet caught his gaze, and became aware of the Autobot's discomfort at his suggestion to revisit the relay station. He softened his tone a little as he explained his reasoning to the Autobot. "I figure you'll need solid evidence of what has been happening with the Alliance, once you return to Cybertron… who would believe you without some undeniable proof to back your claim?"

Sunstreaker contemplated his sobering words, before finally responding. "I gotta admit… I haven't thought that far ahead." Comet was right; he would have a difficult time convincing anyone of Sentinel Prime's acts of treason against the Autobots, especially Optimus Prime himself, if he were to make it back to Cybertron in one piece. "Why do you care, anyway?" He asked in a moment of spontaneous consideration, and hoped that Comet would not take him the wrong way again. "I mean, really – why?"

Comet did not seem surprised by his query; on the contrary, it seemed as if he had been expecting it. "I don't know… why. I can't remember…" His voice was low, almost a whisper, and Sunstreaker could tell that he was deeply troubled by his apparent loss of memory; it was something that had probably haunted Comet for longer than he would care to admit, though it was also something that seemed to be driving him, instinctively, ever onward.

Sunstreaker nodded in unspoken understanding, then took a deep intake of air and indicated down the alley with a nod of his head. "Alright. Follow me," he said, and the two of them began to walk down the alley together in silence.

When Prowl entered the conference room shortly after Sentinel's private talk with Optimus, he found the Autobot leader seated in one of the chairs. "Sir…" Optimus looked up at him, and then slowly stood, headed for the exit. Prowl watched him go, and then followed him out, closing the door behind him.

Optimus did not expect so many of his loyal officers standing just outside, in the adjacent Communications Center, waiting to see him; there was Prowl, Ratchet, Red Alert, Arcee, Ironhide, Trailbreaker, Hound, and Smokescreen, and they shared mixed looks of concern and uncertainty upon their faces. Something was clearly bothering them. He thought that he probably did not appear too happy to them, either. "It is good that I have you all here. There is something urgent that I need to discuss with you all – the sooner the better," he began.

Ratchet stepped forward. "Good, because there's something we need to discuss with you, too, Prime."

Optimus nodded in acknowledgement, and surveyed everyone in the Communications Center. Sentinel Prime was nowhere to be seen. "Yes, Ratchet." He turned to Prowl. "Contact the rest of the Autobots – as many as you can. Have them meet me here, in one mega cycle."

Prowl nodded, and then hesitated. "What about Sentinel?"

Optimus took a moment to reply, before cautiously shaking his head. "No."

Prowl nodded again, but did not question him on it. As he began to do as asked, Sideswipe suddenly appeared behind them, at the entrance to the Communications Center. He stopped short, surveying the group, his optics intense and alert.

"Ah, Sideswipe, I've been meaning to speak with you." Ratchet gave Optimus a courteous nod before moving away from the small group to head towards the Autobot warrior. "Welcome back, by the way."

Sideswipe seemed to ignore his greeting, as he grabbed the Chief Medical Officer's shoulders with both hands. "Is he alright? Tell me!"

"Sideswipe… calm down, would you?" Ratchet gave him an annoyed look, and tried to free himself from the Autobot's gasp, but it was unusually strong. "What is wrong with you? Let go of me."

Sideswipe abruptly did as he was told, but then immediately continued with his line of questioning in an almost obsessive-like manner. "Tell me, is he alright?" Ratchet looked back at him in puzzlement, and when Optimus and Arcee walked over to join them, Sideswipe only continued his plea. "Prime? Is he dead?"

"Sideswipe… you need to calm down. We want to help you." Optimus exchanged glances with Ratchet, though he was just as perplexed at the Autobot's odd behaviour as the medic was.

Ratchet tried again, this time grabbing a hold of Sideswipe's forearm in an attempt to bring him back to his senses. "Sideswipe – now, listen to me. I want you to inhale, slowly and deeply." Sideswipe hesitated, unsure, his pained expression clear for all to see. "Just do as I tell you… please." Ratchet's words started to sink in, albeit slowly, and Arcee's gentle touch on his arm seemed to suddenly calm him down even more. He drew in a long, deep breath, then slowly exhaled, and repeated the process a second time, and then a third. "Okay… good. Now… slowly, tell us what's wrong. Who is dead?"

Sideswipe's frame shook, ever so slightly, and Ratchet performed a quick visual check on him without the Autobot even being aware of what he was doing, as he discreetly looked him over with a calm, experienced optic, noting any changes in his physical structure, however subtle. "Groove!" He blurted out suddenly, obviously upset. "Is… is he okay?"

The Autobot's Chief Medical Officer did not react to his emotional outburst. "Groove? Don't worry about Groove, he's fine. He doesn't remember what happened to him… but otherwise, he's doing just fine. Now, I want you to keep cycling air. That's right, just focus on doing that. Good…" He glanced over at Arcee. "Arcee? Would you take over, please? Just… keep him calm. Then show him to my quarters. I'll be there in just a breem."

She nodded dutifully. "Sure, of course." Then she focused her attention upon Sideswipe, as Ratchet stepped back to relinquish control of the situation to the pink and white femme.

As Sideswipe began to finally calm down, he allowed Arcee to lead him back down the hallway towards the Maintenance and Repair Bay annexe. Once the two of them had disappeared out of sight and were sufficiently out of audio range, Ironhide broke the lingering silence. "What in the slag was that all about?"

"And… since when has Sideswipe been so concerned about Groove's wellbeing?" Smokescreen added.

Ratchet shook his head. "I don't know… but I sure as hell intend to find out."

* * * 

Ratchet entered his quarters and waited until the door sealed quietly closed behind him, then he stepped forwards and took his seat behind his desk. Arcee, seated beside Sideswipe opposite, smiled empathically at him and he nodded, indicating for her to leave him alone with the Autobot warrior. "Thanks, Arcee."

"You're welcome," she said, and then smiled at Sideswipe, placing a hand on his forearm. He briefly smiled up at her, and watched as she left the room. Then he cast his gaze downwards, tried not to show his nervousness as he clenched his fists. He remained this way until Ratchet finally spoke.

"Feeling better?"

He hesitated, gave the medical officer a small shrug. "Yeah… sure. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Sideswipe…" Ratchet sighed and leaned back in his chair, trying to think of the best way to approach this particular situation. There was much that needed to be said between them, much that still remained unspoken, yet all of that would have to wait. For now, he needed to earn Sideswipe's trust. "Look, whatever's going on with you… I want to help."

The red and black Autobot looked up suddenly, conviction evident in his expression. "You mean like the last time we spoke? What was it that you told me? Oh, yeah, that's right – and I quote, 'Come talk to me again when you've got your priorities back in order.'"

Ratchet frowned, held the Autobot's gaze. "You're right. I should have listened to you more. In fact, I was wrong about a lot of things back then. So… if it means anything to you, I'm sorry." Sideswipe's demeanour seemed to change somewhat, and his shoulders relaxed a little, but he said nothing. "I… heard you've been granted a pardon. Congratulations." Sideswipe remained motionless, and Ratchet cleared his vocal processor. He needed to get through to him, somehow, and decided that he'd just have to keep trying until he did. "You, uh… seemed very worried about Groove back there. Was there any reason for that?"

Sideswipe grimaced. "Is that a crime now, to be concerned about the safety of a fellow Autobot?"

"No… of course not. Look… I'm just going to be straight with you. The fact is… I'm just not so sure anymore that we can trust the damn Alliance. Sunstreaker, your brother – he may have been right all along. But, we…" He said, indicating the Autobots with a sweep of his hand, "…we were all just too damned proud to see it." There was undeniable conviction in his tone, yet he also sounded tired, as if worn out by many years of silent anguish. Nonetheless, his words seemed to draw Sideswipe's full attention, and the warrior sat up straight, his gaze fixed upon the medical officer. Ratchet moved to retrieve something from his desk top, held out a data pad towards Sideswipe. "Here… take a look at this."

Sideswipe hesitated, wary, but then slowly reached across to take the data pad from him. As he slowly sat down again, he began to read its contents, and then stopped, a look of confusion on his face. He continued reading and then, after a few kliks, looked up again. "Sunny… he – he tried to tell me… but, but I wouldn't listen to him." Slight hesitation, and then, "Nor would I have believed him."

Ratchet nodded solemnly. "No. But we can now."

Standing up abruptly, Sideswipe placed the data pad on Ratchet's desk, and then turned away from him. He began to pace slowly across the room, then stopped at the far wall and looked up at the metallic trophy that proudly hung there, read the inscription below it, all the while lost in the memory of a time that had long since passed, though its effects still lingered. Then he turned back to face Ratchet. "It doesn't matter now; it's too late, anyway. There's nothing we can do."

"What do you mean it's too late?" Ratchet challenged.

Sideswipe strode back towards him, moving quickly, placed both his hands flat on the desk top to lean across it. "Listen to me! Sentinel's too powerful. He's got the Council wrapped around his little finger; he's got a whole Neutral army behind him, plus half of all the Autobots in Antihex, and probably many of the other Autobot-controlled city-states as well!"

"What did you just say?" Ratchet replied, trying to make sense of what the Autobot had just told him, but Sideswipe's sudden declarations had come at him so fast that he didn't know whether he could keep up.

Sideswipe stepped back, straightened to his full height. "I said Sentinel's too powerful–"

"No… no. About the Autobots. What did you just say about the Autobots in Antihex?" The Autobot warrior gave him a look of consternation, and then averted his gaze. "Sideswipe… what do you mean Sentinel's got half the Antihex Autobots behind him?" Ratchet pressed.

"I… saw them with my own optics. I don't know how to explain it… but those Autobots… they'd been compromised, somehow. Almost as if they'd all been placed under some sort of hypnotic spell."

Ratchet rubbed the side of his face, still in a state of confusion. "If… what you're saying is true… why didn't you report it?"

Sideswipe became indignant. "You think I haven't tried? No one would believe me!"

Silence fell abruptly between them, and Ratchet contemplated the situation for a long moment. "I believe you. There're just too many things that I can't explain." He shook his head slowly. "Groove's memory loss, for one thing, and those lab notes. It just doesn't make any sense." Sideswipe said nothing; he dared not reveal anything about Groove's condition, lest Sentinel should punish him for it. Ratchet continued to observe him carefully. "Oh, I've been meaning to ask… did you get that recorded message from Smokescreen?"

The Autobot medic thought he saw Sideswipe's optics flicker. "Yeah… I did," the warrior replied simply.

"Good…" He continued. "I hope it was of some help to you."

"It was a message from Sunny, soon after he left," Sideswipe explained without being asked, watching the other's reaction carefully as he did so. "He said that Sentinel had something to do with that Plague… he had doubts about the Alliance from the very beginning."

"Ah…" Ratchet nodded.

"Why didn't you show it to me sooner?" Sideswipe demanded.

The medic sighed. "Sunstreaker managed to transmit that message to Iacon using a Neutral emergency transport shuttle… at the time you'd already been dismissed from active duty, but you didn't want to be found, so… I held onto it, hoping that I'd be able to get it to you eventually… but, I never heard from either of you again."

Sideswipe slowly sat back down again as he listened to what Ratchet had to say. "You haven't heard from him since?" His words were strained, as if it was difficult for him to even ask the question.

Ratchet slowly shook his head. "No. I'm sorry." He paused, and wanted very much to reassure him somehow, wanted to make it up to him after the way he'd treated him all those years ago. "I know what it's like to lose someone, you know."

Sideswipe did not respond. The two of them sat there together in silence, pondering their own thoughts, the air filled with a thick, unspoken expectation that neither of them could truly fathom. Finally, after what felt like vorns, Sideswipe broke the silence. "Well, I gotta get going." He stood up and headed towards the exit, waited for the door to slide open in front of him.

"Wait–" Ratchet stood up also. "Sideswipe?"

The black and red Autobot warrior hesitated. "Yeah?" He said.

"Listen, uh… if you need anything, you'll let me know. Okay?" Ratchet sounded unsure of himself, as if he sought the other's understanding and approval. At the very least, however, he sounded sincere.

Sideswipe turned halfway back towards him, nodded his head in acknowledgement. "Sure," he said, and then left.

The conference room was filled to capacity with most of the Iacon-stationed Autobots. Only Sentinel Prime and Sideswipe were absent. Many had taken a seat around the oval table, while the rest remained standing. The sound of chatter filled the air, along with an underlying trepidation and a sense that the start of something monumental was about to occur, with possibly serious and far-reaching consequences.

When Optimus cleared his vocal processor, every Autobot in the room quietened down, eager to hear what he had to say. "My fellow Autobots… we have fought side-by-side and have stood strong against the threat of our enemies over the many vorns… throughout the Great War, and the Great Devastation, and throughout all the times of peril that we have endured since we were first given life by our Creator. In that time, we have lost many good friends and allies, yet we still continue to stand strong today, together in the knowledge that we have always stood for what is right, for truth, and for freedom from all forms of oppression… that each and every one of us has the right to live without fear, and without prejudice…" He paused, moved his gaze around the room at each Autobot. "I consider each and every one of you my closest and dearest friend and comrade…"

"Optimus?" Ironhide started uncertainly, but Hot Rod nudged him hard.

"Shh… let him speak!" The orange and red warrior whispered in a harsh tone. The looks that many of the other Autobots gave Ironhide offered the same message, and he took the hint.

"…I would not allow any harm to come to any of you, if it is within my power, though I want you to know that I have the utmost faith in you all. It is important now, more than ever, that you all stand strong together, united against our common enemy. With… or without me."

It was as if a sudden whirlwind had been unleashed. The reactions amongst the Autobots were varied; some sat or stood there in disbelief, others demanded an explanation, while yet others raised their voices in concern and protestation.

"But, Prime…!" Ironhide stood up in alarm, but his voice was drowned out by the others.

"What do you mean, Optimus? Are you leaving us?" Bluestreak questioned.

"No way is any harm going to come to you – not if I have anything to say about it!" Brawn said, as he stood with the other minibots in one corner of the room.

"Prime, are you stepping down? What's this all about, anyway?" Hound's voice could be heard above the din.

Prowl stood up, tried to quieten the group down again. "Everybody, please… let him talk!"

The group eventually quietened down again, though Optimus did not appear distracted by their reactions. He sat and waited patiently, as if absorbed in his own thoughts as he prepared to deliver his final speech as Supreme Commander of the Autobot army. "I will only ask one thing of you… and that is that you all continue to uphold the Autobot code of honour at all times, to the best of your abilities, no matter what happens to me."

"Prime… what's going on?" Ironhide's expression plainly showed his utter concern for the Autobot Commander, and also his best friend. "Look, if there's something you're not telling us…"

"We'll stand by you, no matter what, Optimus. All the way," Silverbolt said in support, speaking for all the Aerialbots standing around him.

"I'm with Ironhide and Silverbolt," Trailbreaker continued. "Prime, if there's anything we can do to help – you can trust us, whatever it is…"

"I do trust you, Trailbreaker," Optimus replied. "I trust all of you with my life. However, there's nothing you can do for me this time." He took a long, deep inhalation before continuing, the Autobots hanging expectantly on his every word. "I will soon be required to surrender my post as Commander of the Autobot army… and when I do, I need you all to remain strong."

"But you can't, Optimus! We need you now more than ever!" Hot Rod spoke up, followed by unanimous support from all in the room.

"I'm sorry… but I must. I have no choice." Optimus did not elaborate further, though it was obvious that the matter weighed heavily upon his shoulders.

"Well, what are we going to do? Who will lead us?" Hot Spot asked.

Groove agreed with his team leader. "No one can take your place as our leader."

Ratchet also spoke his mind. "Surely there's got to be some other way, Optimus?"

"I'm afraid not, Ratchet old friend. I, too, am honour-bound and must do what is right."

"Do what is right, for whom?" Ratchet replied, his tone of voice clearly expressing his frustration. "Damn it, Optimus! Would you at least tell us why?"

"This ain't right…" Ironhide said, supporting his sentiments.

Optimus raised a hand so that they would quieten down again, enough for him to speak. "More than a vorn ago, at the end of the Last Great War, I took an oath to stand by the values and principles as set out under our new Agreement. I swore to defend and uphold those values no matter what, so that we might always stand strong against the Decepticons and defeat them once and for all, with the Neutrals as our new allies." He paused, gauging their reactions; as he had feared, the majority of his officers were finding it difficult accepting what he had to tell them. "Soon, however… I must face the decisions I have recently made in light of that Agreement, and must willingly accept the consequences of those decisions, no matter the outcome. My role as Autobot Commander demands nothing less of me." A brief pause and then, "Thank you all. It has truly been an honour to serve among you as your leader, fellow Autobot… and comrade."

A few seconds of uncomfortable silence followed his speech, and then the room broke out once more in a cacophony of voices. Many of the Autobots continued to press him with questions and demand more answers, several of them frustrated and upset, but he was tired and low on energy, and felt that the best thing for him to do right now was to get some recharge. Soon, he would need all his strength to face the inevitable. He stood and headed for the door, pressed the button on the panel to open it, and left without another word.

It had been decided that Megatron should lead a team of Decepticons to infiltrate Quadrant Epsilon and henceforth break into the Detention Banks, in an attempt to save their deactivated comrades. The team would consist of Scrapper, Hook, Bonecrusher, Long Haul, Rumble, and the jaguar-like mini-cassette, Ravage. Jazz would also be accompanying them, as had been agreed to earlier, whilst Soundwave, Laserbeak, and the two remaining Constructicons, Scavenger and Mixmaster, would remain at the Darkmount base to monitor communications from there. The team would need to move in and out of the Quadrant unnoticed, and would need to avoid any encounter with any mech – Autobot or Neutral – if at all possible. Whilst the Quadrant itself was heavily guarded, it was not known how well guarded the Detention Banks were, nor where its detainees were precisely located, however the Decepticons did have a couple of things going for them. One; due to that sector's isolation deep below ground, they would be able to circumvent Iacon entirely, which was situated far above it on the planet's surface, and two; thanks to their recently developed teleportation capabilities, they would be able to instantly transport themselves to a pre-selected point close to their destination.

Jazz watched as Scrapper searched through supplies from the munitions bay at the end of one of the long tunnels that spanned the area beneath the Darkmount site. There were many things he still wanted to know, in particular about the Decepticons' involvement in the events that had led up to the formation of the Alliance – many questions that still remained unanswered – though he knew that he would do best to bide his time, prove to them that he could be trusted with any such information.

The Constructicon leader tossed a case of timed explosives at Jazz, as well as a circuit immobilizer. "Here, take these," he said, as he took a few hand grenades for himself.

Jazz caught the munitions with ease, nodded in approval. "Think we'll need these?"

"You never know." Scrapper then took several weapons from the shelves and checked them over, adjusting the settings on each. "We haven't had to use these for quite a while," he said, speaking his thoughts. It was relatively quiet down here, and it was just the two of them; the other Decepticons had recently retired for recharge.

They would begin their mission as soon as the current recharge cycle was completed, still several hours away according to Jazz's internal chronometer, and he wondered whether it would be a good time to bring up the topic of the Great War. "Were you there… during the battle at Kaon?"

Scrapper looked up from his task. His face mask hid his expression, though his deliberate, slow movement had suggested a certain sense of uneasiness with the topic. "Oh, sure… I remember it like it happened only yesterday."

"Uh-huh." Jazz was about to ask Scrapper what he remembered, when the Constructicon spoke again.

"Yeah, great battle that turned out to be," Scrapper said, and Jazz thought he picked up sarcasm in his tone.

"What happened?" He asked, genuinely curious.

Scrapper looked at the arsenal of weapons he'd chosen for the team, and seemed satisfied with it. Then he turned his attention to the Autobot, considered his reply. "There was a Neutral-led assault on our base – not this one, but in Kolkular. They'd been planning to drive us out for deca cycles, and so they gathered their forces and laid siege against us." He picked up his collection of weapons and began to walk out of the munitions bay, stopping momentarily at the door for Jazz to follow him out. "So we fought back, and started to drive them away. We were winning, until…" He trailed off, looked away uncertainly.

Jazz walked out of the bay, and then watched as Scrapper pressed a button on a panel beside the door, and it closed behind him. "Until… what?" His gaze was fixed upon the Constructicon with single-minded focus.

"It… doesn't matter now," the Constructicon engineer said, hesitant, and started on his way down the tunnel. "Come on, we should get some recharge before we leave next cycle."

"Hey, hold up!" Jazz sprinted to catch up with him, placed a hand on the Decepticon's arm to get his attention. "You're wrong – it does matter," he justified, pulling his hand back as Scrapper turned around to face him. "Look… this probably comes as no surprise to you, but we have an official version of the story back in Iacon, and… well, let's just say that it's a completely different interpretation to what I've just heard."

Scrapper hesitated, averted his gaze. "I don't know what to tell you, Jazz…"

"Just tell me what you know," Jazz pressed.

The Autobot was persistent, and Scrapper sighed softly. "I'm… not sure about all the details." As he began walking again, Jazz kept pace with him. "What's your version?"

"Ah, long story short – the Decepticons engaged in battle against Autobot and Neutral forces in a last stand at Kaon… but suffered a major defeat… resulting in an undisputed victory for the Alliance. This enabled the Cybertronian Empire's new Governance Ruling Agreement of star date 143,501 to come into force, thereby effectively ending the Last Great War and ushering in the New Era," Jazz recounted, matter-of-fact.

"Undisputed victory, huh?" As he spoke, Scrapper led the way down two more levels and then along another long tunnel until he arrived at what appeared to be large private quarters. "Well… we did not suffer a major defeat at the hands of the Neutral army… and the Autobots? From what I recall there weren't very many of them around – I don't care what the official story says." He entered the darkened room, placed the weapons down on a nearby bench, and then walked over to an alcove that contained recharging berths. Five of them were occupied by the other Constructicons; three were empty. "Megatron ordered a retreat after a confrontation with Sentinel Prime. But, like I said, I don't know the details of that… he never really spoke about it afterwards. Maybe you should ask him yourself?"

Jazz nodded thoughtfully. "Thanks. I just might do that."

Scrapper pointed to an empty recharge berth. "You can use one of ours," he offered simply. Then he lay down on one of the other empty berths, and said nothing further.

Jazz stayed awake for several more minutes, sitting on his berth in quiet contemplation, before finally going into recharge.

"We're almost there; it's just up ahead." Sunstreaker paused to survey the landscape. In the growing light of early morning, the relay station where he had been captured by Sentinel Prime stood in the distance, stark and gloomy against Hitec's city skyline. The converted, drab warehouse served as one of the Neutral-Supremacist syndicate's many way stations, where cargo and personnel were covertly shipped to and from the Subterranean Base, and it also served as a temporary storage facility.

Comet walked up to stand beside him, and then continued onward, unperturbed. He stopped to turn back for a brief instant. "Well, are you coming?" He prompted.

The yellow Autobot followed after the seeker, quickly catching up with him, grabbing his arm as he did so. "Wait, Comet. There're surveillance cameras right around the perimeter, as well as a silent alarm system," he warned, releasing Comet's arm and pointing above the entrance doors to the relay station. "If we try to get inside through the front, a security team will be here in no time."

Comet paused, taking heed of his warning. "How did you get inside the last time?"

"I hid inside one of the transport vehicles," Sunstreaker replied.

"Hm. A transport vehicle, eh? That's not such a bad idea." Comet surveyed the area, until he caught sight of a narrow bridge crossing just ahead. He began to walk towards it, grabbing Sunstreaker by the arm as he did so and forcing the Autobot to follow him. "Come on."

Upon reaching the crossing, Comet dropped down one level to land inside a tunnel just underneath the bridge. Sunstreaker did the same, and then felt that it might be wise to ask the seeker what he was intending. "So... what now?"

"Now, we wait." Comet leaned against the tunnel wall, looking up at the domed ceiling above them. There were logographs sprawled in faded red ink across the metallic surface, though they appeared to be part of some foreign language that he wasn't familiar with. "Then, we'll simply take the first transport vehicle that comes along by surprise, and seize control of it." Sunstreaker gave him a look of uncertainty. "Unless you have a better idea?"

He shook his head in resignation. "No. I suppose it could work."


He thought it was a typical Decepticon plan; rough and ready, not to mention more than a little dangerous – there was no telling what kind of transport vehicle was scheduled to arrive at the relay station next, or who might already be inside the relay station, waiting for them – regardless, he had to admit that Comet's plan did have a chance of success, provided a little luck was on their side, of course. Besides, Sunstreaker really didn't have a better idea. He sat down on the rough ground, making himself more comfortable for the wait, and looked up at the ceiling. He stared at the writing for a long time with mild curiosity.

"Can you read that?" Comet asked him nonchalantly.

Sunstreaker rubbed at the back of his helm. "Not too well. It's an old script… from the looks of it I'd say it's probably Glithosian." When Comet gave him an amused expression, he clarified. "I had a passing interest in foreign written languages before the Great Wars." A pause, and then, "How about you – did you have any interests before the wars?" He doubted he'd get any meaningful information from Comet about his past but he thought he'd ask, nonetheless.

"I… have always been a skilled warrior…" Comet began, but then trailed off, saying nothing further.

"You don't like talking about yourself, do you?" Sunstreaker said with empathy in his voice. Again the seeker did not respond, so he looked up at the writing on the ceiling again, changing the focus of their conversation. "'The Apocalypse is upon us' Huh. You think it's a reference to the Great Devastation?"

Comet looked up at the graphemes on the ceiling and shrugged. "Probably."

They sat there together for several more breems in silence until, eventually, they heard the sound of a vehicle in the distance trundling towards the crossing.

* * * 

Before Sunstreaker could ask how, exactly, Comet planned on seizing control of the approaching vehicle, the seeker had already jumped up and back out onto the bridge. "Comet–" He called after him, as he climbed up a narrow ladder that led to the crossing. "Hey, wait up!" As the road became visible, he surveyed the oncoming vehicle – as expected, it was a transport car. To his bewilderment, it appeared that Comet had no particular strategy in mind; the seeker simply stood in the middle of the crossing, blocking traffic, his arms crossed in front of his chest. Sunstreaker watched as the vehicle came to a slow stop. After several long astro-seconds, its side doors opened and two Neutral agents stepped out, blasters at the ready.

"It's good of you to finally show up – you're late!" Comet called out, goading them.

The Neutrals exchanged glances, momentarily confused, and then raised their weapons at the Cybertronian jet, motioning for him to step aside. "You're in our way. Move, or we'll blast ya!"

But Comet seemed unperturbed by their show of aggression. "Oh… pardon me, what was I thinking?" He started to back away, moving off to the side of the road, hands held out in front of him.

The Neutrals hesitated, and then sneered at him, snorting derisively as they watched him back away. "Stupid junker!" One of them said, chuckling.

"Yeah. Hey, hold on a cycle – don't he look kinda familiar to you?" The other said, his curiosity now piqued.

"Say… now that you mention it. Maybe we ought to take him to the boss – you never know, he might be worth something," the first Neutral said to the other in a lowered voice, before turning his attention back to Comet. "Hey! Are you Cybertronian?" When Comet did not give him a reply, the Neutral stepped towards him, his expression impatient. "I asked you a question, slag face! Are you Cybertronian?"

Once the Neutral was close enough, Comet straightened his right arm out in front of him and fired a shot from his blaster. The intense beam of energy hit the Neutral directly in the chest before he had time to realize what had happened. Then Comet fired a second shot in quick succession, hitting the second Neutral, who had been standing behind the first, in the face. They both fell backwards with loud grunts, their weapons dropping to the ground as they did so.

"I'm Decepticon, slag breath!" Comet said to the offlined mechs, and walked quickly to pick up one of their weapons from the ground. He tossed it in the air across to Sunstreaker, who had been watching the entire exchange from the top of the ladder. "Here, this might come in handy," he said.

The blaster landed neatly in Sunstreaker's hand, and he moved quickly to join his unlikely partner. "Thanks…" He replied, glad to be in possession of a weapon once again – an essential requirement if a bot was to have any chance of survival on Alternity City.

Comet stepped closer towards the vehicle and examined it, peering inside. It was unmarked, and appeared to be a solid transport van, its storage compartment separated from the cab portion at the front, which was now vacant. "Care for a ride?" He said, and took the right passenger seat, while Sunstreaker took the driver's seat on the left, both doors slamming closed.

With a hint of a smile, Sunstreaker pressed down on the throttle and the car shot forward across the bridge and toward the relay station.

Moonracer had managed to acquire a beam array without any major problems. She had seen many useful items available for purchase inside the mega-complex that they'd come across when they'd first arrived in Binaltech, but the bot assistant had told her that he would have to check the storage room for a beam array as it was not a frequently requested item. By the time the bot had emerged from the back of the store after several breems, Moonracer had grown impatient with the long wait.

Seventy-five credits later, however, and she had gone back to her usual, cheery self, proudly holding up the array for her two best friends to see.

"Great! Now let's get going," Chromia had said, and the three of them had wasted no time returning to their base in Koltar.

Moonracer immediately went to work rebuilding their transmitter, while Firestar activated their long range scanner to try and locate Elita One, but there seemed to be no trace of her.

"We could try contacting Cybertron Command, once the transmitter is functional again–" Firestar suggested, but Chromia did not let her finish.

"Cybertron Command? Are you kidding? It's too risky. The Alliance can't be trusted – not now," she said, shaking her head.

"Okay. So… what did you have in mind?" Firestar queried, but the second-in-command remained where she stood, deep in thought. "Chrome?"

"Huh?" Startled for a moment, Chromia faced her team mate and then began pacing slowly across the room, one hand on hip, looking down towards the floor. She appeared to be thinking intensely, but then she sighed, turned back to face Firestar. "I just wish Elita were here."

The red and orange femme nodded. "I'm hoping she's still on Alternity City somewhere…"

The very idea that Double – if that was even his real name – had taken Elita One off-world was quite disconcerting, especially after the doublecrossing Cybertronian had mentioned that there was a bounty on her head. Was that the only reason he had forcibly taken her – to exchange her for a large sum of credits? And, if so, how had he known that she would be at The Gambler's Den?

"Okay – I'm done. Chromia?" Moonracer's voice drifted over to Chromia, and she strode over to the work bench where the green femme had been working.

She examined the transmitter on the bench top, which was now fully functional. "Good work, 'Racer," she said, and then returned to stand beside Firestar, though her thoughts were obviously elsewhere.

"Chrome?" Firestar watched her curiously.

Chromia exhaled slowly and then, finally, she turned to her two team mates. "Moonracer – can you establish a communications link over a specific frequency band?"

Moonracer shrugged. "Well, sure… what range would you like? Autobot Command… the emergency band… um, the Destron Precinct control station?"

After a long moment, Chromia shook her head, bit her bottom lip. She inhaled and then exhaled deeply. "No… Decepticon," she said.

There was an awkward silence in the room before Firestar finally responded. "Decepticon? Chromia, what are you doing?"

Moonracer's optics widened in temporary shock, unsure of what to think. "Uh… well… I probably could… at least in theory I should be able to, yeah… though I've never actually tried–"

"Moonracer – you're not actually thinking about it?" Firestar said in protest. "Chrome? The Decepticons – I mean, why? The last thing we need is to let them know we're here, and besides… we certainly don't need their help!"

"I can mask our transmission location, if you want… it's no problem," Moonracer interjected.

"If anyone can help us rescue Elita One, 'Star, it's them. They have the capabilities…" Chromia started to explain, but Firestar wasn't accepting it.

She looked incredulously at her team leader. "But – what about Devcon, or… or maybe we could try and get in touch with Crosscut – I'm sure he's still here on Alternity City, last I heard–"

Chromia shook her head, looking down at the floor. "No… we don't have time for that."

"Then… I don't get it." Firestar paused in exasperation, and now it was her turn to place her hands on her hips. She spoke her next sentence with deliberation. "What makes you think that they'd even want to help us, Chrome?"

Chromia looked up at her friend, and gave her a sympathetic look. "Do you trust me?"

"Trust you? Well, of course I trust you, Chrome, but this is–" Firestar tried to reason.

"Then – trust me… please?"

Firestar shook her head and sighed, but she didn't have a ready answer. Finally, after considering the situation she decided to give her friend the benefit of the doubt, and relented. She turned her palms upward in a show of surrender. "All right…" She said.

Chromia gave her an expression of gratitude. "I still don't know if this is going to work… but we've got to try." She walked back towards Moonracer and nodded towards the transmitter; the green femme had stood quietly by, waiting with interest to see what Chromia intended to do next. "Can you do it?"

"I think so…" Moonracer said, and selected the frequency band on the transmitter that she knew fell within the Decepticons' general communication broadcast range. The message would not be transmitted on a secure channel, but it was the best she could do. "Um… do you want to talk to Cybertron… or Alternity City?"

Chromia replied readily. "Alternity City."

"Okay…" Moonracer set the controls as required, and then turned back to Chromia. "Ready when you are." There was a tense moment of silence as the two femmes waited for Chromia's next instruction.

"Go ahead and open the channel," she told Moonracer.

Moonracer flicked a switch on the transmitter. Several seconds went by, and then she spoke up. "It's scanning… hold on. I think I got it." Firestar quietly walked up to stand behind the other two, watching with focused intent. "Go ahead… say something," Moonracer told the second-in-command, motioning with her hand.

Chromia stepped closer to the transmitter. "Astrotrain, if you're out there, please respond."

"Astrotrain?" Firestar whispered in exasperation, but Chromia raised a hand to stop her.

"Shh…" Chromia kept her attention focused on the transmitter, listening intently. Of course, there was no guarantee that she'd be able to connect with the Decepticon in question, and it wasn't without risk, but she thought it would be worth a try. "Astrotrain… please respond." She waited another minute, and then tried again. "Come on… Astrotrain, let me know you can hear this," she said, but was once again greeted with silence. "Ah, it's no use." She was about to give up hope, averting her optics in disappointment, when a voice came over the com link.

"Who is this?" The voice was unmistakable – it belonged to Astrotrain, the Decepticon triple changer.

Chromia snapped her attention back to the transmitter. "This is… Chromia." She paused, waited for the voice on the other end to say something further, but no response came. "Uh, we met at the energy accumulator?"

There was another long silence, and for a moment Chromia thought that the connection might have been lost, but then his voice came over the link once again. "Oh… yeah, that's right. I remember you. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Chromia glanced at Firestar, who gave her a sardonic look. "Charming, isn't he?" The red femme said in a low voice.

Chromia ignored her comment. "Elita One's been captured… she needs help," she told him. She hadn't considered what they might do if the Decepticon was unwilling to help them, and began to suddenly have doubts about contacting him in the first place.

Astrotrain must have picked up on the desperation in her voice, because he did not question the validity of her claim, nor why she'd decided to contact him about it. There was another pause before he finally replied. "This channel's unsecured… if you want, we can meet somewhere?"

Chromia's countenance eased somewhat in quiet relief at his reply, and she rubbed at the back of her neck with her fingers, trying to think of the best rendezvous point – one that offered ease of access but was reasonably secure. "Okay… ah, how about…"

"Oh, how about the Koltar Air Base? It's connected to the subway system, and it's not too far from here," Moonracer interjected, wanting to help.

"Okay," Chromia said after brief consideration. "The Koltar Air Base?" She repeated for Astrotrain, in case he hadn't overheard.

"Sounds good to me," he replied.

"Say in… a couple of breems?" She was about to end the transmission, but then spoke her final thoughts. "Oh, and… Astrotrain?"



A pause. "Don't mention it," he said, and disconnected from the transmission.

The plan to hijack a Neutral transport car and then use it to get inside the relay station without being detected worked like a charm. The front door unlocked and slid open for them automatically as Sunstreaker guided the vehicle to the entrance. Once they were inside, the doors closed behind them again, and Sunstreaker brought the car to a stop, turned off the engine. They each opened their side door to step out of the vehicle, and then slowly looked around. Apart from the two of them, there was no one else inside.

Except for rows of bare shelves and a terminal in one corner, the converted warehouse appeared to be empty. "They've cleared everything out," Sunstreaker said, disappointed. As he spoke, Comet had forced open the transport car's rear doors, and was already searching inside the compartment. Sunstreaker refocused his attention on Comet and walked around to the rear of the car to join him. There was a pile of sealed containers sitting neatly in the back. Comet picked one up and inspected it before handing it to Sunstreaker. "No seal… and no designation stamp. Just like the other containers that were in here," he informed Comet as he turned the container over in his hands, wondering how he might be able to get it open without damaging its contents. "It doesn't seem to open. Any ideas?"

The seeker had no answer for him. He began to look around the large building once more, then casually walked over to the terminal in the corner. He studied it for a moment before powering it up, watched as the blank monitor came to life. It appeared to be part of an advanced communications system of some sort, and was asking for authorisation.

Sunstreaker made his way over to the terminal, still holding the sealed container. He placed it on the bench and sat down in front of the terminal, staring at the monitor. Then he extended a probe from one of his fingertips, inserted it into an input port and waited several seconds for feedback. "It's connected to a large central network… but I don't think I can get past all the security protocols. It's too heavily guarded."

"Try anyway," Comet told him.

Sunstreaker considered his chances of being able to get into the Neutral com system – as an Autobot, he had been able to gain access to it a few times before, though it had only been low level access. "Alright…" He entered his Autobot security code, but it wouldn't authorise; apparently, it had been deactivated. "Huh. They must think I'm dead…" Suddenly, there was a beeping sound coming from the terminal, and he looked up at Comet. "Great. I must have tripped the alarm."

After a few moments, Comet replied. "Let's get out of here. There's nothing in here, anyway," he said, and walked towards the nearest wall. Punching a hole right through it with his fist, he made the opening wider by tearing it with his hands until it was large enough for him to walk through. As he did so, he looked out at the road and noticed the two Neutrals that he had shot earlier begin to stir and sit up. Then he looked up at the sky; he hadn't engaged his alt mode in a very long time, and suddenly found himself yearning for the open skies once more.

"Wait–" The Autobot said behind him. Comet looked back at him expectantly. "I don't have aerial capabilities… I'm only going to slow you down."

Comet hesitated for a moment, but then transformed into his jet mode while adjusting his size to suit. It was a predominately sleek form; dark grey frame highlighted with yellow vertical stabilisers and air intakes, and red and yellow pinstripes along his wings, which matched the color scheme of his robot mode. Sunstreaker half expected the Decepticon to simply take off and leave him behind, forced to fend for himself against approaching Neutral security teams, but then he quickly realized that that was not the seeker's intention at all. "Well… unless you want to stay here, I suggest you jump in," Comet said, opening his cockpit canopy.

Sunstreaker grabbed the sealed container on the bench, sprinted towards him and jumped into the cockpit seat. As the canopy closed over him, he felt the jet's twin engines kick in. Then, within a matter of astro-seconds, they shot upwards into the open sky as Comet activated his afterburners, leaving the relay station far below.

"So, you're telling me you don't remember what happened to you at all?" Ratchet asked, attaching a probe to a port behind Groove's helm. The medic had headed to the Repair Bay shortly after Optimus' ill-favoured announcement, at Red Alert's request. Both Red Alert and Arcee stood beside Ratchet, ready to assist.

Groove slowly shook his head. "No. It's like my mind's a blank."

"Tell me the last thing you remember," the Chief Medical Officer encouraged his patient, who had come in for his scheduled check-up session – Red Alert had insisted that frequent sessions would be a necessary part of the Protectobot's after-care regimen, at least until they could figure out what had happened to his memory.

"Uh… I think…" Groove frowned, trying hard to remember. "I was in Iacon? But I don't know why…"

"Go further back if you're having trouble, to the first thing that you do remember. Just, take all the time you need. There's no hurry," Ratchet reassured him, as he quietly analysed the data readout from the probe on a nearby monitor.

"Okay. Well… I definitely remember hearing about the new directive."

"Uh-huh," the Autobot medic responded. He continued analysing data as he initialized a scan of Groove's memory core. "Tell me what you remember about that."

"Well, I think… the High Council called for the capture of all Decepticons… but I don't know what happened after that." Groove sat on his berth, deep in thought, and then finally looked up at the three of them. "Did we? Capture any Decepticons, I mean?"

Red glanced uneasily at Arcee before offering the Protectobot a brief answer. "Just the one."

"Oh, you mean Scavenger?" Groove must have heard about the Constructicon's capture and subsequent escape from his fellow Protectobots.

"That's not important. What is important is that you try to remember what happened to you," Ratchet answered.

Groove looked up at him with widened optics. "Streetwise told me that he attacked me, but, well – I just couldn't believe it. I mean, really – Scavenger?"

Ratchet removed the probe and turned off the display. Then he grimaced, turning to his two assistants. "From what I can tell, his memory core has been tampered with."

Red Alert looked at him in shock. "What? I mean – are you sure?" He said in disbelief. "But I performed a deep scan of his memory module – nothing like that ever came up."

"That's because you probably didn't check for field integrity," Ratchet explained.

Red Alert realized that he had, indeed, overlooked a critical point, and a look of astonishment crossed his face. Granted, the integrity of a module's information field was usually only relevant when dealing with deliberate data extraction, such as in the removal of a virus, but Groove's condition had never hinted at this – he had been attacked, not infected with a viral agent. Still, Red realized that, if someone had wanted to, and possessed the right clearance codes, they could have used the procedure to erase selected parts of a mech's memory. If anything, it would be an effective way to accomplish such a task, yet it was an unorthodox method; though, in Groove's case, it immediately hinted towards something very sinister at play.

Arcee, too, seemed jolted by the revelation, and she placed a reassuring hand on Groove's forearm. "Who would have done something like that? Hasn't he been through enough?"

Ratchet gave them a disparaging look. "Isn't it obvious?" But he received no response from either of them, and so he continued. "Someone doesn't want Groove to know what happened to him."

Arcee asked the obvious question. "But… who? The Decepticons?"

Ratchet looked doubtful. "Maybe… maybe not."

"Maybe Scavenger wiped his memory just before–" Red Alert began, but Ratchet interrupted him.

"No – this was done to him very recently. Within the last orn." Silence filled the room as they contemplated what Ratchet had just told them. "Whoever it was… probably carried out the procedure right here, while alone with Groove."

"But…" Arcee looked back at the Protectobot, who returned her gaze with a calm expression. She turned away from him and walked a few paces, one hand covering her mouth. "Other than Red and myself, there's been no one else in here unattended… except–" She slowly turned around to face the three of them, and inhaled sharply. "…Sideswipe," she said after a moment, whispering the Autobot's name.

"Sideswipe?" Ratchet repeated curiously.

"Oh, but it couldn't have been him!" Arcee insisted, quickly coming to the Autobot's defense. "He would never do anything like that!"

"Alright… calm down, Arcee," Ratchet reassured her. "Now, we're not going to jump to any conclusions."

"So… what are we going to do?" Red Alert asked, but Ratchet was already one step ahead.

"Just give me a few moments to think," he said. He sighed deeply, fixing his gaze upon Groove as he considered all available courses of action. "First things first – we need to find a way to get Groove's memory back."

"But is that even possible?" Red asked.

"It depends," Ratchet replied. "If the erased portion of his memory was processed via his autonomic pathways… then it's possible that the data can be retrieved. Though… it would take time, and can't be done without significant effort on Groove's part."

"Oh, of course…" Red said in realization. "The autonomic pathways process emotional responses, which are usually entwined with the memory data from our day-to-day experiences," he explained to Arcee, before looking back at Ratchet.

"Emotional responses? You mean… like Groove might have experienced the night of his attack?" Arcee added softly.

"That's right," the Chief Medical Officer confirmed. "If we can reactivate those same emotional responses, the associated data will then reconstruct within his memory field. He's lucky, though – the longer we wait, the less chance that the process will be successful." Then he turned to the Protectobot, moved closer and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Groove… we can probably get your memory back, but we're going to need your full co-operation."

Groove looked up at him; there was a far-away look in his optics as he contemplated what the Autobot medic was saying. "Sure… okay."

"Good. Now… it's my duty to warn you… there's a pretty good chance that when you do get your memory back… well, let's just say that it probably won't be pleasant. Do you understand me?" Groove hesitated, but then nodded. "You're going to remember exactly what happened to you. It'll probably be painful… and you're going to have to be prepared to face that."

"I understand." Groove nodded again, uncertainly at first, but then he seemed to make a solid decision. "Please… I want to know who attacked me."

Ratchet took a step back and stood up straight. "Alright, then let's get started."

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