Author's Chapter 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.


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