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.”
“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?”