Scrapper held onto the small key, staring down at it. The object felt as foreign to him in his hand as golden Electrum. He had to make a choice; one that could either save his team mate’s life, or possibly condemn him to an eternal torment that would be far worse than termination. He knew that, as leader of his gestalt, the responsibility of whatever the outcome of his final decision must rest on him alone. Could he trust this Autobot? This Autobot, who was playing a very dangerous game with his own life, as far as any other bot would see it; what could he possibly have to gain by placing his life into their hands? He must have some ulterior motive, Scrapper concluded. But, even so, did it really matter? If what Jazz was saying was true, then he saw no other option but to go along with him. The master designer of the Constructicons finally made his decision, and handed the small device back to Jazz. “Here, take it. If you’re going to be helping us, you’ll need it,” he said simply. “It won’t be of any use to us.”
The head of Special Operations stood, unwavering, as he continued to face the five Decepticons square on. His blue visor hid the seriousness in his optics, though no one there questioned his sincerity at that moment. It had been understood by them all and, now, a necessary level of trust had been established between them. Jazz slowly nodded in acknowledgment after a long moment, and then reached out his hand towards Scrapper’s open palm and picked up his key, all the while maintaining his steady gaze. The combiner team members did not speak another word, nor dared make another sound, as they all watched Jazz reopen his chest compartment, and carefully restore the small device back where it belonged. When this was done, Jazz looked back towards the five Decepticons. “All right,” he said, and then turned towards the horizon, his gaze fixing upon Iacon’s distant skyline as he began to formulate a rescue strategy. “Iacon’s heavily monitored in all directions, right up to the outer Province and some way beyond the border, but especially in the south and west.” He paused, considering the best options available to them. “Which means, I’m the only one who’ll be able to get him out.” He turned back to Scrapper. “Once I’ve done that, we’re not going to have a lot of time; if we’re even lucky enough to get within proximity to Iacon’s border undetected; after that, the chances of the two of us entering into Polyhex without being pursued by Alliance security patrols is going to be a bit of a crap shoot. Escaping on my own is one thing, but having Scavenger along for the ride is going to slow us down.”
Scrapper nodded in agreement with Jazz’s evaluation of the situation. “That’s true; speed isn’t one of our strong suits.”
“Nor can he dig his way out of this one,” Long Haul remarked. “If we can go and find help, we might be able to–” he continued, but Jazz interjected, shaking his head.
“No, there’s no time for that. It’s going to have to be just us, and now or never.”
“So… what can we do?” Scrapper asked.
Jazz looked at them each in turn, and then, slowly, a small smile appeared on his face, his head tilting expectantly. “Well, who’s up for some demolishing?”
By the time Jazz had made his way back to Iacon Central, it was morning and the duty cycle had already begun. For one terrifying moment, he wondered if he might already be too late, but then he noticed the large crowd of Autobots and Neutrals gathered just outside the Command Centre. They looked as though they were anticipating some important event, and were yelling and shoving against one another as they demanded that the Decepticon prisoner be transferred for deactivation without delay. It appeared that there was still time, and Jazz checked his chronometer. It was a few minutes past five hundred; the angry mob would surely be causing delays. Scavenger should still be in the high security block, which was not too far from here; turning away from the Command Complex, Jazz quietly slipped away without being seen, and headed towards sub-sector two which, in turn, led to the underground connecting tunnels.
As he moved quickly down through the first darkened passageway, he was relieved that there were no other mechs about. His footfalls echoed all about him, and he got the odd impression that he was being watched, though Jazz knew that this was not possible. The tunnels here were an ancient relic, carved out long ago when Cybertron was still a young planet. They were gloomy and narrow, and had never been upgraded; this was probably due to the fact that they had been seldom, if ever, used – at least since the last Great War – until recently.
Finally, Jazz stepped out into the long and narrow corridor that led to Scavenger’s holding cell, having input the correct access codes in order to open the heavy bulkhead door that separated the tunnel from the main cell block. He hurried down along the corridor, until he finally reached his destination.
Sudden relief swept through him, when he saw that Scavenger was still inside the small holding cell, looking just as he did when Jazz had last seen him yesterday. The energon canister that he had left for him had been emptied, and it now lay discarded on the floor of the cell. Jazz deactivated the cell’s energy bars, and then stood in front of the Decepticon, watching him intently. “We’re getting you out of here,” he informed him. “Come on, get up,” Jazz told him, unsure of how it would be received, and hoping that time was still mercifully on their side.
Scavenger was watching him also, but then he turned his gaze down towards the floor, remaining motionless.
They didn’t have time for this. “Get up!” He repeated, and then he added in anger, “Unless you want to be permanently deactivated within the next breem or two, you’ve got to come with me right now, you hear?” This time, he didn’t wait for a reply, but instead moved towards the Decepticon. Scavenger tried to avoid him, but he had nowhere to go; he was cornered by the walls of the small holding cell. Jazz ignored his attempts at resistance; instead, he grabbed the prisoner’s hands, deactivated the energy restraints that were still around his wrists, and then freed his lower legs. When he was done, he pulled him up from the seat and forced him towards the cell’s open entrance.
He could tell that Scavenger was in a state of confusion, and knew that in order for this rescue to succeed, he would need his full cooperation. Once they were outside the cell, Jazz paused to hear for the sound of any approaching mechs down the hall, but there were none; it was eerily quiet down here. He turned back to Scavenger, who had his hand ready to retrieve his laser pistol in defence, but Jazz stopped him, holding back his hand. “Easy, now,” he said, gently. “I’m not here to hurt you; I just want to help.”
After Jazz’s talk with Scavenger the other day, he had been able to come up with a detailed profile of the Decepticon. He usually did this whenever he encountered any mech he didn’t know very well, but especially when they were relevant to a mission. That was one of his skills; he was able to analyse and then sum up the inner workings and motivations of any individual, given enough time to study his subject. In this case, he figured that the best way to get Scavenger on side was to tell him what his comrades would be expecting of him. “Alright, listen up,” he said, making sure he had Scavenger’s full attention. “I was able to contact the other Constructicons. They were looking for you.” Jazz watched his response; he gave none, so Jazz continued. “That’s right; I spoke to Scrapper. He’s asked me to help get you out. As a matter of fact, they’re all waiting for you right now, near the outer Province.” Jazz paused, looked back up the corridor to make sure there was no one approaching. Then he resumed talking, though more slowly. “He said to tell you to trust me. He said that if you don’t, he’d make you electro-plate the new camouflaging tower you’ve all been working on, from top to bottom, into a new color.”
No sooner had Jazz said this than the Decepticon’s demeanour suddenly changed. Rather than the quiet, reserved mech that he had been ever since he was taken into custody by the Autobots, Scavenger became more cheerful, even revealing a kind of innocence that Jazz would later find endearing. “He – he said that?” He asked Jazz, his voice anxious yet filled with hope, as he thought about Scrapper’s supposed promise. He realized that Jazz could not have possibly known about the construction of their new tower, unless he was telling the truth, and really had spoken to Scrapper.
Jazz nodded, and couldn’t help but smile. Well, that worked like a charm, and Jazz was certainly pleased – so far, so good; but they weren’t out of the woods just yet. “Yep. But there’s no time to talk right now. Just follow me, and do exactly what I tell you.” Then he started back up the corridor, without waiting for Scavenger’s reaction.
“Hey, wait for me!” Scavenger called out, and hurriedly followed after Jazz. Other than the obvious fact that it was a gloomy and isolated, high security cell block, there was something about this place that made Scavenger feel incredibly uneasy, but he couldn’t say exactly what that was. All he knew was that he was more than a little anxious to get out of here as quickly as he possibly could and, if an Autobot was going to help him do that, then he would be the last mech to complain about it.
Astro had landed the cruiser on an unused landing platform within one of Alternity City’s vast, cosmopolitan space ports, but he had not moved from his seat at the control platform and, after several minutes had gone by in silence, Rook looked up at him quizzically from his spot on the floor. “Now what?” He asked sardonically.
Astro finally turned to his captive, his gaze steady, arms crossed. He spoke calmly, assertively. “We’re not going anywhere, not until we’ve had a chance to talk.”
The smaller mech looked at him blankly. “Talk? About what? I’ve already said everything I need to say.”
“Suit yourself,” the blue mech responded, as calmly as ever, and went back to the display screen in front of him, bringing up a list of all available public terminal points in and around the space port.
Many long minutes of silence went by, and Rook became increasingly agitated with each second that passed. Until finally, he couldn’t tolerate it any further. “Would you please just tell me what is going on?” No answer, so he tried again. “Well, you can’t just stay here! What if Jhiaxus comes looking for us? What if… what if raiders from the Predacon region find us and turn us into–”
“Rook,” Astro interjected. The green Cybertronian looked fearfully at Astro, his wild imaginings beginning to get the better of him. “Rook, would you calm down, please? None of those things are going to happen.”
Rook shook his head in bewilderment. “Is that a promise, I suppose?”
Astro shrugged. “Sure. So long as you help me out.” He paused, and then added, “Willingly.”
Rook considered the absurd proposition. After all, what did he have to lose? He was stuck here, in this space cruiser, without any way of contacting the Base for help. Finally, he nodded in resignation. “All right, you win. Let’s talk.” He tried to appear sincere, needed Astro to believe that he was prepared to co-operate, at least for the time being. “I’m listening. Go ahead.”
Astro watched him a long while, studying him, searching for his true intentions. Finally, he began. “You might not believe what I’m about to tell you, but I think you should hear me out.” Rook waited expectantly, his interest piqued. “But before we go into that, tell me what you know about the Great Devastation.”
The mech appeared to be utterly confounded by the seemingly irrelevant change of topic. “What does the Great Devastation have to do with anything?”
The blue mech leaned forward, held his gaze steady. “Everything.”
Rook nodded his head in an effort to comprehend. “Oh. Alright. What do I know about the Great Devastation?” He repeated. “Hm, now, let’s see… the Great Devastation occurred during the Third Era – or, the Third Age of the Primes, if you prefer–”
“Skip the history lesson,” Astro cut in. “What do you know about it?”
“I’m – I’m sorry, Astro, but you’re just going to have to give me a bit more of a hint. I have no idea what you’re looking for. I wouldn’t know any more about the Great Devastation than any other mech, if you want to know the truth of it.”
Astro acknowledged him. “Okay. Here’s what I know about the Great Devastation. It was a time of great conflict, not only between the rival factions on our home world, but also between Cybertron and its neighbouring star systems. The Autobots had a losing battle on their hands, and so an accord was struck between the Autobots, under Sentinel Prime, and the Decepticons.” He paused in emphasis, released a long, slow exhalation. “But, as you would be aware, that agreement was never implemented.”
“That’s right,” Rook acknowledged. “The Decepticons fell back on their promise, and the first Great War broke out.”
“Ah, except that the Decepticons never rescinded any promise.” Astro watched him closely, looking for any signs of weakness within the other mech. “Oh, no, no…” He said slowly, in a low voice. “You see… The Decepticons were facing a very real danger… of being destroyed – but not from any outside source – oh, no… you see, Rook… it’s always been an internal struggle that has threatened to tear the Decepticons apart, from the inside out.”
Rook thought upon these words, and then shrugged. “Well, then, nothing’s really changed, has it? Not that I should care anyway, one way or the other.”
“Let me finish,” Astro rebutted him, then slowly exhaled before he continued. “Many were not aware of this at the time, but the truth is… there have always been those who have secretly despised the leadership, who’ve wanted to mould the Decepticons into something that they never wanted to be. So, when the accord had been declared one mech, in particular, decided to take matters into his own hands and, soon after, he staged a revolt against Megatron and his loyalists in an attempt to overtake him as leader. Of course, it failed… however, not without cost. As an immediate consequence of that incident, the Autobots withdrew their support entirely, the accord was made void, and… well, you know the rest.”
The smaller mech contemplated this information, remaining silent, slight concern upon his face. Rook was not entirely convinced just yet, Astro could see, but doubt was beginning to form in his mind, which is exactly what Astro wanted. “I… always thought it was Megatron who...”
“No. Never forget who it is that records history, Rook,” Astro reminded him.
“But what I still don’t get is…” Rook started, as he tried to understand where all this was going. “What does any of that have to do with… what you're doing?” He indicated at the space cruiser around them.
Astro sat back in his chair, arms crossed. “Why don’t you take a guess?”
The mech shrugged, genuinely confused by the whole situation. “If I had any inkling at all, I would tell you. You can be sure of that.” Then he paused, and became curious. “How would you know all about the Great Devastation, anyway? Were you there?”
Astro ignored the question, but instead replaced it with another. “Are you aware of the identity of that mech, Rook? The one who revolted?”
Rook gave him a look which conveyed the obviousness of the answer. “Well, of course. Everybody knows. It was Scorponok. But he was killed during the battle at Darkmount. So what?” When Astro did not answer, he rephrased. “No, wait, don’t tell me; it wasn’t Scorponok?”
Astro gave him a rare smirk. “No, you’re correct. It was Scorponok.”
A pause, and then, “Okay, so… what am I missing?”
“Scorponok was never killed during the battle at Darkmount.”
This seemed to hit Rook like a ton of ore; he was speechless. Astro gave him all the time he needed to process the new information. “But… that’s not possible…” He said in a low voice, barely audible. He looked up at Astro. “I saw it with my own optical sensors; he was destroyed.”
The blue mech shook his head slowly. “No.” Then, he leaned closer towards Rook, wanting to make a point. “But that’s not what’s important, Rook. What’s important is the choice you made.” For the first time since Astro had taken him away from the Base, he was accusatory, anger clearly evident in his tone, and Rook, for the first time since he had even met this mech, was afraid of what he was going to do or say next.
“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rook defended. He did not like where this conversation was heading, nor did he want to be reminded of a time long ago, when things had been very different, not only for him, but for them all.
“Don’t you?” Astro continued, his anger not showing any sign of abating. “Let me remind you, then,” he said, and stood up from his chair as Rook, for one fearful moment, recoiled in anticipation of some horrible punishment that was about to be inflicted upon him. But Astro did not approach him; instead, he walked over to the cruiser’s main view screen and looked out. “You were given an opportunity; one opportunity… you could have helped stop much of the turmoil and confusion that was happening at the time. But, what did you do?” He paused, awaiting Rook’s response, but all he got was silence. “You could have stopped them, Rook. You could have stopped Jhiaxus… and even Scorponok. When the Decepticons needed you most, you turned your back on them. But, you’d made your choice, hadn’t you?” He spun around to face Rook, his optical sensors locked on to him like a tractor beam.
Rook didn’t know how to respond. He sat there on the floor, his head hung forward, wanting all this insanity to end. “I did what I had to do…”
But Astro ignored his distress, as if he were enjoying seeing the other mech in such torment. However, this needed to be done and, sometimes, the only way to be kind was to appear cruel. “Admit it, Rook; you failed us, didn’t you? You turned to Jhiaxus for protection, when Megatron had already placed his trust in you.” Astro said these words spitefully, almost vindictively. He moved closer to the smaller mech, who was beginning to lose control of his emotional state.
“Stop it! I don’t have to listen to this!” He was saying, but Astro reached down and pulled his hands away, made him look into his optics.
“But you acted like a coward… didn’t you? You could have helped us, Rook. You could have proven yourself worthy of the Decepticon name, acted with pride, and honour!” Astro said this last word forcibly, raising his voice. Rook tried to pull away from his grip, but he was too weak. “But you didn’t, did you? Answer me!”
Rook was visibly shaken by this sudden confrontation, and was too afraid to speak. Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, Astro released his hold on him, and turned away. He took a seat in the command chair once again, his attention back to the display screen.
Jazz led the way past the bulkhead door, using high clearance access codes, and then on through the tunnels, moving as quickly as he could. He remained focused on his goal, and on full alert, not speaking a word unless it was necessary. Eventually, they reached the entrance that would lead into the last tunnel directly ahead of them, and then onto the network of roads that encompassed sub-sector two; however, Jazz did not take this route. There was commotion up ahead in the main tunnel, and he knew that an Autobot security team was on its way down and would be here any minute now. He motioned for Scavenger to remain quiet and to stay close, then quickly moved down a side tunnel that veered off to the right. This passageway was narrower and darker than any of the others, and would eventually terminate at North-Central Iacon.
By the time the security team arrived at the tunnel intersection where the unlikely pair had been standing only a minute before, the two of them were nowhere to be seen; they just kept moving, and did not slow or turn back for even a second, until the end of the passage had been reached. Here, Jazz was confronted by a sealed exit – a split door consisting of two separate panels that met diagonally in the middle – and he stopped to examine it. If he used the access code to open the door, they could be traced, as he knew they surely would be once the security team was alerted to the Decepticon’s disappearance. The only other way was to force it open. Jazz set to work, skilfully removing the control panel that covered the input pad, and then carefully disconnected some wiring. The pad went dead, as its power was cut. “There, that ought to do it.”
Scavenger watched him with keen interest, as the Autobot proceeded to rewire the auxiliary data port beside the input pad. He used a terminal probe from his right hand to establish a new connection, and then reprogrammed the door for manual override. Finally, he turned back towards Scavenger. “I’m going to need your help here,” he said, and then indicated for him to grab hold of one of the door panels, while he grasped the other. Scavenger did as he was instructed, and they simultaneously forced the two panels apart. They gave way easily, and Jazz noted that the Decepticon was considerably stronger than he was.
On the other side of the door, the tunnel became noticeably larger as it turned into a modern, undercover passage, its walls and ceiling lined with a smooth metallic finish and circular lights arranged at regular intervals. “This passageway extends all the way through North Central. Follow me, and stay close,” he told Scavenger, and then transformed into his vehicle mode. The Decepticon did the same. While he would be considerably slower than the Autobot in his alternate mode, he would still be faster in comparison to his robot mode; Jazz would just have to reduce his speed to ensure that Scavenger could keep up with him.
They set off down the passageway, and Jazz adjusted his speed to match. They weren’t moving nearly as fast as he would have liked, but it would have to do; he intended for them to take the least used route in order to avoid any unnecessary encounters. “Don’t stop for anyone, and don’t look back,” he advised the Constructicon.
Jazz moved in and out of various interconnecting passages, in an effort to steer clear of oncoming traffic or to avoid being seen. This wasn’t entirely possible, but he did his best and, as they approached the undercover exit, emerging from the relative safety of the enclosed passageways out onto the busy streets of North Central, he realized with relief that they had managed to come this far, more or less undetected.
“Uh oh,” Jazz said in a low voice, as he stopped momentarily to survey their surrounds. They were still in their vehicle modes.
“‘Uh oh’?” Scavenger asked nervously. “What does that mean, ‘uh oh’?”
“What that means is, security has been alerted and all available Autobots and Neutrals are searching for you as we speak,” Jazz informed him. “I just received the broadcast.” He found a road nearby that was momentarily empty of any traffic, and started heading towards it. “Come on, the longer we stand around here, the better your chances of getting caught.” As the two of them kept to the road, which led out towards the north-west of the city state, Jazz decided he would need to employ a diversionary tactic in order to misdirect the Alliance away from their escape path.
He established a com link to Autobot Headquarters, and transmitted a message. “This is Jazz. Let me speak to whoever’s in charge of the search team.”
After a few moments, Prowl responded. “Do you have any information on the prisoner’s location?” He asked, and it almost sounded accusatory. Jazz noted an unusual coldness in Prowl’s voice, and suspected that the disagreement in the Control Room the other day might have had something to do with it.
“As a matter of fact, I do. I’ve picked up a Decepticon signature moving east. Transmitting the co-ordinates to you now,” Jazz said, and waited for a response.
“Co-ordinates received. Prowl out–” The Chief of Security was about to disconnect the link, but then Jazz stopped him.
“Just a klik – Prowl?” He said, trying to sound as convincing as possible.
There was a long pause before Prowl spoke again. He sounded reluctant, distant. “What is it, Jazz?”
“Listen… I just wanted to apologize for the other day. I was out of line.” He spoke these words carefully. Every moment counted towards the success of the rescue as he stalled for time; even if it meant having to say some things he didn’t quite mean.
Prowl was unsure how to respond to him. Finally, he said, “I’m glad you’ve come to your senses, Jazz. Prowl out.” The link was disconnected, and that was the end of that – at least as far as Prowl was concerned, Jazz thought.
He hoped that he had bought the two of them enough time to arrive safely at the designated meeting point. If his message to Prowl had been successful, the security teams would now be diverting most of their search efforts to the co-ordinates he had just offered them – which would lead them to an underground materials storage facility – though it would only give Jazz a few more breems, at most, before the search team realized that the Decepticon they were pursuing was long gone, presumably well on his way east. Which suited Jazz just fine.
As they both proceeded towards the west, the road opened up into a fast lane. Occasionally, an Autobot or two would drive up close behind them, and Jazz would momentarily prepare to take some drastic action in order to shake them, but then he’d be relieved to find that they simply wanted to overtake, and so he’d let them pass without protest. At the speeds they were currently doing, he couldn’t blame them.
As they approached their destination, now only two hundred or so mechano-meters away, a white hover vehicle pulled up alongside them, and ordered them to stop.
Jazz did as instructed, and Scavenger pulled up behind him. The white vehicle transformed into a robot, and Jazz saw that it was a Neutral, his golden emblem emblazoned proudly across the right side of his chest, just below his shoulder. He must have been patrolling the area when he received the same broadcast that Jazz had and, when he saw the Decepticon, must have put two and two together. Jazz transformed into his robot mode.
“You…” The Neutral started, pointing towards the green and purple power shovel behind Jazz, and then moved his wrist up towards his faceplate in order to activate his com link.
Jazz shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
The security mech stopped, and then slowly lowered his arm as he looked at the Autobot, a puzzled expression on his face.
“If you activate your com link…” Jazz began to explain, and then retrieved his photon rifle faster than the Neutral could react, pointing it in the middle of his chest. “I’m just going to have to blast you a new armour plating.” That was the best he could think of in the moment, but it would have to do; Jazz did not have time to negotiate.
The Neutral stared back at the Autobot, and then looked down at the weapon pointed towards him. It was the last thing he saw before his optical sensors overloaded with the sudden surge of a photon blast. The force of the blast at such a close range hurled him to the ground. Jazz looked over towards Scavenger, who hadn’t made a move. “At least I know my new weapons upgrade is effective.” He retracted his rifle, and transformed back into his vehicle mode. “Come on, we’re almost there,” he said, and they continued down the road once more, heading west. There was no doubt in Jazz’s mind that the Neutral would soon be requesting backup, once he had sufficiently recovered from the rifle blast, but at least he had been slowed down by a few crucial minutes.
Astro remained seated in his command chair for a long time, continuing to ignore Rook completely, as if he were hardly there. He had not left the cruiser, nor had he made any sort of attempt to depart from the space port and, after several breems had passed, Rook had recovered from the initial shock of their confrontation. He had nothing left to do now but think about what had been said, the buried memories which had been purposely hidden away in his unconscious for so long were now vying for his attention, threatening to undermine his mental stability as they demanded to be acknowledged all at once.
Rook held his head in his hands, caught up in an unwanted inner conflict that had suddenly, and unexpectedly, been forced upon his consciousness. He had never asked for this, only longed to return to the safety and security of his place under Jhiaxus, in servitude to the High Commander. He had nothing else to live for.
After a long time had passed, Rook spoke, breaking the silence. “I was given an ultimatum… I – they would have terminated me,” he said in a low voice. Astro finally looked at him, hands clasped together as he sat back in his chair. He remained silent, allowing the other to continue speaking. Rook inhaled deeply, looked down at the floor. “Alright, I was a coward. Afraid. Is that what you want to hear?”
“Keep talking,” Astro said calmly, his anger now dissipated.
“What – what more can I tell you?” Rook looked up at him suddenly, fear in his optics. “You brought me here… to punish me, is that it?”
Astro shook his head. “No, Rook. You’re not here to be punished.”
“Then… why? Why are you doing this to me?” He was almost pleading. “I – can’t help you. You must understand, that I – have nothing… nowhere else to go. The Base is where I belong,” he added, softly, almost regretfully.
“That’s not true. That’s why I brought you here,” Astro responded calmly, wanting to reassure the former Decepticon.
Rook shook his head in confusion, his thoughts in a knot of turmoil. “I don’t understand…” Anger was now also beginning to surface.
Astro remained deep in thought for a long moment, before he finally gave him a reply. “Do you believe in second chances?”
“Second… chances…” the green mech repeated. “Second–” He shook his head in bewilderment. His thoughts began to explore those two words, and they sounded alien to him. Second chances? No, not for him; there was no such thing as second chances, not where he had come from. “No,” he said, finally.
“Then, what is it that you believe in?”
Why all these questions, questions, questions? Rook had no answers, none that seemed to satisfy Astro, at the very least. “I believe in…” He began, frustrated, but then realized that he really didn’t know what he believed in. Perhaps, he believed in nothing at all.
“Do you even know what you serve – why you serve?” Astro interjected. No response. “Come on, Rook. You must know why. Who are you?”
That question again. Rook stood, stepped towards the larger mech, his anger now stirred. “No, you listen! You… whoever the hell you think you are. This isn’t a joke! Now, either you tell me exactly what it is you want from me – or you let me go, right now!” Rook was leaning over the console, his face in Astro’s.
The blue mech met his gaze, but was unperturbed by Rook’s most recent tirade. Rather, he gave him a knowing smile – albeit a small one. Then, suddenly, Rook retrieved his weapon, held it out in front of him, the tip of the barrel almost touching Astro’s nose tip.
Astro started to get up from his seat, but Rook stopped him, appearing to have taken control of the situation. “Now… open the hatch,” he demanded, but Astro remained motionless. “I said, open the hatch–”
But no sooner had Rook finished making his demand than his captor, in one swift move, grabbed hold of his wrist and forced the weapon aside, as he stood up to his full height. “You have it in you, Rook,” he stated, determinedly. “Don’t let them take away who you are.” Rook was incredulous, and tried to move away from him, but it was no use; his grip was too strong. Astro ignored his attempts, and continued talking. “Let… me… give… you…” He said, slowly emphasizing every word. “…that second chance.”
The tension within Rook suddenly turned to vapor, like jet exhaust. Something within him had finally clicked; Astro could see it in his optics.
Critical moments passed, and then Rook was released, free to recompose himself. Astro watched him, and then, slowly, he reached across to a button on the control panel behind him. The door of the cruiser suddenly slid open behind Rook.
“You’re free to go, if you wish. Or… you can start over,” Astro informed him. “It’s your choice.”
Rook remained still, his thoughts and emotions in a state of conflict, his head pounding with the realization that, should he find the courage, and the strength, he could take this opportunity that was being offered to him, right now, and rectify something within him – something that he had not been able to shake from his conscience, ever since he had turned away from those who had given him their trust so very long ago. Slowly, he retracted his weapon, and then turned towards the open hatch, walked towards it. He was only a step away from leaving the cruiser and returning to the Base that had been his home for over two vorns. But he hesitated, and slowly turned back towards Astro, who made no attempt to stop him. Finally, he reached his hand towards the access panel by the doorway, and pressed a button. The hatch sealed closed.
He inhaled deeply, and then slowly nodded his head in acquiescence. “Very well,” he said, quietly. “I would like to start over.”
“Hey, look; here they come now!” Long Haul alerted the others, as he pointed towards the nearby road.
For a little while, Scrapper and the rest of his Constructicons had started losing hope for the successful rescue of their team mate. For one thing, an hour had already passed since they had watched Jazz head into Iacon by himself; in addition, the odds were already highly stacked against them, whichever way they were to look at the situation. Even if Jazz had reached Scavenger in time, how would the both of them be able to safely make their way back through Iacon?
Scrapper was just about to give up and head back to Polyhex; the longer they waited around out here, the more chance that they, themselves, would be captured as well.
Thankfully, he did not have to make that decision, as he saw the Autobot appear around the corner in the distance. Scavenger was following closely behind.
“Well, I’ll be…” Hook began, pleasantly surprised.
But, as they continued watching, they saw Jazz suddenly transform back into robot mode, just as he was about to swerve off the road. Something, or someone, was firing at him, the shots narrowly missing the Autobot’s head as he ducked for cover behind a railing. There were now several blasts being fired towards him, while Scavenger, who had also transformed back into his robot mode, was firing his laser pistol back at the unseen assailants.
As Scrapper watched, a group of mechs revealed themselves as they appeared around the corner. It was a security team consisting of both Autobots and Neutrals – seven of them in all. But that wasn’t the only problem; there were several flight capable Autobots now approaching in the sky above them. Scrapper thought that they looked like the Aerialbots.
Nearby, Jazz was shouting over the noise of fire blasts and the angry shouts from their pursuers. “Scavenger, your team mates are just beyond this road!” He said to the Constructicon, who had just joined him behind the railing. Jazz indicated in the direction across the road, towards the designated meeting place. “You’ve got to make a run for it. I’ll cover you as best I can.”
Scavenger hesitated, looking back towards the security team that was now closing in on their position. He turned back towards Jazz, but the Autobot was already returning fire blasts at the security team in an effort to stop their advance. “Go, now!” He ordered the Decepticon, who did as he was instructed and burst into a sudden run, clearing the railing and sprinting across the road as fast as he could whilst trying to avoid enemy fire. Though he had been unbearably slow in alt mode earlier, he was surprisingly fast on his feet. Jazz watched him, as he adjusted his full-spectrum beacon to create a visual distraction against the oncoming assailants, effectively blinding them. It was only a temporary measure, but it would be enough to slow them right down during these decisive moments, before their optics recovered.
Jazz did the best he could to ensure Scavenger’s safe passage across the last stretch of road, and it was just enough. At the last second, moments before he was reunited with his team, Scavenger was hit by a blast. He lost his footing and hit the ground, as shots continued to fly around him in all directions. As he struggled to get back up, he saw his team mates finally reaching for him, helping him up; their own weapons now actively returning fire upon the enemy team. The Aerialbots were circling overhead ever closer, and had started taking shots at them from the air in an attempt to stop them in their tracks.
Scrapper wasted no time; he knew what needed to be done. “Are you able to combine?” He asked above the sounds of laser fire.
Scavenger nodded in the affirmative, and then Scrapper gave his team the order to form Devastator.
* * *
There was a saying on Cybertron; you are always greater than the sum of your parts, and this had certainly come to mind as Jazz watched the six reunited Constructicons merge into their Combiner form.
Devastator loomed above the retreating Autobots and Neutrals, who had momentarily stopped shooting at the Decepticons as they watched the awesome transformation take place before their optics.
The powerful super-robot easily swept aside the security bots with its arms, fists clenched, making short work of them. The mechs who had arrived on the scene shortly after them now sought to take cover, awaiting new orders and watching the large green robot as it demolished railings and other low-lying constructions on its slow rampage down the road.
Watching the unfolding scene from behind his railing, Jazz had been all but forgotten by the security bots; if they had been actively pursuing him before, they were leaving him well enough alone now, as they turned their complete attention towards the new Decepticon threat. It provided him with the perfect opportunity to quietly slip away, and he dropped down into an underpass, disappearing from sight.
A few moments later, Prowl arrived at the scene, accompanied by Optimus and Ironhide. As they transformed from their vehicle modes and back into robots, they stared at the super-robot in disbelief. A very long time had passed since any of them had witnessed the Decepticons pull a stunt like this.
“We can’t let them get away, Prime!” Ironhide said, imploring the Autobot leader to give the order.
Optimus kept his optics on Devastator, observing his current course as the Combiner successfully cleared a path in front of him, laying to waste anything that dared get in his way. “He’s heading west, towards Polyhex,” he determined, and activated his com link. “Aerialbots,” he said over the link. “Are you able to stop Devastator?”
Silverbolt, the leader, replied over the link. “Sure, those Decepticons are as good as scrapmetal,” he said with assurance. Even as the link disconnected, the three Autobots watched as the five Aerialbots began to form Superion, their own Combiner robot, in mid-air.
After the formation was complete, Superion descended to the ground, and took his position in front of Devastator, blocking his path. It looked as though his red, blue and white nemesis was more than eager for a fight, poised for action, both fists clenched and ready to deliver a hammering to his opponent. As he lunged forward without much warning, Devastator reached out his arms to grab hold of the Autobot gestalt as it charged towards him, and they were locked in close combat, strength pitted against strength.
Any smaller mechs remaining in the area soon scrambled to get out of the way, as the two titans fought against one another, the road surface underneath them reverberating with the impact of giant feet as the rivals clashed.
Devastator was markedly taller than Superion, and his strength was unmatched, although his reaction time was slower. Despite this, it wasn’t long before he managed to overpower the Aerialbot team, as they were slammed into the wall of a factory compound, its metallic exterior crumpling with the enormous force of the impact. Devastator clenched his right fist and drove it into the wall, though it missed Superion’s head by a fair margin as his opponent moved out of the way.
Superion fought to regain his balance, but the Cunstructicon gestalt had already grabbed onto him, preventing the giant robot from standing upright. Superion kicked at him in an attempt to force Devastator to release his grip, and it worked as Devastator fell backwards onto the road.
As the two super-sized robots proceeded to pick themselves up from the ground, Devastator turned westward along the road, and started heading towards a bridge nearby. As he stepped onto it, Superion approached from behind, threatening to stop him from crossing it. Devastator turned towards Superion as he was pulled back, a large white hand on his shoulder. The Aerialbot team attempted to throw a punch at Devastator’s head, but the green and purple robot closed his hands around the fist. Now, with a firm grip around Superion’s wrist, he pulled back hard and then released his grip, essentially yanking his opponent forward, and Superion was thrown over the bridge’s railing, head first.
While this move had slowed down the Aerialbots’ attack, it did not stop them entirely. With the Aerialbot team in freefall and the ground rapidly approaching them from beneath, there was no time for them to engage their flight engines as Superion; he would have impacted the ground, due to his large size. Instead, the gestalt team un-combined in mid-air, and thereby managed to avoid crashing down into a busy road below.
Each Aerialbot engaged their individual flight capabilities, and were now flying back up towards the bridge, in pursuit of Devastator.
By the time they resumed their positions against the Decepticon Combiner team, this time individually from the air, they noticed that Devastator was already on the other side of the bridge, one arm raised in mid-air as he was about to slam down a large fist upon its deck. They opened fire upon him, but it was no use; their individual weapons were useless against the super-sized Decepticon. Neither did they have enough time to recombine, as they watched the bridge collapse under the strength of the devastating impact. This would essentially block all ground vehicles from reaching the Decepticons along this route.
For the Constructicons, the flight capable Aerialbots still remained their most immediate problem. Directly behind them, Polyhex spread out into the distance. They knew its layout better than anyone; and now all they had to do was make it safely to the nearest access point, which would then lead them down into the vast interconnecting tunnels that made up the city state’s complex underground labyrinth.
Before the Aerialbots could attempt to come together to form a second Superion, Devastator aimed his plasma beam rifle in their general direction, and unleashed a searing hot stream of electro-photons upon the Autobots in the air.
Silverbolt and Skydive narrowly missed a direct hit by the plasma stream; however, Air Raid and Slingshot were not so lucky. They spiralled out of control, mid-flight, smoke expelling from their jet engines.
Silverbolt hesitated, deciding whether he and the remainder of his able-bodied team mates should continue with their assault upon Devastator, or whether he should call a retreat. Without Air Raid and Slingshot to combine, they would be more or less useless against the giant robot. Another searing plasma beam swept across the sky towards him, and he had to take evasive manoeuvres to avoid getting hit by the blast. Skydive and Fireflight, still in the air beside him, did the same.
He watched as Air Raid and Slingshot landed on the ground below them, and he gave the order to his two remaining comrades to withdraw from the air.
Silverbolt and his Aerialbots may have lost this battle against Devastator, but it had only strengthened his resolve. He vowed that next time they would be better prepared, and the Decepticons would not get away so easily.
Weakened, though not defeated, Elita One took stock of their situation, and realized with displeasure that their crash landing was one huge setback that they couldn’t afford. Not only had she just placed her entire crew in immediate danger, but they were now at the mercy of whatever marauding party would get to them first – the cruiser would most likely be boarded, searched, stripped down for parts, their last remaining resources stolen and, finally, they would all be taken hostage to end up as trophies in some mad mech’s underground torture chamber.
She was certainly not unaware of Alternity City’s notorious reputation for harbouring some of the most feared criminals in the Gamma Sector, nor was she naïve when it came to understanding her own limitations, as well as her crew’s. It was because of her that they were now stranded here, and it was her responsibility to help get them all to safety, even if it meant that she had to abandon the cruiser.
“Chromia…” She whispered hoarsely, struggling to make her way across the floor of the ship on her knees and elbows towards her second-in-command. She coughed, sputtering, her cooling systems over-working in an attempt to counteract the effects of the sudden surge of power that she had expended only a few seconds ago. “Chromia?” She shook the blue femme, who lay peacefully still on the floor near the main view screen. “Chromia?” She repeated. The femme stirred, moaned quietly in a state of semi-consciousness. “Chromia… wake up,” she coaxed, hopeful.
One minute later, and Chromia was alert. She looked around, the signs of obvious damage to the Avenger beginning to bring back the memory of the crash. “Elita…? What happened?” She asked, moving her hand to touch her head.
“We were attacked. Come on; help me with the others. We’ve got to get out of here, fast,” her captain informed her, matter-of-factly, her feelings of guilt about the crash kept strictly off limits. She moved away from Chromia in search of Firestar and Moonracer, satisfied that she had not suffered any major injuries.
Chromia slowly sat up and watched her go, then checked her internal self-repair systems. Somehow, she had avoided the worst of the impact; whatever damage she had sustained had been minor, and would be fully repaired within the hour. Shakily, steadying herself against the cruiser’s support beam, she carefully stood up and shook her head in an attempt to clear the slight buzzing which emanated from her right audio sensor. Glancing around, she cautiously headed towards her console, hoping that the ship’s computer was still online. It was, but the monitor display was intermittent. Her fingers swept over the controls, attempting to bring up a display of the ship’s condition. The image showed that the cruiser had crashed, nose-first, into the side of what looked to be a communications tower located in a far north district of Binaltech, one of Alternity City’s most densely industrialized cities, and where highly sought-after technologies could usually be found. “Great…” She whispered to herself, giving voice to her thoughts. She entered a new command, and the monitor flickered to a different read-out. “We’ve lost… two of our engines… the shield emitter is virtually non-existent.” She sighed, and then continued reading out loud. “Our communications array is down… the hull has sustained a huge fracture–”
“None of that matters now,” Elita called out to her, holding Firestar steady as she helped her into a chair.
Chromia looked up at them, and then headed over to Moonracer, who lay slumped over the terminal at her station.
“’Racer?” She prompted the femme, and then gently moved the femme’s frame until she was seated back in her chair, her head tilted upwards. Her optics were darkened, indicating that she was off-line. “’Racer?” Chromia tried again, gently. She looked back towards Firestar, who was steadily recovering from her own injuries. “’Star?”
The red colored femme glanced over and started getting up from her seat, as she reassured Elita that she was all right. Chromia moved aside and allowed Firestar to check Moonracer’s vital signs. After a few long seconds, she sighed with relief, looked at Chromia. “She’ll be all right, Chrome. Give her system time to adjust; she should be awake in a few breems.”
Chromia, relieved, thanked her, and the two of them walked back towards their captain.
Firestar, still overwhelmed by the sudden turn of events, looked around at the cruiser, taking in the damage it had sustained. “It’s going to take us… at least several orns to repair the damage, provided we even have the necessary parts to rebuild.”
But Elita One shook her head; she had other plans. “We can’t stay here. Chromia, salvage anything you can, including any power cells, tools and equipment. Firestar, I need you to backup all the ship’s data, as soon as you can. Then destroy anything left behind that has a Cybertronian signature. Including the on-board computer,” she ordered, ignoring their looks of surprise. “As soon as Moonracer is awake, we’re leaving,” she added.
“But, Elita–” Firestar started in protest, but Elita One stopped her.
“I don’t want to hear it,” she said, and then headed towards the command platform, turning away from them. “Please, just do what I asked.”
Sideswipe hurried out onto the streets of south Iacon, as soon as his shift was over; there were only so many coils he could look at in one day before he would go insane. The truth was, that he had other things on his mind today, his curiosity fuelled by a rumour he had overheard at the factory, and he could hardly wait to find out more about it.
An Autobot who he didn’t recognize was walking in front of him, and he broke into a sprint to catch up to him, tapping him on the shoulder. “Hey!”
The bot turned around, startled, his hands raised in the air in a gesture of surrender. “You don’t want to hurt me,” he said, startled by the taller, red and black Autobot. “Please… I don’t have any credits–”
Sideswipe stepped away from him, not wanting to frighten him. He looked like a new cadet. “Relax!” He said, “I’m not going to rough you up, don’t worry. I just wanted to ask you a few questions, that’s all.”
The mech looked at him warily, and then quickly glanced up and down the street. He lowered his hands in relief. “Look,” he said, “I… I don’t know anything, okay? Just leave me alone.”
“Come on, help me out here. What are you so afraid of, anyway?” Sideswipe asked him.
The bot began to turn around, slowly walking away, but Sideswipe moved in front of him, blocking his path. “You’re new, aren’t you?” The bot looked at him, confused, so he elaborated. “A new recruit… you know; with the Autobot-Neutral Alliance?”
The bot’s expression changed to one of recognition, and he nodded warily. “Yeah… Well, what’s it to you?”
Sideswipe shrugged. “Just curious. Say, uh, I was just wondering if you knew anything about… a recent attack around these parts?”
“An attack?” The bot stopped to think, and then realization hit him. “Oh… yeah. I don’t know much about it, though. Sorry but I can’t really help you,” he replied, and then tried to walk around the larger bot in an effort to continue on his way. Sideswipe remained an obstruction in his path, and the bot grew increasingly annoyed. “May I pass, please?”
Sideswipe smirked. “Not until you tell me everything you know,” he threatened, his arms crossed in front of his chest. He tried to look as domineering as possible, though without appearing too frightful. This wasn’t the first time Sideswipe had coerced new cadets into doing things for him, and most probably would not be the last.
The bot sighed, and gave up. “You are intolerable, you know that?”
“Thank you; it’s nice to meet you, too,” he replied, tongue-in-cheek. “Now, tell me about that attack,” he prodded.
“Well, like I said; I only know what I heard from others…” He paused, and all the while glanced frequently about, as if he were afraid that someone might be watching them. His voice dropped in volume a notch or two. “I don’t know… some Decepticon attacked one of the Protectobots… left him near deactivated. I heard he’s in bad shape, might not survive.”
Sideswipe watched him carefully, listening to every word. “And?” He said.
“And… nothing,” the bot replied, shrugging. “Look, that’s all I know, okay? I swear.”
Sideswipe was about to let him go, but then decided to try one more time. “Is there anything else? Anything at all that you can tell me?” He prompted.
The bot shook his head again. “No–” Then he stopped, tilted his head in thought, as if he had just recalled a minor detail that may or may not be relevant. “Well, there was one thing…” But then he reconsidered, shrugged, “Eh, it’s probably nothing,” he said.
Sideswipe uncrossed his arms. “No, tell me,” he cut in, “What is it?”
The bot looked around again, and then moved closer to Sideswipe, lowering his voice further. “Promise me you won’t tell anyone I told you?” He asked, looking worried.
“Sure, I promise. What is it?” The red and black Autobot reassured him, growing impatient.
“Well… I overheard some bots talking, and… don’t quote me on this or anything, but they said that Autobot parts are starting to turn up in weird places now… they said that that’s why the Protectobot was attacked.”
Sideswipe shook his head in confusion. “Wait – Autobot parts? What do you mean; what parts?”
“You know – parts,” he emphasised, waving his hands to indicate their own bodies. “Parts!” The bot’s tone sounded frustrated, as if Sideswipe should have already known what he had meant by it.
Sideswipe suddenly drew back. “Oh – you mean–?” He said, looking down at his own frame.
“Yes! Yes, that’s exactly what I mean!” The bot appeared frightened – terrified, in fact. As if he may very well be the next unlucky victim.
He tried to move away again, but Sideswipe stopped him. “Wait,” he said, pausing to think. “So… what… I mean – who’s behind all this?”
The bot shrugged. “The Decepticons, probably.” He waited for Sideswipe to assimilate that information, and then spoke again. “Can I go now?” Sideswipe did not respond, but instead allowed the bot to push past him, as he stood there deep in thought. He watched the cadet hurry off down the road until he had disappeared completely around a corner.
Sideswipe started down along the street, unhurriedly. The conversation with the bot had placed him into a particular frame of mind – one that, if allowed to follow its course, would end up leading him into unforeseen territory.
He watched the skyline bask in a gentle, pink glow as Cybertron’s star dropped gradually below the horizon. As Sideswipe rounded the corner, he didn’t notice, at first, the two mechs who were talking near the entranceway to a sub-level access point. He stopped short and, remaining unnoticed, quickly ducked back behind the corner. Curious, he boosted his audio receptors to amplify the signal until he could hear them quite clearly.
He could tell by the way they spoke that they were Neutrals; he had observed them for long enough now to be able to pick out the distinct sounds of their voices, and their particular, though barely discernible, dialect. They appeared to be speaking casually, and every so often one of them would laugh at something the other had said.
“…I hope I get a weapons upgrade,” one was saying. “How do they expect us to do our jobs with these standard issue toys?”
“You know they can’t rush things, especially now,” said the other. “Just remember what Unit four-oh-two told us.”
Unit four-oh-two? Sideswipe thought, perplexed. What the frag did that mean? He continued listening.
“Yeah, yeah, I remember. If it were up to me, though, we’d already be in command,” the first Neutral said derisively.
The second one snorted in amusement. “You’re so full of hot air you’d put Sentinel to shame, you know that?”
There was silence for a time, and Sideswipe thought he’d heard enough, but as he started to step away, the first Neutral spoke again. “Hey, what time’s the delivery? We’ve been waiting here too long already.”
“Should be here any minute,” the second one replied, and then silence fell between them again. Almost half a minute went by, and then Sideswipe heard the sound of a vehicle approaching from the sub-level transit route. “See, told you,” the Neutral said, as he confirmed the arrival of their freight.
The two Neutrals waited until the vehicle had pulled up to their access point, and then the second mech said, almost as an after thought, “Come on; let’s get this stuff back to Antihex before any slagger sees us.”
Sideswipe waited quietly until the two Neutrals had disappeared down the transit route, then slowly stepped out and stood in front of the access point where they had been talking only moments before.
He looked around him, hesitating, unsure of his next move. He could follow them, sure, find out what these Neutrals were up to, but that would mean that he might eventually have to confront the truth.
Watching the Autobot-Neutral Alliance’s slow, but certain, rise to power after all these years had started to take its toll on him, and it was time now, finally, for him to move forward. Even if for no other reason than he might finally come to learn what had become of his brother.
A few more seconds passed, and then Sideswipe stepped through onto the sub-level transit route, not looking back.