If someone asked Scrapper - and no one did - the Decepticons would be better off starting a new world, rather than clinging to Cybertron. Start with a good, solid planet, preferably one with a molten core as a back-up power source, and build from there. No more than fifteen, twenty levels - after that, start again on a new world. It sounded like a big project, but it was more sensible than what the Constructicons were currently doing.
Cybertron was built first upon a moon or small planet, then upon itself. Over seventy layers existed between the natural core and the surface. However, even Cybertronian alloys wear out, and there were places that it was dangerous just to walk through. It was the task of the Constructicons - and other workers, but Scrapper was only concerned with his own crew - to go through the levels, shoring up the ancient construction, and replacing the areas that couldn’t be salvaged.
If someone asked Scrapper, he would have told them that Megatron was an idiot for coming up with the project instead of asking the advice of a proper tradesbeing.
But Megatron wouldn’t give up Cybertron. Much as he preached Expansion and Conquest and Looking To The Future, he clung to his world fanatically, and wouldn’t hear of moving. Instead, he would waste countless time, energy, and resources to revitalize a world that was, quite frankly, dying.
Bonecrusher hummed tunelessly as he worked; a habit he picked up while human. Having a vocaliser rather than vocal cords, he could have made the sound pleasing, but decided that would defeat the purpose. He knew it annoyed people, so he only did it while he was alone… or while he was around people he didn’t like. It was Bonecrusher’s current job to clear out the ‘dead’ areas that weren’t actually supporting anything so that new, stronger construction could be put in.
He double-checked the survey data and his map, then crouched down and set a small charge. While his preferred method of teardown was to shift to bulldozer-mode and plough through his target, an expert demolitionist had to know alternative methods. Besides, just because he made a hobby of digging his way out from under fallen buildings didn’t mean he wanted to see if he could survive a planet collapsing on him.
He started back the way he came and was met by Longhaul. “You got the charges set yet?”
“Yeah. You might want to duck.”
Both Constructicons threw themselves to the ground as the explosive went off, filling the air with debris. Longhaul shook himself off. “You’ve got the dumbest sense ‘a humour, Bonecrusher.”
“What about Skywarp?”
“Okay, fine, you come second. Let’s get this junk cleared away.”
Mixmaster carefully cut out a small sample of the wall, then reached back and dropped it into his mixing drum. After a few minutes, he said, “Ditanium-4, complete with radiation damage.”
Scavenger, due to his build, couldn’t sit on most ordinary chairs. This was made up for by the fact that he could ‘sit’ on his tail. He was doing so now, feet crossed at the ankles, tapping away on a compad. “Given the era, it was probably the best material they had.”
“Phooey on that. In another six million years, we’ll be looking at today’s alloys and cursing ourselves for fools.” He crossed the room to peer over Scavenger’s shoulder. “Our pals in materials procurement find anything?”
“Nothing we immediately want, not yet,” said Scavenger. The main problem with living on an unnatural planet was the lack of natural resources. If they wanted new materials, they had to look off-world. “The mining teams haven’t found anything of use on the moon, though reports from the second planet are promising returns soon. The other mining teams haven’t reported back yet.” Due to assorted circumstances, Cybertron was now in orbit around Barnard’s Star. No one had bothered naming the other planets in the small system yet.
The chemist sighed expansively. “Why, I query, are we even starting work when we don’t have the materials required?”
“You know Megatron; once he gets an idea in his head…”
“… It’s up to the poor Constructicons to make it reality, yes?”
Hook’s crane-form shifted, and he turned to face Shockwave. “I’ve almost finished repairing the wiring in this area,” he said. “When I’m done, Scavenger and Mixmaster will begin to…”
The Constructicon’s words suddenly became a scream. Shockwave was quite familiar with all the tortures of inquisition, but nothing he ever did to a recalcitrant prisoner could hold a candle to Hook’s expression at this moment: His features were twisted with pain - real physical pain - but of a kind that went deeper than anything Shockwave could ever administer. The ordinarily haughty Constructicon wailed like a lost soul, twisting around himself, half-shifting, before his voice cut off and he collapsed.
Shockwave knelt to inspect the Constructicon for damages. Hook’s hand lashed out, catching Shockwave by the arm. Then the light faded from his optics and he fell into stasis.
“The explosion was reported to me a few seconds after Hook’s collapse,” said Shockwave. “It took several minutes to piece together that all the Constructicons were affected… all the surviving Constructicons. Bonecrusher and Longhaul were the only ones in the area when the energon pipe - which wasn’t on any of our maps - exploded when a charge went off too close to it. The medicroids have repaired Longhaul - he was in the next hall - but Bonecrusher was destroyed.”
And somehow the other Constructicons felt his termination, responding as Hook had. The five were in the repair bay, all unconscious. Once they had been given a quick check over, Shockwave had called Megatron up to inform him of the news. Now Megatron was on Cybertron, looking over his surviving Constructicons in turn. “They’re in stasis-mode?”
“The medicroids are trying to bring them out of it,” said Shockwave. “They all reacted to Bonecrusher’s termination in the same way - a scream as if in physical pain, then shut-down.”
“They’ve never reacted like this before,” said Megatron. The Constructicons were a gestalt, six separate Decepticons who could merge into the giant warrior Devastator. Even if necessity didn’t force them to merge once in a while, the Constructicons would do it on their own time; they enjoyed the gestalt rapport, the blending of minds, the feeling of being something more than themselves.
But they only had the full rapport through Devastator, and they were all in separate places when Bonecrusher died. The Constructicons had never reacted to each other’s pain before… they finished each other’s sentences constantly, but they had done that even before they became a gestalt. Apparently death was strong enough to bridge the physical distance between them. Megatron went to stand by Scrapper. “Awaken him, Shockwave. I wish to speak with him.”
Shockwave typed a few commands into the medicroids tending the Constructicon, which performed a few more tasks, then withdrew. Scrapper’s optics flickered to life, though he wasn’t actually seeing through them. “Bonecrusher… The gestalt… broken…”
“I know. Scrapper, come with me. Shockwave, try to bring the others out of stasis.”
“Hook first,” said Scrapper automatically. “He’ll be the most help to you.” And he’ll take care of the others until I get back.
The leader of the Constructicons grudgingly followed Megatron into the hall, only half-listening to his commander’s words: “… unfortunate. He was one of the best…”
Of course he was. He was a Constructicon. Why am I out here talking to you, when I should be tending to my people? Scrapper silently demanded. However, he said, “What happened?”
“An unmapped energon pipe exploded.”
“What do you mean, ‘unmapped’?” asked Scrapper, pacing. “How could the cartographer miss an energon pipe?”
“It was an old map.”
Scrapper stopped, facing away from Megatron. “I see.”
After ten minutes of Megatron talking and Scrapper pretending to listen, the architect stormed back into the repair bay and flung himself into the nearest chair. Shockwave was no longer in evidence, and the other Constructicons were conscious: Hook was absorbed in some task at the computer, Mixmaster was industriously taking apart one of the medicroids for his own inexplicable reasons while Scavenger looked on, and Longhaul was just sitting on a table, staring at the wall. He was the one who looked over when Scrapper stormed in, though. “What happened?”
“Workplace accident,” Scrapper spat. “Someone was in too much of a hurry to get his precious project started that he didn’t bother to have an updated map made of the blasting area. Bonecrusher found an energon pipeline.”
Scavenger flinched. “Well, we… knew it was fast…”
The chemist held up a piece of the mangled medicroid, seemingly to address it: “What did our dear, sweet commander have to say about it? I assume we’re not gong to get so much as an apology.”
“He wants us,” sneered Scrapper, “to find a replacement.”
“‘Replacement’!?” Mixmaster screeched, flinging the medicroid to the table. “We can’t just replace Bonecrusher! How would Megatron like it if we told him we would try to replace his memory circuits, or… or… or his logic protocols?” There were few parts on a Transformer that couldn’t be easily interchanged.
“We might have to try, anyway,” said Hook darkly, looking at the repair bay computer screen. “In case the rest of you haven’t noticed, our internal repair systems have been running since Bonecrusher’s termination.” It was the Cybertronian equivalent to cancer: Within each Transformer was a small store of metal used by the internal repair system. If that was used up, the repair protocols would start pirating material from less-important parts of the body - putting them in the to-be-repaired file themselves, low priority, - leaving the vital systems for last. The body tended to fall apart before that point, though.
Why not just keep restoring the repair system’s material supply? Because undamaged systems would eventually be choked off by unnecessary repairs. In either case, the condition was fatal.
Longhaul looked up. “Can we override the protocols?”
“Do we even want to?” asked Scavenger quietly.
“None of that, Scavenger,” said Scrapper with more roughness than he intended. “We can still merge, can’t we?” Considering that, he ordered, “Constructicons, transform.”
They obeyed quickly and silently. The one-armed Devastator stood for less than ten seconds before the Constructicons frantically split, crashing to the floor in their haste. “Tha-tha-that’s worse than being apart,” groaned Mixmaster, collapsed on the floor. “And I-I-I thought I felt empty before…”
The bindings to create Devastator were mental as well as physical. They had merged before with missing members, to no ill effect. Now the void caused by Bonecrusher’s absence flooded over the other Constructicons as if mocking their individuality. “We can’t bind,” whispered Scavenger, curled up on the floor. “We can’t even bind…”
“Listen to me; we weren’t built gestalt,” said Scrapper. “We all miss Bonecrusher, but it shouldn’t be like this…”
“Like a part ‘a yourself is dead?” asked Longhaul.
“We are dying,” growled Hook.
Scavenger whimpered, trying to wrap his tail around himself. “Alone… Oh, Cybertron, I’m going to die alone…”
“Now look-look-look what you’ve done!” Mixmaster snapped at Hook, kneeling down by Scavenger. “Shh, shh. No-no-nobody’s going to die. We’ll figure a way out of this…”
Scrapper gave the chemist a careful look. “You’re stuttering again.”
Drawing himself to full height, Mixmaster demanded, “Bonecrusher is-is-is dead and you’re worried about the way I ta-ta-talk?” He turned on his heel and stomped out.
“Should we follow ‘im?”
“No.” Feeling Longhaul’s stare, realising he said the denial more forcefully than he intended, Scrapper sighed. “No, let him go. He’ll come back on his own.” I hope, he added silently, with a nervous glance at Hook.
The engineer returned it. “Let’s… let’s get to work on trying to stop our automatic repair systems.” It was an evasion and he knew it, but the others seized on it gratefully, needing to have something to do.
The door to the lab closed and Mixmaster let himself fall against it with a loud ‘clang’, then raised his hands to his face. It was one thing to slip into insanity, it was quite another to know it was happening and be helpless to stop it. “St-st-stuttering,” he grumbled. “St-st-stupid vocaliser. Stupid Bonecrusher.”
Scrapper and Hook had known from the beginning, of course - they were right there at his creation, each quietly declaring himself in turn before Mixmaster let out a wild laugh and shouted his own name and function so it echoed around the Vector Sigma chamber, daring anyone to say different. He shouted it - and stuttered.
Transformer sub-groups tended to run in threes or fives, and the Constructicons were no exception. They were three - Scrapper, Hook, and Mixmaster, someone’s idea of the perfect design team: An architect to draw the plans, an engineer to detail them, and a chemist to make sure the materials required were feasible. However, being workers at heart, they wanted to deal with projects from start to finish, rather than coming up with a plan and waiting for someone else to implement it.
In time, they hired others who had already established themselves in their fields, rather than building new Transformers and taking a chance on Vector Sigma: Scavenger, the miner; Longhaul, the materials procurer; Bonecrusher, the demolitionist. They had their own reason for not putting their trust in a new creation…
To say that Mixmaster had a glitch in his circuits would be a vast understatement. A glitch could be repaired; Mixmaster’s insanity was a part of his programming, buried so deep that to change the code would destroy his mind. The Constructicons’ overseer had threatened on occasion to do just that and get it over with, except Hook and Scrapper always managed to argue him out of it. Mixmaster was good at his job - when set a task, he would focus on it to the exclusion of all else until it was done. They left out that when Mixmaster didn’t have anything to do, he tended to experiment, which left his lab in shambles more than once…
But he was one of them, and they couldn’t bear the thought of his termination. So it was with not entirely altruistic motives that Scrapper and Hook convinced their group to join the Decepticons, who had a few unconventional ideas about how to apply the recently-invented transform technology…
Mixmaster sank down by the door, ignoring the screech of metal-on-metal as his back scraped it. Devastator was a tool, but one Megatron had no idea of the full possibilities of. He saw gestalt technology as a way to create a strong warrior; Hook and Scrapper had seen it a different way - The minds of the six would merge, combining into a more powerful intellect. Motor control was severely limited, however, making Devastator clumsy and giving him the appearance of stupidity. Merging would also tighten the group dynamic; there couldn’t be any infighting if everyone could feel everyone else’s point of view. And, last, the merge might cause some blending of minds, each balancing the others, lending stability to one whose own coding was out to destroy him…
Hook and Scrapper’s reasons had been kept secret from the others… until the first time Devastator formed. The other four were angry at first… but not very. They did see it from Hook and Scrapper’s standpoint, after all.
And now the gestalt was broken.
“This isn’t fair!” Mixmaster declared to the room in general. “Just-just-just because we can’t bind! There were other times we couldn’t bind and this didn’t happen!” Then, at a more normal volume, “So perhaps it isn’t-isn’t-isn’t the gestalt. Stress, maybe. Yes; I tend to stutter when I’m under stress, yes, yes? And this is most stressful, yes? No-no-no, I don’t want to mix something dangerous just to see what colour it will turn. No. No.”
He stood up slowly, rational thoughts moving sluggishly through the bright skitter-sparks that danced from circuit to circuit, trying to convince him that he’d like nothing more than to cause a minor explosion. Mixmaster knew full well that what he wanted to do was usually at odds with what he should do, and if he paid attention, he could maintain a veneer of sanity by knowing what was normal - and doing it. The gestalt reminded him what was normal. Now it was slipping away.
Mixmaster looked longingly at the equipment arrayed so neatly; it wasn’t his laboratory, but he could probably find his way around easily enough, and the owner probably wouldn’t be too angry if he detonated a few test tubes… and he really needed to know what would happen if he mixed elemental sodium with…
Hitting the door control hard enough to dent it, Mixmaster fled.
Scrapper and Scavenger looked up as the door opened; Hook and Longhaul were otherwise busy, trying to figure out how to stop or at least clean out the unnecessary repairs in their systems. Mixmaster ignored all of them and simply sat in the corner, elbows on his knees and arms folded over his head. Motioning Scavenger to stay put, Scrapper sat down by Mixmaster. “Hey.”
“Doing better now?”
“Not as well as I-I-I was two hours ago.”
There was the gestalt, first and foremost, but under that was how the Constructicons dealt with each other as individuals. Scrapper would put up with more attitude from Hook, for example, than he would from any of the others. And Mixmaster, well… Scrapper and Hook had always seen him as Their Responsibility; the slightly-strange relative, kept away from visiting company and never talked about with outsiders. He was difficult to put up with at times, sometimes even frightening… He used to frankly terrify Scavenger, and Longhaul and Bonecrusher sometimes refused to work with him… until the gestalt. Until Devastator’s awakening, when the Constructicons’ minds first spilled into each other, and they realised that the one person who was most afraid of Mixmaster was Mixmaster himself…
“We’ll think of something. We always do.”
“We’ve nev-nev-never died before.” Mixmaster sighed, somehow causing his whole form to shrug. “You-you-you get back to thinking of something. I’ll… I’ll…”
Scrapper patted him on the shoulder, then stood. “Calculate pi. Or immerse yourself in memories. Or come up with a way to stabilize unnilhexium, just to see if you can do it.”
The chemist watched him walk away before resting his head back on his arms. “I-I-I did unnilhexium yesterday,” he said quietly. “Took hardly any time at all, it didn’t, no. Not nearly enough time…”
He considered letting himself fall into stasis again, and pushed the thought away. It wouldn’t harm his mental state any to remain unconscious until the others came up with a solution, but stasis would aggravate the condition of his internal repair system, causing it to work faster. Besides, Mixmaster decided, the others might need him, and he wanted to be awake for that. More importantly, he couldn’t watch over the others if he was in stasis…
Mixmaster turned his head slightly to peer under his arm as he felt someone settle beside him; he couldn’t see much more than part of the newcomer’s side, but it was enough to establish identity. He wasn’t surprised that it was Scavenger; either the miner wandered over himself to keep him company, or Scrapper had sent him over… or, at least, that’s what Scrapper would have told him. More likely it was to keep Scavenger out from under everyone else’s feet. Mixmaster didn’t mind; after the gestalt formed, he and Scavenger found they had a common ground in sheer dependence: The chemist disliked people, but knew he needed them to keep him sane, while the miner had a manic need to make people happy.
Unlike the others, who had different tolerance levels for each other as individuals, Scavenger regarded them all with the same wide-eyed devotion that bordered on hero-worship. Unfortunately, the others could only take so much of it. Mixmaster was the only one who honestly appreciated Scavenger’s efforts. But then, Mixmaster was on all-too familiar terms with compulsions.
He looked up then, and Scavenger caught the movement. “We could get chairs.”
From any of the others - Mixmaster included - the statement would have been sarcastic. As it was, Scavenger was merely stating a fact: Mixmaster chose to sit on the floor, but there was another option if he wanted it. “I-I-I want to be here.”
Scavenger just nodded, settling himself back and staring at the ceiling.
We found Scavenger first - at the bottom of a mineshaft, of course…
Whoever had designed him knew mechanics, but didn’t think ahead to aesthetics. Scavenger was almost pure black, and in the dimly-lit tunnels was nearly invisible without infrared scanners. Red and yellow highlights showed his outline, but most of the time only his optic band was visible - red eyes in the dark.
The glowing band nodded at Scrapper’s query: “Yes, I’m Scavenger. We can talk in the site office. Follow me - but don’t step on my tail, please.”
The office was decently well-lit, finally giving the voice a form… which indeed had a tail. Scavenger tucked it self-consciously behind him when he caught Mixmaster staring. “There’s sensors in it,” said the Quarrymech by way of explanation. “If I walk over something interesting, I’ll know about it.”
“Useful,” agreed Hook. “It would explain your excellent track-record, at least in part.”
“You looked up my records?” He lacked features, but still managed to convey a mixture of surprise, pleasure, and nervousness.
Scrapper nodded. “Standard procedure for a transfer.”
“You… want to hire me?”
“We want the best,” said Scrapper. “You are the best.”
The miner shuffled a bit. “I’m… I’m… Oh, that’s not possible. I’m sure there’s better…”
“L-l-listen, you,” said Mixmaster. “We want you. We came all the-the-the way down here to find you, so either you sign or-or-or you don’t.”
They pretended Shockwave wasn’t there until he spoke: “It has been five days. Megatron tires of your languishing and insists you find a sixth. At some inconvenience to myself, I have found one. His name is Raze, and he has the skills required to complete your team.” The purple Transformer behind Shockwave nodded slightly.
If looks could kill, Raze would have been shredded. Scrapper voiced what the others were all thinking: “We don’t want you.”
Shockwave felt the undertones, and ignored them, continuing his message, “His alternate-mode is still Cybertronian, though he has undergone the operation to replace Devastator’s arm-module.”
Scrapper and the others exchanged looks of pure acid. “You want us to merge with him? Very well. Constructicons, transform!” They followed the order, Raze assuming his position as Devastator’s left arm.
And the force of Devastator’s thoughts hit with the fury of a storm:
You are outsider. You have no place here.
How dare you think you can join me? You dishonour my memory with this merge. You are not me.
I am broken. Part of me is dead. And now you mock me by thinking you can take the place of part of my soul, as if you were a mere replacement of a limb?
I am Devastator! I am broken, but I will not be patchwork!
The gestalt broke apart violently, scattering the Constructicons. The others stood and exchanged smug looks when Raze remained in a pile on the floor. “He didn’t fit in. Too bad,” said Mixmaster without a trace of sincerity, and gave him a kick for good measure.
Shockwave watched with his usual lack of emotion. “I put some amount of effort into finding you a sixth with the skills and experience required to join your detail,” he said. “If you don’t want him, I am instructed to look for another.”
“We don’t want another!” screamed Scavenger. “We want Bonecrusher!”
“You will just be wasting skilled workers if you send any more to us,” added Hook.
Still without expression, Shockwave said, “Megatron insists that you add another to your number. If you do not seek a replacement, I will keep searching for one for you. I will bring them to you until you tire of being self-important elitists and accept one.” With that, the monitor gathered up Raze and carried him out of the repair bay. The Constructicons watched him go.
It was Scavenger who introduced us to Longhaul…
The two knew each other, though were never actually together for longer than it took the miners to unload their cargoes. Still, they had struck up something of a friendship: Longhaul would gripe about his job and his co-workers, while Scavenger would nod sympathetically. One day, Longhaul jokingly asked the miner why he put up with his complaining, and Scavenger had said, in all seriousness, that it seemed to make Longhaul happy. Longhaul never brought up the subject again, and Scavenger went back to nodding sympathetically.
Sitting in the break area, the Transportech looked up at Scavenger’s hail, then looked again. “What’s with the new paintjob?”
“I’ve joined a new subgroup,” said the now green-and-purple Scavenger happily, waving a hand at the others. “These are Scrapper, Hook, and Mixmaster - Constructicons. They said they needed a fifth, and I thought of you.”
“‘Constructicons’, eh? Nice ‘a you ta think ‘a me, but what I really wanna do is find somethin’ a little more glamorous than freight-haulin’,” grumbled Longhaul.
“We need someone who knows the materials procurement system. And joining us would be a step up from where you are now,” said Scrapper reasonably. “It’ll be a bit of a risk, of course, touch-and-go until we establish ourselves…”
“I don’t kn…”
His communicator activated with a bellow: “Longhaul, you lazy scrap heap! Report back to the loading dock immediately!”
“Ahhh, tear off your own head for a change and fall down a mineshaft, Dispatch,” Longhaul retorted, then switched off his radio and looked back to Scrapper. “Well, now that I’m out of a job, sign me up.”
Mixmaster was back in his accustomed place on the floor, knees drawn up, face buried in his arms. Scavenger had snuggled up beside him some time ago and had slipped back into stasis-mode. Neither had moved for hours, so Scrapper was most surprised when Mixmaster’s hand caught his wrist when he tried to tap Scavenger on the shoulder. “I thought you were unconscious.”
“No. Just thinking. No,” muttered Mixmaster distractedly, before suddenly focussing on Scrapper with an almost frightening intensity. “I remember meeting myself for the first time five times.”
“I know,” said Scrapper, subtly trying to take his hand back before the metal bent. “We’ve figured out a way to stay conscious. The rest of us have been rigged for it.” With their internal repair protocols thinking they’d suffered massive damage, their systems kept trying to knock the Constructicons into stasis.
The chemist released Scrapper’s wrist. “I’ll-I’ll-I’ll fight it myself. You know why, yes?” Scrapper nodded; Mixmaster needed something to concentrate on. “And leave the poor Scrounge. He’s fine where he is, for now. Awake, he would just panic, yes, yes?”
Scrapper considered protesting, but didn’t. At best, Scavenger would curl up somewhere and whimper. At worst, he’d hang off of everyone and make a nuisance of himself. And it didn’t matter anyway, because Scrapper had no idea what to do next.
Sensing the architect’s indecisiveness, Mixmaster peered up at him. “Are we j-j-just going to g-g-give up?”
The Constructicons never lied to one another. “We might. I don’t know.”
Mixmaster looked around furtively, then took Scrapper’s hand again and pulled him down to his level. “I want to be the last,” he whispered earnestly. “I want to be the last, so the rest of you never have to know what it’s like to be alone.” Then his optics flashed a blink and he let Scrapper go.
Shaken, Scrapper walked back to where Hook was working. When he looked back, Mixmaster had settled back into his original position.
Hook followed his glance. “Worried?”
“If he snaps, we’ll never be able to bring him out of it.”
“Is he close to it?”
The architect sighed and settled into the chair across from Hook. “I don’t think so. He’s stuttering, of course, but he’s hanging on… for the rest of us.”
They sat in commiserative silence for a few minutes, before Hook asked, “Do you think it’s worse because we weren’t originally designed to merge? I’ve had Longhaul looking up case histories - we’re the only gestalt with members who were built at different times and intended to be separate entities. Could teams like the Combaticons or Stunticons survive if one of their members was destroyed because the ability to deal with the loss of a part is in their programming?”
“I don’t know. Do we hate either group enough to find out?”
Hook chuckled faintly. “Don’t tempt me. I’ve been failing since the accident to fix our internal repair systems, and all I want to do is smash something.”
“If we have to go down, go down swinging?” asked Scrapper.
“It wouldn’t be particularly cathartic, I fear. A part of our self has been torn from us,” said Hook darkly. “I want to rip out a piece of Megatron’s soul for this, but there’s no way to do that.”
“There… might be,” said Scrapper slowly. “There’s at least one thing he cares about to the exclusion of all reason… If we don’t mind a bit of unavoidable… collateral damage…”
We were created before transform technology was, but as soon as we could, we signed up for the operation…
Scavenger was inordinately pleased that he still had a tail. Longhaul threatened to scrap the technicians for turning him into a dump truck. “I’m doomed ta haul freight!”
“‘Haul’ is part of your name, yes?” asked Mixmaster.
“One ‘a these days, I’m a-changin’ my name…”
“We need a procurement specialist,” Scrapper reminded him. “That’s why we hired you.”
“Doesn’t mean the techs had ‘a rub it inta my face by turnin’ me into a dump truck!”
Hook pinched the bridge of his nose. “They did what they could with your form. To give you a different alternate mode would have involved vast structural changes… which you would have complained about.”
Despite having no moving features, Longhaul managed to look sulky. “I might not have.”
“It’s not feasible,” said Hook. “Yes, Megatron practically worships Cybertron, but even I feel a bit unsettled about tearing down a planet just to get at him. Now, if we were mad at everyone, certainly…”
“What are others to us?” Scrapper demanded. “We are the Constructicons. We are Devastator! We…”
Hook tapped him on the forearm to get his attention. “You’re talking like me. Stop it.” As much as they prized their gestalt rapport, they were still individuals, with their own strengths.
Some thought that Hook should be the leader of the Constructicons, being that he had the highest intelligence. The truth was that he didn’t want it. Leadership meant dealing with outsiders, and Hook tended to avoid contact with non-Constructicons as much as possible. Scrapper could deal with outsiders, and thus was their spokesbeing. “We’ve got to do something, Hook!”
“I know.” After a minute of silence, Hook returned his attention to the computer.
Longhaul wandered over, pulling up a chair and dropping a compad on the table. He set the chair up backwards, so he could fold his arms on the back of it. “It’s no good. There ain’t been no one else like us ever. And nobody’s found a way to fix a haywire repair protocol. If we do it, we do it ourselves.”
“Then the only choice may be to find a sixth or die,” Hook said without looking up. A sixth, not a replacement. A bondmate couldn’t be replaced.
“And soon. If word gets out what we did to Raze, no one will risk joining us.” Not that Scrapper felt the slightest remorse for blowing the tech’s mind and perhaps causing permanent damage. He regretted it only because the action might now harm the gestalt. The thought of bringing another into the group-mind disgusted him, but if it was the only thing to save them… And could they even accept another, or would their very essence reject the newcomer like a transplanted organ?..
“I’m all for living,” said Longhaul. “Preferably without a new guy, but if that’s the only way, I’ll back it.” He sighed, slumping farther into his folded arms. “I hate the idea ‘a just replacin’ him, especially the way that dumb Shockwave seemed ta think it should happen: ‘He has the skills required’. Sure, fine, but will he balance right?”
The engineer steepled his fingers under his nose. “We need a reckless risk-taker who enjoys picking fights when he’s bored, bad jokes, and knocking things down?”
“Yeah,” said Longhaul, ignoring the sarcasm. “‘Cause the rest ‘a us aren’t like that. Look, I’ll give an example: Scavenger listens to me. He sits there all bright-opticed and lets me complain. You two ignore me until I’ve finished, then find something for me to do. Mixmaster… well… he pretends ta listen, then asks somethin’ weird so ya know he’s been thinking of somethin’ else entirely. Bonecrusher never listened, either; I’d get two words out and he’d yank the conversation in another direction, or drag me off for a sparring match, or ta throw things at people we don’t like, or… well, just some kind ‘a distraction. Thing is, it worked.”
“Mixmaster listens, he just won’t answer unless he can think of a good response,” said Scrapper. “He’s fine with technical questions. Rants he doesn’t know how to handle, so he pretends not to listen so he doesn’t have to think of a solution.”
Back in the corner, the aforementioned chemist was thinking furiously over a technical problem with too many emotional overtones: Gestalt technology was a blessing and a curse - On one hand, it made the team stronger; they got on each other’s nerves still at times, but they didn’t truly fight. With the spill-over memories, they had a working knowledge of each other’s specialties. Between the physical gestalt mind-link and the fact that they were also bonded, they knew each other well enough to be practically telepathic. They could do an entire job without speaking or getting in each other’s way, functioning like clockwork.
On the other hand, it made them unpopular. Already most of the Constructicons weren’t fond of people, but with the gestalt, they didn’t have any need to rely on anyone else, and in fact, divided the world into two parts: The Constructicons and Everything Else. Mixmaster was perhaps the most extreme, fiercely protective of his team, but treating the rest of the universe with a casual, undisguised contempt. At the other end of the scale was Scavenger, who wanted everyone’s approval, though the gestalt still came first.
And now the gestalt was broken. It occurred to Mixmaster that they never thought about this outcome, that only one of them would be terminated. They’d always just assumed that they would live forever, or die together. At least, Mixmaster thought bitterly, that’s how it should have happened. Not this. Not this, this slow exhaustion, like our lives were draining out the hole left by Bonecrusher’s absence… I still have the others, so why do I feel so alone?..
“I have it!” crowed Mixmaster suddenly, surging to his feet and displacing Scavenger. The miner made a noise of protest as the jolt brought him back to awareness, but didn’t resist as he was hauled to his feet. Mixmaster continued as if there had been no interruption: “We don’t need a replacement! We can bring Bonecrusher back! We can! We can-can-can!”
“Impossible,” said Scrapper sadly.
Longhaul snorted. “Whad’dya want us to do? Hold a séance?”
“No, no, no,” said the chemist. “Think! Why are we so empty without our sixth?” He paused for effect, then broke into a not-quite-sane grin. “We’re not just a gestalt, we’re bonded. It’s not just our minds that merge, but our… our essence… our… souls. When Bonecrusher terminated, part of us did die. And if it works both ways…”
“You think part of him still lives on in the group!” finished Scavenger, hope brightening his optics. “Brilliant!”
“Insane,” muttered Hook.
Mixmaster gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “So am I.”
We joined the Decepticons for our own reasons…
Bonecrusher was actually the last to join the Constructicons, mere days before they became gestalt. He was already a member of the Decepticons, and was an excellent source of information on the faction. At least, the others were interested - Scrapper and Hook had only one reason for signing up.
The Decepticon ideology didn’t particularly interest them. The simple fact was that the Decepticons had gestalt technology, no one else did, and the Constructicons were mercenary enough not to care about the politics behind it.
“Not that we’re mercenaries,” said Scavenger.
“We prefer the term ‘contract employees’,” added Hook dryly. “How did you get pulled into this nonsense, Bonecrusher?”
He shrugged. “I figured, demolitionist, warrior, same diff… ‘cept warriors got moving targets.”
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about,” said Longhaul happily. “I’d rather be fightin’ than haulin’ any day.”
Scrapper walked in then, holding a compad. “It seems our first couple of assignments are going to be construction-oriented, at least,” he said, handing it to Hook.
The engineer looked over the work order. “Megatron wants us to construct a weapon? We do buildings, not machines.”
“There’s buildings, too,” said Scrapper. “Scroll down.”
He did, then: “Crystal City. He wants us to destroy Crystal City. Why?”
“I-I-I never liked the place,” added Mixmaster absently. “All those twinkly facets, your own fragmented reflection a million million times…”
“A teardown, huh?” asked Bonecrusher. “I think I see why you lot were sent to me…”
“We built Crystal City,” said Hook, ignoring the chemist. “Well, we designed it, anyway.”
Scrapper waved his hands irritably. “He wants it down! To ‘prove our loyalty’ or some such nonsense.”
“Uh-huh, and what about the Guardian, eh?” Longhaul demanded.
There was a pause as the problem was considered. “We know him,” said Hook. “And he doesn’t know that we’ve joined the Decepticons. We could get past him on some excuse… Getting out will be more difficult…”
“I have a few… ideas about that,” said Scrapper, as if the thought was new to him. “Decepticon science has come up with some… interesting uses for transform technology…”
It was easy enough to recreate Bonecrusher’s form. The test was whether they could bring back his mind.
“We can,” said Mixmaster for the hundredth time. “Everything he-he-he was is a part of-of-of us.”
“We don’t have all of his memories,” Hook replied, again. “We hadn’t merged for two days before the… accident.”
“So he’ll be miss-miss-missing two days, plus the six since the accident. So what? Better than missing forever, yes, yes?”
It took less than a day to recreate Bonecrusher’s shell. The Constructicons were working from memory, after all.
Scavenger ran his hands lightly over the still form that was both new and as familiar to him as his own body. “What if it’s not… not him? What if it’s just a copy?”
“It’ll be a perfect copy, then,” said Longhaul. “We’ve got all ‘a his memories and experience - everything that made him Bonecrusher - inside ‘a us.”
“It will be him,” insisted Mixmaster.
“I still don’t think this will work,” Hook muttered. “If bondmates could be brought back to life by the part of their spark that their partner carries within himself…”
“… Everyone would do it,” Scrapper finished. “Of course that doesn’t work; there isn’t enough energy. But we are five, and we are gestalt.” And I hope it’s enough, for all our sakes. If this doesn’t work, Mixmaster will snap completely, and Scavenger won’t last much longer…
Hook nodded, still unconvinced. “Very well, then. I want him back just as much as the rest of you do, I simply don’t have much hope. You all know what to do, I suppose?”
Gestalt technology was new; we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into…
“I don’t know how I got roped into this. I’m not a Constructicon.”
“Ya are now, Bonecrusher.”
The Decepticon technicians back then couldn’t figure out how to make a gestalt robot from five parts, and since Bonecrusher was associated with the Constructicons, he got drafted. Much as he complained, he was actually quite interested - gestalt technology sounded risky and he liked risks. He wasn’t nearly as fond of his new green paintjob, though…
“This’ll just be like transforming, right?” asked Scavenger. “All sort of automatic?” Transforming was like walking; if one thought about it too much, the action became impossible - it had to just be done.
Once the modifications were complete, the Constructicons had snuck away to a nearby empty warehouse that hopefully had a high enough ceiling for their experiment. In theory there should have been one of the Decepticon techs there, just for posterity, but the Constructicons wanted to be alone. They could report the results perfectly well themselves.
Scrapper and Hook exchanged glances before the architect raised his hand: “Constructicons, transform and merge!”
As it turned out, it was akin to transforming, in that one just had to metaphorically close his eyes and let instinct take over, and ignore the strange sensation of his body folding in unaccustomed ways. Physically, it was similar, but mentally…
Oh, slag, where am I?
On the other side of Hook, I think. This is wonderful!
If it pleases you to call hearing everyone else’s thoughts ‘wonderful’, yes?
Don’t think, just feel.
… Oh, Scavenger, you’re right…
This is really weird… Hey, which one ‘a you thinks I’m funny lookin’?
Well, you are. And you complain all the time, you do.
At least I don’t blow things up for fun…
‘Fun’? ‘Fun’!? You think I enjoy who I am, do you?..
I can’t believe you’re fighting here. Can’t you feel you’re hurting each other?
Yes, stop fighting. You’re ruining the flow… Mmmm…
Knock it off, Scavenger. You’re seriously weirding me out.
I can’t help it. It’s all so cozy and nice in here… Just go with it…
He’s got a point, you know…
We were right, Scrapper! It’s working, but… aaaaaah!
Hook! Hook, where are you? I can’t sense you any more!
Cognitive dissolution… we weren’t prepared…
Fight it, Hook!
Why fight it? It feels so nice…
Shut up, Scavenger! Bonecrusher?
… Huh? Ahh, buzz off, Scrapper.
Lemme ‘lone. I like it here.
Hmm? Oh, just surrender to it. You’ll enjoy it, you will.
Slag it, all of you, don’t give in!..
… I’ve got to get out of here, got to help the others…
… What others?
The… others. The ones who are not me. I am Scrapper. I am…
… I am…
‘Scrapper’? Who is ‘Scrapper’?
Who am I?
“I… am Devastator.”
Then the gestalt robot collapsed into his component parts, leaving the Constructicons reeling from the contact. Scavenger found his voice first: “Wow.”
“‘Devastator’, eh?” asked Bonecrusher, deciding that he didn’t really want to move just yet. “Whose idea was that name?”
“All of ours, I think,” said Hook, slowly pulling himself into a sitting position. “On some level, we all agreed to it.” He rubbed his head, then, “There must be some failsafes in the design, to keep us from completely dissolving into one another. That’s probably what made us split.”
There was a groan from Longhaul. “I fell down a mineshaft once. I was stuck down there for three days before the others found me. I was terrified they’d forgotten me. Except it never happened, so why do I remember it?”
“Me. That happened to me,” Scavenger said from where he was still lying on the floor. “Over two hundred years ago. I called and called, but my radio got smashed in the fall…” He paused, then sat up. “I designed an ornamental aqueduct once, except I didn’t.”
“That would have been me,” said Scrapper. “I did it for fun, just to see if I could. And I remember meeting Bonecrusher for the first time, but I’m standing beside myself because I’m Hook. The gestalt bond must have caused our memories to spill into each other.”
“Slag. No wonder my brain feels so full,” Bonecrusher grumbled. “This isn’t exactly my idea of the best way to get to know a new work-gang. And to whichever one of you invented the catchy-yet-annoying song about astrophysics, you’d better not ‘fess up ‘cause I’m never going to forgive you for getting it stuck in my head.”
Scrapper shook his head. “Do we all remember who we’re supposed to be, at least?”
He was suddenly aware of Mixmaster standing over him, shaking with anger. “You tricked us! You and Hook! Isn’t it bad enough I’ve got my own voice in my head? - Now I’ve got everyone else to sort through!”
The three hired Constructicons shifted their attention from inward musings to Hook and Scrapper, which incidentally summoned up more recent memories that weren’t their own. “This whole gestalt thing was ta try to help Mixmaster?” Longhaul demanded. “What if it backfired? You two nuts coulda made the rest ‘a us nuts!”
“The risk was acceptable,” snapped Hook, getting to his feet.
“‘Acceptable’!?” growled Mixmaster. “You think I would wish my condition on my worst enemy, let alone a friend or workmate?”
“You’re not stuttering,” said Scrapper.
Scavenger nodded. “It seems to have helped… and they did mean well…”
“‘Mean well’, nothing!” Longhaul started. “You’re sayin’ we all got the loony’s memories!”
The engineer shoved him, knocking Longhaul back to the floor. “Have you even looked at his memories yet, you fool?”
“Don’t wanna, not gonna.”
Hook made a noise between exasperation and contempt, then turned on his heel and stalked out. Mixmaster followed a minute later, perhaps not wanting to lose sight of his advocate, or perhaps wanting to yell him out privately. Bonecrusher got up to leave, but paused, lightly punching Scrapper in the arm: “Nice try, I guess. It don’t mean I’m not mad at you, mind, it just means I understand you.”
Longhaul got back to his feet and stormed out, dragging Scavenger behind him. Scavenger looked back to Scrapper with a helpless, apologetic wave before getting pulled out the door.
Alone, Scrapper stood in the room, started to raise his hands, but clenched his fists and let his arms fall back, turning the gesture into a shrug. “We tried,” he said to no one, and left.
“There,” said Scrapper, disconnecting the wire from his wrist. “That’s enough. Let’s see if it takes.”
“Power flows through the shell,” reported Hook, who went to check a nearby monitor. “Instruments also detect a spark, though there’s no way to tell whether it’s him or an entirely new being.”
Light flickered behind the still form’s optics. “Looks like we’ll know in a minute,” muttered Longhaul.
“Errrrrrrrgggh… What the slag happened?”
“Sh-sh-sure sounds like him,” started Mixmaster, stepping back to let him off the table.
“What the blazes you mean, ‘sounds like him’, Mixmaster?” demanded Bonecrusher, swinging his feet over the edge of the table. “Who else would I be? Ugh, I got a headache like nobody’s business…”
Scrapper caught the demolitionist by the shoulders. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Erm… Devastator,” said Bonecrusher. “I remember unbinding, and now I’m gettin’ asked dumb questions… Oof! What is with everyone?”
Scavenger looked faintly apologetic, but gave up and hugged him again. Mixmaster and Longhaul were laughing like loons, hard enough that they had to lean on one another to remain standing upright. Hook’s expression was a strange mixture of relief and irony. Scrapper clapped Bonecrusher on the shoulder again, and his mask-face somehow conveyed a grin. “You’ll know soon enough. Constructicons! Transform and merge!”
The six immediately shifted to their vehicle modes. “You’ve all gone crazy; is that it?” teased Bonecrusher.
“Maybe,” agreed Hook before settling into the familiar dissolution of the gestalt. “I’ve certainly never before seen a working demonstration of the idea that love conquers all.”