The Human Condition
Off To See The Wizard
“By yer reaction, I don’t think I have ta repeat myself.”
On one hand, Starscream decided, it would be quite satisfying to deck Rumble for his insolence. On the other, he still needed the spy’s co-operation. “It’s impossible that the Autobots could have found out about our condition!”
“Megatron and them are pretty sure we have an informer,” said Rumble.
Starscream let out a screech of exasperation. “But what Decepticon would be stupid enough to give our enemies such a vast advantage?”
“Did I say it was?” With some effort, Starscream brought himself back under control. “All right. What does our Fearless Leader intend to do about it?”
“The rest of the crew has moved to Bali - you know, Insecticon territory,” said Rumble. “Soundwave says Megatron’s idea is to put together a human army and stand their ground. The Autobots won’t harm humans, and they’d have to if they wanted to reach the force.” Technically the plan was Kickback’s idea, but Megatron had claimed it. “We’re supposed to get there as soon as we can.”
Turning to leave, Starscream said, “The Constructicons should be warned, at least. They have been helping us.”
“And I’m just sick about it if it makes you feel better, Autobot.” His general annoyance at being human was compounded by the fact of the method of his capture. Starscream, Rumble, and the Constructicons had almost managed to get out of the country… except that their flight was expecting them. The Autobots weren’t stupid, unfortunately, and after learning of the Decepticons’ condition, it was nothing more than detective-work to trace them. Starscream was still kicking himself for not recognising the Aerialbot commander Silverbolt. ‘Robots in disguise’ my foot. Cybertron, I’m such an idiot…
Jazz crouched down to get a better look at his captive. In a few minutes, he might find the situation either deadly serious or hilarious, but for now it was so ludicrous that he couldn’t help but stare. The attitude was certainly the Decepticon Air Commander, and the voice was recognisable anywhere, but the form…
Starscream was about average height for a human male, with dark reddish-brown skin and jaw-length black hair. His eyes appeared brown, but on a closer look were actually dark red. He was about medium build, but seemed a bit thinner due to his angular build and the cut of his dark red suit. He still carried himself like a Decepticon, with their air of superiority and conceit.
The Autobot sat back on his heels with a sigh. “Do you have any idea how weird you just made my day?”
“I can honestly say I’ve never felt more sympathetic towards you,” said Starscream blandly.
“And I suppose you don’t want to divulge your big, secret plan?”
“No, not really.” The Decepticon looked up. “You can’t keep me here. I wasn’t doing anything illegal.”
“Not your human activities, no, but you still got a list of Cybertronian war-crimes as long as your… well, as long as my arm, anyway,” said Jazz. “And don’t bother pointing out that you’re not a Transformer. Different bodies ain’t nothing new to us. You’re still you.”
“I would never have known if you didn’t tell me, Jazz. What would I ever do without you?” His tone was bored, but within himself, Starscream was worried. Autobots weren’t killers; the worst they would do was lock him away… Except that Starscream thought of confinement as a fate worse than death.
The Autobots had figured out that the Decepticons were selling Cybertronian technology, but they weren’t sure of the extent of their activities. Jazz stood then, considering. “If you’re functioning as human, you got ID. Hand it over.”
“Or what? You’ll search me?”
Jazz glanced at his too-large fingers, then shrugged and looked back over his shoulder. “Hey, Sparkplug! I need your help for a minute.”
Starscream gave the other man a look of contempt. “Of course. I forgot that the Autobots keep pets. Don’t touch me.” He took his wallet from his jacket and tossed it on the floor. “There. Everything to do with my human identity is in there.” He crossed his arms and turned away. “I know a hopeless situation when I see one.”
Sparkplug picked up the wallet and flipped through it out of curiousity. “‘Rashan Shastri’?”
“I liked the sound of it. So what?”
The telephone rang. Soundwave picked it up, listened a minute, grimaced slightly, and handed it to Megatron. With some amount of foreboding, Megatron took it. “Hello?”
“This would be humorous if not for the fact that you’re holding the island hostage.”
“Good morning to you too, Prime,” grumbled Megatron, pinching the bridge of his nose in weary exasperation. “I was under the impression that Autobots didn’t gloat.”
“Just stating the facts, Megatron. Let Bali go and surrender quietly.”
Megatron asked, “How can I let something go that I’m not holding by force? Every human who stands against you is here of his own free will.”
“They serve you under false pretences.” A pause, then, “We’ve apprehended Starscream, Rumble, and the Constructicons. I’ve sent one of my people to pick up the Stunticons.”
Megatron was surprised at the second piece of information - the Decepticons had no idea where the Stunticons were, - but wasn’t about to say so. “You think I’ll trade them for Bali? Never. They knew the risks when they joined the army.”
“I knew you wouldn’t. I merely thought you’d like to know.” Click.
The Decepticon commander stared at the phone receiver for a few seconds in stunned silence that quickly gave way to indignant fury. “He hung up on me! That sanctimonious scrap-heap hung up on me! Arrgh!”
Calmly, Soundwave picked up the abused phone from where Megatron threw it, and waited. “That’s it,” Megatron snapped. “I’ll let the army take a few shots at the Autobots for their interference. I know the damage they can cause is minimal, but the Autobots still won’t like it. Summon Skywarp.”
“No response,” said Soundwave after a minute.
Megatron counted to ten. “Call Thundercracker. He’ll know where Skywarp is.”
And again, “No response.”
“Where are my Seekers!?”
“Megatron is going to learn how to raise the dead so that he can keep killing us, TC.”
“Will you calm down? If this succeeds, Megatron won’t be able to touch us, not with the entire army on our side.” For once, the plan was Thundercracker’s: The Seekers had taken the body-shell jet, dodged the Autobot sensors around Bali, and had gone back to England and the time-gate. They landed the jet some distance away, and were walking towards the clearing. “Besides, you’re one of Megatron’s favourites. He won’t punish you too severely.”
“Yeah, and you’re not,” grumbled Skywarp. “It’s not me I’m worried about.”
With the Insecticons’ equipment, Soundwave was able to monitor Autobot communications, and had learned that Starscream had given up in disgust and told his captors how their change from Transformer to human had occurred. The admission couldn’t do any more harm than had already been caused by whoever tipped the Autobots off that the Decepticons were human at all. As such, the Autobots had sent out a small party of their own to the time-gate - Hoist, Warpath, and Spike, the ones who had travelled to the past, and Cosmos for transportation. And it had given Thundercracker an idea.
Thundercracker looked up. “We’re almost there, I think.”
Skywarp pulled him back suddenly, drawing him into his arms and covering his mouth with his own. After a moment, Thundercracker asked, “What was that for?”
His friend smiled faintly. “One way or another, I’ll never get to do that again. I’ll always remember you like this, Thundercracker.”
“The feelings don’t change, just the expression of them. Your words.” Thundercracker leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. “Let’s get this over with.”
“And hope we don’t get stepped on.”
The Autobots turned as the two humans stepped into the clearing. “Hi. We’re Decepticons, we’re not armed, and we’d like to talk.”
It took a moment to recognise the voice. “Skywarp?”
“And Thundercracker,” agreed Skywarp with a slight bow. It might have been Thundercracker’s plan, but Skywarp was the better speaker.
“You’re taking a chance coming out in the open,” Hoist pointed out.
Skywarp nodded. “More than you know. You could just step on us or arrest us or whatever, but that won’t help you and yours - We might be human, but right now we’re more dangerous to you than we’ve ever been.”
“Why tell us this?” asked Cosmos.
“Easy,” said Skywarp. “We don’t like being human. Problem is, this plan is working so well that Megatron won’t let us look for a way to get our real forms back.”
“As long as he’s loose in human form, your existence on this planet is threatened,” added Thundercracker. “He’ll work from Bali, and the only way to get to him is to get through the human army first.”
“See, humans will do what we say before they do what you say, because even though you got their best interests in mind, you’re still a big, alien robot. Given time, with these forms we can turn the Earth against you,” Skywarp finished. “The only way you can avoid human casualties is to expose him for what he really is. The humans will flee from him and we can get the war back to status quo.”
Hoist mulled that over. It seemed counter-intuitive that full-size Decepticon warriors would be less dangerous than human Decepticon businessmen. The problem was that Skywarp was right - humans would generally trust another human, no matter how warped, before trusting the alien. Megatron could indeed take over the Earth… and he could probably even do it legally. “What do you expect us to do?”
Skywarp shrugged in the direction of the time-gate. “We were hoping you could talk to the wizard.”
“And how am I supposed to find him?”
Blowing holes in the landscape would probably work, but Skywarp decided against making the suggestion. As soon as he had a chance, Skywarp had pulled Ramjet aside and bullied a decent order of events out of him. The first time, Starscream’s activities caught Bayorf’s attention. The second time, he appeared within minutes. “I think Bayorf must have some kind of sensor on the time-gate so that it calls his attention when it activates.” Skywarp paused, thoughtful. “Or his sensors are tuned specifically to Decepticons. Actually, he probably expects us to come looking for him, so he’ll definitely know if we arrive. Take me along - I’ve never teleported through time before.”
With some misgivings, Hoist allowed the human to follow him. At the glyphs, Skywarp looked up. “You know how to run this thing?”
“Yes.” He had triggered it by accident the first time, when he and Warpath were tracking Starscream’s raiding party.
Hoist tapped the necessary sequence and stood up, walking towards the cave mouth, Skywarp tagging along behind. “Nothing happened, Autobot! Where are you… Oh, wow.” Skywarp shot out past Hoist and into the sunlight. “Incredible! I didn’t even feel the shift!”
“Get back here. This was your idea.”
Skywarp looked back at the Autobot and grinned. “Are you in a hurry?”
“Ah, friend Hoist. Whyst have thou brought one of the bespelled giants?”
Both Transformer and ex-Transformer turned at the voice. Skywarp raised an eyebrow at Hoist, who nodded. “I ask that you would lift the curse, Bayorf,” said Hoist.
Bayorf looked considering. “Art thou sure thou wishes these warriors to return to their natural shapes?”
“They’re adaptable. They’re more dangerous human,” said Hoist, exchanging glances with Skywarp. The Seeker smirked slightly at the robot towering over him.
“Very well,” said Bayorf, raising his hands, then pointing at Skywarp. Skywarp jumped as the light settled like a cloud around him, but when nothing happened, he relaxed. “Whenst this one returns to his time, the spell will be lifted. Good journey.”
The Autobot watched the wizard walk away, then shot a quick look at Skywarp. The still-human Decepticon wasn’t trying to hide his emotions: He was pleased, but there was an undertone of regret. Skywarp looked at his hands, sighed, and let them fall to his sides. “Let’s go.”
Hoist led the way back to the time-gate. It suddenly occurred to him that in a few seconds he was going to have a full-size Decepticon warrior standing next to him. He needn’t have worried.
Skywarp - in two tons of sleek, black metal - barrelled out of the cave, almost crashing into Thundercracker. The Autobots trained their weapons on the Seekers, but the Decepticons ignored them completely, looking down at themselves and at each other.
Suddenly, Thundercracker let out a laugh of pure joy, and, shifting, took to the sky. Skywarp looked back at the Autobots, smiled, shrugged, and followed his comrade.
They watched until the jets were out of sight. Warpath shook his head. “I am never going to understand Decepticons.”
The building shook as if the whole volcano was going to fall down. “What the..?” demanded Jazz, trying to keep his balance. “If this is your Dinobots loose again, Wheeljack…”
“Don’t look at me,” retorted the engineer. “Grimlock and the boys are with Optimus. The volcano must be erupting.”
Jazz staggered to a wall panel and punched in a sequence. “The seismic sensors say it’s not the volcano.”
“Think it’s the Decepticons?”
Jazz pulled him to his feet. “With them human? Are you kidding?” Another quake shook the base, and this time, despite his efforts, Jazz was knocked to the floor. “Not that I’d put it past them. Let’s go.” Getting back to their feet, the two Autobots ran down the hall to the holding area.
“Constructicons! Transform and merge!”
“I never like hearing that…” Jazz started.
Wheeljack pulled Jazz to the floor as a silver jet streaked over them. “What the blazes?.. Was that Starscream?”
“With Rumble hitching a ride, looks like,” replied Wheeljack, standing again. “Left without firing a shot… Hey!” he finished as Jazz almost knocked him down again.
Jazz shifted as he ran, covering the distance to the holding cells in record time. “The Constructicons are gone,” he radioed. “Left a Devastator-sized hole, too.”
“How on Cybertron did they change back? I thought they were stuck!”
“So did I!” retorted Jazz, then sighed. “Ah, nuts. You might as well get back here and start the damage assessment, ‘Jack, while I radio Prime.”
“We’re back. We’re back!” Ripsaw laughed, and the three Insecticons - Ripsaw, Whiptail, and Tangleweb - Sway and Kickback were at the Insecticon base - impulsively group-hugged Blitzwing, who shook them off. Undeterred, they pounced on Astrotrain.
“But how?” asked Stormcloud. “Not that I’m complaining.”
“I don’t care if Optimus Prime himself did this,” declared Astrotrain, trying to detach the Insecticons from himself. “If he did, I’d polish his chrome and smile while doing it.” The triple-changer flicked the last Insecticon off. Their happiness unspent, they considered hugging Nightbird, and changed their minds. Instead they each took a Reflector, who were incidentally too small to get rid of them.
There was a faint commotion off to the side: “Aw, cheez, boss - Everybody’s staring!” They hadn’t been, but Soundwave’s answering laugh caught the Decepticons’ attention. Soundwave, for once, didn’t care: As soon as his true form returned, he had tapped his eject button, and nearly collapsed with relief when Frenzy, Laserbeak, and Buzzsaw emerged unharmed to join Ravage. Then he did fall to his knees, but it was only to sweep his cassettes to him… much to Frenzy’s dismay.
Megatron, for his part, was furious that his plan had been ruined, and he dealt with it in his instinctual way: He blasted a hole in the roof, leapt to the air, and shouted, “Decepticons, ATTACK!”
It took a minute for Megatron to notice that no one followed his order. In fact, the others were all giving him looks ranging from incredulity to outright hostility. Fusion cannon charged, he landed and swept his hand at the general assembly: “What is this? A mutiny without Starscream? I said attack!”
There was the faint sound of weapons being readied, multiplied by thirteen. No one actually raised their weapon, but the threat was obvious. Megatron looked around quickly and found he was outnumbered: Only Soundwave didn’t stand against him, but Soundwave wasn’t paying any attention to anything but his cassettes. Megatron took a step back, cannon at ready, and hissed, “Traitors.”
“You can’t take us all on,” said Blitzwing flatly.
Megatron trained his fusion cannon on the triple-changer. “But if I take out the ringleader…” He trailed off deliberately.
Blitzwing snorted and put his sidearm away. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you who the instigator was.” With that, he deliberately turned his back, shifted to plane-mode, and took off.
One by one, the others followed until only Megatron, Soundwave, and the spy-cassettes remained. After a minute, Soundwave gestured that his creations follow the others.
The Decepticon Commander glared after his army, not moving until he said, “I suppose I can’t punish all of them.”
“I am going to find the traitor who informed the Autobots of our condition and turned my army against me,” growled Megatron.
“Not the same person,” said Soundwave.
Megatron looked over slowly at his lieutenant. “You wouldn’t know that unless…”
“Convinced them to rebel against the plan, instead of against you.”
“You…” Megatron stopped and clenched his fists in an effort to keep from lashing out. “We are going to talk about this - in detail - later, Soundwave,” he threatened, then took off in the opposite direction of the others.
Soundwave stood quietly for a few moments, thinking his own inscrutable thoughts, before taking off after the army.
It was a few hours before Thundercracker landed on a cliff overlooking the ocean. He shifted as he landed, but his usual grace was marred by the fact that he collapsed laughing. Skywarp landed beside him a few minutes later. “Thought I’d never catch up to you, TC.”
Thundercracker lay in the grass, flat on his back, and stretched his arms as if to embrace the whole sky. “I missed flying so much. I can’t believe I forgot how wonderful it was.” He let his arms fall back, then turned his head to look at Skywarp. “Are you going to be okay? I know how you liked being human…”
The black Seeker sat nearby, grinning at his friend. “Loved it, but losing it is worth seeing you genuinely happy again, rather than just forgetting to be sad.” Skywarp stood and looked out over the water. “I have to know, though… Was it you who told the Autobots about the curse?”
The other shook his head. “No, I just used it.”
Skywarp nodded. He had hoped that was the case, but had to know for sure. “We’d better check in with the base, make sure everyone else is okay.”
“If anyone’s home yet, get them to do a general weather-check and see if we can get a round of storm-tag going.”
“We haven’t flown in over four months,” Skywarp reminded him. “You think we’re up to it?”
Thundercracker smiled and got to his feet. “With the mood I’m in, I could take on Omega Supreme.”
The isolation and boredom that went along with the Stormworld’s Corridor Season tended to put the crew into bad moods, so Dreadmoon didn’t immediately turn when he heard someone stomping down one of the station’s halls. “Starscream!”
The Seeker held up his hand for silence. “Don’t start. I’m going to recharge, then I’m going to go storm-flying, then I’m going to lock myself in my room and sulk until I feel like dealing with people again.”
With some effort, Dreadmoon quelled his initial reaction. Instead he asked, “Shall I forward the last four months of reports to your quarters, Commander?”
“The condensed version, unless there’s anything of particular importance,” said Starscream. The monitor nodded, then turned to continue down the hall. Starscream stopped him. “Dreadmoon?”
“On second thought, join me after I return. I’ve had a very strange time and I want to talk about it.”
Megatron was rarely in a good mood, but at the moment, he was in a worse one. All he wanted to do was take his frustration out on someone, anyone, but it wasn’t possible. Starscream had gone back to Stormworld almost immediately. Skywarp and Thundercracker had been the ones to ruin his plan, but since the rest of the army was on their side on the issue, taking it out on his wayward Seekers had a good chance of making the general discontent worse. He would really have enjoyed tearing into the traitor who sold them out to the Autobots, but he didn’t know who it was.
In the end, he settled for causing general destruction in a human city, which caught the attention of the Autobots, which in turn left him barely able to fly back to base. The Constructicons had repaired him without a word. It was another four days before he cooled off enough to track down Soundwave. Yelling at Soundwave never got anyone anywhere.
He found his lieutenant in the repair bay, working on a small purplish robot he didn’t recognise. “New cassette?” Soundwave nodded. “Where are the Constructicons?”
“Cargo Bay Two.”
“Devastator.” In fact, the gestalt robot had parked himself there as soon as the Constructicons had finished repairing Megatron, and ignored anyone who tried to communicate with him. The Constructicons had a lot of catching-up to do.
Which brought Megatron up on where all the Decepticons were. The Insecticons had remained in Bali. Starscream stuck around just long enough to get a recharge before going back to Stormworld - he knew that if he stayed, he and Megatron would fight, and he didn’t feel up to it. The Combaticons had returned to their desert base, after a vague warning about not letting such a stupid situation happen again. As it turned out, the Stunticons had been arrested within hours of becoming human. The Decepticons didn’t know this until they heard the reports of their break-out.
As for Nightbird… Well, the robot ninja tagged along to the Decepticon Base. Megatron, still in a foul mood, had reminded her she had nowhere else to go, to which Nightbird replied, through sign-language, that she had no interest in remaining with the Decepticons. She owed them nothing - not even sentience, as that was an unintended occurrence. Besides, she remembered how she was treated by Decepticons, Autobots, and humans alike - as property. And just as she was waking to self-awareness, she was shut away. It would have been an interesting fight to watch; Megatron shouting and Nightbird telling her side through gesture, but no one else saw it. Everyone knew the final result, though: The ninja stormed out, despite having no idea how to function on Earth.
Some hours later, Ramjet - on space-bridge guard-duty - reported that someone had snuck up, stunned him, and made an unauthorised trip. Nightbird could never remain undetected on Earth… but she had a chance on Cybertron, and she was bright enough to know it. Megatron wasn’t sure whether to wish her luck or curse the day he ordered her reactivation.
He turned his attention back on Soundwave. “The crew was already in mutiny, so you took it over and redirected it?”
Megatron shook his head, one hand over his optics. “Every time I think I’ve got you figured out…” He sighed. “Remind me to never underestimate you, Soundwave.”
Stormcloud paused in front of the door, then, reaching a decision, tapped the signal button. At a muffled, “It’s not locked,” she opened the door and peeked in. “Are you two busy?”
“Drinking. Talking. Nothing we can’t do for the rest of our lives,” said Skywarp cheerfully, waving her in. “I’d ask you to pull up a chair, but I’m all out. Hang on…” With a sweep of his hand, he cleared his desk and sat on that. Thundercracker winced slightly at the added mess, but didn’t say anything. Very little could be done to make Skywarp’s quarters any more cluttered than they were. “Have a cube. What’s on your mind, Stormy?”
She sat down, accepted the energon cube from Thundercracker, but didn’t drink it. “I wanted to apologise for the way I acted.”
“Everyone was acting strange. Biological functions have such an impact on organic thought. None of us knew how to handle it,” said Skywarp.
“Still, I shouldn’t have come between you two.” Stormcloud looked down, fighting the urge to shuffle her feet.
You shouldn’t have, but you did, and I can understand your reasons. Thundercracker leaned forward slightly. “The rest of the army seems to be on a general ‘forgive and forget’ policy. No reason why we should be any different.” He held out his hands. “Partners?” After a slight hesitation, Stormcloud took his hand.
Skywarp grinned and completed the circle. “Belated welcome to the Decepticon army, Stormy. The pay is lousy, the hours are worse, but you’ll never be bored.”