The Insecticon Rebellion
If there was one thing the Insecticons could do, it was hide. Not that anyone was putting any real effort into looking for them. No one particularly wanted to find them; the Insecticons were too short-sighted, mercenary, and generally annoying for the Decepticons to appreciate them. Most of the time when they worked with the Decepticons, the campaign ended with the Insecticons getting chased off. They thought it was all rather unfair.
Recently, they - well, Shrapnel, anyway - had started to take an interest in Decepticon politics. Cybertron was awake, the Empire was ready to retake the galaxy, and Shrapnel wanted the Insecticons to be a part of it. Now he walked - in insect-mode. They tended to assume robot-mode only when they needed opposable thumbs - into the series of disused chambers in Cybertron’s underground that the Insecticons had claimed as their temporary hideout.
“The factories are closed to us, to us,” sighed Shrapnel. “And Megatron chased me off, off.” The Decepticon Commander currently spent about half his time on Cybertron, much to Shockwave’s annoyance.
“Typical,” said Kickback.
“So what?” asked Bombshell. “We have the clones. We don’t need any others.”
The stag beetle’s mandibles crackled with the electricity of his annoyance. “The clones look impressive, yes, but they aren’t much more than cannon fodder, fodder. We need a real army. We will never have any true power on Cybertron unless we have people to back it up, up.”
“I repeat: So what?” said Bombshell. “Who needs Cybertron? We should go back to Earth. Plenty to eat and the Decepticons won’t hassle us there.”
“Yeah. We’re no threat to them, so they won’t bother hunting us if it’s a nuisance to do so,” piped Kickback.
“The Decepticons hate us. They’ll hunt us just for fun, fun,” growled Shrapnel. “We need to work our way into the power structure, and it seems the only way is to have great military strength. We need an army, army!”
The grasshopper preened his antennae. “We can’t build without the factories. We also lack materials and the ability to give minds to our creations.” It wasn’t that the Insecticons had never heard of sparking, - using your own life-force to spark a new one - but with only three of them, they lacked the power to bring life to an army. At least, not with any speed.
Shrapnel smiled. “Ah, but I have thought things through, through. We can build, and quickly. Creation is hard, but with our combined skills, alteration is easy, easy.”
“Megatron would pin us to cardboard display sheets and hang us on the walls if we reworked other Decepticons into Insecticons!” hollered Bombshell.
“But that’s not what we’re going to do, to do,” snapped Shrapnel. “Our first order of business is to go to Earth, Earth.”
There was still enough traffic at the Cybertron-Earth space-bridge that nobody really paid the Insecticons any attention. After several miles of flight over a desert, Bombshell asked, “So where are we going, anyway?”
“Autobot Headquarters, quarters.”
“We’re not going to rework them into Insecticons, are we?”
Shrapnel rotated slightly; he was flying sideways now, but he could glare at the others. “No, Bombshell. We simply want information from them, from them.”
“Whatever it is, they won’t tell us,” Kickback reminded him.
“Of course not, which is why we’ll just take it, take it.”
“And ‘it’ is?..”
The beetle straightened out his flight. “The location of the place where they found the morphobots, bots.”
Bombshell looped under Shrapnel and pulled up alongside him. “Are you insane?”
“The morphobots eat robotic insects, right, right? So wherever they’re from, there we’ll find more,” said Shrapnel patiently. “It shouldn’t take much work to install transform circuits and proper hardware into the shells of the robotic insects, insects.”
“Hmm,” considered Kickback. “And the minds?”
“First things first, first,” Shrapnel said, transforming back to robot-mode as the volcano came in sight. He launched a grenade, sending little bits of metal flying in all directions, but harmlessly. A pale nimbus formed between his spines, which leapt to the scattered metal and infused it with the same aurora. Within minutes, the bits of metal expanded, twisted, and became the Insecticon clone army. Shrapnel’s mouth curled sardonically. “Cannon fodder, but they will serve, serve.”
The other two Insecticons shifted. “What do you want us to do?” asked Bombshell.
“Lead the clone army on a path of total destruction, destruction,” said Shrapnel. “But do not go inside the base. Leave that to me, to me.”
“Pfft,” said Bombshell. “You? Sneak?”
Shrapnel looked hurt. “So, so?”
“You make that keening noise.”
“Do not, do not.”
“You think you can hack the Teletraan computer?” Kickback interjected.
“All electrical systems are mine to command, command,” Shrapnel reminded him. “The Autobot computer is no exception, ception.”
The Insecticons were adept at hiding. They were also adept at being very, very visible. It was hard to ignore the buzzing metal swarm as it tore across the landscape. They had their preferences when it came to food, but they could and would eat anything when the mood stuck them. Now they were in full rampage mode; if it was in their way, it was devoured.
Of course, it took all of five minutes for the Autobots to reach them and start swatting. Fortunately, no one noticed that one particular stag beetle wasn’t part of the fray.
Shrapnel slipped in the top of the volcano. He had heard that Laserbeak snuck in on a regular basis, so the Insecticon was mildly curious why the Autobots hadn’t put some sort of lid over the hole. He was pleased, yes, but surprised.
He dropped down to the main level, stretching his electronic senses for any sign of an enemy. There was none. Bombshell and Kickback were doing a good job. The fact that there were hundreds of Insecticon clones buzzing about probably helped. Shrapnel traced the circuitry in the walls with his senses, following it back to its core - the infamous Teletraan-1 computer.
Around Decepticon Headquarters, Teletraan-1 had a bit of a reputation for being in the wrong place at the wrong time… at least its little spy-satellites had a reputation. The computer itself was a huge thing, semi-sentient, but immobile. The Decepticons had their own variations on the theme; the not-creatively-named Deceptitraan computers were mobile and had a tendency to develop sentience in the right conditions, but didn’t have as great a storage capacity and weren’t very flexible mentally. They stopped using them millennia ago.
An alarm sounded, and Shrapnel shifted to robot-mode, gathering his power around himself. Then he let it go, pouring it into the Autobot computer. The alarm ceased. The Insecticon smiled to himself; he could control a full-fledged Autobot, it was easy to control a mere computer. Semi-sentient Teletraan-1 fought back as best it could, but couldn’t succeed. Its mind was its own, but its functions were directed by Shrapnel.
Shrapnel forced a command upon the computer: Search: Robotic Insects.
Nothing. He tried: Search: Insects, Robotic.
This time, a screen activated and Shrapnel went to it; he could control the computer, but he couldn’t absorb its knowledge directly. A table of contents appeared:
See Also: Insecticons; Morphobots
So, it was an online encyclopaedia of sorts. While somewhat tempted to see what the entry on the Insecticons said, Shrapnel instead commanded: Search: Morphobots.
Characteristics and Classification of,
See Also: Plant-life, Alien; Log: ‘Quest For Survival’
Shrapnel highlighted ‘Ecology of,’ and was rewarded with a screen full of text and a scrollbar at the side that informed it was a rather long entry. He began to scan it, ( …spores discovered on Floron III, an inhospitable asteroid converted into an alien laboratory - See Also: Medazza, Dr… ) then gave up in disgust; whoever wrote it was long-winded, rambling, and frightfully dull.
Teletraan-1 was fighting him and he knew it. Shrapnel could control bodies, not minds, and the computer was mostly mind. He could force it to function, but couldn’t force it to co-operate. It was like trying to get a useful wish out of a recalcitrant genie. He tried: What planet did the morphobots come from?, out of spite, but the computer just flashed an Invalid question message at him.
Right. He had already checked the computers on Cybertron, which all told him that morphobots were extinct and made no mention of robotic insects. Of course, Decepticon computers were two million years out of date. Randomly he tried: Search: Log: ‘Quest For Survival’: Ref. Insects, Robotic.
The screen scrolled down - reluctantly, it seemed - almost to the bottom of the entry. A line caught Shrapnel’s eye: … subsequent to extracting the morphobots from the valley, they were repositioned to Coleop, a planet of robotic insects…
“Now we’re getting somewhere, somewhere,” murmured Shrapnel. Search: Coleop: Ref. Star Map of.
Five minutes later, Shrapnel tore out of the base, calling retreat.
Kilometres later, Shrapnel finally stopped laughing. He had copied a star map from the Autobot Base, and they probably still didn’t know it. Of course, the Insecticons had left their clones behind to make good their own retreat. Without the Insecticons controlling them, the clones would soon fall apart, but for now, they would be causing most glorious chaos.
“All right, all right, you found the co-ordinates,” said Bombshell shortly. “How are we supposed to get there? Megatron would never allow us a ship.”
“So we don’t ask, ask,” Shrapnel smiled - an implied smile; his insectoid mouth couldn’t form the expression.
The weevil swung around to glare at Shrapnel, and nearly beaned Kickback with his antenna. “We’re going to steal a ship!? We’re already universally despised, and you want to make us fugitives?”
“Fugitives with a ship, ship,” corrected Shrapnel.
“I’m hungry,” announced Kickback, mostly because it was true, but partly so the other two would stop arguing for a while.
The Insecticons spotted a likely-looking forest and descended, cheerfully tearing into the once-peaceful scenery. “Mmfh, deciduous - hardwood,” said Bombshell, buzzing happily. “Conifers are always so watery.” He spotted a particularly large specimen and scuttled off to fell it. Transformers had no sense of taste as a human would experience it; internal sensors could analyse incoming energy for purity - the amount of energy gleaned versus the amount wasted in heat transfer, static, or other conversions. To use an inaccurate analogy, the purer the energy source, the better it tasted.
Kickback took the opportunity to sidle over to Shrapnel. “What is the plan?”
“Next we steal a ship and go to Coleop, op,” said Shrapnel between mouthfuls.
Shrapnel swallowed wood pulp. “Then we use our mechanical skills to convert the robotic insects into Insecticons, cons.”
“How?” When the beetle didn’t answer for several minutes, Kickback said, “You don’t know, do you? I think you’re just making this up as you go along, otherwise you would have explained it to us already.” The Insecticons spent sizable amounts of time inventing various plots, most of which never came to anything because their attention spans were plugged directly into their appetites. They’d start a campaign, get hungry, and forget they had a task at all. Not that they cared; the mere act of planning was fun. But this time Shrapnel was focused. It was most un-Insecticon-like.
He toyed with a small branch for a few minutes before sighing, “You’re right. I don’t entirely know what I’m doing, doing.” Shrapnel nibbled it reflexively. “But I know my goal. I want to secure the Insecticon future, future.”
“But it’s only us three, and two-thirds of us don’t care.”
“I know that, but it must be done, done.”
Stealing the ship was relatively easy.
As when they left for Earth, no one paid the Insecticons any mind at the space-bridge when they returned to Cybertron. Of course, most of the Decepticons on Cybertron wouldn’t have even heard of the Insecticons - or insects, for that matter, - and in robot-mode they weren’t particularly noticeable - just three more smallish Decepticons.
Once out of Shockwave’s tower, they took off for the Second Sector. They would be too well known in the First or Sixth Sectors - having helped with the planetary jets, - and they wanted to bluff as much as they could. It worked most of the way; Kickback could talk his way past most of the guards, and when that didn’t work, they found that invoking the name of Megatron got results.
Unfortunately, the hangar guard was either too bright to be taken in by smooth-talk, or too conscientious to allow anyone by. The Insecticons decided on Option Three: He was simply too dumb to realise he was outnumbered. He looked down. “Let’s see your orders.”
The guard was a tank/plane triple-changer who stood twice as tall as any of them, probably out-massed the three Insecticons put together, and his expression showed he knew it. Which was a mistake. Kickback patted at himself in the universal manner of one who has deliberately left one’s wallet behind in the hopes of scamming free food and muttered: “‘Orders’? Oh my, I must have left them in my other…” - Kickback shifted - “… form!”
The grasshopper lashed out, catching the guard by surprise and just under the knees. A cerebro-shell from Bombshell finished what resistance the triple-changer might have put up. “Rude fellow,” sighed the weevil.
“Stupid fellow, fellow,” said Shrapnel. To the guard he said, “Open the door, the door!”
The guard’s optics flickered as Bombshell took control, and a few seconds later the Insecticons followed him into the hangar. Within twenty minutes, they were ready to leave. “Don’t forget to clear us for take-off!” called Bombshell. It would stall the realisation of the theft, at least.
An hour into their journey, Bombshell fell away from his station with a shriek, clutching at his head. Kickback got to him first, helping the other to his feet. The weevil shook his head in a futile attempt to clear the static. “Backlash,” he said. “They must have found the guard.”
Shrapnel nodded. Destruction of an active cerebro-shell caused a nasty feedback surge in Bombshell. He could deactivate them from a distance, but this time it was necessary as an early-warning system - their theft had been discovered. But they had a good head-start, so they probably wouldn’t be pursued.
The surge cleared itself in minutes. The Insecticons returned to their stations.
“Check the scanner, scanner! Coleop, op!”
The journey had taken about two weeks, and Bombshell and Kickback found they weren’t terribly interested. They spent their time either running the ship, swapping bad jokes, or complaining about the lack of food - basically acting like typical Insecticons. Not that they had energy problems; the ship’s energon storage was well-stocked, but their systems craved physical food, despite the fact that it was less efficient.
For his part, Shrapnel was getting stranger - more focused - by the day. He barely spoke to the others except about his plans, and he still couldn’t convince them that it was a good idea. In short, he was acting rather like a Decepticon, but with less rhetoric. The other two could have stopped him, by force, by trick, by cerebro-shell, but decided to humour him. The Insecticons weren’t friends particularly, but there was strength in numbers, so they stuck together. It wasn’t as if they had anyone else, anyway.
Kickback obediently looked at the scanner. “Planetary orbit seven-point-eight light-minutes, average temperature about 320 K, atmosphere mostly nitrogen, no polar caps, vegetation is tropical overall…”
“I wonder what it tastes like,” mused Bombshell.
“Forget that, forget that,” said Shrapnel, waving a hand dismissively - they spent their time on-duty in robot-mode because they needed fingers to hit buttons. “Scan for robotic life, life.”
The grasshopper tapped buttons. “Piles of it. Morphobots, too.”
“Hmph,” said Shrapnel. “Pick a spot relatively morphobot-free and begin landing procedure, procedure.”
The problem with morphobots were that they weren’t so much part of an ecological niche as they were a blight. They were like the Insecticons in that way; both species would devour whatever they could without any real purpose, direction, or thought for the future. However, in one important respect, they were unalike; there were only three Insecticons. In favourable conditions, morphobots produced spores that grew at an alarming rate. If conditions were bad, the spores would sit and wait, for centuries if need be, until the environment became favourable again.
In short, a morphobot-free zone didn’t seem to exist. They were spread much more thinly than they were on Earth, but there was no way to completely avoid them if one wanted to do any real wandering. Kickback eventually settled on a flat plain near a forest, set the ship down, and extended its solar panels to replenish the energy lost on the initial trip.
The silver-green grass crunched oddly underfoot, but nothing seemed too unusual until the Insecticons reached the forest. Bombshell shifted to insect-mode and immediately took a bite out of the nearest tree. It went ‘clang’. Shrapnel rapped his knuckles on the tree. It rung. “It’s made of metal, metal.”
“Tastes pretty good,” said Bombshell. “Bit more silicon than I like, though.”
“Robot trees on the planet of robot insects,” said Kickback wonderingly before shifting and testing for himself the accuracy of Bombshell’s statement.
Shrapnel glared at them both. “Your energy levels are fine. We came here for a purpose, purpose!”
“Plenty of time.” Kickback turned and kicked the tree over for ease of eating, but it was too thick and merely bent slightly. Four more kicks finally bent it enough for his purpose. “Besides, we haven’t had a proper meal in weeks. Join in; you’ll feel better with your conversion tank full.”
The stag beetle shifted to insect-mode as well, but instead hovered towards the forest. “You two can sit out here and waste time, time,” he informed them. “I’m going to scout ahead, ahead.”
The others watched until Shrapnel was out of sight, then looked back at each other and shrugged. “Nuts,” said Bombshell, twirling his antenna for emphasis. “Totally rivets.”
The stag beetle flew low through the forest, making little clinking noises as his limbs hit stray rocks or tree roots. Where there wasn’t the strange silvery grass, there was something dull and reddish akin to dirt. Shrapnel tasted it - some kind of iron-rich stuff with silicon filings mixed in, quite nitrogen-heavy. Curious, but he wasn’t there for geological research.
The hot wind ruffled the strange trees, causing the leaves to chime gently. The sunlight shone through the canopy, occasionally dazzling if it hit a sheared edge of the flora. It was a yellow light from a star like Earth’s sun, and Shrapnel liked that. As far as the Insecticons memories’ were concerned, they were Earth-creatures.
Shrapnel wasn’t so lost in his own thoughts that he missed the low hum behind him, and the beetle flattened himself to the ground as something flashed angrily overhead. It dove again, but Shrapnel blasted it out of the air. It crashed, twitched, and lay still. Shrapnel shifted to robot-mode and walked over.
It wasn’t an Earthly insect, though there were some similarities. It was about his size ( while in beetle-mode, ) a gold and copper creature something like a bee, currently with a smoking hole through its thorax. Some sort of clear liquid oozed from the wound, darkening in the light. The Insecticons would have to come up with some cleaner way to kill the creatures - Shrapnel saw nothing wrong with killing the insects; they were going to be remade into better things, anyway, - like a variation on a null-ray, to simply stop their functions and leave them undamaged. He’d get Bombshell to rig something up.
And if there was one robotic insect around, there were probably more. Shrapnel shifted and set out to find them.
“I thought I had the stutter, stutter,” said Shrapnel, dropping down from a tree.
Kickback hopped back. “We’ve been looking for you. It’s been hours. Your communicator was fritzing or something, so we got worried.”
“I was busy, so I shut it off. I must have forgotten to turn it back on, back on.”
“What were you doing? You’re a mess.”
Shrapnel attempted to look down at himself, but the action was impossible in insect-mode. He could guess what he looked like, though. “I was looking for robotic insects, insects,” he said with as much dignity as someone covered in dirt could muster. “Most live underground, ground.”
“They’re built for it. You’re not. You’ve probably got sand in your works,” said Kickback, preening an antenna in sympathy. He was the tidy one.
“None got in, I think, think.”
“Better not transform until you get cleaned off.” Transformer hulls were fairly impenetrable, but transforming while covered in dirt was a sure-fire way to get sand in your gears. Kickback started back towards the ship. “Though I’m not sure if we’ve got brushes on the ship. I don’t think it was equipped for muddy planetary surveys.”
A slight change in the air and light caught Shrapnel’s attention. “Well, we Insecticons are nothing if not resourceful, resourceful…”
A light rain was falling by the time the two got back to the ship. Kickback looked up at the clouds with mild disapproval. “That’s not water.”
“It’s water here and it’s wet, so who cares, cares?” Shrapnel informed him. “And all I’m getting is muddy. Where is Bombshell, shell? I could use a proper cloudburst, cloudburst.”
“Nuts. He’s probably still looking for you.” Kickback clicked on his radio. “Kickback to Bombshell. I’ve found Shrapnel. Bombshell?” He looked puzzled. “He’s not answering.”
Shrapnel checked his own radio. “We can trace him at least, at least.” The two Insecticons took off to do just that.
The rain picked up slightly as they flew across the plain to the next forest over. Rising winds forced them to keep low; the Insecticons were built light and high winds could easily knock them off course. The clouds darkened, throwing the land into a strange purple twilight.
They sensed the movement in the forest before they saw it, hearing the strange clash of alien metal and an all-too familiar screech. “Bombshell!” The other two rushed forward, but pulled up short. Rushing in would just get them caught by the same morphobot.
At the sound of his name, the weevil managed to twist around in the plant-creature’s grasp. “Get me out of here!”
“Hold on!” Kickback called. Then, quieter, “What do we do? We go near that thing, it’ll get us, too.”
The problem with morphobots were that they were well-nigh invulnerable. A valley full of them once destroyed the entire Insecticon clone army. Laserfire simply bounced off the metallic hide. Maybe they could be shot while their mouths were open, but the Insecticons didn’t have enough firepower for that…
Lightning flashed overhead. Maybe they did.
Shrapnel shifted back to robot-mode, and caught the lightning between his spines. Kickback danced back. “You’ll blast Bombshell, too!”
“He’s got a surge protector, protector,” said Shrapnel.
“Not that big a surge, idiot! Give me a minute.” Kickback pounced at the morphobot, but jumped back too quickly for the grasping tendrils to catch him. The plant-creature didn’t let go of Bombshell, but did move him away from its mouth as its attention was pulled to the grasshopper. As soon as a clear shot presented itself, Shrapnel let go.
Black clouds carrying the stench of burning slime - the Insecticons couldn’t smell it, of course - lifted sluggishly from the morphobot’s still form, but were soon quenched by the rain. It didn’t matter; the plant was cooked from the inside.
Shrapnel and Kickback untangled Bombshell from the limp tentacles. “Oof, thanks. Wouldn’t have needed it if someone didn’t go missing.”
“How did you not see a morphobot, bot?”
“It covered itself over with sand and stuff,” said Bombshell, inspecting his damages. “Looked like a perfectly normal little mini-hill… until it exploded and grabbed me, of course.” He gave Shrapnel a baleful look, as if it was his fault.
It took two to fight, which was why the Insecticons had a third - to defuse. Kickback made a face at the sky. “Let’s get out of the rain. Shrapnel found a couple of nests in the forest; we’ll figure out how best to get at them for tomorrow.”
“Hmm, reminds me,” said Shrapnel. “We need different weapons, weapons…”
Happily plotting, the Insecticons went back into the ship.
The next day, they had a small catch of coleop - they quickly got tired of saying ‘robotic insects’ all the time - carcasses. The weapons Bombshell had rigged to short-circuit the creatures worked passing-well, but could stand improvement. But to improve it, he needed a better idea of how the coleop worked. So the Insecticons were in the cargo bay, to inspect their first captures.
However, one problem was noticed immediately. Bombshell had picked out a corpse at random to do some preliminary work on, cracked open the exoskeleton, and stopped. “Shrapnel! Kickback! These aren’t robots at all!”
‘Robotic insects’ was a misidentification; the creatures were, in their way, organic. The Insecticons realised they should have caught on to this before, when they noticed the strange trees. Life on Coleop somehow sprung from a metal base, rather than water and carbon-chains. And since metal is stronger than chitin, the insect life could evolve bigger and bigger forms without the risk of shattering as an Earth-based insect would.
“Organic,” said Kickback incredulously. “Now what, Shrapnel?”
Shrapnel bent over the table to get a better look at the dissected coleop. “It will still work. Just because these creatures are organic doesn’t mean they are unsuitable, unsuitable. Their shells are almost as hard as ours, and can be strengthened. All their internal workings are metal as well, well. It’s still just a rewiring job - most of the organs can be removed to make way for transform circuits and the brains must be replaced of course…”
“Hmm, I think I see… yes. Replace the stomach with a conversion tank, tie it into the circulatory and nervous systems…” Bombshell found himself warming to the idea; he enjoyed rewiring things. That, and they could probably eat their mistakes.
“We’ll try a couple for practice,” agreed Shrapnel, “and then we’ll head back to Earth. It won’t be too much of a detour, detour.”
“Why are we back here?”
“To see if our ship remains, remains,” said Shrapnel. The Insecticons were back on Earth, in the Demon Swamp of Bali, where their escape pod had crashed four million years ago. They had actually been awake for several hundred years before the other Decepticons found them again, though they never did much besides eat and cause a few local legends.
“But we’ve got a ship,” grumbled Kickback. It was parked half a kilometre away, and would probably very soon start to attract unwanted attention.
Bombshell pushed some weeds aside with his antenna and found metal. “The pod’s still here, but it hasn’t worked since the crash.”
“Parts of it worked, worked,” corrected Shrapnel. “It repaired us, didn’t it? It took our damaged bodies and remade us in the image of the planet’s dominant life-form, in terms of population. It repaired our minds, too. We remembered our names, our skills, but not the others, others. And if it can repair a damaged mind…”
“Then perhaps it can create new ones,” said Bombshell. “After our tweaking, of course.”
They shifted to robot-mode and ducked into the dark opening. The damp had got in everywhere and there was a small colony of frogs in one corner, but Cybertronian technology was built to last. Shrapnel eagerly plunged his hands into the ancient circuitry, looking for the heart of the repair computer. Bombshell and Kickback wandered around, seeing if there was anything else worth salvaging.
The grasshopper poked at a panel. “We’ve never cared about this ‘securing the future’ stuff before. Why now?”
“Who knows? Shrapnel’s been acting a bit strange ever since Cybertron was threatening to crash into a star.” Bombshell shrugged. “He got infected by politics or something. He’ll get over it.”
“I hope so. What do we need an army for? It’s just more mouths to feed.”
The inner doors were all sealed shut from disuse. Just because the Insecticons had lived in the broken shuttle for centuries didn’t mean they ever had a use for most of it. It was just a place to duck into if they were tired of being rained on. Bombshell retracted a hand and replaced it with a cutting torch. Kickback hung back uncertainly. “You ever wonder about, you know, who we were before we became Insecticons?”
The weevil didn’t bother looking over. “Nah.”
“Me either. Isn’t that weird?” asked Kickback. “After meeting the Decepticons again, you’d think we’d be all over the records like… like…”
“‘Ants at a picnic’?”
Kickback nodded. “Yeah. But we never did.”
The door Bombshell was cutting fell in with a clang, but he hesitated at the threshold. Kickback tried to peek over his shoulder. “What is it?”
“Tumult and Rebound.”
Decepticon sub-groups tended to run in threes or fives. They that became the Insecticons used to be five, but not all survived the crash. Two shattered bodies in familiar black and yellow paintjobs still lay in the tiny repair bay. Bombshell crouched down by the closest one. “Rebound. Kickback, look, it seems like repairs were started, but the ship just gave up.” With good reason; Rebound’s body looked mostly intact, but his head and part of his upper body were completely mangled.
With nothing else to do, Kickback knelt by Tumult and lifted one of the ruined hands. “It’s… strange. Do you feel anything, Bombshell?”
“Well, of course, but aside from that nothing, right?” asked Kickback. “These used to be our allies, our friends, and now we don’t care because they’re nothing to do with us. It’s like they’re a different species…”
There was a happy cackle from the former control room. Bombshell and Kickback went over to see what was happening. “Got it, got it!” said Shrapnel cheerfully, holding up a fist-sized device. “The repair protocols are all in here, in here.”
“Hooray,” said Bombshell, without any particular enthusiasm. “What do you intend to do with it?”
Shrapnel ran a hand lovingly over the small piece of machinery. “I have special plans for this one. Oh, yes, indeed, indeed…”
Once away from Earth, the Insecticons decided that returning to Cybertron might not be in their best interests, if only because the theft of the ship and the possession of the guard were known. They decided to go back to Coleop. Once landed, the Insecticons set to work. Fifty perfect-condition coleop bodies awaited their alterations. Shrapnel said they only needed about twenty warriors to start with - the Decepticon army what it currently was, the Insecticons didn’t need much more than that. Not yet.
Bombshell and Kickback set to work, anyway; they weren’t sure what Shrapnel was up to. Days could go by and they wouldn’t even see him. Probably working on a way to bring their creations to life. Bombshell was mildly put-out about it - the mind was his territory, - but he consoled himself with the fact that Shrapnel would probably goof it up, and he, Bombshell, would fix it. Sparking might be possible, but the energy drain required for a being their own size could be fatal. And if it wasn’t, it would still be dangerous, inefficient, slow, and they would still have to educate the new ones. Well, that was Shrapnel’s problem right now.
Bombshell shut a panel. “There - number six. Good enough for a start. Let’s go find the Great Obsessive One.”
As it turned out, Shrapnel was looking for them as well, and caught up with them in a hallway. “I’ve done it, done it!” he crowed, optics fairly blazing. “Come on; I want you to see, to see…”
They followed him to the area that he had previously shut off from the rest of the ship. Walls had been removed to make a great chamber. Assorted tools and leftover pieces still scattered the floor, but none of this was paid any mind by the Insecticons. Their attention was on the far side of the room.
Several steps led up to the dais, and on the dais was a great creature in gold and black and copper. Green highlights detailed the great body and wings. Bombshell and Kickback had never seen the creature before; either Shrapnel dragged it in by himself, or he built it to his own specifications. Shrapnel smiled proudly. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she, she? I found her deep in her hive in the Coleop forest. When I saw her, I knew, I knew…”
Certainly the colours were pretty enough, but… it was a chimera of bee, of termite, of caterpillar, and its size alone made Bombshell and Kickback nervous. Without looking away from the monster, Kickback asked, “But, Shrapnel..?” and found he didn’t know the question.
“I’ve installed the escape pod’s repair protocol device into her, tied it into the ship’s computer for reference, reference…” Realising he was babbling and that the others weren’t listening to him anyway, Shrapnel merely gestured to his creation and cried, “Insecticons, I have created our own Vector Sigma, sigma! Behold the Queen!”
As if triggered by its name, the front half of the creature unfolded - apparently Shrapnel had seen fit to install it with transform circuits and a humanoid form. However, only the front unfolded; the robot body only extended to the waist, and the great caterpillar tail remained. It swayed slightly, looked at the Insecticons, but the optics were empty. “She’s incomplete, plete,” Shrapnel admitted. “She’s only a puppet now, mindless. But that can be changed. Like Vector Sigma, she needs a key, key.”
“Impressive,” admitted Bombshell, who nudged Kickback. “Look, it’s physically tied to the ship; the tail goes right into it. Why bother giving it a transform if it’s not going to go anywhere?”
“I don’t know.” Kickback couldn’t concentrate on the mechanics of the situation; something else was nagging at him. The whole situation was so… it was unreal, but somehow familiar. Something deep within Kickback’s mind had seen this all before, and was frightened. It all seemed to hinge on that golden nightmare waiting on the dais…
Waiting, yes. There was a type of terrible anticipation here, and Kickback found himself watching in horrified fascination as Shrapnel approached the stairs. Bombshell didn’t seem to notice anything wrong, and was speculating out loud about the creature’s construction - if it worked, it would be the greatest feat in Cybertronian engineering since transform circuits - and didn’t seem to notice the fact that Shrapnel wasn’t bothering to answer any of his questions.
Science and instinct clashed in Kickback’s mind, returning sense and control a second before the talons of the monster lashed out and caught Shrapnel in an relentless embrace. Metal tore as she - she couldn’t be an ‘it’, not any more - sank golden fangs into her unresisting prey.
“Shrapnel! Get out of the way, moron! I can’t get a clear shot!” yelled Bombshell.
“He’s letting her use his energy to spark her! He’s the key!” yelled Kickback. Shifting to insect-mode, he cleared the chamber in one jump, only to be knocked away by a copper talon.
Bombshell ran over to Kickback, who was startled back into robot-mode. “What are you talking about? Trying to spark something that big will kill him!”
“He knows that,” said Kickback. “Quick, we’ve got to shut off the ship’s power, cut off that monster before…”
“No time,” replied Bombshell, prying up a floor tile and extracting a handful of wires. “Don’t question; catch these on his spines.”
Argument was pointless and Shrapnel was doomed anyway, so Kickback grabbed the proffered cables. Once close enough, he wielded them like a whip, the exposed ends crackling with the ship’s power. The tips hit one of Shrapnel’s spines, and the arc of electricity held it there for the longest two seconds of Kickback’s existence.
Shrapnel screamed and fell from the Queen’s suddenly-slack grasp, rolling down the stairs. Kickback grabbed him and leapt back to where Bombshell was waiting. Only then did the grasshopper risk a glance back at the golden monster. The Queen was smoking slightly, but she moved and green fire was in her eyes. “Wingnuts! Your plan didn’t work!”
“It did what I wanted it to,” said Bombshell. “Shrapnel’s still functional. I’ve heard theories about sparking while recharging so you can’t be drained completely. Never heard of anyone surviving it - too hard to keep the levels balanced. But then I figured that Shrapnel’s used to massive power influxes, what with his lightning-channelling trick and all. Now,” he said, “what on Earth was all that about?”
Kickback chuckled dryly. “‘What on Earth’, how appropriate. Think; when we became the Insecticons, it wasn’t just our bodies changed, but our minds. And in those bits where it was too damaged to just be patched over, we were filled with insect thoughts! You must have been relatively untouched, and me only a little, but Shrapnel…”
The grasshopper automatically looked at Shrapnel’s damages; there were a few superficial tears in his carapace, and Bombshell was repairing his shoulder and neck where the Queen’s fangs had sunk in to drain his energy. He continued, “But all these thoughts, Decepticon, Insecticon, and insect, got all mixed up in him. Decepticon thought translated, Create an army. Insecticon thought justified, Because it will annoy Megatron. All because insect thought ordered, Propagate the species.”
“In a lot of insect species on Earth, the female uses the male for fuel.” Kickback shook his head sadly. “So the whole thing got twisted into a weird, ‘I have to sacrifice myself to secure the Insecticon future,’ thing. I should have realised it weeks ago…”
He fell silent, watching the weevil work. Suddenly Bombshell punched the floor in frustration. “Nuts, nuts, nuts! I’ve patched the energy drain and the charge from the cables probably helped, but his life-force level is too low. Shrapnel will terminate without an infusion.”
Kickback’s optics flared dangerously. “She will have a compatible energy signature. I’ll tear out the monster’s power core and bring it to you.”
“Why take from me what I will freely give?”
Both Insecticons jumped at the voice. The golden nightmare had shuffled slightly on her dais and was watching them curiously through softly glowing, green, very aware optics. Kickback stood and jabbed a finger at her. “You think we will believe that?” he rasped angrily. “You’re the one who did this to him!”
“Memory is hazy,” said the Queen. “I exist to give life.”
“She is the repair protocol computer,” said Bombshell doubtfully.
“And whatever else Shrapnel programmed her with,” growled Kickback.
“She was only a reanimated animal before.”
“How much of the animal remains? We can’t trust her.”
“What’s the worst she can do? Kill him?”
Bombshell and Kickback glared at each other, then backed away from Shrapnel. The grasshopper flashed the Queen a dark look. “Do it, then.”
An audible hum filled the air, as a great machine warming up, and the air around the Queen seemed to soften into a shimmering haze. The haze became light, and the light filled the chamber and poured into Shrapnel. When the last golden highlights finally faded, the beetle’s damages were not repaired, but his optics again shone. Trying to pull himself into a sitting position, he asked, “What..?”
He might have got farther, but the other two nearly bowled him over again. “His power level has stabilised!”
“Yes! The Insecticons pull it together again!”
“Incredible. She must pull power directly from the ship…”
“If you ever try anything like that again, I’ll…”
“Get off of me, you big lumps, lumps!”
They got off of him. Shrapnel looked down at his hands. “I’ve failed then, then…”
Kickback shook him. “No you didn’t, you big idiot. We got you away before she killed you, but after she drained enough to spark. Look!”
Shrapnel looked. The Queen laughed and held out her hands. “You gave me life, O beloved. It is my function and pleasure to return the favour. I am Coronapis, and I will be the Insecticon Queen.”
“Incoming transmission from…” - Soundwave paused, faintly puzzled - “deep space.”
Dreadmoon, one of Cybertron’s Monitors, had sent out a general call to all the old colonies over a month ago to inform them of the current situation. All that could answer reported back within the first two weeks, and even then, all calls went to Cybertron. Apparently someone had got a hold of the number of the Decepticon Headquarters on Earth. Megatron looked over. “Can’t you narrow it down?”
“Source unknown. Setting trace.”
Well, it might be important… “Patch it through.”
“Oh, Meeeeegatron, tron…”
Insecticons. Megatron sighed. “Shrapnel. As soon as Soundwave traces your transmission, I’m sending a strike-force to swat you.”
“Come up and try, try.” The stag beetle snapped his fingers. About twenty Insecticons stepped into the viewer’s range.
Which was impossible. There were only three Insecticons.
Shrapnel’s grin widened at Megatron’s expression. “It seems we’re not only more fun than you, but we’re smarter as well. We have our own program to create viable minds, minds. Care to talk, talk?”
“What are you selling, Shrapnel?”
“We’ve acquired ourselves a lovely little planet that just happens to have evolved in metal rather than flesh, flesh,” smiled Shrapnel. “As you can see, the insects here rework nicely into Insecticons. And some of the most interesting ores literally grow on trees, trees…”
Megatron tapped his fingers against his chair. “Get to the point.”
The Insecticon looked put-out, but continued. “If we so chose, we could build our army to the point where we could descend on Cybertron like locusts. But,” he shrugged, “old loyalties remain, remain. We have much to trade in natural resources and people. We can fight you, Megatron, but we would rather remain allies, allies. We ask very little - A space-bridge connection for convenience, and full status as a loyal planet, planet.” Shrapnel wiggled a finger in the ‘tsk tsk’ manner. “Which means no more trying to kill us, us.
“But, of course,” he continued, “you won’t buy until you know exactly what we’re selling, selling. Bombshell, send him the results of our botanical surveys, surveys.” Off to the right of the Decepticons’ view screen, Bombshell tapped at a console.
Megatron looked over at Soundwave, who nodded. “Information received, Shrapnel. I will review your case. Megatron out.”
The connection cut off. Megatron slumped back in his chair. “I hate Insecticons.”