He peered over the rim of the … container he found himself in, out into the night. When nothing seemed immediately threatening, he swung up to sit on the edge of the metal pod and drew his feathered cloak a bit more tightly around his shoulders. He didn’t particularly want to stay in the pod, but nor did he wish to leave it. At the moment, it was all that he had.
There was movement; a splash of green against the tangled browns and grays of the wasteland. He called, keeping his nervousness from his voice, “Who is there? Who are you?” And, after a moment, quietly, “Who am I?”
A figure detached itself from the shadow of a twisted tree. The moon was high and bright; he could see the other was a man. He looked down at his hands, flexing them once and watching with curiousity before he looked up again. “Couldn’t tell you, partner – I’m a stranger here m’self.”
Nothing about the dusty-looking man seemed familiar, but company was company. He jumped down to stand beside him, then looked back at the pod. “You do not know your name, either?
“I told you; I ain’t got a clue. Though …”
Something in the man’s voice caught his attention. He turned back and found that the stranger was looking him over carefully, sizing him up. The blond’s mouth pulled into a slow grin. “… I bet I could take you.”
“You could what?”
“I bet I could beat you in a fight. Let’s go!”
The Coming of Confusion
Eventually, whatever needed to be proved was proved, and both combatants retreated somewhat to rest.
“Whaddya mean, ‘now what’?” The blond, sitting on a rock, raised his head just high enough to peer over his folded arms. He was covered in dust, which didn’t help his already scruffy appearance. “By the way, your paint’s smudged.”
The dark man blinked. “What paint?”
“You’re wearin’ warpaint, partner.”
“Oh.” Both men were more-or-less unharmed; the fight had been a test or a show rather than anything serious. The dark one, however, brushed the dirt off of his gray and gold leather outfit, then spread his hands in a shrug. “What do we do now? We do not know where we are or how to survive in this place.”
The blond stood and stretched. “Guess you’re right,” he drawled, and the dark man realised that the thought that there might be a problem hadn’t occurred to his companion until that moment. The blond looked around critically, then crushed a scorpion under his boot. “Well, I reckon we can’t stay here. Let’s get a move on.”
He turned to leave, but the dark man stopped him. “Wait. Should we not at least wait for the light?”
“Some worlds are always night,” said the blond, then frowned, though it was a look of confusion rather than anger.
“How do you know?”
“You callin’ me a liar? I just know is all.”
“This one will not be.” The dark man waved a hand at the sky. “Moonlight is only reflected sunlight. The day will come.” He didn’t know how he knew this, only that it was true. “Besides, I … do not think we are here on purpose. These pods … someone will come for them. We should wait here.”
Neither thought to inspect the pods for clues to their mission or identity. Somehow both knew they wouldn’t understand how to interpret the data. “You taken a look at this landscape, partner? It’s burned dry. It ain’t no place for us.”
They had known each other for little over half an hour, and already he knew the blond to be stubborn. He had made up his mind and he would leave no matter what arguments were made. The dark man didn’t like him, but they stood a better chance together than separate. “Wait a moment, and I will follow you …”
I’m flat on my back …
Sensory input crashed in, simultaneously delivering the knowledge that he was in the Axalon, his diagnostic circuits weren’t working, and he was missing several important pieces of his anatomy including his wings, jets, and the pterodactyl’s head he wore on his back. Three years of combat training kicked in, and Terrorsaur rolled to his feet, assumed a fighter’s stance, then glared at the soft, white hand he held before him.
“Oh. That’s right.”
The return to awareness was disconcerting. Not only was he in the wrong base and the wrong body, Megatron had no idea what time it was. He sighed, resigned – being organic was going to be one minor irritation after another, now that the major problems were more or less settled.
The room the Maximals had granted him had a window, but he couldn’t see the sun. The diffuse light was enough to easily see by, but he called for full illumination, then stood up to look around the room.
As Megatron had predicted, Inferno had fallen asleep. He didn’t know when, of course, but the woman was now sitting by the door, knees to her chest, head buried in the crook of her arm, breathing softly. Her right hand still maintained a death-grip on her flamethrower.
She probably needed the sleep, but if she woke up and found that Megatron had left, she’d likely panic and cause a bigger commotion than he really wanted to deal with. He was about to prod at her with his foot, but remembered the flamethrower and reconsidered. Instead, he sternly said, “Inferno!”
He had to give her credit – Inferno was on her feet and at attention almost before he finished saying her name. “I … I fell asleep at my post! I …”
“At ease, Inferno.” Perfect loyalty had its drawbacks sometimes.
Her posture didn’t relax any, but at least she stopped apologizing. “What are my orders for the day, Royalty?”
“None yet.” Megatron tapped a few keys on the room’s computer, and frowned when the chronometer informed him that it was almost midday. “Come with me. I want to see what our hosts are up to this morning. And would you at least holster your flamethrower? We do have a truce, after all.”
Inferno tucked the weapon away, though her hand still rested on the grip. Megatron decided it was a compromise, let it go, and lead the way up to the Axalon’s control centre.
“Hey, look who finally decided to show his ugly face. Good morning, sunshine!”
Megatron didn’t even waste a glare on Rattrap, who had apparently drawn monitor duty for the morning. “Do Maximals always treat their guests so insolently?”
“Only when we don’t like ‘em,” agreed Rattrap. “Food’s down in the cargo bay if you and the ex-firebug are hungry, and your assorted Pred pals are around someplace. They were all up before you were.”
“Why was I not awakened?”
The Maximal shrugged. “Ehn, we have no idea how much recharge these new bodies need. Figured we should keep the schedule loose for a little while, until we know more. Heck, I was out for almost eight hours; never needed more than four and a half before. Go figure.”
“Am I the last one awake?”
He realised he had just set himself up when Rattrap grinned. “Yep. Guess we don’t have to get up that early to pull one over on you.”
Megatron decided to leave before the situation – or at least the jokes – got worse. Besides, he was hungry, and he disliked the feeling.
Now what are you doing?
“I’m inspecting the equipment in this lab, like you need to ask.” Tarantulas had been annoying enough before; now, trapped in Blackarachnia’s mind, he was positively maddening. At least in his own body, he could be tuned out or shot at.
Blackarachnia glanced over at the dark form lying on the table. Lacking a mind to guide it, Tarantulas’ body was in a coma. Rhinox had hooked a couple feeds up to it in the hopes of keeping it functional, and, to her annoyance, Blackarachnia found herself in a position kin to an overglorified nurse. “Are you sure we can’t make some kind of transfer machine from what the Maximals have?”
Not absolutely, one-hundred percent, swear-by-the-Matrix sure. But I’m absolutely certain that I do have the right equipment in my lab.
It sounded reasonable. There was just an … edge to Tarantulas’ repeated requests to be taken to his lair. He wanted out of Blackarachnia’s mind almost as badly as she wanted him out, but there was something else he was after …
Within her mind, Tarantulas chuckled. Don’t worry your pretty head about that, Blackarachnia. Just convince Megatron to let you borrow the hoversled.
“Good morning …”
“Don’t even start. I have decided that I am not a morning person, and I have already shown great restraint by not killing one of your people.”
“I’ll have a talk with Rattrap,” said Optimus, datapad in one hand and half-eaten apple in the other. So far, Maximal-Predacon relations had been limited to insults. Frankly, Optimus was impressed that no one had actually tried to pick a fight. Of course, it hadn’t even been twenty-four hours yet since the change. Everyone was still a bit disoriented.
Megatron shooed Inferno away to another area of the cargo bay in search of breakfast, and sat down opposite Optimus. “Are things organized enough for a duty schedule yet, or is everyone running wild?”
The Maximal handed him the datapad. “My crew signed in, but the Predacons didn’t, though from what I can tell, mostly everyone’s just picking up where they left off from yesterday. So with your people, Scorponok’s still trying to get the plumbing working, Terrorsaur’s out with Rhinox again, and I assume Blackarachnia’s still in the lab trying to wake Tarantulas up. Waspinator could be anywhere.”
“Probably with Terrorsaur unless Scorponok borrowed her,” said Megatron offhandedly. “I’ll tell them to start signing in. We wouldn’t want to lose anyone, no.”
“We have more problems,” said Optimus. “The alien energy wave knocked the remaining stasis pods out of orbit. We’ve detected three of them so far. I sent Rhinox and Terrorsaur after the closest one, but two pods landed in the Delta Quadrant.”
Megatron considered the distance. “We’ll have to use the hoversled if we wish to reach them in any reasonable amount of time. I will take Inferno to …”
“Oh, no you don’t. Truce or no truce, I’m not letting you get first crack at a couple of unsuspecting protoforms or organics or whatever they are out there.”
“One of us two must remain here at least, to maintain a semblance of order,” Megatron pointed out. “And since this is your territory, Optimus Primal, and it is a Predacon hoversled …”
“Fine, go. But Inferno stays here, no matter how much she complains.” Optimus mentally reviewed the duty roster. Most of the Maximals were busy – and, to be fair, the Predacons were doing their fair share of the work. After a moment’s thought, he said, “Take Rattrap with you. His shift ends soon anyway.” Technically, Cheetor was the least busy, but Rattrap stood a better chance of figuring out if Megatron was up to something, and subsequently stop him. Hopefully he would behave himself. “He’ll still be up in the control centre. I’ll call up and fill him in.” And tell him to put Cheetor on monitor duty early, he added.
The Predacon leader rolled his eyes. “Ah, the joy of teamwork.”
The stasis pod sat at the edge of a wooded area, within walking distance of the Axalon. “So what do you think this will be when we open it? Transformer or organic?”
Rhinox looked across the pod at Terrorsaur. The last time he and the Predacon had been at a pod together, Terrorsaur had tried to kill him. He might have succeeded too, if the newly-formed Airazor hadn’t been so quick on the uptake. Now, with a truce and no reason to race for the protoform, the Predacon merely seemed curious. “Neither.”
Terrorsaur blinked. “We’re just leaving it in the pod?”
The Maximal shrugged. “Can’t do anything else with it. No spark. It’s a blank protoform.”
“Why would you bring a … oh, I get it,” said Terrorsaur. “If you needed a type of person who wasn’t already part of the crew, you could spark the blank to create what you wanted.” He chuckled harshly at that. “No way to spark it now. Not with these forms.”
“It still might be useful,” said Rhinox. “We’ll need help bringing it back to the base.” Automatically, he reached for his communicator, then remembered he didn’t have one now. “My next project will be to make commlinks,” he grumbled. “Though if I’m doing that … think you can handle testing the local plants by yourself?”
Terrorsaur rolled his eyes. “Of course I can. The scanner does most of the work, anyway.”
“‘Most of’ isn’t ‘all’. You know how to interpret the data?” A desire to be useful wouldn’t be much help without the training to back it up.
“Yes! Primus, can’t a hired gun have skills outside of fighting?”
“Calm down. I didn’t know you had any scientific training. I’m just surprised you know as much about botany as you do.”
“Why shouldn’t I know?”
Terrorsaur had been generally sulky about his tasks up to that point, but Rhinox’s questions had for some reason made him furious. Rhinox shrugged noncommittally; he hadn’t meant any insult and outward calmness tended to calm others around him. “Just seemed a bit of an unusual hobby for a Pred.”
As suddenly as it rose, Terrorsaur’s anger subsided, and he looked away. “Oh. Yes. Unusual for a Predacon.”
The dark man raised an eyebrow, but didn’t pursue the conversation. The more Rhinox learned about Predacons, the less he understood them. “We’ll need the ‘sled to bring the pod to the Axalon, except it’s being used today. It’ll be fine out here for another day. Let’s head back.”
She knew she was probably making a terrible mistake.
If Dinobot caught up with her … Waspinator looked over her shoulder, but stopped that train of thought before her imagination took over. His senses were stunted, she reminded herself. He wouldn’t know she came this way. He didn’t think anyone else knew what he knew. But Waspinator did. Ever since last night, when she saw him looking up at the one remaining moon, herself recognising it, she knew, and she was terrified.
She was in the wastelands now, the desolate area of land that surrounded the Predacon base. Not much cover out there, and she was green against the prevailing brown. She was armed; the small hand-laser was clipped to her belt. The gun didn’t matter – she’d brought it in case she ran into any wild animals. Even with it she wouldn’t be a match for Dinobot if he caught her.
She should have left the night before, instead of breaking down and succumbing to her exhaustion. She felt somewhat guilty about not telling Terrorsaur where she was going, instead slipping away without waking him up – no one else would even notice she was missing. While Terrorsaur would wonder where she had got to, he wouldn’t be too concerned. She would only be gone for the day, not long enough to make him worry and tell anyone that she was gone, so she hoped. It shouldn’t take that long, but the Predacon base wasn’t particularly close when one was a ground bound organic instead of a winged robot.
That’s where Dinobot would be going – she knew him well enough to know his plan. Her only hope was that he’d slept later than she had, or had been caught by Optimus to do work, or that she was faster than him.
None of those were likely. Still, she had to try.
Waspinator paused at the edge of the Predacon base’s perimeter defences. It had taken almost six hours to get there. She had run for a while, but her body couldn’t keep that up. She had been forced to take a rest, then walk the remainder of the way.
Maybe Dinobot would overexert himself and be forced to stop for a long time …
Maybe he was already there.
She took a cautious step forward. A rock to her left opened up – a cannon pointed at her, but didn’t fire. She didn’t have a Maximal energy signature, after all. “Computer, deactivate auto-defences. Voice code – Waspinator.”
The cannon vanished back into its hiding-place. The Predacons had the foresight to update their voice codes before they left. Carefully skirting the lava pools, Waspinator ran the rest of the way to the base, then reactivated the defences.
Waspinator walked the corridors of the ship as quietly as she could, wary of every sound, every flicker of shadow, making her way to Megatron’s ‘office’. She couldn’t think of it as a real office. No real office came equipped with a bathtub.
She turned a corner and froze when she saw the door was open. Silently, glad that she wore leather boots rather than steel-alloy feet, she crept to the portal and peered in.
Dinobot was already there, sitting on his haunches, looking up at the Golden Discs, contemplating how to get them down from the force-field that suspended them. Waspinator drew back into the hall. She could shoot him in the back, but if she missed, she wouldn’t get a second shot. She could lock the door on him and tell the others what he was up to … except that she didn’t want to have to explain to Megatron what she was doing there.
Still, she couldn’t just leave. Quietly, she slipped back the way she came, looking for the nearest maintenance locker.
It was easily one of the least-welcoming places Rattrap had ever seen. He shot a glance over at his current ‘partner’; if he had a choice, he would have picked pretty much anyone over Megatron. He had made one discovery at least – when he attempted to pull Megatron into a conversation, trying to pass the time, he had been curtly told to shut up. Rattrap was sure Optimus would be thrilled to hear that he had something in common with the Predacon leader.
Megatron still stood on the hoversled, tapping the controls on the scanners. “The energon levels are extremely high out here. I would be surprised if the stasis pods were entirely unaffected.” Both looked damaged, and both were open.
Rattrap climbed up on the closest pod to look inside of it. “I’ll say they were affected – the protoforms got so energized that they woke up and wandered off. I don’t see any debris to say they were killed.”
“Wonderful. It will be impossible to find them in this miserable place.”
The smaller man almost agreed; the ground was too hard to leave footprints. Strangely, some of the stunted plants around looked like they had been recently crushed, as if something had rolled on them. Then something else caught his attention. “Maybe not. C’mon over here and take a look.”
The Predacon leader didn’t argue about being ordered around, but nor did he walk. He steered the hoversled to float by Rattrap, then looked down to see what the Maximal was pointing at – seven fist-sized stones, laid in the pattern of an arrow pointing vaguely northwest. “Hmm. It does seem they expected to be searched for, yes.”
Rattrap hopped back onto the hoversled. “So let’s go find ‘em.”
“Everything all right over here?”
Airazor glanced over from where she was setting a pipe. “I’m almost done with this section, Scorponok. You might want to check my work, though – maintenance isn’t my primary function.”
The Predacon nodded. “Give me a call when you’re finished, then. I’ll be up in the repair bay trying to get the pump to work.”
Tigatron walked into the junction, then laid down the parts she had been carrying. “I dislike the fact that we will simply dispose of our waste material downstream,” she grumbled. “I’m certain there must be a better way.”
“So?” asked the technician. “Come up with a workable plan and we’ll talk.”
Scorponok left. Airazor shook her head, making no difference to her perpetually-tangled hair. “Is it just me, or is it weird being ordered to do modifications on our base by a Predacon?”
“It’s hardly the strangest thing to have happened in the last twenty-four hours,” Tigatron pointed out mildly.
“I’m trying to ignore that.” Airazor gave up on the pipe she was trying to set and stood to stretch. “What kind of aerial reconnaissance am I going to do with no wings?”
“We all will adapt. Isn’t adaptation the core of being a Transformer?” She didn’t sound entirely convinced, though.
“Sure. Yesterday. When I could transform.”
Tigatron nodded. “You cannot expect to adjust so quickly. Let it come.” She turned. “I should return to my work on the lower deck.”
“In a minute; I declare myself on break, and you as well. I want to talk to you.” Airazor folded her arms over her chest. “You’ve been avoiding me.”
“I have been …”
“If you say ‘busy’, ‘preoccupied’, or ‘pondering this situation’, I promise to scream.”
She said it with a ghost of a smile, causing her companion to simply throw up her hands in disgust. “Don’t do that, Tigatron. I’m trying to be mad at you.”
“Because you’ve been avoiding me.” Airazor slumped back against the wall with a sigh. “Sometimes I just don’t understand you. I thought that of every robot on this planet, you’d be able to adjust to the change.”
Tigatron nodded slightly. “I would have preferred to be a tiger,” she admitted. “Still, I … like this. Organic, I am now truly a part of this world, rather than simply a conscientious visitor. This feels right.”
“You’re thinking of leaving the Axalon, aren’t you?”
“I am. I wish to live my new condition, but I cannot do that while hiding behind metal walls.”
“If you leave, you know I’m going with you.” When Tigatron looked up with surprise, Airazor made a face at her. “You were afraid that I was going to back out of our relationship because of the change!”
“We are not bondmates.”
Airazor stepped away from the wall to look up into the other woman’s eyes. “I’m your companion, Tigatron. I made a promise, and I’m going to keep it.”
The hoversled flew over a few more of the stone arrangements before Rattrap, playing lookout, noticed the campfire. “Hey, Megatron, I think I see something! Head for that; it might be our people!” He paused. “Well, my people, anyway. They’d be Maximals.”
“I’m more curious as to what shape they wear.”
A few minutes later, they had their answer. Apparently they had been noticed; one of the figures by the campfire jumped to his feet, waving his green jacket like a signal flag. “Hey! Over here!”
If someone asked Megatron, the shout seemed a bit redundant; they were headed in that direction. A few seconds later he set the hoversled down by the campfire. The man who had flagged them down, a scruffy blond in tan leather, shrugged his jacket back on and rearranged the fringed drape over his shoulders. “Hey’all, partners. Welcome to wherever the Pit we are.” He nodded at the hoversled. “If you two have anything to do with them pods out there, we figured you’d eventually come a-looking for us.”
The Predacon leader nodded. “I am Megatron. This, unfortunately, is Rattrap. What are your names?”
The blond looked somewhat confused and traded worried glances with his travelling companion – a tanned man with black markings on his face, tending the signal-fire. “Well, shoot, we plumb forgot about that.” He paused, thinking that over. “I’m Quickstrike. ‘Leastways it sounds right.”
The other stood, walking over. “I am … Silverbolt. Yes. A good name.”
Rattrap jumped down from the hoversled to get a better look at them. “You two got memory troubles or something?”
“A most unfortunate truth,” agreed Silverbolt. “We know things, but do not understand them. We have skills that seem most out of place in this wasteland. Still, we had confidence that it had all been a misunderstanding and that whoever had left the pods would come to find us.” Behind him, Quickstrike shook his head and rolled his eyes, but Silverbolt didn’t notice. “Who … are we?”
“Well, for one thing, you aren’t wearing your right bodies,” said Rattrap, likely just to get a reaction, and grinned happily at the sudden panicked expressions of the two new recruits.
Megatron sighed. “Ignore him. Come along. It will be easier to explain everything back at base, yes …”
Dinobot didn’t have his robotic senses any more. He was as blind and deaf as the rest of them had become. Still, it took Waspinator an effort of intense will to keep her hands steady while she worked the cutting torch in the room above Megatron’s office.
She no longer had her robot mind, but she could calculate distances as well as she ever could. If Dinobot hadn’t moved, Waspinator’s little spy hole would be behind him, where he wouldn’t see the faint light of the torch as it ate through the ceiling.
For once, luck was on Waspinator’s side – Dinobot was too engrossed in the problem of retrieving the Discs to notice that anyone was watching him. With her eye close to the small hole, Waspinator could see most of the room.
For the next ten minutes, Dinobot sat perfectly still. Then he stood, picked up a small footstool, and threw it at the force-field.
The field came alive, probing at the stool. With that as a distraction, Dinobot reached in, took a Disc in each hand, and threw himself backwards. The Golden Discs tumbled free as the stool was methodically torn apart.
Slightly charred yet triumphant, Dinobot had another problem: he could barely lift one of the Discs, let alone carry both. He left the room, and returned a few minutes later with one of the hoverpads, which he loaded the Discs onto.
Waspinator decided to give him an hour’s head-start before she started back to the Axalon.
“Yeeeeee-haw! Now this is how to travel!”
If he was nothing else, Quickstrike was enthusiastic. Loud and annoying, but enthusiastic. Currently he was gripping the front railing of the hoversled, leaning into the wind, and loving every minute of it.
Megatron was driving while Rattrap and Silverbolt stood near the back of the hoversled. Rattrap was just happy that he finally found someone who hadn’t yet told him to shut up. “How long were you two awake before we found you?”
“The moon was still high when I became aware,” said Silverbolt, calculating. “Fourteen hours, thereabouts.”
“What’s the yahoo like?”
Both looked over at Quickstrike, who almost fell over the railing and had to be yanked back to his feet by Megatron. “I dislike to speak ill of others,” said Silverbolt slowly. “But Quickstrike is a bit … violent.”
Rattrap rolled his eyes. “He’ll fit right in with our crew of loop-jobs, then. You two had a fight, didn’t you? The plants near one of the pods were crushed.”
The taller man looked ashamed. “I managed to defeat him the first time, which did not please him. I … allowed him to win the second time so that he would be satisfied and we could move on. I should have been able to talk him out of it.”
“Ehn, you were both scrambled pretty bad.”
“But there was no reason for it!” Silverbolt lamented. “The rush of new life was upon me, and instead of doing the sensible thing, I fought back.”
“Were either of you hurt?”
“Nothing more serious than a few bumps and scrapes.”
Rattrap leaned back against the railing. “Then don’t worry about it.”
Cursing his human strength, Dinobot staggered under the weight of the Disc. He only carried the original, the one Megatron stole from Cybertron – the alien Disc he had hidden inside the Predacon base. He could never have carried both.
He told himself it didn’t matter, not yet. The alien Disc was certainly important, but this one was the one he had a stronger interest in. On the surface it didn’t seem to be all that much, just a historical document.
Of this planet.
Dinobot looked out into the sky. It was day, but the image of the single moon with familiar markings was seared onto his mind. “Megatron did not lead us astray,” he said to himself. “This is Earth.”
He unslung the Disc from where he had been carrying it on his back with an arrangement of straps. He rested the Disc on its edge, holding it in place, and sat on a rock to rest a moment. “But it is also the past.”
He had not been built Predacon. He wasn’t the only one. Like him, Megatron and Scorponok had been created Decepticon, shortly before the end of the final war. It had affected them all, in their ways. Megatron had taken up in science and politics, determined to overthrow the newly-named Maximals by any means possible. Scorponok had almost given himself up to depression, but Megatron and his schemes gave him a new reason to live. Dinobot gave himself to his studies. He knew that alone he could do nothing, but when someone came along who could make a difference, he could improve their odds.
Dinobot had studied, not just warfare, but everything to do with the war; the politics, the scientific advances, the other races involved …
Megatron had found him again, centuries later. He had known of no one else who had the right combination of experience, knowledge of the place they were going to, and disillusionment with the system. It hadn’t taken much convincing on Megatron’s part to hire him.
He shook his head at that. “It had been easy.” They had all been easy, when he thought about it: Scorponok, unendingly loyal to the one who had given him purpose. Tarantulas, game for anything that sowed chaos. Waspinator, on the run with nothing left to lose. Terrorsaur, desperate to escape from Cybertron. Himself, vague thoughts of glory and vengeance driving him on.
Dinobot had thought Megatron stood a chance. He still did.
This was the world Dinobot had studied; one of many, but Earth had been an important battlefield in that last war. He probably knew the planet better than any of the proper scientists in the crew.
“And now?” he asked the Disc. “What now? This is a historical record – but is it set, or can it yet be changed? If it is set …” He trailed off. He couldn’t live if his life was already written, controlled by fate. He couldn’t.
“But if not …” he started. If the future could be changed, then he held omniscience in his hands. And he couldn’t let Megatron have it. He didn’t trust his former commander with that kind of power.
He ticked a nail against the metal. “Or I could simply destroy them.” Even as he said the words, he knew he wouldn’t perform the action. It would be cowardly to throw the Discs away without learning the truth, and one thing Dinobot refused to be was a coward.
He hefted the Disc again, slung it onto his back. He would sneak it onto the Axalon somehow, so he could study it at his leisure. There was only one question, but the answer would be either absolute power or death. There was no middle ground, not this time.
Dinobot started walking again, but slowly. He wasn’t a coward, but it didn’t mean that he couldn’t know fear.
“Here we are!” said Rattrap unnecessarily when Megatron brought the hoversled down to land beside the Axalon. “Crashed spaceship sweet home. C’mon, I’ll show you rookies around. It beats doing real work.”
Obediently, Silverbolt hopped down after him. Quickstrike was about to follow, but paused. “You two go on now. I’ll catch up.”
Rattrap hesitated; obviously he didn’t really want to leave such an inexperienced creature to Megatron’s tender mercies, but reconsidered. If Megatron tried anything funny, they could probably get the story out of Quickstrike later; he didn’t seem the type to be able to keep a secret to himself. Rattrap just shrugged. “It’s not much of a tour, anyway. Make sure you stop off in the control room and say hello, at least. C’mon, ‘Bolt.”
Once they had left, Megatron turned his attention to the person waiting in the shadows of one of the Axalon’s legs. “Blackarachnia.”
Before he could ask what she wanted, Quickstrike swung down from the hoversled to smirk at the Predacon female. “Hey there, sugar. I’m …”
Blackarachnia simply looked over his head. “Megatron, the Axalon’s equipment is limited. I’d like to take Tarantulas back to our base. There might be something in his lair that can reach him and wake him up.”
“Even the Maximals agree that Tarantulas would be helpful now, yes,” agreed Megatron, stepping down. “Take the hoversled. When you return, bring back a few of the smaller platforms as well.”
She nodded and left. Quickstrike grinned, nudging Megatron in the ribs. “If the rest of your people look like that, then I’m glad I came.”
Megatron considered warning Quickstrike that his attitude was likely to get him flattened, and decided against it. Some things just had to be learned the hard way.
“Royalty! You’ve returned!”
And learned much sooner than expected, thought Megatron absently.
“Well, hel-lo there,” started Quickstrike.
Inferno glanced down at him. “You are one of our new nestmates?”
The blond grinned. “Don’t know if this is much of a nest, sugar, but I like the sound of the rest of that word.”
Anyone else might have punched him, and while Inferno had her own ironclad sensibilities, they were still the sensibilities of an ant. “You are a drone, then?” she asked, genuinely interested. “We have not had a drone before. This is wonderful. But you misunderstand my function – I am a soldier. Only the Queen can …”
“That will be enough, Inferno,” Megatron said before the Amazon could go any farther with that train of thought. “Quickstrike is a soldier like yourself. He’s just a bit confused.”
Fortunately, Inferno accepted that. She salaamed to Megatron, then marched off on whatever task she had interrupted. Quickstrike let out a low whistle. “The only confusing thing about that one is the way she talks.”
“Hrm.” Inferno hadn’t brought up the subject of drones for months, and Megatron was not looking forward to another ‘talk’ with his warrior. Last time it had taken some hours of patient explanations to convince her that he didn’t want or need a mate. Apparently, given the glint in her eyes when she thought Quickstrike was a drone, she hadn’t been entirely convinced that first time. “She does have a … unique viewpoint, yes.”
If she had been looking, Blackarachnia might have noticed the small, tired figure in green trudging through the thin forest. As it was, she wasn’t looking.
The hoversled soon reached the lava fields. To Blackarachnia’s annoyance, the auto-defence system took a shot at her. Angry, she used the hoversled’s radio to contact Megatron, who blandly informed her that she might like to change her voice codes once she got inside, then shut down the defences for her.
Blackarachnia opened the loading doors to land the hoversled in the cargo bay. Cursing freely, she managed to carry Tarantulas’ limp form down to his laboratory … ‘her’ laboratory? Tarantulas’ organic body was female. Blackarachnia gave up and dropped the scientist on a table.
No need to wreck my body before I even get a chance to wear it, Blackarachnia.
She had already considered doing just that. Unfortunately, that would leave her stuck with Tarantulas in her mind. Blackarachnia decided to change the subject. “Explain again why you want me to do this all myself?”
Call me territorial, but I don’t want anyone else snooping around my lair. I’m only letting you in because I know you’ve already snooped.
“I’ll call you plenty of things, Legs …”
Oh, just get to work, you quarrelsome woman. Now, even in flesh creatures, thought is still electrical impulses. I should have a device around here that should … ah, there, said Tarantulas happily when Blackarachnia’s eyes lit on a complicated tangle of purple wires. That’s the one. Given that it’s only my mind trapped in you rather than my spark as well, the transfer should be a simple matter.
“Simple. Sure.” Blackarachnia briefly considered just metaphorically standing back and letting Tarantulas do his own work, but quashed it. There was no way she would let the scientist have free run of her body.
Tarantulas heard, of course. What? Afraid I’ll make you stand naked in front of a mirror?
“Why would you do that?”
Blackarachnia pulled the device Tarantulas had indicated off of the shelf, then dragged it over to the worktable to try to untangle the wires.
Yes, that’s it. Plug the end into that scanner there, the large one to your left … no, no, the second port. Yes. Later we’ll need to attach the green-tipped prong to you …
“I am not sticking an electrode into my skull!”
Did I say you had to? Tarantulas asked irritably. Plug it into the data-transfer headgear – there should be one in the fourth drawer there. Yes, that’s it. Now we need to increase the sensitivity …
The sun was getting low by the time Waspinator wearily stumbled back into the Axalon. She was tired, dirty, and her feet were in agony. Mentally, she debated the merits of taking a shower, and decided that what she really wanted to do was sleep. She could wash up in the morning. A little dirt wouldn’t kill her. Terrorsaur might complain, though … Waspinator shrugged. Let him.
Dinobot had the Discs. She had no idea what he was going to try with them, or if it was preferable that he had them rather than Megatron. Waspinator wished she was smarter. Then she could figure out what was going on and decide what to do about it …
Waspinator found her way blocked by a dusty, green leather-clad arm that suddenly appeared at about the level of her neck. The scruffy blond man attached to the arm grinned up at her. “Well, hello there, little lady. M’name’s Quickstrike. I’m a bit new in these here parts, and was wondering if y’all would like to show me around?”
“Mm, sure looks like you were busy,” he agreed. “That’s all right. I like a gal who isn’t afraid to get a little dirty.”
It took a moment for the situation to sink in. She’d loved before, certainly, but no one had ever simply walked up and made a pass at her. It was almost flattering, in a non-subtle sort of way. However, her tastes were still those of an alien robot – Quickstrike might have been a reasonably attractive organic for all she knew, but Waspinator couldn’t appreciate it, not even if she had been the type to fall into the arms of a complete stranger. “I’m busy. Let me pass.”
“Later, then,” said Quickstrike amiably, taking his arm back. “I can be patient. The name only implies fighting style, y’see. Other things I can be real slow about …”
“Waspinator! Don’t you dare take up his offer!” Terrorsaur appeared from around a corner and draped an arm around the Maximal’s shoulders. “At least, not unless you were planning to share. Handsome little creature, if a bit scruffy. I kind of like the texture, though,” he added, running two fingers over the stubble on Quickstrike’s cheek.
Quickstrike twisted out of the Predacon’s loose grasp. “I wasn’t offerin’ anything to you, pal.”
“What, you don’t like red or something?” asked Terrorsaur, surprised.
“Terrorsaur was designed by a master,” added Waspinator. “Looked better with wings, granted …”
“Argh! Both of you are crazy!” Quickstrike declared before vanishing down a corridor.
“Some people just can’t appreciate a classic design,” huffed Terrorsaur with finality.
Waspinator reached up, but stopped short of touching Terrorsaur’s cheek. “Come to think of it, you were looking a bit fuzzy this morning, too. What happened?”
“Low-level laser setting.” He chuckled. “The things I do for aesthetics. Burned most of the hair off my left arm trying to get the right intensity.” Then, “Where’ve you been all day, anyway? You look a mess.”
Absently, Waspinator looked down at herself, running a hand through her tangled hair. “I’ve been … busy. Is Dinobot around?”
Terrorsaur shrugged. “Who knows? I haven’t seen him all day, but I wasn’t looking. Why? What do you want him for?”
“Me? Nothing.” She grabbed her friend’s arm and pulled him down the hall. “I need to tell you something. Privately.”
Terrorsaur allowed himself to be dragged to their quarters. Waspinator locked the door behind them, then leaned back against it. “Terrorsaur, we’re on the right planet. This is Earth, in the past.”
“You …” Waspinator stared at him, wide-eyed. “How?”
He shrugged. “I recognised the plants. I told you before that my creator liked alien flowers. I wasn’t sure about the relative time period, though.”
“Why didn’t you …”
“Say anything? Would anyone have believed me?”
Waspinator nodded. No one would have. “Megatron must know where we are. Dinobot does – he recognised the moon, like I did.” She stopped, grabbing Terrorsaur by his jacket. “Dinobot stole the Golden Discs! Do you know what’s on them?”
“A map to a major energon source,” said Terrorsaur. He looked down into Waspinator’s frightened face. “I’m wrong, aren’t I?”
“It’s got the map. It’s also a historical record. Whoever has them, whoever can read them …”
“… Knows the future. Oh, slag.”
The accidental download of Tarantulas’ mind into her own had been painful enough as a robot. Uploading him as an organic was excruciating – the metaphorical knife had been driven in, and now she had to pull it out … The pain was all psychosomatic of course, but that didn’t help Blackarachnia any.
With a final scream, Blackarachnia felt the last traces of Tarantulas flow out of her. She tore the interfacing headgear from herself and flung it to the floor. She then sagged back against a counter, drained but relieved to be rid of the voice.
On the worktable, Tarantulas slowly sat up. When that failed to produce any ill effects, she got off the table, stretched, and looked down at herself critically. “Hmm, remind me to shoot my tailor.” She wore a deep purple leather bodysuit and cape, both with yellow designs that matched her old markings. Like Blackarachnia, her first act was to tear off the streamers that used to be her spider’s-arms. Minor task finished, she turned her amber eyes to Blackarachnia. “You know, organic tactile senses could have their advantages …”
Blackarachnia cut her off. “That’s one plan you can leave me out of, Legs.”
The dark woman pouted. “You’re no fun sometimes. Now, go collect whatever it was Megatron wanted. I have work to do.”
“What? Listen, you – I just hauled you down here, put you back in your own head, and you are not going to just shoo me out now!”
The scientist looked at her levelly. “Do you want to be a robot again?”
Blackarachnia frowned. “Of course I do.”
“Then go away and let me work!”
There was no arguing with Tarantulas when she was in one of her moods. Blackarachnia wandered back up to the cargo bay. She retrieved a datapad from a shallow alcove in the wall and tapped a few keys to summon the inventory list. If the Predacons were going to be stuck at the Axalon, they might as well bring what they could. Still, she would have to consult with Tarantulas. She didn’t want to take anything the scientist needed here …
The thought of Tarantulas reminded Blackarachnia of something; namely, that she was in the Predacon base with no chance of being caught in the act. She decided to satisfy her curiousity about a few things, starting in Megatron’s office.
Blackarachnia was walking down the hallway, thinking over the ways she could unlock the door and disable the security system when she realised the door to the office was open. Peering into the room, she didn’t notice too much amiss – there was an odd cube of metal sitting on the floor and a few burn marks near a pedestal, but nothing else seemed out of place.
Except that the Golden Discs were gone.
Her first thought was that Megatron had somehow spirited them away. But Megatron wouldn’t have had time to get them.
Methodically, Blackarachnia started searching the room. He might have hidden them somewhere in the office. After emptying two storage lockers, she gave it up as foolish. Even if he had secreted them somewhere, he wouldn’t have left his door open. Someone else had somehow arrived before she did.
Megatron must have thought the safest place for them was in the Predacon base, locked and empty. Apparently he’d been wrong.
There had to be back-ups of the information somewhere. Megatron was nothing if not thorough.
Blackarachnia glanced over her shoulder. Tarantulas was busy and Megatron was too far away to matter. There would be no better time to break into his files. Blackarachnia set to work.
“You sent Blackarachnia and Tarantulas to the Predacon base unsupervised?” Optimus had wanted to use the hoversled to pick up the stasis pod containing the blank protoform, but discovered it was missing. A bit of checking told him who took it and where. He had not been thrilled when he found out, and immediately went looking for his Predacon counterpart. He found Megatron up in the command centre, sitting quietly and taking his surroundings in.
“Aren’t we a trusting group?” asked Megatron dryly. “If it makes you feel better, I have been regretting it. Still …” He let one hand hover over the comm panel, and glanced back for permission.
Megatron tapped in the frequency. “Megatron to Blackarachnia. Respond.”
After a few seconds, the reply came: “What now?”
“Just checking your progress. How is Tarantulas, by the way?”
The Predacon commander suppressed a groan. “And you reported that bit of news quite punctually.”
Blackarachnia certainly caught the reprimand, but she didn’t seem to care. “Right now we’re collecting up the equipment we think we might need to bring back.”
“See that you do come back, Blackarachnia. Do not think that you are out of my reach.”
Too quick for Optimus to catch any details, the Predacon tapped a code into the console. Over the intercom, Blackarachnia let out a shriek. Megatron smirked. “Return before nightfall. Megatron out.”
Optimus frowned. “What did you do to her?”
“Just a minor electric shock. Nothing harmful, even to these forms.”
Quickstrike glanced at the door when it opened. “Heya, ‘Bolt. Couldn’t find the room, or didja get distracted on the way? Hoo-boy, but I could get distracted in this place. I think the girl in green likes me, but her boyfriend’s a complete lunatic.” He looked up again in a quick double-take. “What happened to your war paint?”
Silverbolt favoured his roommate with a shrug. As they were the new recruits, they had been stuck together. “I washed it off. Besides, we are hardly at war.”
“Sure we are. You heard the boss – we’re Maximals. We’re at war with them Predacons.” He considered that. “Sort of.” Quickstrike stretched out on his pallet, propped up on one elbow. “What do you think about all that hooey they were trying to sell us? Transforming warrior robots my keister.”
“They did have some most compelling evidence …”
“Yeah? Name it.”
The darker man ticked it off on his fingers: “First, the spaceships. You cannot deny the structure we are in, nor the function it served. This is not our homeworld. Second, the stasis pods we awakened in. Surely you do not believe we were born from those.”
Quickstrike snorted. “I get all that. But what’s to say we weren’t organic all along? Sure, Optimus and his gang were space explorers who had to put us, the crew, into stasis-snooze ‘till we reached wherever we were going. Sure Megs and his gang showed up, had a firefight, and crashed both ships. I just don’t get the whole robot aspect. If’n I was supposed to be a robot, I think I’d know.”
“Energon radiation corrupted our memory banks …”
“I’ve got no memory before waking up in that pod,” agreed Quickstrike, who rolled onto his back and tucked his hands behind his head. “I know stuff that don’t make any sense, ‘Bolt. Shucks, I can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Level Four capacitor relays, but I can’t tell you how they relate to me. And I know how to fight robots – aim for the joints to cripple ‘em, then destroy the head ‘cause that’s where they tend to keep their main processors. Dig around and blast out the spark if you really want to make sure of it.”
Silverbolt took off his feathered cloak, then settled down onto his own pallet. “I know. I too have this … knowledge. But it does point towards our origins being robotic.”
“Sure, but what do you feel? Can you say you believe what Op and the others told you and mean it?”
“I … No.”
The blond shut his eyes, satisfied. “Me, neither. I don’t know what them others are, but I’m organic.”
“Where the Pit have you been?”
Dinobot looked over at Rattrap, who was on late shift that night. Optimus had wanted a guard at all times; the Predacons weren’t trusted enough to be left alone with Sentinel. “I have been … out. Testing the limits of this new form.”
“And I’m a toaster.” Rattrap had traded schedules with Airazor for this purpose – so he would know when Dinobot came in and give him a good yelling-at. He’d actually wanted to have a talk with the warrior since the whole mess with the truce began, but didn’t have time before. “Where’ve you been really? I don’t care if you wrote down ‘scouting’ on the duty-roster this morning – there’s no reason to scout right now.”
“I need not explain myself to you.”
“I’m the night-monitor and I say you do,” Rattrap informed him. “Lucky for you all the Preds were accounted for today. We might get bad ideas otherwise.”
The warrior hissed. “I have been out testing this body, and have come to the conclusion that I don’t like it. It is weak, it is slow, it damages easily, and it has minimal endurance.”
“That was uncreative.”
“You lined yourself up for it, Dinobutt.” He swung his feet off the console. “All right, level with me here: Predacon housemates – good or bad idea?”
Dinobot considered that. “Both. Megatron is … planning something. Still, it is easier to keep watch on him here than if he remained at the Predacon base.”
Frankly, Rattrap had expected a snarl and a warning to mind his own business. Truth was welcome, of course, but troubling. It meant Dinobot was worried. “What’s he up to?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Then how do you know …”
“Megatron,” said Dinobot firmly, “is always planning something. Now am I dismissed?”
He wasn’t going to get anything more out of the warrior tonight. “Yeah, sure. ‘Night, chopperface.”
“Don’t fall asleep at your post for a change, vermin.”
To be continued ...