Megatron was up to something, Dinobot was certain of that. Megatron was always up to something.
“But what,” he asked himself, resting his elbows on the table in his quarters, steepling his fingers, “could it be?”
They were on Earth, where Megatron had originally intended to be. But now, with one of the Golden Discs in Dinobot’s possession and the other hidden, his mind trapped in a weak body of flesh, under near-constant – if passive – surveillance … what could Megatron do?
The Disc Dinobot was trying to decode now was the original one stolen from Cybertron. Whatever the alien Disc held could wait.
The Golden Disc contained a historical record of Earth. If time could be changed after it was written, the Disc was power.
If history couldn’t be changed, if events were fated to take their course …
Dinobot snarled, slamming his fist into the table. “I need to know, but I have no way to test it!”
Omniscient No More
“What’s all this?”
Rattrap, struggling with a large box, lost his grip and let it crash to the corridor floor. He sighed and leaned his hands on it. “My collection of Pred parts. I hafta get rid of it.”
Cheetor raised an eyebrow. “Optimus told you to because of the truce?”
“Nah … Waspy overheard me bragging about it to Quickstrike.”
The blond helped lift the box back into Rattrap’s arms. “And she got mad.”
“Nah, she just … looked hurt.” He blushed momentarily, then scowled. “Ah-h-h, I can’t help it. You try looking that little thing in the eye and remember how many times you blew her to scrap. Lousy Preds get you no matter what you do …”
“You two sure are noisy.”
Quickstrike. Terrorsaur ignored the man, focusing his attention on the hoverpad he was altering for long-range use – Tarantulas and Blackarachnia had brought several back to the Axalon, and for the last three days, the Predacons – to be fair, mostly Scorponok – had been working on them. Scorponok was nearby, working on another, but no one was talking to him, so he didn’t bother looking over.
“I know you can hear me, Red. Oh, come on,” Quickstrike prodded, crouching down and draping an arm across the redhead’s shoulders. “You’ve got the most recognisable shriek in the Axalon and I saw Waspy-girl earlier and you both look tired this morning. Doesn’t take a genius to know that something was going on.”
“C’mon, you can tell ol’ Quickstrike …”
“You are annoying me, crowding me, and I am holding a soldering iron. Do you understand why I’m telling you this?”
The offending arm was retracted. “I was just checking up on the well-being of my fellow …” The Predacon looked up at the Maximal, waiting for the end of the sentence. “… people.”
“Terrorsaur has nightmares,” said Scorponok, glancing over. The swelling on the side of his head caused by the injury that he’d sustained on the first day had completely gone down, though the skin was still an unusual shade of purple. “He doesn’t like to talk about it. He used to wake everybody in the Predacon base up; luckily his human vocal apparatus isn’t as strong as his robot one was.”
“Well, shucks. All that noise over a bad dream?”
Terrorsaur scowled at him. “Yes. Get lost.”
Most disappointed, Quickstrike left. Terrorsaur yawned, then turned to look at Scorponok. “All right. What do I owe you for backing me up instead of inventing some rumour to make things worse?”
“Wear a gag when you sleep. My room’s next to yours and you woke me up.”
There was so much to do, and extra hands weren’t always helpful when one wasn’t sure if he could trust those extra hands.
Still, it had been five days with no real trouble. Optimus was pleased and cautiously optimistic. Inferno and Rattrap had got themselves into a shouting match over something the day before, but Megatron had managed to calm Inferno down before a proper fight could break out. That had been the worst of it.
Part of the harmony, no doubt, was because the two groups mostly kept to themselves. They would work together or exchange information, but there was no real social interaction between the Maximals and the Predacons; they tended to prefer the company of their own kind. Optimus had tried to talk to a couple of the Predacons, just to chat, but their replies were guarded. These things would take time.
There were exceptions – Quickstrike and Silverbolt didn’t seem to make any real distinction between the factions, likely due to a combination of amnesia and the fact that they never actually experienced the fighting. Depending on his mood, Optimus either thought that the two might be used to help bridge the gap between the teams, or that Megatron would be able to pull them over to his side.
And Dinobot … Dinobot had been avoiding everyone. Optimus decided he would talk with him later.
Optimus thought as he walked down the hall. The immediate concerns were taken care of: the world was lush, and food was easy to come by. They were right on a river. The Axalon only needed minor alterations to suit their new forms – mostly padding to sleep on.
Now he could start on the problems peculiar to their initial mission. Predacons – actually obeying a truce and behaving themselves. Lost crew – two recovered; one blank protoform in its stasis pod, lying safely in a cargo bay. They would have to search for the other pods. Hopefully, none were active. The Golden Discs …
… were still locked up in the Predacon base.
Optimus stopped walking, having reached his destination. He paused for a moment, then tapped the door panel: “Megatron? It’s Optimus.”
A faint splashing filtered through the speaker, then, “Yes?”
“Open up; I need to talk to you.”
“Oh, very well. Computer, unlock the door.”
Optimus wasn’t entirely certain what he thought he’d see when he opened the door. He knew that Megatron had rearranged his assigned quarters. However, he hadn’t expected a corner of the room to be dominated by a large bath. Megatron was lounging in the visibly-steaming water, one arm hooked over the edge of the tub, the other hand typing on a small, suspended console. He tapped a few final keys, then glanced over with a look of obviously false innocence.
The Maximal covered his eyes with a hand, a gesture of exasperation rather than modesty. “When did you find time to install a hot-tub?”
“For some things, I make time,” Megatron replied, pushing the console away and settling back in his bath. “Not all warriors see it necessary to keep uncomfortable quarters, and just because I must live here does not mean I must give up all luxury.”
“I don’t believe this!”
“You should get one. They’re really quite relaxing.”
Optimus had dealt with people like Rattrap long enough to know when he was being baited. He decided to ignore the lunacy of the situation and return to business. “Well, now that we’re all friends, Megatron, I was wondering if you’d like to let us take a look at the Golden Discs.”
“Not particularly.” Megatron looked up, smirking slightly at Optimus’ frown. “Though I suppose it’s only fair, for all the good they’ll do. At the very least, I never found a real use for them beyond the initial map. You’ll need me along to deactivate the security system in my office, however.”
He probably could get a better workout from the battle simulation room, but that was back in the base, and anyone could just walk in there and bother him. Besides, Dinobot wasn’t looking for exercise so much as a chance to think. Someone could still walk in on him out in the forest clearing he was currently in, but it seemed less likely.
Movement helped. He wasn’t sure why, but letting his body run through a few practice drills while he considered a problem seemed to help focus his thoughts.
Dinobot had remade his sword, more or less. It was lighter by necessity, and it no longer spun – the power source for that had been himself – but the shape and the feel were right. It would serve.
He had the Discs. – Slash! – He had a history of the world. – Turn, stab! – But what possible use could that be, trapped as he was before the world’s civilisation? – Slash, pivot, slash! – He had no way to test the records himself. – Slash! – Optimus would never try. Megatron, perhaps … – Feint, slash, stab! – But Megatron was tricky. – Feint, dodge! – But Megatron might be his only chance. – Turn, sla …
It took a second to realise that his sword had stopped moving. It took another to register that it had stopped because there was a brown hand clapped on either side of his own, holding the blade mere centimetres from an extremely worried face. Dinobot immediately let up the pressure and dropped his hands back to his sides. “Silverbolt. You’re very fast.”
“I was very lucky,” Silverbolt managed, still in some shock. “I … did not expect for my reflexes to be tested quite so dramatically.
“What do you want?”
“I read through the personnel files – as I had been instructed to do – and when I came across yours, I thought, perhaps …” Silverbolt trailed off, conscious that Dinobot’s patience was not long, and swiftly decided to get to the point. “I have been thinking. Wondering about myself,” he said. “I will never know who I was, and I have accepted that, but I know what I am. I do not know what to do.”
“Elaborate.” Dinobot knew that Silverbolt wasn’t referring to his species. Silverbolt was certain that he had always been an organic. In a way, he was right.
Silverbolt spread his hands in a shrug. “I am a warrior. Those are the skills I have. But what good are they, here, now? I do enjoy the peace, do not get me wrong, but I … I serve no purpose here.”
“Your skills may yet be needed,” murmured Dinobot.
“Against what enemy?” asked Silverbolt. He sighed, looking up at the other man. “You are a soldier, Dinobot. How do you reconcile your function?”
“I … am still working on that.”
“Yowch! Slaggit …” Terrorsaur suddenly clutched his left hand to himself, cursing vehemently.
Scorponok looked over. “Where’d you learn words like that?”
“Waspy. Where else?” grumbled Terrorsaur, inspecting his hand critically. “I caught myself on a sharp edge. I don’t think it’s serious, but it hurts.”
“Yeah, poor you.”
“Well, excuse me for having delicate hands, I’m sure.”
Scorponok was trying to come up with a rejoinder when Megatron’s voice suddenly came over the intercom: “Scorponok, we’re going back to our base. Meet us by the lifts.”
Scorponok stood. Terrorsaur looked over. “What about me, then? I’ve been relying on you to tell me how to do these alterations to the hoverpads.”
“Just go find something else to do until I get back.” On one hand, Terrorsaur might have the skill to continue the work on his own. On the other, the last thing Scorponok wanted was a faulty hoverpad.
The redhead stood and stretched. “Fine. I should probably get back to doing plant samples. Besides, I’ve been stuck in here all day and I want out.”
It was in many ways fortunate that the Maximals and Predacons were on their own and didn’t have to fit into a civilisation. For one thing, they had terrible eating habits.
They understood eating. They did it as robots, after all – conversion tank technology had gained some popularity in the last few centuries as a back-up energy source on alien worlds. They didn’t, however, understand the point of most cutlery. Or the fact that foods could be mixed or seasoned to alter the flavour. Or that cooking might possibly be a good idea.
A few changes had to be made, of course. Bacteria was understood. The closest thing to preparation any of them did was wash their food, or, more often, to run it through a decontamination chamber. Also, some things, like hair or certain seeds, could no longer be converted into useful energy, and some substances would react negatively with their physiology, so they had to be a little more careful about eating.
Flavour did matter to them, at least a little. Waspinator found she still preferred sweet things over other flavours, though whether that was a holdover from her beast-mode or if it was a trait that belonged to her new body, she didn’t know. Currently, however, she was eating part of a small rabbit.
Lacking her former claws and sharp teeth, she had to use a knife. Everyone carried them. At first Optimus had worried that it might be dangerous, but small knives were extremely useful tools, so he gave up and allowed them. If someone asked, Waspinator might have admitted that she preferred this way of eating over her feeding habits as a robot wasp – at least this way she didn’t have to hunt anything herself. She had felt a bit sorry for the smaller creatures and had always tried to kill them cleanly.
She could barely taste her meal anyway, caught up as she was in worry. Waspinator had a datapad lying on the table where she could reach it; if anyone came in, she could pretend to be busy reading it and maybe she wouldn’t have to talk to them. She certainly didn’t want to have to explain what was really on her mind: Dinobot had stolen the Golden Discs, and only she knew it. Well, her and Terrorsaur; she had confided in her wingmate as soon as she found him. It was only a matter of time before Megatron found out, and he would somehow figure out that she had been there – she didn’t know how he would, but this was Megatron. And if Dinobot found out that she knew … it might be better to take her chances with Megatron.
“Hi. This seat taken?”
Waspinator glanced up in surprise. She hadn’t heard Cheetor come in, and given that he was standing right across the small table from her, he knew she had been just staring off into space instead of reading her datapad. “No.” The rest of the cargo bay was empty, but she didn’t bother pointing that out. “What do you want?”
“Nothing.” The Maximal pulled up a seat, reconsidering his words. “Just to talk, I guess. I just thought that someone had to take the first step in, you know, trying to be friendly. Between the factions, I mean. So, well, I checked the schedule and you weren’t busy, and the other Predacons don’t really seem approachable anyway, so I thought …”
“Six.” Waspinator popped another bite of raw rabbit into her mouth.
Cheetor stopped, confused. “What?”
“That’s how many times you, personally, caused me enough damage that I lost at least one limb,” said Waspinator once she finished swallowing. She licked a drop of blood off her lip. “I keep track.”
The Maximal flinched slightly, but rallied. “Your side started it.”
“What ‘maybe’? You shot our ship down!”
“And if you asked Megatron, he’d tell you he was doing it to try to free the Predacons from a stifling Maximal government,” Waspinator retorted. “I’m not going to argue either side of it, so don’t even start. I hate politics.”
“Oh, good. So do I.” After a minute, “So if Megatron’s doing this for politics, but you don’t like politics, why’re you with him?”
“I needed … I needed a job,” she corrected. Then, before Cheetor could comment on the pause, “Why were you on the Axalon? You don’t seem like a scientist.”
He shrugged. “I’m the pilot. Well, was the pilot, I guess. And I scout and stuff, so it’s not like I just sit around while the others are off doing their work …”
“Waspy! You busy or can I walk off with you?” Terrorsaur suddenly called from the door.
She glanced up. “I’m finished here. Just let me clean up.” She started to collect up her tray and datapad.
“That’s it?” Cheetor asked, too quiet for Terrorsaur to hear. “You’re just going to drop everything for him?”
Waspinator looked at him levelly. “Who do you think used to pick up my pieces?”
“Ah, the circumstances-deposed tyrant returns to his castle,” said Megatron as he stepped into the hatch of the Predacons’ ship, followed by Scorponok, Optimus, and Rhinox. It was the first time in the five days since the change that Megatron had a chance to go back. “And before you ask, yes, the security system has been shut down. I have no wish to be eviscerated by my own base, no.”
He was exaggerating somewhat – the internal defences were still rigged for robots rather than humans, so they might not have set them off, even if they were still active. Still, he didn’t want to take any chances with his now-fragile body. He glanced back over his shoulder. “Is there anything else we need to pick up while we’re here?” None of the Predacons had much in the way of personal belongings; the ship itself was stolen, and there hadn’t really been either the time or the inclination to make it comfortable. Still, it had been well-stocked with assorted weapons and technology, and, for the moment, sharing that was in their best interests.
Behind him, Rhinox listed off a few parts he needed to finish remaking their personal commlinks. A few had been completed – Megatron and Optimus both wore them. Megatron let Scorponok handle the discussion from there; Scorponok had a better idea of the inventory, and Megatron had more interesting things to think about anyway. With a bit of manipulation and luck, the Maximals might get distracted enough with cargo and equipment that Megatron could alter the records of his research on the Golden Discs. It would only take a few seconds…
He smiled slightly to himself, listening to Scorponok and Rhinox bat equipment needs and possible substitutions back and forth. Scorponok had seemed to have been enjoying himself somewhat over the last few days; with Tarantulas trying to learn everything she could about their new forms, she wasn’t showing up Scorponok’s skill with technology. Interestingly, the Maximals didn’t seem to count – Scorponok was only jealous when a Predacon could do something better than him.
A faint light down the corridor caught his attention. “The door shouldn’t be open …” Ignoring the startled protests of the others, Megatron drew his hand-laser and covered the rest of the distance at a run.
The others caught up a few seconds later to find Megatron scowling into the empty room as if it would answer. His office had been ransacked – the Golden Discs were gone, and his computer had been destroyed. A quick look showed that the assorted surveillance cameras had been similarly dealt with.
“He might have hidden the Discs and trashed the room himself,” said Rhinox. It wouldn’t have been the first time the Predacons had tried such a trick.
“Don’t be foolish,” growled Megatron. “Everyone knew I had the Discs. There is enough confusion at the Axalon that anyone could have come here and done this.”
Optimus nodded. “Blackarachnia and Tarantulas had free reign of this place for several hours on the second day. No one else has had a chance to return since then.” Megatron ignored the accusation. As soon as he had let Blackarachnia go, he had regretted it. Still, he would have suspected the ex-spiders of the theft first in any case, even if they had alibis.
Poking around the debris, Optimus picked up a small, yellow object. “What’s …”
Megatron snatched the item away, causing it to squeak, then tucked it under his arm. “It is mine, and that’s all you need to know, Maximal.”
“Is there anything to find here?” asked Rhinox, picking at the remains of the computer, then snatching his hand back when one of the wires sparked.
“Unlikely,” said Megatron. “My cameras were sabotaged, and we no longer have properly traceable energy signatures.” The idea of checking for fingerprints was alien to one who used to have smooth, metal fingers.
The Predacon commander wandered over to the pedestal where the Discs used to hang, trying to figure out how the security system was defeated. The field was still in place now; it had been diverted rather than deactivated.
Scorponok walked over, holding up a curiously-cubed chunk of metal. “What do you think this was?”
Megatron looked around his room, taking inventory. “A footstool. Also a distraction. The one who stole the Discs must have gambled that the security system would be more interested in attacking something made of metal than something made of flesh. Hmm …” Addressing the two Maximals, he called, “I’m going to the control centre to see if any of the cameras outside this room picked up anything.”
“Looks like they were right, whoever they were,” said Scorponok, setting the wreckage down, then followed Megatron out of the room. Once in the hallway, he smiled slightly. “Glad to have your duck back?”
“Oh, hush.” But he said it without rancour. The other Predacons knew about Megatron’s rubber duck and generally thought of it as a bit silly. Megatron didn’t care.
“What do we do now, Megatron?”
Megatron frowned. “First we get the Discs back. Then I will restore our forms and win this little war in one strike, all under the collective nose of the Maximals. Oh, yes …”
“What were you two talking about back there?”
“Hmm? Not much. I’m not ready to get friendly with someone who’s blown me to bits just yet.”
Terrorsaur dropped the subject. He’d been shredded a few times himself, and while it had hurt and he wasn’t fond of the experience it wasn’t something he really held a grudge about – generally, he was trying to kill the one who blasted him. Waspinator, on the other hand, hated it. She was resigned to the pain, he knew, but she always did have an odd phobia about repairs. Whatever she could fix herself, she would. Back on Cybertron, once she trusted him enough, Waspinator had gone so far as to make Terrorsaur promise that if she was badly injured, she would be treated by medicroids or a CR-chamber rather than a proper technician.
He’d done it, of course. He owed Waspinator that much for putting up with his hang-ups.
Terrorsaur looked up at the sky, wishing he was in it, and took a deep breath. It was the kind of day he liked; warm and bright, with hardly a breeze to disturb it. He didn’t feel connected to the planet in any way, but it could be pretty and it could be comfortable, and sometimes it was enough.
He glanced back at his partner. Normally Waspinator would be enjoying a day like this, but she still looked worried … no, nervous, like she was waiting for an attack. He considered asking about it, but didn’t. She’d tell him, or not, when she chose to. Until then, he had work to do.
Terrorsaur knelt down to look at the flower that had caught his attention. It was a type he didn’t recognise; pale mauve, with narrow petals nearly as long as his hand. It was also uncatalogued. He unslung his scanner and set to work.
Focused on his task, Terrorsaur was suddenly aware of a slight tug on his hair. Without looking up from his scanner he asked, “What are you up to back there? Go find something shiny to play with.”
“I can’t help it. You have pretty hair,” Waspinator informed him, drawing off the band that had tied it back.
Terrorsaur chuckled, especially since he agreed with her. He was the only redhead in the group, and he had always been vain. Besides, it was a shade of the cheerful, easily distracted Waspinator he had known instead of the worryingly quiet person she had become. That was something else he wanted to ask about, but didn’t. “Just don’t pull too hard. I’m trying to work.”
She laughed in response, happily twining his hair around her fingers. Another might have complained about the loss of personal space, but Terrorsaur was used to being touched, and he knew Waspinator was no threat. The contact was pleasurable, both physically and in the knowledge that she touched him because she found him beautiful. Besides, it had been three years since anyone had prattled over him, and to Terrorsaur, still very young, that was a long time.
Without preamble, Waspinator paused in her play and slipped her arms around Terrorsaur’s neck. “Everyone seems to think we’re closer than we are.”
“If by ‘everyone’ you mean ‘Quickstrike’.”
“Have you ever figured out why he thinks we’re companions?” Waspinator asked. “Is it just because we’re roommates?”
“I think so. At least he seems to think he needs to get through me to get at you.”
“Actually, he asked yesterday if I was tired of you yet. Besides, maybe I like the attention. It’s been a long time since anyone found me desirable.”
Terrorsaur frowned, though Waspinator couldn’t see it. “How would you like it if it looked like someone was trying to run off with me?”
“I’d have to kill them.”
She said it with that perfect prim gravity that lampooned itself. Terrorsaur laughed. “I suppose you couldn’t blame them for trying, at least,” he teased.
Terrorsaur chuckled. “Oh, get off my back so I can get back to work. If we don’t get anything done, they’re going to put us back on repair duty or something equally awful.”
“You get to be useful. I just stay out of your way,” Waspinator complained, retying Terrorsaur’s ponytail. “I’m no good for anything out here.”
“Nah, you’re useful – I’d be bored without you.”
Rattrap caught up to Optimus in a hallway. “Good to see you back from your little excursion, boss. Are the Preds going home now?”
“This is their home. Get used to it.” Optimus glanced down at his friend. “Sorry I snapped. We just went back to collect the Discs. They’re gone.”
“What? Who had time to go back … The spider girls!” said Rattrap suddenly. “Megs probably sent them back to hide ‘em …”
Optimus stopped him. “Megatron didn’t plan this.”
“Whatever you say. Still, I bet it was Blackarachnia and Tarantulas.”
“So does Megatron,” said Optimus. “He’ll deal with them.”
“Oh, he will, will he?” asked Rattrap. He paused, then, “Is it just me, or do we have a really weird command-structure now?”
“You’re both weird.”
“Oh, good, you can still bait the rat,” he said, not particularly insulted. “So what’s going on? Are we supposed to be one, big, happy crew, or are we two teams who just happen to be living together?”
“It’s a truce rather than a proper alliance,” Optimus explained. “We’re still Maximals and Predacons, we’re just working together.”
“How’s the ranking go? I’ve seen you order Preds around, but I’ve never seen Megs try to give an order to one of us Maximals.” Rattrap considered that. “Even when me and him were off looking for ‘Strike and ‘Bolt, he wasn’t acting like the mission commander or anything. Not real sociable, yeah, but not really in charge, you know what I mean?”
“The old command structure still holds within the teams, but I have limited control over the Predacons,” said Optimus. “Though Inferno won’t listen to me at all unless Megatron has given her specific instructions.”
“So … the Predacons will do what you say, because Megs gave ‘em a general order to do so?”
“Pretty much. He said that since his crew were our guests, they would follow our rules.”
Rattrap shook his head. “I don’t see him just handing over power like that. I don’t like it. They’re acting too nice, boss.”
“I’m not so sure. I think they’re just as lost and confused as we are right now. They don’t care who’s giving the orders, they just want to survive.”
Suddenly, Rattrap grinned. “So if you’re in charge of everybody, does Inferno call you ‘the Royalty’?”
“Normally she uses my name, but she’ll allow that I’m ‘the Queen of the Other Colony’ when she has to.”
The smaller man sighed. “You weren’t supposed to have an answer to that, boss.”
Blackarachnia and Tarantulas glanced up at Megatron, standing in the door of the laboratory Tarantulas had claimed as her own, then immediately turned back to what they were doing. To Megatron’s mind, the two women spent far too much time together – and since they disliked each other socially, it meant they were probably up to something. “What now?” sighed Tarantulas, bent over her task. “Honestly, how does anyone expect me to get anything done around here if … erk!”
It had been more impressive when he wore a tyrannosaur’s head, but Megatron still had large hands, and one was sufficient to catch the scientist by her neck and lift slightly. “Important research, I’m sure,” agreed Megatron. “But research that can wait. Now, I know you brought back a few things from our base – equipment and suchlike – but I would like to know what you did with the Golden Discs.”
“I don’t have them!” Tarantulas snapped, or tried to, but couldn’t draw sufficient breath. “If I had them, would I be wasting my time studying our new physiology?”
Megatron dropped her. Tarantulas gasped a bit and rubbed at her throat. “I didn’t even think of the Discs while I was at our base. I’m starting to wish I had. If I’m going to get in trouble, I may as well deserve it.”
The Predacon leader ignored her complaints and shifted his attention. “Blackarachnia?”
“How could I have done anything?” demanded Blackarachnia. “You proved that you’re still in charge, no matter where you are.” She hadn’t been injured by the electric shock Megatron had caught her with four days ago, but she was still angry about it.
“Blackarachnia, loathe though I am to decrease my ranks even further, I’m certain we would all benefit to learn how an broken limb in an organic heals.”
Megatron had a habit of carrying through on threats, and his crew knew it. “All right, all right, I broke into your office,” Blackarachnia admitted. “But it was already torn apart when I got there.”
It might have been a lie, but then, it might not have been. Megatron let it go for the moment. “Perhaps. I wish to check a few other things. If I find that you’re lying …”
He let the threat hang in the air, then stalked out of the lab. If someone was determined, they could have made it to the Predacon base before Blackarachnia had gone there on the second day. But everyone was accounted for during that part of the day; the Maximals had all signed in with Optimus in the morning, and the Predacons all had alibis … Maximal alibis, for the most part. Except …
… Except for the one that no one ever paid any attention to. The one who would never be suspected of anything because she was too simple to be up to any schemes of her own.
Megatron hissed. He should have thought of her before. “Waspinator.”
For reasons which Waspinator knew, but most others didn’t, Terrorsaur kept roses.
At least, that’s what he claimed they were. Waspinator couldn’t tell an orchid from a daisy, but these plants that Terrorsaur had set on the desk didn’t quite look like the ones she’d seen in pictures. These were too open and didn’t have enough petals, though the buds looked about right in shape. Also, these were pink.
The ones in the room were sitting in a small jar of water; roses couldn’t be grown indoors. The traditional red roses that looked like rounded origami weren’t natural, but a hybrid. None existed in this time and Terrorsaur wanted to know if he could possibly bring some about. Probably not. He and Rhinox – who understood the inner workings of plants better than he did – had discussed the topic at some length.
Waspinator had been a bit jealous that Terrorsaur had found someone he could talk about his hobby with. She could be just as possessive as he was.
The door chimed, and Waspinator glanced up briefly before returning her attention to the flowers. “It’s open!”
The door opened, admitted the one waiting, then closed. “Waspinator.”
At the sound of the voice, she jumped. Waspinator had thought that it was just Terrorsaur returning, but Terrorsaur couldn’t even try to imitate that rich, rolling voice …
She couldn’t bring herself to look up yet, and pretended to be in the middle of arranging the small display of roses. She knew why Megatron was there. Briefly, she wished she had stayed outside with Terrorsaur, but she really didn’t want her partner tangled up in the situation any more than he was.
Waspinator steeled herself, then looked up at her commander. “Yes, Megatron?”
“Where were you on the second day, Waspinator?”
She flinched, even though the question was expected. Megatron pushed his advantage. “Perhaps you went back to our base, yes? You were gone long enough for that.”
She tried to rally herself. “I …”
“Where are the Discs, Waspinator?”
Waspinator looked down at her hands. The series of lies she had intended to tell evaporated under the weight of her commander’s gaze. “It was Dinobot. He got to the base before I did.”
“And why, pray tell, were you there?”
“I recognised the moon,” said Waspinator quietly. “I knew Dinobot did, too; I saw him looking at it. I knew he’d go for the Discs. I don’t know where he took them.”
Megatron folded his arms over his chest. “If you knew all this, why didn’t you report to me immediately?”
She knew the truth would get her into trouble – because I don’t trust you with that kind of power – so she kept it to herself. “I … I don’t know. I didn’t really think about what I was doing.”
For a long minute, Megatron frowned down at her. Then, with a noise of exasperation, he rumbled, “Somehow, I’m not surprised. Did he manage to get any information out of my computer, or did he just destroy it?”
“He didn’t touch it,” said Waspinator. “Neither did I.” Megatron had a habit of putting creative booby-traps on things that he didn’t want anyone else to get their hands on.
To Waspinator’s relief, her answers seemed to satisfy Megatron. With a warning about giving more timely reports in the future, he left.
Waspinator let out the breath she hadn’t realised she was holding. Sometimes it was good to have a reputation of extreme stupidity. Megatron would catch on quickly though, and he’d keep a closer watch on her. She would have to be more careful from now on.
A few casual inquiries had led him to Silverbolt, who, in his innocence, had given him directions. Now Megatron was standing in the shadows of the forest, curious as to how long it would take Dinobot to realise he was there.
Dinobot was caught up in his practice drill. It looked almost like a dance, except for the sword in his hand and the air of grim purpose around him. The velociraptor form had suited him better than his Cybertronian vehicle-mode ever did, Megatron decided. There was something about Dinobot that made an organic form – even this soft, weak one – seem strangely appropriate.
“Well?” asked Dinobot without breaking his rhythm. “Are you just going to stand there?”
Megatron stepped out into the clearing. “I thought I’d test your senses.”
“It wasn’t much of a test. You wanted to be noticed.”
“Of course. Where are the Discs, Dinobot?”
The warrior spun to a halt, the tip of his sword just touching the heavy synth-fabric of Megatron’s shirt. “That would … depend on a few things.”
Megatron didn’t step back or break his former comrade’s gaze. If Dinobot truly wanted to kill him, he would be dead. Which meant that Dinobot needed something. Megatron answered the question. “Such as?”
The sword point was removed. “I was … certain that we had come to the wrong planet, and I was … displeased when you threw me away. But I have studied the Discs and know that you are on the edge of victory.”
Megatron frowned. “You immediately ran away to the Maximals, fought your former Predacon comrades, broke into my office, stole the Golden Discs …”
“You know I like to … examine a cause before devoting myself to it.”
Megatron smiled. “So now you wish to return to me, now that you realise I’m about to succeed. How very … opportunistic.”
The warrior nodded. “I am a Predacon, no matter who I fight for.”
“Hmm. And where are the Discs now?”
“The alien Disc was … destroyed. In transporting them, it slipped and fell into the lava.”
“Incompetent buffoon. What of the other?”
“Hidden,” said Dinobot. “The Maximals do not know that I have it. I wished to … decide for myself what to do.”
Megatron considered that. “Take me to it.”
In the end, Megatron brought Scorponok along as well. If nothing else, Megatron knew he would have a hard time moving the Disc himself. Besides, Scorponok had the most legitimate excuse for borrowing one of the long-range hoverpads – they had to be tested. He just happened to have a destination in mind when he took it out.
Scorponok caught up to Megatron and Dinobot at the foot of a low, oddly-shaped hill. “Are you certain the platform can handle the weight?”
“Of course, Megatron,” Scorponok, still standing on the hoverpad, nodded. “I mean, we used to weigh a lot more when we were robots.”
Dinobot ran on ahead, partly because he was the only one who knew the way, and partly because the habits of a hunter-tracker were hard to break. The Predacons followed, Megatron on foot, Scorponok still on the hoverpad. Megatron briefly sketched out the current situation to his second.
Scorponok frowned. “We can’t trust him any more.”
“And I don’t trust him, Scorponok, no,” Megatron murmured back. “But I believe he has realised what the true power of the Discs is. He knows no details of what I intend to do with them, but he knows what can be done. He is most dangerous to us now, yes.”
“What about whoever raided your computer?”
“I’m reasonably certain that Tarantulas or Blackarachnia – or both – was the culprit there. They both had ample opportunity … especially after Dinobot shut down the security cameras. The Maximals would have confronted me about it by now if it was one of their number.”
“Like with the Discs.”
Megatron hissed. “Don’t bait me, Scorponok.”
They reached the top of the odd hill to find Dinobot straining to move a large stone. He could have handled it himself, but Scorponok hopped down from his hoverpad and helped him anyway. Within minutes, Dinobot dragged the Golden Disc from its hiding place under the flat-bottomed rock.
Dinobot rolled the Disc on its edge, guiding it to where Megatron waited. “Here. Now – tell me what you … intend to do with it.”
“I hope to use it to restore our true forms.” It was half of the truth.
Dinobot had known Megatron long enough to guess that. “Impressive. How?”
“You are a soldier, not a scientist,” said Megatron. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“You’re going to try to change time.”
That was what Megatron had been waiting for. Dinobot did perceive Megatron’s plan. “I believe it to be worth the attempt, yes.”
“Can it be done?”
Dinobot was trying to sound neutral, Megatron realised, but an edge of eagerness tainted the words. He would have to consider that later. “Of course I can do it.”
The Maximal took a step back and hissed contemplatively. “You do realise, Megatron, that depending on your plan, I may have to … stop you.”
“I’ll accept that risk,” said Megatron. “And you, of course, will fail to mention any of this to your Maximal friends. You know they wouldn’t allow any … experimentation.”
They wouldn’t be thrilled to find out that Dinobot had been playing his own agenda with the Discs, either. To report Megatron’s activities would be to report himself. For the time being, Dinobot and Megatron held one other hostage.
The knowledge passed between them, unspoken, then Megatron turned away. “Scorponok, help me secure the Disc to the hoverpad.”
The meeting was over. Dinobot left them then, headed back to the Axalon.
Dinobot was one of those people who tended to walk into rooms without knocking. Of course, he got mad if anyone did it to him. His habit was known, and Optimus didn’t bother to look up from his datapad when he heard his office door open unannounced. “Hello, Dinobot.”
“Optimus. I have … news.”
“This planet is Earth. This is where Megatron had initially intended to go,” said Dinobot. “It … took me some time to be certain.”
“I see.” Optimus steepled his fingers. “It won’t do him any good now, I suppose. Even if he could collect the energon, he has no way to return to Cybertron.” He looked down at himself briefly. “Even if he did, he wouldn’t be accepted, not in his current form. Does Megatron know where he is?”
“He knows, as does Scorponok. I cannot say for the others.” He turned to leave.
“Wait up a minute, Dinobot,” said Optimus. “I want to talk to you about …”
“The Predacons.” Dinobot stopped, turning back with a thin, sardonic smile. “Here is your answer: I tolerate this truce because it is to our benefit. Without it, the Predacons would have had the advantage, even though we held three of their crew. They have such things as the hoversled, for example, and would have moved much more quickly than we could. They would not have been bound by mercy. But the truce also makes their lives easier, so they obey it. They still cannot be trusted.”
Optimus nodded. “I appreciate your input on the subject.”
Dinobot nodded and left.
To be continued ...