( Earth )
Humans are an organic, endoskeletal species, dominant on their planet. They are an industrial species ( technology level 2.2571 ) They are found almost everywhere on their planet.
Despite variations in shape, size, and colour, there is only one species of human. In general, they are a sociable creature. The head sits atop the trunk, and carries most of the sensory apparatus. They have two arms and two legs, and walk upright. In general, humans are hairless except for the top of the head and a few scattered places. They wear clothing to protect themselves from the elements and for cultural reasons. They tend to range from 1.55m to 1.85m in height, and 60kg to 75kg in weight.
Humans are generally diurnal. They have an omnivorous diet with few restrictions beyond cultural ones. Quite adaptive within their planet’s environs.
Humans tend to live in small social groups, even within larger communities. They are mammalian and sexually dimorphic. The female bears a single young ( sometimes twins or triplets ) at any time of the year, after a gestation period of 280 days. Life expectancy ranges from 75 to 80 years.
This species is most notable for being the main allies of the Autobots at the end of the last Great War.
- - -
( Titan )
Titans are an organic, endoskeletal species, dominant on their moon. They are a pre-industrial species ( technology level 1.8701 ) They are found on one small landmass in the …
Tarantulas punched the laboratory computer in frustration. “This is useless!”
Only The Queen
In some things, Blackarachnia took no chances.
Currently, she was in her quarters, tapping away at what was basically an overglorified laptop computer – it had a self-contained power system and wasn’t attached to any main computer. In fact, it couldn’t be linked to another computer without extensive modifications. There was a lock on the cover. There was a complicated code needed to access the files, and even then, the files weren’t stored in the computer. All the interesting information was on a datachip, and those files were triple-encrypted. And Blackarachnia kept the datachip with her when she wasn’t using it.
She was using it now, scrolling through the files, her expression alternating between discomfort and outright disgust. The files were stolen from Megatron’s personal computer at the Predacon base, and contained translations of the information on the Golden Discs, as well as a few ideas of what could be done with them. Megatron was brilliant, she knew that, but the information and plans in these files ranged from the implausible to the outright insane …
Blackarachnia heard the door start to open and immediately slammed down the cover on her computer. Seconds later, Tarantulas stomped into the room, her dark face a mixture of indignation and self-directed disgust. Blackarachnia would have chosen pretty much anyone else as a roommate, but so far Tarantulas had been too distracted by her own projects to be any bother beyond the occasional innuendo. That, and Blackarachnia had rigged up a small forcefield for her side of the room. She would never sleep otherwise. Blackarachnia glared at the scientist for the interruption. “What’s your malfunction, Legs?”
“That’s what I thought at first, too,” growled Tarantulas. “Pit-blasted primate body … I’m calling a meeting in the lab. I’ll meet you down there in a few minutes.”
While she hated the idea of taking an order from Tarantulas, Blackarachnia was curious. “A meeting, huh? Just us Predacons?”
“Just us girls. Now shoo.”
It wasn’t much of a beach, but at the moment it seemed a popular place to be. Optimus had a datapad with a small attachment and was testing the water. Scorponok was inspecting the outside pipes to make sure everything was working. Silverbolt was giving himself a tour of the area. Cheetor was perched by the water’s edge, trying to skip rocks. Waspinator was doing nothing more interesting than lying in the sunshine and enjoying the warmth.
A shadow fell across her, then shortened as Silverbolt crouched down beside her. “The range of hills to the east … what is beyond them?”
Waspinator glanced over at him, then went back to picking patterns out of the scant clouds. “I don’t know. I’m still learning this area, too.”
“Oh, yes. I forgot.”
Which was true, so Waspinator forgave him. As far as Maximals went, she found she would rather deal with Silverbolt or Quickstrike over any of the others. Not that the other Maximals were unfriendly, but there was always that undercurrent of forced civility. Waspinator didn’t blame them. But the two rookie Maximals were exempt from that, though for slightly different reasons. Quickstrike understood that there were two factions, but he didn’t care and associated with whomever he pleased. Silverbolt, conversely, couldn’t understand the schism, so he treated everyone equally. Besides, neither had actually shot at her, unlike the others, which gave her a bit of a bias.
Silverbolt was also … flattering, for want of a better term. He had the ability to give his full attention to whoever was talking to him, to make it seem like whatever someone was telling him was the most important thing he had ever heard. Terrorsaur had learned how to fake that interest early in his life, but with Silverbolt, it was real. It might have been because his damaged memory was determined to take in as much information as it could, but Waspinator was pretty sure it was simply part of who he was.
It also made it difficult to leave him hanging. “Probably the best people to ask about the area would be one of the Maximal scouts – Cheetor or Tigatron or Airazor,” said Waspinator. Then, pointing with one bare foot, “I have no idea where the other two are, but Cheetor doesn’t look busy.”
He meant it too, and backed it up with a smile before standing again. Waspinator realised she had smiled back, thought for a second that she shouldn’t have, then pushed the thought aside. He was being friendly for no reason deeper than that he was a friendly person; she could smile at him if she wanted to.
She was about to let her mind drift back into the clouds when there was a shout of surprise and a splash. Training had her on her feet in seconds, and she caught a hold of Silverbolt’s feathered cloak before realising it was actually a clever thing to do – Silverbolt probably would have gone straight into the water to try to rescue Cheetor if she hadn’t.
“He slipped,” said Silverbolt unnecessarily, apparently feeling that he needed to say something if he couldn’t do anything.
Optimus had already joined the ones already by the water. “We don’t have anything like a rope …”
“Can’t any of you swim?” demanded Scorponok as he caught up.
“You name one robot who ever needed to know how!” Waspinator yelled back.
Thinking quickly, Optimus said, “Form a chain. I’ll go …”
“No. You’re the biggest one here; you need to be the anchor,” said Scorponok.
Scorponok, Silverbolt, and Waspinator might not have been the coolest heads in a crisis, but they were all very good at obeying orders. Less than a minute had passed between Cheetor’s shout and Silverbolt catching him under the arms before the current could take him out of reach.
Optimus pulled Waspinator, who pulled Scorponok, who had Silverbolt’s other hand tightly in his own. Finally, Silverbolt emerged from the river, supporting a stumbling and half-drowned Cheetor. A few steps from the river, he let the coughing man to his knees.
Immediately, Optimus knelt to check on his friend. Cheetor had inhaled some water, but nothing too serious. Optimus looked up to address the group. “Good work, everyone. Scorponok …”
Scorponok was in the process of unbinding his long braid to wring out his hair. He glanced up at Optimus. “Don’t say it. Don’t give us special thanks just because we’re Predacons and we helped you out.”
Scorponok squirmed a bit under the attention and looked back to the river. “Maybe if we put ropes or small nets or something across the river,” he said. “So if someone falls in, they can let the current take them to the net, then pull themselves back to shore.”
“Sounds good.” Optimus apparently recognised the subject change for the defence it was and let it go, returning his attention to Cheetor. Once Cheetor stopped coughing, Optimus and Silverbolt helped him up and started back to the Axalon.
After a few minutes, Scorponok finished wringing the water out his hair and prepared to re-braid it, but was stopped by a squeal from Waspinator: “Oh! Let me! Please?”
Scorponok hesitated, but shrugged and sat down to let Waspinator do what she liked. Waspinator set to her task with a will, humming cheerfully to herself. She had decided that the high point of being organic was long hair, even if it was only on other people. Waspinator was somewhat miffed that her own hair was fairly short.
Her musings were cut short by a chuckle. Scorponok grumbled a bit, but Waspinator smiled. “Hi. I thought you were working.”
“I am. Somehow Rhinox roped me into doing all his footwork,” said Terrorsaur, patting the scanner he had slung on a bandolier. Not that Waspinator was as interested as she might have been; she was listening, but she was also happily caught up in her braiding. Terrorsaur grinned. “You trying to make me jealous?”
“I’m sorry, Terrorsaur. I’m leaving you for Scorponok’s hair.”
They both sniggered. Scorponok rolled his eyes. “Stop being weird, you two.”
“Us?” asked Terrorsaur innocently, crouching down to smirk at Scorponok. “You’re the one having his hair done, and, I might add, looking like you’re enjoying every minute of it.”
“Waspinator insisted. Get lost.”
The woman’s commlink chose that moment to chirp to life, and Tarantulas’ voice filtered through: “Waspinator, report to the lab at once!”
Terrorsaur raised an eyebrow. Waspinator just sighed. “It’s going to be bad news. It always is.”
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding.”
“Nope.” Rattrap paused the video in the middle of a pitched battle. “Archival surveillance footage. I thought maybe seeing us in action would say more than the old personnel files did.”
Quickstrike shook his head. “I don’t believe you. I know these computers can CGI almost anything.”
“Get it through your head, yahoo – we’re robots. At least, we’re supposed to be,” Rattrap amended.
“And as soon as I agree with you, that’s when y’all say you were just pullin’ my leg.”
“Nope. The boss used to be a flying monkey, I used to be a stainless-steel rat, and your dream girl used to be a monster.”
The blond made a face at him. “You leave ‘Ferny out of this.”
“‘‘Ferny’? Oh, Primus … I’m doing this for your own good, dummy.”
“Yeah? What would I have been, then?” Quickstrike demanded. “Something fast and deadly, I’ll bet … Like a … like a cat.”
Rattrap made a razzing noise. “We needed another cat like I needed a comb … Though y’know, I might be able to figure what you would have been. Just gimme a sec to access the logs from your stasis pod.” The two pods from the wasteland had been salvaged a few days ago for parts. “‘Course, the onboard computer was damaged by the crash and all the energon radiation … ha, got it! I figured you must’ve had proper robot mode to begin with, just so your organic form could be based on something.”
A detailed schematic of a Transformer appeared on the screen. Quickstrike regarded the picture for a long moment before rounding on his team mate. “You are so full of it, Rattrap!”
“Hey, what? It’s not my fault you’re ugly.”
“‘Ugly’ don’t begin to cover that!” Quickstrike leaned over Rattrap’s shoulder to glare at the screen. “Okay, so snakes and scorpions I can understand, I guess, but … Primus, I ain’t even got hands! I got a bitey thing and a … whatever that is!”
“I think those are the legs for your beast-mode.”
“Yuck,” said Quickstrike. “I still think you’re makin’ that critter up.”
“I would have invented something more plausible than that,” said Rattrap, elbowing the blond to get his personal space back. Still, the angle let him notice something he hadn’t before. “And what happened to your neck?”
Quickstrike drew back and pulled his fringed drape a bit higher on his throat, trying to cover the bandage. “Tarantulas.”
“Hey, if that crazy Pred tried to kill you …”
“She wasn’t trying to kill me.” At least, Quickstrike didn’t think so. Not that he was going to let Tarantulas get that close to him again, enjoyable as the lead-up had been.
“I’ll tell you soon as you tell me what happened between you and my ‘Ferny last week.”
“All right, all right, I’ll drop it.” On the eighth day of the truce, Inferno had decided that Rattrap’s odour was offensive and she had dragged him off, kicking and screaming, to the showers. Once Megatron had managed to explain to Optimus that Rattrap was in no danger, Optimus had decided it wasn’t a truce violation and let Inferno get away with it. Rattrap had hidden in his room for the rest of the day and refused to talk about it when he finally showed himself again. However, the general consensus was he was much easier to live with when he was clean.
Quickstrike, of course, wanted details, but Rattrap wasn’t going to give them. Deciding it was a compromise of sorts, Quickstrike switched back to the original topic. “Tell me more about these critters you claim we’re supposed to be.”
He’d watched the videos. Yes, Quickstrike could see similarities between Rattrap’s robots and the humans he knew. Sometimes it was obvious; Terrorsaur’s face was unmistakeable, even when it was made of alabaster metal. Sometimes it was subtle; a certain tilt to the head when Waspinator was confused. And sometimes …
There was Inferno, for instance. The red-armoured creature in the video was a monster, huge and terrible. But it spoke like Inferno, speaking of colonies and the Royalty in the same accent that he knew, though in a voice like grinding glass. It moved like Inferno, from the military rhythm in its walk to the savage berserker attacks when it fought … and it wore Inferno’s smile. Even in the twisted, alien face, the same passion for battle shone through. Everything about the creature was Inferno.
Rattrap noticed him staring at the frozen image. “She’s not so pretty when you know what she used to look like, is she?”
“The rest of you …” Quickstrike poked a finger at the screen. “Y’all see her like this?”
“Nah, we see the woman, but we can’t help thinking of pyro ant monsters.”
“Tarnation.” For a long moment, Quickstrike looked thoughtful, rubbing his chin. Then he smiled. “Less competition for me to deal with, then.”
Rattrap rolled his eyes. “You’re hopeless. Hey, could you cover the monitors for the rest of this shift, ‘Strike? There’s some stuff I gotta do.”
“I am a robot spider! I don’t have to put up with this!”
“My dear Blackarachnia,” said Tarantulas wearily, “you are a fleshie primate, and your case may be worse than mine. Up on the table.”
Blackarachnia seemed to be seriously considering punching the scientist, but Inferno strode into the laboratory then, interrupting the fight. “This had better be good.”
Within the next few minutes, Tigatron and Airazor arrived, followed a bit later by a somewhat damp Waspinator. “What’s going on?”
“I have, ahem, discovered an aspect of our biology that it hadn’t occurred to me we had.”
Inferno patted the grip of her flamethrower. “I do not interrupt my duties idly, spider, and I don’t like my time to be wasted. You said this was a priority.”
“It is, Inferno. Tch, you have no flair for the dramatic,” said Tarantulas. “The short version is that this primate reproductive system is inconvenient and messy, and the females get the worst of it.”
“And if any of us wanted to breed, that would mean something,” drawled Airazor.
“Tarantulas is saying that we menstruate,” Blackarachnia explained. “That happens whether you have any intention of reproducing or not.”
Airazor, Waspinator, and Inferno still looked blank. Tigatron sighed. “The fertility cycle of the primates on this world involves shedding the uterine lining instead of the body reabsorbing it. I had thought it likely it would happen to us, given our physiology. We are not too far off the higher primates of this planet.”
“Thanks for the warning,” grumbled Tarantulas.
“Yuck,” said Waspinator.
Inferno folded her arms. “Foolishness.”
“Normally I don’t agree with Inferno, but this time I’ll make an exception,” said Blackarachnia. Then, shifting her attention, “How come you know all this, Stripes?”
“Observation of the higher primates.” Tigatron shook her head. “This is a natural function. There is nothing horrible or disgusting about it.”
“‘Natural’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘good’,” grumbled Tarantulas. “I really hope that the first one of us to take ill is you, just for irony’s sake.”
“It doesn’t sound like fun,” Airazor said. Tigatron, realising that she had no back-up, sighed.
“This is none of my concern,” rumbled Inferno. “I am a soldier – my body is incapable of such things. Only the Queen can …”
The others all stared at her; by now even the Maximals knew of Inferno’s preferred title for her leader. Airazor was the one who spoke, though: “Inferno … what do you mean, exactly, when you refer to Megatron as ‘the Queen’?”
“Megatron is our leader,” said Inferno patiently. “He is the one who gathered us together; he is the life of the Colony. Therefore, he is the Queen.”
Blackarachnia covered her eyes with her hand. “He’s male now. Queen insects are always female.”
“A mere accident of this foolish biology,” said Inferno. “He is still our Queen, and we,” – here she shot a dark look at Tarantulas – “are his loyal servants.”
“Of course,” drawled Tarantulas, but sarcasm was lost on Inferno. “But, quite surprisingly, you remind me of an interesting point. I’d like to run some tests …”
“You busy, chopperface?”
Dinobot, shirtless, sweating, and armed, didn’t bother to cease his exercise. Still, he could glower at the interruption. “I am not on shift. If memory serves, you are.”
“I got it covered,” said Rattrap, dismissing it. “Now, the question I got is what you do in your spare time.”
“That should be obvious.”
“Yeah, yeah, either you’ve locked yourself in your room or you’re out here.” ‘Out here’ was a small clearing. Rattrap poked around the underbrush until he found a stick about the length of his arm. He held it up in a mock-fencing pose. “And sometimes you go other places.”
The warrior didn’t bother looking over. “I do not appreciate being stalked.”
Rattrap stepped in front of him, parrying Dinobot’s sword with his stick. “Just keeping an eye on you. You’ve been acting double-weird since this mess began, and, frankly, you ain’t got a byte of sense sometimes. Someone’s gotta make sure you don’t do anything stupid.”
“Forgetting which side you’re on, maybe. You’ve been chatting with Megs and I know it. I ain’t reported it, though, ‘cause I thought maybe I’d give you the benefit of a doubt for once and talk to you first.”
“Who I talk to is my own business, rodent.” With a flick of his wrist, Dinobot’s sword broke Rattrap’s stick in half. “I do not know his plans. To find out what he is thinking, I must talk to him.”
Rattrap brought the remains of the stick up and poked it at Dinobot’s chest. “Just how far back do you two go, anyway?”
“You have already guessed that it is a long time, and have already drawn your own conclusions.”
“Then no harm in saying, right?”
“We … met perhaps three-hundred twenty years ago. I had worked for him for sixty-eight.”
‘Had’ worked for him. No longer. It was actually reassuring to hear. Not that Rattrap would admit it – there were standards to be kept, after all. “Hnh. You’re younger than I am. I never could peg your age.”
“How fascinating,” rumbled Dinobot. “You have interrupted my training exercise. Leave now or become a part of it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it.” Rattrap threw the remains of his stick back into the bushes. “You just remember what I told you.”
The taller man harrumphed and resumed his activity. At the edge of the clearing, Rattrap paused and looked back. “Hey, and one last thing, Dinobutt!”
Dinobot hissed in exasperation. “What?”
Rattrap tossed him a canteen. “Don’t overdo it, okay? Ain’t nobody wants to drag your stinky hide back to base if you collapse.”
Tarantulas hummed a bit over the data readout. “Interesting.”
“Well?” growled Inferno.
The scientist looked over at her patient. “Given that our beast-forms determined which gender our human bodies are, I had thought that other aspects tied into reproduction might also carry over. A soldier ant would have atrophied reproductive organs. Yours seem to be in perfect working condition.” Tarantulas mulled that over. “It does make sense, in its way – if nothing else, the aliens did give us healthy bodies.”
“Too bad,” sighed Waspinator. “I hoped I could dodge this whole mess, too. I was a worker wasp.”
For her part, Inferno looked absolutely horrified. “This … this is wrong … This is blasphemy. I am a soldier, I cannot – must not – be fertile. Only the Queen …”
“Oh, for … Just because you’ve got it doesn’t mean you have to use it,” snapped Blackarachnia.
“That doesn’t make it right!” Inferno shouted back.
Tarantulas just rolled her eyes, but Waspinator laid a hand on Inferno’s forearm and steered her out of the lab. “We’re not insects now. It’s like you said – it’s just accidental biology. It doesn’t mean anything …”
The others waited until the door had closed. Blackarachnia snickered. “I do not want to be Megs right now. Inferno is going to track him down and spend an hour apologizing for the fact that she can procreate, and another assuring him of her undying loyalty despite that fact.”
“Mm, and I thought I was taking this poorly,” murmured Tarantulas.
“I still think you are being foolish about this,” said Tigatron.
“Maniacal geniuses aren’t supposed to get cramps, Maximal,” Tarantulas growled. Then she extended her arms at the scout, wiggling her fingers as if casting a spell: “May you retain so much water that you get tides.”
Airazor caught her companion by the arm before she could say anything more. “Come on, Tigatron. No use arguing, and we are technically supposed to be hunting today.” She pulled the taller woman out the door.
“My only comfort is that I won’t be the only one to suffer,” sighed Tarantulas.
Blackarachnia shook her head. “You are over-acting.”
“You’ll take it worse when your time comes, witch. Mark my words.”
“Why weren’t you prepared for this, Tarantulas? I thought you had some training in biology.”
“I do. I have studied the fauna of this world. Tigatron didn’t mention this, but instead of menstruating, most other animals go into heat …”
Blackarachnia groaned. “Considering some of our crewmates, I think I like this way better. Barely. Blast it, Tarantulas, why couldn’t you have given us male beast-forms!?”
“Oh, like I could have predicted this,” Tarantulas snapped back. “In insect species, the females are often more dangerous than the males, hence female beast-forms for warrior robots. How was I supposed to know gender was going to become important one day? Besides, I’ve got the same problems you do!”
The scientist paused, considering that. “Maybe. Remember, the aliens made perfectly functional, very healthy bodies for us – didn’t you ever wonder why we all seem to be young adults, despite our true age differences? And your beast-form, Blackarachnia, was that of a newly-impregnated black widow spider, and that is something I’d like to be absolutely certain didn’t carry over. Now will you let me run my tests?”
Without further argument, Blackarachnia got on the table.
It was one thing to stand back and watch Inferno fight, admiring her skill, strength, or, if one was Quickstrike, the way she filled out her clothes. It was quite another thing to actually fight her, as Quickstrike was learning. Now there was no time to wonder how she fit into her outfit or devise ploys to try to talk her out of it. Now was only survival.
She’d been in a terrible state when he ran into her … or, more properly, when she nearly ran him over in one of the Axalon’s corridors. She had been searching for Megatron, obviously with a lot on her mind, and when told he had gone to the Predacon base for the day with Rhinox, Inferno had looked so lost and dismayed … Of course, Quickstrike’s initial thought was to use this as an excuse to suggest going back to his quarters for a bit of comforting, but some instinct stopped him and he suggested the sparring match instead. It wasn’t romantic, no, but it might cheer Inferno up, make her a little more kindly-disposed towards him, and keep her distracted until Megatron returned.
If Quickstrike could last that long.
The thing that worried Quickstrike the most was that he knew Inferno was pulling her punches. He had watched her spar with Dinobot before and knew the kind of damage she could inflict when she chose to. Fortunately for Quickstrike, with the fact that he had only been around for a couple weeks, Inferno saw this fight as a training exercise rather than a proper sparring match, and was going easy on him.
Not that Quickstrike couldn’t fight. The skills were buried in his damaged memory, he had agility on his side, and despite a couple solid hits to his person, he hadn’t fallen yet. He was strong, but not, unfortunately, as strong as Inferno. He would hurt later, but for now, the battle-frenzy was in him. He had discovered early on that he enjoyed fighting; violence was like an animal coiled up inside him, scratching to get out, but he just wasn’t allowed to let it out except under very specific conditions … It was out now. No longer was Inferno a desirable woman, merely an opponent to defeat. Any plans he had to use the match as an excuse to try to con the Amazon into his arms fled as the bloodlust filled him …
Besides, they had an audience.
Inferno’s fist connected solidly with Quickstrike’s chest. He skidded to a stop at Terrorsaur’s feet. “Unnf! This ain’t nearly as much fun as it looks …”
Without stepping away from the boulder he was leaning back against, the Predacon prodded him with his foot. “Get up. You wouldn’t want Inferno to get bored, would you?”
“You try this, then.”
“I’m not the one looking for excuses for physical contact,” Terrorsaur purred, but reached down to help Quickstrike to his feet.
“You don’t need ‘em,” grumbled the blond. “You already got yourself a girl.”
“Waspy’s just a friend,” Terrorsaur reminded him. “What’s with your neck?”
Quickstrike moved to twitch up his collar, but remembered that he’d taken off his drape and jacket, and his shirt’s collar couldn’t cover his neck. “None of your business.”
“Tell me or I’ll invent something.”
“I got bit by Tarantulas. Shut up.”
“Primus, you’re stupid.” Terrorsaur smiled, slowly. “Still, I do find some of your ideas intriguing, strange as they are, and I wouldn’t damage something as aesthetically-pleasing as you …”
Realising that his hand was still clasping the other man’s wrist, Quickstrike let go with a yelp. Terrorsaur just laughed and settled back against the boulder. The Maximal glared at him. “Now’s where you say, ‘just kidding’.”
Terrorsaur peered up from admiring his nails. “You know better than that. Now get back to your fight before Inferno gets impatient.”
“Back already?” Since the lifts were located in the Axalon’s control room, whoever was on monitor duty could easily keep track of the crew’s comings and goings. Currently, the one on duty was Optimus. He hadn’t been entirely surprised to find that Quickstrike had been conned into doing at least part of Rattrap’s shift.
“Heading out again,” Airazor corrected. “Tarantulas hauled us in for some emergency girl-talk.”
“If that’s the worst she’s up to, we’re doing fine,” said Optimus.
“Let’s just say that in some things, I envy you your gender,” Airazor chuckled. Behind her, Tigatron rolled her eyes. “What are you working on?”
The Maximal commander called up a map on the screen. “I’ve been trying to come up with a way to find the fallen stasis pods. As it looks right now, we’ll have to search manually.”
“How come the pods are so hard to find?” asked Airazor. “We know they all came down when the alien energy wave hit them.”
Optimus sighed. “If we’d known that we’d end up on a planet with such high levels of energon radiation, we’d have built stronger homing beacons into the stasis pods. It used to be we could track them in orbit and follow the trail down to the landing site. Now we have to be fairly close to one to detect it.”
“What about laser transmission?” asked Tigatron.
“That only works if we know where the receiver is.”
Out of ideas, Tigatron and Airazor said their good-byes and went back to their assigned task, leaving Optimus to his work.
Silverbolt, on a search for dry clothes, automatically ran towards the source of the shriek that echoed through the corridors of the Axalon. Only when Tarantulas and Blackarachnia tumbled out of the lab and bowled him over did it register that the scream was one of fury, not fear.
Neither woman paid him any attention. Blackarachnia was focused on her task of trying to kill Tarantulas, and Tarantulas was busy trying to prevent her from doing so. Silverbolt quickly regained his feet, and, being larger than the combatants, managed to separate them. “What seems to be the problem?”
“I’m pregnant, and it’s that lunatic’s fault!” Blackarachnia shouted.
“Like it was on purpose!” Tarantulas snarled back.
Silverbolt looked from one woman to the other, mulling that over. “Um … I am not a biologist, but …”
“Pah. I’m not the father,” said Tarantulas. “When I gave Blackarachnia her beast-form, I scanned a female black widow spider who was in the process of devouring her mate – which meant the female spider had just been impregnated. The aliens – with their odd idea of mercy – gave us very healthy human forms, based loosely on our beast-modes. They wanted to give us every chance they could … all of us. Even the offspring Blackarachnia was never intended to have.”
“And since I can’t take it out on the aliens, I’m going to kill Tarantulas,” said Blackarachnia matter-of-factly.
While not stupid, Silverbolt – who was ‘born’ human and couldn’t yet get his mind around the idea that they were ever robots – couldn’t quite keep up. “Blackarachnia is going to give birth to spiders?”
“No!” yelled both Predacons. Tarantulas rolled her eyes. “Don’t be foolish. The child is of our current species. I’d know more, but someone attacked me.”
“I don’t want to know more,” snapped Blackarachnia. “I want it gone.”
“You … what?” Silverbolt asked, horrified.
Blackarachnia ignored the Maximal, instead watching Tarantulas. “I don’t think I could help you anyway,” the scientist demurred. “I don’t know enough about our biology to kill the child without harming you. I couldn’t predict the effects anything I could do would have on your body. You’re just going to have to carry the child to term. Look on the bright side – you won’t have to deal with menstruation for a while yet.”
“I’m going to kill you.”
“Tut, tut, shouldn’t overexert yourself in your delicate condition.” Tarantulas blinked up at Silverbolt innocently. “I want to help Blackarachnia and her unborn, but she’s a most unruly patient. Could you help me?”
Blackarachnia cut the Maximal off before he could say anything. “I am not going to be your science project, Tarantulas!”
The scientist smiled at her. “Oh, I couldn’t do anything to harm you. Silverbolt will be right there for your protection as well as mine.”
Blackarachnia pulled her arm from Silverbolt’s grasp, then turned on her heel to stalk back into the lab. “You’re full of slag, Tarantulas, but it seems I’ll need to know the results, too.”
The door closed behind her. Tarantulas met Silverbolt’s inquiring gaze with a shrug. “Hormones.”
Megatron and Rhinox had returned from their excursion to the Predacon base. Megatron had spent most of his time searching the computers for anything useful, while Rhinox had raided the equipment storage. At the end, Megatron helped load the supplies onto the hoversled, and now, back at the Axalon, they were unloading them.
At least Megatron had claimed he was searching for information that might help the Maximals and Predacons survive as organics. Apparently Rhinox thought he might have done more than that. “Still no clue who took the Discs?”
Megatron sighed. “I’m starting to think that the aliens took back their Disc to keep it from us, and picked up the one taken from Cybertron as well,” he lied. “More likely it was Tarantulas, but she has never been the cooperative sort. And if I kill her, she’ll hardly tell me anything, no.”
If Rhinox was going to ask if he was kidding, it was interrupted by a shout: “Royalty!” Inferno ran up to the Axalon’s service entrance, looking as panicked as the Amazon ever could. At the last moment, she remembered herself and bowed. “My Queen, I have terrible news.”
‘Terrible news’ to Inferno could mean many things, ranging from ‘there is an actual threat to your life’ to ‘the water heater is broken’. Megatron strongly suspected that Inferno’s current worry wasn’t anything more serious than someone kidnapping his rubber duck.
He decided that Rhinox could easily handle the rest of the inventory by himself. Megatron left the service entrance to join the Amazon, and kept walking, Inferno tagging behind. If Inferno’s report was serious enough, he would inform the Maximals. But not yet.
About twenty metres from the base, Megatron turned to his soldier. “What is the matter, Inferno?”
She told him. Megatron covered his face with his hands despairingly. “Inferno, you’re hopeless.”
She didn’t think it could hurt to ask. “Hey, have you seen Terrorsaur recently?”
“Aw, you don’t need him, sugar,” Quickstrike grinned as Waspinator caught up to him in a corridor of the Axalon. “I know for a fact he don’t appreciate you as much as I do.”
“Really?” Her tone inquisitive rather than encouraging.
“Mm-hmm. Whenever Red mentions you, he makes sure to remind me that you’re just friends, then makes a pass at me. Now, me, I like you just a little more than that. And I reckon it’s right unfair of him to keep a pretty little thing like you all to himself if he ain’t got any real claim …”
It wasn’t a big secret that Quickstrike had his heart set on Inferno, but he kept his options open. Despite herself, Waspinator enjoyed his blatant flirting. The idea of a purely physical relationship didn’t interest her, but it was nice to know that someone could find her desirable, even if it was someone as loosely-selective as Quickstrike. Still, she was curious: “What do you mean he hasn’t got any real claim?”
“Well, I mean … you two are together, right? But you don’t … You aren’t …” He trailed off as she looked up at him sceptically. “… Are you?”
“We’re friends. Isn’t that ‘claim’ enough?”
“No!” Quickstrike ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “I mean, yeah, that’s a claim of a sort, sure. Lemme try this another way – are you attracted to him?”
Waspinator shrugged. “I knew him back on Cybertron when he was gorgeous. Why would I be attracted to him now if I wasn’t then?”
“And what’s his take on you?”
She wrinkled her nose. “He told me I was cute.”
“We used to be wingmates. We’re still partners, I guess. That’s it.”
“Then you go tell that moron you hang around with that I’m no threat to him!” Quickstrike thundered. “Tarnation, Waspy, you’re a good-looking girl and no mistake, and if Red’s too dumb to see that, that’s no call for him to keep you away from someone who can.”
Quickstrike got angry easily, but he calmed down just as fast. “He treats you like a friend, hey, fine, great, maybe that’s how robots act. But one of these days you’re gonna realise that you ain’t a robot no more, and maybe you’ll want to be treated like a woman. And if Terrorsaur hasn’t smartened up by then, well, y’all know who you can turn to.”
“How thoughtful of you.” Waspinator tried to say it flat, but couldn’t help a slight smile.
He grinned back. “Just doing my part for Maximal-Predacon relations, sugar. Last I saw your pretty-boy was outside about ten minutes ago.”
In Dinobot’s opinion, showering was a waste of time better spent doing other things. However, it was more efficient to simply take one than to deal with the consequences. It wasn’t that Dinobot cared what anyone else thought of him, but … well, Inferno was a force to be reckoned with, and she had already demonstrated that she wasn’t above forcibly scrubbing anyone whose scent bothered her.
Dinobot, towel around his shoulders, was walking back to his quarters when Tarantulas caught up with him. “You studied humans, correct?” she asked. Given what planet they were on, the Predacons were reasonably certain what species they had become.
“I did,” Dinobot agreed.
“Tell me everything you know about pregnancy and childbirth.”
“I studied the culture and technology of Autobot-allied worlds,” Dinobot reminded her. “Not biology.”
She frowned. “Blast. So I still have exactly one near-useless encyclopaedia entry to work from. Just perfect.”
Dinobot started to make a noise of profound unsympathy, but paused, suddenly wary, “Why? Do not tell me that you are …”
Tarantulas waved that away. “I’m not pregnant, nor do I intend to be.” Muttering to herself, the scientist vanished down a corridor.
He waited until she was out of sight before sighing. “Well, perhaps there is a Primus.” The thought of Tarantulas with an offspring was an extremely unpleasant one.
It was a rule of general courtesy that one did not hunt from the species that any of the Beast Warriors had been scanned from. From the outside, it might have seemed like an odd rule to add – none had been traditional food animals. The Cybertronians, however, didn’t know the traditions.
Airazor had done most of the work this time – as a falcon she had been an excellent hunter, but as an organic her skills were lacking and she needed the practice. Now she was picking the trail back through the forest. Tigatron was following several steps behind her, carrying the day’s catch – a few rabbits and fat little birds – on a rope over her shoulder. She was the stronger of the two, and Tigatron’s wide streak of chivalry wasn’t going to vanish simply because she found herself female.
They talked as they walked, and found themselves back in the same discussion they had been having for the past two weeks. “We can’t leave. They need us.”
“They don’t,” said Tigatron gently. “The battle is over.”
“And if the Predacons try anything?”
“The Maximals will not be outnumbered. They have Quickstrike and Silverbolt now.” Tigatron shook her head. “Others can scout and hunt. We are not vital to the Maximals.” Despite the words, Tigatron’s tone wasn’t bitter in the slightest. In fact, she was glad.
“What would we do, though?” asked Airazor. She sighed. “It seems wrong to just leave.” For her, that was the main point.
Tigatron considered that. “We could search for the lost stasis pods,” she said. “Those that are still closed, we could open, and train the ones inside how to survive on this world.”
The brunette nodded. “Or maybe just up the power of the tracking beacon so that the others can come to collect it.”
“Or that,” agreed Tigatron. “Any whose pods had opened, though … hrm. If the active protoform still lived, it would certainly be a survivor. Perhaps we could give them directions back to the Axalon.”
“Say much more like that and you’ll win me over,” said Airazor. She liked the idea of travel with a mission much better than simply up and leaving.
Behind her, Tigatron chuckled. “We may be needed in the wide world much more than we are needed at the Axa …”
The word ended in a startled cry. Airazor whirled, hand-laser drawn, and fired a few quick shots at the large constrictor-type snake that had landed on her companion. Apparently deciding that this meal would be too much bother, the snake gave up and slipped back into the forest.
Airazor ran back to Tigatron. “Are you hurt?”
“Did you harm the snake?”
“Singed it a bit.” Airazor clipped the hand-laser back to her belt, then helped Tigatron to her feet. If Tigatron was more worried about the animal that tried to eat her than her own health … well, it meant that Tigatron was fine.
Tigatron looked annoyed, but the emotion was for herself. “I cannot believe it snuck up on me.”
“I miss my tracking sensors, too.”
“I have never been attacked by a native animal before!”
Airazor shook her head. “Of course the wildlife used to leave us alone – we were robots. We smelled like alien metal, so the animals generally gave us a wide berth. Now we’re just easy protein.” She looked up at the trees. “Just because we can fit ourselves into the ecosystem now doesn’t mean I have any interest in getting eaten.”
Tarantulas burst into Megatron’s quarters without preamble. “Megatron, there’s been an unexpected develo … ACK!”
Megatron looked down at himself, sitting in his bath, rubber duck cheerily floating on the surface, then back up to Tarantulas, who hid her face in her hands. He sighed. “Don’t tell me you’re modest.”
The scientist didn’t move her hands. “I’m not. But I’ve always been a bit of a sensualist, and I find it extremely disturbing to find you physically attractive. How about I just go into the hall and do my report over the comm? I really don’t want to think of you as anything more than an overbearing tyrant.”
“That is an unpleasant thought, yes,” Megatron agreed. “Leave. Give me five minutes.”
Tarantulas left gratefully, only letting her hands back to her sides when she heard the door slide shut behind her. The last thing she needed was to have her judgement clouded about Megatron, of all beings. Especially because of something as trivial as physical appearance.
Even if he was gorgeous. Tarantulas forced herself to think about the silly yellow duck instead.
A few minutes later, the door opened again. Megatron, now dressed at least, folded his arms across his chest and frowned down at her. “If this has anything to do with Inferno’s latest worries …”
“Same vague biological idea. Blackarachnia’s pregnant. Long story involving what her beast-mode was and over-charitable aliens. Don’t ask who the father is,” said Tarantulas. “There isn’t one. As near as I can tell, the child was based solely on Blackarachnia’s DNA. In essence, it will simply be a clone.” On one hand, if she wanted to go along with Blackarachnia’s wishes, she could probably perform an abortion quite easily. On the other, she was annoyed at her wayward creation for the attempted throttling and disobedience in general.
“Hm. Will this limit Blackarachnia’s effectiveness?”
“Not yet. I’ve raided the Maximals’ xenobiology files. Dinobot’s knowledge is useless in this instance.” As near as Tarantulas could tell, none of the crew had actually seen a real, live human before the change, but the Axalon’s database included the assorted species that were friendly to the Autobots. “Unfortunately, it isn’t much better than a minor encyclopaedia entry. Gestation should be two-hundred sixty-five days now, thereabouts. She can remain on active duty for a few months, at least. Fortunately, her skills are varied enough that she can be useful to us for the full term.”
“Good. You are dismissed, Tarantulas.” Megatron obviously wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a human offspring running around, but as long as it didn’t remove Blackarachnia from his dwindling crew, he wouldn’t complain about it. He would have to explain things to Inferno, though. It wouldn’t do for Inferno to decide that Blackarachnia was the Queen by the mere fact that she would procreate.
Once Megatron went back into his quarters, Tarantulas chuckled slightly. If she ever found herself angry at Megatron or just bored, Inferno had the potential to provide hours of amusement.
To be continued ...