There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
- Hamlet, ‘Hamlet’, Act II, scene ii
Every time he thought he had a piece of hard evidence, something that would tell him that, yes, time was not solid and he truly was in control of his life, something else would come up. These human bodies, for instance. Certainly this was new, or was not the way it was supposed to be, but …
Dinobot hissed to himself. Knowledge might be power, but there were times he regretted his study of this particular world. The more he checked his notes, the more he wondered if this was the way history had always been.
He tapped a few keys on the computer in his quarters, summoning up a screen full of text. He hadn’t told the others what he knew. Why bother? Who could he talk to? Who could understand?
None of them. Either they would tell him that his concerns were foolish, or they simply would be unable to comprehend them. And none had the cultural studies background he had.
How many mythologies had animals that could speak, for instance? And how many mythologies had powerful creatures from the sky, that held lightning in their eyes and shone like nothing that had ever been born from the dull earth? But then, the damage the Beast Wars caused to the planet happened deep in the past of the native dominants. It might have been a coincidence.
More disturbing were other legends, ones about creatures that looked human, but not quite. Creatures that were stronger than the natives, faster, and had impossible knowledge. Creatures capable of doing fantastic things in ways that mere mortals couldn’t understand.
“It might merely be the product of imagination,” Dinobot said to the screen. “All of these threads are common enough on many worlds. Were I to devote my time to comparing alien mythologies, I could find many parallels, I’m certain.
“And, on the other hand, it could be us.”
The problem was that there was no way to know. If he could change history, could he know that he did? Would he change with it, thinking it had always been?
Megatron had his own plan, Dinobot knew, and one that could not only restore their true forms but bring Cybertron under Predacon – or, more accurately, Decepticon – control. The problem was that the more Dinobot thought about it, the less he liked it. Sometimes the ends did not justify the means.
O my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!
- Ophelia, ‘Hamlet’, Act II, scene i
Waspinator, snuggled up against Terrorsaur, started awake. “Oops. Hi.”
“I’m pretty sure you weren’t here when I went to sleep,” said Terrorsaur, curious rather than accusatory. Despite the rumours – all of them started by Quickstrike – there was nothing between the two but friendship. They cuddled together to sleep sometimes, but it was out of a desire for the comfort of proximity rather than whatever it was Quickstrike thought. They hadn’t been able to figure out what he was getting at yet. Terrorsaur moved to lay on his side, mindful of Waspinator’s broken leg, and propped himself up on his elbow. “Not that I mind. Bad night?”
“No, just a … just a strange one.” Waspinator sighed, but it turned into a yawn. “I had this dream … It woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. It just … I woke up feeling so … alone. I knew you were only a few metres away, but it just wasn’t enough. Oh-h-h, I sound like an idiot!”
He shook his head. “I’m the last person to make fun of someone else’s nightmares, Waspy.”
“It wasn’t a nightmare. It was just an ordinary dream that made sense at the time but was total nonsense once I woke up. Thing is … I was human in it, Terr. I’ve always been a robot in my dreams before; helicopter or wasp or … or whatever, it doesn’t matter – I was a Transformer.” She shifted a bit, somehow slouching despite the fact that she was lying on her side. “It’s like … until then, I kept thinking this condition was only temporary. That we’d get our real forms back somehow.” Waspinator’s gaze had been downcast, but she brought it back to Terrorsaur’s face. “Has that happened to you yet?”
“A few times. You … get used to it.”
He sighed. “No.”
Terrorsaur got up and walked over to the mirror to brush his hair. Waspinator pulled herself to a sitting position, bending her undamaged leg to rest her arms on it. “It’s been two weeks since I … told you what I am, Terr. You haven’t mentioned it once or asked a single question about it since then.”
He shrugged, angling himself to watch her in the mirror. “You’re immortal, and now that your secret’s out, you’re terrified that someone’s going to do some experiments on you. What’s to ask?”
“My age, how long I’ve known, why I’ve never got beyond the rank of ‘cannon-fodder’ …”
“If you want to tell it, go ahead.”
Waspinator glared at him. “You aren’t even curious.”
The redhead turned back to her as he pulled on his boots. “Of course I’m curious. I thought our relationship was based on not prying.”
Waspinator slouched forward, resting her chin on her arms. “Amongst other things. Maybe we should start,” she mumbled.
“Nothing.” She frowned, then looked up. “Everyone else has been asking questions and treating me carefully, and you just keep going on like nothing’s different!”
Terrorsaur didn’t answer immediately, instead knelt down in front of his friend and looked at her levelly. “Don’t be stupid. You haven’t changed, Waspinator. Do you really want me to act as if you have?”
She stared back for a minute, then flung her arms around his neck. “Never.”
Terrorsaur helped Waspinator to her feet, then handed her crutches to her. “I’m yours this afternoon if you need me, but I’m doing fieldwork with Rhinox this morning. I’d drag you along with me, but …”
“… I’m in no shape to run around,” finished Waspinator. “I’m sure I can survive a few hours without you.”
Terrorsaur smiled. “I’ll be back soon.”
He finished putting on his jacket, and stepped out into the hall. Half a dozen steps later, distracted with pulling on his jacket, he walked right into Dinobot. Dinobot ignored the smaller man, merely stepped around him and continued on his way.
Behind the warrior’s back, Terrorsaur made a face, but didn’t say anything. He hadn’t been shoved or cursed at, and he didn’t want to push his luck. He had never liked Dinobot, and the feeling was quite mutual.
I will work him
To an exploit now ripe in my device,
Under which he shall not choose but fall.
- Claudius, ‘Hamlet’, Act IV, scene vii
No matter how many times it was explained to him, no matter how much proof was given, Quickstrike thought of himself as an organic. He didn’t even accept at an intellectual level that he was a robot, or meant to be one. With his damaged memory, the only life he’d known was the one that began when his stasis pod opened in the wasteland and he awoke in a shell of flesh. Megatron was fairly certain that Silverbolt felt the same way, though he hadn’t spent as much time with the other man. Silverbolt grated on his nerves somewhat. So did Quickstrike, come to think of it, but the dusty-blond tended to hang around Megatron when he had nothing else to do.
Megatron knew why – Quickstrike stuck by Megatron because Inferno could often be found in Megatron’s company. The Maximal seemed to have taken it into his head that he liked his women large, and Inferno, who was a fair bit bigger than him in every direction, certainly fit that criteria. Besides, every other woman in the crew was either spoken for, claimed to be spoken for, or attacked him when he got a bit too suggestive. Tarantulas had seemed receptive to his advances, up until the point where she bit him. It might have been meant nicely, but Quickstrike hadn’t been appreciative.
But Inferno was fair game. She wasn’t Megatron’s consort; the Predacon leader had made that clear. And if Inferno wasn’t being encouraging, nor was she being discouraging. Of course, this was only because she didn’t understand what Quickstrike was hinting at. Because Inferno, no matter what form she wore, still thought like an ant.
She didn’t think she was an ant. She had at first, they told Quickstrike, but it had eventually been worked into her head that she was not a true insect but a robot who simply looked like one. However, she still saw the world through ant terms. Quickstrike apparently decided she was just playing hard to get.
Scorponok thought the whole situation was hilarious.
“I do wish you would stop encouraging him.”
The Predacon leader and second-in-command were sharing a large, flat rock within sight of the Axalon, watching Inferno and Quickstrike spar some distance away. To be fair, Inferno was diligently demonstrating her fighting technique, while Quickstrike was probably thinking of things that had nothing to do with Inferno’s combat skills. Scorponok just smiled. “It keeps Quickstrike away from the other women. And it keeps Inferno from getting bored.”
“It keeps Inferno away from me, you mean,” said Megatron. “I do appreciate the effort at times, yes, but there must be a better way than to let Quickstrike at her.”
“She can take care of herself.”
“Hmm. You are aware, Scorponok, that while Inferno is an excellent subordinate, she is too servile to be a friend.”
Scorponok made a non-committal noise, still watching Inferno and Quickstrike. “‘Servile’? Even Terrorsaur never demanded as much attention as she does.”
“Her entire existence is bent to pleasing me. Flattering, of course, but she lives for praise.” Megatron peered at Scorponok out of the corner of his eye. “Amazing how one so strong can be so insecure.”
The shorter man glanced over at his leader. Megatron smirked at him and swung down from his perch. “Go rescue Inferno before Quickstrike does something he’ll come to regret. She’s no threat to you. Now, we both have work to do today, yes …”
Hamlet: What news?
Rosencrantz: None, my lord, but that the world’s grown honest.
Hamlet: Then is doomsday near.
- ‘Hamlet’, Act II, scene ii
He couldn’t let Megatron’s plans continue, but neither could he tell the other Maximals about it. He had gone behind their backs, helped Megatron for selfish reasons, and now was certain that he had been in error for doing so. He had never truly gained the full trust of the Maximals, and to confess his betrayal would be to lose that again. That, and Dinobot hated admitting mistakes.
He needed a plan. If he could wreck Megatron’s scheme without attracting the attention of the Maximals, there wasn’t anything Megatron could really do about it. Certainly Megatron couldn’t complain to the Maximals without admitting to his own plot. And if he did that to try to get Dinobot in trouble … well, Dinobot could claim it was all part of his plan to stop Megatron in the first place …
Startled, Dinobot spun to face the one who hailed him, but relaxed immediately when he realised who it was. “Silverbolt. Do not sneak up on me.”
Silverbolt bowed slightly. “Sorry. It is difficult to walk loudly in leather-soled boots.”
From anyone else, it would have been sarcasm. Dinobot let it go; shouting at Silverbolt was like kicking something small and defenceless. “What do you want?”
“I would ask for a practice session … if, of course, you are not busy,” said Silverbolt.
He wasn’t busy, not yet, and action helped him think. He said, “You spend much of your time in training.”
It was true. It had been raining for the last several days, and generally, if Dinobot wasn’t in the combat simulation room, Silverbolt was. Still, the computer had limits, and a live opponent was always a better teacher. Silverbolt shrugged slightly. “Those are the skills I have.”
Which pretty much summed up the younger man – he wasn’t entirely certain who he was or why he was there, but he knew how to fight. He simply accepted that he was a warrior, and if that was what he was, he would be the best warrior he could be. He never questioned his role. Dinobot couldn’t decide if Silverbolt was just stupid, or if the tracker somehow understood that asking too many questions could be painful.
So Dinobot merely nodded, then turned to seek the nearest exit, Silverbolt following. Dinobot wasn’t sure why he put up with the younger Maximal; he wasn’t used to dealing with anyone so innocent. Still, the tracker was a good student, non-argumentative, quick and eager to learn. It was probably better for Silverbolt to be spending time with him rather than around those who might try to warp him to their own purposes.
It was a bit worrisome the way Silverbolt latched on to certain people. Quickstrike was just as young, just as naïve, but at least he stood up for himself. Silverbolt wanted to please those around him – a rather dangerous mindset when one lived alongside Predacons. He did spend a considerable amount of time around Tarantulas and Blackarachnia, come to think of it …
What Silverbolt really needed was a proper mentor, someone who had the time to fill his mind and keep him occupied, to teach him what it meant to be a Maximal.
He glanced over his shoulder, though he didn’t need to. Silverbolt was still following him like a trained pet, the light of hero-worship in his eyes.
Dinobot really wished the man had found someone else to look up to.
What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable!
- Hamlet, ‘Hamlet’, Act II, scene ii
Cheetor glanced up from the monitors long enough to ascertain the identity of the person who had just walked into the control room … though ‘walked’ might have been the wrong term, he couldn’t think of a better one offhand. “Hey, Waspy. What’re you up to this morning? I have to sign you in,” he finished, tapping at his console to back up his words.
“I’m still off active duty, so right now I’m either spying or keeping whoever’s on shift company, at least until Terrorsaur gets back,” said Waspinator, settling herself into a chair and laying her crutches across her lap. “Your choice.”
Cheetor smirked. “I’ll take ‘company’, thanks.”
“Good. I always was a lousy spy.” After a minute, she asked, “Is … um … he anywhere around?”
The Maximal tapped a code into the computer. He knew who she meant. “He’s still within scanning range, maybe a half-day’s walk to the east.” Megatron and Tarantulas had shot Rampage through with some sort of inhibitors, as well as a tracking beacon. Originally, Megatron had the control device in his possession, but Optimus had made the Predacon give it to him. Beyond the inhibitors, no one could think of any good way to control or confine Rampage, so they let him go. In the two weeks since then, he hadn’t returned to the Axalon, but he never strayed very far, either. “I’m sorry, Waspy.”
“That he’s still in range of the sensors?”
Cheetor waved a hand at the room in general. “For the whole Protoform X mess.”
“You had nothing to do with it,” Waspinator reminded him. “You didn’t even know until we found him.”
“Yeah, well, apologies on behalf of the Maximals in general.”
The door to the main body of the ship opened, admitting Tarantulas, who was idly rubbing her jaw. “Whatever you do, don’t comment on Blackarachnia’s new outfit.”
Cheetor raised an eyebrow. “She looks that bad?”
“No, she’s just feeling touchy that her jumpsuit was getting a bit tight and she had to trade it in for something in a more relaxed fit.” The Predacon scientist sat down in a chair near the lifts with an air of nonchalant waiting.
The door opened again. Optimus walked over to Cheetor’s console. “What’s the weather report?”
“First dry day in the last several, and it looks like it will hold,” reported the blond. “So far most of the crew seem to be taking advantage of it.” Optimus leaned over his shoulder to call up the duty roster.
The lift hissed to a stop just as the alarm wailed to life. Megatron stepped off of the elevator and glared. “I have nothing to do with this!”
Cheetor shut the alarm off. “He’s right – it’s the base’s proximity alarm going off. We’ve got something coming in fast.”
“Gimme a sec, Optimus, all I know is that it’s one of the hoverpads …” He tapped a few more keys, then, “It’s Airazor, and she’s in a big hurry.”
Moments later, Airazor jumped into the control room before the lift even finished its ascent. “Optimus, everyone, you will never guess what I found!” The scout grinned before addressing the group. “I found other people. Well, something like us, anyway. I’m no biologist.”
As she spoke, she dug into her satchel and took out a scanner. She then popped the datadisc out of it and tossed it to Cheetor. “I’ve got pictures, too.”
Cheetor caught the datadisc and moved his chair to the central table to activate it. Waiting, Optimus asked, “Did they see you?”
“No,” said Airazor. “Or, if they did, they didn’t make any sign of it.”
“And – we have a visual!” Cheetor scooted back a bit to let the others see the holographic screen.
It was a fairly simple picture: six or seven hominids in a green valley, going about their day – and, once in a while, Airazor’s hand as she moved a leaf or branch out of the way. Apparently this was where the creatures lived; scattered bones and other small signs attested to that.
“If those are hu … those can’t be what we are,” said Waspinator. “Look – the proportions are all off.”
“We were never meant to fit in,” murmured Tarantulas. Cheetor looked at her, but she shrugged and pretended she didn’t say anything.
“I wonder how these guys will develop,” said Cheetor, deciding that Tarantulas was just being strange again. “Hey, if transwarp technology becomes more common, we could follow the development of races over time. Wouldn’t that be neat?”
After a few minutes, the video looped back to the beginning. Airazor shrugged. “I would have stayed longer, but I didn’t want to risk getting caught. I’ve got the co-ordinates for their camp, so you science-types can go back and do a real investigation, Optimus.”
“There’s an idea,” Optimus agreed. “Studying these ones might give us a few clues about our own forms, even if they are different.”
Megatron and Tarantulas had slipped out of the control room. Cheetor noticed, but beside Airazor’s discovery, he couldn’t bring himself to worry about it.
Diseases desperate grown
By desperate appliance are reliev’d
Or not at all.
- Claudius, ‘Hamlet’, Act IV, scene iii
“How goes the data recovery?” Tarantulas and Megatron had retreated to the relative privacy of Megatron’s quarters. Of the Predacons, only Megatron, Scorponok, and Tarantulas knew that the original Golden Disc was back in Predacon hands.
The Predacon leader sat back in his chair, then jumped when something let out a loud squeak of protest. Frowning, he reached behind himself and retrieved his rubber duck. Inferno had probably been cleaning again. “Slowly, Tarantulas. The Maximals watch me too closely to do the work myself, and Scorponok simply hasn’t all the skills required.”
“I do. I could speed up the process …” Tarantulas wheedled.
“The Maximals trust Scorponok. They don’t trust you. Neither do I.” He settled back in his chair, idly setting the duck on his lap so he could steeple his fingers. “I hate to admit it, but Airazor’s little discovery does raise an interesting point. We don’t fit in here. Why?”
“Because we’re temporary,” said Tarantulas. “These aliens deal in geologic eras, and as humans, we’re not going to last that long. Letting us run around their experiment as warrior robots with heavy weapons and indefinite lifespans would have been too dangerous, but as humans … Waiting fifty or sixty years for us to die of natural causes is nothing to them.”
“Aren’t they worried we might …” Megatron paused, searching for the correct word. “Breed. Yes. Perpetuate ourselves.”
Tarantulas shrugged, trying her best to ignore the fact that she was having an important discussion with a man who had a squeaky bath-toy perched on his leg. “With each other? Our group might just be big enough if we all agreed to it, which we wouldn’t. Even if we used our cloning technology, we wouldn’t be adding any new genetic material to the mix. And would you want to mate with one of the native dominants?”
“No need to be vulgar, Tarantulas.”
“See? You’re disgusted.” Tarantulas shook her head. “No, the aliens were counting on us not thinking like true organics. We only care about our personal survival, not in the survival of our, hrm, species.”
“Do be honest, Megatron – would you rather have children and spend your life tending to them so that your genetic material will continue to circulate, or would you rather live your life for yourself?”
The Predacon leader frowned. “We are not exactly a species, Tarantulas, no. I do not care if we are the last.”
“Which is exactly what the aliens predicted,” said Tarantulas. “And even I don’t hate them enough to get myself pregnant just to annoy them. I’ll leave that sort of thing for Blackarachnia, even if the act of mating itself might be fun …” She stopped that thought before it could get any farther, remembering just who she was talking to. Megatron was an arrogant, pompous tyrant, but he was also a disturbingly attractive one.
“There must be some way we can use this,” Megatron said, ignoring Tarantulas’ little internal struggle. “Perhaps … We could destroy the valley,” he said slowly. “We could set charges … We could destroy the human race right here. Without their human allies, the Autobots would lose one of their advantages over the Decepticons …”
Tarantulas shook her head, glad for something else to think about. “I would advise against that, Megatron. The aliens changed us so we wouldn’t harm their little project. Destroying the proto-humans would certainly fall under the category of ‘harm’. Besides, there can’t possibly be only one group of them. That would be far too convenient.”
“Unfortunate.” If Megatron didn’t trust Tarantulas about anything else, he trusted her judgements about the aliens. He had no idea where the scientist got her information, but it was the best he had. It was an advantage that Tarantulas fully intended to push some day.
“Though … perhaps they won’t mind if just one goes missing,” said Tarantulas hopefully. “Scans can only tell so much …”
“If the Maximals catch you, I take no responsibility for you.”
The scientist smirked. “You have such wonderful ways of granting permission, Megatron. I’ll be back in a few days. If anyone absolutely needs to know, I’ll be in my lair. Tell them I have … hmm … special deep-scanning equipment there or somesuch that can’t be moved.”
The time is out of joint. O cursed sprite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
- Hamlet, ‘Hamlet’, Act I, scene v
The excitement had ended a little while ago and the control room had cleared out, leaving Cheetor and Waspinator to guard the base and try to steal the Maximals’ secrets, respectively.
Except for the small fact that neither were doing their jobs. With no pressing business, Cheetor had called up one of Rattrap’s many computer games, and now he and Waspinator were quite happily caught up in beating the slag out of each other – as Optimus and Inferno. Rattrap tended to program his games to include people he knew, and this side-scroller fighting game gave the option of playing any of the Maximals and Predacons.
A brown, striped hand reached between the two and shut off the screen. “This is your idea of defending the base?” Dinobot asked Cheetor.
The blond blinked in surprise. “What, against Waspy?”
“She may just be a … distraction.”
“I am not,” huffed Waspinator.
“Besides, we have a truce,” Silverbolt cut in, as if the truce made any sort of treachery impossible. “I cannot believe you are both in here instead of enjoying this lovely day.”
“Getting beat up by Dinobot isn’t what I’d call fun,” said Cheetor. “Besides, I’m on duty for the next twenty minutes.”
Waspinator shrugged. “I’d like to be out, but I’m waiting for Terrorsaur.” Even though the scanners still reported that Rampage was hours away, she didn’t want to be outside alone, especially not with her broken leg.
“Give me twenty minutes and we can go wait outside,” said Cheetor.
The Predacon smiled. Silverbolt turned to the door into the body of the ship. “If you would all excuse me, I intend to take a shower before Inferno arrives.” With a slight bow, he left.
“Hey, ‘Bolt, wait … Ah, forget it. He’ll hear it later,” said Cheetor.
“Something happened while we were out?” asked Dinobot.
Cheetor grinned. “Oh, yeah. Just play the datadisc currently in the viewer and I’ll tell you about it.”
A sister driven into desp’rate terms,
Whose worth, if praises may go back again,
Stood challenger on mount of all the age
For her perfections.
- Laertes, ‘Hamlet’, Act IV, scene vi
There was silence and there was silence. Primus knew Rhinox appreciated the quiet, but right now there was something oppressive about it. He glanced over at Terrorsaur, caught up in his own work several metres away … though ‘caught up in’ wasn’t the right term. Terrorsaur was edgy and distracted, and it radiated from his lean form, filling the silence with tension. Rhinox could guess what it was about, but also knew he had put off this conversation too long because the Predacon was difficult to deal with. “Mind if I ask you a few questions about Waspinator?”
Rhinox sighed. “I know it’s a touchy subject with you. I am trying to help her, Terrorsaur.”
The Predacon snorted. “That’s why you wouldn’t let her out of the lab for a week.”
“It was for her own good,” said Rhinox. “I’ve never had to fix a broken bone before, and I didn’t want to take any chances before I understood how it worked.”
“And those tests you run on her every day?”
“Are to track the healing process. And you insist on being around to watch me do it. What did you think I was doing?” Then, a bit quieter, “What’s this all about, Terrorsaur?”
Terrorsaur turned and glared at the scientist. “Waspy joined Megatron’s crew because she had heard rumours of the Maximal immortality experiments and was terrified she’d end up on a lab table somewhere!” he snapped. “She was running from you!”
“I wasn’t one of the scientists on the project,” frowned Rhinox. “And Optimus was an observer who disagreed with the whole idea. Why do you think he was the one sent to dispose of Rampage?”
Both stopped and looked away, having said too much. Terrorsaur shook his head. “She’s my friend, so I protect her. I … I owe her that much.”
“I’ve been lousy to her.” Terrorsaur sighed. “She wasn’t always the greatest friend, either. Not the usual Predacon infighting; that was a game. We used each other, badly, taking from each other without really giving anything back. Sometimes one of us would open up, just a little, and the other would be there, listening and supportive. But then we’d close up again. We both had our own secrets …”
He shrugged. “But ever since the change … We’re stuck in these fragile little bodies … We need each other, we always did, but now … She’s scared. I have a responsibility to her.”
His voice suddenly regained its edge. “For all the good I do. I let her out of my sight for a day, and she’s injured, terrorised by a Maximal science experiment, then trapped in the lab you so you lot can study her and try to come up with a way to solve the problem of the aforementioned Maximal science experiment!”
The Predacon trailed off with an exasperated snarl. After a minute, he asked, “Have you ever been to Betacron?”
His tone was aggressively neutral. Rhinox said, truthfully, “No.”
Terrorsaur nodded absently. “Beautiful city. Just don’t look too close.”
Let them be well used; for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time.
- Hamlet, ‘Hamlet’, Act II, scene ii
He had time to think and to learn, and now it was time to act.
The Disc had to be destroyed, much as he wished he could have learned from it. But now, with Airazor’s proto-humans added into the mix …
Dinobot was nothing if not adaptable.
He tapped a code into the outside panel of one of the doors into the Predacon base, which obligingly opened. Of course the codes had been changed after he … left … but he still had a few tricks. Once inside, he found an access panel and typed another sequence. Hack complete, Dinobot looked up. “Computer, what is Scorponok’s location?”
The computer told him. Dinobot smiled to himself and set off silently down the corridor.
Of all the Predacons, Scorponok was the one the Maximals trusted the most. Despite the fact that he was Megatron’s friend and second-in-command, his introverted manner and genuine desire to be useful won him a few privileges … such as being allowed to work more-or-less unsupervised in the Predacon base. The computers were monitored, of course, but not all the computers were wired into the main system.
And even then, Scorponok was just a go-between. Megatron probably did all the real work back at the Axalon, then simply sent Scorponok to input the data at the Predacon base and collect the updated information. It wasn’t a very efficient system, but it was the safest workable one.
Except for one little variable …
The door slid open with the hiss of pneumatics. “Scorponok.”
Scorponok took a step back, but was blocked by the computer console. “Dinobot! What are you doing here? How did you get in?”
“To answer your second question, I’ve had a few overrides from my days as third in command saved for an emergency,” said Dinobot. “To answer the first, I’ve come to stop you.”
The Predacon second growled. “Megatron took you back too easily. Can’t you just pick a side and stick with it?”
“My ideals remain the same.”
“You always did have a weird idea of honour.”
Dinobot took another step forward. “Megatron does not care about testing the Disc, does he? He will simply charge headlong into this plan without any thought that it may not work.”
“He’s thought it through,” said Scorponok. “It will work.”
“You have no proof,” Dinobot reminded him. “And if it does work, it is both a risky and dishonourable plan.”
Scorponok nodded. “It’s risky. But is it any more honourable than what the Autobots did to us? If we didn’t hold off Unicron for as long as we did, the Autobots wouldn’t have had a Cybertron to swoop in and save! We were decimated by that battle!”
“We, personally, were on a frontier world, trying to quell a rebellion of the native dominants,” Dinobot reminded him. “We had no idea that Unicron even existed until the news that the Autobots had won the war had reached us, and we were all called back. We, in fact, had never so much as seen an Autobot or Cybertron before the recall.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do. But the Autobots saw an opportunity and took it. It was … perhaps unfair, but not dishonourable,” said Dinobot.
The technician snorted. “Hnh. And turning us Predacons into second-class citizens?”
“We would rise up against our oppressors, given time, and faced them in fair combat,” Dinobot told him. “That is what we had been working towards.”
“We don’t have any other choice! He didn’t want to do it this way – you weren’t around, you wouldn’t know – but we’re out of options now! We can’t get off-planet, and even if we could send a signal, we haven’t got any allies to help us … even if we didn’t look like this!” Scorponok finished, giving Dinobot a shove in the chest for emphasis. “Megatron was the driving force behind the rebellion you wanted, and now all of us are stuck here! We have to do it this way!”
Dinobot nodded, listening patiently. “Are you finished?”
Scorponok paused. “Erm … I think so.”
The warrior grabbed him by the front of his shirt and threw him aside. “There is no glory in an uprising that no one will ever know about, and there is no honour in destroying a helpless enemy.” He opened the clamps holding the Disc in place where the computer was scanning it.
At a sound beside him, Dinobot struck out with his foot, smashing Scorponok’s wrist – and the commlink wrapped around it – against the wall. Scorponok bit back his cry of pain and glared up at his ex-comrade. “Not fast enough. I’ve already signalled Megatron.”
“It will take time for him to arrive,” said Dinobot, taking the small hand-laser from Scorponok’s belt.
He turned back to his work, leaving Scorponok seated by the wall, cradling his wrist. “I can’t beat you in a fight,” agreed the Predacon.
Without warning, Scorponok lunged to his feet, grabbed Dinobot by the hair, and pulled him back and off-balance to punch him in the jaw. “But I can stall you.”
“You are a fool.”
“And you’re a traitor.”
With that, Predacon and ex-Predacon threw themselves at each other. Scorponok didn’t even think to try to regain his weapon, so Dinobot didn’t draw his sword. If it did nothing else, humanity levelled the playing field. Dinobot was still the stronger and faster of the two, but, human, the gap wasn’t so large. What should have been over with a shove and a blast of optic lasers was turning out to be a fight of some challenge.
One that Scorponok couldn’t possibly win. It was only a matter of time.
Still, determination alone wasn’t enough. This time, Scorponok fell and didn’t get up again. Dinobot returned his attention to the Disc.
He could take it back to the Axalon … except Megatron would undoubtedly get his hands on it again. It would have to be destroyed. The alien Disc he would take with him. He might need a bargaining chip some day.
Dinobot ducked out, found a munitions locker, and returned with a small bomb that could destroy the room. Scorponok was still unconscious on the floor when he returned. Dinobot set the timer, placed the explosive on the computer, then left, closing the door behind him.
Four steps down the hall, he paused and turned back.
Cursing himself for either being too tied to his ex-comrades or for being soft, Dinobot went back into the room to rescue Scorponok.
Must there no more be done?
- Laertes, ‘Hamlet’, Act V, scene i
Morning shift completed, Rhinox and Terrorsaur headed back to the Axalon. “We’re out of plants, Rhinox. I’m certain we’ve catalogued all those before.”
“Plants change as the seasons progress,” Rhinox reminded him. “The changes need to be tracked as well.”
Rhinox idly tapped a few buttons on his scanner to review the day’s work. “At least we’ve caught up on the data-entry, so adding this shouldn’t take too long.”
“Ugh. We’re caught up because I’ve been typing for the last five days,” said Terrorsaur. He hated being cooped up in the Axalon, but he hated rain even more, so he had opted for indoor work. “Besides, I told Waspy I’d hang out with her this afternoon.”
Rhinox considered pointing out that data entry was just as important as the fieldwork itself, but didn’t bother. There was no real hurry to get it done. That, and at the mention of Waspinator, Terrorsaur’s tension returned. If the two of them had something to sort out, Rhinox wasn’t going to get in the way.
Something rushed by overhead, causing both to instinctively duck. Rhinox squinted, trying to make out the figure on the hoversled. “It’s Megatron. Where’s he going so fast?”
“Like I know,” said Terrorsaur.
“The Predacon base is in that direction.”
“So are a lot of places,” Terrorsaur pointed out. “Besides, he’s got the ‘sled. Even if he’s up to something, who could catch up with him?”
Nor do we find him forward to be sounded,
But with a crafty madness keeps aloof
When we would bring him on to some confession
Of his true state.
- Guildenstern, ‘Hamlet’, Act III, scene i
“He’s a total gearhead,” said Rattrap.
“Dinobot is an honourable, skilled warrior,” said Silverbolt. “There is much I can learn from him.”
“You could learn how to be a gearhead? Still, I guess there’s worse people you could be hanging around.” Rattrap paused in poking at the computer console to glance sideways at his team mate. “Like Blackarachnia, f’rinstance.”
The tracker drew himself up. “In her condition, she needs someone to watch over her. As no one else seems to think this way …”
“Including the ‘widow herself,” said Rattrap. “Probably for the best that someone’s keeping an eye on her. Probably not so good that it’s you. She’s a tricky one, ‘Bolt, and you ain’t got the experience to deal with that. She doesn’t seem so ‘delicate’, anyway. Who told you she was? Rhinox?”
“Sigh. ‘Bolt, never listen to spiders.” The shorter man turned back to the computer as it beeped. “Megs grabbed the hoversled and took off about twenty-five minutes ago. He went straight to the Pred base, didn’t use the computers there, and is now on his way back, hence why I called you up here. Whatever Megatron is up to can’t be good, and I want back-up.”
Silverbolt blinked. “But they are not spiders.”
“Try to keep up, ‘Bolt.”
The tracker switched mental gears. “Did anyone think to ask Megatron what he was doing?”
“I radioed him when he left,” said Rattrap. “He told me to shut up. Now get ready – here he comes.”
Whatever Rattrap was expecting, it wasn’t that Megatron would return with Scorponok draped unconscious over his shoulder. Silverbolt was by his side in an instant. “Is he badly injured? What happened?”
“Dinobot happened,” spat Megatron. “And when I get my hands on him …”
The door cut off the rest of the threat as Megatron vanished into the depths of the Axalon. Rattrap and Silverbolt exchanged glances. “We’d better find him before Megs does.”
“Agreed.” Silverbolt bit his lip. “Scorponok was at the Predacon base, correct? If Dinobot was there, we should start our search at …”
Rattrap was already at the computer. “Nice thought, but we got tracking beacons in the hoverpads.”
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou com’st in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee.
- Hamlet, ‘Hamlet’, Act I, scene iv
He had studied the cultures of a dozen Autobot-allied worlds. Even without the Golden Disc they had stolen from Cybertron, he knew this planet.
Dinobot carried the alien Disc in a makeshift backpack – he didn’t want to leave it at the Predacon base. He would simply take it out into the wilds and hide it. The hoverpad he had abandoned some time ago. The others would find it, but unlike the platform, they wouldn’t bring him back. Too many mistakes had been made, too many bridges burned. It was time to leave.
He hissed through his teeth. “I’m taking the coward’s way out.”
He frowned. “I have done what I believe was right,” he told himself sternly. “The others, Maximal and Predacon alike, could not understand what needed – and still needs – to be done. I can turn the odds in the favour of my people … but it will take time. I studied this world’s culture. Now I can use it.
“Perhaps we are the legends.”
If he remembered Airazor’s maps correctly, the proto-human tribe lived somewhere nearby … but he would not look for these. No, the others would want to study the creatures, and would know if Dinobot was there. But there had to be other tribes of the proto-humans, and he would start there, telling his own stories and planting the seeds of a mythology that would be passed down over the millennia … and leave the native dominants open to Decepticon rule.
The plan was insane, but currently it was all he had. Caught up in his internal arguments, he almost walked right into the alien.
It hung in the air, silent, waiting. It looked something like a hominid skull, but far too large, and glowing as if it was made of shaped light. There was no wind, but its strange hair drifted as though in a breeze. Surprised, Dinobot took a step back. “What …”
It said, Your carry our beacon.
Dinobot half-glanced behind himself. “The Disc. You are one of the aliens.”
It said, The Experiment is ours. You are the alien.
It said, This place is forbidden to you. Tell the others.
“They mean no harm. They wish only to observe.”
It said, You do not.
“I am a warrior,” said Dinobot. “A conqueror. I will adopt this race and lead them to glory.”
It said, This must not be done.
It said, You will ruin the Experiment.
“I do not care about your work.”
It said, Mercy was extended. If you continue on your path, you will be destroyed.
“I will continue. Come for me, then.”
The alien regarded him for a long moment, as if considering its next move. “Come for me!” shouted Dinobot, slinging the Disc from his back and letting it fall heavily to the ground. “Fight me! I threaten your foolish project! I will alter the destiny of a world to prove that I can!”
It said, Go back to your kind. Live.
“‘Live’? To what end? For what purpose? To grow weak and die in a rotting shell of flesh, to be forgotten, to have no choice?” Dinobot snarled and settled back into a crouch. “I do not seek immortality, creature. I only wish to be the master of my own fate.” The whole conversation gave him an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu, as if it had been rehearsed and now he and the alien were just saying their lines.
It hung in the air, silent, waiting.
“Very well. If I must go through you to achieve my goal, I will.”
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember.
And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.
- Ophelia, ‘Hamlet’, Act IV, scene v
“That cloud looks like a Gamma-Class Lightrunner Strikeship.”
“Now you’re making stuff up.”
“They were used by the Autobots in the Second War,” said Waspinator primly. “And you cheat, too. How am I supposed to know what ‘Skyblade’s unfinished touch-sculpture, Sphere in a Wind Tunnel’ looks like?”
Terrorsaur, standing a few metres away, shrugged. Waspinator sat up, brushing a few strands of grass from her hair. “You seemed okay this morning. Why are you suddenly so sulky? Rhinox step on your foot?”
“Cheetor’s flirting with you.”
“Oh, is that it?” Waspinator lay back on the grass, tucking her hands behind her head. “He isn’t. Besides, you flirt with Quickstrike.”
“That’s different,” said Terrorsaur. “Quickstrike isn’t interested.”
“And I’m interested in Cheetor?” snapped Waspinator.
“How should I know?” asked Terrorsaur. “He’s always hanging around you, anyway.”
Waspinator rolled her eyes at him. “I think he’s trying a ‘Befriend A Predacon’ project and I seemed the least likely to smack him for it. And I think he feels sorry for me.” She frowned. “You’re jealous.”
“I’m not jealous.”
“Terrorsaur, we don’t have time for this!” She released a sigh of exasperation, then, quieter, “If we’re stuck like this …”
He plunked himself down on the grass beside her. “Megatron will solve this. Or Tarantulas will, and Megatron will beat the answer out of her. Or one of the Maximals will think of something – things always seem to go their way.”
“But if they don’t …” Waspinator looked away. “I want to … dissolve the Code, Terr.”
She turned to him. “The Code of Silence. You know, never prying, never asking any questions for fear that you’d drive the other away. Slaggit, we both do it, Terr! I don’t want to end up in a fight just because one of us jumped to conclusions!”
Terrorsaur shook his head as comprehension dawned. “I always called it the ‘Unspoken Agreement’.”
Waspinator chuckled. “Okay, when we don’t even know what the other refers to the ground rules as, I think we’ve taken the whole respect for privacy thing a bit too far …”
How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!
- Hamlet, ‘Hamlet’, Act III, scene iv
He refused to think about what he was doing or his surroundings. If he thought, he would hesitate, and then who knew what would happen? So he tackled Dinobot.
Dinobot struck out, catching him across the face and knocking him away. The warrior rolled to his feet and growled. “You?”
“I told you I was keeping an eye on you, fenderhead,” Rattrap retorted from the ground, rubbing his cheek where he was struck. “C’mon back quietly, okay? I don’t want you hurt.”
“I wouldn’t worry for me, rodent,” hissed Dinobot, readying his sword. “And I do not care if you are harmed. Now get out of my way!”
Rattrap could practically feel the alien hovering behind him. He fought the impulse to turn; he hadn’t got a good look at it when he arrived, and he didn’t want to change that. Instead, he focused his attention on his team mate. “No.”
Dinobot raised his sword. Rattrap flinched, but didn’t move. He was pretty sure Dinobot wouldn’t actually use it on him. Punch him out, sure, but he wouldn’t use a weapon …
The warrior prepared his strike, hesitated for the slightest instant … and collapsed when a brown fist struck him in the back of the head. Rattrap let out a breath of relief. “About time, ‘Bolt!”
“I was … The creature … I …” Silverbolt blinked suddenly. “It’s gone!”
Rattrap risked the glance behind himself. The alien had vanished as if it had never been. “Thank Primus. C’mon, ‘Bolt, pull yourself together. First I need you to help strap the Disc to my hoverpad, then we’ll need to figure out some way to carry the moron.” He was being unfair to Silverbolt and he knew it – Rattrap couldn’t even bring himself to look at the alien, and he couldn’t blame Silverbolt for getting scared. Still, he needed the tracker’s help.
Silverbolt, rubbing his hand, shook his head sadly. “That was a dishonourable tactic.”
“We’ll argue about that later,” said Rattrap. “After we get Dinobot back to the Axalon.”
The single and peculiar life is bound
With all the strength and armour of the mind
To keep itself from noyance, but much more
That spirit upon whose weal depends and rests
The lives of many.
- Rosencrantz, ‘Hamlet’, Act III, scene iii
Quickstrike was lounging on his pallet, skimming through the Axalon’s logs again – he knew they were important, but to him they read like fiction rather than history – when the door to his quarters opened and his roommate dragged himself in. He set the datapad aside and sat up. “‘Bolt? You okay, pal?”
Silverbolt shuddered as if cold, then sank down on his pallet in a miserable pile of buckskin and feathers. “I … I do not know. Something is the matter with Dinobot. He … has betrayed both sides. Rattrap and I brought him back, but I do not know … Why did he do this?”
“Tarnation, ‘Bolt, how should I know?”
The tracker went on as if he hadn’t heard him. “Dinobot is a soldier, first, last, and always. And I … I am a warrior and nothing more.” Silverbolt let out his breath in a ragged sigh. “Will I eventually become like him if there is no one to fight? How do you handle it, Quickstrike?”
“Well …” To be honest, Quickstrike had considered the question before, and hadn’t liked the answers. So he simply refused to think about it. “Mostly I find other stuff to do.”
Silverbolt chuckled faintly. “I think I would not be suited to your hobbies, friend.”
“Good. I wouldn’t want you as competition anyway,” grinned Quickstrike.
Silverbolt managed to smile a few seconds longer, but couldn’t hold it. “I … I looked up to him, Quickstrike. I thought I could follow his example. But he … I do not understand …”
He pulled his cloak a bit tighter around his shoulders. “Perhaps … perhaps Inferno has the right idea.”
If nothing else, the name immediately caught Quickstrike’s attention. “How so?”
“She too is a warrior only, but she has purpose. She serves Megatron.”
“And drives him nuts,” Quickstrike reminded him.
Silverbolt made a non-committal noise and fell silent. Quickstrike returned to his reading.
A little more than kin, and less than kind.
- Hamlet, ‘Hamlet’, Act I, scene ii
“Real smooth, Dinobot,” said Rattrap. “Way to get everyone mad at you.”
“I do not care.”
Rattrap poked the warrior in the shoulder. Dinobot was more-or-less under house arrest and confined to his quarters. Currently he was lying face-down on his bunk, doing his best to ignore his team mate. “You know what ticks me off? I knew you were up to no good, and instead of stopping you I thought, ‘Nah, Dinobot’s our friend. He’s not up to anything. I’m just being paranoid’. Peh.”
Dinobot ignored him. Rattrap threw his hands in the air. “But that’s right – you don’t care. You don’t care that you’ve got the Preds angry again. You don’t care that you betrayed us. Lucky you got to snooze while we hauled your sorry butt back here. You didn’t have to try to answer Silverbolt’s questions … Okay, so he only had one – ‘Why?’ Just that, all the way back here. ‘Why, Rattrap? How could he do this? What about his honour? Why?’”
“I could explain, but you wouldn’t understand,” grumbled Dinobot.
“Ooh, now there’s an understatement.” Rattrap pushed the chair back roughly, stood, and started for the door. “Though, y’know, I don’t really care what your explanation is. It’s Optimus you’re gonna have to win over. And Silverbolt. He looked up to you, you know.”
The warrior actually sounded regretful. Rattrap almost questioned him about that, but was still too angry, and simply stomped out. Optimus was on his way back to the Axalon and would deal with Dinobot. Rattrap had better things to do, and set off to do them.
He glanced up as irate, determined footsteps brought Megatron around the corner. Instead of simply walking by, though, the Predacon picked him up by the front of his shirt. “Where is that traitor?”
“You wanna kill him, you get in line!”
Megatron snarled, but dropped him. Rattrap dusted himself off and set his clothing back to rights. “And we might just have a few questions for you as well. Peh, I knew you Preds weren’t gonna behave, but no one listens to the rat.”
“You’ll get your answers when I get Dinobot’s head,” snapped Megatron.
“Optimus has already called it,” Rattrap informed him. “There might still be an arm or something available, though.”
“I have prior claim, yes! I do not care what symbol he wears or what he thinks he stands for, Dinobot is mine!” The final word was emphasised by Megatron’s fist smashing into the corridor wall. Weeks ago this would have caused a dent in the rough metal, but now all the Predacon did was hurt his hand. The pain seemed to jolt him back to reality, though. “He was a friend, once.”
Rattrap raised an eyebrow. “I thought you hated him.”
“That’s why. The betrayal of a friend is harder to take than the treachery of a person one doesn’t care about.” Megatron inspected his knuckles and wiped some of the blood away. “Scorponok may come by later, if he calms down enough. He was our third.”
“We’re talking ‘subgroup’, right?”
“The Procellacons. Yes.”
“Hnh. Almost a pretty name.”
“If you say so.”
The Maximal stuffed his hands into his pockets and kicked at a bit of debris. “Ah-h-h, why’m I talking to you?”
Megatron shrugged. “Currently we share a common … interest. Yes. And you started it.”
The Predacon looked away. “He was the one who suggested the name ‘Megatron’ – he liked the mythology and history behind it and thought it might prove a psychological advantage. It was a joke at first, then I decided to adopt it as a pseudonym when I went … public.”
“Cute euphemism. What’s your real name?”
Megatron paused, shrugged, and told him. Rattrap shook his head. “Never heard of you.”
“Of course not.”
To be continued ...