“I can tell you that I’m happier up here than if I had to study this from the ground,” said Rattrap. “Stop for a minute, ‘Bolt. I want to get a reading.”
Obligingly, Silverbolt stopped the hoverpad, leaving the two of them hanging a few metres in the air as the ground shook beneath them. They were chasing earthquakes in a dry, barren sector south of the Axalon. The third in the party, Cheetor, swung his own transport around as Rattrap pulled out the scanner. “Just remember where we got this stuff from,” the scout prodded.
“Just because I’ll play with their toys when it suits me don’t mean I have to like the Preds themselves,” Rattrap retorted.
Cheetor folded his arms and rested them on his hoverpad’s control stick. “You aren’t even trying to get along with them.”
“And maybe you’re trying too hard.” Rattrap fiddled with the scanner for a minute, then, “We’re getting closer to the epicentre of these quakes. With these energy readings, it looks like it’s because of energon deposits messing things up rather than proper tectonic shifting. We picked one weird planet to strand ourselves on.”
“Dinobot said it was prehistoric Earth,” said Cheetor.
“Dinobot says a lot of things,” Rattrap started, but bit his tongue before he could get into full rant-mode. Silverbolt, who had practically adopted the older warrior as his mentor, had taken Dinobot’s betrayal harder than anyone else. Rattrap changed the subject. “That doesn’t make it any less weird. These human bodies make some kind of sense now – they fit the planet, even if they’re our time’s humans rather than the current kind. At least we don’t have to worry about energon overload any more, and that’s the only plus I can think of. Food too, I guess. Nothing really tasted like much before. All right, I’m done scanning. Same vector as before, ‘Bolt.”
“Why are we measuring these earthquakes?” asked Silverbolt once the hoverpad was moving again. “They do not affect us.”
“We might need the information someday. Besides, we’re exploration scientists, kid. Looking around and measuring stuff is what we do,” said Rattrap. “Just because the ship is broken, we’ve got Predacon housemates, and we got turned into organics by some sulky super-aliens isn’t going to stop us. It’s what we do.”
“Is it what you have … always done?” asked Silverbolt.
“Pfft – nah. I just took up the exploration bit ‘cause I figured Cybertron would be boring without Rhinox and Optimus,” Rattrap told him. “I’m really a technician-slash-pilot-slash-navigator-slash-demolitionist-slash-whatever we need at the moment. I was supposed to be an engineer, but it never really took.”
Cheetor chuckled. “And my primary function is piloting, except we don’t have a ship any more.”
“What if you have no other skills?”
Rattrap shrugged. “Then you learn ‘em. You’re more than your basic programming, Silverbolt.”
“You let Dinobot go.”
It wasn’t a question. “We don’t have the resources to keep him under guard,” said Optimus, who had drawn monitor duty that morning. “No, killing him is not an option.”
“Oh, it’s an option, you just won’t do it,” rumbled Megatron, throwing himself into a chair. “We could simply clone him again, if it is lack of minions that worries you. His clone was a most agreeable creature, yes …”
“Drop it. If I recall, you’ve yet to give a straight answer about your part in the whole situation.”
Megatron settled back against the console. “As I had explained, I hoped to use the Golden Disc to regain our Cybertronian forms. The computers in the Predacon base are set up to read the Discs. The ones in the Axalon aren’t.”
“Mmhmm. And all the secrecy?” asked Optimus.
“Perhaps I knew that you would try to stop me, though my work could have benefited us all,” said Megatron. “You aren’t letting any of my people anywhere near the alien Disc, I note, though I am the closest thing to an authority on it.”
“We’re sharing the information we gather,” Optimus reminded him.
The Predacon snorted. “I have only your word on that.”
“Learn to live in suspense, then. We don’t want to accidentally activate any more alien sites. They seem unhappy enough with us as it is.”
“Is that why you and yours aren’t studying those proto-human creatures?”
“Dinobot said the alien told him to warn us away.”
The Predacon rolled his eyes. “And Dinobot is such a reliable source of information.”
Optimus decided to ignore him, returning his attention to the control panel. It beeped suddenly. “I’m getting a stasis pod signal near Rattrap’s location. The earthquake must have uncovered it.” He activated the radio. “Optimus calling Rattrap.”
“And you laughed when you first heard Inferno call me ‘Queen’,” Megatron murmured behind him.
He said more, but the Maximal ignored him. “Rattrap, I’m picking up a stasis pod in your area.”
“Gotcha. Hey, guys -”
Rattrap shut off his commlink mid-command to Cheetor and Silverbolt. Optimus shut off the panel, and noticed with some annoyance that Megatron was doing the same. He folded his arms and made a face at his counterpart. “Determined to have a Predacon presence at the new stasis pod, are you?”
“I only sent Inferno to help,” said Megatron innocently. “Besides, you needed Predacon assistance for the last one, didn’t you? Where is your little science experiment, anyway?”
They kept tabs on Rampage through the tracking beacon that Megatron and Tarantulas had placed somewhere inside his body. In the six weeks since then he had only been seen once or twice, which everyone agreed was probably for the best. Still, Rampage never strayed far.
The computer read-out indicated he was moving, though. Optimus frowned. “He seems to be heading straight for the pod.”
“Then your people will be happy to have Inferno with them, yes?”
“Rattrap,” said Optimus, reactivating the commlink.
“Change of situation,” said Optimus. “Rampage is in your area, headed towards the pod. I’ll get there as soon as I can to back you up. Inferno will arrive before then.” He had taken the control that activated Rampage’s inhibitors away from Megatron soon after the operation had been completed. Megatron had complained that Optimus wouldn’t have the resolve to ever use it, but Optimus refused to let it stay in Predacon hands.
He shut off the radio connection and started out. At the lift, he paused and looked back. “Don’t touch anything.”
Megatron put his hands behind his head in a gesture of casual innocence. “You act as if you don’t trust me.”
“I’m getting the signal, but I can’t see anything,” Cheetor called down. The Maximals’ first thought when the reached the mesa was that the stasis pod might be on top of it. It wasn’t.
“Take another swing around, Spots, just in case,” said Rattrap. “The energon radiation might be messing up the signal, bouncing it around or something.”
Cheetor took off. Silverbolt glanced back at his passenger. “What is our task, then?”
“We continue to poke around here. With all the quakes, the pod might have got buried. Land up on the mesa. I want to take a look around.”
Silverbolt complied. Rattrap, scanner in hand, wandered off a short ways. After several minutes, he waved his team mate over. “Bring the hoverpad; I think I might have found it.”
There was a crack in the ground that continued down the plateau. Rattrap hopped back up on the hoverpad, and had Silverbolt fly them both down a short ways. “Forgive me, Rattrap, but I do not see …”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll point you in the direction of the geology files when we get back to base,” said Rattrap, running his fingers over the crack. “A bit of force in the right place just might open this. Now, if we were still in our right bodies, this would be no problem. As it is, I’m just going to have to get creative.”
He unholstered his hand-laser and adjusted the beam for a higher setting. Silverbolt peered over his shoulder with a worried expression. “Are you certain …”
“Unless you got a shovel in that fluffy cape of yours, we’ve got no other way to dig the pod out.” Rattrap grinned up at him. “C’mon, trust me – I know demolitions.” With that, he selected a spot, aimed the laser point-blank, and fired.
The resulting explosion sent Maximals, hoverpad, and a small chunk of the mesa flying.
Coughing, Silverbolt managed to regain his feet. “Rattrap? Rattrap, where are you?”
An unhappy groan issued from somewhere underneath the pile of rubble. Silverbolt immediately summoned Cheetor on his commlink, then set to work clearing away the rocks. Cheetor arrived a few minutes later. “What happened?”
“Rattrap hypothesised that the pod might have been buried in the mesa,” said Silverbolt. “He attempted to excavate it with his sidearm.”
Cheetor helped the taller man lift another rock. “He miscalculated how much energon was around and the stuff exploded, huh?”
The two Maximals worked in silence, expecting the worst, and were rather surprised when they didn’t find it. Rattrap’s arms were bruised and bloody, but under them, his head wasn’t much worse than dusty. “Okay, I can admit I made a mistake …”
They took a better look at their friend’s predicament. Rattrap was pinned, but by the hoverpad, which had landed on top of him at an angle and saved him from the worst of the landslide. “You are one lucky rat,” Cheetor told him.
“Just don’t tell the others how it happened, okay?” Rattrap wiggled a bit, trying to free himself, but couldn’t. “Bad enough that Rhinox and Optimus would threaten to leash me …”
The sound of a hoverpad caught Silverbolt’s attention, and he turned in time to see Inferno land and march over. She looked down at them. “Sometimes I’m surprised that you Maximals were able to keep our conflict at a stalemate.”
“Whoo-hoo! ‘Ferny-girl, for once I’m happy to see you,” said Rattrap, twisting around to get a better look at the newcomer. “Now, be a nice Predacon and help me out of here, pretty please?”
Inferno made a face, but whatever she was thinking, she set to the task with her usual diligence. With all three working, they managed to move enough of the rocks to lift the hoverpad a bit and let Rattrap wiggle free. While Cheetor and Rattrap checked over and cleaned the latter’s injuries, Inferno and Silverbolt finished uncovering the transport.
Task finished, Silverbolt knelt down beside the other two. “Are you all right, Rattrap?”
“A bit scraped, a bit bruised, and real lucky.” With the worst of the blood and dust washed off with the water from Cheetor’s canteen, Rattrap’s injuries didn’t look nearly so bad. “‘Bolt, if I ever try anything that stupid again, slap me.”
“Can I not just warn you instead?”
“I do not think the hoverpad is damaged too severely. The Royalty will be pleased.”
“Love you too, Inferno.” Rattrap allowed Cheetor to help him to his feet, then shook the younger man off. “Just happened to be in the neighbourhood to be diverted to us, eh?”
The Predacon saluted, though Silverbolt was certain it wasn’t directed towards any of them. “The Royalty sent me to aid in the retrieval of the stasis pod.” She looked at her commlink, frowning. “These are the coordinates.”
“That’s what we were saying when the rocks fell on me.”
“How sweet. Maximals and Predacons, working together.”
Rampage, standing in the shadow of the mesa. They had been too distracted to notice his approach, even though the Maximals knew he was in the area. Rattrap narrowed his eyes. “If you got sent by somebody to help, I don’t want to know about it.”
“I was drawn by the pain,” said Rampage, as if that explained everything.
“I’m just scraped,” Rattrap pointed out.
Rampage rolled his eyes. “Not you. Up there.”
The protoform. Without a word, they hopped back onto their hoverpads to scale the short cliff. Rampage, lacking his own transportation, stepped on behind Inferno. She glared at him, but apparently decided it wasn’t worth the bother of trying to push him off.
The stasis pod lay mostly uncovered, but power surges were ripping through the structure. Cheetor and Silverbolt both glanced sideways at Rattrap, who raised his hands defensively. “These pods can take a lot of damage, but it’s probably been soaking up energon radiation since it crashed here.”
Rampage, who had immediately approached the pod, had to snatch his hand back as it was burnt by an energon surge. “Tell me,” he said, watching the scorch marks fade from his fingers, “Were there any others like me? Those bound for exile?”
“Just you,” said Rattrap.
Inferno frowned. “How are we to bring this pod back to the nest if we cannot touch it?”
“We’d need the big hoversled to carry it,” said Cheetor. “Maybe lever it on somehow.”
“Yeah, and have the surges short it out,” said Rattrap.
“You might leave it out here,” suggested Rampage.
Rattrap folded his arms. “No. Slaggit, someone find me a stick or something so I can activate the emergency release …”
Rampage laid his hands on the pod, ignoring the damage it caused him. “Tell me the sequence.”
“Should we let him do that?” whispered Cheetor.
“That Maximal needs out now,” Rattrap whispered back. “If he can do it, good.” He raised his voice and told Rampage the sequence.
With a soft hiss, the stasis pod unlocked. Rampage threw open the lid, then took back his charred hands to give them a chance to regenerate.
Silverbolt paled, but held his ground. Cheetor took one look at what lay in the stasis pod, and immediately turned away. Rattrap went to tend to him, suppressing a shudder of his own. Inferno simply stood back, appraising the situation with a clinical lift to her eyebrow. Only Rampage actually leaned over to take a better look.
That which lay in the pod barely looked human: an emaciated body, one arm a withered stick, the other a swollen mass of inert flesh that had even grown over the fingers. The knees on the rail-thin legs were backwards, and the three-toed feet were splayed like a bird’s. The whole body was elongated, throwing the proportions off. The head was little more than a skull: no fleshy part to the ears, no lips, barely any nose, dark eyes sunken so far back it was hard to tell it had any at all. The face might have been vaguely feminine, but the body had no sexual characteristics, primary or secondary. That fact didn’t take any careful examination; the creature was naked and hairless, though there were scattered places where scraps of cloth had merged with its flesh.
It stirred, slightly. Rattrap, still standing by Cheetor, cringed. “Primus. Oh, Primus, that can’t be alive …”
“It’s strong,” Rampage affirmed, an odd triumph in his voice. He leaned a bit closer, addressing the pod’s occupant. “That’s it,” Rampage coaxed. “I can feel your pain. Use it. Breathe. Live.”
It drew in a dry, rasping breath. Rampage and Silverbolt helped it out of the pod, where it balanced precariously on its thin legs. Standing, it could be seen that it wasn’t entirely hairless; a few long, tenacious strands clung to the back of its head in two clumps, almost like ponytails. If it stood up straight, it would be taller than Rampage. Only Rampage looked at it with approval. “What are you?” he asked quietly, and, somehow, the question wasn’t an insult.
It looked at him with a slight, blank smile. Silverbolt stepped in. “I am Silverbolt. These others are Rampage, Inferno, Rattrap, and Cheetor. We are hu … were Transformers, like you,” he said, knowing the others would insist on their original rather than current species. “What is your name, friend?”
Its mouth moved soundlessly a few times before it managed to speak. “Friend?” it repeated, blinking down at him.
“Yes, I am your friend,” Rampage interrupted smoothly. “But we wish to know your name, my lovely little mutation.”
Its face screwed up in concentration. “Trans … Mutate …”
Inferno, never a tolerant creature, finally lost her patience. “Whatever it is, it belongs to the Colony … Colonies,” she corrected. With that, she caught it by its slender left wrist and roughly pulled it along.
Or would have. Inferno was suddenly in the dust two metres away from the odd Maximal. She blinked up at Rampage and the Maximals in stunned amazement before the knowledge of just what hit her settled in. With a snarl, the Amazon surged back to her feet to attack the mismatched Maximal, only to be held back by Rampage and Silverbolt.
Rampage made ready to belt the Predacon, but Silverbolt said, “Wait,” and for once Rampage waited. Silverbolt looked up at Inferno. “Megatron would want this … Transmutate brought back unhurt, would he not?”
“He didn’t say.” Inferno glared at the damaged Maximal, then looked away with an unconsciously catty flip of her hair. “Perhaps that would be for the best. It could always be damaged later.”
Then Inferno was on the ground again, though this time with Silverbolt – who had still been gripping her arm – half-sprawled on top of her. Rampage unclenched his fist. “I waited.”
Inferno sat up and spat at him, a mix of blood and saliva. “I do not want it; such a creature could only be a drain on the Colony’s resources. Perhaps the Royalty will see otherwise.” Almost casually, Inferno grabbed the scruff of Silverbolt’s cloak and threw him aside. The warrior then rose to her feet, drawing her flamethrower in the same motion. “In any case, it is for him to judge. The creature comes with me.”
“Pah. You don’t want it. That one can’t even look at it,” Rampage stated, waving a hand at Cheetor. “I will take it with me. You won’t have to deal with it then.”
For a moment, Inferno looked undecided. Silverbolt intervened before she could regroup. “It is a Maximal,” he said quietly, dusting himself off. “We have a responsibility to it.”
“And, call me crazy, but I just don’t trust you, Rampage,” said Rattrap. “It comes with us.”
“Why not let Transmutate decide?” asked Rampage. Before any of the Maximals could protest, he returned his attention to Transmutate. “Well? Do you wish to go with these ones who do not like you, or with me, your friend?”
It seemed to consider the question, but then it crossed its mismatched arms across its midsection, and sank to its knees. “Hurt,” it said sadly.
Silverbolt held out his hand. “Will you let us help, Rampage? Your intentions seem respectable, but that may not be enough. Come with us. Let us take it back to the Axalon.”
The large man eyed him warily. “No tricks.”
“On my honour, none.”
For a moment, Rampage mulled that over. “Very well.”
Optimus had caught up to the others as they were returning. He had been quickly filled in on the situation, and the small group had returned to the Axalon. He hadn’t expected that Rampage would be part of it, and made a mental note to have it out with Silverbolt about inviting dangerous people home.
Rampage had allowed a few minor tests to be performed on Transmutate – it seemed to respond to the name – but had quickly become twitchy. In the interests of peace, Rhinox cut his examination short.
Transmutate was dressed now, though only in a loose robe that covered it to about mid-calf. It wasn’t so much out of a sense of propriety as the thought that it might get cold. That, and while the Cybertronians would hate to admit it, it was a hard creature to look at.
From his chair, Megatron snorted quietly. “Much work for nothing.”
“You be quiet,” Optimus said. Then, to Rhinox, “What happened to Rampage?”
“He insists on inspecting my lab, I suppose to make sure I don’t have any suspect equipment,” said Rhinox. “Tarantulas and Blackarachnia are there with him – Blackarachnia insisted on being armed, and I don’t blame her. She’s got a tranq-gun with the stuff we used on Rampage when we first caught him; at least we know it works. Tarantulas finds Transmutate fascinating. I don’t trust her either, but we might need her skill. She’s had a chance to study these human bodies; I haven’t.” He looked around the room, taking a quick headcount. “We’re missing people.”
“We’ll fill them in later,” said Optimus. It wasn’t an official meeting; over half of the crew was absent, on duty or just off on business of their own. This included Inferno and Cheetor, both of whom vanished after dropping off Transmutate and the others. Those present were Optimus, Rhinox, Rattrap, Silverbolt, Megatron, Scorponok, and the Transmutate itself.
The door from the main part of the ship slid open. Terrorsaur glanced around, surprise etched across his features. “Ah-h-h, scrap, if this is a meeting, no one told me about …” Terrorsaur froze as he locked gazes with Transmutate, one hand reaching behind him, seeking the door, the other clutching at his throat.
“I know what you mean,” Rattrap murmured beside him. “I could barely look at it straight when I first saw it, too.”
“Shut up,” hissed Terrorsaur. He didn’t look directly at Transmutate again.
Optimus was pulled from the little drama by the door by Rhinox’s voice: “I don’t know what I can do for her.”
“‘Her’?” asked Optimus.
“At the cellular level, at least,” said Rhinox. “Everything else is so tangled up and twisted that I’m surprised she’s even alive, let alone able to walk. The damage to her stasis pod must have damaged the protoform and scrambled the DNA scanner and the replication datatracks. She would have been a mangled-looking robot, so she’s a mangled-looking human.”
Beside Megatron as usual, Scorponok let his gaze flick from Transmutate to Rhinox. “Should you be saying that in front of her?”
“She doesn’t understand most of what we say, Scorponok. She has a drone mind. No real intelligence,” said Rhinox.
“Then kill it.” The others turned to Terrorsaur incredulously. He scowled. “You Maximals … If you have any belief in mercy, you’ll destroy it. Or you’ll let someone else do it.”
Silverbolt took a step towards him. “I do not often resort to such words, but you are a callous, despicable …”
“No one is killing anyone,” Optimus snapped. “If she was a robot, we might have known how to effect repairs. If we could put her back into suspension until we find a way to cure her …”
“No!” Silverbolt didn’t often shout, and instantly found himself the centre of attention. “Transmutate is a life in her own right. Just because she is not our idea of perfect …”
“It’s mindless, you idiot!” yelled Terrorsaur. “Primus, can’t you see …”
Silverbolt backhanded him, then flinched when he realised what he did. Terrorsaur stumbled back a few steps, but once he regained his balance, he simply leaned back against the wall and sulked. Rhinox glared at both of them. “I’m going to take Transmutate back to the lab. Maybe Rampage will let me continue my tests.”
“Wait,” said Terrorsaur. “Rampage is here? In the Axalon?”
“Yeah, he … Hey!” Terrorsaur bolted from the room as soon as he heard Rattrap’s affirmative. Rhinox and the Transmutate left a moment later.
“Some meeting,” said Megatron. “What did your people do with Inferno?”
“Your girl dropped off her hoverpad and left as soon as we returned,” Rattrap told him. “Might as well tell you now that she can’t stand Transmutate. Loathe at first sight.”
“Hmm.” Megatron and Scorponok batted a few quiet sentences between each other, then both left the control room.
The meeting seemed to be over. “I … I will see if I can assist Rhinox,” said Silverbolt.
Once the others had all cleared out, Rattrap padded over to his leader. “Optimus … It might … it might be my fault that Transmutate’s the way she is. I set off an energon explosion pretty much right on the pod. She might have been okay if we just dug the pod out of the mesa by hand.”
“You don’t know that, Rattrap,” said Optimus quietly. “Quickstrike and Silverbolt’s pods had been absorbing energon radiation for just a few hours before they activated, and their memories were severely damaged. You saw the CGI reconstructions of what their forms would have been if they had remained as robots, too.”
“They turned out looking all right, ‘least for humans,” Rattrap reminded him. He sighed. “I know it might’ve happened anyway. Still, I damaged the pod, I forced it to activate. We might’ve been able to clean the radiation out if we’d have brought it here intact.”
“Maybe. But she’s here now, and that’s what we need to deal with.” Optimus paused, looking around. “Where did Cheetor go? I saw him come in.”
The smaller man shrugged. “Went to his room. He’s not dealing with Transmutate all that good. You saw Terry’s face when he first walked in; you know the effect she can have on people.”
“I’ll talk to him. Do you know why Rampage is so interested in Transmutate?”
“Who knows why Rampage does anything.”
Waspinator looked up in surprise when Terrorsaur all but fell into their room. Automatically, she went to him. Terrorsaur turned, locked the door, then leaned back against it. “Waspy, he’s here.”
“What!? Why?” She didn’t need to ask who ‘he’ was.
“There’s a new … Maximal, I guess. The pod was damaged, which messed up the protoform. Rampage came with it. I don’t know why.” He walked to the berth and sat down with her, running his hands through his hair. “Waspy …” Terrorsaur drew in a breath and let it out as a long sigh. “Waspy, it’s mindless. I can’t take that.”
Waspinator watched him fight with himself for a few moments. “You can’t decide which one is the bigger crisis.”
He glared. “Rampage, of course.” Terrorsaur looked away. “Primus, you should see its eyes. The others don’t understand …”
Neither did Waspinator. She knew enough about her partner to know why he was worried about the new Maximal, but couldn’t bring herself to share his concern, not with the threat of Rampage looming. Once in a while she found herself wishing that she had ended up with a larger, stronger wingmate, but Terrorsaur was what she had and he was reasonably good to her, so she didn’t complain. Waspinator laid her head against his shoulder in a gesture of camaraderie, wondering if Megatron would let them go work in the Predacon base for a while.
After a minute, Terrorsaur gathered Waspinator against himself, holding her tightly. Waspinator didn’t question it; she knew his moods well enough to know when not to talk. Though she wasn’t entirely certain whether the embrace was meant to comfort her or Terrorsaur himself.
“It’s not locked.”
Optimus stepped into the room. Cheetor was lying face-down on his berth, his head pillowed on one arm, the other arm dangling down over the side. Even human, Cheetor still relaxed like a cat. After a moment, he got up to sit cross-legged on the edge of the berth. “I didn’t miss anything. Rattrap piped the meeting up here so I could listen in.”
“It wasn’t much of a meeting,” said Optimus. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah. I just … I panicked, I guess,” said Cheetor. He shrugged helplessly, then looked up at Optimus. “I’ve seen stranger things than Transmutate before. And, I mean, whoever heard of having a negative physical reaction to something just because of the way it looked?”
“Think of your human body like your beast-mode. Beast-modes changed our thinking to an extent, and purely organic bodies affect it worse.” Optimus folded his arms across his chest. “You don’t seem worried by positive physical reactions.”
Cheetor shrugged, a bit nervously. “Hey, I’m adaptable.”
“I approve of your attempts to make friends with the Predacons. Don’t let human thought and the way Waspinator looks now impede your judgement.”
The blond flinched slightly. “I guess I’m that obvious, huh?”
There was one last person Optimus wanted to talk to. He found him deep in the woods, covered in blood that wasn’t his own, methodically taking apart an antelope. Dinobot was reasonably strong, but he couldn’t carry the entire animal alone. His ‘exile’ was more-or-less self-inflicted, though there were a few back at base who didn’t want to see him. Still, either habits were hard to break or he was trying, in his way, to atone; he still hunted for the entire group, rather than simply going his own way. Dinobot glanced up. “I still have my commlink. You needn’t have sought me out.”
“Commlinks can be shut off,” said Optimus. He had radioed Tigatron and Airazor, knowing they would listen. Dinobot’s reactions were less predictable. Briefly, Optimus filled the warrior in on the current situation.
“So I’m needed,” said Dinobot when his leader finished. “Of us all, only Megatron, Inferno, and myself would have any chance against Rampage in single combat, and a … slim chance at that. Still, why me and not Inferno?”
“Because Inferno wants nothing to do with Transmutate.”
Dinobot arched an eyebrow. “And I do?”
“You can be reasoned with, at least,” said Optimus.
“The creature is useless, Optimus. Why should I fight to defend it, if need be?”
“Because she’s alive, Dinobot.” Optimus passed a hand over his eyes, weary though it was only mid-afternoon. “We don’t know what we’ll do in the long term, but in the short term, we protect her.”
Dinobot hissed, a contemplative sound rather than a dismissive one. “Very well.”
There was conflict in her mind, and it frightened her.
She was having doubts about her Queen.
She wanted to believe in him. She wanted to be able to put her trust in Megatron, to follow without question and know her place. Things had become confusing.
Megatron had tried to explain, and usually it all made sense when he spoke. But now was a breach between thoughts that even soothing words couldn’t cover. Inferno had retreated to the beach, sulking in the shade of the cliffs, and he had found her, telling her he needed the loyalty of his subordinates now more than ever. “There is no need for you to get so worked up over a drone, no.”
He had never understood, even though he was the Queen. “It is not even a drone!” Inferno stated. “Even a drone has his function; that creature is a parasite. It cannot work, it cannot serve, it needs constant attention … Every moment it lives is a burden on the Colony! I brought it back because that was your will, but now that you see it is useless, why do you not order its destruction?”
“That would upset the Maximals.”
“Your body makes you weak,” Inferno growled, then flinched.
Megatron arched an eyebrow. “Care to repeat that?”
“I … I didn’t intend … Forget I spoke, Royalty. My words are foolish, the mere …”
She hung her head. “Perhaps the aliens did this on purpose, to weaken us. With you and the other Queen trapped in drone-forms, the strength of the Colonies has failed. Why else would there be this truce? Why else are we forbidden to fight, except as play? Why else do you accept this parasite and refuse to do anything about it?”
She couldn’t face him. After a moment, he spoke. “It is true that we have been weakened, but I am still your commander, despite this form. Because of this weakness, we currently require this alliance with the Maximals. To keep them as allies, we must submit to their ways, and they are the ones who wish to keep the Transmutate. When we regain our strength, we will dispose of them. Until then, we must work within the confines of the truce.”
Inferno nodded in a distracted manner. “I … I believe I understand, Royalty.” She met his gaze again. She wanted to believe. “I will obey.”
They tried to have another meeting up in the control room, except half of the crew didn’t show up.
Tarantulas leaned against the doorframe, arms folded. “Make this quick. Blackarachnia isn’t happy being stuck playing nurse to that thing while Rhinox and I are down here, and she hasn’t got a great deal of faith in Dinobot as a bodyguard.”
“By the way, try not to refer to it with the term ‘drone’ around Inferno,” said Megatron idly. “Unless, of course, you want to hear a rather detailed diatribe about the function of drones in an ant colony.” It was his own fault for asking, he knew, but Inferno had to be understood to be commanded. If he weren’t so central to his warrior’s delusions, Megatron might have found the exchange humorous. He looked over at his Maximal counterpart. “Optimus Primal, why has the traitor returned?”
“Because Rampage is here,” Optimus sighed; his tone said he had explained this more than once already.
“Look, either Rampage feeds on other people’s pain or he just enjoys it,” said Rattrap. “He’d take good care of Transmutate. Why get rid of the one feeding you, eh?”
“I don’t think he’s using her for that,” said Rhinox.
“So it’s a pet. Aren’t there rules against that sort of thing?” Terrorsaur sneered.
Rhinox frowned at him. “I meant he seems to think of her as kin of a sort.”
“They can be monsters together,” said Megatron. “How lovely.”
“You could try to be nice,” Optimus suggested.
“I am nice. Tarantulas wants to dissect it. I have … convinced her that harming it would not be in her best interests, no.”
Tarantulas stuck out her tongue at him. “Oh, like I needed much ‘convincing’, what with Rampage looming over me. Tsk, the man has no concept of ‘personal space’. And did you know that the Transmutate’s form is superior to ours, in a way? Her muscles are arranged a bit differently than ours, giving her more, hrm, leverage, I suppose. She’s incredibly strong, though most of that goes towards not falling over. Too bad nothing else works.”
“She does not need to be repaired!” Silverbolt shouted suddenly. Then quieter, “By your standards, I am damaged. My … datatracks and memory were lost due to an accident with my stasis pod. You accepted me.”
“You can also look after yourself. Transmutate requires constant care. We don’t even know what the extent of her problems are,” said Optimus.
“I fear that I must agree with Optimus, yes,” said Megatron. “Both Dinobot and Rampage roam free because guarding either would be a full-time job …”
“I could look after her,” said Silverbolt. “I am functionless here.”
Rhinox shook his head. “You couldn’t. It isn’t just her mind that’s damaged, but her body as well. Her internal organs barely function. She can’t absorb nutrients properly, poisons get into her system … Tarantulas and I find new medical problems each time we examine her, and for each problem, we’ve only found temporary solutions. You could never keep up, Silverbolt.”
“What do you want us to do, Maximal?” Tarantulas demanded. “We might keep her alive and even pain-free for months, oh yes, but she could never leave the laboratory. We could attempt to fix her problems now, and quite possibly kill her. We could put her into stasis and try to learn, to attempt the surgery later.” She steepled her fingers and chuckled. “But you don’t even want that much. Perhaps Transmutate would be happy under your care, Silverbolt. At least, until the pain got to be too much. It would be quick, though. If we do nothing, she might last a few days.”
“Sometimes there just isn’t a solution,” said Optimus.
Silverbolt narrowed his eyes. “Is anyone going to ask Transmutate what she wants?”
“She doesn’t know. Trust me,” said Terrorsaur.
The meeting eventually ended just as badly as the first one, but with more shouting. Silverbolt had been the first to storm out, and now, out in the hall, he was regretting his rashness. He almost turned to go back and apologise when someone caught his arm.
Silverbolt narrowed his eyes when he realised just who had stopped him. “I do not wish to hear you.”
“You’re going to listen, anyway,” snarled Terrorsaur, but he quickly reigned in his temper and released the Maximal. “Listen, I … I was never meant to be a person, Silverbolt,” he said quietly. “My creator was a sculptor, and a great one, but it wasn’t enough for him. Even though they were animate, they didn’t have … soul. So he sparked them.”
Terrorsaur bit his lip. “He sparked them, brought them to life, but they were mindless. Blast it, you can’t remember being Cybertronian – maybe you never were – but you don’t understand how many laws that violated, both in the legal and decency senses … If he had been caught at it, he could have been executed.”
“What about his creations?” asked Silverbolt. “What would the law have done to them?”
“Either destroyed them out of pity or installed proper minds so that the spark wouldn’t be wasted,” said Terrorsaur, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. I would think it would be such a rare thing that there was no set way of dealing with it. I hope.”
“Were they happy?”
The Predacon looked contemplative. “You know … they never seemed happy, just sort of … there. They did have emotions, I know they could hurt …” Terrorsaur caught the look Silverbolt was giving him and glared. “It wasn’t me. One of the patrons had bought one for the sole purpose of torturing it because he couldn’t have slaves any more. My creator found out and brought its remains back to the gallery as evidence. If he had turned that over to the authorities …”
“That is unpleasant, but why …”
Terrorsaur sighed. “Look, I’ll never be able to explain Cybertronian taboos so that you could understand. You couldn’t get your mind around the idea of a robot perversion, and I don’t know how to compare it to anything organic. Just accept that using a drone for pleasure is absolutely disgusting, and if said drone has a soul as well – which is an abomination in itself – it goes from repulsive to a complete affront to decency.”
“Rampage’s concern for Transmutate seems genuine,” said Silverbolt slowly.
“Like you’re any judge of character.” The Predacon paused, then, “I want what’s best for Transmutate as well. I’ve seen too much of … of this sort of thing.”
“I dislike your idea of what is ‘best’.”
“If there was any way to give it a mind …” started Terrorsaur.
“But this is the way she is,” said Silverbolt. “She lives. Is that not enough?”
There was nothing more to discuss. Terrorsaur turned to leave, but Silverbolt stopped him. “Forgive my prying. If you were only supposed to be a sculpture, why are you sentient?”
“Complete whimsy on my creator’s part,” said Terrorsaur. “I don’t know why he did it, just that I was the only one. I know I’m not as smart as some of the others here, but, Primus …”
He had narrowly escaped being a drone himself. “I can … I can see where you are coming from, Terrorsaur,” said Silverbolt, but he squared his shoulders. “You are still wrong.”
Terrorsaur drew back. “Just so we understand each other, Maximal.”
“… The Maximals are torn between putting it in stasis to try to fix it later and just letting it live its life now. Megatron wants nothing to do with it, so he’s leaving it all in the hands of the Maximals. Rampage wants it for himself, and nobody wants to give it to Rampage. Primus.” Terrorsaur sat down on the berth and buried his face in his hands.
Waspinator got up from the chair and crossed the room to touch him on the shoulder. “And what do you want?”
“I want to put it out of its misery. You know that.” Unable to sit still, Terrorsaur stood and walked over to the window, leaning against the frame. “I’m half-tempted to just hand it over to Rampage. If it keeps him away from you … No … It can’t defend itself. It can’t even understand …”
“Terr …” Waspinator trailed off, uncertain of what to say. Certainly she was all for letting Rampage have his pet – she was selfish enough for that – but she also knew how strongly Terrorsaur felt about mindless creatures. “You don’t have to choose between us. It’s not an either-or.”
He sighed. “I know. I just … Primus, if only you could see its eyes … It wants to express itself. It wants to understand. But it can’t. It’s a trapped spark, Waspy. You should understand that; you were a soul mired in screwy programming …”
“This isn’t the gallery, Terr,” said Waspinator. “Transmutate will be tended kindly. It’ll be fine.”
Terrorsaur turned from the window suddenly, pacing the room in a few angry strides. “I’ve got to get out of here.”
Waspinator started to get up. “Wait. I’ll come with you.”
He paused, looked about ready to yell at her, then sagged. “All right. Come on. Maybe Megatron’s got something for us to do away from here.”
While most of the former Transformers were in agreement that the body was unimportant and that only the mind mattered, Rampage had a slightly different view. Minds could be altered, programmed and reprogrammed … thus, only the spark mattered.
There were many reasons why the others were leery of him, even barring the fact that he tended to messily kill anyone within reach. Right now he needed their help for Transmutate, so he curbed those urges. But the one thing he couldn’t turn off was his empathic sense.
It wasn’t so much that he enjoyed feeling the negative emotions of others, it was that he could sense their feelings at all. Telepathy was one thing, mind-to-mind, but empathy was spark-to-spark. Even though he was only a receptive, the others felt everything from resentment to violation whenever he was near just because they knew that he could feel their souls.
At first, long ago, he had found this mildly entertaining. It rather grated now.
Then there was Transmutate, a trapped soul in a dead mind. She had no concept of taboos and, in fact, was grateful that there was someone who could understand her, even though her verbal communication skills were almost nonexistent.
At least, that was as well as Rampage could interpret it. Transmutate couldn’t communicate on anything more than an emotional level; she didn’t have the intelligence to formulate something as complex as gratitude. Still, she was happy and it pleased him to think he had something to do with it. Rampage didn’t regret that he frightened others with his mere presence, but it was still a nice little bit of contrast to be around one who not only wasn’t afraid, but genuinely enjoyed his company. It was like only being only able to perceive half the light spectrum, then suddenly being able to see a new colour.
Besides, he found the sheer potential in Transmutate fascinating. Here was a living spark, untainted by programming. How much could be done with such a creature, open as she was? Here was a being who could be so easily moulded by one such as he …
… Though, on the other hand, Transmutate’s sheer blankness was welcome. So many choices …
Depressed, confused, seeking a sympathetic mind and hopefully advice, Silverbolt went looking for Tigatron. He traced her commlink to the shore of a nearby pond – actually a wide, shallow bend of the river with a slow current. After Cheetor had nearly got himself drowned two months ago, Tigatron and Airazor had decided to spend their off-time teaching themselves to swim. So far, none of the others had been brave enough to try.
Silverbolt walked to the edge of the water and waved. “Tigatron! May I speak with you?”
A few moments brought the two Maximal women to shore. Silverbolt realised he had made a minor error and quickly turned away, unable to stop his blush. “Erm … could you …”
There were the sounds of cloth and movement. After a few minutes, he felt a tap on his shoulder. “We’ve got our clothes on. You can turn around now,” said Airazor.
Silverbolt, as always, ignored the patiently indulgent tone. He was used to the others finding him unusual for being uncomfortable with nudity. “You are aware of the current … situation at the Axalon?”
“We’ve heard, at least the initial reports,” said Airazor. “Rattrap radioed us a few hours ago. We just haven’t gone back yet. I mean, all we’d be good for is standing around and staring.”
“Her life will be pain, no matter what they decide,” said Silverbolt. He wrapped his cloak tighter about himself. “I … I do not know what to do!”
“I should tell you that death is merely a part of life, and that you should accept the outcome,” said Tigatron. “It would be foolish, though. I have already lost one friend on this world. I did not take it well.”
“What happened?” asked Silverbolt, but quickly demurred. “No, I should not have asked. Forgive me for speaking.”
“It is no secret. In my case, she was merely an innocent bystander to one of the battles,” Tigatron said slowly. “I … left the Maximals temporarily, upset that I had a part in her death. But I returned because they needed me, and because I could do more good with them than by running away.” She had been avoiding Silverbolt’s gaze as she spoke, but now met it. “Her name was Snowstalker. She was the tiger my beast-mode was scanned from.”
Silverbolt bit his lip, mulling that over. “A … non-sentient entity with spirit and a will to live, trapped between forces she could not control or even understand …”
Tigatron nodded. “Similar, but not identical. I fear I have no words for you, nothing that can help. But … whatever the outcome, when it is over, come back to me. If I can aid in no other way, I can help you to grieve.”
Like all the others, Tigatron could see no hope in the situation. Silverbolt murmured vague thanks to the scout, and slowly started back to the Axalon.
Rattrap wasn’t surprised that Dinobot was in the combat simulation room again. Dinobot was, as usual, occupying most of the space, swinging his sword around in complicated motions. Quickstrike was perched on a box, watching him. Rattrap would have preferred not to have an audience, but it really didn’t matter. He took a deep breath. “You’re a slag-sucking traitor, and Optimus was an idiot to invite you back!”
The look Dinobot gave him almost made him feel like a robot again – it was expressive enough that he could almost feel the fury radiate from the warrior. Dinobot froze in mid-swing. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me, Scalebelly. Now that you’re back, what else are you gonna sell to Megatron?”
“I am not in the mood for your banter, rodent.”
“Oh, good, ‘cause I ain’t in a bantering mood!”
Dinobot actually took a confused step back as Rattrap approached. “What is wrong with you?”
“Transmutate is probably my fault, we got Rampage hanging around, everyone is tense and mad at everyone else, and if I don’t do something, I’m going to explode,” Rattrap snarled. “Now put down the sword and fight me!”
“You’ve been wanting to have it out with me since we met, and when I give you the chance, you turn it down! How come you always hafta do the opposite of what I want you to do?”
“It comes of being your nemesis.” Dinobot sighed. “Rattrap, were we to fight, I would flatten you. Perhaps Quickstrike will spar with you. He could use the practice.”
Quickstrike blinked. “Huh? Oh, no, no I … I couldn’t …”
“Quick-strike! Sheesh, everyone thinks I’m gonna break if I have a throw-down …”
To Rattrap’s surprise, the blond cringed. “Later, sure. Just … just not now.”
Everybody was on edge and acting nuts, but Rattrap didn’t think Quickstrike could be affected by anything. He was too dumb and too self-confidant to let anything get to him. Rattrap walked over to him, leaning down a bit to reach his level. “What’s wrong with now, kid?” he asked gently.
Quickstrike looked away, knuckles white where they gripped the edge of his seat. “He’s here. He’d feel it.”
“Who? Rampage? Who cares what he thinks?”
“You might, if’n he told you …” Quickstrike stopped abruptly, biting his lip.
Rattrap patted his shoulder. “‘Strike? What did he do to you, kid?”
“Nothing. Talked to me once, few weeks ago. Didn’t do nothin’, just talked.” Quickstrike shrugged. “He watches us. Not just with his eyes, but with that other sense he’s got. That’s why he never just leaves. He’s watching.”
The younger Maximal trailed off, while the older two waited. After a moment, Quickstrike looked up at Dinobot. “You gotta tell me somethin’ first. When you fight, do … do you like hurting your opponent?”
Rattrap shot the warrior a look, but Dinobot had moved – probably deliberately –so the fall of his hair hid his face from him. “It … depends on the context. To fight an enemy, then, yes, I am pleased to cause pain. To fight one I hate, it becomes enjoyment.”
“Yeah?” demanded Rattrap. “What about the rest of the time?”
“Generally I feel nothing, at least in terms of deriving pleasure from the pain of my opponent.” The warrior turned sharply then, glaring at Rattrap. “I do not think you are innocent, rodent. I’ve watched you.”
Rattrap matched the look. “If a Pred is tryin’ to kill me, I think I’m perfectly justified in being happy when I manage to slag him!”
“Hypocritical vermin! You enjoy the pain of your foes as much as I do!”
“Yeah? Why don’t you take that sword of yours and stick it up your …”
“All right,” Quickstrike yelled, shoving the other two Maximals back. “Let’s say I didn’t stop you and you two beat the scrap outta each other. How would you like that?”
Dinobot stood down first. “I would regret the action,” he admitted, but glowered at Rattrap again. “He’s the only one small enough to clean the ducts.”
“Yeah, yeah, I guess I’d feel bad about it.”
“I wouldn’t!” Quickstrike turned away, ran his hands through his hair in frustration, then let them fall to his sides. “Not during, not after. You remember when I threw Silverbolt last week when we were sparring? Got that nasty gash down his arm ‘cause he hit a rock badly? I was pleased that happened! I like ‘Bolt and I was still happy I hurt him. I feel bad about enjoying it, but I still enjoy it. The scar’s still there, and I think it’s impressive that I did it. And I know that’s not right!”
Rattrap and Dinobot exchanged glances, Dinobot making a, well? What do you expect me to do? gesture with his hands. Rattrap sighed. “‘Strike?”
“You know it’s not right and you care it’s not right. It’s good enough for me.”
Tarantulas hissed in frustration and threw down a datapad. “Ugh! These scans are useless!” Three days and two mostly-sleepless nights working on the unsolvable problem of Transmutate had made her rather irritable.
“You still aren’t allowed to dissect her.”
The Predacon scientist glared at her Maximal counterpart. She and Rhinox were in one of the computer labs, leaving Transmutate in the med bay under Rampage’s care. They were reasonably certain she wouldn’t be harmed, and had retreated to add their latest information on Transmutate’s medical problems to the already long list. “Did I say that?”
Rhinox frowned. “You were thinking it.”
“She’s a wreck. No use to anyone except a bored scientist.”
“I don’t know what extra data you think you’d glean from it.”
“I was thinking of entertainment value rather than science.”
He gave her a disgusted look, then turned away to type at a console. Tarantulas grinned at him, then picked up another datapad. She couldn’t shoot at the Maximals any more, but no one had ordered her not to bait them. She plugged the datapad into her computer, downloaded the contents, and added it to a correlation file.
After a moment, she checked the data again and cursed. Rhinox looked up. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, well, I suppose even the aliens have their limits,” murmured Tarantulas. “Those of us who were damaged before the change – such as Waspinator – were repaired. Those who were damaged after … I guess alien magic kept her functional this long, but I think when all the little pointers start dropping, that’s a bad thing.”
Rhinox looked over her shoulder at the display. “She’s dying.”
“She’s been dying ever since her pod opened, Maximal.” Tarantulas didn’t care about Transmutate and would happily kill her, but after all the work she and Rhinox had done, Transmutate dying on her own was just plain ungrateful.
“Then save her.”
Both scientists looked over at the rumble from the doorway. Tarantulas arched an eyebrow. “Hello, Rampage. I suppose you overheard all of that.”
“All of it,” he agreed. Rampage pushed past both of them to look at the computer screen, then snarled and grabbed Tarantulas out of her chair by a strap of her cape. “What can you do?”
“Ooh, aside from taking her apart and trying to rearrange her internal workings to look like the rest of ours?” asked Tarantulas. “If she were a robot, maybe, maybe I would be able to pull that off. Not human. I know how she ought to be put together, but that doesn’t mean I can do it.”
Rampage put her down, though the look in his eyes suggested he’d be perfectly happy to tear her limbs off except that she might be useful. Tarantulas readjusted her cape. “You want a miracle, call down the aliens. I haven’t developed magic powers yet.”
Rampage harrumphed and started to turn, but his hand shot out and caught her wrist. He squeezed, causing the bones to grind together as he pulled her over to him. “If you are ever that bored,” he hissed, leaving no doubt as to exactly how much of the conversation he had heard, “I will make life very, very exciting for you.”
Tarantulas realised her heart was pounding, and it wasn’t all fear. She smirked at him. “Tempting.”
Confusion flicked across his expression, but was quickly reigned in. With a noise of disgust, he released her and stomped away. Tarantulas sagged back against the wall to catch her breath.
To her annoyance, she found Rhinox hovering over her. “Did he hurt you?”
“No. I’m fine.” Tarantulas sighed. “I swear, my body is trying to get me killed.”
She looked up when he walked into her room. “Friend?”
“No. I’m not a friend.” Terrorsaur felt pity for her, true enough. He felt outrage on her behalf, that she was given life but only the barest awareness of the fact. It hadn’t been easy to slip into her room while she was alone, but Blackarachnia was off sulking someplace and Rampage was bothering the scientists. Terrorsaur had a few minutes, probably less. It would be enough.
“I know. Poor creature,” said Terrorsaur quietly, and meant it. He’d known mindless creatures before; beautiful living statues with souls and no awareness at all. He’d almost been one himself, but on his creator’s whim, he was given intelligence. The thought that he might have been like this, living in a dead mind, had torn him from sleep on more than one occasion. Sparking a drone was, in Terrorsaur’s opinion, the cruellest act one could perform.
Terrorsaur was not an altruistic creature by any stretch of the imagination. But in his mind, the termination of Transmutate would be an act mercy and nothing else. She was dying anyway. She was in pain and she couldn’t understand …
I should just kill it. Someone has to take responsibility. He glanced over at the life-support machine, but made no move towards it.
“All right, I’m a coward.” He sighed, and gently stroked Transmutate’s forehead. “I’m sorry, but I know what will come after me if I release you.”
She looked up at him with uncomprehending eyes; eyes that had the spark of life, but no mind behind them. “Poor creature,” he said again, returning his hand to his side, stepping back to leave. “I might have been you.”
They had been frowning at the monitors again, Tarantulas and Rhinox, trying to will the indicators to go up, when Rampage walked in and said, “Now.”
He knew, in his way, probably feeling the fading spark … if they even had proper sparks any more. Tarantulas wondered idly if she could rip open one of the Cybertronians and find the familiar blue glow. There hadn’t been one on the protohuman she had dissected a month ago. Tarantulas had found herself strangely disturbed by that. A living thing should have a spark.
There must be something, because Rampage could detect it. Tarantulas decided to ask him about the protohumans later, if she got the chance. Asking right then could get messy.
They had radioed Silverbolt, who arrived minutes later at a run. Rhinox had left, mumbling some excuse about giving people space and not wanting to be in the way. Tarantulas stayed. She had no interest in Transmutate or the others, but she liked to watch things die.
She was pretty sure Rampage could pick up on that, given the glare he sent her when he saw her. Tarantulas smiled at him. There was no point denying it. She couldn’t mask her feelings, not on the inside.
She hung back by the monitors, recording to the end, and stayed quiet. She was only there to pretend to tend the equipment and to watch.
Transmutate twined her twig-like fingers with Rampage’s large hand, and reached with her other arm towards Silverbolt. Silverbolt rested his fingers on the mass of flesh, her hand unreachable. Transmutate settled back on the pillow, either to get more comfortable or to be able to see both men at the same time. The lipless mouth smiled. “Friend. Friends.” This time it wasn’t a question.
And that was it.
Silverbolt bit his lip. “Terrorsaur said she could not think, that she could only feel. I think, perhaps, she understood, at least a little.”
Rampage waited a moment, his face unreadable. Eventually he spoke. “I know my way out.”
He left. Silverbolt stayed a minute longer, then followed. Tarantulas sighed, reaching for her commlink. If nothing else, she would need help moving the body.
Tarantulas wondered if she’d be allowed to dissect Transmutate now. Probably not. It would need to be gotten rid of. Incineration was the best bet; little chance of anyone raising objections, anyway.
He wanted to kill something. Whoever he happened across first, Rampage decided. Nothing fancy; just swift and brutal.
He altered his plan from ‘fast and messy’ to ‘slow and painful’ when he walked past one of the minor labs and nearly stepped on Terrorsaur.
Rampage picked up the Predacon by his throat and pushed him back into the botany lab. “You … you thought you could get to me through her, didn’t you? You know I’ll take Waspinator away from you one day, so you took Transmutate away from me!”
“Arrogant … Nothing … to do … with you … And … I … didn’t … kill it.”
With a snarl, Rampage hurled the Predacon into the nearest wall. “You thought about it often enough. Maybe I won’t wait on you and your little friend. Maybe I’ll just drag you two out into some nice, lonely spot and see how well you plead for each other’s lives.” He considered that. “But I can’t kill her, can I?”
Terrorsaur slowly got to his feet, keeping his back against the wall, probably trying to determine the best escape route. Rampage kept himself between the Predacon and the doorway; and both knew that Rampage would easily win any physical confrontation. “She was mine,” said Rampage. “By all rights, Transmutate was mine.”
“Which has nothing to do with me,” said Terrorsaur. Rampage could only read emotions, so he didn’t know what the Predacon was up to, only that there was a faint spark of hope and rebelliousness under his terror.
“Waspinator is mine, too. You just haven’t accepted that yet.”
The spark burned a little more brightly. “The Pit she is.”
He took a step forward. “I could take your little friend whenever I want to.”
Blind fury replaced the fear. The Predacon dropped to a crouch, fingers on the handle of the knife he kept in his boot. “You try it, and I see just how immortal you are in a human body.”
For a moment, Rampage tensed, ready to spring, then relaxed with a loud laugh. “So! The coward has found something to fight for.” He chuckled again, green eyes practically glowing. “You know … I think I’m just going to leave you alone.”
Terrorsaur waited. Rampage continued. “Anticipation is the sweetest part of any relationship, isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Mm, no, you wouldn’t.” Rampage stood back, pretending to consider his options. “You’re not much protection, but you’re all little Waspinator’s got. And once you’re gone, well, she won’t have anyone else in the world but me. No, I won’t do a thing to you. You’re safe from me. But you won’t live forever.”
Rattrap, on monitor duty, glanced up when Silverbolt stumbled into the control room, and blindly fell into a chair. “I … I could not protect her …”
It was just his week for comforting the young ones, Rattrap supposed. “Shh, kid. No one could’ve done anything.”
It had helped, a little, to threaten Terrorsaur. There had been such texture to it – being unable to escape, the fear of physical injury, thoughts of his own mortality, the realisation his own ineffectualness and the utter hopelessness of the situation, all tied up in undertones the Predacon wasn’t prepared to face … his young, inexperienced mind could barely cope with it. Pain, fear, confusion … for one who could sense such things, it made for a veritable feast of sensation.
It was almost an adequate distraction.
To be continued ...