"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Nobody said anything about bringin' more stinkin' Preds back here!" Rattrap protested. "And I do mean 'stinking'."
"It's lava," said Tigatron. "They've always smelled like that."
"Yeah, well now it's disgusting."
The control room of the Axalon was getting crowded. "Tigatron, Cheetor, stay put for now, I'll have a job for you when I get back," Optimus ordered. "Tigatron, fill Rattrap in on the situation. Predacons, come with me. I'll see to finding quarters for you."
"I wish to see Tarantulas first," said Megatron. "Perhaps I will find something you missed."
"Fine," said Optimus. "We'll go past the xenolab first. I'll have Rhinox scan you all as well. The wider a sample we have to work from, the better."
Dinobot insisted on coming along, just in case the Predacons suddenly recovered, or, more likely, to keep watch on Inferno. She had only been told to restrain herself until further orders, and while Megatron was himself in no shape to fight, he could very easily give further orders.
Blackarachnia, sitting cross-legged on the table that Tarantulas was lying on, looked up when they came in. "Megatron? You all look awful."
"Good morning to you, too," rumbled Megatron. "Move aside."
Optimus signalled Rhinox to see to Scorponok and the flyers, then went to the table, opposite Megatron. Inferno was still sticking to her leader like a big, red shadow, and Blackarachnia hovered nearby, refusing to be too far away from Tarantulas. The former was normal, the latter was not. As far as Optimus had been able to tell, Tarantulas and Blackarachnia hated each other.
Megatron took Tarantulas' face in his hands, carefully turning her head this way and that, looking for damages, then inspected her arms, since they were mostly bare except for some long, dark green ribbons tied around her upper arms. "There seem to be no bumps, dents, discolourations, or tears, but perhaps these are hidden by her clothes. Or her injury isn't visible. Many attacks cause unconsciousness but leave no mark. Null rays, surgers, EMP projectors, cybervenom ..."
"You get one guess what Rhinox was being treated for in the CR chamber," Optimus snapped. He composed himself. "Those are all attacks to be used on robots, anyway. Would any of them affect what we are now?"
"Well, they can't be good for us, no. Help me with her clothing. She may have some hidden injury that will shed some light on the matter. I trust my own senses more than a hastily recalibrated scanner at this moment, yes."
Blackarachnia appeared beside her leader, as if trying to block him. "Look, I'll do that."
"Looking for the softest spot to slip the knife into," Megatron murmured.
"I don't like her, but I know Tarantulas better than you do, and I know that if she has to be vulnerable and prodded at, she'd want me to be the one doing it," said Blackarachnia. "Besides, in the state you're in, you're not going to be real helpful."
"Blackarachnia, I would like to think that I know my own limits! -"
At that moment, he exceeded them. The shout became a wheeze and Megatron staggered, folding up in a coughing fit. Inferno caught him before he could collapse, then for some reason glared at Scorponok as if it was his fault. For his part, Scorponok ran over and helped Inferno get Megatron back upright. "He hasn't caught a break since this started. How d'you expect me to stop him, Inferno?"
"Enough, both of you!" Megatron snarled, shaking them off.
Blackarachnia looked completely surprised - she had been goading him, but hadn't expected any reaction beyond being shouted at. Conversely, Terrorsaur and Waspinator seemed almost bored, as if they knew Megatron was due to fall over, or they just couldn't summon up the energy to care. Rhinox looked up and raised an eyebrow, but he was hard to startle. Dinobot had hissed, taken a step forward, then quickly subsided and forced himself to take on a neutral expression.
Megatron glared at everyone. "And you can all stop staring." He turned to Optimus. "Perhaps it would be best if we proceeded to quarters. My crew has had a rough day."
He's embarrassed, thought Optimus, and even though the conclusion was obvious, it was still surprising because it involved Megatron. Well, that explains why he agreed to the truce so easily - he's more damaged then he wants to let on so he's not up for a fight. Suits me.
Rhinox approached them, holding up his scanner. "Megatron, you and the ones who came with you have lower levels of oxygen in your blood than the rest of us. That's probably causing some of your problems."
"What are we supposed to do, then?" sighed Megatron. "Breathe more?"
Rhinox ignored the sarcasm. "We can increase the oxygen level in your rooms and see if that helps. Don't start any fires." Inferno glared at him.
"Hmph. I knew that, yes." But the annoyance seemed to be self-directed.
Blackarachnia refused to leave the xenolab. Optimus and Dinobot managed to sort out the other five Predacons without incident but one. Megatron let himself be led to a set of empty quarters, but he turned back to the two Maximals. "One final bit of neighbourly information: I have deactivated the security system at our base. There was no point for it to be on - it's programmed to detect Transformers, not organics. But before I left, I deactivated the environmental controls. Good day." Inferno followed him in before the door closed.
Optimus and Dinobot started back to the command centre. Apparently unable to wait, Rattrap ambushed them in the hall. "Since we got Preds over, I wanted the opinion of our resident Predacon expert," he said. The way he emphasised his words, it was impossible to tell whether Rattrap meant 'our authority on Predacons' or 'our skilled Predacon'.
Dinobot didn't react, so either the former or he just wasn't in the mood to take the bait. Optimus looked back down at Rattrap. "Fire away."
"I'm gonna put this as delicately as I can," said Rattrap. "Ahem: Are you out of your slaggin' mind!?"
"If the Predacons are here, they're not over there plotting against us."
"Oh, good, I was worried that you'd gone soft 'cause they got hurt. They can plot just as easily here, you know."
"The Discs are at the Predacon base," said Optimus.
Rattrap stared at his leader a moment, then grinned. "One of which was made by the aliens and might have information on it that we could use. So if you can't keep the Discs out of the Preds' hands, you'll keep the Preds away from the Discs. And when they wanna go back to pick up equipment, heh, we'll be right there to help 'em."
"Megatron knows what you're up to," said Dinobot grimly. "Why do you think he turned off the climate controls in his base? He cannot reach the Discs, but neither can we unless he lets us."
"A stalemate is better than a loss." Optimus frowned, then looked up at Dinobot. "When Megatron collapsed, was that real or was it an attempt to lull us into a false sense of security?"
Dinobot considered that. "Real. And unless his skills at trickery have increased exponentially since we ... parted ways, I would say that he has been honest with us. He cannot shut off his pain receptors. His damages distract him, inhibiting his ability to think clearly, and he lacks the energy to lie. But he will recover."
They re-entered the control room. Tigatron, Cheetor, and Airazor were in a little group by the monitors, but looked up when the others came in. "You said you had a job for us?" asked Cheetor, practically bouncing.
Optimus couldn't help smiling in the face of such obvious enthusiasm. "It's not that exciting, I'm afraid. Tigatron said she had an idea of where to find fuel for these forms. I want you to assist her."
Cheetor's eagerness wasn't damped in the least. "So what if it's not much? I want to see how fast I can go and I can't do that in here and you didn't let me before."
"Remember that you're not robots anymore," Optimus cautioned. "The local wildlife may think you're prey."
"We will take all due precautions." Tigatron nodded, signalled to Cheetor, and left.
Optimus looked over at his remaining crew. "Dinobot, Airazor, sort out monitor duty between yourselves. Rattrap and I still have work to do on the water pump."
Before Optimus could leave, Dinobot stopped him. "You seem to think you have everything sorted out, but what of the aliens?" demanded Dinobot. "What if they should attack again? We could not defend ourselves before, how are we supposed to now?"
"I don't know about that," said Optimus. "They could have killed us. They didn't. Maybe this was their way of neutralising us. More research is needed - I agree on that."
"What about the stasis pods?" asked Airazor. "If more come down, what'll come out of them?"
Optimus nodded. "Good question. If the aliens changed them as well, they'll need our help." And at least one would need to be contained. If there is a Primus and if his influence reaches this far, if the stasis pods were unaffected by the reformat, let us find our crew first so we have a chance ...
"Could the Predacons still reprogram them?" asked Dinobot.
"Dinobot, right now, the Predacons can't do anything."
Terrorsaur tapped the door intercom. "Waspinator? Open up."
Her voice came through: "What is secret password?"
"Lemme in, you dope."
The door opened. Waspinator stuck her tongue out at him. "Lucky guess. What does terror-bot want?"
"I told you. In."
Waspinator stood back to let him pass, then went and sat down on the berth, feet crossed at the ankles. Terrorsaur paced for a few minutes, then suddenly turned on her. "Why in the Pit aren't you worried about this?"
She shrugged. "Been shot by flying island. Been possessed by Starscream. Been blown up on regular basis. Waspinator does not find new bodies exciting."
"But we're completely organic!"
"Megatron will fix it," said Waspinator confidently. "Or Maximals will fix it and Megatron will steal the fix for Predacons."
Terrorsaur glared at her. "There's something disgusting about your cheerfulness."
The scout lay back on the berth and tucked her hands behind her head. "Waspinator has other reasons to be cheerful."
"Waspinator," she said in conspiratorial tones, "has plans."
There was no getting information out of Waspinator when she was in one of her moods. Her plan was probably nothing more exciting than borrowing his gloves anyway. "Be that way. And what's your room code?"
"Same as back in Predacon base. Easy for Waspinator to remember."
Of course. He should have tried that first. So much for giving Waspinator any credit. "How long do you think we're going to be staying here in the Maximal base?"
Waspinator shrugged awkwardly. "Next few hours at least. Maybe will find a way to get Predacons' base less hot and stinky later."
"It's half-sunk in lava and we already turned the environmental compensators to maximum. I don't think it's possible."
"Then Predacons stuck with Maximals. Yuck."
"Well, they're not allowed to shoot us now, right?"
Waspinator gave him a dark look. "And Terrorsaur says Waspinator has bad memory. Terrorsaur not remember last truce."
"Okay, so they beat the slag out of us without weapons," said Terrorsaur. "But Megatron's got to have some reason for going along with it ..."
"Squawk, squawk, squawk," said Waspinator, then sat up to look at him. "Terrorsaur is stalling." She cocked her head. "Terror-bot is scared? Doesn't want to be alone?"
"Mmph." It was true enough, Terrorsaur could acknowledge. Regaining consciousness in a strange room was likely to throw him into panic fits until he remembered where he was. However, regaining consciousness in a strange room with someone he might not recognise as his wingmate ... He considered that. He hadn't been teamed up with Waspinator long, but he'd know her anywhere. Better to have something familiar around. "Yeah, I'll stay. Safety in numbers in the enemy base and all."
Waspinator knew Terrorsaur's real reasons full well and made a razzing noise, but didn't argue with him.
"Okay, I got it hooked up. You wanna do the honours, boss?" said Rattrap, climbing up to perch on the edge of the currently open-topped tank that was just a little shorter than he was. Between the width of the hose and the strength of the pump, they realised it made more sense to build a reservoir than to just let the pump blast and flood the lower cargo bay. It was such a simple machine with such a simple purpose. Putting it all together had almost been relaxing.
"All right. Get ready." Optimus tapped the controls that would open the valve and begin the suction.
The pump made dreadful gasping noises for nearly a minute before the air was completely forced out by the oncoming water, and the gasping became a splashing. Rattrap whooped from his perch. "Whaddya know - we got it right the first time ... Hey, is that a fish? We caught a fish! Ha!"
Optimus shut off the pump. "We should have put a screen at the other end. And filters. Goodness knows what else is in the river."
Rattrap leaned down and swiped at the water. "Okay, fine, so it's not perfect. I'll whomp up a screen and attach it down at the bottom so's we don't catch any more fish. You or Rhinox can deal with filters. Are fish edible now? I never ate a fish before."
"It was too much bother to try to catch 'em and Tigatron yelled at me when I suggested blasting 'em out of the water once ... Oops, incoming firebug!"
Optimus turned and found himself looking up at Inferno, but not too far up. He was one of the few people she didn't loom over.
"Optimus Primal. I have been looking for you." Her tone was strained - she still saw him as an enemy, but Megatron had ordered her to obey the truce, so she would.
"Hello, Inferno. Why?"
The Predacon had left her long coat and her gloves somewhere, which left her arms bare. She held up one hand, the back discoloured by a burn. "The chemicals used for cleaning are incompatible with these forms. Change this."
Of course. The cleaning chemicals they used were designed to get rid of the organic muck they picked up from the planet outside, and now the Cybertronians counted as organic muck themselves. "I'm glad you thought of it before someone tried to take a shower," said Optimus. "I'm sorry about your hand."
Inferno ignored the apology. "Change this before the other Predacons awaken."
"Water seems harmless and we have easy access to it. Will that do?"
He gestured back at the tank. Inferno strode over, ignoring Rattrap, and reached down into the tank and splashed a bit. "I suppose it will have to," she said, shaking the water off her hand. "I expect the impurities to be dealt with."
"Nobody likes my fish," sighed Rattrap.
"There is visible detritus floating in it. This is not hygienic." Inferno turned back to Optimus. "The scans your engineer took of everyone - how complete were they? Does the data include just the flesh or these outer coverings as well?"
Caught by brief surprise at the sudden change of topic, Optimus took several seconds to answer. "They were complete, clothing included."
"Have they been uploaded to the main computer?"
The Predacon nodded. "I require access to your fabricator."
When Optimus hesitated, Inferno frowned. "The Royalty told me to make myself useful. My nestmates are in an absolutely disgraceful condition. I cannot fight what harmed them, I cannot repair their injuries, but I can see to it that they are clean and tended to."
Optimus and Rattrap exchanged glances, then Optimus turned back to Inferno. "I'll take you up to the control room."
When they arrived, Airazor was the only one left in attendance. She looked askance at Inferno, but turned back to fiddling with the monitors when Optimus signalled it was all right. If Inferno noticed, she didn't seem to care.
Optimus told Sentinel that Inferno was allowed to use the fabricator until further notice, then pointed out the interface. Inferno took on a challenger's stance, as if she was going to fight the computer and not just talk to it. "Computer!"
"It's called 'Sentinel'," said Optimus.
Inferno nodded, then looked up again. "Sentinel! Access the data from the scans taken from Predacon units Megatron, Scorponok, Terrorsaur, and Waspinator."
"Disregard the organic data - I am only interested in their outer coverings, everything that is not a part of their bodies. Do this."
"Now remove any trace or particles that would have come from volcanic gases. Scan my outer coverings and the others in this room if a baseline is required."
The Predacon didn't seem to need any help. Optimus drifted over to Airazor. "What are you working on?"
She tapped a couple keys, then looked up at him. "I'm trying to re-establish contact with the stasis pods. I worried what the energy wave might have done to their systems, but right now I can't detect them at all."
"Keep trying. Where did Dinobot go?"
"He said he was going to go back to his room to Contemplate the Situation," said Airazor. "His words. His emphasis, too."
"He's off on a sulk."
"Yep." Airazor leaned over and dropped her voice. "Why are you letting Inferno of all people have access to the computer?"
"All she's after is clean clothing for her comrades," said Optimus. "She's concerned about them. All I'd ever seen her do before was laugh and set things on fire. Seeing her protective is interesting."
"You know ... she does have a Maximal spark ..."
"Her and Blackarachnia." Optimus shook his head. "I don't know. I can hope, but ... they're reprogrammed. They're gone."
Airazor turned, watching Inferno. "Remember, though - the person who abandoned me to go sulk has Predacon programming and a Predacon spark, and he chose Maximal."
Inferno had vanished with her arms full of synthetic fabric, only to reappear later behind Rattrap, demanding to know how the showers were coming along. Rattrap must have talked a good game, because when Optimus went to check up on him a few megacycles later, Inferno was holding up a pipe so that Rattrap could weld it. "It's nice to see you two getting along."
Maximal and Predacon turned to him with identical expressions of disgust. "She wanted it done fast. I told her it'd go faster if she helped," said Rattrap. Inferno nodded agreement. "You hook up the filters and stuff you wanted?"
"The screen, too, since you were busy in here. How's this coming?"
Rattrap wiped the back of his hand across his forehead and left a smear of grease. "That's about the last of it, actually. I mean, all we really had to do was disconnect the showers from the chemical cleaners tank and hook 'em up to the water tank. I'll run it full-blast for a while to flush all the chemicals outta the system first, though."
Optimus checked up on Rhinox and Blackarachnia in the xenolab, but they didn't have anything new to report, so he headed back up to the control room. He might have been covering the length of the ship, but it was pacing and he knew it. Well, he was worried about everyone and wanted to check up on them. The sensors couldn't tell them apart, there weren't cameras everywhere, and he knew that calls through the intercom every few minutes wouldn't make him popular.
He briefly envied the injured Predacons - Optimus hadn't caught a break since the day before and now it was late morning. However, whenever he tried to rest, he found he'd just get up a minute later and check on things. Maybe once things have settled a bit, I'll be able to relax.
Rattrap hadn't been exaggerating about nearly being finished with the pipes - he beat Optimus back to the control room. Dinobot had apparently grown bored of his own company and was up there as well. He was engaged in a quiet if earnest conversation with Sentinel about something - trying to design a sword suited for his new form, it sounded like. The room was brighter than normal, and Optimus looked up to find the roof hatch open, with Airazor's feet dangling over the edge. "Airazor!"
She leaned down to look at him. "I was checking the space scanner array for damage. It looks fine. Now I'm on break."
Airazor looked away suddenly as if called, waved, then swung down a cable back into the control room. "Tigatron and Cheetor are back."
Tigatron and Cheetor arrived on the lift several minutes later, a small loader drone between them. "Now that the sun's up, it's hot out there like whoa," said Cheetor. "I guess it was always like that, I just never noticed. I can't even imagine what it'd be like in the Pred base if outside is bad enough."
Tigatron nodded. "I rather wonder why we have clothing at all. It seems impractical."
"You'd look like Inferno without it," said Airazor.
"Did you have any trouble?" asked Optimus.
Tigatron shook her head. "Very little. Perhaps the scent of the drone kept predators away, perhaps there were simply none around. It did take the gorillas longer than usual to notice us as we observed them. Whatever we smell like now is either not as strong as it was or simply blends better than the scent of our original bodies did."
"We brought fruits. It seemed easiest," said Cheetor, parking the drone next to the table.
Rattrap picked through the loader. "There's no wild bean vines in here, is there? Those things did a number on Rhinox when he was a robot. They'd probably make us explode now."
"This was stuff off a tree," said Cheetor. "Relax."
Dinobot picked up one of the yellowish fruits with red markings and eyed it warily. "You are certain this isn't going to kill us? We may have completely incompatible body chemistry."
"What would the point of that be? If the aliens could transmute us, they could have more easily destroyed us. Why transmute us only to have us die of fuel loss? Besides, we are unharmed after an hour," said Tigatron, which gave Optimus a brief scientific horror that she had tested it on herself. It would make perfect, logical sense in Tigatron's mind to do it that way, he knew. "In fact, I do feel better now than I did before. But do not expect immediate effects. Our current systems do not seem to convert matter to useable energy very fast."
"We're all gonna die," said Rattrap, fishing out a fruit of his own, "but I'd rather go out with a full tank."
He took a bite, then immediately spat it out. "Stripes! Why didn't you warn me?"
Tigatron raised an eyebrow. "Hm?"
"Our senses! I've eaten these things before - they never tasted like anything! The thing's practically an overload now!"
Dinobot looked disgusted. "So of all our senses, most muted, some lost completely, the one that got enhanced was taste? Are organics supposed to perceive their universe by licking it?"
Tigatron and Rattrap were still arguing. "You dislike it?" The tracker was smiling faintly - she'd known what the reaction would be and was enjoying it. Sometimes it was easy to forget that Tigatron had a sense of humour, though this little practical joke was more Cheetor's style. He'd probably put her up to it, and seeing it harmless, Tigatron went along with it.
Rattrap wagged a finger at her. "I never said that. It just caught me by surprise is all."
It seemed safe enough and other options weren't presenting themselves. Optimus selected one of the yellowish spheres and took a bite. Transformers did have a sense of taste - different grades of fuel, different additives ... a bartender could become famous for their drinks. There were even Cybertronian confectioners who made a living carefully balancing chemicals into little bites of ecstasy.
The lesser ones would have thrown away their tools in despair if they could have experienced that first bite. The better ones would scramble to duplicate the effect. He wasn't sure if he liked the flavour yet, but it was certainly intense.
He nodded to Tigatron. "We'd just assumed that all our senses had been dulled. It's nice to have a pleasant surprise after the unpleasant one we got from the aliens."
Tigatron's expression flickered briefly - anger? Disapproval? Annoyance? - but settled to a neutral, businesslike one too quickly for him to read. "This isn't a balanced diet. We wear the forms of omnivores, not herbivores. More research will be required."
"This will hold us for now. It seems like we're going to have to get into a detailed study of this planet sooner than we expected."
"And without our right crew," said Rattrap. "We're mostly just here to fly the ship. The specialists are all still takin' pod-naps."
"We know enough for a start."
To be continued ...
Notes: Answers to the questions you are asking:
Yes, the idea of Transformers-as-Humans is overdone. I started this for a contest back in December 2002, didn't win, and decided to keep working on it anyway.
Generally, the story explains things. You wouldn't believe how many people ask why most of the Predacons are women, despite it being explained ( albeit briefly ) in the story. ( Nobody in Readerland seems to care that everybody went from asexual to gendered so technically everybody got gender-swapped, it's just that a few got English pronoun-swaps as well. ) If something isn't explained, the reason is, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Sometimes this doesn't work.
Technically, they should all have appeared naked since they were naked as robots, but I'd be tempted to deal more with bodily functions if they were naked, and I don't think anybody really wants to read the Casual Urination Scene. Besides, they'd get sore feet if I took away their boots.
Other Vengeance 2.0 starts partway through Aftermath, then runs off in another direction.
This is a big, fat rewrite because the original story was getting away from me.
On to A Question of Identity - part one
Back to Other Vengeance 2.0
Back to In Space, No One Can Hear Starscream