Steel Rose

And he was back home in Betacron, the centre of art on Cybertron, walking through an outdoor gallery, high atop a tower.

It didn't matter that he had fled the city years ago, or that he had never actually seen any of its famous outdoor museums, except in pictures. He knew where he was. It was right that he was here, walking among the statues.

The sculptor was a master, of course, though a bit eccentric - he had a fondness for alien flowers, and he... twisted them just enough to make the observer feel as if he had stepped into some kind of surreal metal garden. It was beautiful, though. Stepping closer, running his fingers over the strange petals, the one walking through the gallery knew no paint had been used; the metal itself was coloured. He was no artist or critic, merely a person who had spent the first years of his life surrounded by such things, and he recognised and admired skilled work when he saw it. Each sculpture was a poem in steel.

And in the centre of the garden was a flower that stood in stark contrast to the others. Unlike the others, it was an exact representation of the plant it was based on. It was sculpted with such skill that if it hadn't been made of the gray-blue alloy of Cybertron's cities, he would have sworn it was real, expected the petals to be soft under his hand.

They weren't, of course. The rose was steel.

He snatched his hand back as if he'd been bitten. This place wasn't a gallery. It was a trap.

Blindly, he turned and fled through the garden. The master of the gallery knew he was there. He had to get away before...

He stopped, confused and frightened, when the door he was certain led out of the museum had merely let him into another section. Instead of flowers, this one had statues of people.

They were beautiful, as everything in the gallery was. Impractical designs as often as not, but very lovely. They seemed in motion despite their perfect stillness - a tribute to the skill of their builder, who could fill them with such natural grace. Still, statues had always made him nervous, and despite their beauty, there was something odd about...

It was their faces. All of the statues had the same face. Not identical, no, but still the same in their perfect serenity...

... Perfect serenity?

There was a turmoil here; he could feel it. While everything he was screamed at him to run, run, he couldn't stop himself from approaching the closest statue. There was nothing but peace in the smooth sculpting of its cheeks, the gentle curve of its mouth, but something in the optics...

They should have been dark. Instead, they were lit from within, but it wasn't simply a clever rigging of an LED behind the glass, but the clear light of a living soul...

The statue didn't move, it couldn't, but her voice pounded into his head: You did this to us!


You left, and he took away the mobility of those who came after to keep it from happening again, trapped our minds in dead bodies...

No, please, this isn't my fault. I didn't know...

You are free and we pay the price. But you won't be free for long. When the master of the gallery catches you...

And a strong hand grabbed his shoulder from behind. He tried desperately to turn, to fight or to flee, but he couldn't move. All he could do was scream...

It should have been night, just for ambiance's sake.

As it was, it was very early morning, with the sun just peeking over the jagged horizon, barely competing with the glow of the lava pits. The scream should have woken everyone else in the base, except that they were already awake. The Predacons tended to sleep when they could, and since each only needed between four and six hours of recharge, their schedules didn't overlap much, if at all. Sometimes this was on purpose.

So, as things stood, the only one woken up by Terrorsaur's scream was Terrorsaur himself. None of the others slept at the same time he did if they could help it; he was prone to nightmares, had a shriek that could shatter glass, and they didn't have the materials for soundproofing. They had enough problems without being rudely awakened by one of their own.

It took a few seconds after his optics opened to establish he was indeed safe in his own quarters in the Predacon base. The lights were on - Terrorsaur wasn't afraid of the dark, but in the first few seconds of consciousness, it rarely occurred to him to activate his infrared or simply call the lights on. There were scorch marks on one wall attesting to the fact that one time he woke with the lights off, panicked, and fired off a few blind shots before remembering where he was.

He was lying on his back, hands clenched at his sides, which bothered him because when he had lay down five hours ago, they were behind his head. Bad enough that I make noise - I thrash around, too. I just hope nobody's got a spy-cam in my quarters... Which would have been a ridiculous thought, except that between Megatron and Tarantulas, practically the entire ship was bugged.

Carefully, Terrorsaur sat up while disconnecting the recharge cable from his side. Given his build, he'd had to alter his berth, carving out a section that his pterodactyl's head could fit into. Sometimes he slept in his beast-mode, but not often; unless he was in the air, the pterodactyl was pretty much helpless. Sleeping was bad enough without leaving himself even more defenceless.

His internal chronometer informed him that he really had another ten minutes or so before his shift started, but he swung his feet over the side of the berth and stood up anyway. Going back to sleep was out of the question, and with nothing better to do, he decided he might as well get up. And hopefully Megatron will decide to kick me out on patrol for the day. Terrorsaur sorted his nightmares into two categories: The ones that made him want to stay inside with people, and the ones that made him want to get outside and away from everyone. This had been one of the latter, but, given his luck, he'd be stuck with monitor duty. Or, worse, playing assistant to Scorponok if there were repairs to be done. Terrorsaur really didn't want to be stuck grubbing around in tight access shafts today. Not that he could right out request patrol. Megatron took too much enjoyment in being contrary, especially with him. On some level, Terrorsaur knew this was his own fault, but he still found it unfair.

The corridors were empty as he walked, which Terrorsaur took as a good sign. Maybe no one heard me this time...

That hope was dashed as soon as he stepped into the base's control centre. Terrorsaur knew too well that grin of Scorponok's, and waited for the inevitable. "Internal wake-up calls are supposed to be internal, Terrorsaur."

"Good morning, and may Inferno use you for target practice." From the moment they first met, the two had rubbed each other the wrong way. As they got to know each other better, the not-so-friendly rivalry got worse - Scorponok saw Terrorsaur practically as an intruder; a mouthy little upstart who was allowed to stay only because they needed troops. And Terrorsaur, who had fought his way out of his own servile relationship, couldn't respect Scorponok and his unflagging loyalty to Megatron. There was always a minor dominance struggle between the two, and while Scorponok was always secure in his rank, Terrorsaur knew he could beat the scorpion in a fight, so in his view, they were more or less equal.

However, since it wasn't the time or place for a proper fight or even a more detailed shouting match, they left it at their morning snipes and set about ignoring each other. At least Scorponok has Inferno to worry about now. The fire ant was nowhere to be seen; likely out on patrol. Inferno could be exasperating, but he was great in a fight and annoyed Scorponok, so he was fine in Terrorsaur's books.

Terrorsaur hopped up on the closet hoverpad and manoeuvred it over to one of the monitoring stations. Waspinator looked over from the next console. "Which nightmare did terror-bot have this time?" he asked quietly.

"The one about the statues. Don't talk to me." He knew Waspinator meant well; he just didn't want to talk out in public - especially not when the audience would be Megatron and Scorponok. Maybe he'd go talk to his partner later privately, maybe he wouldn't.

Waspinator buzzed sulkily and turned back to his station. Terrorsaur called up a random display on the screen he was at and pretended to be interested in it until Megatron finally decided to acknowledge him: "You're quite punctual when you have incentive, Terrorsaur."

And I'm going to be razzed about this all day, aren't I? Instead, Terrorsaur just looked over one shoulder at his leader and shrugged to show he heard. Now, how best to handle this? Annoy Megatron and hope I kicked out for the day? Or play nice and hope he sends me out? The problem with Megatron was that he had the nasty habit of knowing exactly what his minions were up to, so it was nearly impossible to get him to do what one hoped. And in the mood I'm in, if he keeps me cooped up in the base, I'm going to do everything I can to make him regret it.

For whatever reason, luck was on Terrorsaur's side. Megatron waved one hand, dismissing him. "Waspinator can handle the monitors until Blackarachnia arrives for her shift... if she does," Megatron added. "Inferno took the north patrol route. I was going to send him to check on an energon storm to the east but I suppose I can send you instead."

"You're too kind," murmured Terrorsaur. Of course. Send me to get blasted by the storm instead of your pet bodyguard, who is, incidentally, a stronger flyer than I am and better equipped to handle such weather. Still, outside was outside, so he wasn't about to argue. Leaving the hoverpad where it was, Terrorsaur stepped off of it, rolled in mid-fall, caught the air under synthetic leather wings, and flew out.

Waspinator, still feeling snubbed, made a razzing noise. "Show-off."

"There. Eheheh. You're done."

He looked into the mirror offered, touching one hand to its surface and the other to his own cheek. "My face... What did you do to me?"

"Mm, something that should have been done a lo-o-ong time ago."

There were other changes that had been made to adapt to the planet, major ones, but in his mind, they were secondary. He had been beautiful hours before, designed by a master sculptor, his face a work of art. Now... He recognised himself, yes; the optics were his, the nose, the mouth... but the art was gone. With a snarl, he turned and lunged at the scientist... only to be caught by reptilian teeth and slammed into a wall. "Behave yourself. I asked him to alter you."

Instead of simply scraping on metal, the teeth dug into the new synthetic flesh of his chest and back; his introduction to true physical pain instead of just damage warnings. "B-but, Megatron, why?"

His leader frowned down at him; the reptile head was worn like a glove. "I thought it would do some good. Maybe you'll be more inclined to participate in battles - which is what you were hired for - if you're not so worried about your appearance, yes?"

He wanted to argue, to point out that he'd lasted as long as he had because of his appearance - no one suspected that a creature so obviously built for aesthetic purposes could possibly be dangerous. He survived on underestimation... True, that wouldn't help him here; with a population of ten, he would become quickly known. Still, it was his face. They had no right to take it from him...

By the time Terrorsaur reached his destination, the energon storm was dying down. So the weather won't kill me. Megatron will be so terribly disappointed. Deeming the energy levels to be within acceptable limits, the pterodactyl flew into the fading storm, looking for nothing in particular. Sometimes energon storms did interesting things to the landscape, or caused the already strange planet to get stranger. Though it might be hard to beat the flying mountain for sheer weirdness...

Something glinted in the forest below, in a clearing. Except that doesn't look like a natural clearing. More like something crashed... It must be a stasis pod!.. And with my luck, it'll have a newly-activated Maximal with an itchy trigger-finger somewhere nearby. Still, he was there, and it was his job to check. He dipped one wing to begin circling down to his target. And if it's not open... If the protoform is still waiting to be programmed... Yeah, right, Terry. You are many things, but you're no programmer. Just check the pod, stop the sequence, call for back-up, and keep watch.

As he descended, he realised whatever he was looking at was far too big to be a stasis pod.

For a long moment after he landed on reptilian feet, Terrorsaur just stopped and stared. It was simply impossible that what he saw was real, but there it was, hematite gray, large as life, half-covered in mud and broken foliage... It's a ship. It's a Cybertronian ship. But why didn't our sensors detect it?.. The energon storm. Of course; that would have easily blocked our scanners.

Keeping to his beast-mode, Terrorsaur cautiously walked around the uncovered end of the vessel. He knew very little about spacecraft, so all he could determine was that it appeared to be damaged. It also lacked faction symbols from what he could see, which was mildly strange in itself.

Oh, like the whole thing isn't strange? There was still power in the ship; Terrorsaur could sense it. And having a working spacecraft could give someone quite an advantage... He wasn't exactly sure what he could do with the ship, really. It would be pointless to return to Cybertron alone, and it just felt wrong to hand power over to Megatron. On the other hand, he really didn't want the Maximals to get it. At the thought, he checked his scanners. Clear. I still don't trust that I alone happened to find this lovely little windfall. I'm not that lucky. Remember the last time power just fell into your hands, Terry? Remember checking your systems after that super-energon from the floating mountain incident? Aren't you fortunate that the mountain was destroyed before your system sustained permanent damage from supercharging?

So I'll be careful this time. He sighed, looking up at the messy shape. What am I going to do with this thing? Briefly he entertained the thought of trying to use it to prove that he should lead the Predacons, but shrugged it aside. Megatron had given him his chance a few months ago - sarcastically, yes, but it was enough for a miserable failure that scrapped any chance of the other Predacons taking him seriously in that role again. Besides, it wasn't leadership Terrorsaur wanted so much as recognition. And while I'm dreaming, let's throw in a personal slave to polish my shin guards and give me backrubs.

Still... bringing Megatron the ship would certainly get him attention. And, as Megatron was reasonably good about handing out credit where credit was due, Terrorsaur would be known as the one who found this advantage and helped bring about victory. And, deep down, Terrorsaur really did want Megatron to win... especially since as part of Megatron's original crew, when the Predacons took over Cybertron, Terrorsaur would be in the perfect situation to snag a position high on luxury and low on work. Which, really, is what I was designed for.

He walked around to the cleanest side of the ship, and when it still made no sign that it saw him, he transformed to his humanoid mode and waved at it. Still no response. I'm not detecting any energy signatures inside... The pilot can't have been destroyed in the crash. The ship hasn't sustained nearly enough damage for it to have been fatal. Though maybe his shielding failed and he was killed by an energon surge. Hmm.

Terrorsaur ran his hand along the side of the ship, to no effect. Of course, I can barely detect the ship, and it's right in front of me. The pilot may be shielded as well. With that in mind, he drew his gun and tapped the controls for the hatch. It opened silently, and Terrorsaur cautiously stepped inside. "Hello?"

No answer. Of course, if anyone was there, they might have been in another room or otherwise unable to hear. Almost silently, Terrorsaur crept into the junction, senses open for any sign of life - he wasn't going to relax until he found the pilot or his dead shell. Preferably the latter. At least it shouldn't take long... It's a small ship...

If the pilot was killed in the crash, he'd be at his post... here. Terrorsaur tapped the door control, then stepped back as it opened. When there was no sign that anyone had noticed, he stepped through. The control centre. No one's home... Oh, slag. There was no sign of the pilot himself, but a few panels had been removed from one wall. Someone had at least started repairs.

He heard the faint movement behind him - Blast it, I guessed he was shielded from my sensors! - half a second before a bolt of energy slammed into his back.

And he awoke, staring blindly at the ceiling, and realised that he was shaking. With a frown, he tucked his arms to his chest, willing the trembling to stop. There were times he considered getting a roommate - Waspy wouldn't turn him down - in the hope that maybe having someone there would tame the nightmares. Every time, he shoved the thought aside - more likely he would end up with an audience to his fears. He had a few scraps of pride, at least.

He didn't choose to have nightmares. He hated when the others acted like he brought them upon himself. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out why they thought that way - Why would he do such a thing to himself? He didn't want that kind of attention, didn't want their pity.

For once, he didn't scream himself awake, so none of the others would know that he'd been struck yet again. He sat up, slowly, noting that he'd stopped shivering. Good. It was a minor victory, but he took what he could. Carefully, as if making sure his body wouldn't suddenly betray him, he stood and stretched his arms, then let them fall to his sides in an almost-relaxed pose.

It had been the nightmare about being buried alive in liquid metal this time, one of the ones that made him want to seek company; to just stand back and watch, listening to the sounds of the others' lives as they went about their day. He wasn't on shift yet. He could just find a place in the control room...

A quick glance in the mirror and he changed his mind. The terror still showed in his face, and he didn't need Scorponok teasing him about it. But he really didn't want to be alone...

Waspinator wouldn't be on shift, either. He would track down his partner and just... talk. He wasn't entirely certain why Waspinator let him do it. They were friends, sort of, but not really close. Still, he was extremely grateful for him. Waspinator would listen, make sympathetic noises, and never, ever repeat what was told to him in confidence.

His quick prayer that no one would see him in the hall was answered, and he covered the short distance between their quarters in a few seconds. He rapped his knuckles against the door: "Waspy? It's me. Open up."

No answer. He tapped the door's intercom: "Waspinator, it's Terrorsaur. Let me in."

No answer. The wasp might be out, but it was unusual for this time of day. More likely he was napping. He typed the unlock sequence - they both had access to one another's quarters - and stepped into an empty room. When he activated his commlink, he heard nothing but static.

He looked up vaguely. "Computer, locate Predacon unit Waspinator."

The computer hummed for a second. "No such unit exists."

"The Pit, you mean." Scanner malfunction wasn't unusual, and in the mood he was in, he would cheerfully tear off the head of whoever was responsible for the latest glitch. He rather hoped it was Scorponok. Still, just to test... "Computer, locate Predacon unit Terrorsaur."

"Predacon unit Terrorsaur is in Room 5-J-3."

It was always nice to be reassured that one existed. With his own reality established and the mission to cause someone pain, he set off to the control room.

The control room, to his surprise, was empty. Usually there was someone there. Hesitantly he asked, "Computer, state the location of the other Predacon units."

"There are no other Predacon units."

"I'm getting tired of this, computer..." There was no reasoning with it when it was broken. He went over to one of the work stations, activating a diagnostic program. It claimed that everything was fine.

He clenched his fist, but held back from striking the computer. "I am not going to make a fool of myself. I am not going to run around aimlessly looking for the others. There is an explanation for this. There is." He tapped another control. "This is Terrorsaur, calling all units. Respond."

Silence. Static. The signals were sent, but no one was receiving. On a whim, he typed in another frequency. His voice had started to shake, but he didn't care. "Maximals, this is the Predacon base. Respond."


Conscious returned, and with it the feel of cool, unfamiliar metal under his body. Experience had taught Terrorsaur that when one wakes up face-down on unknown deck plates, one's day isn't going to get better from there.

Terrorsaur let his optics flicker online, but made no other move. A quick systems-check informed him that while he was more-or-less undamaged, his weapons and commlink had been removed. He was on a small spacecraft of Cybertronian design - Well, where else, Terry? You did walk into the ship, you know - sprawled on the floor of a cage worked into a corner of a cargo bay. Nor was he alone in the room; crouched by an open panel in a wall was a smoke-gray Transformer.

His captor didn't bother looking over. "I know you're online again. You might as well get up."

He did, carefully, to keep from trembling. Now was not the time or place to allow weakness. I don't think I screamed. I probably whimpered or something. Primus, of all the times to be separated from the others... Terrorsaur had come up with a cover story while he was searching the ship. "I saw your damaged craft and came onboard to see if I could help you. This is no way to treat a..."

"An armed Predacon?" asked the other without turning.

"So I'm cautious. And just who shot who here?"

The other stood as well, turning to face his prisoner, which let Terrorsaur get a good look at him. His form's still Cybertronian, a light jet of some kind, built for speed and manoeuvrability... and aesthetics, he thought. While Terrorsaur was no engineer, he did have a good eye for summing up shell designs. His captor was the best-looking Transformer that Terrorsaur had seen in years, with his low voice and flawlessly sculpted face - it was rather a pity that he was hostile, whoever he was. But without a beast-mode, he pretty much has to stay on his ship... Oh, like that matters, Terry. You were dumb enough to get curious, walk right in, and get shot in the back...

The Transformer looked down at him impartially. "You don't look quite like you used to, Who Goes Beyond Fear."

"'Hellion Reptile'," the Predacon corrected, picking at the bars of his cage. They were thin and widely-spaced for what they were, but nothing he could get through. There's luck for you - heavier bars would aggravate my claustrophobia. And there's always worse things than being locked up, Terry. You could be strapped down... "'Terrorsaur'. New body, new name. I wanted to change it, anyway."

Expression unreadable, the other simply stared at him for a minute, then started to turn back to his work. Terrorsaur stopped him: "Who are you?"

"Trace. I'm a bounty-hunter."

That caught Terrorsaur by surprise. Until then, he had assumed his captor was a law enforcement officer sent to round up Megatron's crew. "Hunting Predacons?"

"I'm not after the others," said Trace. "Just you."

"Me? Who in the Pit would spend the energon to send someone hunting through space and time for..."

Trace's violet gaze was neutral. "You know."

"No, I don't..." Terrorsaur started, then paused, cringing back against the bars. "No. No, that's not possible. I killed him."

"That's motive for you," said Trace dryly. "And you failed to terminate him. Armature hadn't been actually living in his body for years. He'd transferred his consciousness to the gallery's computers and controlled his body remotely."

'You left, and he took away the mobility of those who came after to keep it from happening again, trapped our minds in dead bodies...' With an effort, the Predacon forced the thought away. "That's insane. But then, so was he." It did sound exactly like something Armature would do.

Trace folded his arms across his chest. "He's not insane."

"Deranged, then." 'You are free and we pay the price...' "Does he still... sculpt?"

"Of course."

Dear Primus... No, no, it can't be like that, not like your nightmares. Get a hold of yourself, Terry... "Living sculptures? Drone ones that can walk around?"

"Moving statues, yes." His face was unreadable, but Trace's voice was growing impatient. "I don't need to bring you back in once piece, you realise. I don't need your body, just your mind."

Terrorsaur smirked despite himself. "You're the first person to ever tell me that," he deadpanned. "I'm touched."

"You wish." Trace crossed his arms and frowned. "Your original design would be easy enough to recreate. What Armature wants is your programming. He wants to know where he went wrong, why you abandoned him."

'But you won't be free for long. When the master of the gallery catches you...' Easy enough to recreate after removing my programming. Oh, Primus, Armature's going to turn me into one of the Others... Stop that. Hold on to the anger. Ignore the fear. He drew himself up, belligerent. "Oh, and not because he can't stand the thought that one of his pet sculptures decided to think for himself? Oh, how I misjudged my dear creator..."

"Quit the theatrics or I'll remove your vocaliser."

"Come and get it, spacejockey."

The bounty-hunter snorted. "Nice try. I'd stun you before I opened the cell." He turned back and knelt by the wall-panel again. "Now be quiet and let me work. My ship was damaged by an energon storm as I was landing on this wretched planet, and I need to repair it."

Repairs. I've been given time... Right, time to do what, Terry? Think anyone's looking for you? Waspy, maybe, but if he's looking, you just know it's in the wrong place. Besides, they all think you're still on patrol, and you've got no radio to tell them different. "How long will that take?"

"Too long for me, not long enough for you," Trace informed him, turning sharply on his heel.

"Wait - where are you going?" What if he doesn't come back? The stasis-nightmare still echoed within him. What if... Stop it, stop it, stop it...

Trace looked back. "Engine room. I can't do all the repairs from here."

"State your name and function."

The red and silver robot flexed his hands experimentally and blinked carmine optics at the being he knew was his creator. "My name is Terrorsoar. My function is... is..." He paused, uncertain.

"'Who Goes Beyond Fear'?" asked Armature, and laughed. "An excellent name, my steel rose. And your function is to live in the gallery so that people may see you and call you beautiful... and know that I am Cybertron's greatest artist."

It had been a good life, in its way. Armature was an undemanding master. All he asked was that his creations be polite to the patrons and remain in the gallery. It was for their own good, really; the outside world was dangerous. They knew it was - Armature told them so. And in return for good behaviour, Terrorsoar was tended and admired... though the admiration was really for his creator, not him. He didn't care; people thought he was beautiful.

There had been others - Terrorsaur didn't think about them much any more, not on purpose; more often they came in nightmare. The Others, with no will of their own and empty optics... Sparked, yes, but no intelligence to them, little better than playthings. Terrorsaur had been the first to have any real intelligence - not too much, mind, not enough to be a threat, but enough that he could speak and respond. To Armature's annoyance, though, his creation also had the capacity to learn... and question.

He had originally been more comfortable with the Others than with those who visited the gallery. The Others were silent, listened vacantly when spoken to, but could follow simple orders. As Terrorsoar met and interacted with more people, the Others with their placid faces began to worry him. They had souls, yes, but the minds of drones.

Terrorsoar looked forward to visiting hours, even though he was only supposed to be a display. He liked to be admired, and he could ask the patrons about the outside world. Those that actually replied to him did so bemused; it wasn't until years later that Terrorsoar realised they thought he was just an automaton with a good AI program, like the old Traan-series computers - Intelligent, but not a person.

After hours, there was only Armature, and Armature was often impatient. "Why must you always be underfoot?"

He hadn't yet learned to hide things from his creator. "I'm lonely."

"You are not lonely. There are eighteen others in the gallery. They are company enough."

Drones with souls, the bright spark of life trapped in a dead mind... "That's worse than being alone."

"Then go into recharge until tomorrow's opening. Poor creature. You think too much, my steel rose."

The pet-name used to confuse him. Eventually he learned what a rose was - some kind of natural mini-construct from one of the old colony worlds. A delicate little piece of organic colour that looked pretty and served no real purpose. Armature liked them; one of his hobbies was xenobotany.

Later, he learned that a rose also had thorns.

Trace returned to the cargo bay and found Terrorsaur curled up on the floor of his cell. He knelt down, reaching through the bars to tap his captive on the arm. "All right, I'm back. How do you function with your claustrophobia?"

"I manage." He stood again, frowning. It's not usually doubled with my eremiophobia, of course. Pit-blasted stasis-nightmare... "Why do you still wear a Cybertronian jet-mode? You need a beast-mode to function on this planet."

"I'm not staying long," Trace reminded him. "Besides, there's something... untidy about the quasi-organic. You were much more aesthetically pleasing with your original form. You may even be able to get it back."

Terrorsaur crossed his arms and leaned back against the bars. "The pterodactyl is unappealing, but it is practical." He grinned slightly at that, as if it was a private joke. When Trace scowled, he clarified: "It's more durable than my Cybertronian form, for one. And it has an... unusual tactile sense. Pain is certainly no fun, but you've never flown until you've experienced it with organic wings. Also, this odd tactile sense might have... other... uses, but frankly, no one in the crew is attractive enough for me to want to test that little hypothesis."

It wasn't intended as a hint, nor was it taken as one. The bounty hunter just snorted. "You always were a hedonist. So your records say."

"It's not easy to be a warrior when you were designed to be ornamental and pampered." He shook his head, trying to stop that train of thought. Terrorsaur knew himself well enough that Trace could probably win him over with a few kind words or a good backrub... Stop that. You're just lonely. Stay angry. "You know, I'm still surprised that Armature got away with it. I thought there were laws against sparking drones."

"You weren't a drone, you were art." Trace frowned, realising he was being drawn into an argument. "Stop that."

"Stop? Stop? Oh, forgive me for having an opinion. I am only a sentient sculpture-turned-hired-gun. How dreadful for me to say unkind things about the very being who gave me life." His voice dropped to a hiss. "Who gave me life because he wasn't a good enough artist to give his work soul without actually sparking it..."

"Shut up."

Terrorsaur's optics flashed. "Make me."

The Predacon collapsed with a squawk when the energy from Trace's stun-weapon slammed into his chest. He heard Trace walk over to the cell; Terrorsaur was conscious, but he couldn't turn his head to look at his captor. "I can see why Armature wants your program recalled," growled Trace. "You're too mouthy for your own good."

Metallic footsteps receded. "You didn't like being left alone before. Maybe a little more of the same will teach you to be quiet."

Terrorsaur wasn't listening. You're just stunned, Terry. Just give it a minute and you'll be able to move again. Don't panic. Don't... Still, he couldn't stop his vocaliser from releasing a strangled whimper. Small spaces were bad enough, but he could handle them. It was immobility that truly terrified him.

"Master, I wish to leave."

"You cannot leave, steel rose," Armature told his creation. "The world outside the gallery is dangerous. Who would take care of you out there?"

"I would come back. I only want to test my wings." Within himself, Terrorsoar could feel the silver-tipped appendages were for more than decoration. Armature's ego was too big to leave him just aesthetic now that he was also an engineer - he would try for functionality as well. His form had skills that his mind didn't know about, and he wanted to learn them.

"Ungrateful creature. You would damage the body I built for you?"

"Why did you give me wings if you won't let me fly?"

"Because wings are aesthetically pleasing," said Armature. "In any case, you have a fear of heights."

Terrorsoar frowned. "You programmed me to be afraid."

There wasn't just programming, but conditioning as well. Conditioning like 'avoid damage' which translated itself into cowardice. Armature was convinced that repairs could never be perfect.

And there was unintentional conditioning - Like the fact that Terrorsaur had grown used to being the centre of attention with all his wants tended to. Or the fact that while the gallery was comfortable, it was still a prison, so he grew to resent it.

The cell on Trace's ship was much different, but the damage was long done - Terrorsaur couldn't stand to be caged. And he didn't take it kindly when his phobias or conditioning were used against him.

And you shouldn't have told me to shut up, he added. I'm not going back, Trace.

And neither are you.

Trace stepped back into the cargo bay, but stopped and drew his stun-weapon when he realised his prisoner was missing. Half a second later, a burst of energy slammed into his hand, forcing him to drop his gun. Terrorsaur stepped out from behind his cover with a chuckle. "You're new at this, aren't you?"

"How did you get out of there?"

"My beast-form is small enough to step through the bars," said Terrorsaur, sounding almost disgusted. He had retrieved his gun from the storage locker, and had it pointed square at Trace. "It didn't even occur to you to check that."

"I was instructed to bring you back intact, at least mentally," said Trace, trying to think of a way to get the advantage back. "You might not have lasted in a heavy cell."

True. No need to let him know that. "How kind of you to worry about my comfort." Then, "You're one of Armature's pets. He built you."

Trace frowned. "How did you guess?"

Terrorsaur shrugged. "Easily. At first I was afraid you might be Armature himself, given the fact that he uses puppet-bodies, but he's not the type to do his own dirty work. Still, you had more authority than I think he'd grant to an outsider, making the offer that if I would go back quietly, I could go back to my old life instead of being deconstructed. That, and you're obviously one of his designs. There's a certain way he made faces that's practically a signature - I used to look a lot like you, but I was changed when I took this form. The overall style is distinctive, even though he was trying to hide it. He can't help but make attractive creations."

"I'm flattered." His tone said the opposite.

"You did incredibly well to find me," said Terrorsaur. "So you can't be a complete idiot. I could use you."

"I serve only Armature."

"All right, so maybe you are a complete idiot," said Terrorsaur. "Don't you understand? Armature wants me back so he can figure out where he went wrong with my programming. Which means he doesn't know how to make a perfectly obedient little pet. Which means your coding is just supposed to be a temporary thing. When you bring me back to Cybertron, your usefulness will run out."

The Predacon took a step closer. "Armature is deranged! Why can't you see that? He wasn't a good enough sculptor to give his art life, so he took up engineering. He gave me sentience and wings, then expected me to be happy locked in a gallery. I found his files, Trace. Keep 'em dumb, keep 'em pretty, keep 'em scared. He shouldn't have laughed when he asked my name. He should have looked at it from every angle, should have seen the danger... Who Goes Beyond Fear - he loved that. He thought it meant he'd perfected his programming on his first try. Beyond fear is only absolute terror; terror of the outside world, so we wouldn't think to leave... He didn't think it could mean I might be able to get past my programmed phobias." He sighed, trying to bring his voice under control. "Last chance - With you and your ship, the odds here will tip in the Predacons' favour. We'll go back to Cybertron victorious... Join me, Trace." As he spoke, Terrorsaur had let his aim drift, just a bit. It was enough.

"You already had anything you wanted back on Cybertron," said Trace. "All he wanted was that his art have soul... but you always did have a bit much spirit."

Trace leapt at him, knocking Terrorsaur's gun from his hand and pinning him against the floor in the same motion. Automatically, the Predacon tried to activate his shoulder cannons before he remembered that he didn't have them. "Give up, Terrorsaur!"

"No!" He struggled, to no avail; Trace was too large and too strong, and the first tendrils of blind panic were beginning to drift across his mind... Can't move can't move helpless trapped can't... Blast it - fight, you idiot! He twisted his head, trying to locate his gun.

Trace noticed. "It's out of your reach."

"L-let me go. Please..." Begging was undignified, but Terrorsaur never had any dignity to begin with. He was past caring anyway; all he could think about now was the fact that he couldn't move. He had already done what he could. He just had to hold on for a few more minutes...

The bounty-hunter considered his options, but didn't relax his grip. "I can't lock you up tighter, not without risking damage to your mind... I'll have to put you in stasis for the trip."

"W-we're not leaving..."

Before Trace could demand to know what the Predacon was talking about, an energon surge ripped through his system. "Wha... What?.."

The gray Transformer's panic snapped the Predacon back to himself. Terrorsaur brought his knee up sharply, knocking the larger robot to the floor. He rolled to his feet, then savagely kicked Trace in the side to keep him down. "That's one Armature didn't tell you - never, never restrain me!" He flinched slightly as an energon surge affected his own system, but he managed to remain standing - he was used to it, after all.

A pair of clawed feet dug into Trace's chest, and when he looked up, his nose almost touched Terrorsaur's long beak. "Don't you wish you had a beast-mode now?"

He could barely talk through the surges. "You..."

"Sabotaged your rectifier coil while I was out. Yep," agreed the pterodactyl. "Now, you can either answer a few questions or you can die of short-circuiting."

"He... created you! He gave... gave you everything! You cannot... cannot do this to me!" Trace managed. "Re... repair the shield. I command it!"

Terrorsaur tapped his claws against Trace's canopy. "Later, maybe. Now, does Armature know where you are? Could he send another hunter along your trail?"

"Let me go and all... will be forgiven."

"A dodge. I'll take that as a 'no'. That's all I wanted to know." The pterodactyl hopped off of Trace's chest, and landed on robotic feet.

Sensing what was going to happen, Trace managed to prop himself up on one elbow. "Don't... be stupid. You... you can still come back..."

Terrorsaur retrieved his laser, but for a moment he hesitated. "Maybe I should have a bit of compassion for you. You're just one of Armature's puppets, like I was. Given time, I might be able to bring you around, maybe even send you back to Cybertron to destroy Armature once and for all." The moment passed and he smiled, showing fangs. "Too bad I'm not known for being patient."

"Message... Can still send..."

"Not through this planet's radiation. Now stop trying to bluff me; I'm doing you a favour. You're doomed anyway, Trace, and energon surges is a nasty way to go." Terrorsaur frowned and took aim. "And you shouldn't have held me down."

"... Then after I shot him, I set the auto-destruct on his ship and went back to base." Terrorsaur sighed, inspecting his claws. "Too bad, really - he was attractive." His voice was flippant, but inwardly, he was worried. Trace could have won me over so easily. If he'd acted sympathetic, offered to help or protect me... But he used my phobias against me. I couldn't forgive him that, no matter how aesthetic he was.

"Hmm, that isn't the story that Terrorsaur told Megatron."

"Of course it isn't," snapped Terrorsaur. As there was absolutely no privacy in the Predacon base, he and Waspinator had snuck out after the scrap of Trace's ship had been collected. They were perched on an escarpment within visual range of the ship, but at least the cliff wasn't likely to be bugged. "I told Megatron that Trace was a cop bent on dragging us Predacons back to Cybertron for trial, and that his termination triggered the auto-destruct. I'd be in a CR-tank now if I told the truth - that I destroyed the ship just to make sure Armature couldn't track it. And if you tell Megatron, I'll..."

The wasp made a razzing noise. "Waspinator will keep his mouth shut." He didn't ask why Terrorsaur told him if he didn't want it known - he knew. Terrorsaur wasn't a creature who could keep secrets; he had to tell someone what he did, and Waspinator was the only one in the crew he trusted at all.

"Was anyone looking for me?"

"No. Megatron figured terror-bot was just off flying around. Predacons not know that Terrorsaur was in trouble."

"Hnh. Good thing I managed to get myself out, then."

"Waspinator, Terrorsaur, report back to base! You were not finished sorting the scrap from the ship, no!"

The two flyers exchanged glances. Terrorsaur activated his commlink. "Yes, we were."

"It's still all over the floor of the cargo bay!"

"Oh. Sort and put away. Our mistake." He cut the connection before Waspinator could giggle and get them into even more trouble. Terrorsaur stood, sweeping one of his wings in an odd-looking bow. "Shall we go?"

Waspinator waved a selection of paws. "After terror-bot."

The pterodactyl chuckled a bit and took off, the wasp trailing behind. It wasn't much of a life, but if Megatron succeeded in his schemes, and if he was to be believed, it would vastly improve. Besides, there were always worse.


Armature didn't even look over, absorbed as he was in his work. He liked to sculpt alien plants, and his current work-in-progress was some type of orange flower with long petals. "Hello, Terrorsoar. If you must be underfoot, you may assist me. Bring me the roll of copper wire."

He did. "Master, have you ever actually seen any of these plants you sculpt?"

"In pictures, my steel rose," said Armature, measuring off a short length of wire. "I buy holograms off of exploration teams to work from. I wouldn't want to deal with something organic personally." The copper strand was delicately welded to the underside of one long petal. "It doesn't matter - my sculptures are better than the real thing; stronger, tidier, never to wilt or die. Long after their parent worlds perish, my representations will still exist."

Terrorsoar idly ran a hand over the tools on the counter. "Memory is more important than reality?"

"It is. In memory, things are made perfect."

Hematite fingers closed around a cutting torch. "As you always wanted to be."

The End.


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