Story [Transformers; G1/Prime mashup, AU] Parts of an Engine (PG-13ish; concluded 10/25)

Discussion in 'Non Star Wars Fan Fiction' started by Onderon1, Oct 16, 2012.

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  1. Onderon1 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 18, 2008
    star 4
    All - I've not stopped writing SW'fic; just the opposite. However, I've gotten back into Transformers in recent months during the boards being down, and wanted to explore a bit of what-if ...

    Mods, let me know if any of this is an issue? I don't think anything is iffy TOS-wise, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

    Continuity-wise, this has very little, if anything, to do with the Bay movies, although there are some minor elements. (I tend to treat Prime as an example of how the recent movies could've been done right, IMHO ...)

    **************************
    Iacon, Cybertron: 9 million BCE:
    **************************

    He is falling, falling, pain receptors flaring like novae in his chest assembly, like nothing compared to the empty void in his spark chamber and the furious burn of betrayal in his cerebro-circuits -

    "Gnuh!"

    Primus. Another dream, the young archivist thought, shaking his cranium clear of the spark-spider webs and sitting up in bed.

    The distant twin suns were starting to rise, their distinctive glare shining off of the towers of Cybertron's capital city in advance of the actual daybreak. Most Cybertronians would still be in their off-state, with a handful stumbling home from the recharge bars and seedier establishments.

    For Orion Pax, high-caste Autobot archivist, it was time to head to work.

    He cast a wistful, longing glance at the empty space beside him, but shrugged in acceptance. Ariel, his girlfriend - a medical 'Bot, roughly equivalent to him in caste and training with the up-and-coming medical wizard Ratchet - had her own apartment, and Orion respected (even enjoyed) her independence.

    Got to remember to meet her at lunchtime. Something about witnessing a sparking, Orion recalled. He hit the sonic shower, then sipped his morning energon and activated his Gridlink for his mail. (Being an archivist, Orion had little need to watch Autobot Broadcasting Service, since he'd catch their datafeed in the course of his work.)

    Timeshare offer in Praxus, energon bill - another .5 percent tax increase? - Ariel ... and ...

    Orion's optics slid left, then right, as he noticed the vector-stamp on his last piece of mail. He just nodded, opening Ariel's first, and smiled as he read it.

    Orion -

    Remember, you're to meet me at the Well of All Sparks at noon. Ratchet thinks the latest batch of protoforms is ready to emerge - they're more of the downsized "mini-bots." You should hear Ratchet and First Aid argue about the "biotechnical and metaphysical ramifications" of it all. I think it's just our way of evolving - smaller 'bots mean less energy use, right?

    I know, Dion would laugh, then grumble - he's too worried about losing his job. Like we're ever going to run out of a need for energon shipping?

    Anyway, be there, OK? It'd mean a lot to me. "Protihex Medical Mechanics University Student of the Quartex" is nice, but it can't hold me close ...

    - Love, Ariel

    Orion typed in a quick A - I'll be there. Love, O in reply before dashing the blip-sponse off.

    Then, he opened his last piece of mail, checking the chrono to be sure he wasn't running late. As usual, it was addressed to his Grid-handle, "Optronix," and Orion raised a brow ridge as he read the item.

    "Optronix" -

    As usual, your analysis of the Senatorial situation is most enlightened. I'm gratified to find a high-caste member who can recognize the web of corruption flowing downward from gluttons like Decimus, Xeon and others.

    But then, I recognized your deeper intellectual capacity during our first encounter. Hopefully, we can continue our discussion after tonight's exercise in strength. Here are the coordinates.

    While I find discourse inspiring, action is sometimes required. Decisive action. I wouldn't ask you to participate in tonight's display, of course. But neither do I want to deceive you about what may have to be done if words cannot change the current state of things.

    - Respectfully,
    13

    Orion sighed, unsure quite how to proceed. He respected "13's" fervor. He knew something had to be done about the thinly-disguised energon hoarding going on among the Senat,e and the back-room dealings of figures like Ratbat.

    All the data was right there, after all - the Hall of Records handled everything from simple nomenclature recordings for sparklings to the massive flow of intelligence through the Praxian Stock Exchange. Odd shifts in commodities, seemingly-random caste assignments trending toward unequal representation in the Senate, reports of increasing cross-caste violence ...

    And gladiatorial fighting, barely tolerated as an "outlet for the lower castes."

    But what can I do? I'm just an archivist ... Orion worried, shutting down his Gridlink and heading to work.

    After he'd erased the mesage from 13, locus-stamped Kaon.

    -------------------------------------------------------------

    "Lord Trion," Orion said, bowing in greeting as he entered the Hal and saw his supervisor.

    Technically, the honorific didn't apply - the Autobot Council of Ancients had thrown Alpha Trion off of their ranking numbers after a few too many clashes over theology, policy, and pretty much everything - but Orion would always hold the older 'Bot in high regard. "A3" had, after all, witnessed history, advised Primes.

    As always, Alpha just smiled and shook his head. "I might as well call you 'Optronix Prime,' if you're going to keep bowing and scraping, Orion," the older Autobot chuckled, and Orion blinked - not that Alpha was joking, but at how he'd joked.

    "You know ...?" Orion whispered, looking around. The last thing he wanted was to get his boss in trouble -!

    Alpha Trion's look in reply was both knowing and chiding. "I have my ways, Orion. Calm yourself. Corresponding with a Kaon resident is hardly grounds for calling the Security Service. If anything, open exchange of ideas is to be applauded. We need to be reaching out, trying to find common ground - keeping the peace," he advised, his kind tone taking the mild sting out of his response.

    He lowered his voice, adding, "That said, might I advise caution? I don't approve of your contact's nocturnal ... sports ... and there are rumblings that the Security Service is going to move against those actively taking part in the ... games."

    "I'll ... consider your advice, sir. Thank you," Orion said, relaxing. Alpha smiled, then, nodding as a familiar black-and-white Autobot walked in, and Orion returned the cultural observer's wave.

    Jazz was only a few vorns younger than Orion, who himself had only come online about 6,000 vorns ago. They were part of the first generation of Cybertronians en-sparked after the Second Cybertronian War, that had ravaged so much of the planet. The Primes had, through great sacrifice, brought the Decepticon menace to heel, and the casualties had been horrifically high.

    The caste system had ben put in place to try and prevent another mass wave of revolts. More manually-inclined Cybertronians, laborers, transporters and others, were at the low end of the system, while the observers, thinkers - "ideabots," some low-caste 'bots sneered - were higher-up. Governance Cybertronians - the Senatorial, and frequently, merchant, castes - were at the top.

    It wasn't lost on any 'bot with sufficient processing power that the Decepticons, the losers of the Second Cybertronian War, frequently were in castes at the bottom of the ladder.

    While Orion's primary function was as an archivist, he could hardly fail to come to his own conclusions about the meaning of all he was seeing. Similarly, as an observer of Cybertronian culture, Jazz was charged with going out, talking with and experiencing the lives of many different Cybertronians, then bringing back his findings as a way of better understanding the diverse world they lived in. The two Autobots had quickly befriended each other, and Orion didn't care if Jazz was a bit below him in caste.

    If only more high-caste members realized that their function cycles would be more enriched by wider interaction with others, Orion thought, a bit mournfully. He shook off the grim tone of his musings and sat down at an access table across from Jazz, whose arms were full of datapads and other storage devices.

    "Got some more footage from the Helix Gardens in Praxus, and there's some fresh energon-cuisine recipes from Uraya. I've got an assignment in Altihex later today, so I can't stay and chat," Jazz said, half-smiling.

    "Is it the debate about reviving the Ark project? I'd think offworld exploration would be a good idea. We can't rely on enegon supplies on-world forever, even with the new fusion reactors and solar initiatives," Orion opined - carefully. He trusted Jazz, but he also knew the other 'Bot's side job ... a sometimes intelligence agent for the Senate Security Service.

    As fuel, currency and overall sign of wealth, energon was a touchy subject among Cybertronians of all castes. The low-castes wanted more; the high-castes wanted to control the flow The how of maximizing that flow was an even more critical concern, though ... especially to Cybertronians like "13," whose livelihood had been affected by Senatorial greed.

    Jazz shrugged, typing as he talked, and said, "Might be a good idea, but the investment outlay's the trick," he said. He glanced around a bit after lifting his visor, and said, softly, "Rumor is, Ratbat's putting pressure on the Altihex Senatorial delegates to keep future Arks out of commission until there's more Decepticons in the Senate. At that rate, we'll never get space-borne again."

    Does Jazz have Decepticon sympathies? Not likely - he's just more fair-minded than some, Orion thought as he worked.

    He could hardly point fingers, after all, given some of the Cybertronians he'd met.

    -------------------------------------------------

    Lunchtime came quickly, and Orion caught the Tri-Torus Loop over to Protihex. Although the smaller polity lacked Iacon's energy production capabilities - and, thus, its economic importance - the Well of All Sparks was located in Protihex, as were most of Cybertron's advanced medical facilities.

    And the Well of All Sparks was where most Cybertronians began their function cycles. Thus, Protihex was sacred ground, even for non-Primus-worshippers.

    Orion stopped at the perimeter to the well, transforming from his unusually large and bulky (for an archivist, anyhow) transport mode. He nodded at the Security Services guards - red-and-chrome-painted Autobots, nearly identical - at the door, then descended toward a distant thrumm of power that made his spark twitch a bit.

    The sometimes-vicious debates between the atechnogenesists and the Primians had, thankfully, fallen into more of a philosophical discourse than a cultural divide vorns ago. It was mostly because of the greater problems posed by the Autobot-Decepticon schism and the caste inequities, but passions still ran high among those who believed that Cybertronians were the product of chance evolution, and those who believed in Primus' greater purpose.

    You still have to show respect here, regardless of what you believe, Orion thought, entering a dimmed chamber. Protoform sacs - nutrient-gel-filled pods which were generated naturally by the Well, containing the first nascent circuits of new Cybertronians and their accompanying sparks - glowed a soft green on the walls. A large hole in the floor led down to the lower level, and the Seal of Primus, while blue-glowing flickers of energy floated upward through the massive hole - sparks that hadn't "caught," for whatever reason.

    The Well wasn't the only means of creating new Cybertronians, but it was the most frequent. Spark-bonding between two existing Cybertronians to create a new life was, more and more frequently, derided as "untechnological" and "organic." And politics usually prevented the Primes from using the Creation Matrix program embedded in the Matrix of Leadership to create new life; the Decepticons, especially, were terrified at the prospect of an Autobot leader creating an army that would likely be loyal only to the one who'd created them.

    Neo-Cybertronians who started life at the Well had, since the end of the Second War, been adopted by one of the various Guilds, based on the neo-tronian's abilities and alt-mode. Orion could still recall the Data Guildsmith who'd taken him on as a trainee, and later, his assignment to Alpha Trion as an apprentice.

    Even if, as fully-trained Guild members, we can choose our destinies, our youth shapes us in ways we can never fully foresee, Orion considered. It had a certain finality about it - was there no hope for improvement, growth?

    A species based on the idea of change, being unable to change. The ultimate irony ...

    Orion shook his head - he was starting to worry about where this whole morose line of thinking was coming from. He supposed it was the dreams; Primus only knew what kind of unprocessed data was causing the nightmare.

    Fortunately, he was able to set aside that worry as he looked around the Well's upper level again. As Ariel had noted, the number of large protoforms had decreased; Well-sparked neo-Cybertronians emerged from their protoform sac the size they would usually always be, barring an upgrade/reformatting (and such work was highly restricted by the Guilds).

    The number of pods, though, hadn't gone down, and at that, Orion felt a measure of relief. It did seem as if "nature," Primus, whatever name one wanted to give to the planet's drive to create new Cybertronians, hadn't decreased. It was just that the future was looking to favor small Cybertronians instead of large ones.

    Better fuel efficiency for a mini-bot as compared to, say, a Guardian Robot. I can't argue with that, Orion thought, finally finding Ariel. He squeezed the pink femmebot's free hand, returning her smile, then nodded respectfully to the red-and-white male medic who was examining one of the pods closest to opening.

    Ratchet was, like Jazz, Dion and Ariel, close to Orion in age, part of a large burst of Cybertronians created at the end of the Second Cybertronian War (seemingly in response to the casualties suffered by both sides). What separated them was the medic's remarkable talent for the healing arts, even though Orion had picked up some basic first aid skills through his data analysis.

    Ratchet had been one of the fastest graduates from the Protihex Medical Mechanics University, and he was already revolutionizing the medical field with techniques in micro-circulatory-subsystem repair and neuroregenerative tricks using CR-chambers. Ariel had been fortunate to be assigned to work with Ratchet, and Orion had befriended them both through the Hall of Records - although his relationship with Ariel was quite different than that with her teacher.

    "Ah, Orion. Good to see you. I have an alterior motive in granting Ariel's request for your presence. This particular neonate has exceptional potential - high agility and observational capacities, remarkable energon fuel efficiency. Usually, I just make sure they emerge safely and send them on to the Guilds for assignment. But with this one, I wanted a more open-minded observer's opinion. It'd be a waste to see this one assigned to something like loading - no offense to Dion," Ratchet said, his usually upbeat manner a bit subdued as he focused.

    The pod's surface started to crack, and Orion released Ariel's hand as she helped Ratchet remove the small neo-Cybertronian from the chamber. The new arrival coughed a bit, spitting out nutrient fluid, and stood, a bit wobbly but quickly stabilizing.

    "H-hello?" the small, yellow and black Cybertronian said, as Ratchet examined him. Stubby yellow horns rose from the young one's cranium, and large blue eyes looked around the chamber as he took in the world around him.

    "Hey there, little guy. Can you transform for us?" Ratchet asked gently. The smaller 'bot nodded, concentrating, and his form shifted into an automotive shape - somewhat disc-like with a narrowed front structure, but definitely Autobot.

    He transformed again, grinning from audio receptor to audio receptor, then shifted back and forth again. "This is - is - awesome! Can we all change? You're shiny," the newcomer rambled, glancing at Ariel and walking around Ratchet before finally seeing Orion.

    At that sight, the neo-Cybertronian went quiet, only able to say, "You're ... big."

    Ariel couldn't help but snicker, while Orion just shrugged and smiled. "I'm Orion Pax, of the Data Guild. You're sharp on the uptake, and fast - almost like a cyberbee," he mused.

    "Bee ... can that be my name?" the little Autobot asked, grinning, and Ratchet typed it into his datapad. "Thanks! I'll - what will I do?"

    "Well, we Cybertronians have to work for a living. Since you're so curious, maybe studying other cultures would be good - observation?" Orion suggested, already dialing Jazz's Gridlink address. He'd have to leave a message, but the archivist was sure his friend would take Bee on as a student.

    He'd be a good teacher. Besides, it might be interesting to see how Jazz deals with a student ... Bee could keep him out of trouble, Orion mused.

    -----
    to be continued ...
    Last edited by Onderon1, Oct 24, 2012
  2. Onderon1 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 18, 2008
    star 4
    ********************

    After seeing Ratchet and Ariel off, Orion and Bee headed back to Iacon.

    Or at least they tried.

    I'm beginning to understand why Ariel doesn't want sparklings, Orion thought, wincing as he braked - for the fifth time - while Bee stopped to examine ... well, a Gridlink post, one of the tilted poles that lined Cybertronian roadways and retransmitted Grid signals.

    The little Autobot's curiosity was understandable; he had just come online, after all. Everything was new to him, and he picked up on things fast enough that he wasn't constantly chattering in Orion's audio receptors.

    On the other hand, it was beginning to wear on Orion, and he really had to get back to work ... so he rolled over to Bee, transformed, and said, "Look, you can access as much data as you want at the Hall while we wait for Jazz. But we have to get there first, all right?"

    "Oh. Sorry - that's that 'work' thing, right? You earn energon?" Bee asked, returning to his automotive mode. Orion repressed a sigh of relief, resumed his own alt-mode, and they sped off once again.

    "Energon can be used as fuel, or as payment. Generally, you don't consume energon credits - they're traded in for consumable energon and other goods and services. I'm sure Jazz will explain it to you more. Or I can, if I have time," Orion said, relaxing even more as they crossed into Iacon proper.

    "Thanks, Orion. You're awesome. Driving is awesome. Almost everything is awesome! Well, except for being 'late.' Will your boss Alpha Trion be mad at us?" Bee rambled while they took an off-ramp toward the Senate district.

    "I think I can explain things to him. He wouldn't hurt either of us, at least," Orion reassured the younger Autobot. They reached the Hall quickly enough, resuming their robot modes, and headed up the steps while Orion's internal Gridlink pinged with a new message. He checked it, repressing a smile.

    Orion -

    I'll help out the new kid, for your and Ariel's sake - well, OK, mostly for Ariel's sake. Never could resist a pretty femmebot, even if she's got terrible taste in boyfriends.

    I'm just waiting for the other foot assembly to drop. If this 'Bee' is glitched or hyperactive, I'm gonna stick
    you with inputting my next vorn's worth of reports.

    - Jazz

    Orion just chuckled, guiding Bee into the main hall just as the large chrono turned over on the hour - they'd gotten back just in time. Orion nodded to Jazz, who was already at an input station, before noticing Alpha Trion sitting at the front desk with a bemused expression, watching Bee.

    "Sir. This is - well, Bee. Bee, this is Alpha Trion, my mentor and employer," Orion introduced. Bee stepped from behind Orion to bow, his optics once again widening, while Alpha smiled politely.

    "Welcome, young one. What do you think of our world so far?" the ancient Autobot asked.

    "Oh, it's great. Sir. Everything's really big, though, but Orion's been explaining things to me. And so did Ariel and Ratchet. Is it OK if I sit and read through records?" Bee asked, looking around before smiling at Jazz. "Hey, is that Jazz? Orion told me about him!"

    One of the corners of Jazz's mouth assembly twitched, and he gave Orion a quick, pleading look as if to say You could've warned me.

    Orion just shrugged helplessly, while Bee wandered over and Jazz let the smaller Autobot sit beside him. "Hi! You're Jazz, right? Can you show me how to use an input station? And maybe how to be a spy? Orion said you were a spy sometimes," Bee asked.

    "Ah ... let's start with the input station first," Jazz said, smiling at Bee before quickly giving Orion a dirty look.

    Over the Gridlink, Orion sent, I'll get started on that vorn's worth of reports.

    VORN'S worth? Oh, it just went up, big-bot. WAY up,
    Jazz replied, nevertheless working with Bee.

    Tell you what. If Bee can honestly make you laugh before the end of the business day, I'll buy the first round of energon tonight at Maccadam's. If not, it's on you. Deal? Orion queried.

    Jazz's smirk was all the answer Orion needed, and he chuckled as he returned to inputting data.

    ------------------------------------------

    It was after the first decabreem that Alpha Trion waved Orion into his office, and Orion followed. The amount of chatter between Jazz and Bee had, at least, slowed, although Jazz hadn't yet laughed. On the other hand, neither had he once yelled at Bee, who was not only behaving well, but also much calmer.

    "Sir? Can I help you?" Orion asked, sitting across from Alpha as the older Autobot examined a datapad.

    "I'm curious, Orion. Usually, neo-Cybertronians are taken directly to a Guild for assignment to a mentor - assuming they have no medical issues. I'm not upset that you brought the youngster here - he actually livens up the place a bit - but I do wonder why you assumed a place that wasn't yours?" Alpha asked, kindly enough.

    Orion felt the energon rush from his face; when Alpha put it like that, it sounded rather like Orion had intentionally defied the Guilds. "I ... just watched Bee's emergence and questioning, and couldn't help but think that Jazz would be a good mentor for him, Alpha Trion. I never meant to violate any laws ... and as far as I know, Guild assignments have no legal standing anyhow," Orion replied.

    It sounded like a cross between a foil-thin legal justification and a rebellious tone, and Orion started to amend the reply until Alpha held up a hand - almost beaming. "Well-spoken, my friend. The traditions we observe don't have legal binding; rather, the Senate and Guilds assume that Cybertronians will police themselves in regards to the caste system. Our laws are set more for keeping the Senate in power, to be honest. Your actions lack modern precedent, but neither are they wrong. If anything, you are showing ... leadership," the older Autobot said, his voice becoming shrewd on the last word.

    "Leadership can be a dangerous thing if seen in the wrong light," Orion said softly, wondering just how much Alpha knew of his activities during the last decivorn ...

    Alpha just raised a brow ridge, but the corners of his mouth quirked. "Subtlety often produces greater results than large displays. Neither, however, should be discarded. And on that note, I have an appointment with a Very Important Prime - come with me, please. I believe you can help distract a rather ... dedicated member of the Security Service," he said, standing and scooping up some datapads.

    Orion followed him back into the main hall, his optics widening when he saw who was entering - an enormous red and orange Autobot who could speak to any caste, any place, any time, he wanted.

    Sentinel Prime? HERE!? Orion marveled. He'd never been this close to the Autobot leader, much less one so legendary. Once Sentinel Major, the former gladiator had survived the First and Second Cybertronian Wars, was a contemporary of Alpha - and had left the Decagon military defense headquarters to come here for some reason.

    Alpha motioned for Orion to lean close to him, while a white-and-red helmeted Autobot aide ran to keep up with Sentinel's massive strides. "Sentinel contacted me via the Grid to discuss recent political developments in private. His aide, Prowl, is well-meaning, but - as I said - dedicated. He might do with a short break from his duties, if you understand my meaning," Orion's mentor suggested.

    "Ah. Yes, sir, I believe I do," Orion said, hiding a smile. He accepted several datapads from Alpha - all of which, he noticed, had data relating to the problems between the polities of Vos and Tarn, which had recently gotten worse - and headed over to where Jazz and Bee sat, wide-opticed and watching the Prime's arrival.

    "Primes don't do social calls, Orion. What's the boss-bot doing here?" Jazz queried, while Orion glanced at Bee - the youngest Autobot's jaw had dropped, and he looked a little afraid.

    "Sentinel Prime's not going to hurt anyone, Bee. He's just here to talk to Alpha Trion. We may be required to assist his aide, Jazz, so stand by," Orion said, and the other Autobots straightened up the input station as Prowl started to approach.

    Lieutenant Prowl, from those rank bars. And he doesn't look very happy to be associating with us, Orion thought, noticing a quick glower flicker across Prowl's faceplate. The Security Services 'bot quickly composed himself, nodding at Orion with a measure of respect, and said, "You're Orion Pax, right? I've heard some things about you."

    "All hopefully positive, Lieutenant," Orion replied, keeping his tone respectful. The last thing he needed was to make an enemy in the Security Services, even if a tactical miltary Autobot was (by dint of Prowl's function and processing capabilities) technically no higher in caste than Orion was.

    "Oh, yes. Anyone hand-picked to work with Alpha Trion deserves respect. I'm hoping you can help me with some details about the Vos-Tarn fighting. Your ... ah, cross-caste associations also are ... statistically interesting," Prowl opined, glancing at Jazz with a bit more politesse than before. "Cultural Observer Jazz."

    "Lieutenant. You know us, or our files?" Jazz said, sounding pleasant enough but with that dangerous edge Orion recognized. He silently willed his friend not to provoke a situation, even if Prowl was quickly becoming a pain in the rear-end assembly.

    Prowl seemed to squirm as he and Orion sat at the input station, with Prowl sitting directly across from Jazz. "Actually, Archivist Pax doesn't have a file as such. I just make a habit of paying attention to high-ranking, high-caste Cybertronians. And I'm not entirely allowed to access your file - portions of your service record are off-limits to me. What I have seen, however, is very - exemplary - of your function," he said, while Orion blinked in surprise.

    Oh - of course Jazz would have a file. He does do intel work for Security sometimes, Orion remembered. He looked at the fourth seat at the station, then realized it was empty.

    "Jazz? Where did Bee go?" Orion asked, a sinking feeling in his storage tanks.

    "He was right here an astrosecond ago ..." Jazz said, looking around. Prowl raised a brow ridge, clearly confused, until a small yellow head popped up over the back of his chair and leaned around one of his rather frightful-looking missile launchers.

    "Hi. Are you a warrior-class Autobot? Jazz said you helped free Kalis from Decepticon renegades. I know what Decepticons are, but I'm kind of confused about renegades," Bee asked, swinging around Prowl's chair in an acrobatic motion and standing on the input station terminal to look in Prowl's shocked optics.

    "Bee," Orion said, trying not to be harsh but putting enough emphasis into his voice to get the younger Autobot's attention. "You should probably -"

    That was when he heard it - a low, fierce snicker that shook Jazz's entire body and erupted from his voice box as a delighted laugh.

    Bee grinned back at his mentor, while Prowl's faceplate did several interesting gymnastics. Orion just managed to keep from joining Jazz in laughter, and motioned for Bee to sit across from him while Prowl fought to regain his composure. Bee, for his part, did a rather impressive series of somersaults, landing in his chair and looking at the older Autobots with eager anticipation.

    "I - would be happy to talk about 'renegades,' ah - Bee, was it? That was an ... interesting maneuver you just performed," Prowl said, managing to regain control. "Almost like the Tyrestian bumblebee."

    Bee brightened, while Jazz finally stopped laughing and nodded. "'Bee' is good for a nickname, but 'Bumblebee' might be more descriptive. What do you think?" he asked his student.

    "Bumblebee - I like it! Thanks, Jazz. And you too, Prowl," Bee - Bumblebee - said, turning back to Prowl with a look somewhat approaching awe. "So what's Vos and Tarn?"

    Prowl sorted through some datapads, looking momentarily shocked until he asked, "I don't think there's much on record about this Autobot. Is he newly sparked?"

    "Just at midday. I escorted him over from Protihex myself," Orion explained, remembering Alpha's questions and hoping Prowl wouldn't dig too deeply into the matter.

    Bumblebee nodded excitedly, adding, "We saw Kalis and Uraya and the Rust Sea! But I haven't seen Vos or Tarn yet, or much of Iacon."

    "Well, then - Vos and Tarn. Let's start there, perhaps," Prowl said, almost seeming to enjoy answering Bumbleebee's incessant questions about the Vos-Tarn conflict ... and the Decepticons and Autobots ... and so on.

    Orion switched seats with Bumblebee to better let the small Autobot talk with his new friend, then went back to work.

    Before he did, though, he leaned over to Jazz and said quietly, "First round is on you."

    "Huh? Aw - scrap! I laughed," Jazz groaned.

    Orion just grinned, grateful to Bumblebee for keeping Prowl distracted. "Cross-caste associations pay off, wouldn't you say?" he replied innocently.


    --------------------------------

    Soon enough, Cybertron's twin suns started to sink toward the horizon - the third, companion star of the system was a red dwarf that orbited the primaries at sufficient distance to make it hard to see except for its occasional flares.

    Orion finished what work he could, waving at Jazz and Bumblebee as they transformed and headed for the residential district. Jazz was going to help Bumblebee find an apartment in his building, then meet Orion at Maccadam's Old Oil House in Iacon's lower city later that night.

    As for Orion, he had an appointment near the border with Kalis.

    One of Iacon's many neighboring polities, the mostly-industrial sector was a mix of castes and livelihoods, not quite as cosmpolitan as Praxus but more interesting from Orion's point of view. Kalis' greatest claim to fame was its titanic underground fusion reactor, which produced much of Iacon's energon surplus. What kept Kalis from developing a more independent economic state were decavorn-old mutual assistance treaties between it and Iacon; Iaconian lives had been given to keep Kalis out of Decepticon hands during the Second Cybertronian War, and to the victors went the energon spoils.

    Orion transformed, waving at Seaspray as the small hovercraft-Autobot pulled another load of energon down a mercury river from Kalis to the docks. The cubes were a standardized method of storing energy, filled at the Kalis plant and stored in massive warehouses at what was Iacon's energy sector.

    It'd been while researching just where Iacon's energon came from that Orion had met Dion. The yellow, white and blue labor-Bot had been impressed by a "smart-bot's" willingness to come down to the docks and actually learn "how the other half lives," while Orion had found the "simpler" life Dion led to be more honest than the politically-fraught parties of the upper castes.

    Or maybe it's just that Dion knows how to have fun, Orion thought, smiling as he shook Dion's hand. "Looks like another full load," Orion said, watching Dion transform and back up to the barge attached to Seaspray.

    "The Kalis plant's output was kicked up another 50 percent. The muckety-mucks are paying the overtime, though, so it's all good. This's the last load for today - Gears! Brawn! Shake a transistor!" Dion called.

    "Yeah, yeah - doesn't matter how much more we get paid. All this hauling is murder on my struts," a short, red and blue Autobot grumbled from the corner of the warehouse. He transformed into a cargo hauler, and an orange, green and grey Autobot who'd been walking with him started to load energon into him while Orion helped load Dion.

    "Ah, save the griping, Gears. You wanna end up an Empty?" the other loading-bot - Brawn, Orion remembered, having seen the two at the dock before - chuckled. Gears just muttered something staticky, while Seaspray and Dion laughed.

    "I think Gears needs a femmebot. I know a couple of ladies down by the Mithril Sea ..." Seaspray said, his voice uniquely gurgling.

    "Oh, great. You know how much it costs to keep femmebots happy? I'm having a hard enough time keeping my rent paid as it is," Gears groaned, rolling off to deposit his energon on a drone transport.

    "Ignore him, Pax. He groans and moans, but Gears is a good enough sort. I think he goes on and on just to make us laugh," Brawn said, continuing to offload Seaspray.

    "There are worse kinds of friends to have," Orion considered. He waved as Dion headed to drop off his energon, and soaked in the scene - honest work, the scent of mercury rivers, and selenium seagulls flying overhead in the reddish sunset.

    There are worse ends to the day, too.


    ---------------------------------------------

    "Maccadam's? We always stop here," Dion complained good-naturedly as the door irised open for them.

    Orion just smiled; his yellow and blue labor-caste friend enjoyed exaggerating, and the Old Oil House suited Dion's down-shifted attitude just fine. It wasn't as stuffy as the Praxian Spires, nor as rough as Swindle's Tailpipe Cave in Kaon the first time Orion had met his ... correspondent in person.

    (Trying to explain that to Ariel had been interesting, to vox the least. Going out of com-range was one thing, but being gone a few days had both taught Orion just how large his homeworld was, and to appreciate having a femmebot who was so devoted to him.)

    Besides, Maccadam's was interesting. It was a great place to observe cross-caste interaction; the unwritten rules of function, form and polity were thrown out the window. If a Cybertronian couldn't bring themselves to relax in Maccadam's, they either had their cerebro-circuits wired too tightly or weren't worth knowing, Jazz had once said.

    That's a bit harsh, but he's got a point. Lieutenant Prowl is upright enough, but he could loosen a few bolts, Orion thought, waving to the black-and-white cultural observer who was waiting at the bar. Dion waggled a brow ridge in curiosity, but he nevertheless gave Jazz a polite nod - and an affable grin when the other Autobot ordered three rounds of energon.

    "This must be Jazz - Dion. Thanks for the drinks," the loader-bot said, shaking Jazz's hand as they sat at the bar.

    "Welcome - good to meet Orion's buddy. I've heard a lot about the work down at the docks. I hope to get down there sometime, if our mutual friend ever gets his head out of the Hall of Records," Jazz joked. He gave Orion a look of mock mournfulness and said, "You never take me along on these moonlighting trips of yours."

    "You're so rarely around that when Dion has needed me, you're usually off learning about the migration patterns of titanium moosebots or something," Orion shot back, fighting a chuckle. Jazz shook his head, holding a hand to his chassis in mock-wounding as Dion snickered, but the cultural observer quickly grinned.

    "I will have you know," Jazz said, carefully modulating his voice to a precise manner that mirrored Prowl, "that titanium moosebots are 57.45 percent more prone to aiding and abetting renegade Decepticon activity than any other non-sentient Cybertronian species."

    "Even more than ... helio-hamsters?" Dion said, lowering his voice to a stage whisper as his optics widened in terror.

    "Well - harrumph - now, y'all got a point, lad," Jazz said, altering his voice again to a and making Orion shake with repressed mirth. "Them dang helio-hamsters're sneaker 'n a 'Con mini-spy in a Dead End slagheap. Ah remember an ambush by the l'il vermin in Altihex - whut was it? 12,000 vorns ago? 24,000?"

    "Ah don't rightly 'member how long it was. Now shaddup an' buy me a drink, ya loudmouth chatterbox, or ah'll let the durn helio-hamsters get you."

    Orion was unable to keep from howling with laughter when Jazz turned around with a look of horror, and saw an older-model red 'Bot with a helmet-like cranium standing behind him.

    "Ironhide?" Dion asked, innocently, and Orion nodded while the chastened Jazz bought another mug of energon, sliding it to the older Autobot.

    "Draw it out, son. Aaarhhhnnnhaiiiidde," the warrior said proudly as he found a stool. He clapped Orion on the shoulder and said, "Ah knew teachin' you would make my retirement more interestin', Pax."

    Jazz and Dion traded a curious look, while Orion just sipped his energon with an innocent facade. "Teaching you what?" Dion asked, hiding his surprise with mock offense.

    "Hand-to-hand combat and marksmanship. Orion here ain't half-bad, f'r a librarian," Ironhide said - rare praise indeed, and Orion nodded respectfully.

    "Even an archivist might need to know self-defense," Orion said, shrugging. "These are strange days."

    And I'm not visiting Kaon again until I know I can handle myself against ... helio-hamsters.

    Or whatever else is in the shadows.


    He started to wave at the bartender, but brushed against another patron and turned to apologize - only to find a very large hand grabbing him by the shoulder and pulling him up. A masked, towering Autobot, mostly grey but with some gold, and a black cranium, looked down at him with narrowing amber optics.

    "Me Grimlock think you should watch where you're going, smart-bot," the tank-bot rumbled menacingly. Orion glanced around the overgrown warrior, worried when four similarly-sized combat-model Autobots watched the exchange from a booth.

    "I'm sorry. I'll be happy to pay for your drink," Orion offered, noticing that Grimlock had dropped a mug of energon.

    "Me Grimlock can pay for new drink. Me want more satisfaction than that ... maybe make wish?" the pronoun-challenged warrior growled, grabbing Orion's other arm.

    "Hey! Leave him alone!" Dion shouted - well, he started to, anyhow.

    By the time he'd managed to finish his challenge, Grimlock was laying on the floor, one of Orion's foot assemblies on his chest, and Ironhide, Jazz and Dion blinked.

    "How - how you do that?" one of Grimlock's friends gasped, amidst scattered applause from around the bar.

    Ironhide's second rule of combat: Turn an opponent's strength against them, Orion remembered, helping Grimlock up. He'd managed to slip a foot around Grimlock's leg, then simply applied a quick push and a fast calculation of vectors - throwing Grimlock off-balance had let Orion flip him over quickly.

    "Me ... me Grimlock like smart-bot! HAH! Good fighter deserves drink. Next round on me," Grimlock cheered, nearly knocking Orion over with a clap to the other Autobot's shoulder.

    "Ah ... thanks," Orion said, managing a smile.

    Maybe I can hold my own ...
  3. Onderon1 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 18, 2008
    star 4

    After seeing Dion safely back to his apartment complex (Iacon was supposed to be safe, but a little extra caution never hurt), Orion was still keyed up, jittery - and heading back to his own apartment wouldn't bleed off that kind of nervous energy. Nor would a system purge.

    So, in time-honored fashion, he decided to vent it constructively.

    "Ya're still telegraphin' your attacks, Pax. Show me some more o'that fancy footwork ya tripped Grimlock up with!" Ironhide taunted as he and Orion sparred in the older Autobot's gym. The all-hours training facility supplemented Ironhide's pension as a former military policebot from during the Second War, and there were more than a half-dozen other warrior-class Autobots working out.

    "I'm - trying. Maybe the speedbag would be a better choice," Orion confessed, smiling with a little embarrassment. Ironhide shrugged, and he let Orion approach a ball-bearing-filled sack of malleable gold alloy, which the taller Autobot started to punch.

    "Look, ah know how a good workout can get stuff outta your processor. But sometimes, ya got t'talk about it. Ah'll be over with Kup's hand t'hand class if ya need me," Ironhide said. Orion thanked his friend, and glanced over at the seemingly odd mix of Autobots who were sparring with an older-model blue and grey warrior-class 'Bot.

    Some mini-bots, some larger-size; at least one flight-capable 'Bot, and two from upper castes, Orion gauged, somewhat surprised. One of the smaller 'Bots, a red and black warrior who reminded Orion of Bumblebee, was trying ferociously to get through the magnetic shield of a red and grey Autobot his own size. The flight-capable mini-Bot, who looked a bit awkward in robot mode, was facing a dark red 'Bot who looked like he had a tank alternate mode.

    The four of them, at least, looked like they might belong in the gym. The other two, who were about Ironhide's height and approximately Orion's age, weren't what the "typical" warrior-Bot might look like.

    One was red, silver and black, with a dedicated attack method - a student of martial arts, then. The other was white, blue and black, with a red face, who looked somewhat uncomfortable until he settled into a rhythm. The blue 'Bot also looked like he was definitely high-caste, but he was at least willing to get his hands dirty.

    "A'right, a'right - focus. You're tossing punches all over the place! Go for the joints, I tell ya! Everybody thinks a head shot'll knock out your opponent, but that's not always reliable! I remember a time on Garrus 9 ..." Kup said, demonstrating moves as he and Ironhide faced each other. Despite first appearances, it seemed clear that the Autobots were all going to be talented warriors in time.

    Autobots who were destined - ? - to be warrior-class. What does that say? Is war inevitable again? Orion considered.

    Recalling what he did of his visit to Kaon, though, he wasn't sure that dedicated warriors were a bad idea.

    ------------------------------------------

    Kaon itself was ... cleaner than Orion had expected; somehow, the Decepticon-majority polar state had taken on an air of disrepute, even though local security forces kept the streets calm, and the maintenance drones clearly kept things clean.

    Likewise, Swindle's Tailpipe Cave had been a shock to the young archivist, even after all the war-vids and Decepticon culture downloads he'd watched.

    Or, rather,
    especially after all those vids. The gritty, oil-stained bar had met some of Orion's expectations, but been quite different than others.

    There were few - if any - fuel-stains on the walls; some spots, true, but nothing to suggest that the yellow and purple-painted owner of the bar had permitted cold-fueled murders, as the Grid-chatter suggested. There were energy weapons - and melee items as well - on the walls, but all were clean and well-kept.

    On the other hand, the clientele were definitely a tough crowd. Swindle's bouncer was a growly-voiced, sneering tank-Con named Brawl, while two flight-mode types - Blast-Off and Vortex, Orion thought he heard them called - were serving drinks and/or keeping the peace. A huge figure named Onslaught sat near the energon kegs, a nasty-looking rifle near him - in all, they looked like the stereotypes of Decepticons, fighters all.

    The archivist had confirmed at least two wanted criminals in the crowd - a kleptomaniac named Chop Shop, and a deserter from the Security Service named Carnivac who was a suspect in 20-some-odd suspected technocides.

    But, other than a few nasty stares and some mutterings about "Iaconian slummers," Orion had been left alone to wait for his contact.

    He hadn't had to wait long. The room quieted - with respect, and not a little fear - for the towering figure who walked in, flanked by two mini-sized 'Cons, one red and black, the other various shades of blue.

    "Y'er 'Optronix,' huh? The big guy sent me to get you," the red and black Con-ling said, motioning for Orion to sit across the booth from the
    enormous, mostly-grey Decepticon who waited there. "Boss, this is -"

    "
    Thank you, Rumble, but I have optics. You and Frenzy can go indulge yourselves while my guest and I talk," the boss-Con had advised. He tossed the twins some energon coins, and they'd headed off to the bar - leaving Orion to talk with his host.

    "You're ... '13?'" Orion asked, keeping his voice low. Somehow, he figured the Decepticon would be able to hear him.

    His host smiled, though, and said politely, "Here, we have no secrets. I am Megatronus - taker of a name most revile, to address things the Senate would rather not dirty their hands with. And you are Orion Pax, archivist - storer of knowledge, witness to things the Senate would rather not dirty their hands with. An unusual meeting, to be sure - but we have a purpose, I believe."

    Orion shrugged one shoulder, thanking a rather ... slinky ... black and purple femmebot with a surprising number of legs when she set two flasks of energon at their table. "On the house," she said, waving one razor-taloned limb toward where Swindle waved respectefully at Megatronus.

    The gladiator nodded back, and Orion sipped his drink before replying. "The Senate does need to change. Secret accounts, market manipulation, energon stockpiling ... and the shutdown of your energon mine," he said, carefully.

    Megatronus' red optics narrowed, but he half-smiled as well. "It's the how of it that bothers you, doesn't it?" he asked.

    "I'm just an archivist. But in that role, I look at the past - at the injustices that've happened, and the excesses in response to them. If there's a better way forward than another war, I want to try and find it," Orion insisted, almost sounding like he was pleading.

    Megatronus nodded, and they both sipped their energon in silence for a moment. Finally, the former miner said, "You're the most open-minded Autobot I've come across in vorns. I think we can work together - but first, let's talk some more. Tell me about yourself, Orion Pax, and I'll tell you if the rumors of the protoform-devouring Butcher of Kolkular are true ... or if I'm just as mortal as you are."

    --------------------------------


    That Megatronus was mortal, Orion didn't doubt. The sheer number of weld-scars and clearly non-standard replacement armor components on the gladiator's outer shell were proof of that - as they were proof that the towering 'Con was a survivor.

    And now he wants me to see him in his element. Further north than any unsanctioned gladiatorial fight yet ... in Tyrest, bordering Kalis, Orion thought, transforming after he left Ironhide's gym.

    He should head back to his own upper Iacon district, he knew. Ignore "13's" Grid invitation and stay in his comfort zone.

    But then again, when did an archivist ignore information just because it disagreed with what he believed he knew?

    Orion turned off onto the Jekka Exchange, and shut down his lights; his optics were good enough to handle a little darkness.

    What surprised him was that one of the warriors from Ironhide's gym was taking the same route - the red, silver and black one, with a sleek automotive mode that moved like a Seeker, but on the ground. Orion let the other Autobot pass him, and hung back to see where the warrior-'Bot was going.

    Jekka Amphitheater, Orion realized, coming to a stop and transforming in some shadows near the enormous, ruined industrial building. The sounds of clashing metal and cheers filled the night, and Orion decided to see what he could see.

    The warrior-Bot was in line, all right - talking energetically with a yellow, silver and black Autobot who could easily be the other's brother, given the similarity of their body forms. They were being passed by a crowd of mostly labor-caste and warrior-caste neutrals and Decepticons, filtering into the Amphitheater, and Orion slipped into the line - hoping to be unobtrusive.

    "... this is suicide. You know what this Megatronus did to Clench in his last match? I don't want to see you scrapped!" Red insisted, while Yellow rolled his optics and shook his cranium.

    "Will you relax, Sideswipe? I know what I'm doing. I've seen this guy too. Leads with his right. A gladiator gets predictable, and he gets scrapped. I'm gonna make sure my name is the one they chant for," Yellow said, turning away from his brother.

    "Yeah? As what, Sunstreaker the Slagged? Scrap it - I'll watch, but I'm not going to fight," Sideswipe replied. Sunstreaker looked wounded for a moment, but he headed in through a smaller door, one where only the roughest of the crowd were heading.

    The fighters' entrance? Orion wondered. He decided discretion was the better part of valor, and paid to enter, instead of playing up his invitation by Megatronus.

    Better to blend with the crowd, the archivist figured. The shattered former factory had crude steps carved into its walls, but a shiny arena floor that was being buffed by six green and purple labor-class Decepticons. That wasn't the most surprising aspect of the scene, though - the sheer number of Cybertronians present was what took Orion back.

    There must be thousands present, he realized, finding a rough seat. He glanced to his left, nodding as Sideswipe sat beside him - then, the upper-caste warrior looked at him and blinked in recognition.

    "You were at Ironhide's, weren't you? I've seen you there. Sideswipe," the warrior said, and Orion shook his hand. "You've got some moves."

    "So do you. I heard you talking with your brother - twin? - outside. He looked to be warrior-class also," Orion said, keeping the conversation in information-gathering mode for now.

    "Sunstreaker thinks he's Primus' gift to the arena. He's a good fighter - great, really - but it takes more than skill to fight this Megatronus. I've seen the vids. He's more like ... like a force of nature than a Cybertronian; like one of those giant storms out on the Rust Sea that flay ships. I'm not ashaned to admit that Megatronus ... scares me," Sideswipe said, keeping his voice low.

    How do I reassure him? How does anyone explain a miner-caste Decepticon being able to argue political points so eloquently? Orion wondered.

    How do we learn to set aside our fears and reach out the hand of coexistence?

    Now wasn't the time for such musings, though - not when the spotlight focused on two opposite ends of the arena, and the crowd started to chant in a low, baying voice that stirred dark emotions in Orion's emotive chips:

    MEGATRONUS! MEGATRONUS! MEGATRONUS!

    His debate partner - his acquaintance - walked out of the far end of the arena, flames decorating his helmet and forearms, and the crowd went mad with cheers.

    Words no longer mattered.

    And at the end nearest Orion, Sideswipe and the mostly-neutral crowd around them, walked out Sunstreaker. He waved, to some cheers but mostly boos, and his grin was replaced by a sober focus as he and Megatronus started to circle each other.

    Then they lunged, and no hands were extended for coexistence.

    Sunstreaker had speed, and a respectable amount of strength; he was denting Megatronus' armor somewhat, dancing out of reach and riddling the Decepticon with electron rounds. But Megatronus was no lumbering slowpoke, nor did Sunstreaker's attacks cause any real serious damage.

    Instead, Megatronus let Sunstreaker make a few attack runs - then lunged.

    It was like watching a turbofox take down a helio-hare on the Iacon tundra.

    One enormous fist clocked Sunstreaker in the chin, sending the Autobot spinning; another slammed into the yellow warrior's chestplate, shattering his windshield and staggering him. Sideswipe gave a wordless cry of pain, and Orion put a hand on his acquaintance's shoulder - was it possible - ?

    Split-sparks. They've got one life-force, but two bodies - two distinct essences, emerging from the same pod in the Well, Orion recalled. It was perhaps one in a million neo-Cybertronians who evidenced such a connection, according to Ariel and Ratchet's information.

    And if Sunstreaker was terminated, it was all too possible that Sideswipe might join him.

    Orion started to rise, but Sideswipe shook his head. "No - you interfere, the crowd'll rip us apart!" he whispered.

    "And if I don't, two Autobots who don't deserve to die might both flatline. Your brother's proven his courage by fighting; and you, your intelligence by not joining him. It's time this ended," Orion said, almost as if someone else was speaking through him.

    Before he could stand, he blinked as Sunstrealker recovered - then, an energon-blade replaced one of the warrior's hands, and he slashed upward as Megatronus reached for him.

    A primitive, howling roar of pain ripped from the Decepticon's voice box, and Sunstreaker pumped a fist as Megatron's right arm fell away at the shoulder. Orion couldn't help but worry; was it possible that Megatronus might -?

    The furious gladiator answered that question emphatically, by grabbing Sunstreaker's upraised arm and lifting - then, throwing.

    Sunstreaker slammed into the arena floor, so hard as to only twitch. Sideswipe's mournful cry echoed across the suddenly-silent arena, but it was quickly followed by many in the crowd chanting two words that chilled Orion's fuel.

    "FINISH HIM!"

    Megatronus looked around, ignoring his own wound, and seemed to gauge the crowd's reaction - untiil a red, blue and silver streak roared from the seats, transforming and coming to a stop between the victor and the vanquished.

    "You've given them a show, Megatronus. Proved your strength. If you really stand for unity - for equality - demonstrate that you're the bigger Cybertronian. Let Sunstreaker go - please," Orion asked, both challengingly and respectfully.

    The crowd had gone silent again, and Megatronus glanced at Orion with a hard-to-read expression.

    Then - after an astrosecond or two - the miner laughed. Orion wasn't sure what that meant, and he tensed - but Megatronus grinned.

    "You acted. You acted, Orion - self-sacrifice, bravery, standing up for what you believe! DELIGHTFUL!" Megatronus ... praised?

    He held up one of Orion's hands with his remaining one, and shouted, "HEAR ME, brothers and sisters! THIS is what we need - THIS! The courage of ALL castes to stand together! To confront our oppressors! Autobot, Decepticon, neutral - none of that matters! COURAGE, in the face of tyranny! WE CAN NEVER BE DEFEATED IF WE STAND TOGETHER!"

    MEGATRONUS! MEGATRONUS! MEGATRONUS!

    Orion almost joined in, but he wrenched himself to focus through an act of will. To Megatronus, he whispered, "Thank you," then picked up the unconscious Sunstreaker and headed for the arena exit.

    I managed to save a life - win a battle - tonight. But why do I feel like I may have just lost a war?
  4. Onderon1 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 18, 2008
    star 4

    ***********************


    Orion had few options when seeking medical help for Sunstreaker. As Sideswipe explained, his arrogant twin had hardly made a secret of his gladiatorial misadventures, and Orion fully suspected that an illicit pit-fight in Tyrest would draw Security Service attention. They left Jekka, and the rest of Tyrest, quickly, before a raid could sweep in.

    Orion transformed, carrying Sunstreaker on his rear assembly while Sideswipe hung on in robot mode, keeping his unconscious and broken brother from falling off. Not for the first time, Orion lamented not getting a trailer upgrade - while he could apply to the Data Guild for permission to receive a trailer, it was considered declasse' for archivists to haul trailers, no matter their alt-mode.

    Alpha Trion, for his part, had sometimes offered to do the work himself, Guild be scrapped; nobody would dare question Orion's mentor "ordering" the upgrade to better facilitate his employee's functionality, after all.

    Vanity be cursed to the Pit! If we survive this, I'm going to accept that upgrade offer from Alpha , Orion worried, quickly making up his mind and taking the best of the limited choices he had. Even Orion's limited medical knowledge, combined with a basic scan, showed that Sunstreaker was far worse off than he looked.

    Time was of the essence. The warrior hadn't awoken since Orion had convinced Megatronus to spare him, and his right arm and left leg were bent at unsettling angles. A mix of hydraulic fluid and energon was slowly dribbling from his mouth. And Primus only knew what kind of cerebral and other delicate circuit damage the impact had caused.

    Protihex was the most medically advanced polity, but it was on the opposite side of Iacon from Tyrest. The quickest route to Protihex was through Iacon, but while traffic through Iacon at all hours was hardly unusual, an archivist hauling two warrior-Bots on himself would draw unwanted attention.

    And Orion had quickly shot down Sideswipe's plea to ask the gladiatorial medics for help. While Orion didn't doubt that Megatronus had a skilled medic - the Decepticon's patch jobs were evident just by looking at him, and they were of excellent quality for underground medicine - the archivist did doubt that said medic would aid the loser of a match against Megatronus.

    There were a handful of options - attempt to make a run around Iacon and reach Protihex, which would probably take too long; stop at Ariel's, which Orion refused to do, since it might well put his medic girlfriend in danger from the Security Service or ... others; or ...

    Or he could start dialing Gridlink numbers, call in some favors and make some IOUs.

    Leadership. A dangerous thing if seen in the wrong light. But sometimes it's worth it.

    ----------------------------------------

    "Have you blown ALL of your cerebro-circuits!?"

    "Aw, quit'cher yappin' an' do what ya can, Ratchet," Ironhide muttered, keeping his voice down. The veteran warrior wasn't happy either, but at least he'd let Orion and the others in despite the ridiculousness of the hour.

    "All right, all right - and no, I'm not Ironhide's brother. We're ... probably distant cousins, at best," the medic grumbled to Sideswipe between checks of Sunstreaker's injuries. They'd laid the yellow and black warrior on one of Ironhide's spare couches in the gym's rec room, and Ratchet had arrived about the same time as Orion and the twins.

    "Whatever. Thank you for coming out and doing this," Sideswipe rambled, thanking Orion softly when the archivist handed out nitrogen-cooled energon. It was the safest beverage he could think of as far as calming nerves - the unstable, intoxicating variety was not what any of them needed right now.

    Ratchet calmed down, and his face assumed a focused, if worried, expression. "You're welcome. I can't promise that your twin will be leaving here any time soon, but I can at least stabilize him. I've never seen impact damage like this outside of a fall from a high building or a road," the medic said, starting to open up Sunstreaker and weld carefully with an inbuilt laser scalpel.

    "It wasn't -" Sideswipe started to say, but Ratchet held up a hand, giving Orion a dark look that would've been frightening coming from Ironhide or Sideswipe.

    On the medic - whom Orion knew could injure just as creatively as he could heal - the expression was both oddly funny and terrifying.

    "Don't tell me. The less I know, the better. I'll help because it's my duty - but yes, Pax, consider this my repayment to you for helping Bumblebee," Ratchet said, turning back to his patient.

    "Thank you, Ratchet. I know this is asking a lot," Orion said, but Ratchet just held up his free hand and waved Orion and the others out. Sideswipe didn't actually leave, but neither did Ratchet tell the warrior to leave.

    Ironhide nodded for Orion to follow him into the main gym (the veteran had a small apartment on the second floor of the small building) and closed the door to the rec room before speaking in the darkened chamber. "Ah understand why ya did it, Pax. Truth is, I'd do the same. An' nobody doubts ya have some bearings on ya - standing up to Megatronus in the middle of that arena. But ah hope ya're startin' to think a few steps further down the line. There's gonna be fallout from this," Ironhide warned, kindly enough but sternly.

    "Think strategically as well as tactically. I've been doing just that," Orion said, sipping his own energon and sitting in a moonlit window. There were molybdenum-steel bars on it; this part of Iacon was a little harsh, which was how Ironhide liked it - rough and tumble, not a place Security Services came often.

    Orion was counting on that last part, if only to buy himself some time.

    He sighed, then looked at Ironhide - whom he'd trusted enough to tell everything about the night's events - and asked, "I let Megatronus maneuver me, didn't I? For all I know, there's propaganda footage circulating the UnderGrid of the 'defiant Autobot high-caste archivist supporting the daring rebel leader.'"

    "Possibly. Ah'd be more worried 'bout trackers followin' you and the twins - Security Service, or 'Con fanatics who don't like that you left their new flavor of the month behind without swearing alliegance to him. Prowl'd grind his gears thinkin' of comin' down here, but there's a few in the Service who'd be smart an' gritty enough t' realize where you might go to ground," Ironhide said, without menace.

    Orion raised a brow ridge and half-smiled. "Why do I get the feeling I'm not the only high-caste Autobot you've trained in combat and tactics?" he asked.

    Ironhide's grin raised Orion's spirits, despite the problems facing them. "Jest 'cause Prowl's in love with Motherboard Logic don't mean he don't have some sense when it comes t'asking for training. An' there's some others, lower-caste but more my kind o'crowd - down!" he said, suddenly growing quiet and deadly serious.

    Orion obeyed; when Ironhide used that tone, there was trouble. A rattling at one of the windows made the fuel grow cold in Orion's hydraulics, but it quickly ceased -

    and then the vent shook, finally giving way as a small figure fell into the room with a tenor yelp.

    "Whut in tarnation - ?" Ironhide exclaimed, catching the intruder in his arms and looking at him. "When did Security Services start sendin' sparklings?"

    "Hey! I'm not a sparkling! I started at the Well of All Sparks - tell him, Orion!" the small, yellow and black Autobot insisted, standing while Orion blinked in surprise at -

    "Bumblebee?" he asked, trying to figure out how the young cultural observer had found them.

    "Yep. I took Jazz's advice and tried monitoring the Grid. I couldn't sleep - I think I had too much energon, you've gotta see my cooler at my apartment, it's huge! I'll never run lower on power! - sorry. Anyway, there was this big burst of Grid traffic right around 23:54, between Kaon and Tyrest and Iacon, and this started circulating on the vox-boards! I didn't know you fought, Orion!" Bumblebee raved, finally activating a holoprojector in his left forearm.

    Orion groaned softly at the sight of himself roaring out of the Jekka stands in alt-mode, then transforming and standing between Sunstreaker and Megatronus. "Primus ... Prowl's going to think I was in the match. I can feel the inhibitor claw on my back already," he mumbled.

    "Huh? Oh, naw, it's not bad. This's from a pro-Autobot vox-board. You oughta log in and check out what they're saying about you! All kinds of castes - even Huffer, my next door neighbor, he's this engineer who complains all the time, thinks you kicked Megatronus' aft!" Bumblebee encouraged.

    "Wait - they're saying I beat Megatronus?" Orion asked, activating his Gridlink. He was careful to randomize the frequency and use a counter-tracking algorithm, then accepted the Grid address from Bumblebee and started to read ... with growing surprise.

    About time one of us stood up to that 'Con maniac. There isn't a Senator with the bearings to tell 'Megatronus' that he's scrapping CRAZY, a poster named Inferno had said.

    Too scrapping right. Whoever this 'Optronix' guy is, he's got my vote for the next Prime. You ever see Sentinel get his hands dirty anymore? We oughta find this Optronix and nominate him for Senator or something, read a reply from a courier named Bluestreak.

    Orion logged out, his fuel growing cold - but this time, for a different reason. "The Senate's going to see me as a threat, now, aren't they?" he asked Ironhide, while Bumblebee looked between them in confusion.

    "Look, one thing at a time. Kid, how'd ya find Orion?" Ironhide asked Bumblebee.

    "Oh! That was easy - I matched the image of the Jekka Amphitheater against a daylight photo and used a shading program. Then, I transformed, drove to Tyrest, and followed ... uh, this is kind of gross ... this trail of energon and hydraulic fluid. Is that Sunstreaker guy gonna be OK?" Bumblebee asked, looking at Orion with worry.

    "He's being treated. I ... thanks for coming to me with this, Bumblebee. You're really as skilled as Ratchet thought you'd be," Orion said, patting the smaller Autobot's shoulder.

    Bumblebee grinned, but quickly looked around and said, "Uhm ... I didn't think to double back on my tracks, though. I was too busy following your trail. I might've been followed too, I don't know. Security Services were all over Jekka - I only got out 'cause I was so small, I think."

    "So there was a raid. Don't worry, Bumblebee - I'm sure you did your -" Orion started to say.

    The door rattled, then, and a bass voice rumbled, "Ironhide? We know Pax is in there. Let us in, OK?"

    Us? Orion worried, motioning Bumblebee back into the shadows. The door to the rec room opened, but Orion quickly shook his head at Sideswipe and mouthed the words, Stay there and stay QUIET.

    Sideswipe nodded, quickly closing the door as he expression grew nervous. Ironhide waited until the younger warrior was out of sight, then checked the peephole in the door and narrowed his optics, muttering, "Well, ah cain't say ah'm rightly surprised they figured it out."

    Louder, he replied, "You alone, Trailbreaker?"

    "There's six of us - including a couple who I don't want to broadcast too loudly, you scan?" the other Autobot asked, sounding wary now.

    Ironhide glanced at Orion, who whispered, "Do you trust him?"

    "Trailbreaker's a good sort - labor caste turned guardsman. Sharp on defensive tactics, got a force field. Ah don't think he'd turn us in," Ironhide replied.

    Orion nodded; if worst came to worst, he'd surrender himself in exchange for the others' freedom. Bumblebee's an innocent, and none of the others deserve punishment for my poor judgment, he decided, draining his energon and standing. Ironhide opened the door, raising one brow ridge at the crowd of Autobots who filed in.

    They were led by a rather bulky, mostly-black Autobot with silver and red highlights, who gave Orion a friendly smile. "Good to meet you in person, Pax. Nice job telling Megatronus to shove it up his exhaust pipe," he said in the bassundo tones he'd greeted Ironhide with. Trailbreaker, then, Orion decided, shaking the newcomer's hand.

    The next into the room was a slightly shorter, green-and-grey Autobot with a shoulder-mounted missile launcher and a kind expression. "Hound! Ah should've know ya'd be the one t'find Pax," Ironhide said, but affably, and he and the tracker clasped wrists before Hound tip-saluted Orion with respect.

    "Not that hard. The trail Sunstreaker left was obvious enough, but the little yellow guy there helped without meaning to. You could use some lessons in evasive driving, kiddo, but you've got good instincts," Hound said, shaking Bumblebee's hand as the smaller 'Bot stepped forward, at first nervous but quickly smiling.

    "Thanks. Are you with the Security Service?" Bumblebee asked. Orion just shrugged while Ironhide rolled his optics, but Trailbreaker chuckled as Hound quickly found himself inundated with questions.

    "Somebody ought t'check that kid's processing speed. He makes Bluestreak look like he moves like Ironhide, an' that's saying something," the third arrival quipped. He was a white and grey Autobot with red and green highlights, and fins on either side of his head that lit up blue when he spoke.

    This one, Orion recognized - and while he wasn't entirely surprised to see the engineer in this part of Iacon, it was still unexpected, given the circles the new arrival's fame had opened to him. "Wheeljack. You're the inventor of the ultra-dyne reclamation filter in the Kalis energon plant, right? 25 percent reduction in waste heat?" he asked, shaking the inventor's hand.

    "Wow! Someone who knows my work and doesn't assume it's gonna cause an explosion?! I like this guy already, Jazz," Wheeljack quipped to the fourth arrival - who filled Orion with relief and brought an enormous smile to Bumblebee's face.

    "Yeah, yeah, you did good, 'Bee," Jazz chuckled, high-fiving his student before patting Pax on the shoulder. To the archivist, he said - with real respect - "I knew you were destined for the big time, Orion, but this's something else."

    "Jazz ... I just hope I haven't endangered all of you. I'm grateful all of you are here, but ... why?" he asked, looking at the gathered Autobots.

    "Because - and I can't believe I'm saying this - we need new leadership before Sentinel Prime gets himself scrapped."

    The words alone bordered on political suicide; but their speaker's identity shocked Orion to his spark chamber. "PROWL!?" he exclaimed, as the lieutenant walked in.

    Prowl looked around with a flicker of distaste, but he managed a weak smile as he shook Ironhide's hand and nodded to Orion.

    "Before we explain: Yes, we're committing numerous security violations just being seen with you, after what you did tonight. We knew this - Traibreaker's usually far more sensible than this, while Hound is one of the most loyal members of my squad, and I'm not blind to my reputation for - how did you once put it, Ironhide? - 'having an extra camshaft stuck alongside my spinal assembly,'" Prowl said, sighing.

    A look of true regret crossed the tactical analysis 'Bot's face, but it was quickly replaced by cold professionalism. "Taking into account all the various factors - Megatronus' growing support base among the lower castes and the Decepticons, the Senate's ineffectiveness and corruption, Sentinel Prime's growing frustration at balancing all of the political factions and movements, and especially your sudden rise in popularity, Orion - Cybertronian society is like a cube of gamma-irradiated energon, unstable and ready to detonate at the slightest jostling. We seek to prevent that detonation," Prowl continued.

    He nodded at the sixth and final arrival, and respect filled the faces of every other Autobot in the room, while Orion stood and bowed. "Sir," he said, nodding as Alpha Trion walked in ... carrying a rather surprisingly large case.

    The former A3 closed the door behind him, clapped Orion on the shoulder, and said, "I have never been prouder of you than I am tonight, Orion. And now, we must ask much of you - your trust, most especially. It is time for you to make a leap of faith."

    "Alpha Trion ... you know you have my trust. But ... I can't ... if we're really talking about confronting Sentinel Prime, I can't do that. It's ... we need stabillity, a bulwark against Megatronus and his forces. I was almost ready to join him, tonight. The undertow of emotions in that arena mob ..." Orion confessed, ashamed.

    "But you did not succumb, Orion. And that strength of character is what the Autobots need. Sentinel is a good 'Bot, but I know him from old. Eventually, he's going to reach for his Apex Armor and call out Megatronus - patience is not one of Sentinel's strongest traits. And when that happens ... that unstable energon cube is going to detonate. We need a more ... nuanced leader, one with compassion and ferocity both. Remember what I told you?" Alpha said, opening the case he was carrying.

    "Subtlety often produces greater results than large displays. Neither, however, should be discarded," Orion agreed, looking in the case with an odd mix of curiosity and dread.

    There were servo-boosters, high-end energon caches, technomuscular bundles, enhanced sensory systems ... and red, silver and blue panelling, enough for a much larger Autobot than Orion was.

    Or ... as he presently was.

    "Oh. Oh," Orion said, suddenly feeling like he was both within and without his body as he realized what Alpha Trion was asking.

    His mentor nodded at him, then at Wheeljack. "You evinced excellent use of subtlety tonight. Now, you need the raw power for large displays. Thus, why I asked young Wheeljack to serve as my assistant in this," Alpha Trion said, utterly serious.

    "You have a hero's spark, my young apprentice, and the core of a loyal band of brothers. Now, let us give you a body - and a name - worthy of such honors."

    ---------------------------------------------

    They came to the Kalis-Iacon energon warehouse at dawn.

    Dion's optics bulged in surprise as he and Ariel watched the Decepticons land - Megatronus himself! the dock foreman realized, watching the enormous Decepticon approach them, seemingly polite enough. There were Seekers, too, and a blue and white Decepticon with a mouthplate and a red visor who was eerily quiet.

    And many ... many ... semi-anonymous, identical transport drones.

    "H-hello," Dion said, and Megatronus nodded before looking at Ariel ... in a manner the foreman didn't like too much. She'd already been through enough, racing to Dion's apartment crying over the footage of Orion saving some warrior-Bot at a pit-fight.

    Was he glitching!? She hates pit-fighting, and he just roared up into Megatronus' face! Dion thought, shaking his cranium - carefully. He'd never seen so many Decepticons in one place ... and not in Iacon, that was for sure.

    "My friends - may I call you my friends? I believe we have a common acquaintance. I'm looking for one Orion Pax ... whose taste in companions is most excellent, as well as his debating skills," Megatronus said, almost sounding high-caste as he kissed Ariel's hand.

    He's smooth enough, Dion allowed - but he didn't like that gleam in Megatronus' optics, either when the taller mech looked at Ariel, or the warehouse full of energon.

    "I ... I haven't seen Orion since last night, sir. You probably saw him last," Ariel said, trying to be brave, and Dion hoped she wouldn't give the 'Cons too much attitude.

    That cannon on Megatronus' replacement right arm looked new ... and nasty.

    "Alas, Orion left before I could chat with him more. But you - Dion, yes? Let's discuss this storage facility while we wait for Orion. You can contact him, can't you? Via the Grid?" Megatronus asked, turning to Dion.

    "I've left him some messages. And yeah, this is ," Dion said, keeping his voice neutral. One of the Seekers - the black and purple one - laughed, in an ugly way, and Ariel started to look afraid.

    Megatronus nodded, then looked inside the warehouse - and if that wasn't greed in his optics, then Dion was a photovoltaic pussycat.

    "I can see about giving you a credit on some of that. Can't sell too much, but I get an allowance for new investors in the warehouse," Dion offered.

    Both of the Seekers laughed now, and Megatronus' smile got a nasty edge to it. He glared at the planes, who shut up, and Dion's fear subroutine started to cycle.

    But the 'Con leader just nodded, polite again, and replied, "Well ... investment in the future is always a good idea."

    "Here's my down payment."

    The barrel of Megatronus' cannon started to glow purple-white, and Dion shouted something like RUN! at Ariel -

    And then a red, blue and silver blur rolled between them and the Decepticons, transformed, and said - in an eerily familiar but commanding voice:

    "I'll take that instead, friend."

    -------------------------------------

    The upgrade had taken surprisingly little time with Ratchet's assistance, once Sunstreaker was out of danger. The new parts were more an addition of mass and power to the underlying structure of Orion Pax, who was already tall for an archivist.

    But the additions - improved lifting strength, rapid energon disbursement and efficiency, armor plating rivalling Ironhide's, sensory amplifiers and a dual-mode laser/ion rifle that was borderline Guardian-class - were sufficient to transform their recipient into someone as far beyond Orion as Orion had been beyond Bumblebee.

    The trailer, with the recon drone, repair bay and dual-barrel laser cannon, was just icing on the oil cake.

    He transformed, not yet activating the armor mouth-guard over his faceplate. Without it, he was just recognizable yet.

    Megatronus' jaw actually dropped as the upgraded Autobot stood - facing him optic to optic - and the Decepticon breathed, "...Orion?"

    "Yes, but that's just one name I go by," the warrior-class Autobot said, smiling disarmingly at Ariel and Dion, waving them behind him.

    As his friends got to safety, the parking lot filled with his now-transforming followers.

    They were quite the diverse lot, many different castes, different functions, different ages. Prowl, Jazz, Ironhide, Sideswipe, Hound, Wheeljack, Trailbreaker - even young Bumblebee.

    But they all deferred to their leader, who activated his mouth-guard and turned back to Megatronus with a determined, deeper tone, as he added:

    "I'm getting used to the name 'Optimus,' now. And I think you should too ..."
  5. Onderon1 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 18, 2008
    star 4

    Can I take the step I need to end this if it goes poorly?

    The odds were decidedly not in favor of Orion's squad, element of surprise or not.

    Megatronus alone is worth a dozen warrior-class Autobots, and those Seekers look tough. I estimate at least 60 transport drones, maybe more. Plus - isn't that masked one Senator Ratbat's aide? Orion remembered, glancing at the impassive blue and white Decepticon who stood near the Seekers and Megatronus.

    Orion turned back to Megatronus, whose shock vanished almost as fast as Orion had pulled between him and Dion. The former miner glanced at the ring of armed Autobots who were backing up the upgraded archivist, then smiled thinly before turning back to Orion, looking him up and down.

    Finally, Megatronus ... chuckled.

    Orion wasn't sure if he should be insulted or hopeful; he wanted to try and convince Megatronus to surrender, that maybe they could negotiate with the elements in the Security Service who saw the Decepticon renegades as a threat.

    Then again, Megatronus had just tried to shoot Dion, Orion's friend and an innocent labor-caste Autobot, with what looked like a fusion cannon.

    "You continue to impress, Orion. Not just with your courage, but in defying Guild rules and caste barriers alike, and getting upgraded so ... ferociously. You look like you're ready to fight a war," Megatronus said, half-smiling.

    "I don't want to, Megatronus. But I won't let you harm innocents - or steal property for what I fear you're planning," Orion said, deliberately keeping his massive laser rifle pointed at the ground. The tension was thick enough without causing a panic.

    (And, truthfully, the impressive weapon still felt awkward in Orion's hands. He'd trained mostly in pistol shooting with Ironhide, and hardly at all with rifles.)

    "A-are you - are you all GLITCHED!?"

    Orion glanced at Dion, who stood behind him - with Ariel, who looked less confused and more troubled than she had when he'd pulled them to safety. For his part, Dion fumed, giving Orion almost as disgusted a glare as he did the Decepticons.

    "Bad enough you scare your girlfriend by showing up ... illegally altered, Pax! You already upset her enough with your little show up in Tyrest - and now you and this - lunatic come here puffing up your chest assemblies like some sparkling schoolyard brawl!? You war-bots ever process what happens to the rest of us - the 'innocent bystanders' - the economy - with this violence scrap!? HUH?! You even care that there's a few THOUSAND deciliters of volatile energon in that warehouse?!" Dion shouted, shaking a finger in Orion's faceplate.

    "I was wondering when you'd confirm how much was there. Thank you - now have a pleasant termination."

    Orion managed to react just as the FWOOMPH of the fusion cannon rang in his audio receptors, and he got off a rifle shot that staggered Megatronus.

    But Ariel was faster. Her scream of denial was one word; her dive at just the right (or wrong) angle.

    The energy blast from Megatronus' cannon caught her in the upper left chest assembly, staggering her and sending a chill through Orion's very spark as he caught Ariel and remembered

    he is falling, falling, pain receptors flaring like novae in his chest assembly, like nothing compared to the empty void in his spark chamber and the furious burn of betrayal in his cerebro-circuits


    and he turned, agony for his beloved turning to cold steel resolve, as Megatronus furiously snarled, "That could have been avoided, Orion!"

    "You fired, Megatronus. And yes, I'm ready to fight a war," Orion - Optimus - spat back as his troops took aim. "Wheeljack, help Ariel. The rest of you -"

    "Autobots, ATTACK!"

    --------------------------------------------

    The actual target of Megatronus' likely first attack had been guesswork, which Prowl hated; guessing implied intuition, and intuition wasn't logical.

    Then again, he'd basically abandoned a comfortable job as the personal aide to the leader of Cybertron in favor of a ... gut assembly instinct to try and stop the Decepticons early on before war exploded across the planet. Logic wasn't going to help now.

    Tactical prowess will, though, Prowl analyzed, running multiple simulations as he took aim. Orion was fighting hand-to-hand with Megatronus, so that took two of the most powerful and random elements out of play for the time being.

    At its simplest, the immediate tactical goal was: Keep the Decepticons from getting the energon without getting the meager Autobot forces scrapped.

    Wheeljack was out of play, acting as field medic; Bumblebee was barely a day old, and both inexperienced and physically weak; and of their other assets, only Ironhide, Trailbreaker, Hound and Jazz were known factors to Prowl. Sideswipe had a Security Service file, but Prowl had only scanned it - Sunstreaker, the more wild and reckless of the twins, was the real concern, since the yellow warrior was a gladiator and thus being monitored for illegal activity.

    On the other hand, Trailbreaker and Hound were reliable, trustworthy members of Prowl's personal squad, while Jazz and Ironhide had differing but equally admirable service records. Wheeljack was a talented engineer, and Bumblebee ... well, he had spirit.

    All of this flashed through Prowl's hyperkeen mind in a nanobreem, before he quickly barked orders - Orion had, wisely, told the others to defer to Prowl's leadership if something should happen to Orion, and being attacked by Megatronus counted as "something," Prowl figured.

    "Trailbreaker, Ironhide - block the warehouse. No one gets in. Hound, Bumblebee - cover Wheeljack. Sideswipe, your armaments?" Prowl quickly rattled off, frowning as the Seekers - Skywarp and Thundercracker, he recalled from a security file on Vosian provocateurs and renegades - transformed and went skyward.

    "Jetpack, magnesium flare launcher and photon rifle," Sideswipe said, taking aim at the now-advancing transport drones being led by - yes, that IS Soundwave, Senator Ratbat's aide! Prowl realized with quickly-repressed shock. If there was an angle to take down Kaon's corrupt Senatorial representative, it could wait.

    They were about to be overwhelmed, and the Seekers were arcing back toward the kinot of Autobots until Prowl told Sideswipe, "Aerial harassment - give the Seekers grief! Jazz, scrap some drones, NO MERCY! Soundwave is MINE!"

    "I think I like you after all, Lieutenant," Sideswipe laughed, blasting off. Jazz just shook his head, growing serious as he started firing at transport drones, and the other Autobots raced to their assignments - leaving Prowl to face Soundwave, who fired a concussion blast at the tactical adviser.

    "Some combat training, huh?" Prowl muttered, dodging the blast.

    "Increasing combat experience. Analysis: dispense reinforcements," the communications officer replied in a near-monotone. His hand flew to his upper left shoulder, and Soundwave added, "Rumble, Frenzy, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Ravage: eject - operation: warfare."

    Prowl's optics widened as Soundwave's chest panel opened, and five rectangular forms flew out, all of them transforming. Two turned into mini-sized Decepticons about Bumblebee's height, one red and black, the other blue. Another two became chromo-condors, one with red highlights, another with gold, and the last rectangle turned into a dark-colored biped with a cybercat's head and cropped ears.

    "A'right! You ain't facin' chipless drones now, cop-Bot! Let's ROCK!" the red-and-black mini-Con bellowed, transforming his arms into ... piledrivers?

    "Yeah, you sawed-off robo-runt - AFTER YOU ROLL!"

    Prowl almost didn't process the green and orange streak as it roared into view, driving up a loading ramp and transforming into a powerfully-built, if somewhat short, labor-caste Autobot. Neither did he complain as the new arrival slammed the ground, scattering Soundwave's - cassetiCons? - and kicking the communication 'Con's legs out from underneath him.

    "Ruin my steady job, willya? At least I finally get to kick some 'Con rear-end assemblies!" the Autobot bellowed, slapping aside the blue mini-Con and nodding at Prowl. "Brawn - I work here."

    "Prowl, Security Service. You looking for a raise?" Prowl offered, shaking Brawn's hand and standing shoulder to shoulder with his new ally - caste didn't matter, at a time like this.

    Nor maybe should it at all, Prowl started to wonder, firing at one of the condors as it attacked him and Brawn with dangerously-accurate laser fire.

    ------------------------------------

    "Prowl's in trouble - well, OK, not as much trouble! We still need some help over here - lotta transport drones!" Jazz shouted, firing his photon rifle and occasionally his flamethrower. He'd prefer any kind of tactic over the violence that he'd found himself in, but transport drones weren't much for conversation - or reasoning.

    Even the dangerous missions for the Security Service were usually fuelless - seducing 'Con femme spybots, stealing plans, blending in with crowds and discrediting raving 'Con war veterans ... Jazz remembered, trying to figure out if he'd ever been in a situation like this.

    Horde of rampaging, barely-sparked transport drones trying to scrap me and steal a warehouse full of energon? Nope - coming up empty ...

    A sudden gout of fiery petrochemical spray scattered a group of drones, melting some, and Jazz nodded thanks to Ironhide. The vet had replaced one of his hands with a sprayer, dousing any 'Cons too dumb to get within range, while Ironhide also wielded a potent laser pistol. "Reminds me o' the Tagan Heights Pass fight," Ironhide drawled, moving forward to help Jazz while Trailbreaker maintained a force field over the warehouse entrance.

    "I hope that didn't involve you being the only survivor of a brave stand holding off numerically superior forces?" Jazz quipped, blasting another drone.

    Ironhide looked a little frustrated, replying, "Ah hoped ya hadn't heard that one."

    He grinned a little as one of the Seekers, the blue one, went spinning toward the mercury river, and Sideswipe flew past cheering as he shot at the black one. "At least this time, we got air support. An' I might've called in some backup," the veteran Autobot said, nodding at an incoming Grid signal.

    Actually, the war-whoop was audible.

    A shrieking, cheering red and black interceptor transformed into a mini-Bot a little bigger than Bumblebee (whom, Jazz was relieved, had taken Prowl's orders seriously and remained behind them with Hound and Wheeljack, helping Ariel).

    The miniature warrior landed among the drones, firing an absurdly-large laser rifle and spraying some kind of glittering gas that made the drones brittle. "That's right, 'Con losers! You want a piece of me?! I'm your worst scrappin' NIGHTMARE!" the wrathful red 'Bot howled, ignoring the occasional near-miss from laser fire while blasting, punching, and ... well, almost flailing.

    "That's Cliffjumper. He's got spunk, no doubtin' that. Ah'd hoped f'r a little more help, though," Ironhide admitted, shifting his sprayer back into a hand. "Ah'll have t'recharge my internal fluids."

    "We've thinned 'em, though - wait, are you getting magnetic interference?" Jazz asked, glancing at the right flank - the drones did look to have almost all fallen.

    Those few who were still advancing suddenly started to twitch, even crumple, as a red and grey Autobot about Cliffjumper's size rolled up, transforming into robot mode and waving his arms. The warrior-Bot nodded at Cliffjumper, then looked at where Prowl and his new ally were getting hammered by Soundwave's cassetiCon forces.

    "Six on two? Back off, you scraplets!" the magnet-Bot shouted, focusing his waves. The blue robot cassetiCon screamed, and Jazz had to cover his audio receptors as the two small Cybertronians' wave attacks cancelled each other out.

    A rather nasty shower of sparks went up from both combatants, and the red and black 'Con grabbed his blue friend while Soundwave ordered the other cassetiCons to fall back. Prowl and the strong-Bot helped the magnet-Bot, whom Ironhide nodded at and said ,"Windcharger. His magnetics are darn powerful, but they c'n burn out his internal circuits if used too high."

    "He saved our circuits, though. First round's on me, pal, after we get outta this - I'm Brawn," the strong-Bot told Windcharger, who smiled weakly at him.

    "Windcharger ... thanks. So ... you guys ... recruiting for a new strike unit?" Windcharger asked, nodding as Cliffjumper walked over, looking rather proud.

    "I hope so. For Orion's crew, you're a lot less boring than I thought you'd be - no offense, Ironhide," Cliffjumper said, wincing a little when Ironhide frowned.

    "Whatever, runt. You're good, but undisciplined. Now, let's go check on the others," Ironhide said, and Jazz nodded - after making sure Soundwave had left.

    Where is Orion, anyway?

    -------------------------------------------

    Every circuit in Orion's cerebro-center burned with a fury he'd barely even imagined.

    Ariel might be dying after she tried to save me - me, the upgraded one ...

    It was a foolish indulgence, a distraction from the cool focus a leader needed, or so Orion had imagined - in fleeting moments hearing Ironhide's stories.

    Stepping up, becoming an Autobot war leader, was entirely different. It was leaked fuel, burned metal, internal subsystems exposed by unnatural violence, overriding usual social codes to fire weapons and throw punches - savagery that was wholly foreign to an archivist with a laborer's physique, even enhanced with a warrior system upgrade.

    Then again, Orion's girlfriend had just been shot by a Cybertronian he'd almost considered a friend. Savagery wasn't so foreign anymore.

    He'd pursued Megatronus into an empty warehouse - away from Dion's energon storage facility, at least. The building was open, with only sunlight illuminating it through the doors ... a perfect ambush setting. And even with his bulk, Megatronus had, somehow, slipped off of Orion's sensors.

    "What in the Pit happened over there?! If I lose a day's wages, I'm suing!"

    Only his upgraded tactical IFF subroutine prevented Orion from firing as he spun at the sound - a complaining, red and blue mini-Bot who rolled up, transforming and looking at him with a mix of surprise and growing outrage.

    "... Gears?" Orion remembered. The transport Autobot was one of Dion's employees, frequently working with Brawn to unload energon. "It's - not safe."

    "I'll say. Gunfire, flying Seekers, Prowl - I watch Autobot Broadcasting, I recognize Sentinel Prime's aide when I see him! And you ... Pax, right? What happened to you, you enlist or something?" Gears groused, looking Orion up and down before peering around him. "Hey - y'know that that Megatronus is in that far corner?"

    "Where -" Orion barked, diving instinctively. He managed to pull Gears to safety just as a fusion cannon blast ripped through where the smaller Autobot had stood.

    "Infrared mode for my optics. Always wondered why I'd need it - the Allspark's got a funny will about it, giving 'Bots extra features. Figures I'd wind up seeing killer Decepticons with it," Gears moaned, keeping his head down while Orion watched Megatronus step out of the shadows.

    "You always have a gift for attracting unusual allies, don't you, Pax? Every caste, all sorts of abilities ... it almost makes me wonder if you're not destined to rally the Autobots in a ... dangerous manner," Megatronus wondered, his right hand retracting into his arm.

    "Dangerous to your violence, Megatronus. A counter-force to your madness. Ariel - these dockworkers - they're innocents. How much worse will this fight get if you don't surrender?" Orion replied, activating his own melee weapon - and hoping all his training with Ironhide would be enough.

    The orange-yellow glow of his energon-axe was strangely familiar, but Orion didn't complain - especially when a violet-white energo-mace came flying toward his cranium, and he was able to block Megatronus' downstroke with it. "You could've come to me for upgrades, Orion - could've had a place by my side in the new world to come! But you had to step in!" Megatronus snarled, stepping back with a gladiator's swiftness as Orion slashed horizontally at him.

    "You shot my GIRLFRIEND!" Orion bellowed back, seeing Ariel's broken form once again before his optics - and he charged.

    Emotion shouldn't have, logically, enhanced his strength; Cybertronians didn't have hormones, weren't subject to the mercies of chemically-based neurology that organics suffered from. But Cybertronians did have feelings - compassion - loves.

    A selfish need for vengeance when they saw a loved one struck down by a once-trusted acquaintance.

    Megatronus took the brunt of Orion's leaping downstroke on his left arm, the impact splintering mesh and underlying systems, slashing very nearly through to the structural framework. The force of the blow drove the Decepticon leader backward, rolling with the strike but still shaken.

    Most annoyingly, he laughed, and Orion had to fight to keep from recklessly attacking again. "Bra-vo, Orion! Or was that Optimus? I think your new nickname fits you - magnificence in action! A worthy opponent at last!" Megatronus shouted, surprisingly not mocking.

    He frowned, then, and extended his right arm - with the fusion cannon - toward the energon warehouse, adding, "But I do what I must to win - or force a draw."

    Prowl! Get everyone under cover NOW! Orion screamed over the inter-squad comlink everyone in his unit had been fitted with before they'd hunted Megatronus.

    The Decepticon fired through the open warehouse door, and a small sun ignited on the docks.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Bumblebee had tried to help Wheeljack save Ariel, but he wasn't a medic - and all the fighting was both fascinating and awful, all together. Jazz had given Bumblebee basic shooting lessons at the Security Service barracks, but he wasn't sure he'd be much help against the Decepticons.

    I'm almost glad I didn't fight, the small Autobot figured, trying to ignore the sight of twisted metal and burning fuel. Ariel, at least, looked better, and Hound started to say something, smiling as the others came over - the Decepticons had left, and Sideswipe landed.

    Then Orion shouted, Prowl! Get everyone under cover NOW!

    And the energon warehouse exploded.

    It was loud, hot, and worst of all, bright. Bumblebee had learned that he had really good optics, but that came with a price - the suns were bright, and he had to be careful not to look at glare too much. On a planet full of metal, that wasn't easy.

    This was worse. Bumblebee just managed to get an arm up over his optics before someone landed on top of him - he looked up once things cooled off, and thanked one of the other mini-Bots, the red and black one, who helped him up. "You OK, kid?" the other mini-Bot asked, looking at the warehouse.

    Well, what was left of the warehouse. It was mostly black and a deep crater, starting to fill with mercury from the river - the riverbed was cracked.

    "Yeah, thanks - Cliffjumper?" Bumblebee asked, shaking the other 'Bot's hand. He was a nice guy, Bumblebee figured - most of his new friends were - but someone was missing ...

    "Sound off! Bumblebee, Cliffjumper, Wheeljack, Hound, Brawn, Windcharger, Jazz, Ironhide, Sideswipe - you're all functional?" Prowl asked, sounding surprised. The others sounded off, and Bumblebee started to feel better - a little.

    "Something got between us and the main blast wave ... oh ... scrap," Jazz said - and he sounded like he'd had some bad energon. (Bumblebee could tell because he'd heard his neighbor Huffer after the engineer had had some staticky energon the night before.)

    Bumblebee looked over at the warehouse ... and realized who was missing, besides Orion, but Orion had yelled, so maybe he was OK.

    But Trailbreaker'd been guarding the warehouse with his force field.

    "C'mon! We gotta look for Trailbreaker!" Bumblebee yelled, transforming - they were far enough away that running seemed slow. He rolled over to the last place he'd seen Trailbreaker (who'd been especially kind to him, not joking about his size) then transformed and started digging through metal.

    "'Bee ... 'Bee, that was a lotta energon that blew up," Jazz called, walking over. Bumblebee knew that, but still, he had to try.

    "I-it's like Ironhide said, right? Autobots don't leave their own?" Bumblebee asked his teacher, turning back and digging again.

    His optics were blurry, and he didn't know why, but he felt a little better when Jazz patted him on the shoulder - and started digging, too.

    "Yeah, 'Bee. We don't leave our own," Jazz said, yelling over his shoulder, "Shake a wheel or two! Wheeljack, how's Ariel?"

    "She's stable, but we gotta get her to Ratchet soon! I'm worried about shock to her subsystems! And where's Orion?" the engineer called back - Bumblebee tried not to worry, one problem at a time, like Jazz had taught him -

    And then, beneath a piece of bent and burnt panelling, Bumblebee found the hand.

    The good news was, it was still attached to Trailbreaker, who moaned when Bumblebee pulled on his arm and yelled, "GUYS! I FOUND HIM! Hold on, OK, Trailbreaker? We're here."

    "I ... Bumblebee?" Trailbreaker asked, thanking him while Jazz and the new guy, Brawn, helped dig Trailbreaker out - he was still functional!

    Jazz laughed a bit, while Brawn clapped Bumbleebee on the back (almost knocking him over, but Bumblebee thought it was on accident). "Good work, shorty," the labor-'Bot said, and Bumblebee tried to smile. He knew Brawn was just trying to be friendly, and that he shouldn't be upset about his size.

    "Thanks, Brawn," Bumblebee said, He was a little more surprised by the nods and looks the others gave him - they weren't just being polite.

    Could they ... respect me?

    Bumblebee figured he should ask Orion about it - if they ever found him.

    I hope he's OK, too.

    -----------------------------------------------------

    Orion had no more time to spare - not now, not with his unit in possibly function-cycle-terminating danger - but he still looked at Megatronus with regret.

    The gladiator-Con shrugged, almost smiling as he started to lfit off. "A draw, then, Orion? Don't get used to it - we will win the war," Megatronus mocked.

    And that - that - arrogance, for some inexplicable reason, eventhan Ariel's wounding, finally glitched Orion's patience subroutine.

    "No, you won't win - and you don't deserve that name you took. Even Megatronus Prime had some nobility. You ... you're just ... Megatron, leader of the Decepticons. You lie, saying you want to bring freedom to others, but you'd take it from some. Maybe anyone who disagrees with you," Orion - or someone else speaking through him - rumbled.

    It was the voice of Optimus, and it sounded more and more natural.

    Megatron almost looked hurt, but he sneered, too, and Optimus wanted nothing more than to shatter that faceplate ... even if he could save the philosopher inside the warrior, his nemesis, in the process.

    His former friend.

    "Some - the weak - don't deserve freedom," the Decepticon spat, frowning at Gears.
    "
    Optimus shook his head, stepping between the Decepticon and the labor-'Bot. "You're wrong. Freedom is the right of all sentient beings," Optimus replied.

    Megatron laughed - bitterly, sadly, maybe both. "We'll see if the Senate and Sentinel Prime agree, Optimus. I'll watch how you deal with them - I might not be your biggest problem," the gladiator said, flying off.

    "He's got a point, y'know. I'm a hauler-Bot, but even I know that disturbing the peace and causing an energon explosion isn't gonna go over well with the Senators," Gears sighed.

    Optimus chuckled mirthlessly, retracting his energon-axe and his mouthplate as they walked toward the other waiting Autobots. "I have the start of a plan to deal with that, Gears. In the meantime, we could use someone with your skills," he offered.

    The mini-Bot looked doubtful, but shrugged. "Why not? I'm out of work, now. And my infrared did come in handy for once," he said, and Optimus shook his hand before nodding at Jazz - and going cold at how small Ariel looked in Wheeljack's arms.

    "She's holding on. But she needs -" Wheeljack started to say.

    "She needs some - some sanity! You 'Bots are DERANGED!"

    Optimus repressed a sigh, turning to Dion - who was twitching, and understandably so. "Dion ... I'm sorry," he started to say, but the yellow and blue 'Bot just shook his head.

    "I never want to see you again, you - freak. Overarmored, overpowered - Orion Pax is dead, and so'll the rest of society be soon, the way this keeps going! My job, my workers - you might as well shoot me, take my function cycle! THIS WASN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN ANYMORE!" Dion - raved.

    He transformed, peeling out of sight, and Optimus would've gone after him had Ariel been in better condition. As it was ... he just transformed and said, "Load Ariel into my trailer, Wheeljack; you and Trailbreaker ride along. The rest of you, let's get going back to Ironhide's gym, for the time being."

    "Autobots .. transform and roll out."
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