Actions

Work Header

On the Edge of Extinction

Chapter Text

It was rage and hatred, greed and abuse.

It fed on pain, and on the pleasure of those who inflicted pain on their unwilling victims, and all the unsavoury variations thereof.

It was destruction and death, the actions in its wake or preceding its arrival a miasma of chaos made from what sustained it, what it was made out of, because all those things led to what it ultimately was at its core.

It wasn't merely darkness or even the mundane chaos of a life born and ending but rather that concept taken to its extreme end; it was the absence of both light and darkness, the sucking void where neither could exist, and where both those ideas, realities, were mere... potential.

It remembered the beginning, where the potential had been all there was. It had wandered that soothing stillness, the perfection of the cold nothing to the unmoving something after The One had woken. And then the origin from which it had come had ripped it in two and named the second Primus, an act which had torn away the still potential in the center of it into the new being, as well as disturbing the potential in the still Creation.

Its sibling had flared, bright, warm and irrepressible.

No longer potential but reality, and around that light, the multiverse had bloomed.

It had enraged the first, for no longer was there a quietness whispering its nothing, but instead roaring movement. Trying at first to travel together, it was soon obvious they wanted different things from their exploration. They had parted, and in observing its sibling's passing from that distance, its rage had grown, eating at its being, heating the chillness within and for the first time it had known... hunger.

It ate, and was not satisfied.

It consumed, tearing at reality itself as well as the cosmic matter of planets to still the rampant light and movement, to destroy all and return it to its beginning. To reduce its sibling into nothing - less than nothing - but its movement fuelled hunger, and the hunger fuelled emotion, and while it was less ideal, it was at least... amusing.

Especially to sow discord among those who were then eaten.

It would reach its goal if it so took until beyond the end of what the Chronarchitect knew, and then it would turn on that sibling of theirs as well, and in its actions hopefully convince The One of not splitting the silent and quiet nothing and the potential apart again.

To that end, in the reality it had currently been drawn into again, it fed.

Fed and created armies to support the destruction that would be wrought, while following a most tantalising burn of power. The purest physical manifestation of Primus' being that was necessary for the creation of the children that continually stood in its way.

The chance to destroy even a drop of that substance was enough for it to set aside the search for its sibling's hideaway, that planet which was now its physical body in this reality - as well as many others; Cybertron. Its sibling was stirring, but not yet bright enough to pinpoint the location... but there was time.

In fact, the children were unprepared and divided and despite the earlier confrontation in the rather far past of this reality, it still had---

The jangling flare and then hollow stillness that was the lack of its greatest Herald (or rather, the facet of it that existed in this reality) briefly disturbed its inevitable motion before it continued. It was a loss, but it was not a permanent one, and it had managed without that of Primus' Fallen creation before.

Especially...

Within it, machinery worked, redistributing and refining raw elements and resources from planets consumed, directing it all to a particular part of its body where a single pod in an unending row of them filled with a vicious green goop and then the materials poured in. Slowly, the shape took form, and the body rumbled quietly around it in malevolent pleasure as its greatest creation yet burst out.

Yes.

This one would have no armadas, no sweeps following it.

This one would be singular, and would take care of the troublesome factors that could impede its victory. This variation of it, compared to some of the others, wouldn't be taken from the inherently flawed and rebellious creation that this one was usually created from. This time, it was pure, solely from itself.

Go forth before me, Galvatron, and let them know the meaning of the name you bear, and your origin. Prepare my coming, and let the strength of those who oppose you be crushed. The words were no more than a whisper, carried on an ill wind from the metal of the chamber vibrating, but the creation heard and obeyed.

Now, another timestream, another thread in the infernal riot of light and colour that was the creation Primus was the bright center of would be ripped out and extinguished.

One more note of silence, and in the end, alone and deprived of all those unique little shards of itself that it considered its children, its sibling would learn where it belonged.

Chapter Text

Recharge was a fickle thing ever since his repairs had been finished and this time was not an exception.

He was watching a projection of a solar system - or was actually observing it from afar, hanging in space and watching the brilliantly blazing sun that was also Cybertron surrounded by thirteen planets. Seven of the planets were dark and hung still in their orbits, locked to their sun but unmoving. Six were glowing brightly and danced around the Cybertron-sun - until they all suddenly trembled, arrested in their movement as the planet furthest out, wreathed in a glow like fire and only reluctantly orbiting the sun flared violently and then went dark.

He didn't have time to wonder what it meant or figure it out from what he knew, because the dream wasn't done and his thoughts didn't matter. The darkness from the now-still thirteenth planet grew, grabbed his feet and yanked him down, or maybe it flared up, he couldn't rightly tell, surrounding him.

It was fuzzy, soft like the fur of some animals on Earth, and for a moment he thought he might be left to go from there to true recharge. But the darkness pulsed, trembling against his chassis with ill intent, and the only light was the glow from his chestplates and what was hidden within, spark or Matrix---

No, wait, those were the lights lined along the top of his chestplates. He shook his helm as they walked along a corridor with curving walls, the glow from his lights skittering off the white, red and blue of the two mechs in front of him.

They were, predictably, arguing, and a dry smile briefly tugged on his lips, hidden by his mask. Their voices were distant and echoed strangely, the words coming in strange fits and starts like his audio receptors were malfunctioning, but tuned in to a lull in whatever argument they'd been about and settled on a snatch of simple conversation.

"---no idea why I'm doin--- is. Must have --ost a few processor clusters wi--- what's going on..."

"Or y-- know what needs to--- done to survive."

The set of wings furthest from him seemed to glow faintly, not from his lights or even the subtle glow from under his chassis, but rather with their own eldritch flame, subtly shifting in a direction right before the Seeker turned that way, leading them... somewhere.

Deeper in, with resistance like poison right outside the slight halo of light surrounding them.

He shouldn't be trusting this mech and his guidance, but he knew, contrary to all caution and common sense, that if he didn't trust this, they would lose--- The corridor around them trembled with a sudden lash of rage and intent to crush and a push from behind by someone he hadn't even noticed was there before now sent them flying forwards, out of the way of a boiling mass that were coming to the defense of their enemy.

He hit the wall and was offered a hand up and somewhere between getting to his feet and turning to face the sudden influx of antibodies, everything faded away into the stillness of proper recharge.

--------------------
Atlantic Ocean, outside the coast of Surinam. Two hours after midnight, the day after the defeat of the Fallen.

[First quadrant cleared. Realigning patrol vector...]

They flew high over the ocean but lower than any established human flight paths, two clearly alien mechanoids that most humans nowadays would call 'transformers'. Not that that was the name of the species the two mechanoids looked like and definitely were closely tied to, but it didn't matter.

[Realignment complete. Scanning... No hostiles. Continuing quadrant sweep.]

They'd slowly been getting repaired even if the regular Decepticon troops were taking precedence over them, but they weren't exactly in a position - or, really, mind - to protest. With more energy in eons to power their rather ramshackle frames, their own self-repair subroutines were doing what they could, in addition to outwards assistance.

And since their engines and flight systems worked, they did this, freeing the small contingent of regular Decepticon troops from having to patrol.

[Unable to connect to mainframe.] The little status message buzzed in a corner of their HUD and then went back to a status bar of attempted connection. That had been there since they had been reactivated, going on well over half a year of failed connection by now. It didn't matter. They had their orders, and while their sensor net was now... sub-optimally small with only two anchors, it was still there.

[Wait.]

They froze, helms tilting in unison upwards and eastwards, more towards to the African coast than South America, and followed the bright burn across the sky as three somethings fell and crashed into the water.

A second later, another five fell into the ocean somewhere to the north, what the maps indicated to be near the coast of Colombia, in the Mexican Gulf. Other streaks of light, further away, decorated the sky.

[Threat factor assessment...

Threat factor unknown. Information transmitted to Command Center, continuing patrol.] Off they went, and each time they saw a streak of light searing across the sky, the direction and projected impact location was logged and transferred. However, since they had nothing to base a proper threat assessment on, nor orders to investigate these landings, they continued on their patrol since none of the crashes were within their route.

The night, otherwise, was quiet and clear, and they returned to the Nemesis a few hours later, their sweep completed.

--------------
Autobot City, the core chamber. Morning of the day after the defeat of the Fallen, and two days until Autobot transport shuttle the Steelhaven arrives.

It was with a certain reverence Jazz, Prowl and Ratchet stepped through the door as it opened for them, walking across a floor made up of interwoven cables and circuitry in such density they could just as well have been walking on normal metal flooring. They were, nonetheless, careful about picking their way to the huge sphere in the center of the room.

And despite there being no hum of machinery, no prickle of charge running through the circuitry here, none of them touched more than they had to as Ratchet took the last few steps up to the central feature alone. The access hatch he popped open was rather comically large in comparison, and he didn't pull out a cable for the diagnostic port he'd bared; rather he simply stuck his fingers inside, delicate threads of connective circuitry and fine cables extending from the tips of his fingers to connect to the port while Ratchet watched his submerged hand with a narrow look.

"So what's the verdict, doc?" Jazz spoke up after a silent few kliks, hands on his hips and helm tilted. Ratchet huffed as he withdrew his hand and let the panel close, shaking the now-freed hand at Jazz.

"I'm a medic, not a proto-hatcher, Jazz!" Despite the severe tone, there was a shadow of a smile on Ratchet's lips, echoed by Jazz along with a snort from Prowl. Fourteen years on Earth had led them pick up not quite a few references. "But despite my lack of expertise in these matters, as far as I can tell it seems the protoform is, or will, in a few days be, fully integrated with the greater core structure of Autobot City, and definitely properly settled and integrated here in the core. It should be mature enough when the Ignition happens."

'Should', was of course not 'absolutely', but they didn't really have a proto-hatcher handy to consult with about the development. Any previous Ignitions during the war had been strictly with regular mechs and further, using passive upgrading and integration, which meant the whole frame was constructed in the protoform tank. It wasn't ideal for the free development and adaptation of the protoform, but it was certainly safer for the mechs thus brought online as they had the full protection of an upgraded chassis around them, even if it meant a steeper learning curve.

It also, sadly, crudely enough, left a shorter time until they could be sent out into the field, even if it was kept to scouting or other support work at first. The field was the field, no way around it, but sometimes it simply had been necessary to bolster their forces.

"That will hopefully be enough time." Prowl looked past Ratchet to the central sphere and shook his helm. "The situation isn't ideal either way, and it would be better if we could avoid this course of action... But with what seems to be going on, both I and Optimus agree we can't let Autobot City be simply that and no more for the foreseeable future."

After a few moments of silence and a shared, solemn look between the three of them, quietly contemplating what they were about to do in a few days, Jazz shrugged and let out a faint static sigh.

"An' what 'bout our other protoforms? The Aerialbots gonna survive?"

Ratchet's optics went from Jazz to Prowl and then he dragged a hand down his faceplates.

"Too early to say, but as a preliminary report it looks promising. None of the donated protoform has been rejected, all of it has started to grow properly from what was left of the original protoform around their spark chambers, and I did register not just a stronger pitch in most of the spark-pulses, but Silverbolt, Air Raid and Slingshot are exhibiting traces of cyberstatic energy spreading out from the spark chamber."

Here Ratchet paused, holding up both hands, palms out, and with a frown on his faceplates.

"Don't get too excited, however. There's a lot of things that could happen yet that would endanger the progress so far, and they're all still fragile. To that, Skydive and Fireflight's energies haven't extended beyond the spark chamber yet, which, frankly, is worrying, but luckily not catastrophic. Not yet, anyway."

The tension in the room seemed to lift slightly at that, even if all three of them seemed quite unable to get rid of the frowns that had settled on their faceplates earlier in the conversation. Shaking his helm, Prowl tipped it back to look up at the faint glow of working machinery and energon lines in the ceiling, which ran along it and down to connect to the giant spark chamber in the middle of the room.

"And... Sunstorm?"

The subject of Starscream's clone was an odd one; they were aware they might be helping the Decepticons gain a new soldier, but at the same time, pulling the plug on the rapidly growing protoform wasn't right either. Sunstorm hadn't actually killed anyone (though not for lack of trying in a few cases, admittedly, and Jetfire's survival back during Sunstorm's meltdown had basically been divine intervention of a sort), and there was no proof he'd join the Decepticons automatically after getting a frame of his own again.

So, regardless of Starscream's insistent... protests, and the fact of who and what the clone spark's origin was they hadn't interfered with Sunstorm's provisional protoform tank.

"Growing like a Langton's loopbrush," snorted Ratchet with a shake off his helm. Folding his arms over his chestplates, the medic frowned, though more thoughtfully than anything else. "Shockwave must've managed to encode a lot of his enhancements into his energies. Or, at the least the super-charged healing, which I assume is assisting in his growth. At this rate he'll have a viable protoform in a megacycle or two."

"That soon?" Prowl and Jazz glanced to each other as they'd both spoken, and Ratchet chuckled dryly.

"That soon, yes. You two were either not here, or... ah, not in commission," there was a brief pause as Ratchet grinned at Jazz, who huffed and waved his hands at him to continue. "While Sunstorm was flying around and harassing us to get to Starscream, but he showed extremely accelerated self-repair. Jetfire said he repaired extensive damage to his faceplates and chassis within a klik when he confronted Sunstorm in the Nemesis, though it obviously took him longer to regain full operational awareness." Pausing, Ratchet rubbed his chin, optics narrowing a little.

"The damage described would usually mean either permanent offlining or, if not that far, that he'd have needed help to get put in a CR chamber to repair what should've been critical damage. Those guns on Jetfire's helmet aimed at the face and thus at the processor..." Shrugging, Ratchet stretched. "And unless you've got need of me, I'm gonna check on my patients and then take a break. This ambulance needs some tune-up."

"You know as much as we do at this point, and all of us are just waiting," said Prowl with a shake of his helm, referring to the call from Cybertron that had delayed this visit to the core by a few kliks. After Ironhide had been called up to be present as well, Ultra Magnus had said they were so far planning on sending a shuttle to Earth, officially because Optimus wanted to check up on the progress on Autobot City, unofficially... well, they all knew something was coming, and Optimus had apparently been plagued with some type of Matrix-induced visions during his long repair that pointed towards Earth.

Somehow.

At that point Optimus had come into the feed as well, even if he'd originally not been expected; with the Prime back, the population on Cybertron was more or less understandably clamouring for his attention. He'd taken the time to talk with them though, and with a dry, slightly weary smile to his optics, he'd pointed out they were as important as Cybertron was, and had shared what he could of the warnings he'd been given before he had to leave again.

After Ratchet left, Jazz and Prowl left for a room that demanded less care and respect taken in regards to where and how you stood in it. In the end, it was intended for the Prime when Optimus came back; at present it was used by Jazz and Prowl both.

Prowl dragged a hand down his faceplates and then pinched his nasal ridge and sat down after Jazz had flung himself into another seat, and silence reigned until Jazz shifted, and a blue visor focused on the flickering numbers projected onto the table's surface, though it was only the angle he was sitting at, by the corner of the table, that allowed him to see the display.

Wordlessly looking up, Prowl caught his stare, grimaced and almost attempted to cover the numbers with his hand. But since they weren't projected up from the table itself, but rather at it from one of the computers, they'd just have been displayed on the back of his hand instead.

"It counts down to the estimated arrival time of the Steelhaven."

"With less than a klik for margin of error, in either direction, given nothing untoward happens?" Jazz couldn't quite keep his expression straight, even less so when Prowl muttered that it was around two micro-breems of margin.

"Hey, we're all lookin' forward to his return, even if we seem to be runnin' against some clock no one's sure what it's counting down to," said Jazz with a shrug, leaning back in his seat enough he could put his feet up on the table. Prowl didn't even bother with a disapproving stare and instead hummed in agreement, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table and his chin on his interlaced hands.

"Indeed. Especially as Prime confirmed something is coming. It would be useful if we had more information, however." Prowl frowned as he activated another display, which lit up with a projection of a snatch of a memory displayed in holographic form. It was one of Jetfire's, which he'd pulled Jazz and Prowl aside late last evening to give them in addition to his account of what had happened with the Fallen.

It was, frankly, extremely annoying all things taken together.

Ever since Shockwave had taken the Matrix and used it as a key to activate Vector Sigma and (attempt to) transfer the data within, they'd all felt a faint sense of foreboding, and then Jetfire had vaguely elaborated with what he'd overheard the Fallen say to Starscream about Primus' supposed opponent being drawn to the rarefied energon underneath the seafloor outside of Hawaii, and then Optimus had given his own warning, unable to completely verbalise it... but had frowned and nodded solemnly when shown the image Jazz and Prowl were looking at now.

"Well, y'think we actually got all the information we need, here?" Jazz waved at the display, which showed a solid light reproduction of a corridor in a temple. The relief on the wall that was the focus of the image displayed what they now knew was Earth in the center, with Cybertron on the right of the image, and on the left... a planet as alien as anything, but stirring that faint sense of uneasy foreboding they'd been harbouring for a year now.

The lines of text on each side of Earth was completely illegible to either of the Autobot officers, though Jetfire had translated both, saying he'd forgotten about this until the impact of what the Fallen had said had settled in.

"... Probably, yes." Frowning, Prowl stared at the holographic reproduction of the relief, looking from Cybertron, to Earth and to that... other, planet. "If we're to give the Covenant the benefit of doubt, and trust that it holds some amount of truth beyond the importance of the Matrix, there are those lines about Primus battling an opponent and both of them being forced 'within'." Prowl snorted with vocaliser and engine both. "Which could mean anything, but it's not hard to guess that this third planet will have some role to play. The second of those two lines are too vague to be useful, though, even if the first would, in hind-sight, be correctly applied to the situation with Starscream, Sunstorm and the Fallen."

"'In the spark of an enemy, there will be salvation, and in the darkest hour, there will be a light.' Yeah, don't mean much. Prime did say somethin' about Alpha Trion being able to explain more." Though it was hard to imagine what Alpha Trion would have to say, even if the mech was very old and had supplied both the Council of Ancients and the Prime with advice. "Honestly, though, I'm more interested in the reports of these duplicates that seem to have decided Earth is the location of some sort of weird jamboree."

"Indeed. Either we've got more Decepticon clones on our hands, or it's connected to our little countdown." Prowl rubbed his faceplates again, briefly glaring into the shadows of his own palms before he straightened up again. "And while it might be simpler if it was the former because at least we'd know what we were dealing with, it'd add an additional, unnecessary angle to the latter..."

With a sigh, he turned off the display of the relief and stood up, both of them leaving the office to return to the Emergency Response Center.

"It's a pity Optimus couldn't have returned earlier."

Jazz glanced over at Prowl as they walked, a shadow of a lopsided smile tugging at his lips; Prowl's comment was almost off-hand and dry enough it could have been taken for merely a wish for their center to return as he'd have been a great help in the things that had happened so far.

"What, don't look foward to cross wits with the great and terrible Slagmaker to see if he wants to take back the very noisy pet parrot we found that belongs to him?"

"Very, funny. Prime does have a greater experience in dealing personally with Megatron," said Prowl dryly as they passed through the doors into the Center to settle in to wait for the call they knew would come.

Of course, Megatron might assume Starscream had gone and defected or decided to sulk elsewhere, but that was a dubious conclusion at best. Especially since while on Earth, Starscream's 'sabbaticals' had come after loud proclamations of sneering and frustration, not being kidnapped by an insanely powerful mech that most possibly was one of the first cybertronians to ever have existed, and it was pretty impossible Megatron didn't know the Autobots had gone after the mech in Jetfire's chassis, even if he didn't know who it had been, exactly.

Soundwave missed few things, and the energy trails of the Orion were easily tracked.

--------------------
Autobot City, second underground level of the Emergency Response Center, holding cells. One day and thirteen hours until the Steelhaven's arrival.

Starscream was bored. But at least that was better than being driven to glitching by the slagging annoyance of a sharpshooter sitting guard currently. Because apparently, even if he wasn't talking to Starscream, Starscream's presence was enough to let him redirect his internal monologue into an outer one.

So after a cycle of that and refusing to debase himself and yell at the monochrome motormouth, he'd turned off his audio receptors. Unfortunately the complete lack of outside audio input meant he heard the workings of his own frame that much better and been listening to them ever since.

The idle thrumming of his engine wasn't bad, but in this case somewhat annoying as the constant vibration enforced how very much he wasn't up and moving around at the moment. Then there was the faint click-thump whoosh of his fuel processing systems and the flow of energon - a reassurance he was functioning if nothing else. He couldn't hear the exchange of air as his ventilation worked, except for the muted clicks of the fans turning on and off intermittently.

All of that was at once annoying and reassuring - he was alive, and the Fallen hadn't killed him. He'd survived yet another maniac's attempt at offlining him.

The most glaring proof of his being alive, though, which normally wasn't something heard or noticed but now that he was bored and had willingly locked himself into the song of his own internal workings, was the minute, crackling flow of cyberstatic energy along the conductive circuitry in the outer layer of his protoform.

0.0 seconds; new pulse, an astrosecond of humming pause as his spark coalesced in its spark chamber briefly enough most would miss it.

1 astrosecond after that, it expanded outwards, hitting the crystalline inner layer of his spark chamber. The layer was both the innermost protection and conducted the cyberstatic energy out into the middle of his spark chamber that was made up of complex circuitry. Opened up, both the crystalline layers and the circuitry layer were arranged in a repeating six-sided patterns.

6.8 astroseconds; the energy hit the outer edges of the circuitry, by now more like a web than a sphere and was siphoned out through the five major spark-lines connected to the chamber, which fed into the conductive circuitry of the protoform surrounding the back half of the chamber.

1 second; it had left his torso, spreading out like a glowing web along his protoform, pulled forward by its own motion and the next stretch of conductive circuitry. He knew what it would look like if his protoform was bare; a muted glow that spread outwards through the soft metal, circuitry and cables, at points visible as a starfield of energy where the conductive layer was close enough to the surface of the protoform.

3.4 seconds; the pulse hit the end of his protoform in the palms of his hands, bottom of his feet where his stabilisers connected to the rest of the frame and flickering teasingly around the various clusters of processors that made up his whole processor and was then dragged backwards, brushing humming fire along the sensitised circuitry which he only noticed because he was feeling for it.

6.8 seconds; his spark coalesced again, and whereas it would normally require less distance than wherever Jetfire currently was in the city, like this, much too concentrated on his own workings, Starscream could feel the double, sort of crackling hum that was the ghost of their shared spark-pulse as Jetfire's spark coalesced at the same time and shared that astrosecond of being fully coalesced before the pulse started over again.

No one could yet explain why that echo was perceptible or even manifested. Reasonable science, after all, would deny something like that was possible, but while he could spend this time mulling over that, or even any number of escape plans which, presently, all seemed improbable, Starscream...

Had given in and was, reluctantly, thinking of said harmonised spark-pulse, of the mech it connected him to, and that kiss. Rubbing his faceplates and then simply keeping his hand there, sinking further into his slump on the slab which angled his nosecone uncomfortably against the wall, Starscream grimaced.

What would this even give him?

Nothing he probably hadn't had before, as far as that went. He could ignore it, rail against it, sneer at it, or use it, but they were connected (even if he preferred to think of it in that Jetfire was tied to him and not the other way around), and adding kissing and... whatever else wouldn't change that.

What it would do would probably be to add to his confusion and frustration regarding the oversized jet. He wasn't even sure it was worth it, and yet, considering the fact that Jetfire could have died, that he could have---

Starscream groaned and then snorted, dropping his hand from his faceplates and ignored Bluestreak flicking a glance at him from where he was sitting outside the cell and cleaning his rifle. There had probably even been a momentary halting of that unending chatter, not that he could hear it.

Well, he should probably regret the kiss, but thinking back on it, the way Jetfire's mouth had fit against his own, the tilt of the helm and that Jetfire had let himself be slammed into the wall and stayed there for the duration...

Optics narrowing as he glared at the wall, Starscream yanked his mind away from that, because that only brought up a slow, warm curl in the circuitry around his spark chamber and wasn't conductive to what he was doing.

Because what he was doing was trying to figure out if this was worth it.

Whatever 'this' was, or would turn out to be, this new, annoying facet to the space Jetfire took up in his processor. Regardless of the possibility that might lead to being able to have Jetfire open beneath him in so many ways (let's ignore it would be mutual), that didn't matter.

Couldn't, no matter what the completely annoying heat of charge dumped from his spark chamber into the circuitry around the chamber was trying to say. He couldn't help shifting in his seat in an attempt to disperse it by moving joints and tensing pistons, but wasn't really successful.

Folding his arms over his cockpit with a scowl, Starscream glared harder at the wall. Could it lead to some incremental adjustment of how far Jetfire would be willing to go? Stop being useless and admit he'd been wrong in leaving---

His engine turned over with a dark rev Starscream more felt than heard, but his train of thought was derailed as a white chassis came into the edge of his vision. Optics flickering, Starscream realised that by having his audios turned off, he'd missed Jetfire come in. Turning them online with a snap Starscream still managed to resist the urge to stand up and instead stretched his legs out and continued to ignore the angled pressure of his nosecone pushing against the wall as he watched Jetfire approach Bluestreak out of the corner of his vision.

He'd totally not had that wasteful warmth in his circuitry flare just now, and if that was going to be a consequence of this, these perfectly annoying feelings and the responses to them, perhaps he'd have to put his thrusters down and nip it in the bud.

Even if he was aware that now that they'd been thought, breaking... whatever it was off wouldn't necessarily stop the thoughts. Point in fact; like the way the light angled over Jetfire's shoulders, or... focus!

"---ake a break for a few kliks, you can." Jetfire didn't look over at Starscream as he spoke, his wings held loose and angled upwards like usual - no tenseness at all to reveal he was about to do something untoward, but Starscream still wondered, already coming up with possible actions if Jetfire was going to do something useful.

Why else was he here, after all?

"Well, it's been very boring to sit here and my cables're getting stiff, and if you're here I suppose it's all right, just don't get into the cell or open it---"

"Yes, Bluestreak, I know." There was the faintest of tensing of the lines in Jetfire's faceplates, a wash of rigidity along the cleaning grooves in his cheeks that Starscream was well-familiar with. Usually it appeared in other circumstances, but it seemed that subdued frustration was also applied when his allegiances were subtly - or not so subtly - put in question, as with Bumblebee's offhand suspicion or what Bluestreak had said just now.

"Oh, great, I'll take a few moments then, just a walk around the level or something, it's a nice day - even if you can't see the sun down here so I suppose it's sort of moot, but that doesn't make it any less of a nice day..." The doors slid closed behind Blustreak's back, and Jetfire turned to face the cell Starscream was in.

His wings twitched and then he crossed his arms over his chestplates, optics flickering briefly as his gaze went up and down Starscream's chassis. Nothing much had changed in the cycles passed after Starscream had been taken from the med. bay, which, well, was to be expected. There was no reason for any extra injuries, since this time Ratchet hadn't had to go underneath the plating to yank out something to use for the decoy.

Red met blue and Starscream had had enough of both of their hesitation.

"Come to be useful and let me out?" The words slid out at the same time as Starscream swung around to face Jetfire, sliding forward to rest his weight on one hand, optics dimming slightly. "I suppose you could get a kiss for it..." And then, actually listening to what he'd just said, Starscream jerked upright, scowling, and held a hand up to forestall Jetfire.

"No. Forget I said anything!" What the frag was wrong with him! Bad enough he'd let it all get as bad as it was, and now that. But how to fix it, he didn't know, except for doing something that hadn't worked before, even if he was sorely tempted to go back to angrily ignoring Jetfire.

It had served him well enough through the war after Jetfire had left, after all.

"I'll do that. Because you know I can't just let you out." Jetfire shook his helm, leaning against the wall opposite to the cell, face drawn. "Even if..." Pausing, their optics met again, and Jetfire's expression softened slightly. Currently, it only annoyed Starscream, however, because no matter what the useless drone wanted he wouldn't do it because he was an Autobot.

"Either way, it doesn't matter. You'll be---"

"I'll be what? Stuck here? Yes, thank you, Jetfire, I noticed. Undoubtedly the rusting bucket that calls himself our glorious leader will get me out of here sooner or later because he needs me, but I don't think I should have to wait for that." Optics narrowing into glowing coals, Starscream didn't bother to reign in the words.

Frustration at the limited space, the metal bars that looked as if they could be easily snapped but were in fact vibrating faintly with the energy led through them and would do major damage if touched, along with the fact that Jetfire was standing right there and would do nothing, like so many other times, because he was an Autobot.

Shouldn't he be worth breaking a few rules for?

No, instead he'd been left---

"You are right here, but I suppose you're just too pure and self-righteous to actually render me aid when I need it. But isn't that always how it's been, since you couldn't stand the heat of the forge and left?" It had been simple the other day when it had merely been about survival, his own and Jetfire's. When it had been about Jetfire potentially dying and he hadn't - surprisingly - been able to save himself at the cost of Jetfire.

It had been simple a few cycles earlier in the med. bay, high off having had Sunstorm removed and finally being able to touch as himself without his freak of a clone overlaying everything he did and said and sometimes outright taking over.

Now, though?

Now it wasn't so simple anymore, and the inferno-spawned feelings weren't just in the way but also made it clear in what ways they were still separated.

Made it clear how much he meant... and how much he didn't.

"You..." In a way, it was interesting to watch Jetfire get shaken out of his controlled calm, especially when he got angry; his shoulders drew up, and then his wings snapped up a grade further and the joints and cables that connected them to the rest of his flight array stiffened, leaving the bent edges vibrating and the wingtips, bent back over the wings, rattling faintly against the metal. "You're not in any life-threatening situation right now, Starscream, and you'll get through this with nothing more than a bit of a bruised pride. You don't need me to do anything right now, and me leaving have absolutely nothing to do with this!" Those blue optics were bright and surprisingly wide - Jetfire's anger usually settled around his mouth instead of his optics.

"It doesn't? If you hadn't left I could count on you to help me right now! But instead you're just going to stand there and why did you even come here if you're not going to do anything?" hissed Starscream, heaving himself off the slab at the same time as Jetfire stomped the step or two forward he had to take and they glared at each other from opposite sides of the bars.

"Because if I'd stayed, I would have changed, and I doubt you'd have liked what I'd have changed into! If I'd stayed I wouldn't be here right now, and I left because I couldn't follow you, but that doesn't mean I don't care---" Jetfire reared back, and Starscream wasn't sure if it was because he'd heard the vibrating tension in his own voice or if it was because he'd accidentally brushed the tip of his nasal ridge close to the faint field around the bars.

He didn't care at the moment.

Jetfire had survived the Fallen, they both had, and for the first time in forever he had the chance to say things... But glaring at those bright, wide optics as Jetfire attempted to calm himself down, Starscream didn't had much else to say.

He didn't want to listen to what Jetfire had said, either, because what about him? He was the one stuck in a cell! But some part - vaguely - acknowledged that what Jetfire had said was true. Didn't mean he wanted to listen to that part, though.

"Well, it's not enough! Get out!"

Jetfire hardly had to do anything, even less leave. Starscream was the one in the cell and couldn't do anything if the air guardian decided to stay, but he stared down at Starscream for a silent vent cycle and then left.

He was aware he was shaking, and he turned around, intending to simply stomp back to the slab and slouch back down, but the wall was right there and he just lashed out. The jarring clang and vibration of the punch crawling down along his arm snapped him back, and he stared down at his hand with a scowl as Bluestreak came back in.

This wasn't worth it, surely.

He could get what he needed without all this stupid slag...

His spark completed another pulse, the faint echo seemingly a roar in the silence because he'd already turned his audio receptors off again. In that quiet humming of his internal workings, his processor inexplicably dragged up three things; Jetfire automatically attacking Sunstorm after being thawed, the tight words as he swept Starscream out of Sunstorm's attack down in the cave with the rarefied energon ("don't make me regret this"), and then that pit-slagging kiss.

Blast it all!

Starscream completely ignored Bluestreak looking up from his rifle when he slammed his helm back into the wall as he threw himself to sit on the slab and went back to glaring at the floor.

-------------------
Unfinished science wing, one day, twelve hours and twenty minutes until the arrival of the Steelhaven.

That had been... expected, in a way.

It still took real effort to smooth out his gait and lighten his steps enough not to announce his coming from corridors away. Not that there were many around at the moment hear him. Wheeljack was outside, assisting in some part or another of the finishing of Autobot City.

For the moment, that suited Jetfire perfectly well.

Letting the door slide shut behind him, he didn't walk further than the workbench set in the middle of the room and leaned forward, resting his palms on the surface. Helm bent, he offlined his optics and let the last few heightened cycles of his cooling fans drag his temper back.

Perhaps it was just as well they'd said those things.

At least they'd been said, and he'd be lying if he said he hadn't thought quite a few times about saying them. He'd even, especially at some points during his mission with Omega, Groundshaker and Countdown, foolishly thought out conversations in how it might go.

Because it wasn't as if Starscream would, unprompted, think on his part of the complicated... mess that was their relationship, on his perspective and needs. No, they needed to be put out there, held up to make sure Starscream at least noticed them.

Sometimes it stuck, other times Starscream simply decided on his own what Jetfire did or didn't need - the latter which had been more amusingly exasperating back in the Academy, but hadn't played much part after the Decepticons had formed...

Straightening up again, Jetfire tilted his helm backwards and looked up at the ceiling instead of staring down into the darkness of his unlit optics. He would also be lying if he said it didn't matter what Starscream took away from this.

All he'd planned to do was going down there and distract the Seeker for a bit, nothing more, nothing less. And well, a distraction he'd probably lent, enough to drive them both into it. Flicking his wings down once and then back up, Jetfire shifted on his feet and maybe it was selfish, but he did hope that whatever this new thing was it hadn't just crumbled into rust down there in the holding cells.

Not that that would tear them apart or anything, since he appeared to be unable to completely separate himself from Starscream no matter what and even with a few million of years on opposing sides in a war and separation... But the kiss seemed to have loosened something, changed the shape of how things were, and while he still wanted to say a few more choice words, at the same time...

One hand straying to his chestplates and the spark hidden safely within, Jetfire could easily tell when the pulse was completed and the accompanying ghostly thrumming of the harmonisation. He hadn't been noticing this for ages now... of course, that was partly because of the separation, but a harmonisation could be detected even without the match closeby. He'd found that out himself, and that was the only way he'd been relatively sure Starscream was still alive after the Ark and the Nemesis had disappeared. Of course, back then he'd framed it as part of the arguments to go looking for the Ark and its crew, nothing else.

Now, it seemed impossible to ignore that double hum of coalescing between spark pulses..

Before their sparks had harmonised, his spark pulse had been slow, a 'perfect' microbreem, which had then adjusted itself to Starscream's slightly faster one. Some might say he was inherently too... accommodating, but really, if Jetfire didn't want to do something, there was nothing Starscream could do about that. And he could admit to liking having such an integral part of Starscream so close - disregarding that bonds were closer still.

Rubbing the slightly charred tip of his nasal ridge, Jetfire shook his helm and looked around, considering what needed to be done still to make the lab ready, attempting to put the thoughts of Starscream and their... thing aside, but was distracted from further thoughts when the door opened behind him.

"... Jetfire. If this is a bad moment, I apologise," said Breakaway as he paused in the doorway, tilting his helm up the slight distance that was needed to look the air guardian in the optics. Waving the mech inside, Jetfire smiled slightly - a bit dryly, perhaps, but ...

"A distraction might be what I need. Is this about what you said in the cave?" Leaning back against the workbench, Jetfire frowned as he thought back on it. Breakaway hadn't said much, and probably just as well as Jetfire hadn't been at optimal functioning back then, but he'd mentioned that there was something they might need and that Jetfire was best suited to do it.

"It is. Destiny is fast approaching, and if we're to have a chance to survive it, we're going to need all the assets we can gather." Breakaway looked away for a moment, and then back, his silver-bluish visor cool and inexpressive, but his mouth was mobile enough to make up for it. "I don't believe in sitting by and letting things happen, even if I'm not the warrior in my group. You act, or lose the chance to act."

Jetfire managed not to let the static sigh escape, but couldn't quite rein in his frown. Of course, what with the Fallen and the events and revelations tied to him, it wouldn't be... judicious to ignore what Breakaway was saying, but the way he was saying it tripped Jetfire's very restricted goodwill towards less than scientific matters and situations.

"And why am I the one you think would be best suited to help you? Given your apparent... ah, background, wouldn't you be able to do the task better?" It was hard still to believe that Breakaway might be one of - or a part of? the Fallen had been somewhat confusing on that point - the first thirteen. Or that the Fallen had been, but the evidence as shown in the Fallen's memories had been quite clear.

"It's because I am who I am that I can't do it." Breakaway shook his helm, spreading his hands, palms up. "The individual I want you to bring back has put guards against any of us, because we're the closest to her and might want her presence without the emergency being dire enough." There was a certain dry twist to Breakaway's mouth and dry tone to his words that revealed it was probably both true... and he felt it a bit too much of a guard.

"So you need someone more regular... wouldn't there be others more... er, suitable?"

"No, Jetfire. The others that could most easily get past the obstacles have focused their energies elsewhere, you're the only one who has put use to your innate resources in a way that will help you."

Frowning, Jetfire met Breakaway's visor, tilting his helm inquiringly.

"Who, then, am I going to look for, and who were the other possible ones? If it's the theoretical science you need, I'm quite sure Perceptor would be a good fit... or even Prowl. He is usually very good at spotting patterns and similar vectors as well."

"Being exceptional at that won't be enough." Breakaway shook his helm, then met Jetfire's optics again. "I need you, because you're one of the Angles, Jetfire. The others have spread their innate uniqueness into other facets that won't help them when it comes to the obstacles doubtlessly put in the way. And you're going to look for another of my siblings, Solus Prime."

Jetfire stared, optics flickering as he took that in. He couldn't say he was... comfortable... with that thing, the issue of his being one of the 'Angles of Dissolution' being what made him needed in this. He could, on the other hand, by now see what Breakaway meant; it was the same thing the hologram of Boltax had said way back then, the memory of that incident stirred by the similarities.

Keys and ciphers, locks to be opened... dissolved.

And pattern theory, even if he had specialised in the patterns created from social events and conflicts, were certainly part of a cipher of a sort. Dragging a hand down his faceplates, Jetfire sighed, letting out a heavy fuzz of static.

"... And you believe she will be needed to defeat... what is supposedly coming?"

He didn't remove his hand from his face, but he didn't need to see to be able to pick out the heavy certainty in Breakaway's voice.

"If we wish the universe to remain as it is, then yes."

-----------------
The Nemesis, Thundercracker's quarters. One day, ten hours to the Steelhaven's arrival.

"Could you stop that?"

Abruptly, the next pass of the tiny bouncy ball nailed Thundercracker in the back of the helm at an angle so it flew upwards, smacked against the ceiling, rushed down, hit the top edge of Thundercracker's left shoulder vent, went up to the ceiling again at another angle, down to the floor and then up to be snatched by Skywarp just as Thundercracker whirled around in his seat, thrusters clattering down on the floor as he dropped them from the desk and laid the datapad he'd been reading down with a snap.

"Did. So why isn't Laserbeak out there and scouting their new, fancy base so we can pick Starscream up? Megatron's been talkin' a lot about his not squandering resources lately." Skywarp almost managed to sound nonchalant, but there was an edge to his voice that was echoed in the way he was fingering the tiny bouncy ball in his hand... and the way he'd been playing with that thing for the last cycle.

(Where had Skywarp even gotten a slagging bouncy ball, anyway?)

It wasn't that he had a deep and unending love and respect for their third or anything, but he didn't dislike Starscream - not more than some others, anyway, and he liked him a fair bit more than some... when he wasn't being a glitch. But he was used to Starscream and Starscream being present and, in the lack of orders from Megatron, things to do or doing things with Thundercracker, there was always Starscream.

It was complicated.

Thundercracker sighed, the static scratching roughly against the insides of his mouth as he looked Skywarp up and down, then shook his helm.

"Because Autobot City is large, and Laserbeak would need to make enough sweeps to be useful to you, since compared to the Ark, we'd need to actually get the schematics and layout beforehand... and there's no guarantee she'd find his location before she was found."

"So?"

Why did he put up with this?

Suppressing another sigh, Thundercracker glanced up from his datapad to Skywarp, and had to admit it was because of that slightly pinched-by-impatience, guileless expression, his yellow optics widened a shade more than normal.

Open expectation of having this thing he wasn't quite picking up on explained. Sometimes, Skywarp did it to be obnoxious, but he couldn't recreate the same expression precisely when he did that. Though only Thundercracker and Starscream could tell; Skywarp had managed to somehow mess with even Soundwave and Megatron that way.

That didn't mean it wasn't tiring.

"So, apparently Megatron has decided to do some sort of exchange before he considers other... more 'wasteful' avenues, I'd assume. The Autobots are probably just waiting for him to contact them." That, after all, was the way it was done if you weren't going to perform a daring rescue of your captured soldier(s).

"Oh." Skywarp shifted where he lay sprawled on Thundercracker's berth at an angle Thundercracker couldn't see how it wasn't deeply uncomfortable and the blue Seeker whipped up straight, optics narrowing.

"Don't."

Skywarp, having frozen in the middle of the motion of tossing the bouncy ball again, pulled a grimace at him and finally slipped that pit-spawned ball into subspace. Thundercracker knew, however, that if he didn't get something to distract Skywarp with, he'd soon have to deal with the bouncy ball again... or something else.

Of course, what popped out of his mouth wasn't the most clever thing either, but he was distracted and wanted to be able to finish what he was reading, since currently there was nothing he was interested in to catch from Earth's entertainment, and he just wanted some time to himself.

"Why don't you check the progress? Maybe Megatron's making a move soon." The second he said it, Thundercracker realised what he'd said, but it was too late to take it back, because Skywarp's sulky slump transformed into a brightened flash of a grin.

"Good idea!"

And then he was gone.

Blast it all.

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

Skywarp hummed into existence in a low corner of the bridge, as out of the way and sight of the raised captain's chair as was possible. Of course, Megatron heard him anyway, and while he didn't do more than throw a glance in Skywarp's direction, he still looked.

Realising just as he materialised that maybe this hadn't been the smartest of ideas - why the frag had Thundercracker said it? - Skywarp threw up a salute to be on the safe side before Megatron's gaze slid away from him.

Unfortunately, it didn't look like anything was going on, and Skywarp almost and very conspicuously warped away immediately. He'd already settled on the coordinates and his warp circuitry was warming up, turning up into the familiar almost-echo of his spark when Megatron held his hand up.

He shut the impending warp down immediately.

"Go keep an optic on the reports of where duplicates are appearing, Skywarp." There was no arguing with that tone of voice or command, not that he would have anyway... But since Megatron wasn't looking at him, he did take a little longer than strictly necessary to cross the bridge to the indicated console.

This was not what he'd come up here for, but on the other hand he shouldn't have popped in here at all without some legitimate reason to. So if Megatron wanted him to track any further appearances by those maybe-cybertronian mechs that all shared either the look of the mech that had been in the stasis pod in the Malaspina Glacier a year ago now, or the one that had followed behind them into the EDC headquarters, he would do that.

It wasn't a particularly hard task to accomplish, but it was boring and it was tedious, and if the Autobots were somehow responsible for this he'd make them pay. At least the presence of those clone troopers made patrol around the Nemesis' air space less necessary.

He liked flying, so technically patrol wasn't a bad thing, but hey, less work was less work.

"Ah, Prowl. I've noticed I'm lacking something. Perhaps you've found my missing Aerospace Commander, or did whatever that was in control of Jetfire finally crush his spark?"

Skywarp sat up a bit straighter, internally crowing that despite being saddled with stupid grunt work, he'd apparently managed to choose the right moment to pop over to the bridge anyway.

"We picked him up, yes." Prowl's voice came through the feed rather tight, and Skywarp could well imagine the stiff-strut, pinched expression - probably more because he had to deal with Megatron than anything else.

Both Laserbeak and Ravage had revealed that while the Prime's second in command was exact, a bit inflexible and preferred his rules, but he wasn't a complete drone and had some dry humour behind the façade. Of course, that wasn't something Decepticons... and definitely not Megatron would usually be privy to.

"And to cut down on waste of time for us and you, we'll arrange an exchange in return for some information."

Angling himself carefully in his seat, Skywarp tilted his helm just so, catching the sight of Megatron slumping down slightly, an elbow on an armrest and his chin in his hand. His optics, though, were narrowed and bright along with a small, sharp quirk of his lips. Skywarp could easily imagine Prowl stiffening up on his end of the feed, whereas the Prime would probably just have greeted that particular pose with flat exasperation.

"At least you do not give me dramatic speeches. Ask away, and I'll see if it's worth it."

Flicking his wings at that, Skywarp turned back towards his screen properly and leaned back in his seat, his nosecone fitting right above the back of the chair luckily. These things weren't made for hia earth altmode really... Well, honestly, not for the usual Seeker frame either, what with the two pieces of back kibble, even if they could be manoeuvred around...

"The growing number of duplicate mechs, Megatron. Are they Decepticon clones of Shockwave's?"

Ohh, right for spark. Skywarp grinned and wondered if the Prime had picked that tendency up from Prowl - after he was done with his usual, boring speeches, anyway - or if the second in command had picked it up from the Prime.

"They're not. And they're apparently not yours either, so that means we have a third party attempting to get a share, and I don't think this energon goodie is large enough." There was a shift of metal behind Skywarp, and he guessed that Megatron had shrugged and shifted a little, and he itched to turn around and try to catch the new pose, but that was stupid.

Concentrate.

"Mhm." There was both disbelief and acceptance in that single not-word, and Skywarp almost snorted but managed to abort the sound in time. "I assume you picked up the Constructicons when you assaulted the Earth Defence Command?"

"You'd assume correctly. Freeing them from extensive and invasive research, Autobot. They should be in working order soon."

Skywarp was honestly surprised Megatron said that much about their attack on Area 51, but maybe he was feeling generous, in addition to actually needing Starscream back and considering that reveal a small price to pay.

"And what about your plans, Megatron? You hardly have any soldiers left, what do you even hope to accomplish?"

Why did Prowl think he could talk to Megatron like he was the Prime? It almost made Skywarp snigger, but since Megatron chuckled as well, at least any brief little noise Skywarp did was covered by the low, mocking rumble.

"Your attempt at intimidation needs work, Prowl. Perhaps you should train on someone else, and not me." A faint swish of air over metal, and Skywarp could image Megatron waving his hand in the air, gesturing dismissively. "And Earth, first. Then... it's a big galaxy, isn't it?" The smirk, heavy and sharp was slagging near audible and easily derailed the conversation.

There was no static sigh in the silence before Prowl spoke again, but he'd probably at least shifted his stance and his expression had probably tightened.

"Tomorrow, start of second joor Earth time, outside your former base."

Optics flickering back to the screen as the call was terminated, Skywarp realised with a grimace he'd had to review what data had flowed through since he stopped paying attention and recordings or whatever else might have picked up any appearance or arrival... he had no idea if he'd missed anything.

"Skywarp."

Slag.

"Uh... yes, Megatron?" Turning around in his seat to face Megatron, Skywarp met those narrowed red optics with pretend nonchalance.

"Get back to work. I want a proper report when I'm back in a cycle." He held Skywarp's optics for a few silent moments and then left the chair and walked out of the bridge, leaving the black Seeker alone.

Well. That had gone both better and worse than he'd expected. Turning back to the screen, Skywarp eyed it.

A cycle.

Should be enough time to review what he needed to know if he did it a few kliks before Megatron came back... grinning, he sat back, plugged into the console directly to not miss what he needed to know, and changed the feed on the screen entirely.

It wasn't that Skywarp didn't respect Megatron or his orders, but orders were boring, and he had his parameters so he knew how far he could afford to ignore them. He'd get it done in time for Megatron to be back.

If Thundercracker had been present, he'd have facepalmed and tried to keep Skywarp on track, because Skywarp sometimes lost... focus without supervision and no immediate consequence for slacking.

---------------
United States, Washington. White House. One day, seven and a half hours until the arrival of the Steelhaven.

"The repairs on Area 51?" the President, like always, looked tired. The man usually did, however, so this was nothing new. Standing on the other side of the large table, hands held behind his back, the Colonel in charge of the EDC above Commander Marissa Faireborn nodded sharply.

"Proceeding apace, sir. Commander Faireborn had a... visit by those Autobots shortly after to assess the situation. They were gracious enough to lend a hand in cleaning up." He managed, barely, to keep his distaste to himself and his tone professional. The President had less against their nominal allies than he did, even if the man at least held some amount of healthy caution.

Not that they deserved it.

"Good. And... Project Centurion?" There was obvious reluctance in the President's voice, and he was partly resting, partly hiding the lower half of his face against his interlaced hands as he asked. Despite the reluctance, he had given the go ahead to reactivate the project before Marissa had been told to do it.

"We should have a first batch ready in a few days, sir. Unfortunately more experimental than we might wish since it has been decommissioned for so long, but everything from theory to internal workings and the interface is sound."

Or should be, anyway. What they were working with was new ground, despite the age of the project itself, and General Hallo and Lazarus' successes in controlling the transformers.

"Good. The Autobots have indicated they have no idea who the spotted new arrivals are, or if they're even tied to the Decepticons... Either way, we have to be ready."

"Exactly my thought, sir." And if one or two of the damned things that were supposedly on their side fell in the way of project Centurion?

Colonel Buster Witwicky would not cry any tears over that.

Chapter Text

Former Decepticon base, Painted Desert. Twenty hours until the arrival of the Steelhaven.

Jetfire hadn't planned to come along to the handover, partly because he wasn't needed, surely, and partly because of how the 'conversation' in the holding cell area had gone yesterday. Yet here he was, standing behind the other Autobots, but at an angle that allowed him to see Starscream from the side.

He'd taken this position before he'd even thought about it, and now he silently cursed himself. Seeing Starscream now, it was hard to not feel frustrated still, the words said echoing in his processor.

Technically it was nothing new, and while he'd tried a few times earlier to say what he'd said yesterday some of the times they'd clashed in the air over various battlefields and inevitably started to yell at each other as well, at least this time... it seemed like Starscream had actually listened.

Maybe.

The sky above was high and clear, and while the sun was hot, if weak, on his plating, the wind was many degrees cooler, leaving sweeping trails on his frame where the sensory nodes skipped smoothly between the heat of the sunlight, and the cooler air.

It reminded him, a little at least, of Cybertron. Especially when you got out to any continental plate's edge that didn't have any buildings or other construction nearby, which allowed the wind to blow up from the gorges between the plates, cool not from the distance between the plates, but the depth of the gorges. If you stood by the shores of the Rust Sea, however, the wind was usually warmer as the chemical flux of the sea mingled with the air.

"Hey, Jetfire."

Optics flickering, realising he'd allowed himself to become distracted, Jetfire looked down and into Jazz's visor and then caught sight of the hand held out.

Oh, right.

"Here." Handing over the null rays with a shrug, Jetfire waited on what he was relatively sure would come, as Ratchet and Wheeljack both had said they'd hoped that with him there, they'd have greater success...

"Found a way replicate 'em?" Jazz tilted his helm, up and sideways in a way that seemed nearly innocent in its inquisitiveness, and Jetfire met it with a dry, tilted look of his own.

"No. I think we can safely add another point of data to the compilation that points towards a conclusion that says his null rays, even if they can be modified somewhat by Starscream himself along a reasonable horizontal axis, are actually a natural spark-effect, much like Mirage's invisibility or Trailbreaker's forcefield," said Jetfire as he crossed his arms over his chestplates, shaking his helm a little.

He'd gotten this question quite a few times after he switched sides, and he'd always said he didn't know; the first time Starscream had showed up with his arm cannons and showed them off, they'd had the null ray effect, but that didn't say much since some spark-effects simply needed a 'weapon' attached to, or present in the cybertronian's hand or frame to trigger its effect because it was simple to think of it as being activated that way. There'd been a few scattered chances where Starscream had been captured - most of the times, curiously, here on Earth - and the arm cannons were just that; arm cannons.

Without Starscream attached and firing them, they only released plasma charges, which, well. It was in a way a pity the true null ray effect couldn't be replicated on an artificial angle, because it required multiple shots, or extremely powerful shots of the null ray to damage the electrical systems and wires they affected, while artificial versions inevitably left more or less severe and extensive damage.

In a way, Jetfire had thought it highly ironic that Starscream's most personal weapon, an effect of his very spark, was, in essence, a weapon that caused next to no harm and subdued the victim, instead of something more... directly lethal. Or perhaps, in a way, it ultimately said something about Starscream's character, despite the things he'd done during the war. It was hard to tell.

"Ah, well. Worth one last shot." Jazz shrugged and wriggled the null rays in a good bye gesture as he walked back up to the front of their little gathering, standing well out of reach of Starscream, even if the Seeker was tied with stasis cuffs.

It was impossible to miss Starscream cast a narrow glare at Jazz and his own null rays, because Starscream was at least one or two heads taller than the tallest Autobots in the group... excluding Jetfire himself. Then, of course, Starscream's narrow optics went backwards along the route Jazz had taken, and their optics briefly locked...

Before Starscream yanked his gaze away and forwards, as his 'rescue party' came into view via a warp portal.

It was, for all intents and purposes, a surprisingly small group, consisting only of Megatron, Skywarp and Thundercracker, which meant they wouldn't be leaving the same way they'd come... Unless one of the Decepticons would be left to flying back to base alone, which was... doubtful, given the point of this little exercise.

However, small or not, this was in essence the quintessential Decepticon elite, and the Nemesis crew, always smaller in number than the Ark crew even before the reinforcements brought through Grimlock and later the Aerialbots hadn't just held the Autobots off for the greater part of thirteen years, but also beaten them several times.

From Jetfire's line of sight and familiar with the drawn-back, tightly held wings as he was, Starscream nearly vibrated with the need to say something as Megatron came forward, but kept, surprisingly enough, silent. Probably not for long, however, especially when Megatron held out a hand to Jazz instead of turning to Prowl and Starscream, silently and obviously demanding the null rays be handed over.

After a side-long and arched glance at Prowl, who nodded, Jazz did as asked with a twitch of his shoulders. Who knew what Megatron was thinking in all the things he did?

Then he turned to Starscream, optics bright underneath the shadow his helm cast, and held out the null rays to his Aerospace Commander.

Oh.

Jetfire couldn't quite contain the slight snort, and suddenly he had narrow, knowing optics at him as Megatron's gaze slid slightly up and away from Starscream and locked onto him.

And while he could tell Starscream knew exactly who Megatron was looking at, actually tipping his focus downwards as he should was completely impossible, especially when Megatron smirked, slow and sharp and Jetfire narrowed his optics in turn even if he couldn't move from the weight of their locked gaze---

"Finally! Took your blasted time, didn't you? Someone get these off me!" Starscream's snappish voice cut through the live connection like pliers through a cable and Jetfire's wings twitched as he straightened up. Starscream, meanwhile, was demandingly thrusting his hands in Skywarp's faceplates, all the while holding his reclaimed null rays that he'd yanked from Megatron's hands as he stormed across the bit of desert ground that had separated them.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," muttered Skywarp while Megatron shifted his optics to Prowl, his smirk softer, more amused than mockingly challenging, but no less rankling.

"I suppose I should thank you for the hospitality shown. He is of some use to me, though I believe you'll regret bargaining as cheaply as you did."

Prowl might have said something if the sharp clang of the stasis cuffs dropping from Starscream's wrists down on his stabiliser and then rolling onwards onto the ground didn't cut through the air.

"I don't know about you, but I've had quite enough of Autobot hospitality. I'm leaving." The sneer curled heavy through Starscream's voice as he reconnected his null rays, not even looking up to cuff Skywarp in the helm as he passed the black Seeker and ignoring the cry of protest.

Jetfire couldn't, again, quite contain his grimace, because given everything, who else could Starscream be talking to and about..?

::You.::

There was a pulse-beat of silence and even if his wings flicked briefly, this time any other reaction remained quietly on the inside. Even if he did have to also contain the need to simply cut whatever was said next off with something about Starscream being unable to stay away - but then, that would apply to him as well.

::Meet me, here.:: Another brief pause as coordinates were sent along. ::Later::

And then Starscream was out of reach for the short-pulse narrow-beam comm. frequency he'd used, and the other Decepticons along with him. Bringing up his new map of Earth while the Autobots slowly started to move towards the Orion, it took Jetfire a bit to decipher the coordinates Starscream had sent along right with the word 'here'.

He'd used an old navigational system that used the magnetic pole of the hemisphere you were currently on on a planet as reference points for the coordinates that would point to the chosen location.

Instead of Starscream, say, using Earth's GPS, which Jetfire had gotten an update on while Ratchet looked him over after the incident with Fallen was done with. Jetfire didn't doubt Starscream was both aware of and had used the GPS in the time it'd been developed, but apparently he didn't feel like stooping to using it now.

With a shake of his helm, Jetfire walked with the others as he calculated the location...

Which, apparently, was a spot on the summit of Mount St. Helens, for some reason, though when Starscream had intended for them to meet, he hadn't said... If, however, he had to leave before Starscream contacted him next to decide a time for meeting up, to do what Breakaway asked him to do, he supposed to could ping Starscream and hoped he turned up.

He was, honestly, surprised Starscream had told him in no uncertain terms already that they were going to meet up, given how their brief conversation had gone yesterday. With a shake of his helm, Jetfire started to cycle up flight systems, then stopped as Prowl came up to him.

"Jetfire, we were going to pick up Bumblebee and the Witwicky family outside Milwaukee in a joor and a cycle..." Prowl paused with a shake of his helm, sounding somewhat apologetic. "You, however, are smaller and less obvious than the Orion, even if it is cloaked, and do have the space for a minibot and three humans in your cockpit. Could you perhaps take the time?"

Jetfire wasn't sure if Prowl knew Bumblebee had seemed to be avoiding him since he came back, and Jetfire hadn't yet approached him in an attempt to give the minibot some space... Even if, for Bumblebee, it'd been far longer in 'up and running' time since the confrontation with Sunstorm than it had been for Jetfire.

But, whether or not Prowl knew that, Jetfire could certainly see the logic.

"I can do that, yes. I haven't exactly had the time yet to set up any complicated projects, and I believe Breakaway think there's time enough for me to wait to leave, at the least, until after the Steelhaven arrives," said Jetfire with a slightly dry smile, both for the the 'lack of time' since the Fallen had been defeated, and due to Prowl's reaction when he mentioned Breakaway's little mission for him.

It was a brief little twist of Prowl's mouth and his optics squinting, a reaction Jetfire felt rather... familiar with. There were too many things that were hard to accept as fact and truth happening lately.

And, unfortunately, more was probably coming.

----------------
Outside Milwaukee, on a stretch of shoreline to Lake Michigan, eleven and a half hours until the arrival of the Steelhaven.

"Did we do the right thing?" Standing with Carly next to him, her arms around his waist and one of his arms around her shoulders, Spike looked down the beach to the water's edge where Bumblebee was continually hauling Daniel up in the air right before a wave would've drenched his shoes, to the boy's delight.

He'd sworn he wouldn't let himself get pulled in (again, or was that 'yet again'?), get Carly and especially Daniel caught in this.

He had responsibilities, a job, a life... and no longer a father. Of course, he knew that wasn't the Autobots' fault... Well, besides the fact that if they'd never crash-landed on Earth none of anything would've happened at all. But disregarding that, it was rather the fault of General Hallo and the man who called himself Lazarus. Still, it had been... hard to stop being angry about it.

Especially when the seemingly inherent destructiveness of the cybertronians were proven again, with the jet who'd apparently been... possessed? He wasn't sure what to think about that, but given everything else that had happened in his life, he supposed it was possible, and either way---

"Earth to Spike." Carly snapped her fingers in front of his face, making him jerk and give her a guilty grin. "If you ask me a question, stay here. And, I don't know." Pausing, she turned to look at Bumblebee and Daniel again, resting her head on his shoulder. Her blonde hair was bright against his jacket even in the early evening shadows.

"Grieving takes time, but at the same time... I've missed them, despite all the damage, and I know you have too," said Carly, angling her head a little so she could glance up at him, blonde strands brushing her cheek. "Sure, we have the choice, still. If we said no, I know Bumblebee would drive us back immediately. But even if we do that, we still couldn't not have explained about, at the least, Bumblebee to Daniel, and thus revealing the past we haven't said anything about up until now."

Denying the thirteen-foot robot squatting in the garage, no matter how briefly Daniel saw him, would've been impossible. Further, no matter how much he'd liked to have kept Daniel away from all this that, inevitably, seemed to be dragging them in again, even if they were choosing some of it this time... when Bumblebee came to talk to him and after they'd talked... He hadn't been able to kick Bumblebee out immediately.

So Bumblebee had stayed, at first just a day... then a few days, and days turned to weeks turned into a month, and Spike would be lying if he said he hadn't expected something to reveal Bumblebee before that. He probably should've had a 'show and tell' before that, but... he hadn't been able to.

But he hadn't been able to tell Bumblebee to leave, either, and hanging out with the alien robot that was his best friend despite everything, him sitting on Bumblebee's knee late in the evenings after work and just talking, had been... nice. Carly, oftentimes, came into the garage as well, and her laughter weaving with Bumblebee's like years ago...

"Should've told Daniel no to meeting anyone else, though," grunted Spike as he dragged a hand down his face, then dropped his hand and shot a smile and a wave at Daniel, who was yelling at him to look.

"Sure, and have to deal with his puppy eyes." Carly snorted, then shook her head slowly. "To be serious, however... I think this would've happened sooner or later, sweetie. And I'd rather it happen under some sort of control, while nothing else is happening yet, rather than by being dragged into it without any planning at all, like Hallo did to you."

"I know, hon. I just... Bumblebee's my friend, yeah. My best friend, okay, I know, but I shouldn't have gotten either you or Dan---ooof! Carly!" He managed, barely, to hiss her name instead of raising his voice as he gave her a baleful stare and rubbed his stomach where she'd punched him, and none too gently.

"Spike Piotr Witwicky, you better realise I am a grown woman and make my own choices, and while I haven't known them for as long as you, seven years is still a long time, and they're my friends as well. And when it comes to Daniel and this family, we make decisions together."

"... Yeah. You're right. Sorry, Carly. I just... got caught up in it." The kiss he dropped on top of her head was as much affectionate as it was an attempt at being placating, but Carly's huff was more amused than offended.

"As you do. And anyway, I don't know about you, but I... do want Daniel to meet Jazz and Prowl. And Optimus, when he comes tomorrow."

He opened his mouth to answer, when Daniel, climbing around on Bumblebee's shoulders, suddenly stopped, standing up, and, clinging to Bumblebee's head, pointed skywards.

"Plane coming this way!"

Normally, that would've been answered with a nod, but it was a few years since Daniel got so excited over simply spotting planes overhead so why... Just as Carly and Spike turned around to look at whatever Daniel was excitedly pointing at, Spike caught Bumblebee's slight grimace and was sure he knew exactly who, not what, was coming to pick them up.

Bright against the dark sky because of his white plating, Jetfire managed to land on the beach despite the fact that no normal human-built jet without VTOL would've been able to do it like he did, though then, despite the fact that he looked human-made enough to probably fool people at a distance, close up the alien lines and metal were obvious.

Daniel was nearly hopping on Bumblebee's shoulders as the minibot slowly came up beside the two adult Witwickys and, while Daniel started firing off excited questions, helped them all inside Jetfire's cockpit and got them strapped in. The seat and harness was, of course, much too big for the humans, but with the three of them sitting together in the chair, it still worked well enough as passable protection while they took off.

Spike, at first, wondered where Bumblebee would sit, but then the minibot sat down in the space between the control panel and the pilot's seat and solved that. It was obvious the cockpit was made for a mech of average height and not a minibot and some humans, thus allowing Bumblebee to squat where he did.

"You're one of them aren't you, what's your name?" Daniel finally spat out a question his parents couldn't field themselves to give Jetfire some space without being rude, so while Jetfire's deep and surprisingly soothing voice - though he did sound somewhat flustered besides being clearly amused - came from the blue dome in the control panel, Spike turned to look at Bumblebee, who was staring at his knees.

Here was someone else who actually had to have a talk with someone he didn't feel ready to face, though the reasons were vastly different than Spike's. Bumblebee might have reversed his decision to quit the Autobots, both from his many talks with Spike and newly joining back up with them due to necessities, but he was still unsettled by the thoughts he'd revealed to Spike the first evening they talked.

The only thing he could do, Spike figured, was to give Bumblebee some support after they landed.

----------------
Autobot City, a cycle later.

When Jetfire landed, Bumblebee still hadn't decided how - or even if - he would approach the air guardian. To apologise, to explain, to ask why he'd done it when he decided he had to stop Sunstorm...

Daniel's breathless 'whoa' when Jetfire transformed broke his thoughts and when the boy started to tug his parents away, Bumblebee had almost decided to shamefully continue to be a coward about things and go with the three humans. A (comparatively, anyway) small hand on his lower arm, warm and soft against his metal even if the November air in Alaska was stealing that heat away by the astrosecond, stopped him.

He met Spike's gaze and the arched eyebrows, pat of that hand on his armour and mouthed 'stay' had him straightening up a little; even if he couldn't do this, he'd do it anyway. Anything else wasn't right, either to himself, Jetfire or Spike, who'd had to listen to him pour his concerns out the first time.

"I'll catch up, so you can go ahead. Just don't go too far, the City's huge." His voice was a lot stronger than he felt, though the smile Carly flashed him before she turned to look down at Daniel and keep the boy from attempting to run off helped as well.

After a silent klik, Bumblebee finally turned to face Jetfire, who was looking up at the sky, the glow from his optics soft and unfocused. It was hard to tell what he was thinking, if anything, and Bumblebee was suddenly reminded of the fact that he'd basically accused Jetfire of not being trustworthy when he'd first appeared with Starscream.

Even if there was Jetfire's past to take into account, the fact that he seemed to have disappeared after Operation: Containment broke up as they found out from Magnus, and that Jetfire hadn't interfered when Starscream first shot at his feet to announce his entrance, because Starscream was an overdramatic glitch. Shaking his helm, Bumblebee refocused his thoughts.

He could do this.

"Jetfire..." And then he couldn't continue at first, as blue optics tilted down and focused on him, expression blank and that wasn't helping. "I'm sorry."

"... For what?" Genuine surprise coloured Jetfire's faceplates and voice, and if it wasn't so clearly genuine Bumblebee would've been frustrated.

"For my part in that mess! I was responsible, Prowl had put me in charge and then you---" He gestured at Jetfire, then threw his hands out.

"And I should have insisted I go alone to confront Starscream and Sunstorm, so yet another didn't get endangered. I chose what I did, Bumblebee, even if someone had to do it and Starscream would simply have assumed Sunstorm wouldn't have had a great enough effect when he had his meltdown to not let him get away unaffected," said Jetfire with a shake of his helm, looking away. "You did as well as you could with what you had to work with, even if I would have done a few things... ah, differently." No accusation, rather dry amusement, and Bumblebee let himself be pulled into a brief smile.

Yeah, Jetfire hadn't wanted their confrontation against Sunstorm when they were to attach the limiter to be done as he'd planned it and... his amusement drained away.

"And if I'd taken your advice, Starscream wouldn't have gotten away." Staring at the ground now, teeth gritted, Bumblebee missed Jetfire coming down to a kneel in front of him, but he didn't miss the hand against his side.

"Perhaps, though I'd point out that my plan would have involved me going after Sunstorm alone, which would have left Starscream free for a chance to do what he wanted anyway. The Orion wasn't built to handle prisoners, and with or without null rays, he could probably have gotten out of a locked room." Jetfire paused, and Bumblebee could feel his optics on him. "Is this... really what's bothering you, however?"

No.

No it wasn't, but that wasn't what he wanted to talk about either... Spike hadn't had anything much to say, even if he'd muttered he was glad Bumblebee realised what their war was doing, but he hadn't looked very happy to see his friend down. But it wasn't about the effect of the war, now was it?

Not really.

"... No. I just... We've been doing this for so long, and then something mad like this happens and we... still can't win? What does it matter, then?!" Frustrated, he scrubbed his hands down his faceplates and finally straightened up to look at Jetfire, who was looking at him soberly.

"One life isn't worth more or less than one, or several others, no. But we all choose what to do, and if we consider it right to save others, or just to minimise the damage already done, even if that means we'll sacrifice ourselves..?" He shrugged and stood up. "It could be worse. As things happened, if I'd done nothing, we'd probably be dead and the majority of the Earth scorched. If we didn't do what we've done so far... Well, we'd either be dead, or have something like the age of internment on our hands currently, plus any number of other worlds besides Cybertron in the same predicament."

"But the humans..."

"Are caught in the middle, yes." Jetfire nodded, optics dim. "But say the Autobots hadn't formed, that Megatron had gotten what he wanted back in the beginning. Where would they be then?"

"It'd be worse," muttered Bumblebee with a nod of his own, looking down at the ground. It wasn't a good enough answer, but what could be? Because it could be worse, for all of them.

"I think they're waiting for you, Bumblebee. Why don't you catch up?"

Jetfire had a small smile on his faceplates when Bumblebee looked up and followed his nod to catch sight of the Witwicky family standing in a doorway with Jazz and Prowl, Jazz swinging Daniel in his hands by the arms.

It could be worse.

He still didn't feel like it was good enough, and if Primus really did exist, why had he allowed the whole Sunstorm thing to happen, or even the whole war, and he felt like he should have done more. Even if it might just not have been possible and he might have done as well as anyone could have and he had proved himself.

Proved himself capable, even with what happened, if he was supposed to trust what Prowl and Jetfire had said. Proved he could handle himself, even if he'd been doing that the whole war – it was just hard to actually make that knowledge settle in his processor and spark. He still wasn't sure, but maybe this was as good as it'd get.

It didn't feel enough, but it might have to be.

Reaching out, he squeezed the finger of Jetfire's closest hand and then turned around and ran to catch up, answering Spike's wave with one of his own.

----------------
New Iacon Central Spaceport, launch pit, one cycle and two breems before the Steelhaven leaves for Earth.

In the interest of keeping this mission open and accessible to the public - despite some misgivings regarding security - Optimus had chosen to have the launch of the Steelhaven conducted at the spaceport instead of at the launching platform at Autobase.

Ultra Magnus was thus highly aware of where everyone closest around them were; in the shadow of the open doors into the Steelhaven stood the so-called Elita One, Chromia and Moonracer, conducting their farewell; Optimus stood at the edge of the launching pit's platform, in front of the part of the crowd that they'd been able to safely fit in, Springer and Kup on each side of him. The Protectobots were already inside the Steelhaven, the Dinobots were lurking to the far right, up against the buildings that surrounded the launch pit, Hot Rod pacing in front of them - he'd been threatened to be locked up if he couldn't contain his frustration and anger over the fact that they weren't, and couldn't, attempt to attack the Quintessons immediately to get Arcee back.

They didn't know enough about the Quintessons, or even know where the Quintessons' base or home planet were, as of yet.

And then where was...

"Alpha Trion." Glancing down as the old mech came up beside him, Magnus shifted on his feet, uncertain. It was a long time since he'd actually talked to his and Optimus' old mentor, and he'd always felt as if he was on the... side, compared to Optimus.

Like in everything, even now.

"Magnus." Whatever else, it was... both pleasant and a relief to be able to talk to Alpha Trion again, to hear his voice, even if he'd been around for a while now, after they'd found where Shockwave had hidden him. But things had remained busy, one way or another. "You're unsettled."

It could have been an idle comment, a lucky observation he'd be able to refute if it had been anyone else that had said it. But it was Alpha Trion, and Magnus shifted his shoulders, optics going to the ground and then, dragged up as if magnetised, to Optimus' back.

Even if he had Springer and Kup right on each side of him, they couldn't account for everything, and he wouldn't have a repeat of Grimlock dying... even if Grimlock had died to protect him, and he'd already failed Optimus and everyone else by believing Shockwave wasn't up to something suspicious this whole time when he'd rebuilt Cybertron and pushed the unified government.

"I... You're not beside him." That was dodging the comment, but that seemed easier. Beside him. Alpha Trion clasped his hands behind his back, and Magnus was suddenly aware his mentor wasn't looking at Optimus, but him.

"I have taught him what I can, these are steps he need to take alone... steps you never needed to learn, Magnus."

At the edge of his vision, he could see Alpha Trion's pale blue optics, their glow soft, on him, and he was too blasted old for lessons, but apparently there'd be some more.

"You've always been capable of dealing with people. You're a leader, even if you prefer not to be visible at the front. Optimus... have had to learn."

Magnus knew what he was talking about; Optronix had been quiet, blunt and even a bit sharp, especially when he felt like there was no immediate use to what someone else was saying, or as if they were wasting time with what they were saying. That, of course, wasn't the mech here today, or even a few millions of years ago. Becoming Prime in a war-time situation had thrust Optimus into a position of needing to listen to all details... and then make his decisions, often quickly.

"And now he'll learn this too. Moonbase One might need---"

"Magnus. Your qualities aren't overshadowed or made less by Optimus or his presence. You are aware you compliment each other, yes?" Alpha Trion had now turned from facing forwards after looking at Optimus briefly to facing Magnus, faint rebuke along the lines in his faceplates and shifting the plates of his facial decoration.

"It would of course be your decision, as I'm sure Optimus would agree, but he would probably prefer if you would stay beside him. And keep an optic on things more directly while he is on Earth, as you've proven yourself capable of dealing with mechs unsettled by the shifting situation."

He looked from Optimus' back down at his old mentor at last, engine rumbling idly. He could admit to the failing where it was easy to let Optimus' mere presence overshadow him - it was hard not to, Optimus was bright and had lit up the darkness of war even when he'd been absent.

"In other words, I need to stop feeling like the insignificant younger sibling," said Magnus dryly, and admitting it out loud made it seem foolish... in a good way. He'd always tried to make up, to attempt to catch up to Optimus' seemingly effortless inspiration as soon as his sibling was around, now or in the past.

"You need to carry your own weight with your own engine, Magnus. There is no need to make it heavier than it need be." Alpha Trion smiled slightly and then tilted his helm. "I'll leave you to it."

For a very brief moment, Magnus was confused, until he felt the brush of Optimus' EM field against his own as Alpha Trion retreated up the ramp to the ship. When he turned to face his sibling, Optimus looked... tired.

His shoulders were relaxed and his back was straight, giving an illusion of strength especially to anyone behind him, but the optics above the mask were dimmer than their normal glow and there was a pinch to the lines of what could be seen of his faceplates.

"I'll never know how you make that look as effortless as you do, Magnus," said Optimus and even with the mask and the smile not very deep, it was still there. Tired, a bit dry, but there, and for the first time Magnus wondered why he'd never seen that.

He'd always thought, despite the growing and changing he'd seen Optimus do since he was bestowed the Matrix and enhanced by it, that it had all been... effortless. With a sigh he reached out, grasping one of Optimus' lower arms, and pulling him in. The front of their helms bumped together at the same time as Optimus' hand grasped his own armour after a bare moment of slack surprise.

"I could say the same for you."

Their chuckles, sub-sonic and familiar, came at the same time, weaving together, and maybe they hadn't solved everything like this, but Alpha Trion was right. He couldn't carry anyone else's weight than his own.

"Don't make me come and fetch you again, Optimus."

He let go, their hands dragging a little on their respective armour even as they released each other after a final bump of their helms, and Optimus smiled behind his mask.

"I'll endeavour to make sure you won't have to."

With that, Magnus stepped aside and let Optimus pass him and go up the ramp, while he went to meet the crowd of onlookers, giving Springer and Kup as they passed him for the ramp as well a squeeze on their shoulders each.

Hopefully they'd all be able to do what they were aiming for; spark the metrotitan that would work as an effective future defense (and, at necessity, offense) on Earth, stop Cybertron's slow advance through space on its course to Earth and get it back into its own solar system around Alpha Centauri, figure out that looming sense of dread and save Arcee from these... Quintessons and deal with them as well.

Not a tall order at all, he thought with a mental snort, but with what had happened so far, it shouldn't be impossible, surely.

Chapter Text

Launching Platform North, Autobot City. The Steelhaven on the approach, local time half past seven in the morning, three days after the defeat of the Fallen.

Daniel had been having a pretty amazing week - sure, he knew bad things had happened, but presently the idea of a whole city (more than one) being gone was too big of a thing to grasp for a seven year old in its entirety.

Besides, there'd been giant robots.

It'd been pretty shocking, in a good way, to find out daddy and mommy were friends with the transformers, or rather, 'cybertronians'. He'd been aware of them, because who wasn't in this day and age. It was just that his parents had always been somewhat... reticent when it came to talking about the giant aliens, even when they started to come back after the crash of the ship... which he now knew his grandfather had been on. They'd never told him how or why his grandfather was dead, just that he was.

And now, he'd get to meet Optimus Prime.

Daddy and mommy had pointed out the damage the battles between the warring factions brought to Earth, but they'd also pointed out that the Autobots were trying and he shouldn't listen too much to those who thought both factions were equally bad.

Of course, he already knew that.

They might have been able to keep details away from him, and especially all their personal history with the Autobots, but he wasn't stupid.

But whatever. Daniel shrugged, bouncing on the balls of his feet where he stood in the shadow of not just his parents, but a huge group of Autobots as well. Speaking seemed to be a mix of low mutters, laughter and, due to the funny silences, probably over their comm. frequencies. The air was cold, but he didn't exactly freeze due to his spot between his parents and the heat put out by the Autobots around them, and if it hadn't been for the floodlights around the launching platform and landing pad, it'd have been rather dark.

"B still ain't answerin'," hissed someone to the left quietly. Looking over, Daniel could pick out Cliffjumper out of the knot of three short Autobots, but he couldn't remember the name of the other two; one of them in a visor and yellow similar to Bumblebee, the other, he knew was really strong, but couldn't remember the name.

There'd been a lot of names when he got introduced to the Autobots who'd been on the original Ark ship, the crew his daddy and later also mommy knew best, and there were more Autobots than that present in Autobot City and waiting for the Steelhaven to land.

"He'll come out when he's ready," murmured the yellow one with the visor, earning a sharp, static-laced huff from Cliffjumper, who threw his hands up.

"Yeah, yeah. I know, but he doesn't fraggin' have to feel bad. He finally talked to Jetfire and now he's gonna hide from Prime?"

Exasperated frustration born from caring, probably, though Daniel only heard the sharp tone and said nothing. He couldn't help angling his glance further up though, tilting his head back, back and back to catch the upper edge of a building barely seen from here, and the yellow speck perched up there.

Then he forgot about that as a ship that seemed positively giant for a small human child finally landed on the platform they were standing at the edge of. Given, for any human a cybertronian ship would be gigantic, so Daniel's wide-eyed silence at the ship was hardly strange.

When the hatch of the Steelhaven opened and Optimus Prime stepped out, Daniel wasn't the only one to be quiet, though the silence seemed to be buzzing with an underlying energy. He did know, of course, what the Prime looked like, it'd have been impossible not to, even before his parents revealed their past and told stories and showed pictures.

Optimus was easily, besides the huge jet Autobot they'd ridden with to Autobot City and a mech he'd merely seen in the distance that was truly titanic, the tallest Autobot present. And for Daniel, the fact that he was a truck was pretty cool! But otherwise, it was obvious he was a cybertronian like all the rest, except...

The closer he came, the easier it was to pick up... something. Daniel didn't have any words for it, but it felt nice; a little like daddy or mommy when he needed help and he knew they could and would help him, because he could trust them, not just to do it, but to know what to do.

The Prime stopped at the edge of the platform, his optics sweeping over the crowd... and then dipped down, meeting not just his parents' eyes, but his own as well, and somehow, just that brief glance made him want to grin widely, even if he also wriggled a bit closer to his mother in a flash of shyness.

Reaching out, Daniel curled his hands in one of each of his parents' and then, not really interested in the speech that Optimus had just begun, turned curious eyes to the ones who'd come with the Prime instead.

Merely a step behind and to the side of Optimus stood a mech that had had a few in the crowd murmuring, though Daniel couldn't figure out why... Except maybe because he had what looked like a beard and that was really strange.

Why would a robot, alien or not, have a beard? But his pale blue optics were bright and kind, and while Daniel ducked his head away when their gazes accidentally met, the smile and the look had felt similar to how grandpa sometimes looked at him. Maybe he was just really old, like grandpa, and that's why he had a beard.

The rest stood behind Optimus Prime and the old cybertronian in two slightly separate groups, the group on the left sort of fronted by a... fire truck? huh, in pale blue and black, the rest of them being mostly white and red, with a mech in a visor and mask leaning in towards the leader, probably using comm. frequency to share whatever it was he wanted to say.

On the right stood two mechs in different shades of green, one definitely looking younger than the other one, and sort of beside them though still aside from them, stood a figure in white and some shade of dark pink Daniel couldn't remember the name for. The shape of the mech reminded him a little of mommy, but what kept his attention was the helmet, which was sort of complicated like the Prime's and---

Sharp blue optics, narrowed in a sort of aloofness that made Daniel want to squeeze in behind either of his parents met his eyes, so very different from the old-looking mech's and he blinked, transfixed, until the Autobot aimed a small smile at him and lifted his... her? who knew, none of the others had looked like that, helm again and broke the gaze.

Daniel looked away and to Optimus again, who had apparently stopped talking and was in among the crowd, attention given to each and every single one of the old Ark crew, and Daniel hoped he hadn't been supposed to listen to that speech or whatever... Then the Prime came to the front again and knelt down in front of them and Daniel couldn't quite keep the little in-drawn breath from happening.

A warm, callous hand ruffled his bare head, making him realise again it really was kind of cold in the air, before daddy turned to look up at the mech kneeling in front of them to get... somewhat, on a more even angle.

"I'm gratified you came, Spike."

It seemed like Optimus wasn't finished, so Daniel was surprised when daddy suddenly spoke - but then, Optimus Prime would probably not take badly to being interrupted. He hoped.

"I'm sorry, Optimus. I haven't been very fair."

Glancing between Autobot leader and his father, Daniel probably missed half the things going on, but he did pick up on the drawn shoulders and the set, tight line of his father's mouth, and the wide eyes... oh, he recognised that expression. It mostly happened when he had to apologise to mommy and he knew he was wrong (not that he was usually supposed to see that, the times it happened). Optimus shook his helm slowly and breathed - vented? - out, washing warm air over the three of them.

"Grief isn't fair, Spike, and you neither were nor are wrong about our effect on Earth... or your personal life, for that matter."

"Yeah, well. It's not like you didn't try to leave when you could. I just..." He grunted, dragging the hand he wasn't holding one of Daniel's hands with over his face. "And if you'd left earlier, we probably would be worse off. You've got enough people throwing rocks at you, OP."

Daniel grinned when his father raised his closed fist in an offering Optimus also seemed to get as he chuckled and carefully bumped fists - or rather, fist to curled finger - with Spike before he looked to Carly. Daniel's mother didn't look half as conflicted as Spike had been, but their issues and viewpoints were slightly different after all. Daniel, however, only saw the slight twitch of a smile and the glint in his mother's eyes as Optimus nodded to her.

"It's a relief to see you well as well, Carly."

Mommy snorted, shaking her head to make her blonde hair brush her shoulders, which looked paler than it was under the rather harsh floodlights.

"Considering what we've heard, it sounds like we should be relieved that you're well, Optimus. Welcome back." And then she strode right up to the giant alien robot and leaned up against his ankle, resting her chin against the metal which Daniel knew would be warm. Optimus seemed to have paused, a hand hovering in the air before it descended to briefly rest the fingertips of a few fingers against her back.

Then Optimus looked to him, and Daniel had to fight not to squirm in behind daddy's legs, but the hands on his shoulders were strong and warm and maybe he didn't have to.

"Daniel, Optimus," said daddy from somewhere above and right behind him, and he realised he could see those optics bend in a smile, even if the mask Optimus wore covered it. It was enough, along with that warm gaze and the feeling of... caring, yeah, that was it, to make Daniel smile and wriggle a hand in something like a wave.

"You've grown a lot since I saw you last." It was funny, because Optimus sounded both awed and amused and Daniel would have reacted to that except he, instead, got stuck on what had been said.

"Saw me last?" He blinked, eyes wide as he looked up at the Autobot leader, confused. He'd never seen a cybertronian in his life until Bumblebee appeared at their driveway, and even then he hadn't known what he was besides 'daddy's best friend' until weeks later.

So how could...

"You were very small. Not yet a year, I believe..." Optimus voice was a warm hum that seemed to encase his bones in a faint, comforting rattle and Daniel... remembered. Not images no, nothing so concrete, but the smell of warm metal that he suddenly realised had always made him wonder why any metal he came across didn't smell right, a sense of warm safety and a feeling of sparkling brightness beneath that... Sensations and sensory-memories that apparently had a definite source, which he could now pick up on, standing right next to the Prime as he was, though he couldn't remember having taken those steps.

"I remember!"

And Daniel was completely unaware of three sets of surprised eyes or optics on him as he reached out, as excited as shyly, to rest his hand on warm metal that did, indeed, smell right. Alien, but absolutely right, and had ever since he'd been introduced to Bumblebee, but he didn't realise it until now.

He tilted his head back in a bright smile at the slight brush of a huge finger over his head and then bounced back to daddy and mommy as Optimus stood up.

"... Now. All of you are here, but... Has anyone seen Bumblebee?"

And Daniel, excited and revelling in the feeling of understanding a few things, plus the presence of the Prime, turned to point at the building and the yellow speck on top of it.

"Over there!"

----------------
"Bumblebee." Optimus sat down beside the little yellow mech with a static sigh, looking down at the ground far below them where they sat on the top of the rec. center building. "I understand quite a few people have said this already, but you do know you did a good job, right?"

Sighing as well, Bumblebee ducked his helm and stared down at Daniel running around between Prowl and Jazz's feet while Carly sat perched on Jazz's forearm, the gathering that had collected to attend the landing of the Steelhaven having broken up earlier.

"Yes, but... What does a good job matter if we keep sacrificing and losing? It was my fault Jetfire got---" Cutting himself off, Bumblebee tensed his hands into fists. He hadn't precisely said as much to Jetfire when he spoke to him, though it had been included in his claiming responsibility for the whole situation, but it just tumbled out now. He suddenly had a warm hand squeezing his shoulder, enveloping most of his upper arm as well and Bumblebee wanted to not lean into it but... There was warmth from the ambient working temperature of Optimus' frame and a slight prickling brush of their EM fields meshing over his arm and outwards, familiar and supportive.

"It's no one's 'fault' when someone dies when you've taken into account all you can, whether or not they're under your command." A pause. "I keep trying to tell myself that, anyway. The point is, Bumblebee, no matter if we fail or succeed, we get up again." Optimus turned in his seat, shifting to set one foot down on the roof so that he was angled towards Bumblebee instead of facing forwards, the other leg resting on the edge they were sitting on.

Bumblebee bit his lower lip, sighed and then glanced sideways up at Optimus, but said nothing, allowing Optimus to continue what he'd been saying.

"We get up again and continue to fight, because we have to. None of us chose to be soldiers, but we had to become such anyway. Because if we don't fight, for ourselves, for our homes, for those who can't..." Optimus was now resting both his hands on Bumblebee's shoulders and upper arms, his blue optics bright, the colour a deep sort of blue shade that couldn't quite be described.

Bumblebee shook his helm, but despite the fact that Jetfire sacrificing himself - temporarily, sure, but that didn't really matter - had finally broken a fundamental sort of innocense he'd somehow managed to carry through the whole slagging war, it was hard to deny what everyone was saying, and saying repeatedly.

And, even if they lost, even if the good guys didn't win... they couldn't just stop, could they? Bumblebee's optics flared a little even as he didn't really want to admit that conclusion, but he knew it was the only one.

"Who else will?" Bumblebee finished Optimus' sentence for him and then scrubbed his faceplates. "I know. But... don't you ever get tired? We've been fighting for so long and not getting anywhere!" Looking up between his fingers, he almost instantly regretted saying it the moment after he blurted it out, the way Optimus' optics dimmed slightly and the bigger mech's shoulders slumped.

Then he straightened up again, nodding.

"Of course. Who doesn't? But we are, by necessity, soldiers. We fight when others can't, for those who can't because if we didn't, if we chose not to... we'd be complicit in the Decepticons' actions."

Complicit, and like Jetfire had pointed out, things would be worse. They did what they could, and even if that didn't seem like enough... it had to be, for their own sense of being able to continue, if nothing else.

"Optimus..." Bumblebee trailed off, looking down on the metal of the ledge they were sitting on, and then he had arms around him, and several tens of tons of humming truck vibrating his armour. The threads of his spark seemed to vibrate in his chassis from the subtle thrum of the Matrix this close.

"I'm proud of you, Bumblebee." He could have said more, and a lot of other things, but anything else would be superfluous as Bumblebee shuddered and clutched at Optimus, helm thudding into the windshield and the faint echo of the Matrix beneath, while Optimus quietly held him close.

There were things that needed to be done and attended to, but they could wait for a few more breems.
---------------
Autobot City, medbay. Shortly after the Steelhaven's landing.

Elita One was here - in the medbay, on this planet - merely because she had to be. The fact that Optimus and, by extension the Autobots, had given them a chance for this was also partly the reason why.

Ratchet was apparently currently their best medic on offer, and the same went for Wheeljack and engineering and both of those would probably be needed to solve her situation. A situation that didn't just include her, but quite a few other cybertronians, even if it had been a long time since that had been what they were.

The programming the Quintessons had forced on them had locked away some things, changed their perception in others... While under the control of the Quintessons, they hadn't been cybertronians, merely enslaved mechanoids, spark or not.

What does a spark matter, when it's been effectively cut off from establishing full connection with the processor, and any personality thus effectively suppressed and nearly non-existent?

She would like to think that sooner or later their innate programming, their strength and their sparks would've circumvented the invasive and alien enslavement, but... there was hardly any proof of that. What there was proof of was little over fourteen million years of slavery with a few, temporary blips here and there that hadn't gotten anyone off Quintessa and with a few of her group even having been created and sparked into it.

And if the Quintessons weren't stopped and gained what they were looking for, more would end up in the same position. The few that already were in it were a few too many, and Elita did not wish to have it happen again.

If allowing this Ratchet to look her over and plug in to have a look at the coding to attempt to hack and purge it later would mean one step of avoiding such a fate, and freeing those who still were caught in it, she would do it.

"Do it." Turning around on the circuit slab and tilting her helm in offer, Elita stared hard at the floor and even ended up gesturing sharply before Ratchet actually did as she was allowing him to.

Well, 'allowing'.

It was both from her own free will and mandated that it happened. The Autobots, understandably, didn't really trust the femmes who had been the Quintessons slaves - were still, insofar as there was programming lingering, clinging to parts of her processor clusters and covering them in a patina of filth.

At least she could recognise it now, knew that the jarring flickers that suddenly had her systems shrieking enemy about the cybertronians around her was not a true-positive scan result.

"I need you to let down your firewalls, Elita."

Ratchet's voice brought her thoughts back and she shook her helm slowly, feeling the crackling pressure of a jack in the port at the back of her neck.

"You're going to have to break through. I can't take them down," said Elita, tone grim, which matched Ratchet's tight noise before he did exactly that.

She shuddered, feeling layer after layer of protection... and right now, chains, being brought down until he was right there to go through the coding as he wished.

This was necessary.

She couldn't trust her systems, and she couldn't let her defenses lash out. This needed to be done.

Elita sat, back straight and face tight and held on to the feeling of her spark stretching out through her whole frame, unimpeded even with the lingering invasive coding as Ratchet went through her processors to see what had been done, what was still there and what he would need to do.

Would hopefully be able to do.

Her optics refocused and it was only by strength of will that she didn't lash out at the Prime, who suddenly stood beside the slab she was sitting on, optics dim and thoughtful. How she hadn't noticed him come in or come up to her, she didn't know... But she could feel the underlying hum of the Matrix, like liquid lightning over her EM field, and perhaps that was why.

It was soothing.

"Will you be able to help them, Ratchet?" The Prime's warm, muted optics went from her to the medic as he unplugged, having carefully withdrawn from her processors.

"Think so," muttered Ratchet, sounding quietly enraged, and it was almost amusing how similar he sounded to how Hoist had sounded when he got rid of the most critical bits of slave programming back on Cybertron. "It's going to take a bit of work, but the biggest issue is that it can't be gotten rid of from the inside, and there's some pretty intricate, now dormant adaptive reroute routines... I assume to make sure the spark energy can't make contact to the critical parts of the processor. It won't be an issue." By Ratchet's tone, it was clear it was more that it wouldn't be allowed to be an issue.

She would not admit to feeling relieved that he had immediately said it could be done.

Then there was a hand offered to her, and while she stared at it for a brief moment, she took it and slid off the circuit slab.

"Would you like to attend an Ignition?"

Her vent-cycle stuttered briefly and she ignored Ratchet's sharp, warning mutter and the Prime raising his helm to give the medic a long, flat stare and a shake of his helm. An Ignition. It was... she didn't want to think about how long ago it was she'd even been able to consider such a thing happening out of the control of the Quintessons.

"Yes."

---------------
Autobot City, spark chamber.

Staring at the closed door, Optimus briefly offlined his optics. Behind that door, a small group was collected, waiting. It wasn't even the whole crew of the Ark, but it didn't need to be. It would, either way, be a rather eclectic sort of honour guard for an Ignition ceremony, even less one for a metrotitan.

He had, of course, sparked a few cybertronians during the course of the war, and others had been sparked without him, through the artificial method available when the energon could be spared - or when they couldn't not spare it, due to need of manpower, crude as it was.

Each of those Ignitions had been less than ideal, less than they should be, so too with this. The difference here, however, wasn't just the fact that there was a metrotitan to be sparked here, but that for the first time, maybe this mech would not be subjected to war.

Megatron was still out there, and he did still have Decepticons, but compared to times earlier, there seemed to be a bit more hope, now...

"Optimus. I understand you have not done this in a long time, but it will not happen without you," said Alpha Trion, his voice soft as he came up beside the Prime. Optimus twitched, optics reigniting and he almost turned to his old mentor with his other thoughts but... those didn't belong here. They would have to wait.

He let go of the ex-vent he'd been holding in and nodded.

"Of course."

A step forward, and the door opened and he drew back his shoulders and pulled his chin up as he strode inside. Briefly, he indulged in the grateful flutter in his spark for the brief hand on on his shoulder before Alpha Trion followed him inside.

Arrayed in a half circle before the single largest spark chamber any of them would probably ever see were the few attending to this event in person (outside, spread out through Autobot City every single cybertronian were waiting expectantly as well); Ratchet, Wheeljack and Huffer stood on one side, Elita beyond them and Kup beside her. On the other side Breakaway stood, a small smile on his faceplates, looking over to meet Alpha Trion's optics before he looked back. Next to the possibly ancient mech stood Bumblebee and the Witwicky family.

Some had protested the idea that humans would be present for this, but Optimus had stood his ground and pointed out, quietly, that they were on Earth; in a way it was nothing but right that a few humans would be present for the Ignition of this spark, the first on this planet.

Slowly crossing the room, Optimus continued past the line of the half circle, Alpha Trion stopping behind him and closing the arc with the Prime continuing alone up to the spark chamber itself.

For now, the spark chamber and the circuitry surrounding it were cold and still, but that wouldn't last long. Stopping before it, Optimus let his optics wander over the curved metal, up to where vital energon lines connected into it and down to the sides where the spark dispersing cables connected.

"We are gathered here today for a sacred event..." He may still not be convinced of the existence of their supposed creator, or an enduring sentience in the Matrix mainframe, but one thing was clear to even the most doubtful of cybertronians; whatever power the Matrix held, the fact that it could ignite new sparks was undisputed. "An event that will fill this chamber with light. We are more than merely metal, and only metal is not enough to light our optics with the inner fire that makes us."

So, doubtful or not, for this he would follow tradition. Perhaps now it was necessary more than ever that he do so... Which was, he would admit, an ironic contrast to how he'd thought when he was first informed of his being chosen as the Prime.

"So as the inner circuits are lit and the light of a new spark spreads, we will welcome it, teach it and let it become its own." As he spoke, Optimus let his chestplates fold apart and back, the Matrix pushed forward. It turned incandescent with light as he stepped up close to the spark chamber, the closed device opening up in reaction, baring its innermost space to the Prime. The hollow glittered with reflected Matrix-light along the faceted, inner crystal walls and reflected it back out, lighting up Optimus' faceplates.

Leaning forward, he gingerly rested his hands on the edge of the opened inner space, which felt... decidedly wrong, despite the fact that it was for now still empty. For smaller frames contained in protoform ignition chambers prior to onlining, the clump of protoform with spark chamber naturally moved up to the surface in the presence of a bared Matrix and was easier to deal with.

This, Igniting a metrotitan, wasn't at all like dealing with an ignition chamber. Partly due to the size and that everything - similar to how clones or commissioned frames were sparked - was already developed and done by now. What was left after the spark entered, would be a period of integration between spark and frame.

The Matrix suddenly flared, warm and bright, drenching the huge room in a cascade of light, the witnesses all drawing a sharp breath or vent inwards.

Optimus offlined his optics as a surge of glittering eagerness seared through him, whispering of curiosity, excitement and impatience, a painful innocence only the Prime was privy to for a suspended moment. Then the newspark was drawn out of him and incandescent ribbons of light briefly extended outwards from Optimus and the Matrix and then coalesced into a shining sphere and the spark chamber, newly lit, irised closed.

Letting out a sharp vent, Optimus leaned forward, resting his helm against the closed spark chamber while his chestplates folded up and left the room in muted shadows lit only by the glow of energon... and a spreading bluish iridescence from the circuitry they were standing on and which crawled along the walls.

::I'm sorry.::

It had no destination, Optimus murmuring the three words into the silence of a locked and unsent comm. message. Because while he had hope that this spark would not know war, there was no guarantee for that, and this as all the other necessary bolstering of their forces, soldier and general or not, made him ache.

Ache, and wonder if he was fit to the be Prime for a Cybertron without war, as he was capable of bringing sparks online due of cold, harsh necessity. Not that he'd been responsible for all of them - the artificial way had been used when he hadn't been present, after all, but he would never have disagreed with those Ignitions either, as long as the necessity was obvious.

But by being capable of such a cold calculation, was he--- Alpha Trion's hand on his shoulder landed at the same time the general alert frequency was used, Jetfire's voice crackling along it in urgency.

::We're under attack!::

Jerking upright, Optimus swore quietly, though Prowl got there before him.

::Decepticons?::

::No/Yes!:: The twinned answer came from Jetfire first and Cliffjumper second, both of them being among those who'd volunteered to patrol during the Ignition Ceremony.

::The attackers are the... er, duplicates of the mech who picked up the one the EDC had,:: said Jetfire with an exasperated sigh, and all ignored the crackling of a sharp static huff across the comm. frequency from Cliffjumper.

::We're on our way.:: said Optimus shortly and then reached wide, making the official announcement as they ran out of the chamber. Ratchet, Wheeljack and Breakaway staying to perform the last necessary tasks for the Ignition and to help the integration. It figured an event like this wouldn't be allowed to be completed in full as properly as possible.

Jaw set behind his mask, Optimus drew his rifle and pushed thoughts other than battle analysis and strategy aside for now.

As always.

Chapter Text

Alaska, Autobot City, east-north perimeter.

::Cliffjumper! Are you all right?::

Wincing at the twinned cry over two slightly separate frequencies, it would have been funny if the distraction of the noise ringing in his processor hadn't almost got him his head severed from the rest of his chassis. Luckily, the wince had had the beginnings of a ducking motion, and he managed to continue into a duck and then had to scramble back on his aft to avoid being shot and he just fragging knew he didn't have enough time---

A lance of plasma, accompanied by a low, sub-sonic whomp right after the shot was fired speared the... duplicate, drone, clone, whatever it was right through, and its helm exploded.

::I'm fine.:: said Cliffjumper and somehow managed to grit it out even over radio while he shot the first mech (the one that had almost taken his head off his current troubles for him) full in the faceplates and then glanced up.

Above, Jetfire hovered in the air, thrusters burning to keep him in place and his rifle out lining up for another shot, and Cliffjumper shook his helm and knew he at least had some form of backup. And then Jetfire suddenly got rammed and went flying, and there went his blasted backup and Cliffjumper had to switch his attention and concentration back to ground level because four more of the identical mechs flew in, transformed, and landed.

Scowling, Cliffjumper got his glass gas gun out in his other hand, intending to switch off between them to keep the attackers at bay as he half squatted behind the two fallen ones. He knew he could hold his position (probably), but some backup that didn't get attacked themselves and thus unable to help him would be nice.

Talking of would-be backup, hopefully Jetfire could keep his own up there.

Said air guardian was tumbling through the air, tangled with another one of the duplicates, wings tucked in down low and thrusters off. Though even as they fell, Jetfire felt something was... different... about this one. Maybe it was something in the lines in his faceplates or the sharp glow of his optics, but---

"I hope you don't mind I don't feel like getting between, ah, a rock and a hard place today." Managing to turn them around, Jetfire abruptly turned on his engines on full burn, thrusters engaging and sent them flying away from the tower they'd been about to crash into.

The mech was surprisingly strong for his size, which, admittedly, was larger than Starscream and Megatron but still smaller than himself, and Jetfire could feel the metal protecting his wrist mechanism actually buckling which led his thoughts to Sunstorm. His other hand was rather useless, still gripping the rifle which the mech was, understandably, attempting to keep away from himself.

"A pity. You'd not have to deal with what is coming if you just let yourself be killed," snapped the mech, his voice grating in some way that had nothing to do with the pitch of his vocaliser, scraping along circuits and spark both, but Jetfire couldn't pick out what it was, exactly.

They tumbled through the air in a corkscrew and the mech twisted Jetfire's unoccupied hand around, licks of pain and alerts of dangerously stretched and twisting cables popped up on his HUD. Gritting his teeth, Jetfire squeezed off a shot from his rifle, which burned past one of the mech's legs and created a crater right at the feet of one of the duplicates on the ground, accidentally giving Cliffjumper the time to shoot it.

"And what, if you don't mind... er, elaborating, is coming?" Frowning, Jetfire slammed a knee up while he yanked his caught hand closer to himself, causing the mech to double up over and around his knee protector and then he kicked out, briefly separating them.

Not long enough to be able to take a clear shot as the other flyer rushed him, and, when he angled away, turning himself just out of reach, turned around with not just impressive speed but also accuracy. The only reason he didn't have the energon and cydraulic lines in his throat ripped out was because he was used to fighting Starscream, who had a similar speed to his movements.

Bent back, his free hand pushing away the mech's head and inching to reach one of the helm protrusions, the mech's claws were just scraping the flexible lines and the thinner plating of his throat.

"The end, cybertronian. The enemy of all creation has awoken and is reaching for the light's feeble defenses through us, and when my leader comes, we wi---" The loud, thudding crack that reverberated through them both as Jetfire slammed his knees up and then kicked out, this time with his thrusters on, turning purple armour blackened and twisting under the heat from his engine nozzles, seemed to shock his opponent.

Perhaps he'd had to fight 'dirty' too much lately, but one uses what weapons one has, does one not?

Now circling each other in the air, the mech kept just out of reach but insistently close enough Jetfire wouldn't be able to use his rifle effectively, Jetfire looked the mech up and down. He looked cybertronian enough, but there were... like he'd caught earlier, things that just seemed... off.

The lustre of the metal, perhaps, catching wrongly in the Earth's sun. Not at all what he'd become used to for sunlight on cybertronian metal. Or perhaps the strange crackling jangle where their EM fields met, at odds in a way mechs even deeply antagonistic with each other would never manage or, this close, if he reached out and listened, the strange humming right beneath the mech's plating---

"Who are you?" He almost said 'what', and he still wanted to, because something was wrong but a plasma shot seared between them, almost burning a trail up the mech's front and only just not adding to the metal already abused by Jetfire's thrusters and making both of them fly apart.

Both glanced below them and saw the additional mechs milling on the impromptu battlefield, with Bumblebee pulling Cliffjumper up from his squat behind the cold frames and Mirage hovering some short distance away, frowning at the corpses. Cliffjumper had gotten backup as the dozens of duplicates that had landed during Jetfire and his opponent's fight were now whittled down to one, who quickly got shot into swiss cheese, and Optimus one again took aim at the only mech still alive, being the one to have fired off the earlier 'warning' shot.

"We are legion, his uncounted and merciless armies. I have an armada and you... will fall. I am Cyclonus!" And then the mech shot up and away, transforming into a clearly alien air craft that didn't share any familiarity with common cybertronian ones, simply compounding Jetfire's confusion.

Shaking his helm, he landed a few steps away from Optimus just as Alpha Trion came up beside the Prime and Breakaway came up beside him, the faceplates of Vector Sigma's guardian drawn stiff and his pale optics dim.

"Prime... gather your Autobots. There are things you... all of you, need to know."

---------------
Mid-Atlantic Ridge outside the coast of Venezuela, The Nemesis, bunk quarters. Earlier.

Starscream didn't like trine synch.

It was a necessary annoyance to suffer through during a war, as flying without wingmates wasn't just stupid no matter how skilled you were, but it also made a lot of formations impossible. The fact that a good majority of the Seekers and some other flyers arranged themselves in trine outside of a combat situation, willingly, was incomprehensible to Starscream.

Why would you want to tie yourself to idiots outside of the necessary situations just because you flew well together?

Because, make no mistake, that was the only reason he'd choose to associate himself with these two; Skywarp was... well, he was Skywarp, easy to getting to do what he wanted him to and a slow-processored glitch that sometimes had annoyingly bright insights, but he flew with deadly precision and an awareness of his surroundings trine synch merely enhanced.

And while there was technically nothing wrong with Thundercracker, he could be pressed to admit, the blue Seeker had a quiet, insistent presence that grated and Starscream wasn't sure how the aloof Thundercracker had managed to tolerate Skywarp long enough they'd gotten as... attached as they had. But despite Thundercracker's personal faults, he, like Skywarp, flew with the heavy surety of not just his skill backing him but the security that even if he made a mistake (as if), his heavier armour would protect him.

Which meant he extended some of that protection to his trine, a curious sort of protectiveness Starscream didn't hesitate to use. Or abuse.

Together, then, they performed with a perfection seldom seen, long since having distinguished themselves as Elite not just because of Starscream's position in the Decepticon command. And Starscream would accept nothing less than that perfection which was, of course, why he'd chosen these two out of the available ones when it became obvious a trine would be necessary.

That still didn't mean Starscream liked trine synch, especially considering what it entailed.

The joors of flying together, EM fields meshing, was the least offensive and intimate part of it, and if that was all that was necessary, he wouldn't have minded. Annoying but tolerable. But no, it also required being all up in each other's personal space, and having Skywarp sitting around while he was trying to do things, far more important things than keeping the dumb warping menace entertained, was a constant lesson in frustration.

It further required they share cable every now and then, mingling the energies of their sparks' coronas. It gave them a basic physical awareness of each other on a different level than and separated from what the EM fields or other sensory equipment could do. That part wasn't technically necessary for full trine synching, but it was more or less necessary for anything beyond 'adequate performance' and Starscream wouldn't settle for adequate.

What made it more annoying was how often they'd had to synch lately. First fourteen years ago when they woke up from their (approximately) forty nine thousand vorn stasis "nap", then after they got free when that deplorable vermin Lazarus had rewired them three years ago and now because he'd had his blasted clone possessing him!

Before all this nonsense, they'd long since come to the stage that full trine synch wasn't necessary more than every tenth vorn or so - an acceptable number which made the whole annoying process tolerable, as their flying together during combat and brief contact otherwise kept the synch up.

So that had meant more than a day - cybertronian, not as counted by Earth's rotation - of reasonably enjoyable flying with the two otherwise-useless glitches he had to count as wingmates and then a lot of time with them much too close, EM fields rubbing against each other, inside them against the bare metal, cooped up in the quarters he claimed as his own.

Of course 'cooped up' was a bit of a misnomer as the officers' quarters on the Nemesis were quite large. That didn't mean he wouldn't prefer more space between them anyway, and when Megatron pinged him exactly as their allotted time for trine synch ran out, Starscream almost felt the need to praise him.

Almost.

And then he'd have to punch himself for even thinking it.

"Don't break anything, and if you're still here when I come back... you better not be," snapped Starscream, meeting two pairs of gold optics with his own narrowed ones. Skywarp just snorted, firing off a lazy salute that wasn't even at the correct level since he was laying on his front, tangled in Thundercracker's legs - instead his fist bumped against the upper edge of his cockpit.

"I'll drag him out in a few," said Thundercracker, the glow from his optics surprisingly soft where he lay on his back, somehow relaxed despite the position, and it caused a harsh rake across Starscream's circuits because he just knew his own optics were similar, and that the same went for Skywarp's.

He didn't bother to reply to that and merely stomped out and across the ship to the Command and Strategy meeting room, tossing himself down in the chair to the right of where Megatron was already sitting at the head of the table.

"I trust you'll be performing to expectations?" Megatron didn't even look up from his datapad and Starscream sneered, almost raising an arm and powering up his null ray just to get his due attention. Instead he just crossed his arms over his chestplates and stared for a silent klik before replying.

"To my expectations, yes," said Starscream with a smile that curled around the edges, sharp and nearly mocking. Certainly smug, especially when Megatron actually glanced up and his optics narrowed minutely at the sight.

"I suppose that will have to do. You do hold yourself to perfection, at least." Which wouldn't necessarily mean Starscream was perfect, but that was the Seeker's opinion of himself in all things... and at least in the air it was as close to true as it could get. "On to other matters. The Combaticons can be of use finally, and at least you didn't let the glitching menace the Stunticons are loose, compared to Shockwave. Not that we have to deal with them yet."

Starscream would have to lie if he had to say that he wasn't pleased at Megatron's tone when he said Shockwave's name. Oh, Starscream didn't doubt that if Megatron had Menasor and the Stunticons on hand that he'd make use of them and at least temporarily keep them in line, but they'd been shown to get progressively worse the longer they were out and about, so it wasn't surprising Shockwave originally had put them in the Detention Banks after he assisted in the revival of Cybertron and the rebuilding of some for of functioning society.

Not that Motormaster and his bunch couldn't be useful; Starscream had had plenty of use of them through the war, but that didn't minimise the fact that they shouldn't have been made into a special team, because even the disparate Combaticons and Bruticus, as dumb as he was, was easier to handle than Menasor.

"I have them in hand." Waving a hand in dismissal, he met Megatron's sharp-but-amused look with one of his own.

"You do have your uses, and perhaps I can keep you useful for a bit longer yet... the radiation from the pit you mentioned. Can you filter it out for a more reliable scanning for pure energon deposits?"

"... Yes." Starscream's sharp, twisted expression smoothed out as he went from intending to reply to the dig against him and instead took the datapad Megatron held out, frowning briefly. "It'll be exceedingly simple to do so now, and it does explain why we had such issues scanning for the energon deposits before, even with sub-par equipment." Fourteen years spent with equipment either stolen from the Autobots or cribbed together with substandard human-made materials and parts... It had been a constant frustration and that they hadn't found the Nemesis until after the Lazarus incident had compounded it. The Constructicons were skilled and masters of their craft, but some of the available materials on Earth just wasn't up to snuff.

"That will be the next step, then. Repairing the Nemesis will require resources, but---" The blare of an alarm cut Megatron off, and he looked up from the datapad now laying between them on the table with a scowl.

"Soundwave..."

::Hostiles: detected. Twelve inbound of the type found in Alaska. Response?:: Soundwave's deep monotone thrummed over the public comm. frequency, and Megatron waved a hand in the air.

"Send out the Combaticons. In fact... Swindle." Megatron's tone dropped deeper, gaining an edge, and when the Combaticon answered, he sounded quite startled at having been personally addressed.

::... yes, Megatron?::

"Consider this a formal notice, Swindle. I don't want a single piece of any of those mechs outside missing when the battle's done. Your, and the Combaticons', continued existence among the aware and moving hinge on this. The Predacons are quite enough otherwise, and the Constructicons will be available soon."

There was a brief, buzzing silence over the comm. frequency, and Starscream smirked, amused. Bruticus and the Combaticons was useful and less of a hassle than Menasor and the Stunticons, but there was a reason the Combaticons had been in prison in the bare protoform when he got them before he returned to Earth at the beginning of this year.

Swindle may, or may not, have had something to do with it.

::... Yes, Lord Megatron.::

"And you can't combine." With that, the vague undertone that signalled the open comm. frequency being in use cut off, and Starscream snorted.

"I think I had them well in hand, Megatron, and I doubt that heavy-handed little threat of yours was absolutely necessary." His threats were a lot more elegant and just as effective, but Megatron had never been about subtlety, had he? Not even in the beginning, starting a war as a distraction to hide his repairs of the planetary engines and turbines, and then...

Chuckling, Megatron tilted his helm, optics narrow and the glow from them sharp as he gestured to the screens that now showed the various scenes outside the Nemesis where the Combaticons were fighting off the fifteen identical mechs.

"Adversity fosters excellence and dedication," said Megatron, his voice bland, his optics glowing with dark amusement. Starscream snorted and leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms over his cockpit.

"That's what we're calling it these days?" The sneer was impossible to hide, and Starscream met Megatron's inquiring tilt of his helm with a full, defiant narrowing of his optics.

"And you'd call it..?"

"Unnecessary and judicious application of pain." They weren't, of course, talking about the Combaticons having to fight underwater against a greater force without combining.

No, this was older, deeper.

The escalation of the gladiator matches, the upgrades, the branding... The tank with the piranacons, though that was slightly different. More personal, apology received or not. Megatron was nothing but brute force and the application thereof. No delicacy in his machinations no matter how successfully misleading and successful they might be.

He'd shaped them, shaped Cybertron with his own heavy hand, and it rankled.

"Mmm, I suppose it might seem so. Would you care to elaborate on your side of the argument?"

With a huff, Starscream almost did, then closed his mouth and reset his vocaliser as he straightened up in his seat again.

"No. I believe the warranty to complain over that has long since passed, either way. Weren't we discussing other things?" said Starscream and waved a hand at the datapad still on the table between them, ignoring the screens where Vortex sliced one of the duplicates' arms off with his rotors and Onslaught and one of them were circling each other - though the blue, bearded mech had an arguably easier time of it, having some sort of jets to use.

The Combaticons would sink or swim, here, bending to Megatron's words, like they all did. For now.

---------------
Autobot City, meeting room in the Emergency Response Center building.

"Before we begin, I want this recorded and broadcast. Would that be possible?" Alpha Trion, his pale blue optics bright but hardly casting any glow at all, looked around the room. Blaster looked to Optimus and Prowl first, then shrugged as he got two nods in response.

"No problemo! I can have Autobot City tuned in to this easily." But even as Blaster moved over to the nearest console and plugged in, Alpha Trion shook his helm.

"Not just Autobot City. Open band, all over Earth, and to Cybertron as well. This must cross faction lines, Autobots. We can't afford it not to, since every spark listening would be a vital addition."

"... Prime?" Blaster, fingers hovering over the controls to the computer he was plugged in to, looked over at Optimus, who, after a klik nodded, his optics hooded.

"Go ahead. As far as you can reach."

There was a quiet few kliks as Blaster fiddled around at the computer and tapped the side of his helm at different points. Then he dragged a chair over to the computer to fling himself into as a feed opened up to Cybertron, Slamdance on the other end.

The two mechs had a brief conversation, clearly over private frequency and nothing was said out loud until Blaster twirled his chair around to face the rest of the room, giving a little twist of his right hand in the air, index finger extended as Slamdance sat down on his side of the feed.

"Aand, we're live!"

The old mech's helm dipped, light catching the white tines as he quietly stared at the floor for a moment or two, before he looked up again, gaze sweeping across the room. He caught the optics of each mech in the room calmly but lingered by the Prime a shade longer than the rest.

"Most of you will not believe what I'm about to reveal, and I will not make an effort to make you believe. The important thing you all need to take away from this is the knowledge of what you will be facing." Alpha Trion's voice was soft, but surprisingly deep and rich and more than one mech in the room had settled deeper into their seats, or relaxed their stances as he spoke.

Optimus' optics had dimmed into a deep cobalt, but he was otherwise sitting straight, hands interlaced in front of him on the table, gaze angled slightly downwards now that he wasn't looking directly at his old mentor and guardian.

"For the benefit of all listening, my designation is Alpha Trion, caretaker of Vector Sigma and former counsel to the Council of the Ancients. Former, not merely because they do not exist any longer..."

---------------
Cybertron, New Iacon, Central Hall and beyond.

"But also because they started to decline my advice and espouse a curious esoteric version of the Matrix and Cybertron, in the stead of what had been public knowledge before."

The live feed was, of course, also taking advantage of Shockwave's network of screens scattered throughout New Iacon and the other settlements that were in the process of being rebuilt, but the Central Hall, part of the rebuilt and formerly named High Council Pavilions, nearly always had people milling inside. Quite a few of them were there right now, with more arriving by the second or gathering in handfuls on the streets outside by the screens.

All knew, more or less, who Alpha Trion was, even if few had believed the ancient mech was still among the functioning by now. Though here, unless this was a fake-out like none seen before was proof he certainly was alive.

And saying very, very strange things.

"If I knew exactly why this change happened, I would tell you, but all I know is that they forbade further proliferation of what had been known, setting in its place the rhetoric you're all familiar with. They never denied the importance or the function of the Matrix, but stopped referencing its connection to Primus, and through the Matrix, your connection to him."

On the screens, Alpha Trion's gaze wandered, and every single mech gathered in front of them felt, impossibly, like he'd seen just them in his sweep. Despite the fact of a few, scoffing mutters the crowds scattered not just in the Central Hall or throughout Iacon but other settlements as well, most were quiet. Even if none of them could interrupt the mech since he was elsewhere; that wasn't really the point. Respect and undeniable curiosity kept every spark trained on every single word Alpha Trion was saying.

"The point, children of the Matrix, is not to convince you of Primus' existence, but to make you think, again, on the differences in the Council's diffuse doctrine, where our origin is unknown, the Matrix given by some force unstated, the cybertronian species meant to live their life on the pattern of Cybertron as it fits into the greater universe, though that pattern and the purpose left vague..."

---------------
The Nemesis, Command and Strategy.

"What is this... this fragging stupidity?!" Starscream stared, glaring at the screen and wished to change the feed or turn it off. Which he could do, because while this propaganda was being openly broadcast on a wide-band, unencrypted feed, all frequencies weren't playing it. It wasn't locked.

Megatron would probably be displeased, however, considering the way he'd sat up when Soundwave relayed the feed.

"Quiet, Starscream, and listen. Depending on how honest he turns out to be..." Megatron eyed the screen, optics narrowed and his expression lazily thoughtful as he shifted to sit back more comfortably, crossing his arms over his chestplates.

Starscream huffed, grimacing, but had a memory flash up to eight million years ago, of Megatron surprising him with a good whack because he'd laughed over his claptrap beliefs about the Matrix... besides the fact of the artifact being the thing to instil sparks in protoforms. That was proven fact, so that wasn't something to laugh about.

So he fell silent, staring narrowly at the screen, fingers thrumming... not particularly quietly against the surface of the table.

"Compared to that is the previous knowledge of Primus creating us, not merely as an expression of life itself - of the creation he personifies - but as a defense." Alpha Trion paused, the glow from his pale optics brightening a little, and in the corner of his vision, Starscream saw Megatron smirk, an arch look sliding over his faceplates.

That had been what Megatron had been saying during his rallies... or close enough, anyway.

"No, I do not mean it in the way the Decepticons espouse to conquer the galaxy, for that is based upon no regard for the others living there. If those people should wish protection, that is one thing, but the purpose is greater than that. Beyond it."

"Oh, here it comes," sneered Starscream, but it was a quiet mutter, and Megatron didn't so much as bother to glance over at him. And then, unfortunately Starscream had the infuriating insight that what was going to be said would have to do with the Fallen, and with that... foreboding. But how he knew it he didn't know, and that was disgusting in itself.

"... Didn't you say something about... some Quintesson agents on the Council, earlier?" The thought struck Starscream even as the old wreck continued his blathering, connecting the beginning of his speech about the Council of Ancients having actively moved away from the Primus-and-purpose version to something a lot more directionless, mentioning the possible force behind their creation as undefined and waiting in the wings.

"Before the Council's creation, cybertronians had colonies and were spread out through the galaxy, vanguard and early warning system both. It was everybody's hope that it would never be needed as Primus' eternal opponent had been cast out and locked away, but this was no guarantee that it wouldn't..."

"I did, yes." Megatron was staring at the screen with an expression Starscream was familiar with, though it hadn't been present in a long while; this wasn't a 'I'm planning something' expression, but rather a 'I'm figuring things out' one.

And Megatron wasn't the only one who was figuring possibilities out, all the while still listening, though Starscream was unclear what these 'Quintessons' even were, or what importance they had.

Or the reasons they'd even infiltrated the Council, but Megatron might know... he'd certainly known more than he'd said when he'd hosted their little flashback session when he returned to Earth.

--------------
Autobot City, meeting room.

"Because we knew that when we succeeded in locking the Chaos Bringer and the one who betrayed Primus away, that it wouldn't hold forever." Alpha Trion's glance wandered around the room, watching more than one mech twitch at the epithet he'd used.

He suddenly felt tired.

Tired and old, because he had hoped the impending confrontation wouldn't happen, or would happen so far into the future that he would've forgotten the need for his presence and had long before that asked Primus for well-deserved rest and welcome.

That was, however, not to be.

"It may not be known to all of you yet, but the one known as The Fallen in the Covenant recently returned." He paused, not so much for the benefit of the ones gathered in the room with him but for everyone elsewhere to let that sink in. "I'm sure a description of the events will be given for anyone who wishes, later, but know for now that this wasn't the first time the Fallen has returned. It also happened earlier in the war, when he almost managed to complete a ceremony that would have revealed Cybertron's location to that which Shockwave most recently managed to awake."

Alpha Trion started to slowly pace, keeping to the head of the table he'd been standing at, only very briefly considering the long years under Shockwave's... tender attention. That was neither here nor there.

"You are all aware Shockwave managed to take the Matrix from the Prime, which he used to key into Vector Sigma. He wanted the information it held, but since he did not know how to deal with it, or the proper way to interface with Vector Sigma, such flagrant, open access and use of Vector Sigma alerted the being that, through the Fallen's earlier attempt, had been drawn back into this universe." Letting out a long, shallow vent of hot air that he'd been keeping in, Alpha Trion's gaze wandered across the room again, catching each mech's optics for a moment and then looked to the screen that was picking up his words and broadcasting them.

Beside hoping for his function and presence becoming redundant, he'd hoped to never have to lay this out to the younger generations of Primus' children, to not have to wake up the awareness and subroutines buried deep... to not have to throw them at what he'd reveal to them actually existed.

And he'd definitely hoped to not have to see a spark of his own stand in the way of the Devourer of Worlds, but not just that... No, worse than that, said spark being the one who would be standing at the absolute forefront of the conflict, because he had to be there as the Prime. He avoided meeting Optimus' optics but could feel the intent... and accepting, stare at him.

"You are a defense, not just for Cybertron or Primus, but for the whole of creation. Primus' opponent is not merely one because they disagree over the spread and influence they each should have, but because Unicron wishes the cessation of all life. He consumes reality itself, not just the planets and matter contained in the universe you can observe."

Stopping in his pacing, Alpha Trion looked up, now meeting Optimus' dimly glowing optics.

Younger and inexperienced, Optronix had concerned himself with the simple facts and tangibility of the data he archived, being blunt and somewhat... lacking in ability to relate to his fellow cybertronians and to the connections they might have to each other, to their lives, to their planet.

He'd long since grown beyond that, and the Prime Optimus now was shone brightly, the Matrix's glow enhancing his presence, but not needing to smother or bolster it until the Matrix was all there was to make up for the mech who carried the artifact.

He was a true Prime, adaptable to his people's needs and situations, and yet lending his own flavour to the office, no matter what he thought.

Alpha Trion did not wish to see this spark, one which had come from a line he'd spawned at the beginning of the species like each of the Thirteen had done and which he'd mentored along with its sibling, to be extinguished in a sacrifice that might be necessary.

"All this used to be well-known, a background but vital knowledge. If only because even as myth, it's part of your awareness, and thus as a possibility of reality. The Council, for some reason I am not sure, did not just stop this from being easily available knowledge but actively made it diffuse enough it couldn't even be attributed to a coherent myth," said Alpha Trion with a static sigh, grasping his hands behind his back again.

Even the knowledge of the First Thirteen had been made fuzzy, indistinct and hard to tell what was true or not, with the names no longer known except for two; Prima and The Fallen. And the latter, honestly, wasn't a name at all.

Further, no one even knew precisely what the Fallen had betrayed Cybertron for.

"This, then, is both the myth and the fact: in the beginning, there was The One and infinite possibility."

He could see they still did not completely understand what was coming, the Council having done a too good job for the impact to be understandable to them from what little they did know. And so he grasped for a passage they were all familiar with from Primary Programming, though not exactly like this. What they had heard wasn't this clearly stated version, not even back when the Council hadn't wiped said knowledge out and replaced it.

No, Alpha Trion was using the original phrasing.

"The One, wishing to observe the burgeoning universe and this infinite possibility, but having a fixed point and thus not being able to see as much as it wanted to, plucked some of its essence out. The Sole Silence, the Observer, came into being. But a single being cannot see all, and has only one point of view, which was similar to the original dilemma and so The One rent the first into two. The second was light and creation, movement and action to the first's position of observance. A counterpoint that ought to have realised the balance they both were manifest, but in that division, Unicron knew hunger."

It was, undoubtedly, not the only version of the beginning. There were so may facets to reality, so how could it be?

But here, for this, it was accurate enough.

"Unicron knew hunger, and ate, not just destroying but annihilating what Primus was creating in his passage. It brought them to conflict and they fought. Unicron was finally cast out after Primus created the first of his children. You know this tale, but it is no tale. Unicron has been freed from his prison, and he... has woken."

It was a simple statement, a banal one.

It shouldn't have the impact that it did, all engines in the room turning over at once, a tiny wave of flickering lights washing through the room as every pair of optics dimmed and brightened and Alpha Trion knew that anywhere that there were cybertronians that had heard his words, the same reaction had occurred.

Had things been normal, this would quietly have deactivated the emotional dampers in anyone who'd been listening, so that, regardless of personality, beliefs or inclination, they would have been able to take up arms in the coming battle. The war, however, had long since destroyed the normal functioning of the dampers.

As it was, the foreboding that had been lurking for a year since Shockwave keyed into Vector Sigma was no longer merely foreboding, but rather crystallised knowledge.

They may not believe in their beginnings or their creator as that was, really, not necessary for their or this reality's survival, but they all knew that what Alpha Trion had just said was true.

It rang in the still spaces of their sparks, crackled along the circuits of their frames and settled quietly in their processors, because that knowledge was about necessity.

About survival, not just their own or their planet but rather the whole of their universe.

And Alpha Trion saw it, and looked to a spark he called one of his own and saw a flickering, dawning realisation of the things he hadn't said in those bright, Matrix-lit optics, and wished he could not see.

Chapter Text

Autobot City, meeting room.

There was one thing he'd never considered as Optronix, and one thing he'd thought about more than he'd be comfortable to admit, turning the question over and over, looking for possible information to come to his final conclusion. There was also one thing he'd thought about a lot as Optimus, and one thing which he hadn't considered at all, having set it aside as over and done with.

The first being death, the second being the existence of Primus. Or, at the most basic, the existence of a sentient mainframe in the Matrix, which he'd come to the simple conclusion of that there were no proof for it.

Undeniable proof for some sort of power, most certainly; the Matrix did contain some type of energy, and it was where sparks came from, but containing something sentient that, if pressed, one could call 'Primus'? Not really.

And yet, if he was supposed to take as at least partly true what Alpha Trion had said...

Sighing, Optimus focused back on the black, blank screen in front of him and pulled his hand away from the controls, the light from his optics washing out most of his reflection so that only the glowing blue was easily seen.

Magnus could not exactly help him, here.

What he... wanted, Magnus wasn't present to provide, if they both were even comfortable enough from their new peace with each other to provide it.

He was slowly working through things in his processor, quietly putting the question of the Matrix and their possible creator aside for later, for one who would know more... for when he might need to touch the Matrix deeper than he'd done since Megatron forcibly made it react in the beginning of the war as he tried to take it.

Both hands on the console of the computer, Optimus leaned forward and rested the front of his helm against the screen, offlining his optics for a moment, listening to the cycling hum of his engines, his vents exchanging air and the minute tension-crackle of his spark coalescing at the end of each sparkpulse and then spreading out again and, underneath all that, the warm, suffusing thrum of the Matrix.

It was hard to remember how things had been without it by now.

All he remembered from Shockwave ripping it out was burning, protoform-twisting pain and a sense of profound wrongness, of a need to set things right. Neither the situation in general, nor the loss of Matrix in particular, had lent it to compare to before.

Before the Matrix, before he'd thought much (or rather, at all) about death.

Death, the reality and possibility thereof, was something he'd never had to consider or felt impacted by when younger. Death, even when the war started, had been nothing more than literal numbers, statistics and words in lines on reports, all of which he'd sorted and logged as appropriate.

It'd held no meaning, no connection.

Not even becoming Prime had automatically given him any sense of weight to death; he might have been physically enhanced by the Matrix, the supposed sign of a 'true' Prime, but it hadn't touched his spark or mind.

Growing, realising the weight and importance of death and the importance of people, the inherent worth of sparks and the connection they made to each other, he'd had to do on his own.

He was, honestly, grateful for that, even if he often wished he'd learned faster. Or that he hadn't begun as... sharp and fact-minded as he had, perhaps.

Straightening up from resting against the console, Optimus gave the dark screen a long look, raised his hand... and then pulled it away again, walking back to the table and sat down, resting his elbows on the table and interlacing his fingers. The room wasn't just empty but for the Prime, but dark as well, as after he'd seen the last mech out and he'd crossed the room to the computer, he'd turned the lights off.

Without really focusing on what he was actually seeing as he stared at the table, Optimus turned back to his thoughts, chin resting on his interlaced hands, optics nearly offline and casting only the dimmest of blue over the metal of his hands and the table.

As Optimus Prime, he'd had to think not just of the death of others, of those he was responsible for, but also on his own.

Death at the hands of Megatron, in any number of ways as they switched off between trying to convince each other to step down, just listen and see it their way, to outright metal-tearing, plasma-blazing attempts of killing each other. In accidents, on missions or on battlefields, but not to Megatron...

There were so many ways he'd thought he might die, and certainly situations where it seemed inevitable that he would - the fight where Megatron tried to take the Matrix from him, the spacebridge malfunction after he pushed himself and Megatron through Megatron's experimental spacebridge, on that planet they'd been stuck on for around thirteen thousand and two hundred vorns...

So many ways, and he'd certainly never considered the possibility that he'd have to sacrifice himself to keep reality standing.

And yet there it was, undeniable fact of Unicron's coming curling around his circuits, and while Alpha Trion had not said it... He did not often go deeper than his own thoughts, but the knowledge that the Matrix would be a vital key to defeating Unicron was as undeniable as Unicron's awakening.

Which meant he'd had to, because it was his duty as the Prime---

After, Optimus would deny he'd felt the pulse, a sort of a snap against his spark chamber if that was possible, accompanied by... well, the closest thing would be gentle reproach. At the same time his processor brought up a memory of a scene ages ago... around nintey nine thousand vorns ago, plus the now twenty years since they woke up on Earth.

It'd been shortly after he'd announced they would be evacuating Cybertron, the Autobots and anyone else who could make it and was willing to leave. Let the Decepticons have it if they so wanted it.

Chuckling softly to himself, Optimus retracted his mask and scrubbed his face.

It had been such an easy decision to make back then. It had seemed so simple, to ,make them let go because he couldn't see why they'd want to stay and fight for the planet.

It was just a planet, after all.

Not many had liked it, and he'd asked Prowl if he was among those who didn't when the mech who would shortly become his second came to give a progress report on the preparations for the evacuation.

And then, when Prowl clearly had disapproved but just as clearly couldn't say it to his faceplates, he'd tried to convince him by recounting his calculations of why he'd made the choice.

Loss of life, of resources, destruction of the planet itself, which would render it a wasteland... it'd seemed clear-cut, from the view of statistics.

Prowl had just looked at him for a long moment, optics bright and narrow, his faceplates setting deeper for every nano-klik that passed before he reached out to poke him in the chestplates, a move Optimus was still surprised the normally reserved Prowl had made.

He'd poked him at spark chamber height and asked him what he'd based the decision on, snappily dragging up and tossing the word 'equation' back at him as if it was dirty - back then he hadn't understood why, but now it was obvious.

Poked him, asked that, and then told him that a decision like that had to come from inside.

From the spark.

Staring into the blue-lit darkness of his own palms, Optimus supposed that this decision, to choose to stand at the front of their resistance and use the Matrix as he knew it had to be, shouldn't come from duty, if he was supposed to pay attention to this sudden trip into a memory long compressed and packed away, plus that... inexplicable flash of reproach.

But disregarding duty in a situation like this seemed rather impossible as well. This wasn't just acting as figurehead and general to and for an army and a movement trying to protect ideals of freedom plus preserving said actual freedom, their own and anyone else's who might have it taken away if the Decepticons and Megatron spread too far.

This was about the continued survival of not just all of them, but the very universe they inhabited, and who was he to give regard his own spark, his freedom to choose against well... a universe, regardless if that was his right or not?

... But allowing if he had that freedom, or took that freedom for himself, to make that selfish choice...

He could walk away.

Perhaps hand over the Matrix for someone else to make the choice and then walk away or participate in the fight as merely himself. Handing that pressure off to someone completely new didn't seem very fair, however - not, admittedly, that it was any fairer that he had to do it, but someone had to.

But he couldn't see himself hand it over, so that left doing it or not, being selfish or not and that... was no decision.

Because even before he'd grown to where he was now, the statistics, the equations that had to take into account more than merely loss of life but more ephemeral things like love and family and connection...

He'd would have made the same decision back at the beginning of the war as he would now, even if his frame of reference was different. Duty or not, someone had to do it, and his life was not worth more - or less - than anyone else's.

That still didn't keep the shiver from working itself through his frame, from his spark chamber and outwards and he snapped upright hard and fast enough when the door slid aside that he almost fell off the chair.

Staring into Alpha Trion's bright optics with his own wide ones, Optimus looked for words, for his vocaliser and ended up saying nothing as the old mech stepped inside and slowly crossed the room to his side.

He stood on reflex, but the hand on his shoulder stopped him before he came far.

"Sit, Optimus."

And then, as Optimus stared, optics growing wider and brighter than his initial surprise had made them as his mentor knelt down, hands grasping the arms of the chair.

"Alpha Trion, I---" He had no idea what to say. Ask something regarding the possibility of a creator and what it meant, for them, for the Matrix, for him, or... "I will need to be close enough to this... Unicron that there won't be enough time to get away after using the Matrix." It was both a question and not, more looking for confirmation of what he already knew than anything else.

He had no idea where to put his hands.

It was so long ago, due to various reasons, that they'd been this close, with their fields meshing warm against each others, Alpha Trion's slowly expanding around his own like few did any more.

"The Matrix is antithesis to Unicron, and it's power is strong, but it... cannot affect him the way we need it to from the outside." One of Alpha Trion's hands curled around his elbow, and Optimus slowly reached out and rested his own on his the curved pauldron of his mentor's shoulder.

He was aware he still had the mask retracted and compared to before his Prime upgrade where he hadn't really had a mouth and thus the mask had been the lower part of his faceplates, ever since he'd gotten a 'proper' set of faceplates, having them bared always felt... vulnerable.

But this was Alpha Trion.

"I would rather this wasn't what we are facing, Optimus. I don't wish to send you out against it," said Alpha Trion, his faceplates soft and the minuscule lines and colour-shifts of the protoform metal from his age had never been as obvious as it was now.

Optimus straightened his shoulders and shook his helm, burying the shiver of his chassis in the protoform where it belonged and let his grip on purple and dark magenta armour tighten.

"Magnus will stand beside you, and he'll surely appreciate your advice as well." He'd had his moment, and he'd made his choice, for now, his mentor needed---

"No, Optimus. That's not what I meant." With a sigh, Alpha Trion shook his helm as well, reaching up to brush a few fingers against a bared, exposure-protected clean cheek-plate. "Jetfire will attempt to find Solus Prime, and she'll be able to arm you, but besides that... I'm right here, Optimus. We still have some time before Unicron arrives, and Prowl has your Autobots in hand for the moment. You do not need to always be the support, duty or equations insisting it. I'm here."

That gentle hand reached further, curved only just against the back of his helm and pressed.

Optimus stared, felt the shiver race like wrong-current electricity over his protoform, and then it bloomed uncontrollably outwards as he collapsed over his mentor's frame, arms curling around his back and clutching at the sweeping plates that fell from his shoulders.

The room was dark, lit only by two pairs of blue optics, one set mostly buried against a curving purple pauldron and the other tilted up towards the ceiling, looking for a distant light that wasn't just shielded by the ceiling or miles and miles of endless space, but also due to the fact that Cybertron wasn't a sun.

The brightest part of the planet was actually right in this room, clutching at his mentor, shoulders trembling just slightly and his mouth, unshielded by the mask, pressed into a stubborn line to stave off the trembling further. For the moment, there was no Prime, merely a mech being held by his mentor and proto-hatcher.

Chapter Text

Mount St. Helens, 04.45 early morning local time, after the first attack on Autobot City and Alpha Trion's speech.

"You need to leave now, Jetfire, if you're still ready to lend the needed assist."

That was what Breakaway had told him, quietly coming up beside him while the group that had been in the room to listen to Alpha Trion slowly broke up in smothering silence. When he'd asked why it was necessary, besides a possible additional power (a need he could understand, however much he wished he didn't because there was no facts to base that understanding on), Breakaway had said Solus Prime might not just lend her own firepower, but assist by giving at least the Prime some additional arms or armaments.

Additional assistance that would probably not just be wanted, but needed, and Jetfire had, reluctantly, agreed.

It was merely logical that some would have had to be the first among them; why not these and the Prime he was now supposed to go after? Their age by now may be staggering, but who was to say the first wouldn't have been made slightly differently than the rest, so that they could stand under the pressure of years?

Sparks may be functionally immortal on their own, there were theories for and against that, but time and living taxed all things. Entropy, in some fashion. Sparks needed to maintain a chassis to interact with the surrounding reality, and chassis wore out, and sparks might give in... That was, if death didn't come by unnatural means.

It was just... difficult to accept that these might be the first. There'd been enough strange things happening however so it was better, or at the least easier to go along with it and line up the events after the fact and make his conclusions then.

If they were still alive by then.

Jaw setting and optics narrowing, Jetfire shook his helm slowly.

Better not think like that. He hadn't even thought about his own very obvious impending death when he went after Sunstorm to make sure his meltdown happened out of reach of affecting Earth. He'd done it because it needed to be done and the effects it would otherwise have had, not lingered on the glaring result that would most probably have on him.

The peak of the mountain when Jetfire landed was empty, the sky going from fuzzy pre-dawn high up in the air into a cool, dark November morning. He wasn't even sure Starscream would, or, admittedly, could show up. He'd simply taken a chance and sent off a ping with a request to meet and the span of time he'd be waiting before he had to leave.

Risky, given there was a large chance of Soundwave being up and about and picking it up, but hopefully it was early enough even the Decepticons' constant surveillance would actually be in the latter stages of recharge and not monitoring the airwaves.

Tilting his helm back, Jetfire could see the lightening of the sky that wouldn't yet be visible to human eyes and let the smile he felt curl around his lips. Seen or not, the sun (or suns) a planet orbited was always there... And perhaps that was something to take into account for other things as well. Things he might prefer not to think about, but maybe there might be a place for it...

Not now.

Thinking of suns and planets however, Jetfire shook his helm and hoped they'd be able to reverse the slow acceleration of Cybertron out of its system - Brainstorm and Perceptor was working on it he knew, and technically it probably wasn't impossible... if it was only to turn off the planetary turbines.

But that would leave them in a slightly altered orbit than before, which, besides being jarring for them wasn't necessarily safe in regards to the whole solar system of Alpha Centauri at large...

The roar of jet engines disrupted his thoughts and Jetfire's smile deepened, surprise flickering up and then being pushed down - he'd thought he'd have to wait longer until Starscream appeared, if at all. The Seeker transformed as he landed, practice and natural flair making him capable of finishing up the transformation just as the tips of his stabilisers hit the ground.

"I didn't give you those coordinates to use willy nilly you know," said Starscream, sharp acid underlying the words even as he came closer. When he stopped, it seemed more hesitant than annoyed, though Starscream would probably have been displeased to have that noticed. Jetfire let go of that observation quickly, being more amused over the use of the English phrasing and the way it'd been inserted whole cloth in between the cybertronix.

"Soundwave?" Jetfire asked even as he knew that had there been some problem with the ping having been overheard, Starscream wouldn't be here.

"Recharging, luckily for you."

For both of them, but while Starscream preferred to keep himself out of danger, he seldom acknowledged that he could be in danger as well until it was actually happening, as it suited him.

The last time they'd been this close, Starscream had been behind bars, and they'd started shouting at each other within a klik. This time the klik went past without anything more antagonistic other than Starscream's acerbic tone and even ended with the Seeker shifting on his feet, optics narrowing in a frown.

"What's this about, then?" Crossing his arms over his cockpit, Starscream straightened, wings flicking as he swept away what hesitation had been lingering. "When I said later, I did mean later, Jetfire. This isn't later, unless that thirty vorn stay under the ice scrambled your internal chronometer and language processing center."

Which was true, as the version of the word Starscream had used wasn't just a diffuse indication of 'not right now', but had varying amount of 'time passed from now' attached to it. Said time passed could either be explicitly stated or implicitly indicated by cultural associations depending on where the speaker came from.

In this case it had been the latter, using Vos' standard of at least a mega-cycle and upwards, anything before that usually having an exact time attached.

"No time to wait. I... er, need to leave." Looking back to Starscream from the darkened panorama view offered up on the peak, Jetfire shook his helm, reaching out to briefly squeeze the nearest of Starscream's shoulders, which temporarily staved off the words bubbling right underneath the surface.

"Breakaway believes I'm one of the few we have available that will be able to find the mech he wants to bring here before... ah, the pit boils over."

"Let me guess, another one of those so-supposed First Thirteen?" spat Starscream and it was obvious he was being facetious, but Jetfire gave him a silent look and then a slow nod. Starscream's wings flicked wide and then he gave a whack to the large hand still on his shoulder, jerking it off.

"I can't believe you! Did that drivel the old coot was spouting completely scramble your processor or something? Even if it's true, there's no indication it'll happen any time soon and---"

"Starscream, stop it." Shaking his helm, Jetfire stepped up close, grasping both of Starscream's shoulders this time, the null rays shifting against plating underneath his palms. "I'm... ah, disinclined to give too much weight to nothing more than unfounded feelings and emotional indications, but we have those duplicates roaming around who have to come from somewhere. The Fallen back when the factions were split was obviously out after letting something free, I did understand that much of his... speech, and frankly, I'd rather overreact at current than risk a situation worse than Sunstorm without proper back-u---"

"Someone else can do it! This Breakaway can do it, if he's so blasted interested in bringing in yet another crumbling relic of the past!" Starscream was literally hissing now, one hand up to stab a finger at the blue armour-glass of Jetfire's cockpit. "It's not as if you have any greater luck when it comes to missions, is it? You'll probably just get lost and stuck somewhere again." He couldn't believe this. The glitch was a complete idiot and much too accommodating to others' demands and he should know when to say no, because only Starscream got to make those sort of expectations!

Jetfire gave him a flat, muted blue stare but Starscream just cocked his helm, gave Jetfire a good sneer and poked the cockpit in front of him again.

It was true, after all.

"Breakaway can't do it because apparently he's one of the ones she's expecting to come after her and can thus not be assured the situation is... ah, dire enough to warrant it. And I don't really think it's germane to bring in how Operation: Containment ended in this discussion, Starscream." A frown settled on Jetfire's pale faceplates as he spoke, probably not noticing that he was subtly rubbing his thumbs against Starscream's shoulders.

"I don't think you're quite that special that he can't find some other gullible glitch to do his bidding." Starscream huffed, the sneer apparently having become a permanent fixture and crossed his arms over his cockpit again.

"Honestly, Starscream." There was a snort and Jetfire's gaze flickering down to the ground and then back up. "I'm probably going to be safer than you or anyone else here on Earth."

"That is not the point, you overgrown flying grounder," said Starscream and gave Jetfire a glare. He'd come far enough that while it was impossible to say how, or if this... thing between them as it now was would work, he had accepted one thing; he did care.

Not that he'd say that, of course.

Jetfire was his - well, he'd always been, that was quite beside the point, because the point was this thing and Jetfire's idiotic penchant for throwing himself in harm's way when he ought to know better. Like a lot of things with Starscream, luckily enough, but Starscream, compared to everyone else deserved that behaviour being focused on him.

Some random mech that maybe was one of the First Thirteen?

Not so much, though no one did besides him.

"Starscream..." Jetfire aimed another flat stare at him, but the shadow of a smile hovering in the corner of his lips was far more offensive because how dare he find this amusing? The hand that he'd intended to point up at Jetfire's faceplates with was snagged however, large white fingers curling around his blue ones and squeezing. "I am going, if only to make sure I can't give the help needed. I'm only here to actually tell you this."

Then Jetfire bent down while tugging Starscream's captured hand up, hovering a moment over the back of Starscream's hand, hesitating... Then he kissed the back of it, a light brush of lips not firm enough to create any friction and as such there really shouldn't have been the lightning crack up along Starscream's arm through his sensory net from where Jetfire's lips passed over plating and sensory nodes.

"Fine, you've told me. Now stop being an idiot." Yanking his hand out of Jetfire's admittedly gentle grip, Starscream wormed forward and made sure Jetfire couldn't just stand up straight again immediately, curling one arm around the back of his neck and then... stopped.

Their mouths were a shadow apart and the minimal space was alive with the tingling of their EM fields meshing where their lips weren't and maybe he should stop...

No.

Whether this... thing, as stupid as it was to indulge in, worked or not, stopping was no longer an option. They would undoubtedly have similar arguments as the one in Autobot City's holding cells, but... That was for later.

He'd take what he could now, now that they'd gotten here, the possibility never coming up before or not. He could admit it was maybe strange it hadn't, because now that he thought back, there had been a few comments to this effect back in the Academy...

Whatever.

"Having second th---"

The sneer on Starscream's lips made the first brush of their lips somewhat awkward, but the second had the beginnings of friction and static electricity chasing along the soft plating, which softened the grimace.

::Not now.:: Because while he did have second thoughts, he wasn't going to talk about them.

Jetfire's laughter crackled between them and Starscream pressed in, demanding a certain angle as their tongues tangled together and he curled his other hand around Jetfire's hip. Hesitantly at first, because this idea of touching more than briefly, no matter the amount of affection those touches had held at any point in their long relationship (not that he'd ever had phrased it like that), was an alien thought.

But his hand fit well there, angling into the gap between hip plate and waist and feeling the faint crackling tension. Meanwhile Jetfire had curled one of his hands around his side at the base of a wing, fingers pressing in slightly while Starscream used his hand at the back of Jetfire's helm to get a better angle, index finger nestled up underneath the angle of Jetfire's helm where it met his neck.

His sensor nodes were alive with pressure and the way it shifted, with the subtle differences of taste between them and the heat generated by the friction, the lightning of static electricity curled around the roof of his mouth and in and he wanted...

Well, he wanted, but how or where to go from here, he wasn't sure. Or if they should.

Jetfire hummed into kiss, leaning in and down and inadvertently forcing Starscream to bend backward while the hand at the base of Starscream's wing wandered out slightly, thumb flicking along the edge in slow curiosity and blast it all he wanted, it was curling right along with the beginnings of a tingling charge and he let the hand on Jetfire's hip stroke down, trying to find a better gap---

"I need to go." Jetfire stood up and Starscream just stared, the vents between them loud in the silence and then scowled, not wanting to admit that perhaps it was a good thing Jetfire stepped back. Too new (and yet old), too soon, too... Well, something. Anything.

"I should shoot you and get you somewhere where your own idiocy won't do any harm." With a shake of his helm, Starscream waved at Jetfire, optics dark with less annoyance than the charge curling warm around his circuits. Jetfire's optics were dark blue as well and just that was enough to cause the unfamiliar sensation of a spike in the pleasant - if now annoying - burn.

He'd interfaced before, of course, but actually reacting more than perfunctorily, even positively was a new sensation, and the fact that it was Jetfire made Starscream want him to leave so he could come to grips with this.

He should not be affected like this, that was how others should react to him!

"Just don't do it after I've gotten up in the air, thank you," said Jetfire with a slow smile that was familiar and chased away some of the annoying reactions but not all.

When the air guardian passed him, Starscream had almost convinced himself he'd do nothing, but then he reached out and yanked on a wing, managing to turn Jetfire around due to angle and Jetfire loosing his footing. Their optics met, and once again the dark colour caused that spike and flare and the only reason he didn't push Jetfire away was because he could see a similar reaction from the airt guardian, his optics flickering brightly and mouth falling open just a shade.

That was enough to make him finish what he started, because... because. So he pulled down and kissed the stupid glitch before he let him go and pushed him away.

"Go be a glitch, and if I end up dying before you're back, I'll haunt you."

"As you say." Jetfire said with a soft twist of his mouth and then he shot up and away.

With a sneer around the empty peak and the brightening sky, ignoring the flash of reflected sunlight on white plating far above, Starscream flew off as well, back to the Nemesis.

Chapter Text

Autobot City, Spark Chamber Access Tunnel, early morning the day after Alpha Trion's speech.

The gathering waiting at a turn in the corridor down to Metroplex's spark chamber for Jetfire to finish his talk with Omega Supreme was small. It was only Optimus, Alpha Trion and Breakaway that stood in a loose knot, but then there was no reason for a huge send-off, and it might perhaps be better that as few as possible were made aware of what the purpose was.

Optimus, his helm tilted and optics dim, were presently listening to Prowl reporting a worrying number of instances of the duplicates apparently having approached human settlements since the attack on Autobot City - so far there'd been no attacks, merely flybys, but considering they had been attacked... Well, there were no guarantees the humans were somehow safe from these mechanoids, and the only thing that lightened the prickling guilt was the awareness that whether or not they'd have been on Earth, this would probably have happened either way, due to the pool of rarified energon.

::A moment, Prowl...:: Optimus murmured over the radio as Jetfire came down the corridor, Six-Gun perched on his shoulder and Scamper skipping along by his feet, with the more drone-like Slammer trailing behind. The smile the large air guardian gave them was somewhere between awkward and amused.

"They were exploring Omega while we talked and I couldn't, er... redirect them to someone else when I left, though the Powerdashers tried." Jetfire gestured to the three surrounding him, Scamper giving a bright smile while Six-Gun merely waved.

"We wanted to know what was going on, and Jetfire was interesting!" said Scamper while he almost managed to restrain his stride up to Alpha Trion to a walk, reaching out to run a hand down the side of one of the panels that fell from the old mech's back, optics bright and his faceplates intent.

"That's all right." Alpha Trion chuckled, a dry, soft brush that was near-static and held out his hands for Six-Gun and then put him on the floor as well. "They'd know anyway, since Metroplex knows we're here, so it's not unexpected."

Optimus and Jetfire both nodded, eyeing the three normal-size, but currently non-upgraded protoform components of Metroplex as Scamper and Six-Gun studied Alpha Trion's chassis with the single-minded exuberance of the newly sparked, while Slammer merely hovered in the background. The three components was the only practical way Metroplex could interact with the mechs he housed... and to explore his surroundings and get experience as newsparked were wont to do; pure information could be given to or downloaded by Metroplex directly.

"I don't mean to criticise, but are you... ah, completely sure this is the only way?"

Optimus looked up and away from the protoforms and over to Jetfire and Breakaway, and he could certainly understand the scepticism colouring Jetfire's voice even while he managed to keep his faceplates neutral, helm inclined.

Breakaway nodded, his blue optics calm and gestured vaguely, palms up. Behind them, Six-Gun had somehow managed to get up on Alpha Trion's shoulder, poking at the old mech's helm while Scamper was still exploring the panels mounted on his back.

"In the spirit of expediency, yes, it's the only way. She was quite specific the last time we saw her; she wanted to concentrate on keeping Cybertron in shape, and while she'd miss us..." Breakaway paused, shaking his helm, optics going faintly unfocused. "Only I and Heatwave could make it, or were able to leave our posts temporarily when she sent the message that she was retreating. We... tried quite hard to convince her, even Vector did, but she was firm. She's not going to listen to either me or Alpha Trion, even if he never tried to convince her to not leave." Breakaway shrugged and before he could continue Alpha Trion leaned slightly closer to them, a slight, lopsided twist to his lips that wasn't quite a smile.

"I did try, but only briefly... it quickly became apparent she wasn't just set to retreat, but that it was going to happen."

Breakaway nodded, and apparently took something from that statement neither Jetfire nor Optimus was sure what it was, since it didn't seem to have to do with Solus Prime's simple determination to fulfil her decision.

"And before you ask, like I said... presently, of those available to us, you are the only one with the greatest chance of finding her. The Prime could do it," Breakaway nodded at Optimus and then shook his helm. "Given who he is and as he's in possession of the Matrix. But with the situation as it is..."

Optimus reached out as Jetfire sighed and scrubbed a hand down his faceplates to lay a hand on the nearest shoulder, causing the taller mech to turn to him with a small smile and a nod.

"All right. And we could use all available firepower, regardless of if the Decepticons assist when..." Jetfire stopped and couldn't quite keep his grimace from escaping. Huffing, he apparently tried again and then finally just shook his helm. Optimus quite understood how he was feeling in regards to what - supposedly, undeniably but supposedly - was coming, and squeezed the armour under his hand before he let go.

"This isn't anywhere near one of our available ships, however."

Breakaway and Alpha Trion both chuckled at Jetfire's dry tone and then Breakaway stepped back a little.

"It isn't, no. I'm not sending you to Cybertron with a ship and transwarp drive, Jetfire. All of us," another pause as Breakaway gestured to himself, Alpha Trion and then wider, probably including the other eleven of the First Thirteen... if they were supposed to believe that's who they were, anyway. "Have the capability to warp back to Cybertron, no matter where we are. Consider it a recall of sorts. Only Vector Prime could freely warp, and that was slightly different than what the rest of us were doing..." He almost looked as if he were about to say something more on that, and then shook his helm, taking another step back and turning around.

A swirling blue portal suddenly popped up in the middle of the corridor, and it was only by Optimus' quick hand that stopped Scamper from running up to and probably through it, his optics wide and bright.

"No, Scamper. Not you."

"I'll be able to take you there and come back here, with my affinity for energon. The rarified energon will act as an anchor," said Breakaway, and when Jetfire looked from the warp portal to Breakaway and then Alpha Trion with a clear question only barely contained in his vocaliser and processor, Alpha Trion shook his helm.

"I do not have an anchor of the sort Breakaway does. He, like his brothers, are all tied to energon and can use particularly large or pure deposits like the rarified energon hidden here on Earth as connecting points. I can only go back and my presence here might be needed."

Jetfire nodded with a sigh, turned to Optimus and shook hands with him, giving the Prime a dry smile.

"I'll hopefully be back soon... and sooner than what happened when Ultra Magnus launched Operation Containment." Despite his annoyance over Starscream dragging that up as a reason for him not to go, he could still try to draw some humour from it himself.

"Good luck, Jetfire." Optimus offer with a smile through his optics and then nodded to Breakaway before Jetfire and the slightly shorter jet stepped through the warp portal and it winked out, leaving the corridor briefly humming with dispersing energy.

::Optimus, I need you to come look at this.:: Prowl, having respectfully kept silent during the gathering, finally cut in, and Optimus nodded.

::I'm coming.::

"Could you take him..?" Turning to his old mentor and offering the squirming and grinning Scamper, Alpha Trion chuckled and did so.

"I'll keep an optic on them until Breakaway comes back."

"We'll be in the ERC." Optimus nodded and then left the corridor, sincerely hoping Alpha Trion would have inputs over the movements of their new enemies, that, apparently, if they went from what 'Cyclonus' had said, were the minions of Unicron.

---------------
Cybertron, Northern Hemisphere, Iacon.

He stepped out of the portal somewhere completely unfamiliar; to Jetfire, Iacon wasn't a place he'd spent enough time in pre-war to be familiar with all its nooks and crannies, or even a few of them. That further went double for a rebuilt Iacon, however similar it was to the old version.

There was no way to mistake the brightly lit sign however, visible at the corner they stood behind, mostly hidden from direct view of the street beyond.

"... Why are we here? Specifically." He wasn't sure why an alley next to Maccadam's Old Oilhouse was their apparent destination, since if Solus Prime had really been hidden within or under Iacon all this time, shouldn't she have been reasonably easy to approach? Or have been found by now, like Shockwave had found Alpha Trion.

Breakaway looked around briefly, and then up at Jetfire, eyeing him quietly for a moment.

"You know of the theories regarding alternate realities and a multiverse?"

Staring down at Breakaway, Jetfire's processor dragged up several points of facts; the brief mentions in Alpha Trion's speech that could point to 'something' outside of this universe as Unicron had been imprisoned beyond it, or just the same nothing outside... Though Jetfire had never found it logical that there would be 'nothing' outside of their expanding universe. It didn't make sense. The fact that they had no way to observe and thus confirm those theories, regardless how reasonable - or not - they might be and...

"Yes. you would like me to assume them to be correct?" Jetfire paused long enough for Breakaway to nod. “But why? I don't quite see how this has anything to do with what we're doing, besides additional angles to... Unicron's purpose if it exists precisely as described." Jetfire didn't feel any better after having said the Chaos Bringer's name, because there were no proof, no matter what his own processor and spark were stubbornly insisting.

"There are places where the realities blend together, where they're close for one reason or another and you can pass over between them without much effort... or, which is what matters here, places where the realities all connect to a single point." Breakaway pointed up to the neon sign. "Maccadam's is one of those places, but you're not going in there because of that, but because you need to talk to Maccadam himself.

I'm merely telling you this so you won't be... overly startled when you pass from this reality's version of the bar into the multiversal one. Consider this an 'in-universe branch' of the actual bar, if you will."

Jetfire was both intensely interested to see this for himself - having such a thing like the multiverse being proven would be quite a thing. He was also getting exceedingly tired of all... this. With a heavy static sigh and sharply flicking his wings, Jetfire crossed his arms over his chestplates, optics briefly off and then turned them back on.

"I admit this is... very interesting." He had to consciously shut down his desire to ask questions and instead turn to what he might need to know. "And while I can see where this is going, that Solus Prime might not be the easiest to find if there's some sort of... time-space dimensional issues involved... why would she have trusted the information of her location to Maccadam, him being in charge of a interdimensional nexus or not?"

Breakaway's smile as he looked at Jetfire was definitely amused, taking in the slight lean forward and the bright optics - he'd indulge Jetfire if they actually had the time. As it was, however...

"Maccadam might not be one of the Thirteen, no, but he's of Vector Prime's lineage... and he is connected to the Chronarchitect, one of the other powers that inhabit and stabilise the multiverse beside Primus and Unicron. He's a trusted and stable angle to us and all you need to do is walk inside, go through the closed door to the right of the bar itself to get into the core part and then ask the bartender to talk with Maccadam because you're looking for the Smith." Pausing, Breakaway met Jetfire's optics and smiled again. "Destiny or not, Jetfire, good luck."

And before Jetfire had the chance to say much else, Breakaway opened another warp portal and stepped through, leaving the air guardian alone in the alley.

Eyeing the spot where the portal had been with a narrow stare, Jetfire shook his helm, rounded the corner and entered the bar. If he actually remembered correctly from the less than handful of times he'd been in this place, Maccadam's looked like it always had, but that was only interesting so far as it could get him where Breakaway had said he needed to go.

The bartender looked up when he approached the bar, but when Jetfire spotted the door - tucked away, but not hidden by any means - and turned towards it, the mech simply went back to his glasses and the other customers at the bar, barely giving Jetfire a glance as he passed through the door.

---------------
Maccadam's Old Oilhouse, ???

The corridor beyond was bare, but the details and colour, the further he walked down it, seemed to become... hard to grasp. At one point Jetfire stopped, looking from the end he came from and to where he was going, walking slowly back and forth to find the point where the instability was the greatest. But he was sort of getting a processor ache while his processor tried to work to keep up, allocating more and more resources and his optics kept unfocusing.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you."

Shaking his helm, Jetfire looked into the faceplates of another flyer in white, gold and maroon, along with scattered turquoise details. For some reason Jetfire felt he should recognise the mech, but he looked like nothing and no one he'd seen before.

"Most end up with their processors dividing its resources too much to try and keep up with what they're seeing. It's not pretty," said the mech, a small, dry smile on his turquoise faceplates as he gestured to Jetfire to precede him down the corridor.

"... I suppose that makes sense. One would need processing power in the quantum levels to keep up with all the possible dimensions that are connecting here, I surmise... That's why the corridor is plain, but the features still shift, isn't it?" asked Jetfire as the door opened for them and the mech nodded, his red optics flashing in amusement.

Stepping aside to let the mech enter as well, Jetfire looked around the room, which looked pretty much like what he'd seen... outside, in his own dimension. There were differences, however, in that the bar wasn't housed in a single-level room and instead had three levels above the floor he was on, and there was a corridor that seemed to lead further back beside the open archway that led to a courtyard that faced the sky.

"Skyfire!"

Whichever and wherever that sky was, if the courtyard here still opened to a sky and while he shouldn't let himself get distracted, he wanted to explore, find some actual proof this place was precisely what Breakaway had claimed it was---

"Skyfire, don't you dare ignore me!"

Startled more at the meaty smack against metal rather than the hit itself, which was truly nothing, Jetfire stopped and looked down.

At his feet stood a human woman in glasses and what looked somewhat like a black uniform; the lines and cut of her clothes had some undefinable notion of strict sameness he'd briefly seen in human uniforms, glimpsed on the broadcasts displayed in Autobot City's rec. room.

He didn't have a clue who she was, or why she was calling him 'Skyfire'.

"I apologise, but my designation isn't Skyfire, but Jetfire..." He paused, frowning down at the girl and couldn't see anything but a human female, who was staring back up at him with an expression that went from briefly wide-eyed to impressively twisted.

Somehow, his correction had apparently made her angry.

"I... assume you mistook me for an... er, alternate?" He gestured vaguely with a hand, and the young woman tugged on her braids jerkily.

"I can't believe it! Always with the 'Jetfire', but you can't trick me this time even if you sound slightly different and you owe me you useless traitor---"

"Who are you?" Jetfire stared down, optics narrow and folded his arms over his chestplates. The rant was... familiar, but why would a random human have any reason to yell it at him? Jetfire wasn't impressed, either, when she stared back at him, mouth twisting into a soundless snarl and actually hopped in place, tugging on her braids again before she stopped, chest heaving with her rage.

"You--- You claim to---" She seemed singularly unable to form a complete sentence as she gestured wildly at him, and while Jetfire was usually patient, he didn't feel like standing around wasting time being chewed out by somebody he didn't know, along the lines of something even Starscream (the Starscream he knew) only had a vague right to shout at him.

"I am Starscream, Air Commander and leader of the Decepticons and you claim to not know who I am?!" Briefly, the young woman's voice dropped even as it rose in pitch, gained something of a scratchy edge that was surprisingly familiar, but...

How?

"... If you are Starscream, I'd like to point out that presently you're a female human, and I haven't seen anything like this where I come from, and in addition I doubt memory transference between humans and cybertronians are possible, even if the brain impulses of a human and the processors of a cybertronian could be translated and the different tension and charge mitigated enough to---"

"SHUT UP!"

Jetfire barely kept from wincing as... maybe-Starscream's human voice went up in a truly impressive register, and he was pretty sure every one in the bar was staring at them by now.

"I. don't. care! You're an imbecile! I'm only in this body because Galvatron killed me after I got rid of Megatron, like I knew would happen because I'm the best leader, and I was about to formally take control of the Decepticons! But then that lunatic killed me!" Suddenly, the flashing eyes softened (sort of) into an expression even Jetfire could tell was (almost) definitely Starscream in it's arrogant smugness as she gestured to herself. "But he couldn't destroy me. Nothing can annihilate me any more, because I'm immortal!" Then she burst out laughing, and Jetfire glanced down at the floor.

He didn't have time for this.

He didn't feel like dealing with this.

"That's... impressive. Do you have to stay like that?" Had he been killed and his spark was... what, anomalous enough it could survive outside his spark chamber, and he'd ended up possessing this woman? How was that even possible?

The laughter abruptly cut off as possibly-Starscream shook her head and clapped her hands sharply.

"No, I'm certainly not going to stay like this! I'm on my way to get Arkeville to fix me a new body, effective immediately." And that seemed to be enough to distract her as she stormed around Jetfire and out the door.

When he turned back and glanced around the bar, everyone had - thankfully - gone back to their own business.

That had been... Shaking his helm, Jetfire wasn't sure if he actually believed the young woman, proof of an extant multiverse right in front of him or not. Multiple dimensions confirmed was one thing, spark possession... even if he had, ah, very personal proof something like it might be possible, quite another. Especially across species.

Casting another glance around the main room of the bar, Jetfire was almost distracted by his own fascination again instead of being waylaid by a self-proclaimed alternate of Starscream possessing a human female. But he had a mission, and there was no telling how much time he had to find the individual he was after, so after another brief glance around, Jetfire headed towards the bar itself and the bartender behind it.

He recognised the mech from the time or two he'd visited Maccadam's and who'd been on his end of the bar when he passed through. He sported a shorter and dark version of extra facial decoration like Alpha Trion, and either there was an alternate, or the same bartender worked this version as well. When he came up to the bar there was no overt reaction of familiarity, but the bartender did look up from the machine he was cleaning glasses in, cocking his helm in acknowledgement.

"I... er, want to... talk to Maccadam." He wasn't sure if that was how you did it, if it was acceptable at all, but that was what he was here for and Breakaway hadn't given any other pointers in regards to this. The reaction implied that what he had asked for was, if not done, then highly unusual.

The bartender stared, as did a shapely mint and white flyer further down the bar to the right, who was clutching a cube of energon in one hand as much as she was clutching a sword in the other, and the purple and teal flyer next to her gave Jetfire an annoyed stare, probably for having taken the other's attention off of her. Yet another mech who'd just come up to the bar also paused, ignoring the waitress that had appeared to take his request. He resembled Soundwave a lot, though with an obvious jet altmode and coloured all in black; he even had a cassette bird on his shoulder.

"... And what would be the occasion for which he should take the time to come see you?" asked the bartender, voice heavy with incredulity as he carefully put down the glass he'd just cleaned, as if to make sure he wouldn't drop it.

"I was told Maccadam would... er, know where I was to go next. I'm looking for the Smith." It felt odd saying that, because he wasn't certain how it could work as a buzz-word to trip the knowledge of who exactly he was looking for. Wouldn't there be as many Solus Primes - if they all used the same nickname - as there were realities who had the Thirteen?

The flyer to the right just shook her helm and went back to her drink and the other beside her, having lost interest. The mech to left, though, was staring intently at Jetfire, though Jetfire didn't turn his helm to acknowledge the visored stare, instead keeping his attention on the bartender.

"... I'll have Lickety-Split show you to a table and bring you a drink. Whether or not he comes to see you, it's on the house," said the bartender with a tight nod, and then left before Jetfire could decline any drinks. A tap against his lower arm had Jetfire turn around and... look down.

Quite a far bit down.

Lickety-Split was somewhere between the minibot height he was used to and cassettes like Frenzy and Rumble, and she was boldly orange and sand with her altmode's wheels for feet, so probably a bike of some sort.

"Just follow me and we'll have you at a table right away!" Then she literally zoomed off, expertly dodging around patrons and tables both and there's wasn't much else to do but follow her.

The table he found himself seated at, with a large, rounded bowl filled nearly to the brim, was tucked at the back against the wall but otherwise standing freely. Out of the way, but with nothing close enough that he didn't have the space he needed to easily sit down at it or get up and leave.

Jetfire didn't particularly like bars or clubs.

It just wasn't his... 'thing', and this place was no different as he tried to figure out a way to comfortably hold the bowl of fizzling, two-toned high-grade while Lickety-Split simply disappeared back into the rest of the room, zooming between tables on the bottom floor and, sometimes, up on the walkways.

With a sigh, Jetfire sat back a little more into his seat, let his wings angle downwards and hoped Maccadam would come sooner rather than later... or if he did not, that the bartender would let him know.

Curiosity, however, was a strong force, and it didn't take long for Jetfire to stop staring down into his energon and hoping someone who'd identify themselves as Maccadam would sit down in the next astrosecond and instead look around the room.

At a round table out on the floor sat Arcee. Jetfire's optics flickered in surprise because Arcee... Arcee wasn't even on Cybertron, but rather wherever the Quintessons had their base or home planet... And the longer he looked, frowning, Jetfire could pick up the differences. Not in altmode or optic colour, but rather something in the lines of her frame, a different build slightly to the left of Arcee, or even Elita One.

It was odd, but until now (besides the bartender and maybe-Starscream's rather improbable story), this was the most obvious proof of there being alternate realities. Of course, she might not be Arcee, despite the exact look, but the simplest explanation would be that she was.

Opposite of her sat a slender mech in mostly black, the additional red in the shape of flames; a bike whereas Arcee was a four-wheeler. She was leaning in, optics narrow and her expression nearly a snarl as she grabbed one of Arcee's hands. The only reason Jetfire didn't get up was because she didn't have her hands anywhere near any weapons and a moment after that, Springer and Hot Rod, or rather versions of them sharing Arcee's similar faint difference, came up and sat down at the table.

The slender bike huffed and abruptly sat back and then got up and stalked off.

At a small table nearly obscured by the bigger mechs in the room and the angle Jetfire sat at, was a group of tiny mechs approximately cassette-sized. One of them looked remarkably like Bumblebee - it was mostly the head design and colour - but Jetfire was pretty sure it wasn't. They were staring with clear suspicion around them at all the bigger mechs, and Jetfire caught brief snatches of... what was very different from standard cybertronix, as the beeping and clicking made no sense to him.

Glancing at the bar in the hope of seeing the bartender maybe giving some sign he wouldn't be talking to Maccadam today or something, merely got him the sight of the teal and purple flyer leaning in on her... partner. She had a grin on her faceplates that for some reason read strangely Starscream-like, with the other flyer angling back... but despite her grip on the sword, she didn't do anything else to persuade the other to move away.

Frowning, Jetfire looked away and caught a glimpse of a group walking towards an elevator in the back to take them to the upper floors. He was pretty sure he recognized the three, even with the strangely moving parts - more than normal - and the bio-lights, and Jazz being curiously short (or Cliffjumper strangely tall), and Sideswipe not being followed by Sunstreaker.

Why was this taking so long?

With a shake of his helm his wandering optics fell on five mechs sitting nearly on the opposite end of the room, at a table among others set slightly above the rest on a podium. He'd avoided to look at the five more from annoyance than anything else, because what was it with people he didn't recognise staring at him in one way or another?

They were a collection of both strangely amusing and unsettling-looking mechs, their design similar but definitely off from what he was used to. The group suddenly started to move, the mech in the middle with his purple faceplates strangely stark with apparently being the Decept--- someone got in the way.

A someone who sat down at his table and Jetfire's brief relief that his waiting was over died when he looked the mech over.

Because somehow he doubted Maccadam would be sporting an Autobot insignia, if he was explicitly serving a so-supposed deity of their multiverse. A purple insignia and Jetfire frowned, optics flicking from the mech's wings to his red optics.

Red optics set in faceplates that were exceedingly familiar, and this wasn't... unsettling at all.

No, not at all, especially given the particularly sharp glow in those optics, and the twist to... his? alternate's mouth.

"Such an absolutely fantastic opportunity!"

Jetfire couldn't stop the flickering stare because... well it was almost his voice, but far more... expansive. Resonant and even dramatic, if he was to use that word, which was very odd since that was something he associated with Starscream. And the way the black and purple mech leaned forward, optics sliding slowly over what he could see...

"... It... er, yes. Is." He was hardly helpless, but for some reason he was suddenly deeply uncomfortable. Which was rather frustrating since this was a rather singular opportunity, but when one black hand was stretched out, Jetfire removed both of his from his bowl and crossed them over his chestplates. His alternate smirked, and, by the way he met his optics, tilting his helm, he knew exactly what he was doing.

Instead, he changed the angle of his stretched-out hand and simply gestured to Jetfire.

"Why don't you stand up for me, hmmm? I wouldn't wish to miss a single detail, since we can hardly have a more proper examination in here."

Staring, Jetfire felt his processors sort of... blank out, for a moment as every single conscious string of thought was dropped, and not merely for the... suggestion. It was also because of the tone, and the glow in the optics, and the fact that he had the tip of a stabiliser pressing into the gap between hip joint and pelvic armour.

What was he even---

"I don't think so, and it would greatly benefit us both if you backed down because I doubt you'd want to be... ah, removed from here." Optics narrowing, the cables and pistons in his arms tightened as he fought to sit still and not reach over, plus not to let the sputtering that wanted to manifest out. It was enough that he couldn't contain the blush; his field was flickering in erratic little pulses.

"Oh, I think you have far more to lose from that, so why don't you---"

"Do as suggested. You're all guests here, and I expect a modicum of... respectful behaviour."

Both large jets jerked at the smooth voice, the tone holding hidden sharpness, but despite the surprise there was no clang of the foot being dropped down on the floor; it was let down smoothly. His alternate automatically got up from his seat and stepped away, gesturing expansively to the seat.

"Ah! Of course. My apologies, curiosity got the better of me!" The resonant rumble to his voice made Jetfire's wings twitch tighter against his sides, as did the glance, but his alternate left with no further comment.

The mech who exchanged places with his dark alternate was somewhere between Starscream and Prime in height and either had a very obscure altmode or no altmode at all, because Jetfire couldn't tell what the gold and maroon armour could even arrange into.

He had two long, slender panels falling from his back, Jetfire saw as he sat down, shaped - strangely enough - like some of the time-piece arms he'd seen on clocks on Earth. The chestplates' design reminded him... of the mech he'd met outside the bar, in the corridor, and briefly Jetfire wondered why that mech had seemed familiar again, but he had to give up on that thought. The newcomer's helm was more like a smooth hood, similar to how the Council of Ancients members had been designed, with an extra front part that shaded his upper face, hiding most of the line to his nasal ridge except for the tip and only giving a hint of golden glow from his optics.

Like his bartender and Alpha Trion, there was a long facial decoration that fell around his mouth, curling at the ends.

"... Thank you. You're... er, Maccadam?" Carefully, he unfolded his arms again and took a sip from the cube more to release the pent-up energy in his cables than anything else. The mech's lips, the edges partly hidden by the decoration, twitched.

"I am. And you're Jetfire, and are looking for Solus Prime." As Maccadam spoke, matter of factly enough Jetfire could do no more than sigh, the static fuzzing the surface of his still-fizzing drink, he also put down a cube of his own on the table, filled with nearly violently green engex.

"At least that... er, simplifies things." Even if he didn't like it, because he hadn't revealed his name... Well, except to probably-Starscream, but he'd been talking normally and not yelling as the human had been.

Maccadam angled his helm, staring quietly for a moment, but even that didn't even reveal the shape of his optics much, though it did show off the sharp angles of his nasal ridge the way the shadows and golden glow fell across the tip that was visible.

"I apologise for the wait. Hopefully not too much time has passed for you."

The comment was odd enough Jetfire looked up, frowning.

"A cycle is longer than I hoped to wait, but not unreasonable." Jetfire shrugged, then his optics narrowed at the amused twitch of Maccadam's lips, shifting the shadows that fell on the pointed, somewhat elongated chinguard underneath the mouth.

"Indeed, it's not. But waiting often lends to time turning subjective, which is why I ask, since I understand your situation might be... time sensitive."

"... Illusive subjectivity of how much time has passed or not, is merely that. A trick of your processor trying to keep itself occupied while under time-specific pressure, especially if there's nothing to do, or if the situation in particular is something you don't want to end. That doesn't mean time moves faster or slower and since I came through the door, a cycle has passed," said Jetfire with a huff, and Maccadam chuckled as he raised his cube in acknowledgement.

Jetfire didn't like the feeling of being indulged which was what he was getting from this, but what other conclusion was there? There simply was no data or experiments that would lend even the slightest proof to subjective time being anything but a soft glitch.

"You might be surprised. But, in the interest of not spending more time, the actual question, then. would be why you're searching her out." It wasn't even a question, and Jetfire had the distinct... feeling Maccadam knew why, but hid his huff with another swallow of high-grade. He then put the bowl down, idly tracing the reflected patters on the surface of the table from the high-grade for a moment.

"Unicron." That had been... both harder and easier than it should be. "We need more assistance and power than we have, and while we can obviously not make her assist, it was decided it was worth an attempt." He carefully kept out any mention of who had revealed the information and told them he should try this and Maccadam didn't ask.

Instead, he was quiet for a moment, helm angled down low enough he was probably studying his drink, though he might, of course, still be looking at Jetfire.

"Space-time shivers from the chaos-eddies in the wake of the Chaos Bringer, and your field carries atoms so destabilised. I'll show you where you need to start, for that was all I was entrusted with," said Maccadam as he stood up, the twist to his lips tight and the tone understanding. As Jetfire stood up to follow him, he tilted his helm once again, drumming fingers against the opposite upper arm.

"... You, however, might have a greater chance than most, being what you are."

Jetfire, having angled his wings upwards again as he made ready to leave, felt them twitch.

"Angle of Dissolution, yes. It's been said." And he had some proof and he did understand the how of it... and technically, particularly unique arrangements of energies wasn't impossible, and intentionally manipulated thus... well.

If clones could be made and instilled with certain abilities, like Sunstorm, who was to say spark energies couldn't be manipulated to create more specific uniqueness?

Maccadam chuckled at his tone and expression and gestured for him to follow, pausing only momentarily to let a short mech with... ah, purple dinosaur kibble arranged in such a way the head was on one arm, and a much taller, flamboyant mech in black, red magenta and purple with details of gold. Jetfire had no idea what he was supposed to turn into, because even with the huge wings on his back it seemed like he could have several different configurations...

"This way."

Shaking his helm and following Maccadam across the bar, the proprietor of Maccadam's Old Oilhouse led Jetfire not to the door he'd come in through or the archway that led to the court outside, or even the corridor that led to the back of the bar that was beside the archway, but rather around the elevator that led to the upper walkways and then gestured at a door that simply seemed to suddenly be there.

"The rest will be up to you."

Chapter Text

Sub-surface Cybertron, ???

The corridor twisted around itself, made up of what was either innumerable cables or finely spun, thread-like metal. The diffuse light was burnished bronze, highlighting the metal's electrum tint, and, curious, Jetfire reached out and scrubbed hard at the surface.

While the metal was still electrum-tinted underneath what flaked off, a rough analysis confirmed the metal wasn't electrum, but the flakes themselves was... The same material that ended up coating the inside of a spark chamber and the spark chamber cavity itself, as well as along the spark conductive wiring through a chassis as a result of natural bio-mechanics.

What it meant, however, Jetfire preferred not to... speculate in. Even if he knew enough to pull together a supposition, considering the energy in the Well of All Sparks, and the Fallen's drawn-out exclamation.

Which could have been something other than what it sounded like, it had been very garbled, after all.

With a sigh, Jetfire reluctantly filed the information away with what he already had, which was slowly accumulating to point towards only one possible conclusion. Since there seemed to be no danger in not jumping to said conclusion, though, Jetfire resolved to... ah, gather some more data before he let the possible inevitable result convince him.

And even then he might not be thoroughly convinced.

He had no idea how deep down he was, or in what direction the corridor was going with the way it twisted. He actually ended up walking upside down at some parts, at least if he was supposed to trust his gyroscope. Because when he looked up - or down, rather - despite the fact that he'd been looking straight forward this whole time and should've noticed a change in orienting direction, looking up and checking the gyroscope revealed him to be upside down.

Light dribbled down - or up - from cones extending from the floor or from the ceiling, impossibly material in a way it shouldn't be, and his scanners couldn't identify what the golden, glowing... liquid? was, either.

After more time than Jetfire was completely happy had passed, the corridor opened up in a domed room where the center of it thrust up in a half-sphere, silvery against the electrum and gold. The surface was parted up in large hexagons, each filled with a pattern of smaller ones - it was frustrating to have no way of knowing the significance of this, if any.

Looking away from the reflective, dominating feature that had first caught his optics, Jetfire felt his glance grow rather... arch.

"... I suppose it's to be... er, expected." Beside the open archway he'd come through, there were four other doors, these ones closed and each had an inscription of glyphs above the upper arch.

Some of them familiar, some not.

Optics flickering, Jetfire almost went to the door that had a very familiar passage inscribed above it, though put together in a way that it hadn't been in Boltax's temple.

In the spark of an enemy, there will be salvation, and in the darkest hour, there will be a light, and the sun and it's brother shall storm over the new world to reveal the beast and destroy it.

He paused partway around the curve of the half-sphere however, and carefully turned to look at the inscriptions above each door in turn. He was pretty sure it couldn't be that simple, and also... why would something that referred to Starscream and Sunstorm - and the previous passage as well, which was still unknown - give a clue to Solus Prime's location?

The door beside it had an inscription that made Jetfire frown at it, because while he was pretty sure it had nothing to do with him because how would it know, it still felt like a... needling.

Great events find great cybertronians. And other times, great events make great cybertronians.

Shaking his helm and giving the inscription a narrow stare, Jetfire looked to the third door, and almost reflexively found himself walking towards that door, like he'd done for the first. He didn't stop before he'd cleared the curve of the central feature and was facing the door, having to forcibly stop forward motion.

Now this demands my attention! My first responsibility is to those I left behind, yet I sense what unfolds below eclipses even that... I will seek that light which has fallen from the forges of our history.

It seemed... fitting.

Very, very fitting.

To the current situation, to who he was looking for - he'd been told, after all, that Solus had been the creator of the First Thirteen, their smith, and forges belonged to smiths - and that he felt that doing this... well. He'd rather be back on Earth. Who knew what was happening right now?

It was fitting enough, in fact, that Jetfire stopped, folded his arms over his chestplates and looked over the three doors again---

Three?

There were four doors. He was absolutely certain of this.

With a frown, he looked to the right of the third, and yes, there were four doors. The glyphs above that door were indecipherable; arcane and clearly of a tilt and style that was older than the others, which were written in modern cybertronix.

At least he thought they were.

"I suppose they were right." Jetfire shook his helm and considered how he'd been able to read the glyph inscriptions in the temple he'd had to extricate Starscream from, and how neither Starscream when he'd showed his recorded images of those inscriptions back then, nor Prowl and Jazz when he'd showed them after the incident with the Fallen, had actually been able to read them without him translating for them.

Looking to each inscription in turn, they wavered, and while the first three remained in their meaning, the glyphs shifted, dizzyingly flickering through several variations of the glyphs they were written with.

Clearly mutable, possibly there was a scanner in the room that could tell how old he was, match the current modern cybertronix to him from that. The last inscription, above the fourth door, remained in its arcane script however, but slowly became readable.

Doors lead to their destination depending on who goes through them, and to what purpose. Know where you want to go before you choose your path.

"Well." Another glance over the four inscriptions and the doors, and then Jetfire summarily turned to face the last one - he might have chosen it either way, considering it'd been somehow concealed between his first noting of there being four and then merely registering three, but that inscription?

The others implied some sort of destination already, and they might even be helpful to the overall situation... But Jetfire wasn't here for that. He was here to find Solus Prime.

The door opened as he approached and he stepped through with no issue.

--------------
Earth.

"A group of the unaligned transformers just attacked outside... er, Atar, Mauretania?" the man didn't sound very certain at all as he clearly read the name of the location off something. "How soon for a test run of project Centurion, Colonel?"

"We could have them ready tomorrow, but with a push, today. What of the transformers?" Witwicky's growl vibrated with his disgust, clearly heard even over the phone.

"Er... driven off by... Decepticons, actually. The attack unearthed crystals of some sort. I assume they're worth something to the transformers, as the Decepticons haven't left, but they aren't approaching the nearby town, either."

"Today it is, then, sir. We'll have project Centurion ready and drive any off if they should get the idea in their tin-can two-bit processors to attack us." Which of the ones, exactly, they'd drive off was left unspecified, even if one of the three groups were nominally their allies.

--------------
???

He'd ended up on a balcony with narrow, rail-less walkways extending out from each side along the wall of it, connecting to other balconies and from there, to walkways and bridges that spanned the room itself. It was huge, the upper parts disappearing in a softly-lit haze and the bottom slowly narrowing but not actually leaving the floor or bottom visible.

He couldn't actually check, because crystals of some kind thrust out from the walls, bridges and walkways and made the narrowing spaces even smaller - a regular-sized cybertronian would have progressed further than he, and a minibot even further down than that, but finding the bottom was something Jetfire would have to set aside.

Jetfire had an easier time navigating the rest of the expansive room, simply because he wasn't bound to the walkways and bridges, and could just fly between the ends of the room.

There didn't seem to be an end upwards either. Or rather, he couldn't find it; while the haze lightened as he flew into it, revealing more of the same as below and crystals growing sporadically from the metal and he got the sense he could continue quite far. But the further up he got, his gyroscope started glitch.

He ended up dropping down into the 'middle' of the room again, unwilling to get lost more than he already was and studying the vast space. The room was round, and the walls were littered with doorways, the question was just... which was the right one?

Was any of them the right one?

He couldn't go back the way he came, as that door refused to open, and in the end he chose an open archway on the opposite end and half a hic down from where he'd entered, entirely randomly. The corridor was narrow, and got narrow enough he had to walk sideways, curved and angled enough to be disorienting---

And when it let out, it was for a moment enough of a relief that he didn't register the soft, fuzzy light and the near-dizzying amount of bridges that spanned the space in front of him.

The same room he'd left earlier.

Crossing his arms, Jetfire felt a distinct bubble of scratchy displeasure crawl up along his circuits, but he clamped down on the need to shift to relieve it.

He wouldn't jump to conclusions, but well.

He could see where this was going, if he was supposed to make a preliminary supposition on possible results.

Four doorways, three corridors, and one straight drop that would have severely injured him if he wasn't capable of flying and which opening back out into the large room was narrow enough metal got scraped and Jetfire's optics had narrowed enough to be bare slits and the colour had flattened out.

Either this whole room was a dead-end, or he'd be spending a possible amount of... too much time trying to find the right exit...

"Or I'm going about this the wrong way," murmured Jetfire, mostly to hear something other than the smooth, thrumming rumble of his engines. It was very quiet in here. Scrubbing his face and resting his chin on his fist, Jetfire hovered in place, the bluish crystals around him at least making it easy to tell how far down in the room he was.

Turning off his optics, Jetfire tentatively turned on his scanners and stretched out their range.

While he did find the crystals held negligible amount of energon, there wasn't anything else to find. Turning on his visuals again, he went down to a dense cluster of crystals where the room narrowed sharply below them, turned his thrusters off, sat down, and activated his ambient absorption circuits.

He had some extra energon stored away, but better to save those cans when there were energy to get in here, even if it wasn't a lot.

"A few possibilities here; One, I did choose the wrong door and this is a dead-end, but I'm inclined to believe I'm merely supposed to think that. Two, there is a single door that does lead forwards from here, making it extremely unlikely I could find it. If I can actually reach it..." With a frown, Jetfire glanced down beyond his stabilisers to where the space narrowed enough a minibot would've had to squirm through, and then he glanced upwards, into the softly lit upper part where navigation and his sense of direction went haywire.

"Three, any of the doors might do, and I'm just not approaching them in the right way, much in the same way there might be several ways of getting the same result in a scientific inquiry - or asking the a single question, but getting different results depending on how it's formulated." Optics narrowing, Jetfire cast a brief glance to his fuel levels, turned off the AAC and simply chose the nearest door and kept his purpose for being here firmly in mind when going through.

It didn't help, though.

Staring up into the soft lighting as he walked out on a balcony, the door behind him closing, Jetfire allowed himself a long, slow static sigh with the equally controlled and slow ex-vent.

Was he really the right spark for this..?

Boosting himself up to a bridge, Jetfire considered how he'd gotten in here in the first place.

By being able to read the glyphs of the inscription. Glyphs he wouldn't have been able to read if he hadn't been one of the Angles of Dissolution, which was why Breakaway had asked him to go, and not someone else.

He didn't know how to access that... or if he even could, considering when it had been actively accessed the Fallen had been draining his and the other three Angles' spark energy into the device which was opening the Seal of Primus over the Well of All Sparks.

... His spark.

Reluctantly, Jetfire followed the bridge he stood on to the doorway it ended at, laid his hand on the door, turned off his optics, and concentrated. Slowly, he cut down on sensory input after sensory input, left with tactile - the press of the door, the waste heat being dumped and warming up the metal of the door, the metal faintly vibrating from the friction of his hand against it.

Vibrating in a way that felt distinctly odd... or off, especially when he also concentrated on his spark pulse and the flow of spark energy through his frame. In fact, the longer he stood there, he could tell the spark energy wasn't utilising the conductive wiring in the arm he had up against the door to its end.

That was... decidedly odd. Manually leading spark energy into parts on your chassis - or away from them - was a technique from Circuit Su and not something Jetfire could claim to be particularly well-versed in, but it was clear he'd have to try.

It was like trying to hold sand or liquid without a proper container or containment field, the threads of spark energy nearly bouncing away and backwards the longer he managed to keep it to travel down his arm. The vibration of the metal prickled his palm, making the sensory nodes go numb and this was taking too much time---

The spark energy flowed all the way to the end in his palm, causing a momentary flare of warmth he hadn't even noticed was lacking, and the door underneath either opened fast enough he didn't notice it slide aside, or it simply disappeared and Jetfire didn't have enough time to reach and stop his stumble forwards.

--------------
Earth.

/Flight vector realigned./ It was a constant alert as they flew, veering off from their patrol route above the water surrounding the Nemesis and turned north-east, towards the African coast and their new assignment.

/Impact points?

... calculating.

Six./

The result from their sweep was pieced together effortlessly, reflexively, as unified as their thoughts were, despite the fact that there were only two connections in the neural net; their own.

The points of attack blipped up one after the other on their joint map; Atar, Mauretania - their destination. Moffett Federal Airfield, Sunnyvale, US. Kaho'olawe, Hawaii. Mont Blanc. The Gobi Desert, Ömnögovi Province, Mongolia. North of Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia.

/Threat level?/

/Unrated. Outside current strategy. Hit and run tactics.

... Looking for something---/

The water fountained around them as four sweeps burst through and the two remaining drones of the Aerospace Extermination Squadron cut their engines and turned back to back. These didn't even rate a single threat level. They would be taken care of and then they'd proceed to the rendezvous point.

--------------
Earth/???

Optics flickering back on as he caught his balance, at first Jetfire couldn't figure out where he was. It wasn't where he had been, and it was somewhat familiar, but he couldn't tell immediately. There were sharp angles in a rich dark blue that was nearly purple and it smelled heavily of salt and water, the lights seemingly kept on energy-saving low, only turning on as they passed them.

It wasn't until they passed an open doorway and the room beyond gave a peek of a bank of trashed computers that everything clicked and Jetfire looked down to actually see the mech who he was walking beside, neither of them having noticed the other was there.

"... Starscream?" But how was he on the Nemesis? That was back on Earth and he'd most certainly not been on Earth just a klik before!

"Ye--- Jetfire! How in the blasted name of Cybertron--- How did you get in here?! What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be... wherever you were going?" Starscream whirled around, one arm up and null ray humming, but he slowly and hesitantly lowered it even as he talked and ended up just staring. "... I've finally lost it, haven't I?"

"As much as I, in that case," said Jetfire with a huff, shaking his helm. But Starscream was right, because he had no reason or way to be here, so how..?

"... You died and are haunting me, is that it, then." It was a dry, flat comment that spoke on some level of expectation, and Jetfire ended up staring almost too long to not take half a step back to avoid Starscream trying to touch him.

"No, I haven't! And ghosts don't exist, Starscream. If anything, what could maybe be proven is that spark energies can leave imprints behind, but if that's true, those are indistinct at best." He crossed his arms over his chestplates, and once again took half a step back to avoid Starscream trying to touch him. Starscream was also smirking up at him, and Jetfire snorted.

Of course Starscream would say it just to be annoying, as well as a way to find out what was going on. Shaking his helm, Jetfire turned his thoughts back to the certainty that he shouldn't let Starscream touch him. Or he shouldn't touch Starscream. He wasn't sure why he was certain of it, but he had the distinct feeling that if he let Starscream do that, something would happen. Something that wouldn't make anything easier for him.

"But you're not letting me touch you, so that proves it---"

"Don't be ridiculous." Sighing, Jetfire gave Starscream another stare, and got a smirk and a little cock of Starscream's helm in response. "I don't know what's going on, but I'm pretty sure I'd have noticed if I had permanently offlined. Why don't you tell me what's been going on, instead?"

He needed time to figure out what had happened. He'd opened the door... somehow using his spark energy to unravel the... lock? code? he wasn't sure, but it'd opened the door and instead of leading into another corridor that just led back into the big room, it had dumped him here.

Here, where he'd rather be...

"Well, we're---" Starscream cut himself off, cast a narrow stare up at Jetfire, and started walking again. "I'm not telling you our plans. You make a lousy spy, you know and even if you're offlined I won't tell you anything. But, I suppose I could tell you there's been a few more attacks... and the great and all-wise Megatron worked out a deal with that fool of a Prime. We're going to work together."

The last was said with a slow, sharp smile up at Jetfire, waiting for a reaction that made him chuckle when Jetfire lost his train of thought and almost stopped, but Starscream didn't and he continued walking. Why Starscream had to insist on being annoying by clinging to and needling him with the ghost 'theory' instead of coming up with something more useful, he didn't know. But how his presence here did work, Jetfire still couldn't figure out.

Some form of transferring his spark energy through the connection of their harmonised sparks, perhaps? Similar to a spark dive? He shook his helm.

"The war's ov---"

"No, you numbnut! A temporary cease-fire, that's all. Against our common enemy," said Starscream with a sneer, stole a glance aside up at Jetfire and he reached out again. Jetfire jerked half a step back again and also had to snatch his own hand back, even if he sorely wanted to reach out.

All he needed to do was reach out and touch and... And it'd probably connect him properly to this location and Starscream, whatever was going on.

"Stop that. Not that I don't---" He cut himself off, both from realising he probably shouldn't say this on the Nemesis, whether or not he was actually here, and because of Starscream's glare, as despite him attempting to find out if Jetfire actually was present or not, saying anything further that could be read too deep wasn't clever.

"So what's going on? If you're going to haunt me you should do it properly, you know! Because if you aren't I demand an explanation, I'm done with strange stuff happening." Starscream stopped, flung a hand out to point at Jetfire and then crossed his arms over his cockpit. Frowning, Jetfire stared on the opposite wall past Starscream's helm as he tried to think without letting Starscream needle him.

What was going on, indeed? Whether he actually was on the Nemesis or not, the point was that prior to this he'd been working through traps and obstacles to try and find Solus Prime. Which, following logically, meant this was another one. Jetfire smiled faintly and reached out, ghosting a few fingers just above the side of Starscream's helm.

Starscream's field, sharp and held wide from his chassis, curled around Jetfire's fingers and he quickly pulled away. If he stayed much longer, he'd probably want to stay - which he did, but then what he'd done so far would be undone.

"There's been obstacles. I'll tell you about it when I'm back. Don't die." Then he stepped past Starscream and between one step and the next, one spark-pulse and the next, the corridor reformed just in time for Jetfire to register stepping through a doorway into another room.

It was burnished silver and electrum gold, like sub-surface Cybertron had been since he got there, there were a fountain of light in the center of the room, and on the three walls from where he'd entered, three items stuck partly out of the walls.

Passing around the fountain which lighted up the room, Jetfire looked at the huge rifle with its butt sticking out from the wall on the right, a carving on that wall showing a sphere, maybe a planetoid of some sort, being blown apart. To the left was part of the blade of a sword and its hilt sticking out of the wall, the carving once again showing a sphere being destroyed by the weapon. The wall in front of him had part of an anvil and its accompanying hammer's handle sticking out of the wall.

The carving over that wall showed no destruction, merely a great number of items and weapons, radiating out from the anvil and hammer.

For a brief moment, Jetfire considered going for one of the weapons. Either, or both of them, would probably be of great help in the coming fight, but two things made him stop in front of the anvil and hammer.

One, if he didn't find Solus Prime, something that could make weapons might be better than a single one or two. Two, Solus Prime was a smith, wasn't she?

He touched the handle of the hammer, and the wall split apart outwards from the anvil and hammer, first merely looking like cracks, and then they became distinct moving parts. As the wall moved out of the way like a puzzle moving and separating on its own, Jetfire could step into a room with a huge pit of molten metal in its center, another anvil beside it, a device running the length of the room along the walls he couldn't tell what it was, plus an orrery to the left which showed Cybertron and its two moons around the two suns in the system.

Beside that stood a mech in black, blue and silver, as tall as he was with rounded, clunky lower legs and arms, a well-armoured chest-plate, and eight apparently-hovering, glowing wheels suspended back from her shoulders, at her hips and at her lower legs. The front of her helm was a vaguely wing-like guard, sweeping down over her cheeks and up above her helm in points.

He recognised her from the Fallen's memories.

There was no question of who she was.

"Solus Prime."

She tilted her helm, brightly purple optics nearly twinkling, though while she smiled, her tone was no-nonsense.

"You've gone through quite some trouble to get here, though I should probably have expected one of you being able to do it. Mind explaining?"

There was a lot of things he could say, properly explain everything, but the most simple thing... Jetfire spread his hands, palms up and sighed.

"Unicron. It has... er, reawakened and entered our reality's space again?"

"... Well." She sighed as well, a long, slow huff of ex-vent and static as she turned her helm to glance at the orrery, reaching out to touch Cybertron. "I suppose it was too much to hope the Seal being opened and closed would be all that would happen.

As she reached out to touch the hefty pole sticking up behind her back, Jetfire shifted on his feet, uncertain if he should say something. The earlier glow in her optics had dimmed, and she looked quite grim now. Understandable, but...

"Let's go, then. Where to?"

"Er... Earth. But I..." Trailing off as Solus stopped, hand hovering above the orrery and turned back to him with a tilt in her helm, Jetfire glanced around the room and then back at her. "I was merely wondering, how I... er, opened the door back in the ... ah, labyrinth room? And what happened right before I got in here."

She eyed him for another moment, and then chuckled, a dry, yet almost sweet sound.

"Ah, the transference? There's a point where you enter - for you in the room with the bridges, and an exit point. Between those there's basically a transwarp device. It can pick up where you have your strongest connections to via spark energy, and then completes that connection, transferring over a small amount of spark energy and and impression of your mind, so that you experience being present at the location. Deciding to stay, or walking far enough you pass the exit point completes the transwarp to make a full connection, teleporting over your actual chassis and then you end up at the new location." Solus shrugged, and touched the orrery, which started to split apart, pieces flying around and rearranging.

"As for how you opened the door... You're one of the angles in the Geometry of Dissolution. While you come from Primus, there's a certain avoidance between your basic spark energies and that of a certain type of structure which is infused with Primus' energy or other similar such." She smiled again, as dry as the first time, though Jetfire only caught the edge of it, optics caught by the pieces of the orrery as it had now rearranged itself into two distinct pieces. Or solar systems, rather.

On one end was Earth's solar system, focused on the inner three planets and the sun, on the other, closest to Solus, was Cybertron's solar system - what the humans called Alpha Centauri. The space between them was beginning to swirl like a transwarp portal.

"You're one of the angles in a geometry meant to open things that were meant, made to, stay locked and closed. Just because a lock has a key doesn't mean said lock wants to be opened, after all."

Optics flickering, Jetfire looked away from the transwarp portal spanning the empty space between the model of the two solar systems, and cocked his helm.

"... That makes a surprisingly simple amount of sense," said Jetfire with a chuckle and Solus nodded, a smile on her lips and then gestured to the portal.

"You can tell me the rest when we're where we need to be. With Unicron, it's best to move fast."

Chapter Text

Autobot City, Optimus Prime's office. During the attack on the Adrar Plateau.

He wasn't looking forward to this, but Astrotrain and the Coneheads were in the process of driving off the duplicates that had attacked a site outside Atar and he didn't have the time to dither. The attack itself had revealed that the spot held raw, crystal energon, which was interesting, but not necessarily why he needed to talk to Megatron. Time was short, and with the Decepticons probably claiming the energon bared closest to where the Nemesis was, it would probably mean Megatron would leave for the location soon.

He would, honestly, rather be outside, where there seemed to be at least one, usually more, of either the blue or purple duplicates attacking at any time, or presently on the way to Sunnyvale, as there was another concentrated attack there. The Protectobots would take off towards Hawaii when they reached Sunnyvale, and, if necessary, towards the other locations hit if the duplicates weren't leaving.

Raw energon signatures, which had been hard to search for, even less unearth during the now more than fourteen years they'd been here were suddenly popping up clear as day in six places. The question was, were the mechs looking for fuel, or the rarified energon underneath the seafloor outside of Hawaii?

Shaking his helm, Optimus opened up the call - while they didn't know where the Nemesis was, and Soundwave undoubtedly would continue to keep them in the dark even if Blaster tried to crack whatever scrambling Soundwave applied, that didn't mean the Nemesis was unreachable.

"Optimus Prime." Soundwave's inscrutable faceplates met him when the screen turned online, but he wasn't given the chance to say anything, as right after the slight twitch of Soundwave's helm, the screen went dark. That lasted for nearly a full klik, and only the fact that the line was still open kept him sitting in his seat.

When the screen flickered to life again, it showed Megatron's back instead, setting his fusion cannon against the side of the chair the screen was focused on.

"Prime. If you're under the delusion that you can beg us to leave the deposit outside Atar alone, I suggest you terminate this call before I have to. I have better things to do with my time." Despite that declaration, Megatron did sit down in the heavy chair, resting an elbow on the armrest and his chin in his hands.

There was a lazy focus in those rich red optics Optimus hadn't seen in forever, it seemed like. A few million years if one counted their being locked in stasis on Earth. The last time had been... sometime on Quintessa. Optimus wasn't sure if the return of that sharp, intent gaze was a good or a bad thing, but the familiar weight from it curled somewhere underneath his fuel processing system.

"... No, I wasn't." Well, he'd considered it, and maybe he'd still bring it up, but he certainly wouldn't lead with it. Not now. "I think we have other matters to discuss, if you have the time." Slightly sharp, re-worded repeat of Megatron's claim of having other things to do with his time, which caused a brief baring of teeth from the Decepticon warlord.

Not annoyance though, even if the edge of Megatron's patience lay close, a steep precipice as it always had been. The sense of deja vu, as some humans called it, deepened. When had this happened? It hadn't been before San Francisco and their awakening three years ago now. It couldn't have been during the year after that, either, and he doubted it was the fight in Alaska, though he hadn't, of course, seen the aftermath of Shockwave shooting Megatron.

But he'd faced a mech sharpened into obsessed dullness for millennia of vorns even before they left for Earth, and now...

Maybe it was somewhere after Shockwave's shot and his reappearance? He hadn't been brought to Cybertron, since Starscream had shot Megatron off Shockwave's ship and into space. Anything in the year between that fight and now could have restored Megatron to some former clarity, since no one knew where he'd been or how he'd been repaired.

Hopefully, probably it wasn't the Quintessons again. He doubted Megatron would willingly work with them again, though unwillingly... That would not help this situation, however, and taking Megatron's resurrection at face value, it might make what he was to suggest easier. He would probably not have to waste a lot of time having to deal with trying to convince Megatron they shouldn't kill all humans and take Earth, but on the other hand it might mean worse things for Earth - and the rest of the galaxy - in the longer run.

"For you, Prime? I always have the time." His own sharp tone played back to him, a shade more mocking... and sincere. Megatron leaned forward, resting his weight on his elbow, and Optimus had to resist the urge to shift in his seat and gave Megatron a narrow stare for a moment before he shook his helm.

There was nothing odd with that statement; they both had the tendency to give each other far more time than they probably should.

"I suppose that's true, whether we've wanted to have the time or not," said Optimus dryly and continued before there could be any sort of interjection to that. He didn't need to get locked in an exchange of pithy remarks like they usually might. "A cease-fire, Megatron, until what's coming has been dealt with. We're both being attacked, and we all stand to lose more than just the war if this isn't dealt with. Jointly."

"And who says we're as pressed as you are, Prime? Or we could always leave Earth to its fate, despite the resources available." Megatron cocked his helm, optics flaring. "In fact, doing the latter might win us some time to properly consolidate our defenses... make up for lost time you and your closed-minded campaign have wasted."

"We're picked up on several altercations in the sky above the Atlantic outside South America, some of which has been the duplicates, the other from those... clones. And us, Megatron? Who was it that started the war? And even so, leaving Earth to fall first wouldn't be right. We have a responsibility---"

"Oh, shut up. Let's not get bogged down in that." The sneer was sharp enough Optimus almost thought Megatron would cut the call, but he subsided back in his seat with a bright pulse to his optics and a small smirk hovering about the corners of his lips. "But yes, we might have a responsibility. But we can't claim that if we don't have a proper army and defense, now can we? That was part of the reason for why I started it all originally, after all... I hope you did listen to your mentor's little history lesson, Prime."

With a groan that reverberated from his engine, Optimus leaned over so he could rub a hand over his faceplates, and then rest his elbow on the armrest, unintentionally mimicking Megatron.

"A responsibility to stand as a guard against... against the Chaos Bringer does not give us the right to conquer other species, Megatron, and I doubt you found any justification for that wherever you went looking. Cybertron is not a mobile war fortress as you would fashion it, but a guard and guardian both!" The words slid out, half-remembered from when he'd woken up after Starscream had sent them both plummeting into the innards of Cybertron, but they made him uncomfortable.

He remembered the words, but there'd been no one to say them... No one (and nothing), except for...

"And what brought you to this insight, Prime?"

"... The Matrix."

"I suppose I should have expected that." It was surprisingly dry, and Megatron settled back in his seat, one set of fingers drumming against the armrest and creating a muted, background tapping. "It all leads back to that, doesn't it? Tell me, Prime, does the Matrix have a solution to our lacking forces... and was it the Matrix that told you you couldn't kill me back when I tried to take it from you?"

Optimus met Megatron's optics for more than a klik before he looked away. He wasn't sure now that all this would necessarily have had to happen, but they'd seen it so it had to, right? It's what he'd thought back then, anyway.

And yet, killing Megatron instead of sloppily wiping his memories of the visions back when he'd just gotten the Matrix after Megatron had killed Sentinel would have changed the course of the war dramatically. Though given Shockwave's rant a year ago... who knew if they still wouldn't have ended up where they were?

"If we work together, I doubt I'd need to ask the Matrix of such a thing." Stalling. He probably should, but he wasn't sure he wanted to. Because could he ask for something like that? Would the Matrix heed him in such a request, calling more of their species to combat, even if it was part of a possible purpose? Shaking his helm, he looked back at Megatron, who almost seemed amused again. "As for the other... It seemed necessary. You remember..?"

"Enough to know you tried to wipe my memories of having seen visions of the future. Sloppily done. A surgeon you're not, Prime. But my repairs, while they unscrambled a lot of things, could not, apparently, undo that. Would you like to enlighten me?"

"The fight on top of the dam. A battle that hasn't happened yet, but I'm uncertain now that it necessarily was a fight between Autobots and Decepticons." Glancing away, Optimus considered the scene again; sure, there'd only been Autobots in view, but compared to the fight at the dam, there'd been no view of enemies. They'd both, of course, still assumed back then that the enemies Hot Rod, Fortress Maximus and the forces with him were fighting would be Decepticons.

"Grimlock wanted me to kill you, and I probably should have, but the visions... if we'd seen them, they had to happen, didn't they?"

"So you took the action you thought most likely to protect the integrity of the events and remove me as a threat in regards to having seen what we did," said Megatron with a heavy snort. "I suppose I should thank you, since despite Quintessa - which, you know, wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been reckless---"

"I think we've had that discussion quite a few times, Megatron." Optimus huffed, chin raised. They had, in fact, had several thousand vorn to have that discussion, and had had it quite a few times during that period. It was odd. He wasn't sure what he'd expected to happen during this conversation, but he was pretty sure this wasn't it.

Megatron had been so laser-guided narrow in his goals after Quintessa, so this call had more or less been perfunctorily. A probably useless hope, even if Prowl's comments when he relayed his talk with Megatron for their negotiation over Starscream had been interesting.

"I suppose we have.” Megatron's smile was nearly bland and his gaze lingered. Optimus crossed his arms over his chestplates but didn't comment on the look. “Having that discussion again would indeed be a waste, so let's steer back to what you did call for. Let's say I'm considering it. Do you even have something interesting to offer, Prime, besides pathetic threats of 'necessity'?" Another cocked angle to the heavily armoured helm, and an arch stare that Optimus met with one of his own.

"Besides the fact that we wouldn't be shooting at each other as well as the actual enemy?" He took a long, slow vent in and held it until it nearly burned and let it out. They'd argued about this, and while it was logical and practical, at the same time, giving the Decepticons something like this back... "Can the Nemesis be made flight-worthy within a short timespan?"

Megatron stared and then actually chuckled.

"You're going to regret this, Optimus."

"I think I already am. Well?"

"Short enough. We'll have the Constructicons on their feet briefly, so if you would just supply the materials, the rest ought to be repaired in time."

Scrubbing his hands over his faceplates again and not caring that Megatron could see him - it didn't matter, the mech had nothing he could use against him he hadn't seen already - Optimus considered not going through with it. Necessity might force a cease-fire anyway, whether or not they'd agreed on it beforehand.

But necessity wouldn't give them one additional warship, and certainly not one of the Nemesis' capabilities.

The Nemesis potentially on the field of battle wasn't necessity, it was desperation. Prowl hadn't agreed they needed to be that desperate yet, and while Optimus would like to agree with him, the visions he'd had so far and the certainty after Alpha Trion's revelations made Optimus bend to the burning curl in his circuits.

He didn't like it, but he wasn't the same mech who had accepted the Matix millions of years ago. He could accept this as an unwanted necessity.

"Send us what you need and we'll give what we can. But if you attack Earth after, Megatron---"

"Spare me. None of your current ships have even half of the Ark's capabilities, and not even the Ark could stand up to the Nemesis offensively. But let's not talk the future, Prime. That always seem to go badly," said Megatron with a smirk Optimus almost gave one of his own to, shielded or not, because going by when Megatron punched him until the Matrix retaliated and what happened next, the future did seem to be a topic that led to less than ideal situations.

Megatron suddenly stood up, attaching the fusion cannon to his right arm, and Optimus remembered when there'd been three cannons, and when Megatron had been a tank.

"All right. You give us the materials, you'll have a cease-fire. Now, if you excuse me, Prime, I have an energon deposit to rid of pests." Megatron stretched his hand towards the screen, and Optimus' optics narrowed.

"You leave the humans alone, Megatron."

The hand paused.

"As long as they don't disturb us, I suppose we could afford you that."

The screen went black.

Chapter Text

Outside Atar, the Adrar Plateu, Mauretania. After the attack that unearthed the energon deposit.

When Starscream and his trine flew in over the bared crystal energon deposit, Astrotrain and the Coneheads had driven off the duplicates and were standing guard. Making a roaring circle around the human helicopters hovering above, it was obvious they weren't military-grade; journalists, apparently.

Humans were too curious for their own good.

Landing some distance away from the still-smoking crater, Starscream held back a shudder as he opened up his cockpit so Megatron could get out and transform - sure, the mech had Decepticon-grade antigravs, but they were most effective over ground and a reasonable distance from said ground. Which meant, to Starscream's displeasure, that when flying over water and wanting to get somewhere quickly, it wasn't practical that Megatron get there under his own power.

Sparing barely a glance as Megatron's two near-scrapheap leftover clones from the Aerospace Extermination Squadron landed right beside the transformed warlord, Starscream passed Astrotrain and walked up to the edge of the huge crater.

"What 'bout the 'copters, Megatron?" Astrotrain pointed up with his rifle at the hovering helicopters, and Megatron shook his helm.

"Ignore them. If any human military approaches, warning shots and chase them off. Don't waste ammunition and energy on them."

Bits of shattered energon shards littered the ground surrounding the crater, and even more spots were pock-marked with their own, smaller craters where the energon had exploded. The pit itself had as many blasted holes and shattered energon shards as it had large, pillar-like chunks of it. A few were even as tall as him, shimmering in bluish-purple and casting intricate sun-reflections on the ground from their facets.

"Hey, looks like you science-heads weren't completely wrong!" snickered Skywarp as he came up beside Starscream, Thundercracker following with a shake of his helm.

"Of course I wasn't! But it wouldn't have surprised me if the Autobots had been wrong and gotten their mission off to this mudball for nothing." In fact, Starscream was almost relieved the energy signatures they'd picked up from the Sol system actually did exist, beyond the now-revealed rarified energon pit.

That was, after all, the reason the Ark had left Cybertron for. They'd just taken advantage of so many high-ranking Autobots in one place when they followed. The scans had said there was an unusual amount of energon on at least one planet in the Sol system, but they'd spent fourteen years finding nothing alternated with what amounted to a single cube or two.

This?

This was a goldmine as the humans would term it, and this was only one bared deposit of six.

Who knew how much more there was, and now, knowing the exact frequency of the rarified energon and thus being able to filter it out, they'd be able to find it all. Which was what Starscream would've set about doing if things hadn't been going as they were.

"This won't be easy to mine, though. We hardly got the equipment for it, and my RAD alert is already sending out warnings." Thundercracker waved at the pit, going close enough the edge crumbled away under the tip of his stabiliser to look down into it, and then backed away.

"We'll rig Astrotrain to mine it from a distance, or something," said Starscream with a shrug and a wave of his hand, ignoring the triplechanger levelling a glare at his back. "As long as he only takes a bit at a time he ought to be fine... Or we use Megatron's pets. What about it, oh mighty leader?"

Sweeping around, Starscream pointed at Megatron's "guard" as he walked away from the crater, because Thundercracker was right; the radiation absorbed dose alert on his HUD was pinging upwards. Not enough to cause any harm yet by any means, even less stasis lock, but either way some distance might be prudent.

"They're too useful to risk them offlining where it would be difficult to retrieve them," said Megatron with a wave of his hand and Starscream snorted. More like mindlessly obedient than actually useful, even if their presence had meant a lessening need for any of them to do simple but mindless things like patrol.

"So we'll---"

"What the frag is that?!" Thrust's call from the other side of the crater where the Coneheads had stood guard towards the city that could be seen on the horizon had all present Decepticons turning to his call, and then looking up.

Starscream's first thought was 'meteorite', as the object carved a fiery path through the sky, but when it quite literally changed it's angle suddenly with at least ten degrees, he frowned and revised his assumption. Maybe it was that tiny little bot - Cosmos?

Or Jetfire, maybe, returned from wherever he'd went? The mech did have a tendency to do that overly dramatic and absolutely annoying crash "landing"...

Then two more blurrs joined the falling object, one in blue, the other purple, flying around it and each other in a dizzying spiral. They pulled up and away right before the object itself crashed into the ground with a thunderous echo that rolled over the desert plateau, setting off several smaller explosions as energon shards were disturbed.

As the mech - because it certainly was a mech - stood up, smoke billowing around him, Starscream pushed away the tiny flicker of incomprehensible disappointment that it wasn't Jetfire. It was sort of being swamped by a sense of wrongness, anyway.

Two of the duplicates, the originals probably, which had joined in the mech's descent came up beside him as the smoke cleared. He was tall, perhaps a shade taller than Megatron, the winter sunlight skittering off purple armour as if trying to avoid it and angling off the tines on his helm in an annoying fashion.

His faceplates were clean-cut, sharp... and unsettling. The best Starscream could settle on was the expression some of the subjects that hadn't been suitable for combining and had glitched out had ended up with.

The mech was not right.

He also looked absolutely ridiculous.

"The blasted pit is this now?" Starscream sneered and crossed his arms over his cockpit, eyeing the impressive but silly-looking (and coloured) cannon the mech carried on his right arm. In fact... Starscream glanced over at Megatron, and then back to the newcomer.

"A long-lost twin, Megatron?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Starscream," snapped Megatron, a growl underlying the words as he stepped forward, helm high, optics narrowed and burning beneath the rim of his helm. "Who are you." Not a question at all, and the two mechs stared at each other with similar but so very different intent looks.

Then the stranger's faceplates twisted into a slow smirk.

"I am the ultimate pinnacle for what you could be, a herald of the end, a servant of the all-consuming chaos, that which I will bring victory for! I, am Galvatron," So named, Galvatron paused for a brief moment, giving all present time to grimace out of incredulity... and a sense that something was off.

The mech spoke cybertronix clearly, but it almost seemed translated in a way, as if a shade from the left. The pause didn't last long enough for the response Megatron had to be spat out, as Galvatron looked up at the helicopters still hovering above and tilted his helm.

When he next spoke, his voice had an odd, static tingle and multi-frequency echo added to it, causing their comms to crackle and whisper with his words - clearly he was somehow transmitting and broadcasting.

"Natives. On your planet is a substance that doesn't belong here and belongs to your... occupying force; if you reveal its location, or, better yet, hand it over to me or my lieutenants, your planet shall be spared the wrath of the oncoming chaos. If not, you shall be crushed as these ones will be, for the glory of the Chaos Bringer!" Galvatron threw a hand out to encompass the Decepticons gathered in front of him, and Starscream backed up, pinging Thundercracker and Skywarp, who came up beside him.

To the left, the Coneheads were already hovering above the ground, Astrotrain was charging both flight systems and his rifle, and Megatron's fusion cannon was humming as it charged while the clones were stock-still.

"Cyclonus, Scourge." Galvatron's red gaze swept the impending battlefield as his two shadows came up beside him from where they'd hung back. "Destroy them. Leave nothing to the defense of the Light."

"Yes, Lord Galvatron!"

The two exploded up in the air at the same time as the Seekers did, but they weren't the only ones; one of the helicopters exploded in a shower of flame and shrapnel as other duplicates suddenly descended, forcing the Decepticons to split up.

Not that that would matter for their ability to launch an attack. They weren't Autobots.

::Ramjet, keep them busy. Don't let them organize. Dirge, use and focus your ability but if you don't keep control of it you will wish they got to you before I do! Astrotrain, cover-fire. And you two, with me. Don't use your warping unless you have to, Skywarp.:: snapped Starscream as they briefly scattered around Scourge and Cyclonus, who, Starscream could now pick out now that he had something to compare against, were slightly larger than their hordes of duplicates.

The duplicates, further, didn't really ping anything - they were neutral in a similar way the Aerospace Extermination Squadron clones were, whereas Scourge and Cyclonus... felt off. Not quite on the same scale as Galvatron did, but it scraped along circuits and settled ill against his EM field.

It was annoying, because it was building evidence towards something actually being wrong, besides that unformed sense of absolute knowledge Starscream was still feeling annoy---

::Starscream!:: Thundercracker's cry snapped through his thoughts and coalesced them back onto the battlefield in time for him to be rammed into by Skywarp in root-mode, both of them tumbling through a portal and barely missing the shot aimed at Starscream.

::How 'bout you actually get your processor on things that matter, Starscream? If you want to lead, lead, and stop philosophising!:: Skywarp snipped over their trine radio comm as they separated after getting out of the other end of the warp portal. They didn't need to spare even a thought as they separated and aimed downwards to rain laser fire down over Scourge and Cyclonus, who got forced away from Thundercracker with a tightly aimed sonic boom.

It still rattled their plating, enough to swallow Starscream's sneered huff as he ignored the dig.

Despite there being two of them and three of the Seekers, Cyclonus and Scourge proved surprisingly difficult to hit, time and again managing to fly close enough, turn sharply enough, even when there ought not have been time or space to do so, to lash out with a foot or an arm or take a shot - they transformed faster than Astrotrain now did as a triplechanger.

Swearing, Starscream veered again, cutting his engines and bending half over to avoid a punch that would no doubt had shattered his cockpit. They'd had to abandon altmodes, which meant a loss of an advantage, to the frustration of all three of them.

Kicking out and catching Cyclonus in the abdomen and following up with a few arm cannon shots that unfortunately only caught the edges of his wings, Starscream glanced over to where he could feel Thundercracker and Skywarp.

Thundercracker was literally wrestling with Scourge, repeatedly kicking out and attempting to not so much land a kick as jam a thruster against Scourge's plating to slam a sonic boom right against the mech's chassis, but Scourge kept avoiding it. Skywarp on the other hand was caught in a swarm of duplicates that were hardly dangerous the way he kept warping around, but they seemed extremely adept at keeping Skywarp separated from the other two in his trine.

Abruptly engaging his engines again, Starscream charged at Cyclonus and then swooped away at the last moment as his opponent veered away, both of them firing their various weapons - he had to spin away to avoid being hit, and caught sight of Megatron and Galvatron on the ground.

Megatron had his mace out, which whacked aside that horribly orange cannon and Galvatron's charging shot, which instead caused a rumbling explosion that rattled the ground as energon shards were hit.

Both stumbled, and Galvatron caught the energo-chain of the mace---

The crack when the butt of Cyclonus' blaster hit him on the side of his helm rattled him down to the protoform, and Starscream reflexively lashed out, foregoing a punch to better reach the optics to claw at them while he kicked out and they went spiralling away from each other.

Starscream almost hit Thundercracker but managed to just jostle him while he tried to rip one of Scourge's wings off while yanking at the hand the mech had around his throat. And still attempting but failing to get a thruster somewhere to crumble his opponent with a sonic boom.

It wasn't a sonic boom that rattled them all next, however, but that of a cannon going off again, missing Megatron by shades as one of the clones dove from the sky and added enough weight to make the energy of the mace give up its form, making Galvatron loose his grip and stumble backwards.

The shot from Galvatron's cannon tore through the clone instead of Megatron, turning the chassis into not much more than a partly molten scrapheap.

/----!!/

Megatron snarled as he got to his feet, forcing Galvatron to step aside as his fusion cannon seared through the space he'd just been in. The shot missed a large pillar of energon that stuck out just past the lip of the crater, splashed into the ground and another explosion rolled over the desert, tiny, explosive shards embedding themselves in both Galvatron and Megatron's frames and sending shrapnel of metal flying.

/.../

/Realigning sensor net. Error. Realigning sensor net. Base sensor net established. Downloading tactical upgrade./

The single clone left was clutching its helm, purple optics near white and yet it didn't make a sound, or even so much as move when Skywarp nearly slammed into the ground right beside it. He flickered out in a warp right before he hit the ground, leaving the four duplicates that had been chasing him to clatter to the ground in a heap.

The clone's optics suddenly flashed, and it jerked upright as if pulled on a string.

/Engage enhanced combat mode---/

Light flashed around the clone, coalescing around its chestplating, the shoulder vents and one arm. When the light solidified, there were missiles in the shoulder vents, machine guns sets in the formerly blank chest plating about the cockpit, and a huge, pronged weapon on its arm. It whirled around to the downed heap of duplicates with an intensity the Autobots had come to know and fear during what had, afterwards, become known as the Age of Internment.

Around a hundred meters to the right, Skywarp faded in again in the middle of a transwarp hum from his warp, eyeing the clone absolutely tearing through his discarded group of duplicates warily. Those things were freaky.

Skywarp shook his helm and checked himself over. Everything still attached. Things were an absolute mess and that didn't take into account that they were fighting right next to a bared energon deposit, which was like a ticking bomb in itself.

Now temporarily removed from the thick of it, Skywarp simply stared at the chaotic scene, and tried to figure out what he should do. Even Skywarp could tell that they'd basically ended up in what was an ambush; they had been surprised and were a lot less prepared to face their opponents than said opponents had been to face them. Reinforcements were undoubtedly coming, but there was a fair distance between the coast of north-western Africa and the Atlantic Ridge outside of Venezuela.

There were way too many things he should, or could do, and he initiated half a dozen warps before he shut the sequence down, leaving his circuits itching and his spark humming as Astrotrain got mobbed and then tore straight up, briefly disappearing from view in the blue of the sky before a bunch of duplicates came falling from the sky - but one of Atsrotrain's thrusters were smoking as he descended.

And he still didn't know what to do as Megatron cracked Galvatron's helm, but got a wrist-joint cracked, or when Thundercracker---

Optics widening, Skywarp twitched as Scourge managed to wedge a knee up between them and cracked Thundercracker's cockpit, even if the blue Seeker slammed a thruster against Scourge's leg - and the sonic boom, while it visibly cracked the armour, was partly neutralised by one of the duplicates ramming into Thundercracker.

::SKYWARP! Stop dithering you blasted two-bit drone and get up here!:: Starscream's shriek over the comm jerked Skywarp out of his indecisively frozen still frame and he powered up another warp when a flashing hum to his left had him whirling around, arms up and cannons charged. They were aimed at what turned out to be a boldly red and blue mech with a cybertronian jet altmode, though larger than your standard Seeker, and with a pale, nearly silvery-blue visor and a calm expression.

"Wha---"

"Peace. I wish to help," said the mech, holding his hands up, palms out, and even if Skywarp sneered... There was something in the mech's tone of voice, the cadence maybe, and the way he held himself that made Skywarp drop his arms. He didn't power the cannons down, though.

"This situation furthers nothing for us, and in fact actively harms us. You can return to the battle, or help end it... But know that if it's allowed to continue, whatever destiny should be the right of this world, and you, may not come to pass."

Destiny? What was this mech on?

"What do we look like, a bunch of newsparked recruits?" Skywarp snorted and waved a hand in the air, even if he, himself, just earlier had thought that things were going to pit - hiding a twitch, Skywarp looked over and up, searching for...

At least Starscream seemed to have joined back up with Thundercracker, but at this distance he couldn't see how bad it was, situation or injuries, if anything. When he turned back to the mech, he was waiting quietly, the glow from his visor soft.

"... Fine. What'd I gotta do?" Because even if he didn't trust the mech, he didn't feel off like the three crazies commanding the army of duplicates swarming the battlefield. In fact, he felt... almost... safe.

Which, if Skywarp had been somebody else, would probably had made him more wary. As it was, he just crossed his arms over his cockpit and stared as the mech picked a few items out of his sub-space.

"In here," said the mech, holding up a closed metal box, "is a vial of the substance they demanded from the Earth's population. After you've drunk this," another item, this time a small cube of probably energon, glowing nearly white, "take the vial out and start warping. They'll sense it and come after you. Don't stop until you're far beyond them; they'll loose the trail in among the other energy signatures on Earth."

Taking the two items, Skywarp turned the box over in his hands for a brief moment and then, after staring at the cube, downed it.

Energy shot through him like lightning, a pure rush of power he'd never felt - not even after getting to drink proper energon again after Shockwave took them back to Cybertron. Wings twitching and optics bright, Skywarp stared at the mech.

This was awesome! But that begged the question...

"How come you ain't doin' it? Y'warped here."

"I can't teleport as freely as you can. Go, please, before things deteriorate and my gifts may be needed to keep our chances of survival in the end as good as possible." The mech shook his helm and waved a hand at him, shooing him away. Skywarp huffed, snapped the lid of the box open and grabbed the vial with its violently pink and viscous fluid within. If it was energon, it was really strange-looking energon.

It was warm in his hand and even through the vial sent a tingling sort of feeling that seemed to echo with his spark pulse.

And he could suddenly feel the burning attention of something utterly, completely wrong on him.

Briefly, the image of something shadowed, huge and with glowing gold details flashed through his mind, like a negative of Cybertron, if Cybertron had even been surrounded by a metal ring.

He had to shake his helm to get the image to fade.

::Starscream, gotta go! TC, y'better be in one piece when I come back to the Nemesis!::

::Skywarp---::

He hoped he would be in one piece when he got back, anyway, and then the world dissolved into a million possible maybes. One of them, his destination, glittering brightly and tugging at him while his circuits and spark sung with the energies called up.

--------------
Moffett Federal Airport, Sunnyvale, California. Meanwhile.

They were bein' fragging swamped!

Cliffjumper threw himself to the ground and swallowed the swear that wanted to come out. It wasn't that the duplicates were necessarily hard to kill, but they just kept coming. They also seemed to aim for Sunnyvale just to have the Autobots scrambling to keep them contained near the airfield and yet away from the bared energon deposit.

Getting up to his feet again, Cliffjumper almost missed being able to aim the Orion's huge cannon; that'd take a whole heap of these yahoos out.

Optimus had arrived around two breems ago along with Brawn, Bumblebee and that new, pink mech. Cliffjumper wasn't sure what to think of her, except for the fact that she just made him want to hold his gun tighter... he didn't trust her. And she was an absolute terror on the battlefield, swinging that energy lance of hers with a speed and skill that was nearly dizzying to look at.

Grumbling under his breath, Cliffjumper tore his optics away from the pink blur and looked for Bumblebee instead, while he shot one of the duplicates in the helm, breaking off one of the two protrusions that stuck up. Bumblebee was standing by a group of humans near a blasted-out shell of a truck - the vehicle had been hit by a stray energon shard when the duplicates bared the energon deposit and now worked as passable protection.

He'd look after a third person if it was at all feasible, the slagger, but as he probably wouldn't be able to see him, Cliffjumper just muttered another swear, hunkered down behind the corpse he'd been using as a make-shift shield---

And looked up, frowning, as the sound of approaching jet engines grew loud. The protectobots, maybe?

But no, human cargo planes. Military. Scowling, Cliffjumper hoped there wouldn't be another blasted bomb dropped on them and tensed as the two planes' bay doors were opened. Something was dropped out, all right, but the shapes were too large to be bombs or missiles, and Cliffjumper ended up staring at what looked a lot like---

"Look out!" Mirage materialised beside him and yanked him back, and as the figure landed almost right where Cliffjumper had been standing, they both lost their footing and tumbled to the ground.

That...

"What the flying frag is that?!" yelled Cliffjumper as he struggled to untangle himself from Mirage while avoiding them getting hit by the laser fire flying around. "Hey---!" He yanked on his arm as Mirage grabbed it and pulled at him, but realised the mech had pulled him out of the way of having the barrel of a rifle pointed at his helm.

"Point that thing at the real enemies, if you would." Mirage sounded positively Arctic, and this close it was obvious the white and blue almost-cybertronian shapes were... some sort of suits. There was a human seated in the torso of the one which had pointed its rifle at him, and Cliffjumper grimaced, the wheels in his back twitching as the soldier finally turned around and fired at one of the duplicates.

"That took way longer than it should have," hissed Cliffjumper and got a squeeze to his arm in response, before Mirage melted away again.

Fragging... blasted... creepy scrapmetal. Okay, so they weren't actually cybertronian, but it was clear the US military must've used cybertronians as templates, and they'd sure had enough of them around to poke around in.

Grimacing, Cliffjumper reloaded and took stock of the situation again; there were seven of those... suits on the battlefield, kinda slow but certainly powerful enough as one of them gave a duplicate a good punch and sent it flying.

It was... helping. But there seemed to be a stubborn presence of duplicates, refusing to drop their numbers, and Cliffjumper didn't trust the humans in the suits further than he could throw them, which might actually not be that far as they were nearly two thirds of his height and he had no idea how heavy they were.

So.

Not a lot of trust.

"Gah!" Ducking and whirling around, Cliffjumper burned off a shot on reflex, catching the duplicate that had attempted to grab him in the faceplates and dropping it instantly. Too close. He was getting sloppy, but they'd been out here for... what? Around half a joor by now.

::Cliffjumper?::

::I'm fine.::

Ugh.

They needed to get rid of these things, but how?

In the sky above the airfield, the air rippled and then turned into a purple-shaded vortex, the core of it flickering and then expanding outwards to allow two shapes through, and Cliffjumper almost groaned as the more slender one let go of the first and dropped towards the ground. The other one stayed in the air, backlit and making it impossible to see who it was beyond a flier.

The one that dropped down was a cybertronian as well, but that didn't necessarily mean anything, and as the mech pulled on something at its back and a positively giant hammer unfolded, Cliffjumper braced himself and gritted his teeth.

Frag it all, they didn't need more of this---

She met the ground with a trembling rumble, the hammer meeting the cracked and blasted tarmac a moment later. The shockwave of energy exploded outwards like a small supernova, rippling the air and ground both, felling the human-made suits of the EDC's project Centurion and the duplicates both.

All cybertronians, however, remained standing, and a few seconds later the humans could struggle to their feet.

The duplicates remained on the ground.

"Pit-spawn," muttered Solus Prime and put her hammer back as Jetfire landed beside her.

--------------
The Nemesis.

Skywarp materialised in the corridor leading to the officer's quarters, and despite the boost that pretty amazing energon had given him, he was feeling sort of... wrung out. Considering he'd been warping all over the blasted planet, he felt pretty justified in feeling worn. What he wanted to do was find Thundercracker and then crash in a berth, but he'd be good and go give Starscream this vial first...

Humming tunelessely as he wandered the corridors in search of said second in command, Skywarp heard him before he saw him.

And what he heard made him stop in his tracks.

"... 'don't die'? You're the one who's haunting me and teleporting around when you're supposed to be doing supposedly important things! Not on Earth! Blast it all, Jetfire..."

Staring at the wall and then peering around the corner at Starscream's back, Skywarp backed up a few steps.

"... I swear he gets glitchier by the day. He can have this later." With bright glance at the floor and a snort, Skywarp warped away again.

He wanted a berth before things got even crazier.

Chapter Text

Moffett Federal Airport, Sunnyvale.

The dust and shrapnel sent flying from the hammer impacting on the ground slowly settled around the now-still battlefield, with excess charge from the shockwave skittering off every piece of available metal as Solus Prime straightened up. Someone kicked one of the downed duplicates, causing a loud clang to ring through the air.

The deactivated frame rolled over, loose-limbed and quite offline.

"... Solus Prime?" Despite having been a quiet murmur, the question sent a ripple through the collected Autobots as Optimus slowly came up to the statuesque mech, who dipped her helm in confirmation.

"It seems I was made aware of the situation just in time, too." She reached a hand out, fingertips brushing the side of Optimus' helm. "And you're one of Alpha Trion's."

"... Er, yes." He shifted his shoulders and glanced to Jetfire, who met his optics with a tilt of his helm. No help there, but why would Jetfire be able to pick up on Optimus' awkwardness about claiming 'Prime' in front of what was supposed to be one of the first of them? "Optimus." He settled on at last and offered his hand, which she took with a quirk to her lips.

"Prime. I can feel the Matrix from here. It seems like it's found a good spot."

Helm dipping automatically, Optimus then looked up at back at Jetfire again. Easier to deal with that than the explicit endorsement he'd just received, even if it was... gratifying. Affirming, even if he wasn't sure he wholly deserved it; it still lightened something within.

"Thank you, Jetfire. It seems you weren't sent off on another mission with an unfortunate end."

"For which I'm relieved, yes," said Jetfire with a twist to his lips that was - unseen - echoed by Optimus. He shook his helm and was about to reply when Prowl cut in over the open radio.

::Optimus, we just got a demand for a conference call with the UN General Assembly in a cycle.::

Murmurs broke out among the Autobots, who'd all shifted to make sure the six human-piloted... suits... were outside of the circle. Optimus raised an upper optic ridge and shook his helm.

::But not the Security Council.::

::Yet, anyway,:: was Prowl's dry response, finishing off Optimus' sentence. ::What do you want to do?::

::Patch the call to the former Decepticon base, contact Soundwave to let Megatron have a chance to show up if he wants to, and I want you and Jazz with me.:: Optimus' pause wasn't long enough to let anything but static-laced sputtering from Prowl through. ::And pack up all the things on Soundwave's list for the repairs of the Nemesis if you have it yet and have it brought with us.::

::Prime! Are you sure we should go through with that, never mind having Megatron potentially attend the conference call?:: Prowl had managed to collect himself, but there was a thready note of static underneath the severe tone.

::Gotta agree with Prowl, Prime. Do we actually wanna do that?::

Optimus let out his next vent slowly and shook his helm, rubbing his mask.

::Which? Either? Both? No, we don't, but I think we have to. If we're going to be serious about a cease-fire, it would only be polite to offer him to be present, and this Megatron... Well, I believe he'll have enough control not to start railing at the humans. As for the Nemesis?:: Another pause and Optimus glanced to Jazz, who was walking towards him while they spoke, and then Solus. ::We need every bit of firepower we can get, even if this might be shooting ourselves in the feet.::

::From what I've picked up, you do.:: Solus' optics was narrowed, and her mouth was tight and twisted. ::This is worse than I thought. I want that warship in the air. I'll deal with it myself after if I have to.::

If there was any 'after', was left off the sentence but it hung heavily in the air.

Jazz had a tight angle to his mouth that suggested he'd like to argue, and Prowl probably had a similar expression, but neither did. Solus shook her helm and turned back to face Optimus.

"Talking of armaments, however, you need something more," said Solus as she looked Optimus over and then stepped close, reaching for his right arm and running her hand down it. "You have an energo-axe here. Would something similar be of use?" She was smirking slightly even as her tone was thoughtful, and Optimus couldn't quite keep the surprised flicker of his optics at bay, or the pleased curl along his circuits.

"... It certainly would. I'm not sure what you need, but we'll give you whatever we have if you follow the others back to Autobot City."

Solus nodded, her optics glowing brightly for a moment and a pleased smile flittered over her faceplates. Then she reached out to touch Jetfire's arm and left, following the slow, hesitant shuffle of the rest of the troops to where the Orion had been parked, Jetfire trailing behind, looking somewhat bemused.

It was clear everyone was hesitant to move due to the suits standing around, but when they slowly started to move away and one of the planes above started a landing sequence instead of a holding one as it'd been during the battle, the gathered Autobots stopped dragging their feet.

Optimus rubbed his mask again and looked to Jazz.

"Ready?"

"For the humans, or watchin' Megatron with the humans?" Jazz smirked and shook his helm.

"Both works. The Orion will drop us off. What about the Protectobots?"

"Chasin' duplicates, though none of 'em seems as persistent as these were... probably because there were more of us gathered here," said Jazz with a shrug and a shake of his helm, falling in step beside Optimus as they also started off towards the Orion.

::Jazz.::

Training and Jazz being Jazz stopped him from twitching at the unexpected comm. ping. He did, however, smile.

::Lady Faireborne!::

::Funny man.:: While Marissa snorted, there was still a chortle in her voice. ::That's Commander Faireborne to you, but listen. I couldn't stop Colonel Witwicky as you can see... but I've done what I can in regards to the pilots of the exosuits, but these six are only a trial run.::

::So keep our optics and audials open for another frontline, got it. I'd say to stay safe, Jane, but well. With the way things are goin', nowhere on Earth would be safe.::

::Concern's noted, Jazz, and anyway... seems like I ought to wish you to stay safe. And to stop with the nicknames.:: Mock-severity in the last snappy words, and Jazz laughed as he stepped onto the Orion, the shuttle already humming and ready for takeoff.

::Aye-aye, ma'am!::

--------------
Former Decepticon base, Painted Desert, Arizona. A cycle and half a breem later.

Despite the arguments and disagreements, in the end Megatron had been made aware of the imminent call and he, Starscream and Soundwave had appeared at their former base in time for it.

Prowl did stare narrowly when Megatron shouldered up beside Optimus, but he said nothing even if he had to yank his field in tight and lock his servos and pistons to not put himself on Optimus' other side. He did, however, take a step sideways in accidental conjunction with Starscream so that they didn't stand quite as close to each other. Unseen behind them, Jazz smirked.

The protests against the presence of the Decepticon high command hadn't, unfortunately, been pessimistic; when the video call was established and the General Assembly got a view of who stood right next to the leader of the Autobots, it took a few minutes for enough calm and order to be established for the General-Secretary to so much as open her mouth and hope to be heard over the former racket.

"Optimus Prime. What's the meaning of this?" General-Secretary Farai Muzorewa frowned, but despite her obvious (and understandable) displeasure, she glanced over at the silver and black behemoth besides the Prime and inclined her head.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, Megatron did the same, even if the sneer on his faceplates was obvious.

"The situation requires it, General-Secretary. I think you might be inclined to agree when you know all the facts," murmured Optimus as he considered the woman; tall and narrow, her naturally tightly curled hair cut closely to her head, she was certainly imposing but not necessarily forbidding.

Humans changed leaders so quickly, though admittedly they were a short-lived species so it wasn't unexpected. The last time he'd dealt with the UN and their General-Secretary was the planning leading up to operation Liberation... It had been the man named Kofi Annan standing at the front then.

"Requires it? Prime, I hope you realise this isn't an accusation, but it was only a few short years ago you were collaborating with us to defeat the Decepticons, and now their leader stands beside you." the General-Secretary shook her head. "In addition, we've just been issued an ultimatum that once again leads back to you and yours, plus attacks all over the planet. People have died. A lot of people, in the last few weeks. Earth is getting... tired of being caught in the cross-hairs, Prime."

Resisting the static sigh that wanted to escape, Optimus tilted his helm briefly before he straightened again, clasping his hands behind his back.

"And if it turns out to be necessary, Earth's governments would have our assistance for a joint operation again. For the moment, however, joining forces with the Decepticons is a matter of expediency. The substance the newcomers demand do exist on the planet, but neither of our factions had a hand in placing it there." The glow from Optimus' optics flared a little and the muttered unrest on the other side of the conference call died down as his gaze swept from the General-Secretary to the assembled delegates, knowing the video would be transferring his stare to them whether he could see them all or not.

Beside him, Megatron snorted but amazingly enough kept his vocaliser muted, even as he crossed his arms over his chestplates, making the fusion cannon even more obvious. Starscream, on the other hand, sneered and muttered - in cybertronix, but still - that this was what collaborating with the enemy would get them, future threats of attack. Megatron's glance back at the Seeker in was arch, and Starscream smirked unrepentantly.

"No matter if we would reveal the location of the substance to you so you could acquiesce to their demands or if we remove the substance off Earth, it wouldn't do more than temporarily save the planet, General-Secretary."

The assembly behind the General-Secretary erupted into a storm of noise, with a few delegates managing to shout louder than the rest to broadcast the most-called accusation which all cybertronians present understood even before translation into English - they weren't limited to just one of Earth's languages, after all.

"SILENCE. Is that a threat, Prime?" General-Secretary Muzorewa's frown was as impressive as her stature as she stared up into blue optics that might glow with patience but were also as hard as her own dark eyes.

"No, General-Secretary. It's a statement of fact. The army that seems to be amassing and has so far been harassing your countries and us, all of us, and what we've identified as their three leaders, are minions of an enemy we've just been made aware of. An enemy to you as much as it's an enemy to us, which Galvatron did refer to in his... message, to you."

Her eyebrows sliding up high on her forehead, the General-Secretary was the second person in this conversation who managed to not say exactly what she was thinking, but did snort slightly.

"Perhaps you'd like to elaborate. The rest sounded like so much blather. The so-called Chaos Bringer?" There was an incredulous little huff when she used that appellation, and the cybertronians all wished (though they'd be outraged to know they all shared the same thought) that they could be as instinctively incredulous as the humans could afford to be. "And they did say Earth would be spared if we complied. So far, working with you or against you hasn't spared us any."

Her little comment also hadn't separated the Decepticons from the Autobots, but then, a lot of humans didn't care about singling out who might be trying to defend them when damage was being done anyway.

"Because the one they obey consume planets, General-Secretary. It's a..." Optimus paused, uncertain of how to phrase it so that it would make sense - no matter that the assembled delegates clearly didn't believe his words. "A sentient force embodied in a metal planetoid the size of... er, Cybertron, who, after being done with our home would come for yours if it isn't stopped." He'd briefly glanced at Alpha Trion, who'd immediately understood what he was asking and sent on the reply via radio comm. Optimus had almost hoped he wouldn't get a response, despite that Alpha Trion had revealed all they currently knew himself. Just one more step closer to reality.

The room around Optimus vibrated with incredulity, because while they all knew the designation 'Unicron', or 'the Chaos Bringer'... and 'Planet Eater', that didn't mean they had an idea of scale. Optimus, however, remembered his dreams from his stay in the CR chamber after his confrontation with Shockwave, and from the trip to Earth. Alpha Trion had further confirmed it.

None of the agitation, sneering or otherwise, flickering around the room was visible on any mech's faceplates, however.

"... And if we believe this, how large is Cybertron... your planet?" the General-Secretary wasn't quite able to keep her incredulity off her face or tone, but Optimus pretended not to notice.

"Of a similar size to the planet you call Saturn. My suggestion would be to assemble what defenses you can, General-Secretary; we will do what we can and certainly fight to win, but whether we fail or not, the armies might still linger on Earth."

As the noise in the hall rose, Megatron took half a step forward, one hand on Optimus' arm to push him aside. It lingered for slightly longer than necessary, and Optimus... didn't shake it off.

"You might ask the United States to share their defense, which might be uniquely suited to fighting large mechanoids." He smirked, and then glanced to Soundwave, who remotely cut the call. Optimus gave Megatron a dry, disapproving stare, but at least that might keep the delegates of Earth's governments discussing project Centurion and not whether or not to attack them instead of being reasonable.

Even if he also understood their hostility and frustration.

Megatron just gave him an arched glance and stepped away, letting his hand drop and immediately being flanked by Soundwave and Starscream.

"And what will you be doing now, Optimus?" there was an emphasis on his designation and a flicking glance from his feet up to his optics that had Optimus just staring flatly for a moment, but unable to deny the familiarity of it, until Megatron smirked tightly at him. He sighed then and shook his helm.

"I'll do what I probably should have done earlier, as Prime. Consult that which might have some advice, in the hope that we can get the army we need, as we discussed. And what supplies we did have for the repairs of the Nemesis can be found at the entrance, Megatron." Reluctantly, he brushed his chestplates and the armour-glass of his windshield before he left, leaving Jazz and Prowl to scramble after him while Alpha Trion followed more sedately, helm tilting at the familiar, if hesitant, ping.

--------------
Autobot City, Optimus Prime's quarters, a cycle later.

Despite having said he'd do it, Optimus was still deliberating.

Procrastinating.

He'd even told Alpha Trion that he didn't need to come right now, despite... well. Despite earlier worries, despite that he probably (definitely) should do this.

It wasn't only that he wondered over his own... suitability, in general and in regards to touching the Matrix more actively than simply calling forth new sparks. It wasn't just the worry that he'd be denied. It was also that Optimus had never considered himself a believer.

The existence of something like Unicron didn't necessarily mean the existence of a creator, even if it was mind-bending to consider something that consumed not only simple physical matter like planets, but the very reality itself.

Whatever power was within the Matrix and wherever it came from, didn't necessitate something as widely impacting as a deity, and believing or not, had he been Prime on a Cybertron without war, he could've performed those particular duties without having an active belief in the being they were aimed at. Though some small part of him might admit that it would be fitting that there was a counterpoint to something like Unicron.

And what was the Matrix of Leadership, otherwise known as the Creation Matrix in certain situations, other than a fount of energy definitely creating sparks of life? So to speak. Certainly a counterpoint, a bright light against the darkness he'd seen in the visions.

Leaning his hands on the windowsill, Optimus frowned down at the rock garden in the closed court his rooms faced. Such a very human - but there were similar concepts in cybertronian gardening, obviously - thing within this very cybertronian settlement... There was more than simple, dead metal on and within Cybertron, of course.

He knew that, because if nothing else he'd not quite been as snarky as the mirror vision he'd spoken to under Cybertron's surface when he'd went there to face Megatron, way back then.

Could it be connected to the Matrix?

Of course.

Could it be something specific as a creator deity, whose forces centered around light and creation?

Definitely.

There was no proof of that, however, and there were simpler explanations of what he'd seen so far, but most importantly... Turning away from the window and leaning back against it, Optimus shifted his shoulders, pistons and cables tensing and relaxing as he leaned his helm against the glass. Optimus considered what he knew so far, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know anymore.

That he was the right one to know. To reach out, necessary or not and doom more in the coming fight---

The door swooshed quietly open to admit Alpha Trion, and Optimus, when he met his old mentor's pale blue optics, felt suddenly like he was mere kliks old. He wasn't ready for this. He'd arguably been more ready to accept the Matrix, firm in his scepticism and criticism.

This... this was something else entirely.

"If the war would end tomorrow, I don't know if I'd be the right Prime for a post-war Cybertron." Optimus couldn't even look Alpha Trion in the faceplates as he said it, dipping his helm down to look at his stabilisers instead, arm folded over his chestplates.

The comment might seem a bit out of left field but really had everything to do with what he was about to do. Before the war, the duties of a Prime wasn't just to be a general for the Autobots, or bringing forth sparks when it had been necessary. The position held many more responsibilities beside those; political leader and then most of them actually religious... empty of meaning or not.

His mentor stood quietly just inside the door for more than a klik, and then slowly walked to sit down at the seating area by the window, to Optimus' left. When the old mech had sat down, Optimus could feel the weight of his silent gaze on him for another micro-breem.

"When you brought Metroplex online, or any of the others you've sparked through the war... why?"

The quiet words wormed right down into his doubts.

"... Necessity. They shouldn't have had to, regardless of if I was personally responsible or if it was the artificial sparking method used, but if we would let the Decepticons get the upper hand..." Trailing off, Optimus followed the pattern of straight angles and corners where the metal plates in the floor fit together, optics dim. "So it had to be done, despite the fact that they shouldn't have to be brought online in a war, or fight. None of us do, but those even less and it's not right---"

Choices.

Even when the Council of Ancients had said the Source had chosen him as the next Matrix-bearer, he'd had a choice. He could have declined to participate in the ceremonies that'd lead up to the ceremony where he accepted the Matrix itself. He could have walked away after his dip into the pool in the Stellar Galleries.

He could have, and every single one of them alive when the war started had been allowed to make their choices, and these sparks hadn't been given that choice, either on Autobot or Decepticon sides.

Who was he to make choices for the sparks of Cybertron after the war, or touch that which was within the Matrix - if anything - and ask for assistance, when he'd already made choices that weren't his to make?

They... he fought because he had to, because he was a soldier now, but could he be something else after so long?

"You regret them. And that, Optimus, is why." Alpha Trion didn't move, but he didn't have to as Optimus finally looked up from the floor, the glow from his optics flickering as he turned to stare at the old mech. "You regret them, and value those sparks for what they are. Further... you've adapted. Changed. Other mechs would have broken long since, Optimus; you are still not only here, but have more left to give." There was a shadow of a smile on Alpha Trion's lips, and Optimus huffed, inexplicably annoyed.

"And you figure that how? Someone more suited would undoubtedly have already done what needs to be done." It was, however, pleasant to know both Solus and his mentor approved and had faith in him.

"Unquestioning obedience to necessity without thought, consideration or even, sometimes, regret, usually leaves one unable to act when things change enough that what's 'necessary' isn't obvious anymore." Pausing, Alpha Trion's optics darkened. "Or would leave you taking actions that, while necessary, are far beyond what's ethical. You might question, but you know what needs to be done... to give all of you the best chance you have, not just out of necessity but because it's their right."

Alpha Trion paused then, helm tilting.

"And the numbers say you can't decline to take this avenue even with a low chance of favourable result." That shadow-smile turned real and deep and the glitter to those pale optics was decidedly teasing, and it was ages ago that he'd seen Alpha Trion look like that.

"... True," said Optimus with a deep frown, arms tightening across his chestplates before he ruefully chuckled. "I did. I even ran the calculations several times. What do I do? The last time... well, I was underneath the surface and didn't really have to do anything," murmured Optimus, rubbing the back of his helm and the base of his adudials, despite the crackling static that produced.

It wasn't that easy, of course, but Alpha Trion's presence, support and quiet words meant more than lingering doubt.

"Sit." The old mech gestured to a spot right in front of Optimus and then towards the back of the room where the door into the berthroom was. "Either here or on your berth. Turn off your physical stimuli sensory nodes, and reach inside. Spark pulse first, then further."

Choosing the floor, Optimus turned off his optics first and then, hesitantly, the rest of his sensory net, one input after the other. Left was a humming silence consisting of the workings of his own frame more felt than heard, and a glittering pressure that sometimes heightened the sound of his spark pulse enough he had issues paying attention to anything else when trying to recharge.

He pushed past the steady, crackling flow of self that his spark was and turned to what he'd never touched outside of sparking new frames, and then he'd never done it like this. Not in the stimuli-empty silence of a sensory net turned off, and past the awareness of his spark pulse.

How he even could contain the well of light that seemed like an ocean next to self/spark was... incomprehensible. How said bright infinity of power didn't consume his spark, was just as impossible to understand.

Optimus paused right there, awareness hanging in the space between sparkchamber and Matrix, hesitating---

Darkness, whispering words heard but not understood in recharge dreams and while the Steelhaven had been in transwarp, flickered at the edge of his awareness and Optimus passed the gap, no longer deliberating.

--------------
???

Light.

Light, acceptance and an unending sense of possibility.

Everything was bright, and the potential endless - but he had something to do, didn't he? He didn't feel like moving, or thinking, however. He didn't need to be anything here. He could just remain here---

No.

He had a fight to see through.

Clarity returned, and Optimus stared at the golden brightness around him and admittedly wondered if he'd managed to drive himself insane by touching the fount of life he carried in his torso, in front of his spark chamber. Because there was absolutely nothing (and an infinite, indistinct something) here...

He reached out, and the golden energy curled about his fingers like a clutch of lilleth.

Something moved in front of him, and when he jerked his helm up, Optimus found himself staring at... not himself. He didn't actually recognise the indistinct, pale shade in front of him, a mech in gold and white with details in magenta. He wielded a sword, the guard of it curiously familiar and his optics bright white, like a protoform's. The image didn't linger however and melted over into another form, this time with what might have been wings falling like a cloak behind him, in white, maroon, gold and details in turquoise.

That image also didn't hold for more than a few seconds and the next was a powerfully built, but yet slender mech in silver, blue and black--- Solus Prime, Optimus realised with a start. The next one was in blue and white and sporting a facial decoration much like Alpha Trion... then a mech in orange and brown, with a large, nearly wing-like spoiler on his back.

The next few forms blurred together, indistinct. Optimus got the distinct feeling they hadn't been touched by the Matrix, not upgraded as he had been carriers, but not bearers. Not Primes. Then Sentinel Prime, resplendent in gold and orange, fiercely armoured and armed but with a patient, gentle smile on his faceplates that even the indistinct image couldn't eradicate and it was obvious who and what all these mechs were---

Then he was looking at himself, optics wide and bright.

"... I'm not sure if this is supposed to tell me anything, but it does make me wonder if I did manage to drive myself insane," said Optimus dryly with a shake of his helm and a glance around, but the glowing gold surroundings didn't change.

Perhaps you did. What if it was necessary?

Helm jerking back, Optimus stared at his image, which now was... more solid. It still seemed to bleed back into the light at the edges, like static creeping along the form's outline, but anything within seemed as solid as himself.

"... I would hope not." He didn't need to vent in here. In fact, he was pretty sure he couldn't, but a long, slow whoosh that stirred the light in front of him still escaped. He stared, and the form of himself stared back, optics slightly wider than he usually kept them, the glow soft.

Patient.

"You don't need that, do you." It was a statement, not a question, as he waved a hand at the mirror image, which shook its helm slowly.

I do not. But besides making you wonder for your sanity, it seemed the most fitting form as you've faced this situation before.

Was that a joke?

Optimus frowned, peering at his mirror image, but even the tilt of the helm didn't reveal if his wires were being yanked or not. Huffing, he shook his helm, shifted on his feet even as he wasn't standing on anything and crossed his arms.

"I didn't know we had time enough to sling slag at each other."

The comment was met with a familiar tilt of the mirror image's helm, one which Optimus was already doing himself, echoing the smile hidden behind his mask. He still wasn't ready for this, but he felt nothing but a sense of purpose, and if he was getting bolstered, Optimus... couldn't say he disapproved.

"What do we need to do? What can you do?" Immediately, he looked away and then back, because a question like that, to... to their creator seemed... Presumptous, at best. If this was Primus, which there was no proof for (beyond the fact that it knew about what had happened underneath Cybertron's surface, but that it could know from Optimus being here, since his memories would undoubtedly be available), but at least there actually was proof of an enduring sentience within the Matrix mainframe.

The Source, if you willed it so.

You already know what you need to do. Regret was palpable, but at the same time hope whispered around the edges, as well as reassurance. And I... can do both more and less than what you might think. The mirror image paused, helm tilting as it reached out, holding an arm out, palm up. The Matrix is but a sliver, if a potent one. Cybertron is a bigger one, but too far away. I can give you as much of an army as you can muster through the core of power you hold and that we will be given time to summon, however.

Staring at the hand, Optimus touched his chestplates reflexively before he nodded.

Slowly, he reached out and the second he grasped his mirror image's hand and their fingers intertwined, it turned incandescent, like touching the Matrix and yet... more. It filled him and he couldn't contain it.

Children. To me.

Distantly, he felt bright.

--------------
Cybertron and Earth

Within a computer control room underneath the planet's surface in what had been Tyrest, Brainstorm, Chromedome and Perceptor were each buried in a computer, tweaking, rewiring, reconnecting and fingers flying over buttons. It had been mere chance that Chromedome had found something pointing towards Tyrest while they worked the computers back in New Iacon, and so they'd gone here.

Well, "here" being more Tyrest in general, but Perceptor had picked up an insistent signal and then they'd ended up here. They needed to stop Cybertron's sudden attempt to turn rouge - well, rouge in a particular direction, as it seemed it was heading towards Earth.

"Hah! Finally! That should do it," cried Chromedome, spontaneously throwing an arm up in the air, while Perceptor and Brainstorm nearly collided to look at the computer screen that had been plotting Cybertron's speed and course continuously since they entered the room and the power flickered on, booting up all the computers.

"Ah, it seems you're correct, Chromed---"

A high, fizzling sound accompanied by three bright flares, and the room was empty.

*

"Here." Unceremoniously, Gutcruncher shoved another maybe-salvageable piece of armour from someone deactivated who-knew-when into Half-Track's hands, not caring that the piece of half-lower arm was as large as the micromaster himself. But then, Half-Track was strong enough to be able to stagger around and dump it in their prime find; someone offlined mostly-transformed and then ripped in half, removing the hood of the hovercar.

Autobot, of course.

Gutcruncher was determined to get his worth out of what he could find, before the Autoslaggers and whatever feeble-minded Decepticons that had taken Shockwave's "united Cybertron" seriously enough they didn't mind it now that the Autobots had taken over, swept across the planet and cleaned up before they rebuilt.

Half-Track suddenly started up again, talking nearly as fast as Blurr without the benefit of the speed that mech had available to him, and Gutcruncher grunted and turned around, of half a mind to kick the annoying micromech---

The noise cut off amid a buzzing tone and two flares of light, and the cold, long-offlined frame filled with scavenged spare parts was left empty in the wastes of Uraya.

*

"Lookdon'tworry, we'llgetherback, butwegottawait---"

"Thanks, Blurr. I know." Hot Rod scowled down into his energon, and couldn't even muster the energy to be sorry for his tone, which had made Blurr flinch and stutter. Beside him, repeatedly tossing a ball to Gnaw out on the floor of the cantina, Wheelie sat, glancing up uncertainly at Hot Rod.

He ignored him and stared harder into his energon.

He just didn't get it. Why were they just sitting around and not trying to find Arcee!? And, well, the Quintesson home planet as well, since it seemed like they'd end up being trouble at some point.

No, instead the sciencebots were trying to stop Cybertron's change in orbit and sudden course towards Earth, and Ultra Magnus was more focused on building up their defenses planet-side and on the moons and, okay, maybe he also had a group trying to figure out where the Quintessons had come from and thus where they might find Arcee, but that just wasn't enough---

"HotRodI'msorryforannoyingyou, butyoudoundersta---"

"I'm not in the mood, Blurr!" Hot Rod's sudden shout cut off, and the high-toned static was nearly audio-destroying from the multiple bursts of light around the crowded cantina.

"... W-what... what happened?" Wheelie stared around the empty room, optics wide and bright and he was not going to cry. "They just---" static fuzzed his voice and optics as they flared and he hiccuped into Gnaw's chestplates, who was the only one around to lend a hug to the young cybertronian.

*

All around Cybertron mechs disappeared in flashes of light that spread outwards from Altihex in humming waves of energy, and reappearing in confused, angry shouting around Autobot City as one room in the city was lit like a candle, the energy tugging on them all.

It might have come to blows considering there were both (former or not) Autobots and Decepticons in the impressively growing crowd, except there was a sudden, vacuum-pop flare that flattened every single cybertronian currently on Earth and the light from Optimus Prime's quarters went out, with a single, thread-thin flare peeling away among the buildings.

There would be no more sudden arrivals.

The gathered mechs, in Autobot City and on the Nemesis, was now the army Earth, Cybertron and the rest of the universe would have to rely on.

Hands being held to their chestplates level with their spark chambers, mechs slowly got to their feet, but no one was shouting anymore. No one was making any noise at all, except the creaking and sliding of metal as they moved to stand, optics dim and with faintly slack faceplates and then tilted their helms up, staring towards the sky.

It was a shriek with no noise, a pressure against their sparks.

They might not see it, but they didn't need to.

They'd all heard Alpha Trion's speech, or had it played back for them.

They were ready, or as much as they would be, and they didn't need to see it to feel the trembling twist of their sparks, or the sudden, brief rush of combat readiness.

No more time.

--------------
Space, Sol System

Space twisted in on itself, collapsing in an ever-widening spiral as light and dark inverted and painfully, slowly, let through a gargantuan silver sphere crowned in gold. Atoms trembled where the pinkish-purple glow emanating from the golden ring that circumvented the form fell upon them, even spread thin as they were in the vacuum of space.

Trembled, and were no more.

It hung quietly, while dust and reality itself died around it. It turned slowly on its axis, ponderously moving the golden bulb to face the asteroid belt and the planets within.

Replenishment for the energy it had expended to get here, and its target beyond that.

The third planet from the star of this system. The third, where its sibling had left some of the essence that ultimately made up its children in the foolish belief it would be safe.

The giant planet jerked, starting to move so suddenly it seemed it had simply teleported from one spot to the other as it sped up, travelling far faster than ought to be possible and aimed, squarely, at Earth.

This would soon be over.

Chapter Text

Alaska, Autobot City. Two seconds and counting after the Recall's cut-off.

Shooting between the buildings, the trail of light that had left the Prime's chambers had one goal; the medbay. The flare of light blotted out the interior in over-saturated white, and cut off the energy supply - when Ratchet got to his feet a short while later, he'd find that despite the lapse in supply to the CR chambers, the developing protoforms of the healing Aerialbots hadn't been damaged at all, and all, in fact, seemed to be doing better than they had been.

At present however, the energy passed through the barrier of one CR chamber in particular, and weaved around the protoform within.

Sunstorm.

The spark twisted, pausing in its intent push to rebuild the protoform far faster than normal, and trembled underneath that voice and the light it came from.

It was warm.

It was...

What... what did I do wrong? How did I not notice the abomination inside? The trembling changed in flavour, and the not-voice turned brittle. Because he must have done something wrong, right?

Why all the pain otherwise, even as he struggled to do what he'd been told to - though even that had been tainted, hadn't it?

Nothing, child. The moment Shockwave broke the seal, one of his clones would have been possessed by the Fallen. That act, however, also ensured you were created, thus sealing the course of events mentioned that you were seeking to fulfil. The pause was minute, but contained nothing but assurance. The second he forced himself into Vector Sigma, you ended up knowing more than you otherwise would have, but it also empowered you, and you have proven to be able to handle it. That power, and that what Shockwave had encoded from the start, however, caused your state of being.

The pain. So it had both been necessary, and not. Frustration and anger swelled, bloomed... and then settled into acceptance. He had persevered, had he not? He had done what he had to, what he and Starscream had been supposed to do, regardless of the tainted abomination that had darkened the light he carried, that had shadowed the words of the Oracle.

That merely left...

What can I do? Because why else would he be gifted with this presence?

A chance to choose to help, Sunstorm. To willingly take a burden to assist in destroying the chances of my sibling to further darken this reality. It was, perhaps, unfair to choose this one, who would accept by the very nature unnaturally carved into blank personality circuits, imprinting on a spark that carried impressions of another life, another individual, but had been stripped of them - but the fact was, Sunstorm was among the few present capable of carrying the power.

Optimus needed his hands free, so to speak.

Ultra Magnus wouldn't be able to move with the speed necessary.

And Megatron would take more from it than was quite helpful, especially if everything went well.

And Sunstorm...

I will. Pride and humility weaved together into something unique to this spark, and the little thread of energy flared, amused and grateful both. The energy, which hereto had been threaded around the protoform like a web, sunk within it with a last pulse.

Sunstorm was a newborn star, boiling over with undirected power. If all went well, perhaps this would help temper him. And if it didn't, the child still deserved some solace and a feeling of success for how things had gone so far.

He had, after all, done his best, and only done as asked – as he believed he'd been asked to do.

--------------
One breem, two astroseconds.

Optimus woke up to three faces peering down at him; Alpha Trion sitting behind his helm, a hand on his shoulder and radiating patience. Then there were Six-Gun and Scamper on each side, optics wide and bright as they leaned in - the floor right beneath him was warmer than it ought to be, and vibrated faintly.

"I'm---" His vocaliser broke into static, but he managed to raised his arms somewhat in coordination and rest his hands against the protoforms' backs. "---Fine." He felt heavy though, and his joints and circuits, not to talk about the cluster around his spark chamber, felt tender.

Over-charged and extended beyond what they normally could handle.

"What---"

The door swooped aside, and a reverberating clang echoed through the room and the corridor outside as Ultra Magnus forgot to dip him helm enough to pass through the doorway. Rooms and corridors were of no issue, but a mech of Magnus' height had to stoop a little as he walked through a door.

"Magnus!" Optimus managed to get into a sitting position with some assistance while Magnus got some help by Jazz and Prowl to straighten up - fortunately he hadn't fallen over, even if it had been a close thing. This time, he passed the doorway without further incidents, and knelt down beside Optimus, Six-Gun having moved to Optimus' other side, beside Scamper.

"Optimus! Are you..." pausing, Ultra Magnus floundered a bit, then shook his helm and reached out to squeeze the nearest shoulder. "Are you all right?"

Mask still retracted, the smile was obvious as he laid a hand over the one Magnus had on his shoulder and nodded. Soon, Magnus would probably recriminate himself for having used 'Optimus' instead of 'Prime', even if there were only a small handful of mechs around to hear, in Optimus' private quarters and Metroplex would have heard regardless of his drones being present or not.

But Magnus had been very insistent about keeping his twin out of any connection with him when he'd taken up the Ultra rank, even before Optronix had become Optimus. He'd done it to keep his private life private and to protect his twin, regardless of their sometimes... fraught relationship.

"Yes. A bit tender, but I suppose that's to be expected. It worked, then?" He glanced from Magnus to Alpha Trion and to his two closest officers, Prowl's lips twisting in something caught between exasperation and amusement.

"If you somehow meant to transport nearly five hundred cybertronians to Autobot City, then yes, it worked."

"Should've gotten us another warship, too," said Jazz with a grin, merely flickering his visor in a wink when three sets of optics landed on him with nearly identically dry looks, though Optimus was suppressing amusement. "What? A mech can wish, can't he?"

Chuckling even as his vocaliser fizzed beneath the sound, Optimus held an arm out and ignored the concerned looks he got.

"We need to prepare what we can, so let's take this elsewhere. Thank you for your assistance." The last was said to Scamper and Six-Gun, with an additional hand to the floor beneath him. The protoforms grinned nearly identically and Scamper more or less bounced out, pulling Six-Gun after him.

 

One cycle, two breems.

Slipping out from Communications, Jetfire passed the brightly-coloured group of mechs that had been freed from Quintesson slavery, with only Elita One coming to Earth at first due to a need to consult Ratchet over lingering invasive coding. Thanks to the Prime's strange recall, the whole group - sans Arcee - had been pulled to Earth and was now sitting in a huddle, helms leaned together.

He wasn't sure what, precisely, was off with the four, beside the knowledge that they'd been on Quintessa for millions of years. Something about the differences in their chassis, maybe, which emphasised a different design. What that difference was for was still unknown, and maybe it really didn't matter.

They were ultimately no different from anyone else here, Jetfire decided as he stepped out into the afternoon sunlight and the strange, restrained tension that hummed in the air. Tension not wholly sprung from knowledge of the thing hurtling closer to Earth - knowledge and proof, as it was already possible to study it, though not yet with the naked optic.

Rather, the tension came from the careful, quiet holding back from five hundred mechanoids of various faction, old or new, all waiting for a trigger - a wrong word, an elbow in passing, a dirty look, a muttered threat... something. So far, nothing such had happened as everybody quietly did what they could to prepare, listening to those of the Autobot High Command that were present while waiting for transport to the Nemesis.

There was a trigger waiting to the pulled to unleash the aggression and held-back need to fight, but right now the civil war, alive and well or buried for approximately 36-37 vorns and factions lines weren't the potential triggers.

The trigger was the looming threat in the sky that soon would be able to be seen even from Earth.

Stopping underneath an overhang by an as-of-yet unused storage at the edge of the City, situated right among other such unused or only partly filled storages, Jetfire considered the amplifier he'd taken from Communications. Running his finger down its side, he knew this was foolish, but well.

It was doubtful there would be any better chance than this.

Turning it on, Jetfire attuned a particular comm. frequency to the amplifier, waited for the synchronising to go through and then, after another brief hesitation, opened it up.

::Starscream?::

::Ye--- Jetfire?:: There was a moment of crackling silence before Starscream pulled himself together - Jetfire could easily imagine the sweep of his wings angling out a little, his shoulders straightening and his field flaring out, though all that was, of course, lost on him as he wasn't there to see it.

::What is it? I'm busy and I'm quite sure you lot are too.:: Despite that, he didn't end the call immediately or even let Jetfire say something, rather just continuing. ::Oh, now that you're here you can just as well be useful; we're getting the Constructicons out of the CR chambers within the next breem, after that repairs should take perhaps another joor or so. Though the Nemesis will be flight-worthy before that, obviously, so if it's really necessary it can perform to near specs before the joor.::

::The Nemesis has held up well, then. They'll know. Starscream---::

::Whatever it is, come tell me later, Jetfire.:: snapped Starscream, sharply enough there was a wash of feedback, and Jetfire shook his helm, expecting the call to cut - and remembering the last time Starscream had said that to him.

'Later', then, had of course not happened, because that 'later' had been when Jetfire had decided to defect. He hadn't even been certain what he was, if anything, going to say to the Seeker. He hadn't for a long time, as Starscream had sharpened under both Megatron and the war into something that had been... nearly impossible to recognise.

Manic, lethally cruel for the sake of it, inflicting as much pain as he could even as he railed against Megatron's use of it against them all in private - and a consistent snapping at Jetfire to get back in the lab so he'd be out of the way and yet be able to do something for their war effort and the cause.

It had taken until long after he'd left the Decepticons to realise that that hounding had probably been the only way that version of Starscream had had to express any care he still held and had been an attempt at protection.

And he'd said the same thing, that "Tell me later, I have more important things to do right now and get back in the lab, Jetfire!" when the air guardian had come up beside him in the corridor and hesitantly, uncertainly because he was uncertain of what he even wanted or would say. At all, and especially to this Starscream. But in the end it hadn't mattered, and he'd left without saying anything.

Perhaps it was just as well that nothing else had been said, and he was still surprised that the Starscream he'd met after he'd been thawed was probably as close to the beginning as one could come any more...

::... Jetfire.::

He was somewhat relieved that Starscream couldn't hear the clang as his helm met the overhang above him when he started.

::Yes?::

::I mean it. Tell me later.:: The call actually cut then, but this time, instead of feeling frustrated and lost, Jetfire had a small smile threatening at the corner of his lips as he turned to go put the amplifier back where it was supposed to be.

The difference tone and everything lurking behind it could make - and whether or not there actually would be a later didn't really matter right now, because the important things had come across loud and clear.

 

Three cycles, two kliks.

"We need more weapons. Do we even have enough throughout all our reserves and armouries right now to arm everybody?" Optimus looked to Ironhide, who scowled and crossed his arms.

"Uh. Got a cache on the shuttles each, an' a'course Autobot City's got a good-size one as well, but... no. Ain't got enough, even if we discount anyone who already has weapons, and average out that some have more than one." The old soldier shook his helm, clearly displeased.

"Contact Megatron, make him share the Nemesis' armoury." Prowl didn't even look up from the screen he was staring at as he spoke, moving things around on it with flicks of his fingers and through key-pushing both, even as everybody turned to look at him. "The Nemesis can carry a crew of two hundred, and even if it had barely a fraction of that when Megatron followed us when we left in the Ark, I doubt it wasn't fully stocked. We've helped repair it, he can help make sure everybody has at least one projectile weapon," said Prowl with a huff. And while he didn't say anything about the fact that it'd probably remove at least some of the Nemesis' capability to supply a full crew if they survived this, it wasn't as if that was lost on anyone.

"We'll do that then---"

"Call from the President incomin'." Blaster turned around from the console he was standing at, and Optimus couldn't quite suppress the wash of static. He did, however, walk up beside Blaster and tilted his helm in a nod.

"Prime, what's the meaning of that... that army you've got up in Alaska? Where did it come from?" the man didn't sound very happy, but who was, right now?

"It's the army, as much as it is one, we'll use to keep Earth whole, Mr. President. I assume you've seen the reports NASA undoubtedly have given you by now? That's what we'll be fighting." Optimus' voice was soft, agreeable even, and the President's gray eyes flickered aside at something out of view.

"I... er. Will get on that. I want them off the planet as soon as you're done, however!"

As the call cut, Optimus dragged a hand over his faceplates and mask, letting out a long vent as he turned back to his officers... and was faced with the bright optics of Scamper. How the drone had gotten inside the room, no one knew. Though it was highly probable he had just been able to walk in - the room they were in was in the greater building that was part of Metroplex after all. With a huff, Ratchet came up beside the unarmoured protoform to escort him out, but Optimus raised a hand and looked down at the drone.

"What about me? What can I do?"

His decision to spark the metrotitan when he had suddenly squeezed at his helm and spark both, but Optimus slowly shook his helm and came to a kneel in front of Scamper.

"You are going to stay right here, and protect Ratchet, the Aerialbots and Sunstorm." One hand on Scamper's shoulder, the other was on the floor. He wasn't just talking with the drone, even if the drone was Metroplex as well.

"Yes--- what?" Ratchet's nod snapped into a jerk of his helm as he glared down at Optimus, who merely looked up and gave Ratchet look of his own.

"Breakaway will stay here as well, using the bared energon deposits to teleport the Protectobots around so they can help take care of any duplicates that may linger on Earth while the rest undoubtedly confront us. I need you here so that anyone injured have at least one reliable medic. If you come with us, you might offline, and if we don't lose, we need you alive, Ratchet."

The medic's expression darkened as his optics narrowed, before he grumbled, looking away from his Prime's bright, intent optics.

"Fine."

 

One joor, one breem, three kliks. A stretch of Venezuelan coast near the border to Guyana/out at sea over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The Orion, the Steelhaven and the shuttle Prowl and his group had come to Earth with, the Skyfire, were all already shuttling their loads up to the Moon, which would be their staging ground. Prior to that, the shuttles had deposited the majority of their little army on the coast in anticipation of their transport rising up out of the sea from where it had been resting for the past four million years and counting.

The crowd waiting was both quiet and restless, hardly a word exchanged while optics were continually thrown up at the sky.

The sky, where beyond the pale half-sphere of the Moon, a silver shape hung.

The darkening sky and the waning sunlight could no longer hide the planet, which had torn through the asteroid belt surrounding the inner planets and approached Earth far faster than ought to be possible in such a short time, especially as no transwarp energies had been detected.

Anyone could now see the form which stood out against the sunset like a premonition of things to come, the sky already burning where the Chaos Bringer would touch if it wasn't stopped.

Out at sea, it was a relatively calm ocean, but it soon started to froth and bubble as water was pushed aside for the thing that was forcing itself upwards. First came the huge, shark-like prong of a fin at the aft, then the spines on either side placed at the aft-ward wings, and then the central tower that contained some of the guns and missile pods, before lastly the bulk of the actual ship rose out of the water.

Dying sunlight gilded the purple warship in oranges, reds and yellows, while the water rushing off made it slick, making it look far more like an organic beast than it reasonably ought to. The epitome of cybertronian warfare in space, it was far larger than the Ark II had been, and larger than the original Ark still. Composed of angles and points and bristling with an offensive capability few other warships had been endowed with, it would hopefully add a needed advantage against the threat in the sky.

It drifted slowly towards the coast to pick up its temporary crew, not precisely made for flying through atmosphere, but all the more imposing for that. Anyone native to Earth who picked up the images broadcast of the Nemesis' rise out of the ocean (before they were pulled off the internet and yet proliferated, as was the way of these things), was undoubtedly relieved the ship wouldn't be turned against them.

Hopefully, anyway.

 

One joor, half a cycle. The Autobot shuttle the Skyfire.

"Prime."

Optimus wasn't sure how he was supposed to handle having one of the First Thirteen address him by his Prime title, which had been taken from them.

"Solus Prime...?" He tilted his helm in greeting and inquiry both, and took in her pleased grin with the thought that it made her look less regal and more... personable.

"Your weapon." Simple, and to the point, but there wasn't much needed to be said at that, as she withdrew an axe from subspace that, from the bottom of its handle to the tip of it, as as tall as Optimus himself was. The blade shimmered with a pattern that seemed to twist and move on its own, and running his finger along the metal, it made his fingers tingle.

"You can add an energon-fuel cell as well, which I've already done. But even without it you should find it more than adequate. Merely twist it like so..." She reached out and held his wrist, turning it with a snappy little shake and immediately a flare of deep, glowing red energy surrounded the blade of the axe as its energo-function activated.

"… Thank you. I'm sure it will be more than adequate, indeed." What Optimus couldn't see when he met Solus' pleased smile with one of his own – even covered as it was, was that their smiles were quite... matching.

--------------
The Moon, impromptu staging grounds. One joor and almost a full cycle after the Recall was cut off.

They should move, but even in the thin atmosphere of the Moon the silence of almost five hundred gathered cybertronians was oppressive, every single field pulled tight. The giant planet that was Unicron took up nearly all of the sky from where they were standing, and they couldn't really let it advance much further. It was already much too close.

Optimus shifted on his feet and took a step forward, dust stirring around his feet and then heavily coming to rest again.

::Autobots---:: He cut himself off, gaze wandering over the crowd, and shook his helm minutely, finials twitching. Behind him, Megatron shook his helm, red glance thrown towards the ground despite that, here on the Moon or even on Earth, there was no presence to receive the exasperation.

::Cybertronians. This battle is not the be-all and end-all of us. It's not our purpose to stand against the encroaching darkness and die here to make sure the rest does not perish. We weren't made for that.:: Spreading his hands slowly, palms up, Optimus looked among them again, and despite the fact that some had been or still were, Decepticons, and others yet again had never been close enough to the Prime to know his voice (comm. or not) all were standing quietly.

::We might be the guardians and warriors to fight this battle, but our purpose is found beyond it. We, like anyone else, were made to live our lives, and driving the... Chaos Bringer away, destroying it, will simply allow us to realise that purpose.:: Pointing up at the looming silver sphere, Optimus shook his helm. ::That, and this situation, your weapons, our need to fight, are merely means to an end. That end is not to fight and die here, but our right to freedom.::

::Honestly, Prime.:: The private line crackled with exasperation as Megatron stepped up beside him.

::Decepticons!:: Like when Optimus had spoken, Megatron's gaze swep over the crowd, but where Optimus had changed his phrasing to be more inclusive, Megatron made no such change. His field swelled and he threw his arms out. ::Aware of it or not, this is an obstacle we have strived towards, preparing even from the beginning. Your branding, your pain, the battles... the upending of Cybertron; all of those have led to this, but this is merely one marker on the road.::

Despite the fact that there was only the faintest sound of metal shifting as Megatron moved, and his voice was kept to comm. only, he still managed to make the thin air vibrate and make nearly everyone lean forward.

::Our real goal is behind this, the galaxy beyond us, planets like those.:: Pointing at the Earth veiled in white behind them, Megatron smirked and paid no attention to the shifting, scowling Autobots in the crowd from the implicit threat/promise, or those who'd tried to put their faction aside when Shockwave claimed they had to build a new society, a unified one. ::But before we can turn to that, to fulfil what Cybertron and its population was in the past, we have to become more than that, and defeat what stands in our way.::

A pause as burning red optics swept the gathered crowd again.

::And if I catch anyone slacking, I'll throw you to the Pit myself.:: That was a clear dismissal, and including everyone but while the crowd shifted they still stayed in place, even the Decepticons.

::Things may look dire, but as long as we stand firm, this will not be our darkest hour.:: Optimus nodded, and then everybody moved, splitting up to the various shuttles or ship, or making ready to lift off the Moon under their own power. Either through altmode, or additional jetpacks or antigravs.

::Megatron...::

::Oh, shut up.:: There was a surprising amount of amusement in Megatron's voice as he cut Optimus' disapproval off with a wave of his hand. ::You're the universe's good cop, I'm the bad one, and I still have plans.::

::Very funny, but I don't see how you can think of that now... and I have never been in law-enforcement.:: Optimus snorted despite himself, though the end of the sentence took on something of a petulant tone. Megatron grinned, and looked Optimus up and down.

::No, if you had been, you might have been more of a threat back then.::

::And yet I managed to beat you.:: Optimus tilted his helm, optics twinkling, and Megatron's own flared and he took a step closer before he paused... and then simply walked past Optimus.

::It seems we have no more time to finish this. Go meet our welcome committee while I get the Nemesis in order.::

Welcome committee..? Optimus turned around and looked up, and saw what Megatron had; three figures approaching from the giant bulk of Unicron, only their colours making the tiny dots stand out against the silver.

No more time, indeed.

--------------
Sol system, space. Beyond the Moon.

Optimus stared at the three mechs that had come to meet them, alone against what amassed might Cybertron had managed. Which wasn't to say it was pitiful; one of the First Thirteen stood with them, nearly five hundred mechs drawn from across 4.37 light years away, plus the collected Autobots and Decepticons already on Earth, Omega Supreme, three combiners - one of which was composed of the legendary Predacon Warlords, three shuttles of various, if not overwhelming offensive capability and the Nemesis. Yet, though, it might not be enough.

Pushing that thought away, Optimus shook his hand and the axe activated, humming like a live thing in his grip.

::Galvatron.::

::Optimus Prime. You shall be the first to perish, to diminish the pitiful chance you lot have against the Master.::

Megatron came floating up beside him, and as a testament to the situation, Optimus' little guard said nothing, merely widened their half-circle behind the Prime a little.

::You'll find us much harder to fight out of an ambush, pitspawn. We're prepared.:: Which was both true, and a stretch of the truth, Optimus thought. They were as prepared as they could be, considering what time they'd been allowed and their resources, but if they'd been given time... their situation would have been far better.

Galvatron looked from Optimus to Megatron and threw his helm back, laughing.

::Prepared?:: He threw his arms out as the laughter died away, haloed by the silver form of Unicron looming behind him as the space between the planet and them suddenly boiled with figures. ::I have uncountable sweeps and an armada at my disposal! You are not prepared!:: The mocking sneer was lost in the noise as Galvatron fired, electricity surging around the plasma, and Optimus was yanked aside as the group scattered.

::Pay attention, Prime! All this melodrama...:: hissed Megatron over the comm. and then fired a shot of his own, pushing Optimus away by the shoulder he'd yanked him out of the way of the shot with. Though Galvatron seemed intent on going after the Prime, and not the mech with the cannon that undoubtedly had the power to shear him in half, as proven when Optimus had to block a strike from Galvatron's cannon.

Megatron wasn't going to let that stand, however, and perhaps he was just a little sore over how the ambush in Atar had went, and Optimus found himself with the strange-but-familiar experience of fighting beside Megatron again.

In the distance, Omega Supreme fired a shot against the planet, which was met halfway with a greenish beam, and where they met, space itself seemed to implode.

This wouldn't be easy.

Chapter Text

Space, Sol system, beyond the Moon.

The beginning of the battle was confusing, as it always was. He was ejected right into it along with the others and they scattered automatically, spreading out as the purple and blue opponents approached.

Their EM fields washed over him in a symphony of thunder the silence couldn't hide, but he didn't even stop to consider that silence. Instead, he just focused on the nearest one - one of the armada, or whatever it was supposed to be as his newest updates inform him. It didn't matter, 'cause that thing would be scrap.

With a chuckle, Frenzy let loose the vibration that always thrummed along his circuits, half a shade from simply keeping him alert and into being frustrating and maddening, but when he lets it go he can just unload---

It took the fact that the mech didn't stumble, didn't crumple up and instead fired and that the shot was silent to make Frenzy remember that oh, yeah - space.

Surprise froze his circuits a micro-breem too long, and there was a flare of distress meeting his own - frag it all, Rumble, mute it - and Frenzy knew that this was it---

"---!??"

The blast burned past him close enough to warp and the metal along his right side and burn up the chromanites in his plating as he was yanked aside and another blaster fired, light and vibration twisting along his chassis. For half a second he thought Soundwave, before the colour of the hand registered, and he slammed his fist down.

::HEY. LEGGO, AUTODORK! I could've taken him!:: Twisting around, Frenzy glowered up at Blaster, and he was totally not pouting. There was a downwards-circular flicker of the Autobot symbiote carrier's optics, and then a snort, felt all along the surface together with the rumble the engine.

::Sure ya could have, and the next one you will be able to take. Just remember you can't make 'em dance unless you're touchin' 'em. Which I don't recommend.::

Frenzy did Blaster the favour of ignoring his grin as he squirmed out of lightening grip, and then he was literally suddenly tossed. Blast the Autobot, but at least it was right into Rumble, and he snickered at the burst of cursing that exploded over the comm. at the same time as Rumble slowed his momentum somewhat.

They both ended up crashing into Soundwave before they could get upright and oriented correctly, but that was mostly because they had their hands around each other's throats. Soundwave, who gave them a silent, narrow stare as he righted them up slightly too slowly in a surreptitious check and then sent them on their way.

Unnoticed by the twins, Soundwave then looked up to meet Blaster's optics for a brief moment, before a group of sweeps descended on them.

Of those, four were destroyed nearly instantly as Predaking dropped down, thrusters propelling him in the right direction. He speared two unconcernedly right with his feet and completely ignored the explosions, another got its helm shot to pieces and a third its chest-cavity ripped clean through with the help of the rather monstrous knuckle-dusters Predaking sported.

The new combiner - Soundwave was still, privately, impressed Megatron hadn't just managed to find the Predacon warlords, but also recruit them - then split apart with sharp coordination, four of them forming up behind Razorclaw as they descended on another group.

The Predacons were effortless, synchronised destruction of the purest instinct, the pitspawn incapable of matching their ferocity. But they didn't need to, because they were deadly in their own right. And most of all they were numerous.

A fact which Omega Supreme also had to deal with, despite a size that made the sweeps and armada as scraplets to him. But scraplets, like anyone knew, could reduce a cybertronian to barely more than metal filings in a very short time. As he swept his three-clawed hand to keep the creatures off his joints only to have them swarm back a moment later, Omega fired alternately at the giant planet itself and at the green beams of light coming from it.

The impacts of the energies twisted in space and sent shockwaves outwards, and while that kept those beams from decimating the cybertronians, every single shot Omega wasn't using on Unicron meant it stayed unharmed. He was closest to the planet, but any attempts at getting closer still was met with something akin to an angry ant-hive swarming a stick stirring the hive.

With a rumbling huff, Omega didn't fall back the third time it happened, and instead pushed forward. Pulling his knees up as he advanced, he crushed the pitspawn around his kneejoints but not able to do much about the ones picking at his seams - the joints were far more vulnerable either way, so he ignored that.

Sweeping his claw to get them away from his visor, Omega saw the beam slightly too late.

He twisted away and propelled himself backwards, but while that made the swarm thin a little, it wasn't quite enough to avoid the beam. It seared along his side, thankfully weakening slightly even as it ate away at armour and the atoms themselves, and...

Went past him, scoring along the Steelhaven that had been using Omega's shadow as a convenient spot as well as to offer intermittent relief against the sweeps and armada attacking Omega. A chain of explosions followed where the beam had hit, and guilty frustration welled up inside the giant, escaping the minimal emotions he'd tamped down to feel ages ago now.

The next beam was caught against the huge ball of plasma and energy Omega fired, but the damage had been done, both to the omega sentinel himself and the Steelhaven.

::Skids! How bad is the damage? Is the ship holding up?:: This wasn't good. Prowl loosened his locked jaw and shook his helm, eyeing the readouts he was getting from the Steelhaven among the other updates of the battlefield. Being that he wasn't even on the bridge of the Skyfire, nominal captain of it or not, he hadn't seen it happen - he was tucked away in the tactical core of the ship, as that provided more equipment to work with.

::It'll fly yet. We're a bit shaken up, and I dunno how many we lost right now, if any, but the damaged parts are sealed away. Had to be done manually, but Getaway was over there.::

::And I just had to sacrifice over half of my redundant systems, but yeah, we're good to go. I'm gonna get out there though.::

Prowl didn't bother to argue; at least Getaway hadn't been serious about blowing "over half" of what made him such an excellent escape artist. Undoubtedly he'd had to sacrifice some of them, but if he was going out onto the battlefield, hardly as many as he'd claimed.

::Fine. Omega..?::

::Situation: manageable. Approaching Unicron: difficult.:: Despite the minimal amount of words and the way they were expressed, there was a tension underlying them that hinted at more emotion than Omega Supreme probably had let himself feel in a while. Prowl let out a slow, controlled vent that he wanted to let out in an explosive huff, and straightened up.

::Right. Skids, fall back a little. If you have to abandon the Steelhaven, do so. Bumblebee, take the Orion and move into their place, focus on keeping those things off Omega Supreme. If we can't get past them and actually damage our real target more, we're going to be in trouble. The Nemesis can't do all the work.::

Even if what work the Nemesis was doing was impressive enough, as it was built to take offensive attacks while dealing it out itself. It was doing sweeping runs over the giant planet under Shockwave's command, but they couldn't lay all their hope to a single warship, however formidable.

Bumblebee's affirmation was cut short as the comm. crackled to life again, and despite that Megatron was embroiled in a fight against Galvatron with Optimus, his voice didn't betray any distraction.

::I want anyone who can attempt to advance past the line they seem to hold. We need to know how far we can push.::

::Without undue danger to yourself. We need as many as possible alive, for as long as possible,:: said Optimus almost right on the tail of Megatron's snapped command, and Prowl wasn't particularly surprised he hadn't contradicted it, just modified.

They did need to get closer and stop fighting Unicron's living shield after all, but they also needed as much of a force possible available to do so.

--------------
Outside the Skyfire, Jetfire shot past along the length of it, dodging shots from above that weren't strong enough to do much to the shuttle, but would do more damage to him. A blinding flash of plasma seared past above him, Astrotrain taking out two of his more stubborn pursuers, and Jetfire put on a burst of speed, passing their current front that was marked by Omege Supreme.

::Omega, how are you doing?::

Compared to the immediate response Prowl had gotten, there was a moment's pause and when Omega replied, it wasn't - at first - for what Jetfire had asked.

::Jetfire: should retreat.::

Chuckling grimly, Jetfire merely added power to his thrusters, shot the two scourges that were catching up, and continued past the invisible line. He could easily see the number of mechs closing in on him, however, and knew that it was only his speed that was keeping him out of trouble.

The moment he slowed down, they'd be on him.

::Situation: own fault. Manageable. The beam: dissipated fast.::

There were some of the armada approaching him from the front now, and where had they come from? Did... Unicron... have more of them in reserve? Reckless or not, Jetfire made a sharp turn and twisted away from the approaching bulk of the planet, spraying fire on the ones who had been behind him and barrelling straight into two that hadn't avoided.

::But it did a lot of damage to you. Blast it...:: They were attempting to tear up his wings, and even twisting around his own axis didn't unseat them. He might have to transform---

Bright pink streaks shot from a jet that passed by above him made the two that had been clawing at his wings fall off, smoking, even as Omega's hand descended, scattering the pitspawn that had still been pursuing him.

::You are an idiot and should be thankful I was close!:: Starscream snapped even as he passed by, Cyclonus like a comet on his tail. The minion of Unicron wasn't quite able to catch up even when Starscream periodically transformed and sprayed laser fire at him and then transformed back into altmode and shot away.

::... Thank you. Both of you. You can open up now, Omega.:: He wasn't quite small enough to get past what gaps there were between the claws when Omega closed his hand, and while the humming, muffled shadows of the closed claws were... reassuring, he could hardly stay here.

The shadows lightened just as Omega fired another shot, and Jetfire flew up along Omega's arm in a spiral, picking off sweeps and armada even as he threw a sensor backwards... Back the way he'd come, where Starscream was visible against the silver behemoth mostly thanks to the splashes of red and blue, not because of his white.

::Starscream, don't repeat my mistake.::

::Do I look like a foolish Autobot air guardian? Of course I won't repeat your mistake. Stay out of trouble!:: snapped Starscream before the normal, even enhanced as they were, comms. couldn't reach far enough as he continued away.

Cyclonus was of a minor issue; the purple jet was persistent and would have been deadly if Starscream had been within reach. But Cyclonus couldn't catch up, even when he paused to spray his lasers at him, so Starscream paid only minor attention to the mech pursuing him.

And compared to Jetfire or Omega - or Blast Off, who'd made his own attempt and had had to be rescued by the rest of the Combaticons, there was no swarm to meet Starscream.

Not that that was particularly reassuring, because despite the silence, Starscream could feel something crawling along his circuits like a noise, a whisper of things dying. Not the depthless annihilation of atoms every time that green beam was fired, but rather... something---

Entropy?

Scowling mentally, Starscream corkscrewed away from the lasers Cyclonus was firing and dove down, past the golden sentry ring that circumvented the planet. That thing, whatever it was, tugged at his consciousness in a way he'd never experienced. Not a call as such, certainly not from Unicron, Starscream was sure. If that had been the case, he'd probably have been addressed in some way by now.

No, it was more like being aware of reality itself around him, the lesser form of destruction Unicron wrought. The normal form. That which the Fallen as one of the First Thirteen that he'd once been (supposedly) had had as charge. Annoyed, Starscream opened his thrusters more and dove against the surface, pulling up nearly too late - sooner than Jetfire would have, but the glitch was built for slamming into the ground with some hapless victim.

There was silence, Cyclonus on his tail making him swerve wildly around the twisted landscape and featureless planes... or plains, whichever, and that faint humming around him.

But no sweeps, no armada.

Abruptly turning back upwards, Starscream shot away, Cyclonus barely able to keep up while Starscream quickly went through a list of who would be able to keep up with him. This needed to be tested.

Thundercracker was too slow, and while Skywarp would be able to keep up via strategic warping, that might muddy the results, and he wasn't taking any Autobots... Well, besides one.

That would have to do.

Flying back the way he came, Starscream shot at the bunch of Cyclonus-look-alikes who were continually attempting to swarm Thundercracker even as he basically rattled one after the other apart by slamming into them and kicking them, setting off one sonic boom after the other. It was probably why they were attacking him so insistently, trying to get rid of a threat.

::Thanks---::

::Take this for me, I have better things to do!:: Starscream pushed them both out of the way when Cyclonus caught up and fired, then twisted out of the way to leave Cyclonus flying into Thundercracker. The explosion of plasma and super-heated ceramic shells in a spray around the blue Seeker and purple minion of Unicron as they fired at each other out of surprise and reaction was faintly amusing.

::Starscream!::

Completely ignoring the yell and the purple flicker of Skywarp warping in, Starscream flew away, past Bruticus who automatically ducked aside for him---

Oh, what now.

The giant, blithering lug was sweeping sweeps and armada out of the way, trying to reach for... uh. He was pretty sure the green one was that new Autobot triple-changer Shockwave had managed to dupe into participating in his experiments, and the other... He didn't have a clue. Striking red and gold colouration, but he had no idea who he was. Either way, they were facing another group of pitspawn, pinching the group between them and two other blue and white Autobots - those Wrecker twins, whatever their designations were.

With a sigh that rattled his intakes, Starscream swung back and buzzed the top of Bruticus' helm.

::Idiot!Not the Autobots, you giant tincan! Go after the hordes of blue and purple repaints!:: With another fly-by buzz for emphasis, Starscream grunted at the utterly bewildered look he got.

::Bruticus... not destroy Autobots?::

::No, you military morons. The duplicates. Or you disengage right now!:: With that threat hanging in the space between them, Bruticus, after a moment of aimless swaying and squeezing his hands into fists, swung around and slammed his hand down and closed into a fist - around the group of pitspawn the Autobots had trapped.

::Uuurrrrhhhh... Bruticus angry! Bruticus destroy confusing bots!::

::Yeah, yeah. Just don't forget who you're supposed to be destroying right now, big bot.:: It was muttered mostly to himself as he continued away, but at least Bruticus seemed to have redirected his attention properly, and that was all that he cared about. Now, then... ::Jetfire! Stop proto-sitting the overgrown guardian robot and come with me, there's something I need to verify.::

While Jetfire didn't reply at first, it didn't take longer than Starscream passing Omega Supreme for Jetfire to peel away and position himself diagonally above Starscream. The best thing was... even if they hadn't been where they were right now (metaphorically, not in-space right now), that would still have been Jetfire's response.

Starscream briefly pulled the smug security of that knowledge around himself, and ignored the other flickering feeling of gratefulness. It wasn't there. Really.

::What are we doing?:: Curiosity coloured Jetfire's voice into brightness, and Starscream would have smirked if he could.

::Confirming no one follows me even with you here.:: He paused, hesitating, because he didn't really feel like dragging this thing up, but closeness might be key... ::... Tailcone fight.:: He huffed static over the line to cover his quiet comment, but Jetfire didn't do more than speed up and lower himself, until his underbellyalmost scraped along the top of Starscream's altmode, their fields intermingling with a static crackle that would have had him shivering if he'd let it.

When Starscream sped up, there was infinitesimal lag and then Jetfire synced up again, and briefly, it was like they weren't flying in space, closing in on the giant silver planet looming in front of them... But rather tearing up the skies above Altihex, fighting to stay as close as possible while trying to get the other to lose that tiny bit of speed or get slightly too fast or drop or raise in altitude just a shade, to throw the other off the shadowing they were engaged in.

Tail and nosecone fighting, as it were.

Space closed in again as he concentrated on the here and now as they swung around the golden band around the planet, not a single duplicate after them.

::... Your connection with the Fallen, perhaps? We need to tell Prime,:: murmured Jetfire as they rocketed back towards the battlefield and comm. range.

::Whatever good that will do, I'm not a shuttle,:: scoffed Starscream, even if he'd done this precisely to get some confirmation, because they did need to somehow start to get warriors closer to Unicron.

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

Said Prime was for the moment engaged in a strange tag-teaming with Megatron, keeping Galvatron busy - but he was also capable of keeping both of them at bay. Off to the left and above them, Solus Prime was tearing through any sweep and armada that came close, her hammer sending shockwaves through space that didn't just rattle the pitspawn and make them 'fall' (as much as that could happen in space), but fall apart, explosions lighting them up.

The only reason she probably wasn't up next to Omega or even down on Unicron itself was probably because much like anyone getting too close to Unicron, Solus was being swarmed. And while the hammer was easily dispatching the pitspawn, the persistence of them was keeping her well and truly occupied.

Optimus grunted as the hit of Galvatron's cannon hitting the flat blade of his axe rattled through him, and something in his knee crunched as the mech... or whatever he was, kicked him. He had to wonder if Galvatron couldn't feel the energy that surged around the blade of his axe or just didn't care.

As the purple herald grabbed the hot barrel of Megatron's cannon to yank it away from his helm, Optimus decided the mech really just didn't care. He doubtlessly felt the hits, but he didn't flinch with them and they seemed to have had no effect so far.

Galvatron twisted his hand, yanking Megatron off-balance and scraped his cannon up along the blade of Optimus' axe, ignoring the smoking scores that burned into the cannon's surface as he slammed the heel of that hand into Optimus' chin. It was enough to foul the Prime's aim as he momentarily brought his rifle out, the shot searing along Galvatron's thigh but not biting very deep.

::Optimus---::

Trying not to wince as he caught Magnus almost getting his helm blow up from the distraction of looking to him out of the corner of his optics, he shook his helm as he put away the rifle and drove shoulder-first into Galvatron, fouling the shot into just clipping Megatron's cannon instead of his side or torso.

It seemed to be something they were doing a lot of, fouling each other's shots and wrestling. It wasn't getting them very far.

::Concentrate on Scourge, Magnus. I can handle this.::

Well, hopefully.

He swung the axe, cleaving into the surface of the orange cannon - and the thrumming twist that vibrated up along the blade and into the shaft from that glancing hit made it obvious it was probably lucky he hadn't actually chopped the cannon in half. So both Megatron and Galvatron's cannons would be very bad news if they were destroyed during battle and anyone else was close.

Stumbling back from the shock of charge that clawed up along his circuits from bleeding through seams and joints from the hit, numbing his arms, Optimus ducked just in time for a shot as Galvatron then threw himself on Megatron.

This was taking too long.

Optimus swung, and swore without any of it being heard as he had to cut it short, almost ending up cleaving Megatron in half as Galvatron and Megatron tumbled around and then into Optimus. Managing to give a solid kick to Galvatron's knee before he was pushed away, Optimus grimaced behind his mask.

::This is---::

::Taking too long, yes. Optimus...::

It wasn't the trailed off, minute pause as Megatron said his designation that surprised Optimus the most, it was what happened next. It was something that hadn't ever happened before. They had fought side by side on Quintessa for survival's sake, becoming synced enough it even now wasn't hard to drop the reflex to hit each other instead of their opponent.

But back then, Megatron hadn't had a gun altmode.

Back then, despite the time spent together, Optimus figured this would never have happened.

::... Take me.:: There was nothing reluctant in those two words despite the pause, and Megatron didn't even bother to kick away from Galvatron; the initiated transformation sequence did enough to get Megatron out of the grip and propel him away.

As his hand closed over the hilt of Megatron's altmode, Optimus could only remember having seen one mech wield Megatron after he'd picked up this altmode on Earth - Soundwave. He doubted they were binary-bonded or something like that; it didn't seem Megatron's style, but this was still something of a... privilege.

The shot Galvatron fired burned along his side, warping the surface layer of metal and burning up the chromanites, but he avoided most of it and fired three shots in succession in turn. One would've taken Galvatron's helm off if he hadn't ducked, though it left a twisted, melted mess of two of the tines that decorated his helm. Another went wide as he angled sideways to avoid the third shot, which slid along his backside in a burn of hot plasma.

Galvatron was fast, and if he hadn't been so very fast, he'd have been hit by at least one of the shots, Optimus could tell. He hadn't even been the one to aim, but that was one of the perks of wielding a gun-former after all.

He swung his axe, sparks and charge crackling off the edge as Galvatron countered with his cannon, a shade of metal being shaved off the surface of the orange monstrosity. Megatron was hot in his hand as he fired a fourth time, taking a knee to the stomach which cracked the grille in hopes of a point-blank shot.

Somehow Galvatron avoided it, and in his processor, Optimus swore quietly and ignored the pain radiating out from his abdominal plating.

::Prime!::

It was a good thing Megatron could do the aiming, otherwise that shot wouldn't simply have been avoided but rather gone wild.

::Jetfire? I'm---:: He ducked and twisted away from a punch, foregoing a shot to simply pistol-whip Galvatron instead.

::Busy, yes. I apologise. But Starscream seem to... well, no one follows him to the surface, as compared to everyone else who has tried.::

Stunned, Optimus almost took a fist right to the faceplates, but countered in time, squeezing off another shot that burned right past the side of Galvatron's helm and warped the metal.

::Megatron, can you..?::

::What are you even planning, you self-sacrificing idiot? And I don't see why you're asking,:: sneered Megatron, the gun vibrating in Optimus' hand. Chuckling dryly as he shot away from Galvatron and tossed Megatron away, the mech transforming as he went and slamming the broadside of his cannon against the herald's chestplates.

::Only what needs to be done. Prowl, Jazz, hold things together. I need to go with Starscream and Jetfire.:: Drifting backwards, he held up a hand, and was neatly grabbed by Jetfire as the two jets swept past and turned back around.

::You're what!?:: The twinned cry of Jazz and Prowl would've been amusing if it hadn't left processors ringing all over the battlefield, and only the enforced radio silence over the general channel and Optimus declining any and all private pings kept him from getting inundated. ::Take more backup, at the least!:: snapped Prowl, static lacing along the words.

Optimus shook his helm even if Prowl couldn't see it.

::This will have to do, no one else should need to accompany me - that goes for you too.:: The last was aimed at Starscream and Jetfire. Stascream huffed crackling static over the comm., drowning out Prowl's attempted argument.

::I'm only staying for as long as I have to---::

::I'm coming with you. You might need the help.:: Jetfire's calm voice cut through Starscream's sharp sneer and the Seeker whipped his helm around to glare at the air guardian racing beside him.

::Idiot! Jetfire---:: He didn't get a chance to explode however, as one pink and one blue form, through a last burst of their jetpacks, caught up with the three and snagged one of the Seeker's arms each.

::We're coming too.:: Elita was completely ignoring the outraged glare Starscream was aiming at her, and he cut speed so suddenly it was a wonder they managed to hold on.

::I am not a taxi! Ride the big lug if you have to come with them! And you---:: Starscream's voice was shooting higher as he whirled around to stab a finger into Jetfire's chestplates, who simply took his hand and squeezed it.

::Either we help and may secure victory, or everybody loses, Starscream. What if whatever makes you able to approach it might be needed inside? And you know I can only fit an average-sized mech in my cockpit, and barely more than that.::

::THEN YOU LOT CAN JUST---::

::Elita!:: The piercing comm. cry came from a mint and white mech - one of Elita's group. Beside her, an orange and red mech sped along, and they halted by the group where each threw themselves at Elita and Chromia.

::You need to go back, Moonracer. Whatever happens, if things go even remotely well, I want a guarantee that you survive,:: said Elita with a shake of her helm and pressed her lips to the front of Moonracer's helm, while Chromia hugged the orange and red mech.

::The same goes for you, Firestar. Help in the fight, outside. No buts.::

Both opened their mouths, but their vocalisers clicked on empty as they met two pairs of blue optics and then nodded, lowering their gazes to stare at their feet.

::None of you need to come with me, but I would, of course, appreciate the assistance.:: He would rather none of them followed, but he wouldn't forbid them - both because he was hardly stupid enough to not know he might need backup, however much he wouldn't want them to unnecessarily risk themselves... And then there was those flashes of... visions? he'd had before, of walking inside Unicron.

These sparks had been with him. He'd already known Starscream and Jetfire had been there, but the other/s had been fluctuating between one or two and always indistinct, but now it was obvious events had crystallised.

::If we're all going, we better leave now as it seems we're about to get company.:: Jetfire transformed as he spoke, but the others quickly saw what he meant; a rather large wave was approaching them, and they were way too obvious hanging there arguing.

::Go.:: Elita pushed Moonracer and Firestar, who fired up their jetpacks and flew off, provoking part of the approaching group into attacking and following them. Optimus and Elita quickly squeezed down into Jetfire's cockpit together - Optimus was barely small enough to fit in the seat and his legs took up the rest of available space, but at least Elita was small enough to be able to sit in his lap. Starscream, with a glower that nearly turned his optics pink, allowed Chromia to hug to his side and loop her arms around his neck, and then the jets shot off, shadowing each other closely.

The closer they came to the curving bulk of Unicron, the further the pursuing group behind them fell away, until they turned back completely.

At least they wouldn't need to fight to get in.

Hopefully.

Chapter Text

Unicron.

The question of how they'd get inside had hung silently between them, but Jetfire had let Starscream lead just slightly as they sped over twisted metal edifices and plain angles and planes of the silvered surface. They followed the bottom curve of the round, golden half-sphere that stuck out from the planet's side, Starscream clearly aiming for somewhere in particular. Near the middle of the edge there'd been an opening, and while no one felt like going in, it was a far better option than, say, trying to go through whatever the golden bulb was.

Jetfire let his passengers get out and then transformed, the noise somehow subdued but... there, surprisingly. Apparently there was enough atmosphere right next to the surface to allow for sound to travel, but it wasn't faint as if the atmosphere was thin like on the Moon, but rather more... smothered. As they stepped inside, their steps muted, the muffled sound was joined by an oppressive, nearly sticky pressure.

Not something physical, but it still seemed to twist the surroundings they could see somehow - a sense of razorsharp instability that pressed down on them. They stood in a narrow crescent of open space, which had three corridors curving off in one direction each.

"... Which way?" Chromia had a blaster in one hand and an energy lance in the other, looking sharply around. The tension in her voice betrayed the apparent calm appraisal and while her expression was tight and flat, the faint sickly green glow turned it more ghastly than it was.

Nearly as one, they looked to Optimus, and after a moment the Prime frowned and then shook his helm. There was too much... darkness, here. It all felt the same, cloying and biting at the edges of his limbs - though at the same time it seemed to shy away from him.

"Where're we going, Starscream?" asked Jetfire, voice bland as he interrupted the coming remark before it could be said. The Seeker, even as he sneered up at Jetfire, pointed down one of the corridors.

"... Blast it all. Fine, you're right! If we die, however, I'll make sure you never get any rest!" Grumbling, Starscream stalked off, Jetfire right behind him and Optimus following them after Chromia and Elita waved him on, the two of them closing up the rear.

Beyond the little open crescent, the corridor Starscream had them take soon opened up into a confusing spread of curves and pillars large enough that while they arguably were still walking in what could have been considered a corridor, it was as much that as it was something like a labyrinth. The greenish light didn't so much light things up as highlight the curves, overlaying everything with a wavering, viscous sheen.

"... Is that even possible?" muttered Jetfire after a silent breem of them weaving, seemingly at random, between the curved pillars. Following his gaze Optimus found his optics unfocusing, focusing and then back again, trying to make sense of a branching corridor to the left that just... there was something wrong with it.

It didn't follow the laws of physics like it should, instead curving in on itself and into itself somehow.

"What is going on with that?" Elita frowned at the corridor and took a step or two towards it, but Optimus' frozen captivation snapped by her movement, and he stopped her just as Starscream unceremoniously yanked at one of Jetfire's wings.

"I don't think we should go there. We don't have the time to be distracted."

Non-euclidian. That's what the humans called it, and Optimus was sure there was a term for it in cybertronix as well, but the word eluded him for the reality (supposedly) that he was seeing.

"All right, move it!" Engine revving, Starscream stomped ahead, the noise momentarily piercing through the muffled sounds they were making. "I have no idea why I'm doing this. Must've lost a few processor clusters with all the crazy going on," muttered Starscream as he led them on, and Optimus felt a smile, narrow and lopsided, tug on his lips behind the mask.

He felt somewhat similar, though in this case it was trusting Starscream to lead them right - but what other choice was there? The malevolence was like the physical darkness around them and he couldn't tell the right way beyond their little circle that somehow seemed a bit more lit up than just a step or so to the sides was.

"I suppose you could have. It wouldn't surprise me," said Jetfire as he walked beside Starscream, tone dry and warm enough Optimus smiled again. Even if he didn't understand it. Starscream huffed loudly, the sound almost covering something they were all starting to become aware of. "Or you know what needs to be done, so we all, which includes you, have a chance to survive."

"You, and especially him," Starscream waved a hand behind him at Optimus, even as he frowned at their surroundings, "Are the self-sacrificing idiots, not me."

"I suppose that might have some truth to it."

Behind them, Elita and Chromia chuckled, which pulled Optimus into smiling as well - it wasn't much, but it lightened the atmosphere and made walking a little easier for a moment. They were all on edge however. Not only because of those... strange parts that twisted in on themselves that they could still see and which they steered well clear of but because there was something else tugging at their attention now.

None of them, however, wanted to bring up that noise they could hear underneath the muffled sounds they were making. It had a cycle of a micro-breem, distant and vibrating up through the metal in a sort of high-pitched static.

A micro-breem, the "perfect" length of a spark pulse.

Optimus had to resist tilting his helm and adjusting his audio input to hear it better, and could see Starscream and Jetfire's helms twitching every now and then as well. Glancing behind him, Elita had a pinched sort of look on her faceplates and Chromia was doing the same sort of helm twitch as the rest of them. The noise was insistent, overbearing for all that it was distant - and the longer they walked, the more it sort of... hurt.

Not their frames, not really, even if circuits seemed to ache. It was more like their energies, the threads of spark energy and cyberstatic charge that pulsed through them to keep them alive was being as assaulted as their physical selves were and had to work harder than usual.

"It's too quiet," snapped Elita behind him, and Optimus tilted his helm, remembering the disjointed dream-vision he'd had while the Steelhaven had been in transwarp on the way to Earth. Starscream and Jetfire had had the conversation he remembered, and were still muttering quietly in front of him, Starscream's sharp voice rising up into sniping every now and then.

That just ought to leave the other half... Straightening up, Optimus changed his grip on his axe and tried to stop being distracted by the surroundings and the sour, green highlights over everything and the darkness pressing down and the metal subtly vibrating with that infernal noise to actually keep alert for potential enemies.

"Indeed. I know we're all ready, but---"

"Look out!" the shout came from Elita and Jetfire both as the air guardian yanked Starscream back, and Elita managed to topple Optimus by diving shoulder-first into the back of his knees, Seeker and Prime barely so avoiding the razor edges of claw-tipped tendrils that shot out of the walls.

"Here." As the corridor rocked with an explosion from Jetfire shooting part of the wall out, Optimus got a hand up from Chromia while she spun her lance, keeping more tendrils at bay. Grabbing her hand and using it as an anchor, he hauled himself up and swung his axe at the same time, severing three that were aiming for them.

The walls were practically boiling with tendrils the colour of rust and what he'd come to associate with deoxygenated human blood and apparently talking of keeping more alert seemed to have summoned them as some form of defence. They slowly backed to form a circle, Jetfire soon abandoning his giant rifle for the arm-mounted weaponry he'd attached before the battle, but it was clear the bladed weapons Chromia, Elita and Optimus had more easily dispatched the snaking things.

The edges of the two-pronged claws glinted dully in the greenish light, and when one of the tendrils darted in, snake-like, past Starscream's arm cannons and wrapped around his arm and clamped down, the metal fizzled. Starscream grunted, his vocaliser turning over into a brief high-pitched white noise as he yanked back, tugging on the tendril.

It followed with, simply extending along with his movement as he stumbled back into Jetfire's side and even when it was shot apart and stopped constricting it was still burrowed in his arm, metal warping and slowly melting around the embedded claws.

"Starscream!"

"Shut up and do something!" Yanking on the embedded claws did nothing and he knew Jetfire's hand was too large to be of much help, but the words still tumbled out. Jetfire didn't go for the embedded barbs, however, but instead grabbed his arm, thumb over the joint where the claws joined---

"Don't you dar---" He had to shut off his vocaliser to not make a sound as Jetfire crushed the joint underneath his thumb, and where the metal fractured into his own armour, it burned like the claws. But at least all the pieces could be plucked out. "Thanks for nothing!" Yanking his arm back and firing again, Starscream still stayed up against Jetfire's back and glanced around in time to catch something weaving in the corner of his vision, on the floor.

He fired at the two tendrils, just before they would've wrapped around Optimus and Elita's legs, and they fell to the ground limply.

"We need to start moving again!" yelled Chromia as she speared a tendril and then yanked on her lance, spinning it to catch several more on the energy blades. "If we stay here, we'll be overrun."

The point was reinforced by more tendrils suddenly coming from the ceiling, Starscream yanking on Jetfire's wing to make him stagger out of the way, though the claw seared a slice through the top of the boosters on Jetfire's back, and Optimus almost got a pair of clawed barbs embedded in his helm.

"As fast as we can move while maintaining formation then. Move." Optimus fired at the floor at the same time as Jetfire aimed at the ceiling after pulling out his rifle again, and this time Chromia moved to the front, with Elita at the rear, spreading out the swooping slashes of lances more evenly. It wasn't the most easiest way to run or navigate the dizzying labyrinth-like corridor while trying to defend themselves and the air seemingly closing in.

Optimus swung his axe in a half circle near the floor, catching three tendrils which flopped limply to the floor, neatly severed and they needed something---

Of course.

He couldn't turn his optics off, or anything else really, but even distracted as he was, he didn't need to reach deep to find the light fluttering right underneath his armour. It pulsed, warm and light, against his touch and followed his tug outwards.

There was no physical flare of light, but the air seemed to ripple around them and the greenish highlights washed away, revealing the "natural" colour of the metal to be chrome and silver, mirror-like almost, and the pressure disappeared with a snap.

The hissing noise was probably just imagination.

"Did you...?" Elita looked up at him, optics wide, before she turned her attention back on their surroundings - the tendrils had briefly retreated and while they were less when they surged out again, they were still there. They moved more slowly, however.

"A bit too slow, but yes."

Starscream huffed in front of them, but said nothing until a few kliks later, when the corridor suddenly sharply narrowed into a single space, no more winding pillars breaking everything up, and something blocked the way.

"What!? But this is the right way!"

They came to a sharp stop, engines and vents loud as their systems strained to equalise cooling and temperatures again - and it was odd to hear the sounds they made sound as they should. Starscream's faceplates twisted into a dark scowl, and if it hadn't been for that, Optimus might almost have thought that despite his conviction that he had to trust the Seeker, that he'd been tricked somehow.

The genuine, angry frustration and confusion Starscream displayed dispelled that thought, however.

"... You're not necessarily wrong, Starscream," said Jetfire as he reached out even as Chromia reached to stop him. At his touch, the wall flared and jagged, spindly glyphs pulsed into being, the light spearing outwards and then withdrawing right before it fell on Jetfire's fingers. In the lightened atmosphere around them, the door was a solid wall of poison and acid darkness.

"Great. So what now, unless you can read them somehow?" Starscream shot a glance at Optimus, who shook his helm slowly. The glyphs weren't even steady for him - he was sure he could have understood them, but they were actively... avoiding him?

"I think I can. Just give me a few moments." Jetfire frowned at the seal and stepped up closer, just as the corridor rumbled around them and everything seemed to tilt before it straightened up again. Elita had to catch herself against the wall and quickly stepped away from it.

"What was that?" Chromia looked around after helping to steady Elita, who shook her helm.

"Nevermind that, just do whatever you can and do it fast because we're having more company!" she called out as the walls erupted once again.

--------------
Space, the battlefield beyond the Moon.

They weren't stopping it.

Besides having to fight the armies of duplicates that belonged to Scourge and Cyclonus and a great many of the defenders having issues with fighting in space because they were ground vehicles and lacked an effective way to control their own movement in the vacuum where the perfunctorily jetpacks only helped some...

The Orion, Skyfire, Nemesis and Steelhaven weren't having much effect on the vast form of the advancing planet. The Nemesis' impressive armaments rained down on the surface, but while the explosions tore up craters and melted metal they were... small, in comparison.

Omega Supreme was having similar success to the Nemesis, if on a somewhat larger scale, but Unicron was huge and durable enough whatever injuries inflicted didn't seem enough... and Omega continually got distracted by sweeps or members of the armada attacking him - however foolish that was on their part, though the Orion's assistance helped some.

The result, no matter their efforts was that it was not stopping, and many, not just the Decepticons present, would probably have attempted to leave and flee, leaving Earth to the fate obviously awaiting it. Except they all knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that leaving would do nothing.

Leaving would merely delay the inevitable, as after Earth would come Cybertron, and so they all stayed.

Stayed, even as the hordes of pitspawn seemed endless, and smaller injuries kept stacking up - a cracked corner here, developing into larger fractures in the armour at a blaster hit later, a few dents there, compressing the armour down against sensors, joints and protoform, uncomfortable but not lethal - until the pressure became troublesome, or something collapsed underneath it.

They were hardly on their last leg yet, and where before the groups had been separated pretty evenly between Autobots and Decepticons, slowly, those lines... blurred.

Top Spin, Twin Twist, Octane and Astrotrain found themselves cornered - and then the sweeps found themselves torn apart. Hot Rod and Springer ended up back to back with Needlenose, and while they kept getting distracted throwing glares at each other, they were able to keep the wave off themselves with their backs free.

Eject knew he should've stayed closer to the others, or anyone, really. Or stayed on the Skyfire, but when Blaster left to help, none of them had been able to stay behind even when he'd asked them to. So he knew it had been a bad idea, like going for a full race when it was a relay and you were already running low on fuel.

His grunt as he was whacked away and flew helm over stabilisers while he tried to just figure out how to stop was stolen by the vacuum, but in the end he didn't need to stop. Instead he slammed with a soundless clatter that nonetheless felt right down to the protoform against...

... Against one of the armada.

Visor flaring and snapping his gun up, Eject didn't fire in time - or get away even as he fired up the jetpack, the purple duplicate reaching down to snag his arms and the shot just went straight up. Oh, it hit one of the sweeps, a lucky hit that scrapped one of its knees, but that hardly helped Eject.

He kicked, but with being held at an arm's length, he didn't have the reach to do more than scuff the metal, and the pitspawn smirked slowly and raised its other hand and time out, TIME OUT---

Its helm exploded in a rather impressive spray of metal shards, bits of processor, a broken optic and spitting charge, the frozen death-grip bent open by...

::Eject... should return.:: Soundwave's grip was surprisingly light, and the push he got in what turned out to be Blaster's direction surreptitiously swept along his frame in a move that was familiar, but usually came from Blaster.

::Uh. Uhm, yeah. Right. Thanks...::

He didn't get any response, and almost had his back sliced open by a wing as Thundercracker came hurtling past right through the space he'd just passed. One of the Seeker's thrusters was smoking from where Cyclonus had managed to hit him and then toss him away, leaving Skywarp to face the minion alone. Not that Thundercracker wasn't planning on going back, but he slammed right into Ultra Magnus, getting a punch to his faceplates from Scourge which had been intended for the Autobot.

Hopefully Skywarp could take Cyclonus, because he might get stuck with this... thing - Ultra Magnus had gone flying into Galvatron and was now ducking shots from him while said mech and Megatron grappled over where Megatron's fusion cannon should point.

The ping he sent Skywarp got a reassuring response, at least.

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

"It's getting closer. This isn't good." Prowl stared at the holographic display of the battlefield the tactical tabletop was displaying, scrubbing a hand over his faceplates. "It's pushing us closer to the Moon and Earth... And now Prime's in there..." Gritting his teeth, Prowl went back to reviewing what they did know of the giant planet, trying to find something to direct Omega Supreme and the Nemesis to hit, so that they might stop it.

So far, he hadn't seen anything.

Unnoticed by Prowl and everyone else, a streak of light speared away from Earth and towards the battle as one of the great mandibles scraped the Moon's surface and, slowly, the central feature that stuck out from the rounded curve of the planet like a boil suddenly unfolded.

"What the frag--!" sputtering, Cliffjumper stared, the cannon he'd been intently firing falling silent and the swearwords he'd intended to say locking up between vocaliser and mouth as the brightly-lit, golden-coloured furnace was revealed. The mandibles closed almost delicately to clutch the Moon and suddenly everyone realised how far they'd gotten pushed back without noticing as the plates that had covered the furnace flexed and reached, inevitably, for the Moon.

"... No. The Pit."

Briefly, Bumper and Cliffjumper's gazes flickered to Bumblebee, but neither of them could come up with something to say to refute it. It suddenly made a sort of terrifying sense - ultimate, absolute destruction in a fiery, final way.

The pit wasn't some metaphorical thing to scare protoforms into doing their work and behaving, but a very, very real place. It wasn't even punishment after offlining... it was the absolute destruction of life. How were they supposed to fight, even less stop something like this? Something which was about to consume the Moon, something they'd known was supposed to be something Unicron could do, but...

"And Prime's in there. That Decepticreep better not have tricked him." Cliffjumper's vicious mutter ended on a sharply drawn vent, echoed by everyone else on the bridge, as a crackling streak of electromagnetic energy seared past the Orion's nose, the few sweeps and armada in the way that attempted to stop it or simply were in the flight path ending as explosive displays as fountains of energy erupted from their frames, smoke billowing out and metal melting.

"Not again!"

Outside, the rampant tear of light aimed straight for the planet, and the planet... halted.

A shudder ran through the vast form as the mandibles let go of the Moon and it retreated backwards a bit. The golden band and thin spires vibrated with a sound that despite the fact that it couldn't be heard, still caused all but Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge to curl up on themselves. Megatron caught himself quickly enough to block a strike from his opponent, however.

The tiny light that was Sunstorm stopped, hovering in place as the battle halted around him. Not so much because of Sunstorm, even if he'd already proven that despite only being a protoform still, and somehow finished long before he should be, he was a considerable threat.

No, all optics were locked on the giant planet as that noise didn't stop, but rather expanded, stretching into spark-trembling infinity as parts of it started to slide and shift. The golden, spined band that circumvented the planet disengaged from it, unfolding section by section, spearing through space as the configuration changed and changed shape.

Wings.

Vast, spindly bone-like wings that tore at the space they stretched out in, curving above the shifting form of Unicron in a mockery of protection. The many little glowing bulbs cast a pinkish pallor over the gold, and where the glow reached the silvered surface, it was like energon spilled.

The arms and legs came next, forming out of the bulk and destroying the illusion of the planet the being had been. One arm was flung out, then the next, sweeps and armada scattering in their wake as well as the opposing cybertronian forces. Then came the legs, unheeding of the space they punched through, atoms quivering and disintegrating in the shadow of their movement.

It was like a cosmic egg breaking open, not to reveal potential and life, but the still, frozen scream of the annihilation of things that had died even before they were aware of the fact that they'd already been destroyed. Optics lit up, vast green pools revealing nothing but hungry contempt as they swept the frozen battlefield and then fell upon the spindly, brightly glowing protoform, ignoring all else.

Primus.

Every piece of armour-glass in the vicinity vibrated as the whisper, somehow felt, somehow heard by every single cybertronian present, even in the soundless vacuum of space, died away. On Earth, all glass cracked, and all over the world, many experienced nosebleeds and headaches.

And Sunstorm, no more than a bare two thirds the height of a fully upgraded Seeker, his expression one of defiant serenity, lifted his helm up slowly. Golden optics met malevolent green and the arrogant smirk on the Seeker's lips melted away into regretful, diamond determination as he spoke with a voice not his own and somehow was heard.

"Unicron. Here you will fail."

Where Unicron's voice had twisted sparks, curdled atoms and threatened the integrity of lesser material, the voice from the Seeker whispered along the cracks made in the resolve of the combatants, smoothed over wounds and curled around each and every spark present, wrapping them in warmth. On Earth, earlier fitful sleep smoothed out and the headaches eased.

It beggared belief, but what else was there to believe in the truth of what they were seeing, feeling? It was bright against their sparks, which all trembled with remembrance of this light, even if it was wearing another's frame.

Primus.

And Unicron laughed, a shadowed slide of noise and nothing that had the more sensitive sparks present clutching their helms as processors strained. On Earth, the sky twisted in green.

I think not. The snarling hiss was followed by Unicron lashing out, space imploding in the arm's wake and those who were in the way scattering. Sunstorm, or Primus, dodged, tearing away at the very last second to sweep around and up along the arm.

Instead of the protoform Seeker, Unicron hit the Moon, his claws digging in and tearing away chunks in long trails of fresh bedrock. There was no roar from the Chaos Bringer at his failure, or for the burning ball of energy that slammed into his middle, but he yanked his hand out of the Moon, trying to grab at the Seeker again - once again the golden form dodged.

You have failed to contain me once, little brother, and these children, these pitiful insects, while putting up a fight, will be unsuccessful. So what makes you put foolish faith in that this time you will succeed? hissed Unicron as his hand almost closed around the Seeker with an empty crunch that trembled space.

Around the titan and its tiny opponent, the battle tentatively flared up again, and while processors ached and and sparks twisted from the pressure of Unicron's full presence revealed, the glowing form of of the Seeker spread a breath of light which buoyed the very same and kept the full strength of the darkness at bay.

"Different circumstances may bring different results. This is not at all similar to last time, Unicron." The bright voice of Sunstorm, layered with a deeper, humming strength was heard even with the Seeker merely speaking like normal as he formed a giant ball of energy and lobbed it at Unicron - who batted it away, even as it burned through his fingers.

Even distracted as they were, staying such would mean dying, and Skywarp, at least, had no intention of dying. Cyclonus had managed to twist one of his wings and clock him but good when Unicron first transformed, but the brightly burning presence seemed to extend into that between that was the space he warped through - in fact, it seemed stronger there, somehow, and it bolstered his earlier flagging resources.

Cyclonus couldn't hear it, of course, but the sniggering bounced emptily down an unused frequency as Skywarp warped around in quick succession, stubbornly ignoring his cracked cockpit and the half-melted mess the outside of his right thigh was.

This annoying glitch would go down!

Different indeed. Perhaps it will be to my advantage, hmm? Your little Prime can't even touch me.

Skywarp grimaced at the laughter from Unicron, and warped again to avoid most of the effect of it, frustrated. He needed to end this before his reserves ran low enough he'd get his warp circuits locked to conserve energy. As he faded back in, he unceremoniously ripped off one of those silly protrusions Cyclonus had on his helm and stabbed it down into Cyclonus helm, staggering him.

::That, I suppose, depends on which Prime you mean, Unicron!:: Solus Prime's voice rang through a frequency that overrode any other being broadcast on, and Unicron tilted his helm, staring down at the silver, black and blue mech.

... Solus Prime. But you don't--- He roared as Sunstorm literally flew through his arm, burning through it from one end to the other, and all cybertronians present staggered. Skywarp wheezed as Cyclonus demolished one of his chest turbines, ripping part of the thing out.

::Have the Matrix? No.:: She sounded exceedingly pleased. ::I don't need it to deal with this, however!:: Raising her hammer, several sections on her frame unfolded and opened up, and she slammed the hammer down at the same time as her whole chassis flared, the shockwave travelling through the whole battlefield, engulfing each of the pitspawn in brief aurora shells.

When those exploded, the majority of the sweeps and armada were deactivated and others were smoking and moving slowly enough they were easily picked off. Skywarp used the moment Cyclonus staggered from the hit, armour cracking, to shove a grenade at the aerial minion of Unicron and when it exploded, followed up with several blasts from his arm cannons.

Cyclonus went down in a flaming explosion, something greenish flaring and winking out among the yellow flames.

Time to find Thundercracker.

Solus staggered as the shockwave wore down and Unicron managed to smack the Seeker harassing him away, sending the golden form flying.

You truly believe that will be enough? My shield is disposable. This one, however, is not. Whirling around to where the Seeker was just righting himself back up, the gargantuan optics lit up with green fire. The glow flared and then extended into a green beam which seared over the glowing form.

You see? the whispered laughter slid against them all like broken glass and acid as the warmth which had been embracing their sparks flickered, halted...

And flared.

Energy and fire exploded outwards, eating away the green light and turning it into a riot of rainbow ribbons.

"Not this time, brother."

Despite the comeback, the damage had been done; Ultra Magnus was missing an arm where Galvatron had ripped it off and he barely dodged the mech's attempt to hit him with his own arm, snagging it back with a grimace. Thundercracker had a busted knee and couldn't quite avoid Scourge ripping into his wing - but just then Skywarp warped in, right behind the blue pitspawn and drove his interlaced hands into the back of the mech's helm, leaving Thundercracker to yank his other leg up against Scourge's chestplates, and send another sonic boom through.

The cracks from Solus Prime's attack exploded outwards, and Scourge nearly fell apart under the assault, but the Seekers still shot at the remains of torso and helm.

::Thanks, Skywarp.::

::Don't mention it. This is slaggin' crazy!::

Above and beyond them, Primus was once again dodging Unicron's grasping hands, and catching more beams with great bursts of electromagnetic energy, while time and again buzzing the great form, burning trails into the metal. Solus, now freed from the hordes of sweeps and armada attacking her, had joined in as well, kept intermittently at bay by sweeping kicks. Every time her hammer actually hit, however, a huge crater formed.

Despite this, it seemed... not enough. Omega Supreme, when he fired, seared off a chunk of spines of the wings, but in the next moment was slammed away, clipping the Nemesis and almost crushing the Orion as he sailed past, crashing into the Moon.

It does not matter what resistance is wrought! In the end, all will perish! Unicron's voice shook through them, but the glittering protection held - if barely, and Ultra Magnus avoided getting cracked in the faceplates by Galvatron's cannon. But when the mech fired, Megatron caught the edge of it against his side, plasma and electricity biting into metal and melting it, eating towards the fuel processing systems.

Grunting, the warlord doubled up as beyond them, Omega Supreme fired yet again, still partly buried into the Moon. The shot was blocked by the eyebeams, and the Nemesis, while it fired missiles, almost got crushed by Unicron's hand. Galvatron would have taken advantage of Megatron's momentary vulnerability if he hadn't been whirled around by the shoulder and then punched by Magnus, helm snapping back sharply - and then Megatron's cannon was against the front of his helm, and this time Galvatron wasn't given the chance to retaliate and Megatron's fired.

::Thanks, Autobot.:: Megatron's smirk was dry and tight at the edges as he held one hand over the hole in his side.

::... Don't mention it.:: Magnus huffed over the frequency and hefted his arm, turning towards the gigantic fight going on behind them. But how to even help? Their ships, the Nemesis included, had withdrawn beyond immediate grabbing range and were raining down fire. Where it hit, while explosions bloomed, Unicron didn't seem inclined to stop.

Is this all, brother? I believe you have sorely overestimated your children's ability to persevere! Unicron was smirking, even as the Seeker barely avoided another grab but also tore through the outer side of a thigh, and everyone on the battlefield, injured or not, scared out of their wits or not, turned towards Unicron at that insult.

They still had more to give, and by this point?

It was do or die---

Unicron suddenly spread his wings, arms thrown wide, and a wave of nothing bloomed out. Invisible and yet there, it burned through the bright presence around their sparks, tore through defences and wrapped around them like Omega Supreme had crashed into the Moon.

They needed to move, but their very sparks were straining to flow through their frames.

Your light is spread too thin, Primus. The sliver of your power possessing that protoform is feeble and can't protect them all and Cybertron is too far away. Whatever you thought you'd win by possessing that frame... it seems it wasn't enough to win the war. Unicron smiled slowly, the row of teeth pointed and sharp as he swept down and plucked up Solus, who destroyed two of his fingers. Unicron seemed unconcerned and squeezed, and even with the shockwaves rippling out from her chassis, tearing up the metal and exposing circuitry, he chuckled.

Sunstorm, or Primus, seemed caught in the same way everyone else were, a bubble of energy flexing fitfully around him - but he hung in place no matter what was done.

"The battle isn't even over, Unicron, and neither is the war." Despite the protoform straining, hands tightening into fists and then relaxing, expression flat and tight, resolution thrummed through every word. It was a candle against a suddenly all-encompassing darkness, too small to pierce far, leaving some curled up on themselves, or straining to move but unable to.

And yet that dark face was lifted up, golden optics ablaze with more than just the power and determination of the deity possessing Sunstorm.

"Where do you think the Matrix is? If it was here, your attack would not be capable of this." The smile that curled Sunstorm's lips was alight with knowledge that bordered on smug. "The carrier isn't on this battlefield."

Pausing, his green optics flickered and then narrowed.

That sort of gamble... You wouldn't---

And instead of reaching for the Seeker, Unicron reached for his chestplates, optics suddenly widening with awareness, and the wave of sucking darkness that was gnawing at their spark energy flickered and let up some. It didn't disappear, but it was enough for both Omega Supreme and Megatron to fire.

"Sacrifice is sometimes necessary."

Unicron's snarl as the plasma bit into his armour even as he still clutched at his chestplates, made audio receptors white-out and ruptured not just energon lines, but reached Earth as well, bursting blood-vessels and leaving some bleeding from the eyes.

Useless sacrifice, and I'll start with you, and after that this pathetic emanation of creation will finally be consumed and be quiet! Reaching for the suspended protoform, the glow around it blazed, and Unicron... couldn't quite touch.

His optics flickered again, and the hand on his chestplates suddenly dug in.

No!

---------------
Unicron. Spark chamber seal.

"Concentrate!" Cracking his elbow into Jetfire's arm to make him turn back around, Starscream decided he hated deja vu.

Not that he'd experienced many moments of those, but this was one of them and the fact that it wasn't just deja vu from a strange not-dream, but that the not-dream had just been confirmed to have been a somewhat accurate premonition was just wrong.

Aiming at the floor and ceiling alternately, picking off the lightning-quick tendrils that kept shooting out to let Prime, Elita and Chromia concentrate on those that came out of the walls, Starscream growled. It wasn't precisely like that twisted dream he'd had while Jetfire had been possessed by the Fallen, being that Ultra Magnus wasn't present, and there were no sweeps or armada attacking them - but it was close enough---

"I said pay attention and focus, Jetfire! If you don't figure that thing out, we'll be worse than overrun, so hurry up." Again, it wasn't precisely what he'd said in the not/maybe-dream, but it was close enough.

He shouldn't have agreed to come.

He didn't owe these idiots anything and he should just have let them be stupid heroes on their own - but fleeing the battlefield wouldn't have been far enough away. Not even the opposite end of the galaxy would've been far enough away to survive if Prime failed here.

This wasn't normal destruction or the sort of entropy all things experienced from the beginning they blazed into life to the moment they expired. No, this was complete and utter obliteration. Like the knowledge in his dream, this was the reason he'd attempted to drive the Combaticons into some semblance of order.

So he'd stayed.

The corridor seemed smaller than it had been before, but that was just a glitched assumption of his pressured processor from keeping up with the tendrils that almost covered anything they weren't standing on right now, he knew. He even scanned their surroundings again and no, it wasn't smaller.

It still felt smaller.

"Jetfire, I swear to the Matrix, if you don't hurry up---" He stomped down on two tendrils which had been aiming for Jetfire's legs, and lit his thruster. They crumbled to ash underneath the assault.

"I know. I just need a few more moments..." Jetfire knew that was a bit too much to ask at present, but the glyphs continually avoided his understanding, their imprint slippery in his processor - quite literally. He frowned, simply ignored Starscream's sharp response and traced out the pattern of a glyph in the air right above it. He both didn't want to touch it, and it was hard to actually do so, but...

Well.

Maybe if he couldn't get his optics to record the glyphs, maybe by touch. It was still hard to turn his visual feed off, because that meant he couldn't keep a corner of his field locked on the fight behind him. The last he saw was Elita ducking under a tendril, but not quite fast enough to completely avoid it as one claw scraped along the largest crest on her helm.

He needed to hurry.

Pressing his hand down, past a sickly-slick feeling that clung to the metal of his palm and fingers, Jetfire traced the glyphs out. They wavered, trying to change his perception of them in his processor, but this time the meaning aligned to glyphs he did know.

"Starscream. I need one of your hands." Keeping his optics turned off, Jetfire pushed the glyphs in the order needed, which left the sensor nodes in his hand feeling like they were covered in crude oil, and reached his other hand out. Starscream grumbled behind him, but then he had a hand in his.

"What for?"

"Well, your seal-opening powers don't just work on seals put down by the Thirteen." Changing his grip so he was holding Starscream's wrist, he pulled it towards himself and then past him - which of course forced Starscream to back up against him. "I think it's because Unicron is tied to entropy, if a vastly twisted and sort of negative version of it. We're spoofing his network ID and password, so to speak." A tiny smile on his lips at Starscream's incredulous noise, he pressed the palm of Starscream's hand against the center of the seal, onlining his optics to it unfolding.

"Prime, we're in!" called Jetfire as he whirled around, rifle in hand and fired past the three, briefly clearing up the boiling mass of tendrils.

"Well done, the two of you. Ah, excuse me..." With that, Optimus snagged up both Elita and Chromia up and ran in after Starscream and Jetfire, firing behind him until the seal snapped closed right as he passed through it - and almost lost his bearings.

The moment they stepped through the seal's opening, gravity ceased to be. The light was strongly greenish, with huge metal bulbs in clusters spread throughout the space, and rods spearing through the open areas from cluster to cluster. Along them and around the bulbs, greenish lightning shot through with black crackled.

There was no sound beyond that suddenly-clear, high-pitched static pulsing in micro-breem long beats. They couldn't even hear the workings of their own frames.

"This is..." Elita trailed off, optics wide, unable to finish.

This demanded awe, in all sense of the word.

"From here, you don't need to stay. You should attempt to leave before it's too late." He knew it was somewhat useless to tell them they could leave now, because it was probable the moment they stepped outside they'd be swarmed, but it might still give them the headstart they'd need...

"Oh, come off it, Prime. We're here already, going out there now won't get us out in time. Just slagging do what you're going to do." Jerkily, Starscream crossed his arms over his cockpit and almost shook off Jetfire's hand when it came to rest on his shoulder.

Optimus chuckled, dryly and feeling tired, wishing he could have gotten all the way here alone, but knowing he wouldn't have.

Turning away from the little group near the closed seal, where Elita and Chromia had clasped hands, their backs straight where they hung in the suspended reality of Unicron's spark chamber. Starscream still had his arms crossed over his cockpit, but might have been leaning a shade into Jetfire, who was close up behind him.

Moving into the middle of the space wasn't the easiest, since actually moving his legs or firing the thrusters of the jetpack he wore did nothing. Instead he had to simply... will himself over there, and ended up sort of drifting to the middle. Opening his chestplates took less than a thought, and while he winced in remembrance of how it'd felt when Shockwave ripped the Matrix out, it fell gently into his hands with not so much as a twinge of pain.

The whole thing was silver, and looked like a partly-opened spark chamber suspended in a somewhat-square oval, the edges of which he gripped. It was warm in his hands and the light that spilled from the opening was blue-tinged white, like purest spark-light.

This made the fourth time he'd held the Matrix in his hands - the first when he was given it as Optronix, the second when he woke his Autobots up from their stasis lock in the Arctic sea from the crash of the Ark II, the third when Grimlock gave it back after Shockwave had ripped it out.

This would be the second time he would actually use it.

Optics flickering off, Optimus raised his arms over his helm, holding the Matrix aloft and felt it shift. Instinctively, he knew the metal plates that made up the round center were unfolding, opening up to leave a central band of metal all but swallowed by the energy now bared.

Around them, the pulsing screech and silence both quavered and the lighting suddenly surged towards them, rage and a crushing intent bearing down---

"Even a single spark may be enough to light the darkest hour, and sacrifice is never in vain... so let our light dispel this darkness." He was hardly aware of the words even as he spoke them and as the Matrix flared, so, too, did the four sparks present. Their light seeped through their frames to halo each of them in a glittering outline, joining the bright corona from the Matrix.

The lightning crashed into the light, heaved, beat down and then exploded away into streams of green and black as the light bloomed fiercely white. The unseen walls of the chamber pulsed with sudden darkness which reared out and tried to contain the expanding riot of light, warmth and above all, the infinite possibility of creation.

For a moment, the spark chamber was still, the space engulfed in a shell that was deeper than black.

But the force of the Matrix could not be contained, and the spark chamber walls trembled - and let the light through.

"Run!" Optimus shot back to the others with a hand against his closing chestplates, and the seal fairly fell apart as they passed through it.

"We'll never make it out in time! There's not even enough space for them to transform!" snapped Starscream, jerking his helm to Elita and Chromia as the smallest among them. Even as they ran, cracks formed in the metal, chasing them along and spilling bright, searing light all around them disintegrating the tendrils that shot out to attack them and giving light where before had been muffled darkness.

"We'll get as far as we can," murmured Optimus and reached out, lifting up Elita even as Jetfire offered the same courtesy to Chromia. In altmode those two would have been faster than Optimus, but in root mode and without speed like Blurr's, the other three, taller, longer legs and with heavier engines, would have outrun them.

As Unicron seemed to not so much fall apart as melt around them, they all knew they wouldn't make it. It was too far to the space outside of Unicron from here, and Jetfire glanced down and sideways, meeting red optics as bright as his own.

A moment later, and there was a smaller hand twined with the one he still had free, because what else even mattered now---

A light flared green in front of them, and they all barely stopped in time, nearly crashing into the mech suddenly there in front of them. The light played off his white, maroon and turquoise armour, with details in bright gold. Jetfire stared, and despite the situation, everything suddenly clicked.

This wasn't just the mech he'd met in the corridor to Maccadam's, this was also the very same mech who'd appeared in the Fallen's memory of his defeat.

"You're---"

"Not now! Go through before it's too late!" Vector Prime swung his sword again, leaving a greenish portal hanging in the middle of a crumbling metal structure that was quickly becoming a white-lit nothing of warm potential. Jetfire pushed the frozen Optimus forward and the portal closed as everything turned to light.

---------------
Sol System, space. The Moon. Middle of November, 2004.

It was raining when they stepped out into the barely-there atmosphere of the Moon, the portal flickering closed behind them and the looming shape of Omega Supreme slowly standing up on the horizon.

Optics flickering, wide and stunned, they turned their faceplates upwards, into a glittering rain of silvered metal fragments and glowing drops of energy, the origin of which was the crumbling form of Unicron and the twisting scar of space around the shape as light bled from Unicron like a second sun.

In a last flare that blotted out all the stars and competed with the light from the sun, the last of Unicron fell away into light and the twisting space around it stabilized. Left was the cybertronian forces, scattered and stunned, and the glowing rain.

Where each glowing drop touched, smaller wounds closed up, pain eased and energon ceased to spill out of cracks and tears. Where the drops accumulated on the surface of the Moon, shining golden stones, neither opaque nor transparent, but rather glowing with their own light solidified to dot the ground. Where the rain reached Earth and fell on grass or plants, they flushed with more vibrant colours, and those who were up and about, staring up at the clearing sky and reached out for the drops, had pains eased and a rush of reassurance flow through them.

The sudden snap of the general comm. frequency activating was loud enough the four on the Moon's surface jerked, though Vector Prime remained unmoved, staring up at the space where Unicron had been, his red optics dim.

::Optimus..?::

::... Here, Prowl. We're all here.::

The last drop of glowing energy winked out as it fell on Optimus Prime's bared faceplates.

Chapter Text

Space, Sol System, beyond the Moon. Half a joor after Unicron's defeat.

It was quiet out here now.

Not that space could be anything but quiet, but a battle was a battle and even with the Nemesis in stationary orbit on the "dark" side of the Moon from Earth, there was nothing else moving out here now beyond the occasional debris.

Sunstorm was a bright spot against the blackness, his dark protoform lit up by a golden halo of energy that kept him isolated from space. Not so much for the cold or vacuum, but more for the debris spinning around, which, whenever anything hit the shield popped and fizzled as it burned into nothingness.

The Light that had cradled his spark and borrowed his frame had left as the last of Unicron had fell away to nothing, but Sunstorm did not feel lonely... or betrayed, for that matter. He knew exactly where it was, and how to listen for it. It tugged at him like his spark was tied to it and while there was a prickle of pain along his protoform for keeping up the shield, it was a fraction of what he had endured before.

His new existence - and new chassis, when it was ready - carried a bit less of the gifts he'd been given before, but really, it was negligible. If necessary and in the name of the Light he could blaze as bright as needed; he would repair himself as usual.

Lifting his helm, Sunstorm stared with a soft, nearly drunken little smile at the patch of space and stars he was facing; the direction of Cybertron. None of the others were probably aware of it, unable to feel that bright little beacon because of the light they carried, but they could all feel it, he knew.

They may not know what he did, or show the proper respect, but their lights were precious nonetheless---

::... Sunstorm?:: Ratchet sounded... cautious, but not reluctant, over the comm. but then any damage Sunstorm had wrought had been reversible, and what Sunstorm was now was (hopefully) at least somewhat removed from what he'd been before the meltdown explosion.

Optics flickering, Sunstorm was honestly confused that anyone had bothered to contact him, even if from what he'd understood, the Autobots planned on supplying his full upgrade. It was a surprise still, so it took him nearly a klik to respond, but the channel remained open even with the lapse.

::Yes?::

::Unless you've had medical attention elsewhere, I want you back here. Depending on how things look, we might be able to arrange a full upgrade soon." It was quite obvious he meant the Constructicons, and there was no request in those words. Sunstorm bristled, the nubby protoform extensions that would mesh into the wings of his full upgrade twitching.

How dare that mech think to order him around---!

But he was only doing it out of concern for his current well-being, wasn't he? Sunstorm shook his helm, frowning, but couldn't figure out why that would be offensive, even if his recovery, blessed as it was, was vastly superior to any profane method of healing.

::Very well. I'll return shortly.::

And Sunstorm did, casting one last glance at the patch of space he'd been facing and the stars contained within that, then down at the Nemesis lurking like a purple shadow far above the Moon. With a brief tilt of his helm, Sunstorm shot away, rounding the Moon and aiming back towards Earth, much in the way he'd arrived the first time.

Comparatively, there was hardly any pain at all, even if it was there as he pushed a frame and systems not really meant for re-entry into doing just that, especially as the protoform was unprotected, and kicking his extremely magnified self-repair into gear. It was manageable. It was even more than that, and despite the base simplicity, Sunstorm spared a thought that the Earth was, perhaps, even a little pretty when he got a closer view of it.

---------------
Earth, Alaska, Autobot City. Two days after Unicron's defeat.

There was a sort of dazed quietness hovering over the city as people went about healing from injuries, helping around the city and preparing to return to Cybertron. It had lingered for two days, ever since the last of the glowing rain had winked out, and even the awareness of a more or less fully crewed Decepticon warship on the other side of the Moon couldn't squash it.

In fact, indications were that the Nemesis was clouded in the same sort of lassitude as well, which lowered the twitchy awareness somewhat. They were, of course, all aware and wary of the fact that Megatron had enough of a force right now to make life very unpleasant for Earth, even with the number of Autobots or willing former such in Autobot City.

But, if nothing else, there would probably be no attacks until after this strange little meeting which had come about without any particular planning. Instead of using the former Decepticon base in the Painted Desert, there was a video connection established with the Nemesis and Megatron on that end, and Optimus, a few other Autobots, and the first of Primus' Primes that had still stayed present - though it had looked like Vector Prime would leave before it quite a few times before the meeting.

He hadn't, however and was standing with Alpha Trion, Solus and Breakaway, the four of them probably having some conversation over radio as Solus and Vector both shook their helms, Alpha Trion huffed out gentle static and Breakaway merely nodded. Then they turned to face the rest of the room as it seemed things were pulling to actually start, though there was something of an awkward silence as Optimus and Megatron glanced at each other, Jazz shifted on his feet, and no one seemed to know, precisely, where to start.

Probably because there'd been something of a vague agreement to have this meeting, but no one having an exact idea of why or what they were supposed to discuss. The war, despite the reality of the Nemesis and no formal treaty (which probably wouldn't be forthcoming anyway) seemed very far away at the moment.

"The way the battle went and how we finished it isn't the only possible way to do it, is it?" Jetfire finally broke the quiet, looking up from where he'd been frowning at a datapad, glancing at Optimus and then over at the four of the First.

The four glanced at each other, and then Solus nodded, folding her arms over her chestplates.

"There are. None of them would have barred Unicron as completely from this reality as you managed, however." Taking a step out on the floor, she shook her helm slowly. "One of those methods would be the one we availed ourselves of, which meant setting an elaborate trap and fighting Unicron until it could be sprung and he was partly pushed out of this reality, partly trapped between it, in a locked pocket dimension."

"It was, simply put, a closed time-space loop of this dimension I severed from the rest of it, that had its locks set in transwarp space - as long as that remained undisturbed the 'cell' would've held." Vector took up the narration, fingering the hilt of his sword as he spoke, optics somewhat dim. "It was the best we could come up with at the time and that I could safely construct - it was meant to be a temporary solution, but the Fallen's betrayal changed it to become, by necessity, as permanent of one as possible."

Looking up and letting his red optics wander among the room, including Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave and Shockwave on the other end of the video feed, Vector Prime smiled faintly. It wasn't particularly amused, too dry for that, but still there.

"Unfortunately, as you expanded your knowledge of less conventional methods of travel this affected the integrity of the cell. The disturbances to time-space transwarp travel or stationary space bridges mean eroded the locks. This is what allowed the Fallen to come through when he did - when Unicron was pulled through, he was still partly locked away, 'sleeping' as Primus was, which would be why the Fallen attempted to undo the Seal over the Well of All Sparks, as pulling Primus fully aware and lighting up Cybertron would've acted as a beacon."

"The other method has many variations, and would simply rely on pummelling Unicron into as many pieces as possible, forcing him to pause for a length of time to repair himself. That would probably appear as if he'd been defeated, but in time, he would have come back..." Shrugging, Solus drummed the fingers of one hand against an upper arm, arms still crossed. "This would, besides the way things actually went, have been the way you'd probably have dealt with it, as the Prime's presence out on the battlefield would've protected you from Unicron's influence in a similar way as Sunstorm did while possessed, but more reliably as the Matrix is more of a focus than a possession could offer."

"So, either you got to have some ridiculous self-sacrificial idiots for a Prime and an entourage or you have to redo the fight eventually, and repeatedly? That's ridiculous." Starscream cut through the momentary silence that had settled as everybody considered the reality that they'd ended up with the permanent method by chance - though Optimus, of course, knew it hadn't really been by 'chance'.

He'd felt the need for it.

He could have declined to go through with it and then they'd have stumbled upon the temporary beat-down method by chance, but as he hadn't...

"Unfortunately, yes," said Alpha Trion with a slow, tired shake of his helm. "Vector's timely interference changed the 'sacrifice' part, obviously, but otherwise there would have been no other way to get around it." He gave his fellow Prime a smile, and while Vector dipped his helm in a nod, he then looked away, frowning.

"... and what now?" Bumblebee's quiet, clear voice cut through the stillness that lingered even in this room, making the gathered mechs look at each other, then to Prime and a few, furtive glances were sent Megatron's way as well.

What now, indeed?

"Now you get two mega-cycles." Megatron wasn't the only one who looked surprised at that proclamation, but he shrugged and leaned back in his seat, seemingly accepting what he'd just said. The look Starscream cast over Megatron's helm was openly incredulous, but he didn't actually say anything.

"And after that?" Frowning, Optimus leaned forward in his seat. "While we don't agree, I don't think there's anyone who hasn't heard at least something of your speeches from when you were forming the Decepticons, Megatron, at least after the fact. And if you push onwards now, when part of our so-called 'purpose' has been dealt with..." The tilt of Optimus' helm and the arch of the upper angle of one optic challenged Megatron to take the last step into the no-return of not even the thinnest veils of 'righteous' excuses for the Decepticons' cause.

Unicron was no more in their reality, the door locked, and beyond that...

"If we are the guardians of this galaxy, if not the universe, Prime, Unicron wouldn't be the only enemy to defend against." Megatron's faceplates went from tight and flat, to a slow, pleased smile. Behind the arguing leaders, Vector Prime and Alpha Trion almost simultaneously hid their faceplates in a palm each, for slightly different but similar reasons.

So many variations on the theme, so many repeats... and peace was apparently hard to regain after it had been shattered, for whatever reason.

"If we are, we cannot go around conquering other species to bestow our so-called 'protection' on them, Megatron! And even if we are... shouldn't we take care of our own first? The Quintessons are still out there, and more liable to attack us first, and if we're spread and split trying to attack each other..."

"You could always surrender, Optimus."

The noise that broke out didn't silence until Optimus revved his engine, since the hand he'd held up hadn't quieted anyone.

"Can we at least consider serious options here, Megatron, because you know that is not a thing that will happen, either for myself or the Autobot faction as a whole." This time, Optimus' hand in the air actually didn't just keep the Autobots quiet, but Megatron tilted his helm, eyeing the Prime.

There was, admittedly, a glittering, mocking sheen to the red optics, but he stayed quiet.

"What if they attack, Megatron? Now, in three mega-cycles, in a vorn, and neither side have lost, and we haven't come to some sort of agreement. What then?"

Silence. It wore on, dragged into a klik as Megatron and Optimus stared at each other, and then Megatron settled back into his seat again.

"Then there'll be a temporary cease-fire again, even if this all could have been prevented if you would just have accepted the change in the order of things. It's not as if your primary function is war, offensive or defensive, compared to some of us, as Shockwave so belatedly discovered," said Megatron, waving dismissively at Shockwave off beyond the back of his chair.

Optimus - and quite a few others - glanced behind them, to the four of the First who stood right there. Solus dipped her helm in something like a nod, something like a shake.

"He's not entirely wrong, but I doubt he found the whole scope of it."

It wasn't a completely new thought - not that somehow a large swathe of the population was completely incapable of violent actions, even if the Council of Ancients had firmly pushed the 'peaceful' angle. But from the beginning the Autobot forces had scrabbled to adapt to carrying weapons in one form or another, finding it not just hard but nearly alien to defend themselves in ways that required lethal violence.

Sure, some of it would undoubtedly have been due to the emotional dampeners, which those in the Decepticon ranks also would have to deal with, but either way most of them had been closer to offensive or defensive functions in one way or another, than any given Autobot.

"It's certainly something to, well. Explore." Perceptor finally offered from where he, like Jetfire, had stood looking down at a datapad, working away, though the glance he sent Shockwave made it clear he would rather not talk to that mech about it.

"Later, then. For now, I want something drafted and agreed upon to the effect of a cease-fire in the case of a Quintesson attack before these two mega-cycles are over," said Prowl, staring at Megatron with narrowed optics as if he expected the mech to immediately go back on what he'd said.

Really, it wasn't an entirely unreasonable expectation.

Megatron just smirked, and dipped his helm.

"It will be binding for anyone who would be slated to take over should either Prime or I fall, then."

Starscream made a rude noise and his optics flickered in something like an eye-roll, though focused on the ground instead of skywards. Though when Megatron glanced to him, he just waved a hand sharply, giving the warlord a sneer.

"Something to add, Starscream?"

"No, since you seem to be done here, without asking for additional input." Starscream huffed and then whirled around and left without ceremony (unless one counted the flared wings and rather sharp movements, of course).

"Two mega-cycles, noon, your former base in the Painted Desert?" asked Optimus in the silence after Starscream had stomped out, and Megatron waved a hand in what was probably agreement before the call cut.

---------------
Oregon, Mt. Hood. Early morning local time, five days after Unicron's defeat.

He'd been flying along the southern coast of British Columbia when the one-way, encrypted ping came through and he made an extra turn over Vancouver as he decrypted it and quietly reviewed the... ah "request" it contained.

The ping had been both a surprise and not, but either way Jetfire was quite pleased to have received it, no matter the issues that might arise from meeting like this when a situation wasn't taking place. On the other hand, they weren't in active combat right now either, with the majority of the two mega-cycles still left of the cease-fire. Jetfire had been using this time to get acquainted with Earth, and today he had started early enough this morning he'd had some time until the sun rose, for a chance of deciding where to view the sunrise.

And then the ping had come in, and it didn't even take half a thought to change his potential destination of Mount St. Helens to another mountain instead, though he wasn't sure what Starscream meant, if anything, by choosing the crash-site of the Ark. Especially since the ship had been ruined for well over a month now, after Ratchet had thought it better to activate the self-destruct rather than let Starscream have the ship, usable or not.

Somewhere south of Mount St. Helens but before the river, Jetfire gained a shadow that soon switched to lead the way, and it wasn't a US military escort of just one jet. In fact, it was doubtful any of the Seekers, disguised or not, would ever have been able to properly blend in considering their colours, and Starscream's in particular.

Starscream veered off sharply right before Mt. Hood, letting Jetfire land by himself and wander up to the decimated mountainside where the Ark had been buried and was now a hopeless clutter of twisted, melted metal and rocks, from one end to the other.

The explosion had done quite a work on the ship, but that was, obviously, the reason for a self-destruct.

Standing in the shadow of the remains and scattered pieces of a ruined engine nozzle, Jetfire stood quietly until Starscream had come up beside him, and then turned to face the Seeker, tilting his helm.

"Any reason you chose this location?"

The previous meeting spot on Mount St. Helens had been closer given his relative location when he got the ping after all.

Starscream shifted, scowled and crossed his arms over his cockpit. Jetfire let the smile that wanted to break out tug at his lips, not just because of Starscream's expression and inability to stay still, but also because, well... They were standing right here, on an alien planet and things had both changed a lot and hardly at all.

"Autobot territory." Then Starscream paused, glancing up at the buried wreck with a flicker of red glow that lit up nearby stones in the darkness. "Former Autobot territory, but it still counts," said Starscream with a huff, and the small smile on Jetfire's lips drew out into a dry grin.

"I suppose it does." It was a rather huge concession actually, that they meet here and not in a "neutral" area, or the base in the Painted Desert, and the thought flickered along his circuits. That flicker turned warmer as Starscream angled his helm sideways, giving him a narrow stare and the early morning darkness making the glow from his optics paint his dark face in shades of rose.

Starscream had of course always been attractive. It wasn't as if he wasn't in full possession of a full and fully functioning sensory suite, and it would be a little hard to miss that, but that had never been the important points for Jetfire.

But as things had gone lately, and as the reality that he couldn't just kiss Starscream, but actually wanted to settled in, something he'd simply never thought of before - not needed, no time, too angry, and then a lot of distance, both literal and figurative - tiny movements like that, or Starscream being Starscream, made another sort of charge curl around his circuits alongside the deeply-set... regard.

It wasn't precisely the word, not really, but it worked well enough. What Starscream was, was a shade too complicated to be boiled down to a single word.

"It absolutely does! It doesn't matter." Waving away his earlier vehemence, Starscream shifted on his feet again, thrusters digging down into cracked ground and sending tiny rocks skittering away.

Jetfire almost gave in to the urge to lean down and kiss the Seeker that had flickered up when Starscream had looked up at him with that angled, narrow stare, but remained where he was - it was quite obvious Starscream was working up to something.

"So why are we---" He didn't get to finish as Starscream snatched something out of subspace and practically shoved it at him. Startled, Jetfire managed to take it before Starscream let go and it fell down on the ground because he missed catching it.

The whole thing was about as large as Jetfire's palm, which meant about the size of Starscream's whole hand, carved in high-relief from a piece of metal that had been shaved into a hexagon. The high-relief portrayed a curious blend of the Autobrand and the Decepticon insignia, with the Decepticon part on the bottom and the Autobot one on the top.

It had been painted blue, and a particular shade of it.

Jetfire resisted the urge to rub his helm, to not run his hand over the little vent at the top.

"... where did the metal come from, Starscream?" Jetfire looked up from staring at it quietly, and he should have said something else probably, but that was the first thing that popped into his mind. "It wasn't the Ark, was it."

It was a statement, and for the same reason that question had come up at all - Jetfire had both seen Starscream's little trophies before he defected and caught the Seeker in the act of gathering his... materials. One would have to excuse Jetfire his suspicion, optics narrowed, field drawn close and helm tilted, since the metal for Starscream's little trophy collection hadn't come from any normal location.

"From that purple maniac. Seemed fitting." Starscream's grin was wide, toothy and carried not a shred of... well, pretty much anything it probably should after admitting to taking a piece from someone's frame and making a piece of art with it.

Usually it was gimbals, but given the size of the plate the high-relief was set upon, Jetfire thought it must have come from Galvatron's outer armour somewhere.

He stared at the carving for a long moment, and then, finally, shook his helm.

"It's very well done. Why the... ah, joint insignia?" Running a thumb over it, Jetfire kept his optics focused on it even if he could still see Starscream straightening up, wings flaring a little, and he had to control his expression not to grin at the preening. Even if it was over over a carving made from somebody.

He hadn't really thought Starscream would ever give a piece like this to him, but at least he was... used (as much as he could be)... to Starscream's chosen material.

"Because of you."

Jetfire looked up then, and met the bright, intent stare. Starscream's faceplates were... relaxed and yet sharp, a minute little tilt of his helm and... He didn't really need to say much more. Because Jetfire had been a Decepticon and he was an Autobot, and Starscream might finally be able to accept that in some way.

And that... meant a lot more than the symbol the gift was, or the gift in itself, even if they might end up having to face each other on the battlefield again.

He hoped not, but just because this had happened, it didn't change anything in the wider reality. It still felt like a large enough shift things ought to look more different than merely the sky lighting, turning rose and gold to the east, and the shadows down here washing out into gray, revealing Starscream's red and blue.

Another spark-pulse long moment, which shuddered between them in a twinned echo of that same shared spark-pulse, and Jetfire smiled, the glow from his optics brightening.

"Come fly with me while there's still time to do so?" Jetfire tucked away his 'gift' in subspace, looking to Starscream and holding out a hand in offering. Starscream stared at it and made a show of crossing his arms again. He didn't want him to think he could just make him do whatever and whenever he wanted to do it, whatever "it" might be.

Jetfire's reaction to... well, not the gift, not really. It was everything else, since had he merely given Jetfire a random carving made from a piece of Galvatron, there would have been dry, veiled-snarky words and an arched look sent his way. But it wasn't really about the gift, was it, and the softening of Jetfire's faceplates and the glow to his optics...

"... This won't solve anything, you know," said Starscream with a sneer and a twitch of his helm, none of which were as sharp as they probably ought to be. Jetfire did confusing things to his spark, which included him just standing there, hand out, palm up, optics glowing softly and a dry half-quirk of a smile on his faceplates and that didn't even include the earlier reaction to the gift, or the reason for it.

"So why not take the opportunity while we can?" Jetfire tilted his helm and slag it all how could just something like that make a flush of charge thrill through him? This was out of control!

... But on the other hand, he didn't really feel like leaving, either.

"Fine."

Starscream didn't take Jetfire's hand as his thrusters took him up in the air and just past the larger jet, but he turned around in his ascent, hovering a moment until Jetfire's systems powered up and he rose up in the air behind him.

With a smirk, Starscream turned around and shot off upwards, transforming as he went and Jetfire soon caught up as the sun continued to rise, drenching everything in light. It was a good morning for a flight.

And Starscream ignored the fiery little flicker of charge as as he thought of Jetfire's expression earlier, and the softened curve of his lips.

That did not belong here!

... Maybe.

---------------
Cybertron, sub-surface Altihex, the Well of All Sparks.

The green portal deposited the mech that stepped out of it outside of a closed, circular seal of a door, the glyphs decorating it familiar to Vector Prime. Putting Rhisling back where it belonged when he was not wielding it, Vector slowly walked up to the door and laid a hand on it

He wasn't sure he could... should, enter.

Not with what he'd done, going against his very function just to assist in the very last part of the battle against Unicron. But he'd seen it all and it hadn't seem... right, to let it end in such a flat, small way for those four sparks that had, more or less willingly, gone into the bowels of uncreation to rescue their reality.

But by stepping in and removing them from their original fate, he'd changed things, and he might also irreversibly have damaged them.

Static burst against his lips as he sighed, tracing the nearest glyph and then straightened, wings settling against his back. He was a Prime, one of the first created by Primus' hand and it was unbecoming of him to not face the potential censure he deserved.

With that in mind, Vector Prime touched the center of the seal and watched the surface crackle with blue lightning from where he touched. With a dry twist of his lips, he simply walked through the seemingly solid metal surface, charge dancing around his form and the metal of the seal as he passed through it.

The space beyond was circular, a perfect dome rising above the open center of the room, which was mostly taken up by a pit with a staircase leading down. Walking up to the edge of the first step, Vector felt his spark twist at the sight of the glittering light at the bottom.

Before, this place had been still and unlit, eons of darkened muteness as Primus had retreated to make sure Cybertron would remain unnoticed if Unicron ever got out of where he'd been trapped. Now, however, the Well of All Sparks was lit by a warm, vibrating glow that made the very air hum and curl about the chassis of those who stepped past the door-seal.

The light was no longer sleeping in enforced withdrawal to keep its creations safe, but rather spilling into every crevice and corner, from the core to the very surface of Cybertron. And so, here at the Well, at the beginning and end of all sparks, it cracked into the tangible world of its children... though most were not aware what or where this place was.

Vector Prime knew of course, as any of his siblings knew, along with a few others still alive who had been present for the Fallen's attempt at pre-emptively breaking open the Seal of Primus to the well, to act as a beacon for Unicron.

Walking down the steps slowly, he briefly knelt at the rim of the Well itself, dipping his hands into the light. At his touch, the golden glow burst into rainbow fractures, each little facet glittering with strains of sparklight, waiting for another time... or sparks which had not yet passed from the Well to the Matrix at all, and the infinite possibility of life in between those.

It did not retreat from his touch, but rather wrapped about his hand, and Vector wasn't sure how to take that. Standing up again, Vector shifted his wings and then took the step that brought him over the edge of the Well, down into the light, which immediately rose up to embrace him.

Yes, Vector?

The words were like soothing lightning that crackled across him when his creator finally spoke, and not at all what or how he'd expected, because the light that had wrapped around his hand was (would be) different from Primus' reaction. He'd interfered... should there not be condemnation, however understanding?

He'd broken his function. That Primus didn't know was impossible.

"I apologise."

The light around him swirled and drew in, slowly taking a particular shape. While the rest was still an unformed miasma of unending energy with tiny shards of glittering sparks darting through every now and then, suddenly Vector was standing on the palm of a vast hand.

And for what? All are given free will. Your function guides you, not determines you. Now... did you break anything? Gentle intonation with faint, murmuring amusement beneath, and Vector Prime frowned. There was nothing amusing about deviating from the set course! Wasn't that part of his function, to make sure things happened as they should?

"I interfered. What I did changed the course of things as they were supposed to happen," said Vector, and couldn't help the faint huff to his voice, folding his arms over his curved chestplates.

As decided by whom, Vector? You never see the effects of your own actions, prior to making them. None do, except, perhaps, my sibling.

"... But you..." trailing off, he suddenly wasn't sure of his conviction or the reason that he'd come to the conclusion. The light swirled, and a finger angled in, briefly pressing a fingertip against his back, bleeding warmth into his plating.

Not even I. The plan is vast, and while I am everywhere as far as I can reach, I do not see the effects of my actions in each little facet until they've been made. A whisper of a wind, a sigh carrying both regret, acceptance and understanding. Blue lightning stirred, wrapping around that immaterial sigh like children gathering around a distraught parent before it dispersed again. The pattern works, but does in some cases require constant changes. I do what I can, as do all of you, by the choices you make. If I could actually tell the effects beforehand, my purview wouldn't be light and creation, child. You have as much choice to act as any of them.

Even, in a way, more license to. He could after all technically change the effects of his actions, as long as they weren't too vast or complicated in their effect upon the fabric of space-time. Vector stared into the bright energy and then dipped his helm, hiding his faceplates in a hand.

He wasn't sure if he was angry or not.

"If you did, you'd be the Chronarchitect." That was simple at least, the understanding even feeling somewhat frustratingly obvious when he was looking at it from this end. "But why wasn't I told..."

We learn as we live, Vector Prime. That's part of life. A pause, but Vector didn't have the time to say anything in interjection as something, crackling with charge, infinite possibilities and love, brushed against the top of his helm. I'm proud of you.

And then he found himself standing at the rim of the Well of All Sparks again, the golden glow rendering the metal of the chamber flush with a thousand little shifts in colour.

"I suppose it might be too long since I learned something new," said Vector with a shake of his helm and a slight narrowing to his optics, eyeing the bursting Well with a glance. The light fluttered, sort of winked and he found himself chuckling.

"Fine. Thank you." Reaching a hand out into the glow that emanated from the Well, it curled in charged little flames around his fingers before it dispersed to light up the chamber itself, and Vector left the Well of All Sparks feeling... reassured, if still a little annoyed.

Perhaps that was all right, however, because living was learning.

In the chamber where the Well of All Sparks was housed, the light swirled and pulsed warmly, and Cybertron, lack of wide-spread artificial lights or not since most of the surface was still ravaged, seemed to glow a bit brighter in its re-established and once again stabilised orbit around the sun the humans called Alpha Centauri A.

For now, all was well.