Rattrap had been around the block a few times. Sure, it was peace time, but he’d done his time. He’d taken plenty of contracts over the years: good, bad -- mostly bad. Like the bodyguard job on that power plant in Sector 87, or the counter-terrorist defense contract in Kaon, or the security job for an exploration vessel bound for a distant system -- and funny how THAT assignment had wound up being the worst of the lot.
But, he had to admit, being stuck on a satellite with a containment breach and overrun by ravening scraplets was coming in a less than distant second.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” sang Rattrap, checking the D-block hall for the fifth time. He’d blown out most of the nests in the first five blocks, but D-block was the supply level, and it had a lot of vents and chambers for them to renest and reinfest the place, and BOY how the HELL did his employers let it get this bad? “Little bastards.”
Little patter of clawed feet in the empty storage compartment above his head. Rattrap blew air out of his vents in a deep sigh and set the shock grenades under it. He put some distance, counted to five, and set it off at four. The scraplets screamed. A fresh wave of them poured out of the mine shaft above his head. Rattrap threw down another grenade and got out the flamethrower his employers had oh-so-kindly lent him before sending him to the station.
Scraplets liked that even less than the grenades.
“Hey, hey, hey, don’t give me guff, I’ll have you know I’m a WAR HERO--” said Rattrap.
The scraplets chittered jeeringly.
“Of a war that ain’t officially on record, but I PROMISE you the fate of the universe was TOTALLY at stake.”
A scraplet attempted to gnaw through his connector. Rattrap swore and turned on the flamethrower.
Three megacycles and a jury-rigged rocket launcher later, and Rattrap blew the remaining scraplets out of the station’s cargo hold and into the cold, cold embrace of space.
The bay doors shut. Rattrap let go of the beam he’d grabbed to keep from getting flushed out the door with the pests. He opened a channel with the station AI.
“That do it?” he asked. “Not feeling any weird itchiness or gnawing anywhere else?”
The lights from his comm-link told him the station was running a check of its own.
“AH YES,” it responded, after a time. “MUCH BETTER. THAT HAS BEEN BOTHERING ME LIKE YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE--”
“Yeah, well, next time a merchant ship decides to lie to customs about their cargo, make sure you flush THEM out with the scraplets,” said Rattrap. “Your vent system’s going to need some patching. Hope you don’t expect that out of ME because THAT will be extra--”
“I CAN INITIALIZE REPAIR MODE NOW THAT THE INFESTATION HAS BEEN CLEARED,” said the station. “BUT THANK YOU FOR YOUR OFFER. PAYMENT SHALL BE PROCESSED WITHIN THE NEXT MEGA-CYCLE.”
“Now you’re talking,” said Rattrap. “Pleasure working with you.”
The payment was processed and ready for pick-up at the next fueling station. Which suited Rattrap fine. He needed to resupply after that run. Still, waste of ammo and slightly chewed armor aside, he’d cut at least a small profit -- which would be enough to keep him running independent for just a bit longer. He’d been avoiding long term stations because his last assignment broke a few laws, both in the eyes of the government and the space time continuum.
He was just back into open space when he put out a notice on the local freelance boards that he was ready for work again. Five cycles later, he received a ping on his comm-links. Coded blue and encrypted. Government handle. Crap. Rattrap deleted it. A second message popped up a moment later. Coded blue. Encrypted. Personal this time.
Handle was a string of familiar identity numbers packaged under the call-sign ‘Optimus Primal.’
“Nice of you to let me through,” said Optimus Primal as his face appeared on the upper screen. “I thought you’d make me call again.”
Rattrap defiantly grabbed a bag of energon chips off his dash and shoved them into his faceplate on principle. Optimus Primal hadn’t been his direct superior in more than three stellar cycles, but old habits died hard. Especially when those old habits had involved the worst mission of his damn life. He didn’t want him to think he’d learned to be respectful in their time apart.
“Yeah, well, the light was bothering me,” said Rattrap.
“We’ve received a special request for assistance,” said Optimus, “from Earth.”
Contact with Earth has been reestablished after the Axalon crew’s return to Cybertron. Their return had coincided with the end of the vicious quantum storm that had once moved the Maximal Elders to declare the entire solar system a no-fly zone. Not that these two things were related to each other official. Nope. Not one bit.
“Yeah? What are the meatbags up to?”
Optimus looked at him. His internal fans made an audible sigh over the link. He held the bridge of his faceplate.
“The humans were conducting an archeological dig at a distant location in what is now a majorly populated area of their pacific northwest,” he said, collecting himself. “They found something that might be of interest to us. They think it might be Cybertronian in origin.”
“Sure this ain’t one of their ‘UFOs,’ ’cause you know that shit’s usually just plane exhaust, right? Organics know jack all about waste disposal--”
“The pacific northwest,” repeated Optimus. He sent Rattrap a topographical map of the area he meant, just to prove a point. Rattrap took one look at the shape of the mountain and almost dropped his spanner.
“Slag,” he said, eloquently.
“I take it it looks familiar to you.”
“It’d look familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a fraggin’ history holo,” said Rattrap, transferring the photo to a memory drive FAR AWAY from his conscious processes. “Why you hiring me to go back to that rock?”
“Because I have been given the privilege of choosing my contractor for this assignment,” said Optimus, with the careful enunciation of one who always read his instructions three or four times before relaying them, “and also the facility where they are keeping the object in question is built for human access.”
“Meaning you don’t fit through the door.”
“Meaning I don’t fit through the door,” confirmed Optimus.
“Okay, but why me? Send Rhinox. I know he’s there with you. I see you there.” Rhinox, sitting at one of the consoles in the background, flicked his optics up boredly and offered a quiet ‘hey.’ “Don’t you be all chill on me, RHINOX. Why don’t YOU go. You actually LIKE organics.”
“He wants you to see it,” said Rhinox, simply, “and I can’t fit through those doors, either.”
Rattrap fell back across his seat and started reprogramming his ship’s navigational systems for earth.
“Fine, fine,” he said, “tell me who I need to talk to and where the hell they want me to land…”
“I’m sending you the data attachment with all the info now,” said Optimus with a notable cheer -- and screw him for that. “And Rattrap?”
“Try not to call the humans ‘meatbags’ to their face.”
“No promises,” said Rattrap.
Earth had come up in the years since the Great War. Even before the quantum storm, Cybertron had always limited its contact with the planet. In the early post-war years their influence was once focused on the various treaty cities throughout the human solar system, all of which had been evacuated or simply vanished when the anomalies had begun to appear. Technologically speaking, humans hadn’t really missed much in the period of no contact. They’d colonized their moon and a number of nearby planets, requiring the Elders to negotiate a great deal once communications were reestablished (a conversation, Rattrap hoped, went something like “hello little fleshy things, we’re back.” “Oh, hey, it’s been 100 years, who the fuck are you all again?”). It’d taken a bit to get everyone back up to speed, but humanity rolled with it.
One of the few advantages to the limited lifespan of an organic species: it bumped up your evolutionary timeline by about a thousand times or so. Humans had to get a lot done in the time they had, and they did. It had resulted in a particular saying among Cybertronians: Give a human a wrench and they’ll invent faster than light travel.
Which was why Rattrap was answering security and customs queries the second he entered the solar system. They remembered the Cybertronians, but they didn’t like ships that weren’t expressly government or trade related. Humans lived short, easily crushable lives. It made them a super jittery species, as well as a quick-evolving one.
“Welcome to the Solar Galactic Federation,” said one satellite, because apparently that was what humanity was calling its main government these days? Huh. “Please state the nature of your trip.”
“Please reconfirm your current travel licenses,” said another satellite.
“HEY, HEY, HEY, I’M OFFICIAL HERE,” said Rattrap. “YOU WANNA CHECK MY LICENSES. HERE, CHECK MY FRAGGIN’ LICENSES.”
“Be polite,” said Optimus, over the private comm link.
“YOU be polite,” said Rattrap. “I don’t know how you can stand LOOKING at that place every day, after everything that happened.”
Optimus and Rhinox were stationed on Cybertron’s recently established Lunar Observatory Station, located on one of the Moon Cities established during the later years of the Great War. Technically, the commission had been a promotion. Being named administrator to a landed base was considered a step up from the captain of a ship. Being named administrator to a station near the much valued and newly rediscovered Earth even more so.
In practice, however, it was not a position of considerable prestige. Present day Earth was well known (under normal circumstances) to be one of the least interesting posts in the galaxy. Quantum anomalies aside, humans managed their own never ending dramatic affairs well enough. Cybertronians were only expected to answer the equivalent of the panicked ‘sweet PRIMUS, there’s a PULSE SPIDER in my CHARGING station’ calls.
For Optimus Primal -- whose production specs, research experience, and newly proven military prowess should have recommended him to any of the preeminent exploratory vessels in the galaxy -- this was basically a downgrade. It was, if nothing else, an extreme compromise. The inquiry following their return from their ill-fated research trip had been an administrative and political mess . Violations of multiple laws of space, time, and reality. A dead Predacon intelligence operative. A dead Maximal special ops agent. Missing valuable classified material. Missing protoforms. Nothing about the war they fought could be repeated publically. Nothing about their original mission was allowed to be official. Nothing about the multiple accidental upgrades the Axalon and its crew had suffered over the course of that mission could be explained properly by maintenance experts.
The Maximal Council of Elders had agreed -- they’d had to agree -- that the crew of the Axalon had behaved heroically and beyond the call of duty, but no one could know about it. The Tripredacus Council was embarrassed and wanted to sweep the whole thing under the rug. So, the bigwigs offered Optimus a pat on the shoulderplates and a quiet post far from Cybertron and close to the sector where he had gained a particular (classified, extremely classified) expertise. A station that Optimus had accepted with a surprising grace.
In the present day, he answered Rattrap with a shrug. “The view’s grown on me.”
Rattrap landed his ship on a discreet, little landing strip he wished had existed back in the day. He transformed and rolled his way down a mountain road that had only nominally been adapted to the modern day electric shuttles used by most humans.
“Over a million years and they still can’t pave these roads right,” griped Rattrap over the link. He didn’t actually need more info from the Lunar Station just then, but it was a long enough trip Rattrap wanted someone to talk to. “You owe me a nice suspension upgrade after this, Boss Monkey.”
“I’m surprised you kept the wheels.”
“And let some mod shop paw at me while I’m in stasis? HAH.” Not when he was sporting enough transmetal to earn him the kind of questions the government didn’t want him answering. “And don’t even talk to me about that chop job the COUNCIL offered me. Like I’d turn my shiny, alien-modded butt over to them after what they pulled on Cheetor and Silverbolt.”
“I wasn’t going to suggest it,” said Optimus, quietly.
“Oh. Well,” huffed Rattrap, taking a turn with a bit more speed then he maybe should’ve. “LONG AS WE’RE CLEAR … There been any sightings of that bunch?”
He could practically hear the long look Optimus wanted to give him just then. “None that I’ve been made aware of.”
“Eh, well. No news is good news, I guess.”
He had to admit, he’d missed the sound of earth wind whipping past his ears.
“Rattrap,” said Optimus, after a few turns. “You know, if I’d been able to, I would have--”
“Oh, don’t lay the pity party on me,” Rattrap snapped. “Since when were YOU Cybertronian high command?”
And, despite everything, that earned him a wry laugh.
“Thank you,” said Optimus. “You know, I’ve almost missed your complaining.”
“I aim to please,” said Rattrap. He gunned it on the next turn.
Most human transport these days was automated, and the mountain roads were quiet enough no one noticed a cybernetic roller derby rat charging its way down the hill full pelt. Cybertronians were expected to obey human traffic laws, but Rattrap had made a point to never read a single thing about them, no matter how many times they e-mailed him the ‘Welcome to Earth’ packet. Consequently, he went wildly over the speed limit and reached the dig site in less than an hour.
As far as research facilities went, it was pretty fancy for humans -- which meant it looked only sort of kludged together. It was built over the big pit they’d bored into the side of the mountain. The buildings had been 3D-printed on location -- Rattrap could see the construction frames folded off to the side, with rounded corners and white, plastic walls. Rattrap could see right away why Optimus and Rhinox had logistical issues getting in there. The roof would’ve only gone to Optimus’ shoulder.
“Thank you for coming out to us,” said the flustered scientist who greeted Rattrap at the door. They gaped when Rattrap transformed in front of him. Humans always did need a moment when they did that. Then they realized Rattrap was actually on eye-level with them, and slouched with relief. “I’m Dr. Forward. It’s really, uh, great of you to check in, and so quickly! When I heard you were coming from out of system, I thought it would take days, but it’s only been just a---well nevermind -- was it a good trip? I heard there are asteroids out on the far system right now so I was worried you might run into some turbulence. I’m sorry. Am I talking too fast? I hope I’m not talking too fast.”
“Kiddo, I process about a thousand petabytes of sensory data in a second,” said Rattrap, who took that particular second to try and work out what age and gender this particular human was supposed to be. This sort of thing was important for verbal organic languages, for some reason. “You’re talking just fine.”
“Oh, good,” said Forward, with a rasp in his -- yeah, okay, his -- voice that was a symptom of a hitch in his oxygen intake systems. “Sorry. It’s just. All of this is so unexpected. Come this way, please. I’ll show you the… er--”
“UFO?” suggested Rattrap, tapping his finger impatiently.
“Oh no,” said Forward, grinning “We found it in the ground .”
“Right this way. Uh, might want to duck a LITTLE BIT -- I’m glad they sent a Maximal , by the way. No offense, I think Cybertronians are amazing, but I’m always afraid some of your older models might just STEP on me…”
“Yeah, ‘cause we upgraded just for your convenience ,” said Rattrap, ignoring the stares from the other humans as Forward led him through the hall. “Look, can you just get me up to speed about what you dug up? Hell IS all this about.”
‘This’ turned out to be an archeological dig, funded by some big academic society. They’d been given a grant and permissions to conduct an excavation of a local quarry where some local kids had discovered prehistoric fossils. It’d been a moderate success (the human said, at great length), they’d found a number of fantastic specimens, but when they’d drilled down beneath a layer of packed silt that had once been an ocean they’d found something a little too exciting…
“It was complete,” said Forward. “Skull, spinal column… that NEVER happens, by the way. We were ready to start celebrating, but after we lifted it out of the rock... well. We realized WHY it was so complete…”
Ugh. The human was rambling around the issue again. “Wait wait wait, you haven’t actually explained what ‘it’ is .”
“A fossil,” said Forward, eagerly. He led Rattrap to a room in the 3D-printed lab, an automatic door registering his body heat and opening ahead of him. Inside was a small room filled with fluorescent lights. A large (by human standards) operating table was set in the center of the room, covered by a sheet of plastic. “Or, well, what we THOUGHT was a fossil…”
The human pulled it off, revealing and a pile of bones and rock laid out on a table.
Rattrap stopped in the door.
“Slag,” he said.
The human didn’t take the hint.
“Oh, no,” said Forward. “Not slag. That’s a Utahraptor. Or what LOOKS like a Utahraptor. Mature, should’ve been early cretaceous, but the soil around it was dated much…”
“Later, huh,” said Rattrap.
“Yes,” said the researcher, sheepishly. “We tried to take samples but, um, yeeeeah, it didn’t really work. Upon closer observation, we realized it wasn’t really... er.”
“From earth?” asked Rattrap. “Gee. What was your first clue? The three inches of metal plating or the FUCKING EYE LASERS? Which, by the way, he could NEVER friggin’ land.”
In the human’s defense, Rattrap could see how they might’ve missed it: The creature on the table was still half-encased in rock. The metal of its ribcage and shoulders were a dark, muddy brown. Its limbs were bent at least seven different ways, and none of them lay the way they’d originally been bent. Its neck was pulled back far enough the head rested against its shoulderplates, and as for its optics….
…those lit up a violent red.
“Aw, scrap,” said Rattrap. He heard the whine of metal. He had just enough time to grab the human by the back of his labcoat and toss him sideways before that metal started to scream, the jaws opened in a spatter of broken stone, the restraints snapped like paper, and the whole pile of metal bones and rock launched itself bodily off of the table and straight at Rattrap’s face.
Rattrap checked in with the moon base. The preliminary report was a bit heated.
“I had an idea,” admitted Optimus.
“Yeah, but did you KNOW?”
“No,” said Optimus. “The images were inconclusive. I needed to be sure.”
“Needed to be sure,” sneered Rattrap. “PUH-lease.”
“What’s his condition?” asked Optimus, trying to salvage some professionalism out of this mess of a conversation.
It’d taken a pulse bomb and a whole metric ton of cable to finally subdue the creature the humans had inadvertently dug out of the mountain. It hadn’t gone happily. It pinned Rattrap to the wall. It took five snaps at his face. Rattrap had managed to blast it off, but all he’d succeeded at doing was dislodge some of the rock stopping it from transforming. Its arms cracked themselves back into some semblance of their original joint configuration. The metal raptor stumbled to its feet among the falling rubble, shook like Cheetor out of a bath, and declared, in a stuttering distorted voice:
The creature fell sideways in a shower of sparks and screams.
“Welp,” said Rattrap to Optimus as he tried to banish the memory of that shriek from his active data files, "the good news is, he can’t transform. Looks like all those millennia pressed under the earth’s crust’s bent most of his components out of whack.”
“And the bad news?”
“The bad news is he’s mad as the pit about it,” said Rattrap. “Also, there’s an angry science abomination currently locked in a human freezer and you DIDN’T SEE FIT TO WARN ME ABOUT THIS?!”
“Didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.”
“Oh, yeah, I love the idea of squaring off with ten feet of knives and laser death. What was your real reason?”
Optimus paused, leaving Rattrap with the distinct impression he was exchanging one of those glances with Rhinox. The one where they were disagreeing, and then agreeing, all in that short span of half a click.
“All right,” he said, at last. “I wasn’t sure you’d come.”
“You think I wouldn’t?!” snapped Rattrap, loud enough the audio of the link actually scratched a little. “If I knew it was him? You really think I would’ve just slagged off if I knew he was still friggin’ down here?!”
Optimus didn’t say anything, just waited for Rattrap to say his piece. Rattrap sighed and fell back against the wall of the human’s base camp. He waited for the static to clear.
“Aaaand you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking so,” said Rattrap. “I did make a career out of running from this shit, and we didn’t leave off on the best of terms, even when he was still, well…”
“I know he meant a lot to you,” offered Optimus.
“Eh. Spare me that sentimental scrap,” said Rattrap, straightening. Optimus wasn’t offering him an olive branch. He was offering him a good, old fight to focus on instead. “Not like we’re even dealing with the same Chopperface, no matter how weird things got at the end there.”
“You know ?”
“What I mean is,” said Optimus. “That’s what I’d like to confirm.”
After the raptor went down, Rattrap zapped it, netted it, and dragged it into the most heavily enforced section of the dig site. That, as it turned out, was the humans' walk-in refrigeration facility. It was meant to store organic materials for later consumption. Rattrap threw a few boxes out of one of the biggest refrigerators and shoved the bound raptor into it before the beast could come back to its senses.
“But we need that to…” started Forward. In true human fashion, he was in shock, but the kind of shock that meant he could still function, mostly. They were scrappy little mammals, humans.
“You got anywhere else to put him?” asked Rattrap.
“Oatmeal it is,” said Forward, sadly.
Humans had weirdass priorities sometimes.
The first interview didn’t go well.
For starters, the raptor had decided to eat most of what was left in the refrigerator, which was both strange and disgusting at the same time. Sure, even a non-transmetal beast form could process organic material to a POINT, but it sure didn’t do anything for your internal hardware. The raptor couldn’t quite get to its feet, tangled as it was in its restraints and sparking liberally every time it tried to transform -- but when Rattrap tapped on the window, it looked up.
“Hey,” said Rattrap. “Hey. Can you hear me in there?”
The raptor lowered its head. Its optics pulsed. Shreds of meat dangled off one of its cruel, hooked bottom fangs.
“That’s a yes,” said Rattrap. “So. Dinobot II, or whatever cute pet name Megatron had for you. Your vocal systems busted?”
The raptor made a low clicking noise.
“Ok, but can you talk ?” asked Rattrap.
The raptor screamed.
“I gotta be honest,” said Rattrap, when he reported back, “his conversation’s gotten even worse since the last time I saw him.”
“Throw me in the pit if I know,” said Rattrap. “He’s regenerating, though. His hips are less out of whack than the last time I checked in.”
“So he still has some of Protoform X’s abilities,” muttered Optimus. “He doesn’t recognize you?”
“Can’t say. He screamed in my face plenty when he was Chopperface, too,” said Rattrap. He paused. “Either Chopperface. You think he’d want to catch up even if he is in there?”
“He helped us,” said Optimus. “At the end.”
Aw, no. The conversation had to get all uncomfortable. “...yeah, I remember,” said Rattrap. A lot of things had happened, close to the end there. “Thought it was written in your dang Covenant.”
Optimus managed a tired laugh. “I don’t deny providence had a part in it,” he said, “but now I wonder what else was at play. Dinobot made a backup of his memory files, didn’t he?”
Awwww, no, now the conversation had to get REALLY uncomfortable.
“Might’ve come across something like that,” said Rattrap. He considered pretending the link had gone bad, but he knew Rhinox would pick up on that right away, “on our databases. Before the Preds blew everything sky high, anyway…”
He could hear Optimus zeroing in on him. “You didn’t happen to do anything with those files?”
“Eeeeeh,” said Rattrap. There were a lot of ways he could deflect the issue. Dance around it. Change the subject. Say something unflattering about someone’s aunt. Rattrap gave up. “Fine. Won’t lie. I thought about it, but it didn’t come up. Wasn’t exactly up to tango with a freak of nature on my own, especially when he was stalking around with ol’ crabcakes.”
Optimus, to his strange credit, didn’t ask him for more details. “Rampage,” he mused. “That might be it. He was there when he died, and he could take on the properties of the lifeforms he consumed--”
“Hey, now we KNOW he didn’t get his spark,” said Rattrap, more heatedly than he meant. Optimus paused.
“We saw it go,” Optimus agreed, with only a hint of reverence, “but Protoform X could absorb at least some information remotely. Sensory feedback. Emotional input.”
“Memories?” asked Rattrap.
“Maybe,” said Optimus. “We never did know the extent of his abilities.”
“And you want me to find out.”
“I want to know if our old friend is in there.”
“Friend?” asked Rattrap, bitterly.
Withering silence over the comm link. Rattrap relented.
“Friend,” he said.
“Boss Monkey’s asking after you,” said Rattrap, during the second interview.
The raptor paused in its attempt to claw through the floor of the refrigerator. To some human’s credit, it’d only managed to gouge it. It cocked its head at Rattrap and clicked.
“We remember what you did for us,” said Rattrap. “And the humans. Again. So, what was it: you remember us or you just get tired of being ol’ Megsy’s cabana boy?”
The raptor’s optics flickered. The staticky rattle of its vocal processors almost sounded like a chirp.
“Oh,” said Forward, excitedly, “It sounds like a bird. Can we record this? It’s very important to--”
“SHIT warn me before you come up behind me like that,” snapped Rattrap, jolting. “And also, buzz off! Private conversation!”
“You don’t understand. We’ve been arguing about the sounds they’ve made for over a century--”
“Find somewhere else to be right now and I’ll send you soundbites, yeesh!”
That did it. The human scurried off. Rattrap waited for his heat signature to vanish from his immediate proximity before turning back to the raptor. It watched the window intently. With its jaws parted, it almost looked amused.
“I got you to thank for this,” sighed Rattrap. “ Humans . Yeesh. Were they really worth all that friggin’ drama?”
The raptor’s head jerked back, just a touch.
“....and my aunt would sure blow a new hole in my head if she could’ve heard me say that,” laughed Rattrap. “Fine. They’re pretty handy in a pinch. So, congrats, I guess. It was worth something.”
The raptor lowered its head. Its optics dimmed pensively.
Progress. It was still tangled in the net. Rattrap had rigged up the hall with some snares. Time to gamble. Rattrap opened the door. The raptor didn’t look up. Rattrap did a little side step into the fridge. The raptor went still. It shifted a little, but it didn’t try to get up.
“Don’t think this means I don’t remember all that crap you pulled right before you kicked it, though,” said Rattrap, “Good and bad, you said. Don’t think I’m not annoyed.”
The raptor blew out through its one working vent. It sounded almost like a scoff.
“You weren’t wrong about Cybertron, though,” said Rattrap. “Going back there was a mess. We weren’t even criminals and we still got the whole riot act. You might’ve had the right idea, just skipping out on the last few millennia. You missed a whole load of political slag. You getting any of this?”
The raptor made another staticky clicking noise.
“So you do understand me,” said Rattrap.
The raptor jerked its head. The staticky noise got louder. It moved its jaw sideways, and chuffed, coughing on sparks. Then it scratched the floor with its less broken foreclaw as if to say: come closer.
“Yeah,” said Rattrap, “like that’ll work. Look, answer a few questions, and MAYBE I’ll loosen your--”
That was when the raptor snapped the net and lunged for his head.
“He missed,” reported Rattrap, “So, that’s about par for the course.”
“Are you damaged?” asked Optimus.
“Nah. Like he could do much in THAT condition,” lied Rattrap, fixing the last of the patch on his armplate. His basic repair kit had a rotary buffer and a soldering iron. It couldn’t manage full on repairs like a proper medical station, but it could patch up some superficial scratches well enough. The raptor had managed to get its teeth around him, but between its broken joints and Rattrap’s blaster, it hadn’t taken much to kick it off and shut the door in its face. Sure, there was a mark, but it was nothing some basic body work couldn’t fix--whenever he had the credits for THAT again. “He’s got enough smarts to try and pull one on me. Guess he doesn’t remember I was ready for the worst even when he WAS on our side.”
Or at least, he didn’t remember that Rattrap was very good at rigging snares above doorways. And boy wasn’t THAT a funny thing to pull on a slow day…
“I’m sorry,” said Optimus, quietly.
“What for?” said Rattrap. “Throwing me to the Preds again? Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do yourself, right? What’s new about that?”
“I’d hoped if anyone could get through to him, it would be you,” said Optimus, simply.
Rattrap sighed, and shoved the buffer back into his kit.
“Yeah well,” said Rattrap, “Forgot we were on the outs, huh? Even assuming this was ever the original. You sure overestimated what I was to him.”
Sitting among the instruments of his ship, on Earth, again, after all this time-- it almost didn’t hurt to say it. It almost felt like nothing at all. Which should’ve been progress. Rattrap stopped himself from kicking his console.
“I don’t think so,” said Optimus. “He talked to you more than he talked to any of us. That meant something, coming from him.”
“Yeah, ‘cause yelling in the halls was a sign of a real bond--”
“You like to argue,” said Optimus, and he had the nerve to sound fond. Stupidly, mercilessly fond. Like the Beast Wars was something to look back on as a good time. Like it was something any of them missed. “I think he did, too.”
“And I don’t think that was ever actually your business,” said Rattrap. He did kick the console, this time. The connection jumped. It took a second to establish itself.
“Fair enough,” said Optimus, once it had. It seemed whatever stupid moment he was having had passed. “Listen, if your report’s complete--”
“It ain’t,” said Rattrap. He terminated the link before Optimus had the nerve to tell him otherwise.
In the third interview, Rattrap managed to get a verbal response.
“What do you remember about Protoform X?” asked Rattrap. “Depth Charge. Colony Omicron?”
The raptor lowered its head and began to shake. It made a low, pulsing, rasping noise. Rattrap realized, after a moment or two, that it was laughing.
“So, say it even is Chopperface in there,” said Rattrap, angrily welding out the scratch in his arm from the raptor’s talons. “What then? We just, what, let him go?”
“I wish it were that easy,” said Optimus, “but the Council of Elders would be required to interview him, the same as it did any other survivors of the Beast Wars.”
“‘Interview,’” spat Rattrap. “You mean throw him in some lab to dismantle as they please? Like how they ‘interviewed’ Cheetor and Silverbolt? You’d really let them do that? You’d really just let them do that, all over again?”
Until Blackarachnia broke them out, anyway. The planetary news had had one heck of a time covering that one up, but, hey, Cybertron now had its very own trio of cryptids: a birddog, a mutant pussycat, and an evil emasculating spiderbot. It would’ve been hilarious, if Rattrap hadn’t read the records of everything the facility had done to them before they’d flown the coop.
“I would consider
all our options,
” stressed Optimus. It was enough to get Rattrap to sit back down, but only just. “Nominal cooperation buys us time, and is still better than the alternative.”
“And what’s that?”
“What we’d be required to do if they determine he is, in fact, Protoform X.”
Rattrap narrowed his optics.
“Don’t tiptoe,” said Rattrap. “Just what were you orders.”
“The same standing order given to the Axalon,” said Optimus. “...If all else should fail: Shoot him into the sun.”
For the final interview, Rattrap checked the door to the fridge, pulled up a chair, sat in front of the little window, and tried something completely and utterly old:
“All right,” he said. “Rampage?”
A shuddering snarl.
That raspy laughter.
“Or whatever the hell else you go by,” concluded Rattrap crossing his arms. “I ain’t going to try and crack a nut if I don’t have to. My investigation’s pretty done, but, I figure, while we’re here, I got one last thing to say.”
The red optics focused on him. The spiny tail lifted a little against its restraints, as though it meant to lash, expectantly.
“Who the FUCK actually misses with EYE LASERS? Every fraggin’ time! How hard was it? I swear, every time, some flying Predacon, sometimes on FIRE. All you have to do is LOOK. And SHOOT. And SOMEHOW---”
Rattrap aired his grievances. He aired every single one: from his strangely territorial attitude towards his living space, to his weird habit for consuming organic matter (WHO EATS THEIR CLONE THAT IS SCREWED UP WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK) to his bad breath from that tendency to consume organic matter, to his tendency to zone out and not answer his comm link during patrol, to just about every little niggling thing he ever did to bother Rattrap on mission.
He spared nothing. It didn’t matter if the creature didn’t understand him. It didn’t even matter that the creature wasn’t even actually the same bot. It had gone too long unsaid, and he wasn’t going to leave it if he had the chance to settle a few untallied scores.
“You were so big on your MILITARY HISTORY, but what was up with the call-sign ‘Dinobot’? ‘Dinobot.’ Like, the whole unit? The whole AUTOBOT unit? You were descended from Cons! Who the frick actually names themselves after the ENTIRE UNIT. I mean, might as well called yourself THUNDERBOLT FANTASY, or whatever the hell the unit was originally ACTUALLY called, unless, I don’t know, you believed they were found in some cave or whatever the hell the Council was spewing after a while…”
After about three megacycles humans started gathering in the outer hall. They looked a little worried. He’d been at it for a while.
“And always with the quotes. Even at the end. We all thought you were being all deep and philosophical, but you were really just ripping off some dead Earth guy! Yeah, I looked him up. Yeah, I see what you did there. Funny, though. You liked all that crap about dying, but I got one for you. From one of those plays. What was it, Othello? ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’! SEE! I CAN DO IT, TOO!”
The refrigerator door’s hinges popped. The door exploded outwards, banging into the ceiling. Claws hit him in the chest.
Rattrap didn’t have the time to get his weapon out. He went down, a whole snarling mess of teeth gnashing inches from his face.
“I have HAD it with your nonsensical RAMBLING,” snarled the raptor, a voice like metal over stone. “The play was HAMLET. The character was POLONIUS. And the line was meant to be SARCASTIC, you absolutely IGNORANT bag of SCRAP--”
“Hey, Chopperface,” said Rattrap, laying his hand on the side of the beast’s head. “Missed you.”
The teeth froze mid-gnash.
“And the unit was the Lightning Strike Coalition,” snapped Dinobot, furious, and, at this juncture, utterly defeated. He turned and stormed back into the remains of the fridge.
The raptor balled up back in his corner, chin resting on his tail. His back links bristled. His optics blazed a violent red. It might have looked menacing, like a beast about to pounce, but Rattrap knew something about a good sulk when he saw one.
“So, why the silent treatment?” asked Rattrap. “Slow boot? Damaged vocal processors?”
Dinobot drummed his talons on the fiberglass floor.
“...Or did you know that if we thought you were Protoform X, we’d shoot you into the sun.”
Dinobot’s optics flicked his way, for just a moment.
“It would have been a fitting end,” he murmured, uncurling slowly. Metal whined and cracked, but he managed it more easily than before. “To the nightmare Megatron wrought. My memory files have been overridden by the data that came to me after Rampage’s destruction, the information he absorbed from my predecessor at the time of his death, but my spark is… tainted by that monster’s influence. It will always be so. To die once more for a better cause... It would be a fitting end.”
“You mean, the ‘honorable’ thing, and all that crap?” Another flick of annoyance in the raptor’s optics. Good. It really was him. “You know, here I thought you had Dinobot’s data files, but you’re sounding more like me.”
A low hiss, through the raptor’s exposed fangs. He spasmed as he sat up.
“And what is THAT supposed to mean,” growled Dinobot.
“I mean,” said Rattrap, “you think letting yourself get fried undoes everything Protoform X did? You think that undoes everything YOU did? Everything we went through, while we were doing the time warp again? Fat chance. All it does is keep YOU from having to deal with it.”
“I am fully prepared to take responsibility for my actions,” said Dinobot, “unlike YOU--”
“Yeah? By shooting yourself into the sun? I don’t know, that sounds like a great way to avoid any awkward conversations ever! I’m for it! You get to be all heroic without any of the heavy lifting. Credit without consequences! Great! I don’t know, from where I’m standing, the ‘honorable’ thing would be to actually friggin’ live with yourself for a change.”
Silence. That stubborn kind. Dinobot made that sound deep in the back of his processors, that low whir that meant he was grinding the data in frustration -- which he did when he knew Rattrap had won a round.
Primus, it felt good to hear it.
“Since when,” grumbled Dinobot, “were you an expert on the concept.”
“Dunno,” said Rattrap, “I got stuck with this guy on my last assignment who wouldn’t shut up about it. Funny how he’d go on and on about HONOR and FAIR PLAY. Funny how it didn’t stop him from being a complete bastard, either. But hey, that’s a Pred for you.”
Dinobot looked at him.
“But I knew where he stood,” said Rattrap. He almost couldn’t say it. It was almost too sappy, too full of meaning, but he did, and Dinobot just kept looking at him. Sure, his optics were beast mode blank, but something flickered in there. Something Rattrap thought he recognized.
“Where he stood…” Dinobot shoved himself to his feet. It still wasn’t easy. Sparks came out of his hip. Something popped in his neck. His jaw ground from side to side, as he waited for one of his connectors to fix itself, but he managed, mostly, to make his stupid symbolic point. “...may be different from where I stand. I know now, I think, what it is to die for something greater than myself, but to live with it... What does that mean?”
“Still figuring that out myself,” said Rattrap. “But, for starters, it looks like me breaking you out of this facility and getting you off this rock. Also, lying like hell to the Cybertronian officials, since they’re expecting me to turn you over for questioning.”
Dinobot cocked his head. He hadn’t quite understood. Didn’t that just figure. For a scheming Predacon, he sure could be thick about some things.
Good thing, at that point, an alarm began to blare. The power shut off. The door, behind them, gave a particular click.
“I already set the smoke bombs in this place’s generator,” said Rattrap, crossing his arms. “Non-lethal, if you want to get precious about the humans again. My auto-pilot’s engaged and the ship’ll be swinging by for pickup right about, hmm, now. Also, I sent up a disruptor to mask our signal while we get shipbound and interorbital. It’s only going to last a few cycles, so if you’re going to get all stubborn about THIS, you got another thing--”
“Lead the way,” said Dinobot. “Vermin.”
Alarms blared in the cockpit. Sensors told Rattrap at least two earth patrol vessels turned in his general direction. His commlink exploded with warnings from multiple channels, querying him about the illegal launch. Some of them activated tractors, but they couldn’t quite lock in on his frequency. Rattrap switched on the accelerators and rocketed his way out of orbit. Humans had advanced plenty far, but they hadn’t quite mastered space flight just yet.
The local administrator checked in on him. It was only due process.
“Rattrap,” said Optimus, stern countenance appearing on the screen. “Sounds like there’s been a commotion, everything all right?”
Rattrap sat forward in the cockpit.
“Yeah, everything’s just fine and dandy,” said Rattrap. “Looks like some sort of solar storm’s rolled in. Thought I’d launch ahead of it, but it’s really screwing with my systems. Guess my licenses are only good for so much.”
“Guess so,” said Optimus, pointedly. “You know, if you leave this system without checking in through me or through customs, the High Council will be issuing an alert.”
“Yeah?” said Rattrap. “Well, that’s a pain. Look, why don’t I check in with you in a few. You can inspect my ship. Check my licenses. Give me those debriefings I know you just LOVE. We can catch up in person. We got LOTS to talk about.”
“I’m sure we do,” said Optimus. “I guess I’ll see you soon.”
“Guess you will.”
“Just you, I take it.”
“What, expecting anyone else?” asked Rattrap.
“No,” said Optimus, and, for a moment, he looked tempted to give some kind of lecture, or some brave pronouncement, but instead he just shook his head. “Travel safely.”
This time, Optimus got to hang up on him.
“You mind not jamming your spikes up my exhaust pipe?” asked Rattrap when the link went dead. He repositioned with a yelp. He’d barely kept still till the end of that conversation. “I’m all about catching up, but that’s a LITTLE personal for the first damn date.”
“Then remove your arm joint from my optic ,” snarled Dinobot, wedged in the seat behind him. He couldn’t transform into a more convenient form. The result was a full-sized skeletal dinosaur bent against the seat, with Rattrap sitting on top of him to man the controls.
“Soon as your pelvis isn’t digging into my ventral joints, you useless bag of scrap,” said Rattrap. It took some squirming, but they managed, somehow. Actually no, they didn’t manage at all, but Rattrap kicked him in the side and got back to leaving the moon behind in a little white dot.
Dinobot watched him, judgmental as ever.
“My data files remind me that Optimus, while good-hearted, was never stupid,” he snarled. “He would not have bought that for an INSTANT.”
“I know,” said Rattrap. He tried not to laugh. It wouldn’t do to let Dinobot know he was in that good a mood about it. It would mean he wouldn’t try as hard. “I also know he’ll wait for the no-show before he trips the alarm. That’ll be a cozy head start.”
It went pretty much just like that. Give or take a few asteroids. By the time they’d left the system, the alert appeared in Rattrap’s inbox, but he just trashed it the way he did most government messages. Junk, all of it.
He had more important things on his mind.
“We’ll find some off-the-grid station to see about some of those repairs,” said Rattrap, “and maybe some modifications to this ship, because I ain’t sitting on your lap the whole way to--”
“Rattrap,” said Dinobot.
Rattrap paused while calibrating the forward guns. He wasn’t used to Dinobot using his call name. Either Dinobot. That was a bit of a new one.
Dinobot stared quietly out the window, watching the stars slip by.
“I have incorporated nearly all of the original Dinobot’s data files,” he said, “and it is the nature of Protoform X to absorb information from its prey. Between those two things, I can recall everything he could, and I can recall nearly everything that passed between us.”
Everything that…. Oh, yeesh. That was just too much. Rattrap took a sharp turn out past the last set of asteroids, so Dinobot would have to grab the seat with an indignant squawk. That was more like it.
“Don’t go getting soppy on me,” said Rattrap, once they’d levelled out. “I’m not THAT kind of bot. And we’ve kinda established that. Your point?”
“You must also know,” said Dinobot, quieter this time, “I do not have his spark.”
Rattrap thought about it. Actually, he’d been thinking about it. He’d thought about it while they’d left earth’s solar system far behind. He’d thought about it while dodging the authorities.
He’d thought about while he’d checked for messages, and found one last one from Optimus Primal: ‘Till All Are One.
So, he didn’t really didn’t need a lot of time to think it through, just then.
“Yeah, yeah, Protoform X and all that crap,” said Rattrap. He leaned back on his seat, resting his elbow along the raptor’s shoulder blade, because if he was going to be crammed into a single seat with him until they reached the next station, he might as well do it in style. “That makes you immortal, right?”
“Yes,” said Dinobot, optics flicking, just once.
“Welp,” said Rattrap, “Guess that just gives us all the time of the world to get to know each other.”
“Hm,” said Dinobot, in that huffy but considering way both familiar and new. “I suppose, in that, I can agree.”