Wing Lord Starscream and Lord High Protector Megatron stood on the balcony overlooking the magnificent city. The massive gray mech placed a large, comforting servo on the sleek Seeker’s shoulder as they gazed out over the exquisite spires of the Crystal Towers of Vos.
The splendor of the towers, the pristine beauty glittering in the light of their ancient sun was nothing but an exquisite veneer that hid a dark ugly secret. The Seekers, shuttles, rotary mechs, every type of flight frame on Cybertron was well on their way to extinction.
A cyber plague had swept through the Aeries, killing them by the thousands. Only one in fifty adults survived and not a single sparkling that had not passed into youngling hood was spared.
And as if losing so many of their number was not bad enough, in a final cruel twist, the virus left those Flyers it did not off-line unable to conceive or carry.
Three stellar cycles had passed since the plague was cured, but the damage had been done. They could no longer reproduce. And the only viable alternative had been taken away by Sentinel Prime long ago.
The Great Cybertronian War ended with the last Prime of Cybertron destroying the All Spark.
In the waning moments of the war the victorious Flyers swept over the devastated Grounder capital where Sentinel Prime made his final stand. Desperate to save Iacon, he gambled that Wing Lord Skyquake would not risk losing the All Spark.
To the sorrow of all Cybertron, the Flyer thought he was bluffing.
Skyquake laughed as he punched through Sentinel’s chest plate. As the last Prime’s spark guttered in his servo, the dead-mech switch Sentinel held was released.
The All Spark exploded.
The shower of glowing shards could be seen from all parts of Iacon. It was as beautiful as it was horrifying.
Soon after they discovered that the loss of the All Spark had harmed Cybertron in a way no one could have foreseen.
Just hours later, almost half the energon wells on the planet failed.
Once productive wells went completely dry, while others slowed to a trickle. Metalo-plants began to wither and die. Vast expanses of Cybertron that were once lush forest and fertile farmland were transformed into barren desert.
Cybertron was wounded, perhaps dying, and they could not even ask their deity if there was a way to bring it back from the brink.
It was considered poor taste to speak of the Matrix of Leadership in Vos. The surprisingly vindictive relic rejected every Vosian that attempted to claim it.
All of those who aspired to take up the mantel of Prime heard a deep voice say the same thing as they lifted the artifact. ‘You are not my chosen.’
The words were followed by a sever shock, just to be sure the message was received.
And so, the most holy relic of Primus stayed hidden away, deep in the catacombs beneath the ancient temple. Out of sight and out of mind.
Meanwhile the helm of the fallen Prime was mounted behind the Wing Lord’s throne. A grisly trophy and constant reminder of the war and its aftermath. A visible symbol of a legacy of hate.
Interestingly, some of the palace servants noted that since the virus was unleashed, Sentinel Prime’s face plate seemed to have taken on a bit of a smirk.
They tried cloning, but no matter what method was used, it failed utterly. The results of their efforts were twisted, horribly deformed protoforms. It was a mercy that they were nothing more than lumps of metal without consciousness.
Their scientist say that it should have worked. They could not explain why they failed.
The Priests had an answer.
Primus had turned from them. Their god refused to place one of his precious sparks into those artificial abominations. They believed that the plague itself was a punishment from Primus for their arrogance.
Although the scientists scoffed at what they termed religious non-sense, Starscream noted that they could not come up with any better explanation.
With no way to increase their numbers the Flight Frames of Cybertron would eventually die out.
Starscream truly feared he would be the last Wing Lord. The one to rule over Vos as the majestic towers crumbled and her proud people turned to rust.
That was the only reason he now listened to his old friend, Skyfire.
Once, long ago, they had been close. When he was doing his post-graduate studies the pair had been inseparable. They drifted apart once he ascended to Wing Lord. This was not surprising. They simply did not travel in the same circles anymore.
The shuttle’s team had been studying the problem of how to increase their waning population. But friend or not, what he suggested would once have ended with him being imprisoned, if not executed.
That Starscream was willing to listen at all, and give serious consideration to his proposal was a testament to just how desperate they were.
Although when Skyfire first came to his Lord, Starscream’s shock and anger caused his voice to edged very close to a screech. “You want us to breed with Barbarians? WITH GROUNDERS!”
It had taken time for his Trine mates, Thundercracker and Skywarp to get him to calm down, but eventually he sat back on his throne and ordered the shuttle to explain his proposal in detail.
Megatron just stood back and watched his mate fume at someone else for a change.
That was always entertaining.
“We have been studying them in earnest since one of my colleagues encountered a group near the ruins of Polyhex. He was testing the energon wells in the area when the Grounders arrived. Fortunately, the tribes have a standing truce at the wells since they all use them to gather metalo-plants and refuel themselves and their mech-animals. It is considered dishonorable to fight near them.”
“What caught his attention was the presence of sparklings that appeared to be under three stellar cycles old. Intrigued, he began to covertly observe them. And soon made an astonishing discovery. He saw newly unfurled bornlings and a mech that was obviously carrying. My researcher had already tested the nearby well. As expected the pathogen was present in the energon. We know that the Grounders have neither the medical knowledge nor the technological resources to come up with a vaccine. Yet they do not fall ill. Their sparklings live, and the adults can still carry. In fact, several of my team who had studied the Grounder tribes before the virus was unleashed report that their numbers are increasing.”
“How is that possible?” asked Starscream.
“They are immune,” answered the shuttle.
“Are you sure they have no way to counter the virus?” asked Thundercracker.
“My teammate managed to catch one of the Grounders alone and incapacitated him long enough to take medical scans and samples of his energon. The tests he ran confirmed that he had a naturally occurring antibody that we lack. And in what may be the ultimate irony, there was a reason he was there surveying the wells at the that time. The virus itself has somehow stimulated energon production. It is happening across Cybertron. Even wells that have long been dry are beginning to produce. Our world is returning to life. This means that the Grounders and the mech-animals they hunt now have abundant liquid energon. Their sources of fuel have more than quadrupled in the last three stellar cycles, so they are producing more sparklings.”
“Too bad we did not know about the Grounders when the virus was first released,” rumbled Megatron. “We could have used their energon to create a cure much earlier. Even kept us from losing the ability to conceive.” They would likely have had to terminate many thousands of the Grounders to make enough of the vaccine for the entire population.
And he would have done it without a second thought. Megatron would sacrifice the function of every Grounder on the planet for those of his people in a spark beat.
Even with this startling revelation the Wing Lord was reluctant to accept the idea of mating with the primitives.
As was Megatron. “Are you sure they can even produce flight frames? According to your findings they are already breeding out of control. The last thing we would need is to be overrun by fragging Grounders.”
Skyfire shook his helm. “Let me assure you, my lord, that will not be a problem. Before the war, mating between Flyers and Grounders was common. And from old research studies that we found in the archives, we discovered that the genes in the CNA that produce flight frames are the dominant ones. Statistically, two thirds of every clutch should be flight frames. In fact, there are Flyers hatched to the Barbarians today. The flight genes are very resilient, even this far removed from the source. And obviously, those Flyers are immune as well.”
“Really? The Grounders do not harm them?” asked Megatron. Any Vosian would have been scandalized to find a Grounder podling in their clutch. He had no doubt that if such a thing had ever happened in Vos, the podling would have been disposed of immediately.
“On the contrary,” Skyfire assured. “So far we have documented the presence of seven Wilding Seekers scattered amongst the tribes we have observed. We have never seen one treated with anything but the same respect they show one another.”
“Perhaps the Grounders are more civilized than we ever suspected,” said Thundercracker, who was a scientist in his own right. He had been instrumental in curing the plague.
The virus itself was engineered by a scientist who was simply trying to create a means of population control for scraplets. At first it worked to a degree, helping to control the dangerously prolific vermin. But he was not satisfied. He kept experimenting, making the virus more potent. His aim was to curtail the scraplets’ ability to reproduce.
To the sorrow of every Flyer on Cybertron, his manipulation of the virus had devastating unforeseen consequences. One careless moment in his lab left him infected. The virus quickly spread out of control, killing over three fourths of Vos’ population and leaving the survivors barren.
“I admit I was also dubious of this solution when Skyfire first proposed it to us. However, knowing the majority of any clutch will be Flight Frames is very persuasive. It should help encourage our people to accept the Grounders as mates,” said the blue Seeker.
“You have always been a bit of a purist. You would really be willing to take a Grounder as our mate, Thunder?” asked Skywarp.
“If it means having podlings, yes,” said the blue Seeker, taking Skywarp’s servo when he recognized the pain in the purple mech’s optics. Skywarp had been sparked when the plague struck.
Thundercracker touched his mate’s cheek gently. “They cannot replace the little ones we lost. But we can have a family.”
“We must find those Wildling Flyers and bring them to Vos where they belong.” Megatron turned towards Starscream. “Perhaps we can take one of them to berth.”
“Tempting,” admitted Starscream. “But if we are to ask our people to mate with Grounders you and I must set an example. We are obliged to take a Grounder.” He then switched to their private com. ‘Although if we can eventually bring enough of the barbarians here, perhaps we could have one of the Wildling Seekers also.’
“What about the Grounder podlings?” asked Skywarp. “Personally, I do not have a problem with the idea of raising them. I will cherish every sparklings Thundercracker and I sire. But not everyone will feel that way.”
“That is true,” admitted Thundercracker. “Grounders have been vilified in our culture since the war. Many do not think of them as true mechs with Primus given sparks. Some of our people will not want those sparklings. Then again, some will not want to put their spike in a ‘filthy barbarians’. Even to save our species.”
“Enough will agree. Besides, before the virus struck numerous facilities existed for the care of unwanted and orphaned sparklings. There is no reason they cannot be reopened,” injected Megatron. “Make it clear to any who take a Grounder as mate that they can send any unwanted Grounder podlings to those centers.”
“I suppose we must have the option, but I would not recommend it,” Skyfire cautioned. “We should try to encourage our mechs to let the Grounders keep their sparklings. One thing that is abundantly clear to even the most casual observer, the Grounders are fiercely protective of their podlings. One of my teams observed a lone carrier, armed only with a small dagger, kill three grid-wolves to save his bornlings. If they are to accept becoming carriers for us, we cannot take away some of their sparklings because they do not have wings.”
“We should also make it clear that anyone harming or abusing a Grounder or any sparkling, with or without wings, will be severely punished. Our numbers have dropped to critical levels and even the wingless sparklings will eventually become breeders,” Starscream huffed.
He let Skyfire interpret this as confirmation. The Wing Lord knew his own people. Many of them would find the idea that they sired a Grounder podling disgusting. Others would see it as an insult. For the little ones’ own protection, they would have to allow Flyers to be rid of the offending bornlings. “I would rather we only allow mechs that will be sires to every sparkling they create to take a Grounder mate. Let the bloodlines of those fools that would not keep them die out. Cybertron will be better off.”
“You know that will not be possible,” countered Thundercracker. “The Councilors and other powerful mechs will demand fertile mates. Even if they want nothing to do with a third of the sparklings they sire.”
“None of this is important. According to Skyfire’s report the Grounders are already starting to make their way towards their storm season camps,” interjected Megatron. “Once they get into the deep desert they will be out of our reach for six lunar cycles.” Starscream raised an optic ridge at his mate’s sudden change of processor.
“What?” the gray mech asked. “I may not be a scientist, but neither am I a fool. This appears to be the only way for us to survive. Attrition has already begun to take its toll on what is left of our population. We need to get those Grounders here and sparked up as soon as possible.”
“You are right. We can work out the details later,” said Starscream with annoyance. “Skyfire, what do you recommend?”
The shuttle thought for a moment. “My team is currently observing a tribe camped near the ruins of the Temple of Primus at Iacon. It consists of twenty-seven individuals, with seventeen mechs that appear to be breeding age, six younglings, two probable adolescents and two elders.”
“Prepare an escort,” ordered Starscream. “We leave at once.”
To be continued.